Thursday, June 25, 2009

The night of the twenty-fifth of June

"I remember the buzz of curiosity which his advent excited within the college precincts on the night of the twenty-fifth of June." Thus says the narrator of Poe's obscure tale, "Mystification," originally published in June 1837 as "Von Jung, the Mystific." The comedic tale was the only major work which Poe published that year, amidst the backdrop of the Panic of 1837.

The community at the "University of G——n" was abuzz on June 25 that year, so says the story, because of the arrival of the Baron Ritzner Von Jung, a Hungarian nobleman who many described as "the most remarkable man in the universe." Ironic, perhaps, because our narrator notes he is "by no means a handsome man — perhaps rather the reverse." Of course, what makes him interesting is that he has made mystification his "scientific" pursuit. Though the narrator questions the Baron's ability, he admits that "we were chums."

Amidst conversation on June 25, a man nicknamed Hermann ("he was one of the greatest asses in all Christendom") took a sudden interest in the Baron's words about the traditional duello. Hermann takes issue. He says:
"Your opinions, allow me to say, Baron Von Jung, although in the main correct,
are in many nice points discreditable to yourself and to the University of which
you are a member. In a few respects they are even unworthy of serious
refutation. I would say more than this, Sir, were it not for the fear of giving
you offence, (here the speaker smiled blandly,) I would say, Sir, that your
opinions are not the opinions to be expected from a gentleman."
Uh-oh. Furious at being challenged, the Baron takes a moment to compose himself before trying to prove he is a true gentleman. Rather than venturing on violence for this insult, he says he will throw a bottle of wine at Hermann's reflection in the mirror, which he does, believing it proves him a true gentleman.

The narrator (curiously named "Mr. P—") serves as a go-between among the two men as they make a gentlemanly exchange airing their grievances. As it turns out, the Baron had planted a book on dueling for Hermann which was purposely mystifying and written in a way to confuse. Hermann, however, attempted to follow the instructions of the book without comprehending a word of it. In fact, it was "a horribly absurd account of a duel between two baboons." Rather than admitting his confusion, Hermann fell right into the "Mystific" trap.


Gina said...

Sounds like a hoot -- a macabre sort of hoot, but still a hoot!

Rob Velella said...

I don't think the story is macabre at all, personally. It's a misunderstanding that Poe's comedy must be aligned with death.

Gina said...

Falling into a dueling-related trap sounded rather macabre -- but if it's not, so much the better! :-)

Rob Velella said...

Oh, well that's my fault - the duel was actually a verbal duel!