Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell

Borges wrote A Universal History of Iniquity at an early age and later in life said of it, “. . . under all the storm and lightning, there is nothing.” Most of the stories are somewhat fictionalized biographical sketches of legendary badmen. Lazarus Morell’s scheme is to encourage slaves to escape, allow themselves to be resold in another state, then escape again, splitting the proceeds with Morell. But Morell, to protect this franchise, always makes sure that the slaves in question end up prematurely deceased somewhere down the line. He is a redeemer, but cruel in the false hope he offers and the ultimate fate he delivers. Borges describes these stories as baroque, and his language, even in translation, is delightfully so:

We do know, however, that he was not particularly good-looking as a young man and that his close-set eyes and thin lips did not conspire in his favor. The years, as time went on, imparted to him that peculiar majesty that white-haired blackguards, successful (and unpunished) criminals, seem generally to possess.

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