Epic Journeys #2 - Molloy and Moran
We all know Samuel Beckett’s celebrated play Waiting For Godot. Less well known is his trilogy comprising Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable, written in French in the years following the end of the Second World War. Of the three Molloy involves two journeys by their respective protagonists: Molloy in Part I, and Moran in Part II.
At the beginning of his story Molloy is in his mother’s room though he doesn’t know how he got there. He believes that his mother is dead, at least enough to be buried, and that he himself has a son somewhere, though he isn’t sure. Each day he writes down his story and each week an odd kind of man who we never meet comes to collect his papers and give him some money. The man only ever comes on a Sunday, the other days he isn’t free.
Molloy is crippled, both his legs are stiff, but in the story he writes he remembers the time when he still had one more or less good leg - good in the sense that it wasn’t stiff, though afflicted with corns and bunions and ingrown toenails - and he was able to get around on crutches. And one day he was filled with the irresistible desire to visit his mother.
He didn’t know why wanted to visit his mother, but suggests it may have been for money, though he thinks not. Nor does he remember where his mother lives, not even the name of the town, even though it was the town in which he was born. But his need to visit his mother is so great that he is filled with the horror that something might prevent him from going. So he adjusts his crutches, goes out to the road where he finds his bicycle, attaches his crutches to the crossbar, rests his bad leg on the front axle, then, pedalling with his good leg, he sets off.
He makes good progress and reaches the ramparts of the town where he dismounts and rests as best he can. But he is causing an obstruction and is taken to the police station. He is questioned but cannot even remember his name. Molloy has lived so long alienated from the world that even simple questions confuse him. Yet we have his thoughts, and know that at one time he was very bright, a scholar, even. At one point in his narrative he states that all he had just related should be rewritten in the pluperfect. The police let him off with a caution and he continues his journey though he can no longer remember where to.
By nightfall he finds himself on the banks of a canal and crawls into a ditch. He suddenly remembers that he is his way to see his mother, but cannot remember why. He spends one or maybe several nights in the ditch, and wakes up one morning under the gaze of a shepherd and his dog. He sets off again, and accidentally runs over and kills a lady's dog. The crowd want to lynch him, but the lady saves him and they take the dog to her home where they bury it in the garden.
Molloy spends some time at the lady's home. He is allowed free run of the gardens and as much beer as he can drink. Molloy doesn't have many pleasures, but he quite likes getting drunk. He could happily have stayed in the lady's home forever, if the spectre of his mother hadn't come back to haunt him. So one day he leaves, but without his bicycle, which he had mislaid.
He finds himself on a beach where he replenishes his supply of pebbles which he likes to suck. He ends up in a forest where he has an encounter with a charcoal burner. He manages to find the words to ask the man directions but doesn't understand what he says to him. He tries to leave and the man grabs his sleeve. He manages to knock him to the ground and deliver several blows with his feet by swinging on his crutches.
He becomes lost in the forest. Then he remembers that when a man gets lost in a forest and tries to go in a straight line in reality he goes in circle. So Molloy tries to go in a circle, and though he cannot hope that by going in a circle he will go in a straight line, at least he feels fairly confident that he will not be going in a circle. He lives on mushrooms which he eats with trembling hands, knowing nothing about mushrooms. His good leg becomes stiff and he is no longer able to walk, not even with crutches. He crawls along, occasionally calling out 'Mother' to encourage himself. He finally gets out of the forest and flops into a ditch. He hears people coming to help. He wants to go back into the forest. But it wasn't a real desire. Molloy could stay wherever he happened to be.
We first meet Moran at his home where he lives with his son. His name is Jacques Moran. His son, too, is called Jacques. He does not believe this will lead to confusion.
It is a Sunday. Moran is somewhat of a puritan and likes to spend Sundays in his garden without being disturbed before going to Mass at his beloved church. But this Sunday a man called Gaber comes unannounced to see him.
Moran and Gaber both work for the same organisation, Moran as an agent, Gaber as a messenger. They work for Mr Youdi, who we do not meet, but who sends out incomprehensible orders which must be obeyed. Thus it is that Gaber arrives with a message from Mr Youdi that Moran must leave his house that very day, his son with him, and set off to find Molloy.
The visit of Gaber troubles Moran. He does not want to take on the Molloy case, but he has no choice. He can't find his son, worries what mischief he may be up to. And it is now too late to go to Mass. He decides to request a private reception with Father Ambroise.
Moran spends some time ruminating on Molloy. He thinks he has heard the name, though by whom and in what circumstance he does not know. He thinks also to have heard of Molloy's mother, though with less certainty. He believes that Molloy is a man who is never at rest, always on the move, but has no idea where he could be going to or coming from.
He sees Father Ambroise who tells him that his son attended the midday Mass. This surprises Moran. Back at his home things are not going well. His son is being difficult, does not want to go. He is less than enthusiastic himself, but hears a voice inside him telling him to be the faithful servant he has always been. His son is not feeling well. He has to drag him from his bed. He takes him to the bathroom and gives him an enema. What a day! he thinks. Then he has a sudden pain in his knee, but he can still bend it.
In an act of near rebellion, Moran decides that they will leave at midnight. They go on foot, avoiding the main roads, and are able to cover ten miles in a day. Moran shows his son how to make a shelter in a bush. They eat cold food from cans and drink stream water. Moran still wonders what he will do with Molloy when he finds him.
One night Moran is awoken suddenly with another pain in his knee. When he awakes again at dawn he is unable to bend the knee. He decides to send his son to buy a bicycle and has difficulty getting him to understand that it should for preference be second-hand with a baggage frame.
While waiting for his son to return Moran has two encounters at his encampment. The first is a man carrying a heavy club who asks for some bread. The second is another man looking for the first man. Moran doesn't understand what happened or how, but he kills the man. He hides the body in the bushes. Eventually his son returns with a bike with a baggage frame. They set off again, the son pedalling and Moran on the baggage frame, elated to be on his way again, but fearing for his testicles.
They reach Ballyba in the Molloy country. Moran's knee in no better but neither is it any worse. One night he has a violent scene with his son and wakes the next morning to find him gone along with the bike. Moran is now alone and still far from the town of Bally in Ballyba where Molloy is lying. At night he can see the Bally lights.
He finished the tinned food he has and for several days eats nothing. Then, one night, when he steps out of his shelter for his evening guffaw, Gaber is there with a message from Youdi that the Molloy case is closed and that Moran should return home. Moran asks Gaber if Youdi is angry with him. Gaber tells him that Youdi thinks that life is a very beautiful thing. Does he mean human life Moran wants to know, but Gaber has gone.
That night Moran sets off home. He uses his umbrella as a stick to support him. His journey lasts the whole winter. On the way he begins to doubt his religious beliefs. He thinks about Molloy, about his son, about himself. But mostly he thinks about his bees and the complicated dances they make. He swears that he will never do to his bees the wrong that he did to his God. He hears the voice again giving him guidance, but pays no attention to it.
At last he arrives at his home, past the cemetery where he has a plot in perpetuity. He is back as Youdi ordered. He checks his hives, but the bees are dead. His house is abandoned. He finds a letter in the box from Youdi, written in the third person, requesting a report. Summer arrives. He has a visit from Gaber wanting the report. He tells him to call back. His son returns. Father Ambroise comes to see him. He tells him not to rely on him in the future. He gets some crutches and decides to clear out. Maybe he'll run into Molloy, he thinks.
The summer weather is splendid. Moran spends the days in his garden. He hears the voice once more and begins to pay attention to it, to understand it. It is the voice that tells him to write his report. He is a changed man. He goes into the house. He writes It is midnight. The rain is beating against the windows. It wasn't midnight. It wasn't raining.