Edgar Poe's Lionizing and Bon-Bon

2022-10-18 @Literature


Behold here a tale of a man and a nose. Now in contrast to Gogol’s nasal satire (curiously produced around the same mid-1830’s time period) mixed with realism and the supernatural, you’ll find not the remotest trace of realism in Lionizing - just satirical absurdity of severe compactness.

It wasn’t immediately clear to me that proboscis is the scientific nomenclature for a nose:

I now began to feel my way in the science, and soon came to understand that, provided a man had a nose sufficiently conspicuous he might, by merely following it, arrive at a Lionship. But my attention was not confined to theories alone. Every morning I gave my proboscis a couple of pulls and swallowed a half dozen of drams.

The protagonist becomes a nosology expert in the city of Fum-Fum. You get the idea of the nature to this story.

As I felt within me the divine afflatus, I considered this accident rather fortunate than otherwise. I resolved to be guided by the paternal advice. I determined to follow my nose. I gave it a pull or two upon the spot, and wrote a pamphlet on Nosology forthwith.

Nearly every phrase houses absurd detail. Tons of extravagant appellation and banter. There’s even a moral to it all. Though the cream lies in the massive catalogues of … things. Nothing unusual in catalogues, but the fact of their predominance, that is, their comprising about a third of content (if memory serves), impresses the feel of a parody to an epic.

Joyce appeals to cataloguing in Ulysses in a handful of chapters as one means to raise the mundane to the level of grandeur (that whole opus effectively serves to that end). The chapters Circe and Cyclops immediately come to mind.

Poe attains something similar in this otherwise brevissima tale: the illusion of an epic housed within tiny confines.


I likewise detected the gigantism technique at play in Bon-Bon, the story of a French restaurateur and a metaphysician elevated to nearly mythical prominence. It is the dichotomy between the hand-woven arrangement and the unfiltered dialogue that evokes the contretemps resulting in pure hilarity. Joyce’s Cyclops chapter of Ulysses engages the same framework but on a far grander scale.

It is to Bon-Bon—but let this go no farther—it is to Bon-Bon that Kant himself is mainly indebted for his metaphysics.

The former was indeed not a Platonist, nor strictly speaking an Aristotelian—nor did he, like the modern Leibnitz, waste those precious hours which might be employed in the invention of a fricasée or, facili gradu, the analysis of a sensation, in frivolous attempts at reconciling the obstinate oils and waters of ethical discussion.

Bon-Bon was Ionic—Bon-Bon was equally Italic. He reasoned à priori—He reasoned also à posteriori. His ideas were innate—or otherwise.

To enter the little Cafe in the cul-de-sac Le Febvre was, at the period of our tale, to enter the sanctum of a man of genius. Bon-Bon was a man of genius. There was not a sous-cusinier in Rouen, who could not have told you that Bon-Bon was a man of genius.

I may as well state that Bon-Bon places the metaphysician against the Devil in anything but a platonic interchange. There’s actually abundant character profile, impressive staging detail and banter to adapt this somewhat lengthier story for the absurd theatre. Fits ideally for an Aristotelian comedy, something of Aristophanes: narrow space and time (24-hour) constraints. It may even have seen an adaptation.

It is really in this detail where the story differs from a quicker sketch like Lionizing. We see incredibly lengthy portraits of both Bon-Bon and the Devil, plus vivid descriptions of the physical interior, first in stasis, then in the act of transformation once the Devil materializes (in a whimsical manner in accordance with the overall spirit).

The two ultimately engage in a discussion of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and their respective souls. A small appetizer:

“I found that Horace tasted very much like Aristotle;—you know I am fond of variety. Terentius I could not have told from Menander. Naso, to my astonishment, was Nicander in disguise. Virgilius had a strong twang of Theocritus. Martial put me much in mind of Archilochus—and Titus Livius was positively Polybius and none other.”

And so forth.

The fitting vaudeville excerpt quoted in the epigraph deserves mention:

Quand un bon vin meuble mon estomac,
Je suis plus savant que Balzac—
Plus sage que Pibrac;
Mon brass seul faisant l’attaque
De la nation Coseaque,
La mettroit au sac;
De Charon je passerois le lac,
En dormant dans son bac;
J’irois au fier Eac,
Sans que mon coeur fit tic ni tac,
Présenter du tabac.

Questions, comments? Connect.