Fiction with a Bomb--The Prague Cemetery, Finale

Leo Taxil
Leo Taxil
Taxil's imagined Masons
Taxil's imagined Masons
Taxil's anti-Masonic literature
Taxil's anti-Masonic literature
Taxil's Palladism
Taxil's Palladism
Leo Taxil can be made into a devil, too.
Leo Taxil can be made into a devil, too.
detail of a painting showing Charcot displaying one of his hysteric patients.
detail of a painting showing Charcot displaying one of his hysteric patients.
The devil at work according to Taxil
The devil at work according to Taxil
The KKK marches on Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C., in the 1920s
The KKK marches on Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C., in the 1920s
Engraving showing a nineteenth century pogrom
Engraving showing a nineteenth century pogrom
Gate of Auschwitz, recently the target of vandals
Gate of Auschwitz, recently the target of vandals
Jewish captives on their way to Treblinka, 1942
Jewish captives on their way to Treblinka, 1942

What could unite all the disparate elements we have encountered in The Prague Cemetery ? Only conspiracy, created, manipulated, and merging with the true, and so it is. If Simonini is his own dupe, believing his own creation is fact, there are many others who share this delusion, although their creations may differ in details. As Simonini discovered with Dumas and Eugene Sue, it is the Universal Form that counts and survives, embracing any details you care to place within it.

The Jesuits are campaigning against the Freemasons. Simonini is their servant, but he has no source within the Masons to provide him with information he can twist into the story of their demonic nature. He remembers a man for whom he had done some private work, the forging of two letters, and this man was a Mason, recently ejected from the order. This could be his source for the required supplemental narratives, and so he approaches Taxil, a strange criminal who takes great joy in his deceptions, in testing the boundaries of his audience's credulity. Taxil has a private business in the production and sale of anti-Catholic pamphlets, but he is also broke and theatrical in nature. He can be bought. Simonini arranges for his purchase, receiving funds from both the Jesuits and the Mason Hebuterne. Why would a Mason support such a venture? Hebuterne believes that should attacks on the Masons strain all belief, other attacks will be tarred by the same brush and become similarly unbelievable.

At this point, entering this plot of Taxil's conversion and the narrative he will supply of the Freemason's secret satanism, Simonini and Abbe Dalla Piccola II begin to resolve into the single person, Simonini. Simonini wears many masks, and Dalla Piccola is one of them. In this central plot, this particular series of events, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the disembodiment of the masque from the man, and although the Abbe continues for some time to speak as a separate entity, it is as an entity that knows he is false. The moralizing ends, for the Abbe's own morality is revealed as highly suspect. He is, in fact, as wicked as Simonini, for he is Simonini's masque of the Hypocrite. The chronology of events in the preparation for Taxil's performances and their performance is confused, for it is in relation to this series of events, contacts, dialogues, and revelations that the initial trauma, the split of Abbe Piccola from Simonini, occurred. Resolution of the conflicted personality require that the two, masque and man, merge again into a single being, and this is achieved only through some confusion, hesitation, and resistance.

Abbe Piccola rents a house in Auteuil. This is to be the prison/home of the Dr. Du Moreau's hysteric, Diana. At last, we have Diana before us, not as a question, but as a woman, a mad woman who believes she belongs to a satanic cult of Masons when she is not her angelic self, ruing the actions of her evil and corrupt 'normal' state. The Abbe hires, as the best woman for the job, a half-deaf, alcoholic old woman to care for Diana in this rented house, trains himself in means of calming her and of determining which state Diana will show, demonic or angelic, as the moment requires. When Taxil, having been with the Masons only a short time and his narrative thus rapidly depleting itself, needs material, Diana is available to be his sibyl. Only, Diana believes it to be true, while Taxil knows that he is engaged in theater, wonderful, perverse theater. The Freemason conspiracy that Taxil provides the public and the Jesuits, substantiated by his public conversion to Catholicism, is then largely the product of a disturbed mind, as Simonini's version of the Jews and their place in the world was largely determined through his grandfather's recollection of one Jewish madman in the Turin ghetto.

Diana is sometimes not demonic enough. Even her delusions fail to satisfy their need for material, for further perversions and rituals fit for publication as fact. And so, her demons are given support by the introduction into this circle of conspirators and theater managers of the Abbe Boullan. The nineteenth century was not solely the time of Charles Dickens, the simplicities and purities of Household Words . It was also the time of Alistair Crowley and others who dabbled in the occult, in men and women who embraced spiritualism, gnosticism, seances, automatic writing (as, for instance, William Butler Yeats), and other irrational forms of world organization and comprehension. Perhaps when progress, by which is meant radical transformation of the material grounds by which the world is traversed and understood, is strong, the need for an alternative, for retreat into the irrational, is also strong. Certainly it was in the nineteenth century. One of the forms which this retreat into the irrational took was satanism, an appeal to the demonic as a means of control in a world, a society, in which control and predictability seemed absent.

Abbe Boullan was one of this set, and his charisma, his architecture of the demonic, the spiritual and the sexual, are deployed by the Abbe and Taxil in order to entice Diana into further revelations concerning Palladism, the demonic form of Freemasonry they have created from Taxil's sense of theater and her delusions. Abbe Boullan provides material for Diana in her madness to work upon, to bring within her own delusions, incubating a whole piece of madness for the delectation of Taxil's readers.

Taxil is not the only writer in this conspiracy. Another is brought in, Dr. Charles Hacks, formerly of the navy, a drunkard and adventurer. In 1892, Taxil and he bring out Le diable au XIXe siecle . Meanwhile, anti-Semitism has been born as a phrase and a position: "and the spontaneous mistrust of Jews became a doctrine, like Christianity or idealism". In all the texts of the new position, Simonini's Prague cemetery plays a role as a confirmation or a parallel of what those texts claim and demand. Strangely to Simonini, Taxil and Diana resist the inclusion of the Jews in their conspiracy. They do not cast them in their theater, but leave that theater to others, like Edouard Drumont, founder of La Ligue Antisemitique and author of La France juive . In 1894, the Dreyfus case opens, with Simonini playing a prominent part as forge of the notorious bandereau used against Dreyfus and, later, against Major Esterhazy.

The Dreyfus case is a notorious case of injustice, anti-Semitism, and division in France. It split French society into two enemy camps animated by the guilt or innocence ascribed to this lonely, Jewish captain from Alsace. For him, Zola wrote J'accuse . Faith in the French government, the French military, the foundations of French society were all undermined by the frame up of a single officer. Anti-Dreyfusards made their position synonymous with being truly French, and so to doubt his guilt, to doubt the word and honor of the French military, was to be a traitor, to be less than French. Perhaps Rachkovsky, an agent for Russia's Okhrana, says it best in the novel: modern identity is not based on who you are, but on who you hate--that is its organizing principle. That being so, "Hatred has to be cultivated as a civic passion". To hate Dreyfus, and in hating him to hate Jews, always suspect in their loyalties, never truly belonging to the nation, always and inalterably different.

Eventually, after 12 long years, Taxil's conspiracy falls apart. It has run too long, and now there is competition for attention and for the place of prime evil in the world from others. The convert cannot parley his conversion into a lifetime role, but is betrayed and belittled. Drumont attacks his sincerity, for he is not anti-Semitic and this shows he lacks integrity. His ghostwriter, Hacks writing as Dr. Bataille, confesses the hoax and is believed by Drumont, if not by the ultra-Catholics who form Taxil's main audience. The Catholic Church wishes to end its anti-Masonic campaign quietly, for too much real political upheaval and real political consequences are occurring: the hoax is becoming mixed with real questions of power and politics. The Masons have also had enough and desire a dramatic recantation on Taxil's part, equal to the dramatic inception of the performance. Taxil agrees that this series of performances is over, that it is time to leave the stage. He sets a date and plans the denouement.

But what is to be done with poor, mad Diana? Her stability has not improved, and it will not. The Abbe is no physician, and the secrecy of their conspiracy requires that none be summoned. The de-frocked satanist, Abbe Boullan, is all they have as treatment, their means of calming and entertaining the mad, entering into her delusions and taking advantage of the sexual and emotional benefits of this collusion. He adds the black mass to Diana's life, and Diana invites the Abbe Piccola to join them. He goes. Simonini/Abbe Piccola's trauma has nothing to do with the highly detailed events that have preceded it in the novel. It is nothing more than a sexual escapade gone horribly wrong, a seduction by a madwoman of a sexually dysfunctional man in a setting of perversion and theatrical satanism. The Abbe is seduced; he returns home to Paris with the Abbe and Diana. He attacks Diana and, by accident, discovers that her mother is Jewish, that in coupling with her he could be the father of a Jew. It is too much for the Abbe/Simonini. It is inconceivable and must not happen. He kills Diana and the Abbe Boullan. Simonini's Prague Cemetery in the sewers of Paris now has three corpses, the three symbolic elements of conspiracy theory: a Jesuit, a Jewess, and a satanic Freemason/Palladian.

The trauma is relived. Simonini is himself again, the Abbe integrated. Taxil is to make his confession on Easter Monday, declaring the infanticide of Palladism by its father. The writing treatment has been a success.

We skip a year in time, to November 1898. Simonini has been cured, but is still riddled by anxiety, still ignorant as to the identity of the intruder Abbe Piccola shot and placed with the other bodies in the cellar, and moreover plagued by evidence of intrusion on his personal space. He discovers things have been moved that he does not remember moving. He finds papers missing from their proper place. He has not fulfilled Russian demands, and Rachkovsky's threats are very real. In France, the case against Dreyfus is falling apart and Esterhazy is in flight, proving to the world by this that he is the guilty party and the Jewish captain is innocent. Rachkovsky threatens to reveal the bodies unless Simonini delivers the promised Protocols. Worse than all this, Simonini is alone, without even his alienated self to talk to. He has completed his masterpiece, and is empty. He misses the Jews, his masterpiece taken away from him by Golovinsky to shape into the Russian version that will become the orthodox truth of anti-Semitism in the twentieth century.

Simonini has realized his mission, and has nothing to do, nothing he can now contribute. Then, Rachkovsky returns to demand a new service of this forge. A lie is afoot in Russia, but to be believed it needs external support. What must be falsified now is not a document, but an act--a revolutionary act of terrorism. The forge is required to create a text of false deeds with a time bomb provided by that Gaviali the bomb expert, now returned to Paris, a fugitive from Devil's Island. He does not need to plant the bomb himself; his attempts to find another to do it are half-hearted. He ends the book in action, on his way to plant the bombs, his ultimate fate unknown. The mysterious Narrator, that author in search of a story, has nothing more to say to us. Is he, like the Abbe, only a part of Simonini, still unreconciled to the man who wears the masques? I do not know. I suspect he is.

Man is mortal; art is immortal. Even dangerous, deceptive, mad art is immortal, if its narrative is powerful enough, its images strong enough, if it taps into universals of human nature. The Protocols have proven themselves durable. My mother worked for a number of years as a truck driver. Her routes took her through the American Midwest a lot, and it was there she ran into the Protocols, having comforted herself for years with the belief that this kind of hatred, this particular document and irrationality, was a thing of the past, that the Holocaust had killed it. The Protocols did not die in the Holocaust; the Orthodox Jewish community was devastated. Ten years ago, I met a young woman in a coffee shop. There was nothing obviously wrong with her. She seemed normal. Then, she mentioned Jews. Of course, they have all the money, she said. There are no poor Jews. The statement was casual, as if it conveyed no judgment, no content, no evil. But it did.

The need to simplify our complex world narrative, to find the cause of all our troubles, to accept the evil-good binary as applying not to individual behaviors that benefit or harm us, but to groups of people, has not disappeared. We still adore conspiracy theories, whether we collect them like rare baubles of exquisite manufacture or believe in them with all our hearts. The community of trust is still fractured. We still have difficulty reaching across the boundaries of our comforting assumptions, even when those comfortable assumptions damage our humanity and compromise our integrity. The Protocols live on. And I am afraid they, or something very like them, always will.

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Comments 2 comments

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

I don't have time to read lengthy pieces now that classes have started, but I am bookmarking them for a future date when I have more time. :)


David 4 years ago

Hello Ed Michaels,

I am reading Prague Cemetery, and started doing some online research when I realized he was writing about material that I should know but didn't, and ran across your wonderful review of the book. I'm not quite through reading the book, but I have finished your commentary, and I sincerely appreciate your research, observations and thoughts. Thank you for putting this out there.

Best regards,

David

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