- Gail Wilson Kenna
Harry from Hollywood, Roger from Corporate Fox, Deposed King Donald, Falstaff:
“well-nigh old lechers, worn to pieces with age”, and all “crooked, pated, cuckoldy knaves.”
Add Ferral from Man’s Fate, by Andre Malraux, to this list of infamous, womanizing men. This Frenchman gets “his way by force or by money.” The reader first sees him when he spots “an auburn-haired Minerva in a tailored sport-suit, with superb immobile features” on the stairs, descending from the police chief’s office. (Call this Access Shanghai Tapes). The reader learns that “difficulties which beset his (Ferral’s) present life, drive him into eroticism, not into love.” He realizes he is no longer young, and he tries to convince himself that his legend makes up for his loss of youth. “He was Ferral,” and he “despised women, though he could not do without them.”
Malraux is not subtle in his choice of a name for the President of the Franco-Asiatic Consortium in Shanghai. A few synonyms for feral are bestial, brutish, cold-blooded, cruel, inhuman, predatory, rapacious, ravenous (no Big Mac’s in Shanghai in 1927), and lastly, vicious.
Ferral’s latest mistress is Valerie; and “moral license in a woman excited him, but intellectual license irritated him.” He had not had intercourse with Valerie except in the dark. In an early scene, she turns out the light. He turns it on. She thinks the light has gone out by accident and turns it off again. He turns it on, needing to see the “avowal of submission in her face at the moment of possession.” This is a man who “calls on eroticism to revive a wavering admiration and the network of constraints on which his life rests at present.” The Frenchman, however, will wish he had left the lamp off!
Later, Valerie asks Ferral to bring her a blackbird in a cage, which he assumes is her consent to go to bed with him that night. After buying the bird, he goes to the Astor Hotel where he sees a young British bank director with a blackbird in a cage. A letter was left for each man. The Brit leaves with his letter (not sure about the blackbird); but Ferral stays, as if to not flee his humiliation. In Valerie’s letter she says, “he will probably die without it ever having occurred to him that a woman is also a human being.”
For Ferral, ridicule calls for blood. He must find relief for his outraged sexual pride, something to stop the torment. He does not pay for his drink, leaves his hat on the table, and is driven to a Chinese shop. There he buys every creature the merchant has: small birds, cockatoos, parrots, even a kangaroo. And he leaves all of them (cages removed) in Valerie’s room at the hotel. Call this “a blatant image of his anger.” The scene is vividly portrayed.
After Ferral leaves Valerie’s room, he must find a woman, though first he goes to a bar. There he runs into Gisors, an important character in the novel. This intellect, whose escape is opium, asks Ferral, what he means by intelligence. Ferral says, “A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done. I am my roads.” Gisors goes on to tell Ferral that what fascinates men is not real power, but the illusion of being able to do exactly as they please. The king’s power is to govern; but man has no urge to govern. His urge is to compel; to be more than a man, and to escape man’s fate. Not powerful, Gisors says, but all powerful and possessing the visionary disease, which is the dream of being God, and possessing the will to be the godhead.
Ferral has had enough of Gisors and leaves the bar. He must have a woman and takes one home with him that night. “In reality he never went to bed with anyone but himself, but he could do this only if he were not alone.” His will to power never achieved its object, lived only by renewing it…He would possess through this Chinese woman, the only thing he was eager for: Himself. And he needed the eyes of others to see himself.”
This morning a friend told me about a Facebook post from a local preacher, who compared the persecution of Trump in New York to Christ on the cross. When I heard this, I remembered what a lovely visiting musician told me recently. She and her husband had driven from D.C. to Florida for a wedding and passed by a billboard, on which was written: Trump is Jesus. She said the two of them felt as if they might vomit. Right now, I am drinking ginger tea and trying to keep the acid down.
Next week: Other thoughts on Man’s Fate, this timely novel from the 1930s.