As with every piece of literature, there is a story within this text and a story outside of it. However, with Paymon’s Trio it is the story outside, here in the real world, that is of more interest to me.
Paymon’s Trio is a fun, frothy, piece of Gothic writing published as a chapbook by Nightjar Press in 2017, and it was written by Colette de Curzon in 1949. The short story is only around ten pages long, and it tells the tale of a group of three musicians playing a piece of diabolic music that either does – or does not – summon the evil god Paymon out of hell.
The narrator, whose name I have forgotten even though I only finished reading this a few minutes ago, is a bumbling bachelor living with an old army buddy and Angus, who is a dog. One mid-century London afternoon he is browsing secondhand book barrows looking for a cheap copy of an old text he doesn’t know that has newly become popular (like Stoner). However, while reaching for the volume he wants, the narrator instead knocks a book from its place and into the dirty ground. It is a leatherbound dictionary of devilish terms and so, ashamed at having dropped it and somewhat intrigued by the title, the narrator buys it and takes it home. On his first perusal, he finds some sheets of musical manuscript hidden within the binding. The music is a trio for piano, cello and violin, it is dated 1865, dedicated in worship to Paymon and accompanied by a drawing of a nude man on a dromedary (camel) at the top. The narrator plays the violin part and finds it both beautiful and evil, he gets his housemate to play the piano and part and then they get some young consumptive they know called Ian to come over and play the cello bit. Ian arrives and is too weak to carry his own fucking cello up the stairs and too pig headed to let the narrator or his flatmate do it alone. This leads to the most bizarre and striking image of the whole story, which is two men carrying a cello, together, up some stairs. So, the three lads sit down to play, but have to cover up the man on camel image at the top of their sheets, because they each find it too distracting. They start playing, they feel like it’s evil, Ian collapses (which was fucking inevitable) while praying like an American to Jesus, the two flatmates revive him then look over to see that the manuscripts have all been ripped apart as if by claws, with only the image at the top remaining. Was this Christ’s work, destroying the music? Or was this the demon escaping and entering the world? Who knows? There is then one more, short, section where the narrator finally bothers to look up Paymon in his fucking little demonic dictionary to find out (what a surprise!) that Paymon is like an evil hell beast who’s into music and looks like a fucking nude man on a camel.
There you go, that’s the whole plot. It’s silly and slow and not much happens, but is gently intriguing, tense throughout and it offers some fine descriptions of strange things. Having done a little more research, the Dictionnaire Infernal was a real thing, and this is the image of Paymon as described in de Curzon’s story:
Nice. To conclude my thoughts on the text: it is fun, it is fine, but it is also derivative and uncomplex. No regrets to have read it, but I doubt I’ll ever talk about it to anyone in conversation at any point, ever.
Now, let’s talk about the circumstances of the text.
Aside from a throwaway reference to recent wars, Paymon’s Trio could very easily have been written 50 plus years before its actual composition date, 1949. Paymon’s Trio is a simple, Gothic, short story that doesn’t really evidence of any of the significant changes that had happened to literature during the first half of the 20th century. Perhaps it was a deliberate attempt to evoke an outdated style, or perhaps it lacked modern complexity because it was written by a 22 year old, which – as I can attest – is an age before most writers are at their best.
Who then, you may ask (as I did), was Colette de Curzon? Did she go on to novelistic and writerly success, and has this 1949 text been reissued to commemorate a significant anniversary or (given the ages involved) a non-tragic death? No, actually, none of these things. Paymon’s Trio is the first and – so far – only publication by Colette de Curzon, who left this story in a drawer until it was discovered – like the lost manuscript within the story – decades later.
I have to wonder, tbh, if the story of de Curzon is part of a metanarrative, but sadly I don’t think it is. The details of her life as presented don’t lead me to believe that a reader is meant to see her story as a literary version of the diabolic music within the text.
Paymon’s Trio was found by a family member while they were searching through documents after the death of de Curzon’s husband. Said family member was a university lecturer, and because they enjoyed the story, had the necessary connections and – I’m guessing – thought it might be nice for the freshly bereaved de Curzon to have a positive thing in her life, did what needed to be done to find Paymon’s Trio a publication deal with a small press. One could read this cynically, i.e. de Curzon’s father was a diplomat, the relative who got her published was part of the intelligentsia, here’s a kinda typical “closed doors” narrative of the elites … or one could choose to read it generously as an exciting narrative of someone getting their creative endeavours appreciated, just in time for them to enjoy a sense of success before the inevitability of death. Let’s be nice, maybe?
Paymon’s Trio isn’t the scariest, the most involving or the most original gothic short I’ve ever read, but it is certainly successful in what it sets out to do, as it kept me engaged for its full length. I have a few more Nightjar chapbooks to read over the coming months, and I’m looking forward to spending half an hour or so engaging with works like this semi-regularly. It’s inspiring, I suppose, for someone to finally get work published almost 70 years after they wrote it.
Actually, then again, Jesus. I fucking hope I get more fucking work published before I’m fucking 89. Probably will, tbh, getting a lot done atm.