“Flammonde,” which first appeared in the magazine The Outlook and later in The Man Against the Sky (1916), depicts a con-artist loner with a secret background who one day suddenly appeared in Tilbury Town and then just as suddenly disappeared. Aged fifty and bearing a French name, Flammonde encouraged people to compare him to royalty. He represented himself as “the Prince of Castaways” as if some European event well before World War I had “banished him from better days.” Although most likely his background was actually disreputable (tarnished), he nonetheless succeeded in conning people. A surprising number of sympathetic townsfolk aided him financially. “What he needed for his fee/ To live, he borrowed graciously.” These so-called loans would never be repaid.
A fraud, one normally thinks, would have a negative impact on people. Oddly, Flammonde had a positive influence. He revised the community’s image of a woman with a “scarlet” reputation. He also productively tutored a boy whom others thought was uneducable. He ended a long-standing feud between two townsfolk, among other notable good effects in Tilbury Town. In short, Flammonde was able to help people prosper, although paradoxically he was never able to help himself succeed in life. After he vanished from town, he left people wondering about who he really was and what inner secrets were hidden behind the protective “shield” of his charming personality. Flammonde (whose name translates into “flame of humanity”) represents the unpredictable successes and failures, as well as the unexplainable gap between surface impressions and inner self, that generally dominate human experience.
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Murphy, Francis, ed. Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970.
Smith, Chard Powers. Where the Light Falls: A Portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson. New York: Macmillan, 1965.
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