Sunday, May 3, 2020

Malicroix's mythology - white bulls, sun gods, east versus west - this evening, there is nothing in the east but night

It was the East-West motif that helped me solve the Malicroix puzzle.  Our hero Martial comes to the island that is at the center of Malicroix from the East, from Puyloubier.  His home in Puyloubier is Eden, or Arcadia, or Hobbiton, except matriarchal. The penultimate chapter of Malicroix is about Martial’s return to and renunciation of his home; it is filled with fascinating things, but I can’t write about everything in the novel.  Home is extremely familial and social.*  Anyway, it is East.

West is the old home of the Malicroix family is to the West, visible from the island where Martial is trapped.  The history of the family is to the West, in particular the pivotal moment when the patriarch killed the legendary white bull that was threatening his nude niece, Delphine d’or – Golden Delphine.

Martial cannot go West until he completes the first part of his quest.

That bull was hauled across the Rhône and buried under a cross, le Calvaire, which is also visible from the island.  This stuff is so odd that for much of the novel I thought I was misunderstanding the French.  Mais non!

The person who moved the bull – no, I won’t go into all of this.  Malicroix feature a blind ferryman, the sacrifice of a white bull, a revelation on December 25th, a ritual where a character is born or reborn from a rock, and another character who is an avatar of the sun god.  Bosco pulls in elements of Christianity and Greek mythology – Odysseus in the underworld, for example – but all of this stuff has a name, and it’s Mithraism.  Malicroix is a pagan fantasy novel where the hero must complete the ritualistic quest of his ancestor, but for the right reason, for redemption and rebirth rather than revenge.

Readers of William Gaddis’s The Recognitions (1955) will know all of this, although will perhaps be disappointed to learn that Bosco beat Gaddis to the full incorporation of Mithraism into fiction.  Bosco has the advantage that Mithraism probably has some genuine relationship to Catharism, and the novel’s setting is more or less in Cathar territory.

The hero, Martial, and the heroine, Anne-Madeleine, lovers who barely speak, directly discuss the East-West motif:

I would leave for the east in a few days.  That space was empty and my heart clenched.

“It’s from there that the night comes,” she told me.  “Let’s go back; I’m cold.”

“But the day also comes from the east, Anne-Madeleine.”

“That’s true; however, this evening, there is nothing in the east but night.” (296-7)

Anne-Madeleine is the avatar of the sun god(dess), and/or of Golden Delphine.  For a while I thought she might turn out to be some kind of ghost.  But no, just an avatar.  Here we see, in the pages before the hero successfully completes the long-deferred Mithraic ritual, the sun / Golden Delphine gives him her approval:

I went to bed and slept for a long time.  When I awoke, the sun was low.  A long finger of light entered through the half-closed shutters.  All gold.  (353)

Readalongists can help me, since I lost track.  Whose room is Martial in at that moment?

The Rhône river runs from north to south – please see the map from a couple of days ago – which with the east-west theme forms another cross, with Martial and his island and his little house in the center.  I have not mentioned but only implied the “four elements” theme.

I will not worry much about what all of this means.  It is enough that it exists.  It would not be quite true to say that there is nothing like it in French literature.  Alain-Fournier and Gérard de Nerval are clear antecedents.  But there is not much like it.

*  This chapter features the uncle who dreams all day, and then at night dreams that he dreams.  For a moment Bosco was writing a Lewis Carroll novel.  P. 329 in the French edition; I am not making this up.  Amazing things in this chapter.


  1. Fascinating series of posts. Sounds like a pretty crazed novel. I guess I'll go reread Franz Cumont in preparation...

  2. Not completely crazy, to read Cumont or soemthing like it. If the writer were American or English, I would assume the relevant book would be The Golden Bough, but for a French writer, I do not know.

    Also, unlike much of the shallow decorative use many writers made of Frazer (e.g., Faulkner's Sanctuary), I think Bosco meant it, whatever "it" is.

    Anyway, the idea that this is a novel about sitting quietly and meditating by the fireplace - no!

  3. Now you've got me interested in reading the copy of The Recognitions that's been sitting on my shelves for many years, patiently waiting.

  4. I take that as a good deed done. The Recognitions is one of those novels that is packed with stuff. The Mithraism is just one subplot.

  5. I saved this post for when I finished reading (and writing my own post about) Malicroix, and I'm so glad I did. What a treat to have this extended discussion on Mithraism spelled out for me. When reading about related connections a few days ago, I was amused to learn that Sun Ra (the Egyptian rather than the American one) also had a cult in Malicroix lands in days/centuries gone by. What a strange novel.

  6. I tried to warm people about Nerval and all that, I tried, I tried. It was a surprise to discover that this novel was a genuine piece of French literary esotericism.

    Voici, Richard's brand new review of Malicroix, with plenty of Nerval.