In last week’s post I talked about Laurent Bordelon’s 1710 novel L’histoire des imaginations extravagantes de monsieur Oufle (A History of the Ridiculous Extravagancies of Monsieur Oufle) and covered the first three chapters, which introduced the main character: a Don Quixote-like oaf who believes in all manner of supernatural phenomena. Now, it’s time to read on and see how Bordelon was responsible for one of literature’s earliest werewolf comedies…
Chapter four opens with Monsieur Oufle sharing some festivities with his family (“for tho’ he was very whimsical, and very superstitious, he yet lov’d Mirth”). During the course of the event he indulges in wine — “a much larger Dose than his Head cou’d bear” — and gets rather excited. Nobody seems to mind, however: even Madam Oufle takes his behaviour in her stride, unlike most other wives who, the author informs us, “never shew more Uneasiness, than when they see their Husbands gay.”
When the celebration ends and the guests have returned home, Monsieur Oufle’s son Sansugue chooses a costume and heads off to a ball. He happens to leave one of his other costumes — a bear outfit — lying in his apartment where it is found by his father. The elder Oufle has a devilish idea: he decides to slip into the bear costume and play a prank on his wife in return for her having “continually jarr’d with him on the Score of his Credulity, with regard to Apparitions, Spectres, Fantoms, Enchantments, and other the like Follies.”
He heads to his wife’s bedroom, but is annoyed to find that her serving-girl is with her. While waiting for the servent to leave so that he can play his prank, he reads one of his occult volumes — specifically Jean Bodin’s De la démonomanie des sorciers, which discusses werewolves — before finally falling asleep from the alcohol. He is then awoken to a sudden noise, and catches sight of himself in the mirror:
The Wine and the Fire which had warm’d his Head, the so suddain interruption of his Sleep, the Dress which he found himself in; all these, I say, join’d with what he had just been reading, had so turn’d his Brain, that he believ’d himself really not a Bear, but transform’d into a Wolf.
He is then filled with an urge to run out into the streets to howl, bite and generally “put in Practice whatever he had heard reported that Wolves usually do.”
Chapter five follows “our modern Lycaon” as he roams the streets, having just scared away a band of nighttime musicians. He is not alone, as the streets are also prowled by drunken University graduates (or possibly students on holiday: we are told that they’ve been “lately deliver’d from the Slavery of a University life”) who delight in stealing bell-ropes and knockers from doors — a pet peeve of the author, it would appear. These fellows are so frightened by the site of Monsieur Oufle that they are reminded of their most fearful days at school, when they faced “their Masters arm’d with certain Instruments”.
Not everything goes well for Oufle: at one point he trips up over a pile of bell-ropes dropped by fleeing graduates; later, he disrupts a card game and prompts one of the players to go at him with a sword. His reign of fursuited terror continues through chapter six, where he picks up enough infamy that townspeople start inventing stories of their brave encounters with the rampaging werewolf:
Others there were who affirm’d that they had cut off one of his Feet in defending themselves against his Violence, and that being a Sorcerer chang’d into a Wolf, he was next day found in Bed with one Hand cut off, and that his Indictment was now drawing up, in order to his Prosecution. But this Story of cutting off a Wolves Paw, having been so many Ages since repeated, and that also pretended to have happen’d in so many several Countrys, ’tis not to be wondered if it be so easily trumpt up anew.
An unfortunate side-effect of such tale-telling is that an innocent bystander gets accosted simply for having one hand.
At some point during this mayhem, Monsieur Oufle recovers his senses, while the author apparently loses interest in spoofing lycanthropy. Chapter seven introduces a new, werewolf-free plot thread: the hero suspects his wife of being unfaithful, and tries out various tongue-of-frog spells in an effort to make her confess. I haven’t yet read the rest of the novel, but I’ll be back with more posts if any of it’s relevant to Werewolf Wednesday.
One final detail I’d like to point out: the premise of the lycanthropy storyline in Monsieur Oufle is very similar to “Hugues, the Wer-Wolf”, an 1838 story attributed to Sutherland Menzies. It’s doubtful, though, that the author of this latter story had access to Monsieur Oufle, which was described by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1869 as “excessively rare” — more likely the resemblance is a coincidence. It doesn’t take a great deal of inspiration to put on a werewolf costume and run around scaring people, after all.