Monday, 21 September 2015

The Reign of the Evil One - C.F. Ramuz, 1917

Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz


The Reign of the Evil One is a most unusual piece of work, something like a combination of a classic Old testament "God is being a genocidal prick" moment except presented to us in "modern" (1917 edition) times. However, for the most part it's done without being didactic, though some moralising is inevitable, but the bulk of the book focuses on the manyfold sufferings of the people of the village.

The setting is a quiet little village in the Swiss mountains, where a wandering stranger called Branchu suddenly shows up and, using an amount of money totally at odds with his appearance and demanding the summoning of the authorities, buys his way into becoming the new shoemaker of the village.

Almost as soon as he does so, things start to go downhill. Suicides, child murder, the deaths of farm animals, terrible diseases, falling trees that make the village inaccessible and to top it all off, floods wrecking the fields and brings about famine. Oh Branchu is completely charming all the way and at first, and he even cures the stroke-afflicted wife of the villager Lhote, so no one says anything because he works so well and so cheap but things escalate and then after one botched crucifixion Branchu sets himself up in the Inn where he gives food and drink to the arrivals if they make the sign of the cross backwards, while those who don't starve in their beds, terrified.

Only when an innocent returns to the village and stands in front of Branchu does the horror finally come to an end. This book is so unlike most modern books, the only thing I can compare it to is the latter half of Alfred Kubin's "Die Andere Seite"/"The Other Side", which those few who have read it will realise is a very favourable if specific comparison indeed.

Obviously being a cheerful sort, Ramuz's later novel, "The End of All Men" (1922 as "Pr├ęsence de la mort ", english edition 1944) apparently "describes the imminent end of the earth as it plunges toward the sun “through an accident to the law of gravity.”"

Ramuz himself is probably the most high-profile of the obscure or semi-obscure writers tackled for this blog thus far, his likeness adoring the 200 Swiss Franc note which seems to be the only notable piece of trivia about Ramuz in english, beside his authorship of the libretto to Stravinski's "L'Histoire du soldat".

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