"I'm a vilent fellow, and I don't try to disguise it."

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Today I read "The Prisoner of his Own Masterpiece" by Edmund Haraucourt, and I must admit that I have some rather mixed feelings on it.  When I was oh say about halfway through it... I was thinking wow, this guy is so sick... I love it!  But then I lost a lot of respect for the protagonist towards the end...not to mention the writer.  If I had to make a claim on it though, I would say to def. read it-- Not my favorite, but not worth passing up as a read on a rainy day.

In the beginning, we are introduced to a very angry, violent protagonist, whom I am immediately drawn too because of his intellect.He states, quite openly, that he has beaten his closet friends and that his behavior seems animalistic--something along the lines of the demon within him coming out.  It seems to me that he is rather sane in his actions and I must admit (although this sounds horrible no matter how I put it) that I like killers that are able to plan things out and act on their sanity rather than just exerting a crime of passion-- strictly in adherence to horror literature that is!  Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to the mind of James Patterson.

Anyways..

Our protagonist states that he loves his wife madly, and that she is the only one who could suppress his anger. I think that I sort of pegged him as rather obsessive right from the beginning (probably from to much CSI and SVU) but when one loves so strongly and so passionately...this normally leads towards obsession which leads to jealously, which then leads towards paranoia.  In this case, our man was right to be jealous for his wife was cheating on him...but she wasn't afraid of his rage... in fact, she turned it into a game. A challenge.  I think that she wanted him to catch her simply because she wanted to see if she was strong enough to get away with it.  Exactly what kind of power did she have over this man?

I thought that poison was a good choice, because stabbing/shooting someone is so overdone; In horror fiction, it seems like the easy way out to me sometimes.  What I appreciated even more about the situation, was that he wanted to commit the murder along with his own suicide for a romantic ending to their tragic lives.

I was particularly fond of the description of his dead wife: "The corpse's face was bluish-grey in colour, irises, dilated and glassy, the mouth wide open, the gums scarlet, teeth tarnished, and the nose soft and twisted, leaning over to one side, oozing puss..." -- I thought that there was a lot of really great imagery in this paragraph, and I loved how he went into details regarding the noise...talk about implying to the senses!

I had a few other pieces in the story that I really enjoyed: "You have to have been buried alive to know what it is, everything it represents, its real worth, and all its hidden meaning, when your voice suddenly rings out in the blackness, rousing objects out of their inanimacy, reaffirming their unseenness, resisting them, denying nothingness!" - "Love is no excuse for murder." --  "The smell in the room had grown worse.  A sort of filth obscured the windows which became variegated when the sun passed through.  The garden foliage, caught by the wind, cast fleeting shadows across the glass and carpet; I watched teh fluctuations of light and shadow; I had turned my head the better to see it; suddenly, this swarming effect began to take shape, changed into Berthe's body then, equally suddenly, Berthe's body was my own, stretched out under my very eyes, rotting."

I was really excited when I saw his mood change and he realized that he loved what he had done.  He exclaimed, "My masterpiece! This is what I created out of her living beauty! This is what I wanted! This mass of putrefaction is the product of my will!"  I thought that this was the  perfect way to clarify his feelings for the murder that he committed and the suicide attempt that he survived.

I started to retract my likeness for the story when our protagonist realized that he was still in love with her, even in her death.  He stared at her corpse and talking to her as if she could still listen and respond to him.  I couldn't believe that he was regretting his decision!  Where was the violent, intelligent person from the beginning of the story?  Where is his backbone?  I mean seriously, come on!  No one likes a villain that goes in his room and cries like a baby? Gah... this seriously agitates me.

THEN... at the end AFTER he confesses... AFTER he begs for forgiveness... HE KILLS HIMSELF!... I cannot even begin to tell you how bad this pissed me off.  I lost total respect for the character that I THOUGHT our protagonist was.. and frankly, this just seemed like a cheap ending for the author.  Great start...but horrible ending in my opinion.  I feel like he just kinda gave up and took the easy way out and I can't respect that as a writer.

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2 Comments

Mike Arnzen said:

Good and reasonable reactions, all from the gut. I like the quotes you pulled out -- very gruesome. You seem mostly interested here in character motivation; do you find any of the characteristics from the decadents or Oscar Wilde's story in this one? That might explain some of the things you weren't buying. And you're right about the choice of suicide for a story ending...way overdone. So much, in fact, that you have to always expect that at the ending of a tale anymore. But in THIS story, which is an early one, you have to read it in relation to the court and what society thinks of this very strange man, no?

KL Grady said:

Interesting post, Stephanie. I agree that the character's change in the end wasn't so attractive, but I also have to wonder about the Decadents' idea of art for art's sake. The narrator considers his wife's corpse his masterpiece, where I assume his art is violence. When I considered his imminent suicide in this light - he will never create something as brilliant as his dead wife again, and the jury that has judged him found his art perhaps lacking - it was easier to view his suicide as a natural reaction of an unstable "artist." Of course, these days the suicide is way overdone, and even in his older piece it's an easy way out both for the author and for the character.

Thanks for making me think!

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