le Bonhomme Sept Heures

While looking at sources for a post on Sarah Mapp, I came across a Quebec bogey, le Bonhomme Sept Heures — The Seven O’Clock Man. “Bonhomme Sept Heures” is supposed to be a Francophone rendering of “bonesetter” and that may be the case.

Bonhomme Sept-Heures in the flesh (via Bill Casselman)

Bonhomme Sept Heures roams villages looking for children who are outside after seven P.M. He is an old man, perhaps with a top hat, carrying a sack and a stick. He hides under balconies and may sneak into houses. He seizes the naughty child and shoves him/her into his sack. The child is never seen again. This story is well-known in Quebec. There are children’s books, some attempts at movies, rock songs (here’s a video by Exterio), and the character is used as a symbol by Louis Caron in a book based on the deadly 1955 slide at Nicolet.

Quebec had its bonesetters, like most other places pre-modern medicine, called “ramancheurs”. So why borrow the English word? Though I suppose les Anglaise are wicked enough that they are natural choices for bogeymen. Another possible origin for the word is “bomb setter”, slang for the men who would light gas lamps. And, in France, there are traditional bogeys with names like “Bonhomme Basse-Heures”. So maybe “bonesetter” has nothing to do with this creature’s origin. Be that as it may, every parent should warn their young children — “For your own safety, child, be inside by seven! And don’t get out of bed! The bonesetter may be hiding in a dark corner or behind your dresser just waiting to grab you and stuff you in his sack!” Then, next week, tell them about the Toilet Monster.

from an ad for TV5's series on Quebec tales

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2 comments on “le Bonhomme Sept Heures

  1. really interesting article 😀 i was wondering, after reading it and doing a bit of research: the term bonhomme made something ding in my memory and i remembered it was the name of a augustinian order mendicant friars, very peculiar in its small members number and bright blue-ish robes… AND they are often linked with the Albigean heresy, and remains of it long after the order closure in 1500-somethingd (if i recall older studies, the “fratres saccati” were linked somehow to spiritualist franciscans etc)… so, even not counting the Bonhomme Sept Heures IS this, but rather a cluster of added characters and legends, the character’s oldest core could be somehow linked to wandering friars (with strong links with southern France) who fell in heresy and in the state of bogey men? just theorycrafting 😛
    now that i think about it, some faint monk features were retained in the old good bogey man, for example the stick and the sack, that could be either the real sack to gather what they begged for (usually these orders have turns of corvee of guys going around gathering food and stuffs for the bros) OR even a traslitteration of the robe, that was usually derived from a sack (like the original st francis one) an in this case even more literally, as the name Fratres Saccati refers to sacks 😀

    • mikulpepper says:

      I think the word “bonhomme” has a general meaning of something like “gentleman”, although in the 17th Century “goodman” was commonly used in America (as in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”. Both Bonhomme and Goodman are proper names, of course, in their respective langauges, as is Guttman in German. John Paul Jones captained the Bonhomme Richard which was named after the French translation title of Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. Now it is the title of the Quebec Winter Carnival mascot. I don’t know where this leaves mendicant friars or Albigensians.

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