Lucy and Todd

Mary MacLane — I Await the Devil’s Coming

In Stuff We Like on August 17, 2013 at 6:42 am

I have seventeen little engraved portraits of Napoleon that I keep in one of my bureau-drawers. Often late in the evening…I take these pictures from the drawer and gaze at them carefully a long time and think of that man until I am stirred to the depths.

And then easily and naturally I fall in love with Napoleon.

If only he were living now, I think to myself, I would make my way to him by whatever means and cast myself at his feet. I would entreat him with the most passionate humbleness of spirit to take me into his life for three days. To be the wife of Napoleon for three days–that would be enough for a lifetime! I would be much more than satisfied if I could get three such days out of life.

I suppose a man is either a villain or a fool, though some of them seem to be a judicious mingling of both. The type of the distinct villain is preferable to a mixture of the two, and to a plain fool. I like a villain anyway–a villain that can be rather tender at times. And so, then, as I look at the pictures I fall in love with the incomparable Napoleon. The seventeen pictures are all different and all alike. I fall in love with each picture separately.

In one he is ugly and unattractive–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In another he is cruel and heartless and utterly selfish–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In a third he has a fat, pudgy look, and is quite insignificant–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In a fourth he is grandly sad and full of despair–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the fifth he is greasy and greedy and common-looking–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the sixth he is masterly and superior and exalted–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the seventh he is romantic and beautiful–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the eight he is obviously sensual and reeking with uncleanness–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the ninth he is unearthly and mysterious and unreal–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the tenth he is black and sullen-browed, and ill-humored–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the eleventh he is inferior and trifling and inane–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the twelfth he is rough and ruffianly and uncouth–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the thirteenth he is little and wolfish and vile–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the fourteenth he is calm and confident and intellectual–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the fifteenth he is vacillating and fretful and his mouth is like a woman’s–and still he is strong. I fall in love with him.

In the sixteenth he is slow and heavy and brutal–and strong. I fall in love with him.

In the seventeenth he is rather tender–and strong. I fall vividly in love with him.

(An extract from MacLane’s memoir, I Await the Devil’s Coming: first published 1902; reissued by Melville House, 2013, with a great introduction by Jessa Crispin)

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  1. […] Mary MacLane — I Await the Devil’s Coming. […]

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