Dear Edgar #5 Bon-Bon

Omelettes and metaphysical Philosophy make for strange bedfellows. Though who engages in a philosophical discussions on an empty stomach? In my experience a hungry philosopher spends most of his time thinking about food. It is hard to focus on considering the great questions of the age when the only question you really care about is where the next bacon sandwich is coming from… I speak from experience having studied Philosophy at degree level. My essays were best written after a hearty meal and a few glasses of wine…

I suspect this is a truth that held true for the great philosophers of the past, Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Voltaire, Nietzsche. To a man I suspect they were useless before their first meal of the day. Though in the case of Nietzsche, he spent most of his time thinking about getting off with his younger sister, and hanging out with Mr and Mrs Wagner, a lovely couple with a surprisingly open attitudes to sexual proclivities for the 1800’s.

Yes that Wagner, The one who composed the Ring Cycle… He and Nietzsche had quite a thing for each other… Hitlers favourite composer, and the Nazi’s favourite philosopher were very close for several years in the 1870’s… Both of them were admittedly long dead by the time Adolf’s cronies were rounding up undesirables, which included intellectuals and those with proscribed sexual leanings, luckily for them one suspects.

But anyway Nietzsche was useless until he had eaten a well matured sausage and a little sauerkraut on a morning. Staring into the abyss is all very well and all that, but nihilism really bites when the larder is empty.

I may have wondered a little off track, hopefully you haven’t noticed though. In any regard this next story by our own Dear Edgar features a philosophising French restaurateur and chef, famed for his omelettes and metaphysical philosophy.

Pierre Bon-Bon is a man who is fond of find food and has fostered a reputation of having an ‘inclination for the bottle’, which is a particularly fine bit of phrasing by Poe… As is the narrators insistence that Bon-Bon is ‘profound and a man of genius as even the mans cat knew.’ Famed for his insight on the writings of the great philosophers of antiquity…

Which is to say he was something of a drunken, a bore, and much enamoured of his own intellect which he held in greater esteem than was perhaps was its due. This may also explain why one evening as the witching hour approached, long into his cups Pierre hears a voice he recognises at once as being the voice of the devil, a voice followed by the appearance of Old Nick himself. Bon-Bon is the kind of man who considers himself to have no intellectual equals. Something the narrator with a certain sardonic lint, is at pains to point out.

If Bon-Bon has one other flaw however, it is that he can not resist a bargain. Even if the bargain is against his best interests. And here is Lucifer, prince of lies, only too happy to expound upon the worth of a soul, indeed happy to explain that the souls of most all great philosophers end up in the care of the lords of hell…

Look too long in to the abyss and the abyss will make you an offer on your immortal aspect… Apparently.

And that there is the set up, an arrogant man with a high opinion of his own worth and intellect is visited by the devil, you can guess what happens next… Except that this isn’t exactly the story you expect nor is the devil the one you expect either. That is to say this is not the devil as most of us generally expect him to be portrayed. We are used to a certain degree of style and panache when it comes to Lucifer these days, along the line of Tom Ellis, Al Pacino or dozens of other portrayals including an particularly memorable one by Elizabeth Hurley taking on Peter Cooks role in the remake of Bedazzled…

Instead, Poe presents us with something of a disappointing devil. a dusty individual in unfashionable cloths from a previous century that are a size too small and past their best, wearing small green spectacles on the end of a long nose, down which he peers with nearsightedness. He lacks some of the flair you’d associate with the devil too. Rather than bribing Bon-Bon with temptations, he just wants to talk about long dead philosophers most of whom he admits to have consumed. Or at least consumed their souls. The consuming of souls appears to be his primary motivation for all he and his cohort of demons in hell do.

There is something very playful about this story, the use of language, the thread of humour and witticism that run through it. It is arguable the most accomplished of Dear Edgars first five stories published over the course of 1831 in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier. Certainly it is the most self aware and self-effacing. Like the other stories it was later republished with some heavy editing by Poe. The version you are most likely to read is the version from ‘Tales of the grotesque and Arabesque’ published some fourteen years later. Getting hold of the original version is a task in of itself, though not enough has changed to make it a task worth undertaking as I found after several hours tracking down a copy on line. Also the edits are an improvement, so if you read it read the later version, it was our own Dear Edgar who made the changes so its what he would have wanted…

This is not the story you might expect it to be, it certainly doesn’t twist in the way you would expect at the end. Though there is a twist there and a strangely satisfying one if your have read this between the lines rather than at face value which I suspect is the intent. It is clever, witty and if it has a flaw it is a tad slow to start, it makes a full meal of the set up when it could be sharper. But it is, importantly fun. Which frankly is something studying philosophy at degree level proved not to be…

Lets just say I like the idea that the devil, even if he is a dusty dishevelled devil, consuming the souls of the ‘great’ philosophisers, shall we, and leave it at that…


Should your read it: Read between the lines and knowingly, but its a entertaining little yarn that plays with language.

Should you avoid it: It’s fun if a little windy at times, but inoffensive except to the French… So that’s fine.

Bluffers facts: The original title of this story was ‘The Bargain Lost’, it wasn’t the devil that was encountered but a lower functionary of the same and Pierre Bob-Bon was called Pedro Garcia, but apart from that it is the same story except it started ‘It was a dark and stormy night….’

This opening line was later removed. At the time it was a reference to the works of Edward Bulwer-Lytton who had used it previously. He was a writer who could spin a good line once in a while… His most famous being ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’

With no sense of the ironic Bulwer-Lytton utter failed to die in a dual, impaled on a rapier. Instead he died of an overly complex ear infection, had he caught this through a habit of scratching his ear with a pen-nib this would make up for his shocking lack of irony.

Sadly he did not.


About Mark Hayes

Writer A messy, complicated sort of entity. Quantum Pagan. Occasional weregoth Knows where his spoon is, do you? #author #steampunk
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