The wrong marriage: Maturin and the double-logic of masculinity in the unionist Gothic.
--Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory
MUCH OF THE SCHOLARSHIP AND CRITICISM CONCERNED WITH THE Novels of the Anglo-Irish curate Charles Robert Maturin (1780-1824) appears to agree on three of the central issues that mark him out as one of the major writers in the Gothic tradition. To begin with, though he wrote five novels and three plays, his literary reputation rests solely on Melmoth the Wanderer , which critics generally name the "greatest" Gothic novel in English. (1) The scholarship also tends to assert that Maturin's work embodies the English-Romantic ambivalences regarding revolution, particularly when translated into a Catholic or Irish-colonial setting. (2) The final and most illuminating of these issues derives from the fact that as most critics see it, nearly all of Maturin's novels borrow their basic plot and thematic machinery from female-authored models such as Anne Radcliffe's The Italian, Lady Morgan's The Wild Irish Girl, and Maria Edgeworth's Belinda. (3) Hence, the author of the most lauded of Gothic novels was at once deeply troubled by nationalist politics and an appropriator of the female-Gothic form.
Of course, if this list identifies Maturin's qualifications as one of the foremost Gothic writers in British literary history, it also points to several of the latent and competing tensions--or antinomies--that overwhelm his novels. For instance, Melmoth itself has often been described as a "Chinese-box" narrative, a text stitched together by such a precarious stories-within-stories structure that one of Maturin's earliest biographers was led to suggest that the "whole fabric of the work is nothing but a gigantic digression." (4) Put another way, we could say that no story begun in Melmoth can come to a conclusion without necessitating yet another story. So it may be with Maturin himself. That is, when we read Maturin's work in the context of a more politically astute literary history, one that depicts Maturin's Gothic novels as caught between colonial-nationalist dynamics and the enervating gender troubles that they provoked in the Irish context, then we can reimagine the list of issues surrounding his literary reputation as a series of wholly interdependent questions. This reimagined list of questions asks: If his work remains ambivalent about revolution, why is Maturin generally characterized as "Jacobin" in politics, and, for that matter, why are his heroes always Byronic and his sympathies always disposed to depicting the plight of the oppressed renegade (Watson 117)? Why is he regularly read together with Matthew Lewis, Horace Walpole, and William Godwin as part of a generic "male-Gothic" tradition if his forerunners were nearly all female and if, as the preface to Melmoth clearly demonstrates, Maturin himself was terribly anxious about, if not embarrassed by, any comparison between his own work and that of the "Radcliffe-Romance" (Melmoth 5). Finally, how can an only partially unified--if not to say lavishly disintegrated-text like Melmoth represent the high-water mark of a genre so obsessively and manipulatively structured? The first two questions situate Maturin and his work at the nexus of Ireland's post-1798 colonial-nationalist and gender-disorientating historical problematics, where the final one interrogates the formal structure of maturin's writing. In order to see these questions as interdependent, I will read them as addressing a dialectical problem wherein the two historical questions find their synthetic realization in the final question of literary form.
I suggest that we begin to think of Maturin in terms of the unsynthesized socio-historical antinomies that manifest themselves in the formal features of his various works. In turn, this series of interdependent
questions helps us to fabricate a theory for rereading Maturin that takes the convoluted, unstable structure of his prose fiction as a locus of historical tensions and not just as a testament for or against his importance as a literary figure or stylistic innovator. If each of these questions pulls Maturin simultaneously in two opposing directions, if we see him as both a committed Irish nationalist and a guilt-ridden supporter of English rule, as both a writer of fiction in the male-Gothic and in the female-Gothic traditions, and as both the author of the great Gothic novel and of a semi-coherent series of anti-Catholic digressions, then perhaps we might begin to think of his Gothic novels as representing the double-binds--the incapacitating moments of double-logic--that underscore the problem of Anglo-Irish political autonomy in the period following the Acts of Union. Again, we have here a dialectic in which a first set of historical questions is synthesized by a subsequent question of form. By double-binds, I mean to point to instances in Irish cultural logic where the normative and ideological conditions for the construction of an identity, such as "masculine," or a concept, such as "nationalism," are materially, psychically, and structurally bi-polar and, subsequently, produce social contexts in which definitions are constituted by their own disjunction. If we read Maturing through the lens of the double-blind, then he becomes the historical allegorist of the doubly-embodied Unionist Anglo-Irish, a socio-ethnic group that Margot Gayle Backus describes as simultaneously identified with "the colonized and the colonizer" (132). Anglo-Irish identity seems to be constituted by its own disjunction, and post-1798 literary representations of the Anglo-Irish tend to reveal the subtleties, convolutions, and impossible social schemas generated by this bipolar identity. Through this lens, Maturin's decision to publish his first two books under the pseudonym Dennis Jasper Murphy indicates not only a desire to protect his professional persona as an Anglican Curate, but also his inability to fully extricate that persona from the Catholic Irish other that it so fervently disavows. We are left, then, with a Maturin who cannot really be read as an effective partisan for either the anti-Unionist Irish rebels or the Unionist Irish Tories. His novels do not consciously allegorize a position but, rather, embody symptomatic allegories of a historical condition. This essay will reinterpret Maturin's Unionist Gothic as the allegorical reflection par excellence of the connected nationalist and gender doublebinds that underwrite post-1798 Irish cultural politics. Through a reading of Maturin's seldom discussed first Gothic romance, The Fatal Revenge; Or, The Family of Montorio, I'll demonstrate how these double-binds are reimagined through the figure of the "wrong marriage" with all of its conflicted social and psychic loyalties. (5) I'll conclude by articulating how the logic of Maturin's "wrong marriage" plots actually works to depict terror, in both its political and literary formulations, as an inevitable result of the gender anxiety that haunts the nineteenth-century Irish imaginary.
Maturin's Gothic Union
Maturin's literary career dates from the 1807 publication of his first book, Fatal Revenge, to the 1824 publication of his final one, The Albigenses. Maturin's entire career, in other words, subsists in the brief period of historical time framed by the Acts of Union that incorporated Ireland into Great Britain. When Maturin died in 1824, it would still be four years until Ireland's Catholic leader, Daniel O'Connell, was elected MP of County Clare and five years until O'Connell's Catholic Board helped to achieve Catholic Emancipation and to begin anything like an authentic movement for the repeal of the Union. In the era following the passage of the Union the Irish Parliament was abolished, and the Union was continually depicted by the popular press as a "marriage" between the English patriarch and his Irish sister. In collecting and describing many of the contemporary journalistic references to the Union-as-Marriage, Jane Elizabeth Dougherty indicates that the marriage metaphor was unequivocally a heterosexual one because it predicated itself upon fundamental gender distinctions that "denied and reified difference" as it promised the Irish "protection and legitimacy." (6) Like the wife in the bourgeois private sphere, Ireland could not quite be counted as a sovereign self. (7) Of course, for scholars working in the academy today, particularly after the advent of Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and postcolonial theory, the feminization of a colonized people appears to be a standard component of imperial and capitalist assimilation strategy. But in the case of Ireland, as this phantasmatic ideology became a constitutive part of the political and social landscape and the proposed Union continued to be depicted as a marriage by both supporters and detractors, Irish intellectuals in each camp assented to and worked within the boundaries of this gendered logic in order to legitimate their respective causes. Neither side attempted to eliminate the marriage metaphor. Instead, the Unionists made the Union-as-marriage trope into a strategy that supported and upheld English manliness while respecting and ministering to Irishness, and the anti-Unionists suggested that any marriage must transform the caustic post-1798 political terrain into an equitable, peaceable, and even-handed version of colonial-domestic bliss. Both sides deployed the gendered marriage metaphor in order to justify the idea of civil union over and against the concept of inherent difference that would come to mark much of the later British and French rhetoric of colonization in places like India and Africa. In the early nineteenth-century, the theory of alterity that underwrites the Irish colonial experience, then, relies more often on the notion of "natural," domestic affection than it does on the assimilative discourse of civilization. (8)
During the Union debates in Parliament, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, himself a staunch anti-Unionist and a member of the Anglo-Irish protestant Ascendancy, decried the idea of dissolving Ireland's parliament and remonstrated that any "union" of the two kingdoms
must not resemble those Irish Marriages which commence in fraud, and are consummated by force. Let us not commit a brutal rape on the independence of Ireland, when by tenderness of behavior we may have her the willing partner of our fate. The state of Ireland does not admit such a marriage; her bans ought not to be published to the sound of the trumpet, with an army of 40,000 men. (9)
Likewise, among the many political caricatures of the Union, one entitled "Carrying the Union," published in March 1800 by W. Holland, depicts William Pitt and John Clare astride British lions as they carry off an unwilling, fainting Lady Erin while St. Patrick, John Foster, and Henry Grattan pursue them on Irish Bulls. Other pamphlets and political cartoons, published primarily in the Dublin papers and pamphlets of the time, depict the marriage as a rape or a murder or both. (10) The point here is not simply to restate the fact that representations of Ireland encoded the nation as the feminine sister-kingdom and sometime wife to the British Imperial husband, but rather that in the journalistic consciousness and in the literary imagination of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries the Union took on the character of a Gothic Marriage. Ireland became the confined, threatened, terrorized female as England became--sometimes only potentially--her terrorizing, avaricious, and lustful captor-husband. From the perspective of an Irish political unconscious, the Gothic is born where the domestic-affection metaphor miscarries.
The narrative of the terrors produced by the wrong or loveless or unholy marriage remains one of the most intricate and resonant obsessions of Maturin's Gothic. Such a narrative provides the engine for the plot-work in Fatal Revenge, in Melmoth, in his short story, "Castle Lexslip," and in his remarkably popular 1814 play Bertram, all of which hinge on failed marriages, but this narrative also represents the space in which the various interdependent questions concerning Maturin's place in literary history collide. If the narrative are of the "Radcliffe-Romance" always concludes with a happy, sanctified marriage, then the Maturin-Romance always allegorizes the terrors of its unhappy, unholy equivalent. In the space occupied by the wrong marriage, Maturin's writing nearly always manages the paradoxical feat of sympathizing both with unity and with fragmentation, with colonial order and with rebellion, with masculine gender anxiety and with the feminine sentimentality that in many cases produces it. In The Contested Castle, Kate Ferguson Ellis points toward this problem when she indicates that Maturin's Gothic generally depicts a "man stripped of the gender attributes to which he has, he believes, a right." (11) While the wrong marriage plots of Fatal Revenge and Melmoth certainly represent the terror resulting from the breakdown of the domestic affection model of governance, Maturin seems to accept the basic patriarchal premises that constitute this model. He also sees domesticity, defined broadly and metaphorically as that which legitimates forms of governance, as growing necessarily out of an authentic, passionate, and sentimental attachment. To extort affection from the female subject shames and demeans both of the marriage partners. In fact, in the Catholic liturgical tradition, such a marriage is not binding and may be annulled. The desideratum of Maturin's texts always remains the blissful domestic union that social circumstance has rendered impossible. Of course, these social circumstances vary in kind, but generally speaking, they revolve around a female or feminized character who is forced by material deprivation or familial pressure into a marriage that is neither wholly sincere nor fully consensual. Finally, then, the vivid, paranoiac force of Maturin's imagination, which resides in its capacity to depict the anxious condition of at once being and not being a masculine subject, of possessing and being dispossessed of the index of one's own autonomy, allegorizes the post-1798 Irish condition and its attendant cultural politics of a "Gothic Marriage" between England and an unwilling Ireland.
Of course, many of the critical evaluations of Melmoth and even more particularly of Fatal Revenge actively work to fit the novels into specific political categories and to piece together, straighten out, and otherwise clarify plots that are anything but cogent and rectilinear. (12) It occurs to me that the partisan readings, in particular, err for the simple reason that they can be made very effectively on either side. For instance, in a novel like Maturin's The Milesian Chief, we could easily read Connel O'Morven, a character who cherishes his noble Catholic-Irish legacy only as he responds to an uprising similar to the 1798 rebellion by suggesting to his fellow rebels that Ireland could never subsist as an independent nation, as embodying both the bold energy of the Jacobin revolutionary and the anxious resignation of the guilty Unionist. The partisan readings of Maturin finally fail to take seriously the underlying historical and social antinomies that not only structure but actually provide the condition of possibility for his work in the first place. His work tends to allegorize a multifarious historical condition rather than a singular politics. With all of its digressions, narrative deadends, and schizoid delusions, Maturin's Gothic offers us a glimpse at the experience of incommensurability. If we read Maturin's texts as constitutively bi-polar then, in a rough way, we might say that at the level of content, his novels certainly foster structures like unity, colonial order, and masculine dominance while simultaneously undercutting them at the level of form through disruption, rebellion, and sentimentality. In his writings certain ideologies are affirmed only to be very swiftly negated. In other words, because he is always pulled in two directions at once by his historical context, Maturin writes a kind of Gothic fiction that actually pulls itself apart. When his texts attempt to work out insoluble social problems at the level of content, they end up falling apart at the level of formal unity. In this way, the novels embody the double-logic of post-1798 Irish masculine identity.
Take, for example, one of the central chapters from the "Tale of the Indians," the most overtly Romantic, exoticized, and Radcliffean of the embedded narratives that make up Melmoth the Wanderer. In chapter XVI of the tale, the reader encounters a powerful hermeneutical quandary. At this late point in the text, we already know that the Wanderer has bargained away his eternal soul to the Devil in return for remarkable power, occult knowledge, and an exceptionally long life. In order to get out of the bargain he must find someone to take his place. We also know that the Anglo-Irish Wanderer counted among his kin a brother who served under Cromwell during the 1649 invasion of Ireland, that this brother was evidently the first of the Melmoths to settle in Ireland, and that he staked his family's claim on land "confiscated from an Irish family" (26). During the "Tale of the Indians" we find the Wanderer discussing European culture with the supposedly Indian girl, Immalee, whom the text refers to as "a thing that nature loved" (281). In the scene, the Wanderer, who readily stands in for the colonizer begins, against his own inclinations, to develop a sincere romantic attachment to Immalee, who comes to represent the novel's version of a female noble savage figure. Thus, the novel allegorizes the uneasy intimacy between the colonizer and the colonized as a potentially beneficial and constructive confrontation between the civil and the natural. (13) Imagined in the typological terms of the Radcliffean-Romance, however, Melmoth comes to embody his own doubleness as Immalee's ardent yet ineffectual suitor and her nefarious, calculating pre-modern captor. He only desires her salvation as he works for her destruction. The Wanderer's tormented and tormenting romance with Immalee eventually leads to a profoundly unholy marriage performed by the reanimated corpse of a Spanish priest (394). During Melmoth's first attempts to seduce Immalee, however, he delivers a nearly chapter-length tirade against the bellicose evils of monarchy, the violently inimical character of European colonialism, and the excesses of a nascent capitalist class. Wherever Westerners go, he explains, they leave "behind them famine, despair, and execration" (300). In order to undercut this impassioned soliloquy, Maturin inserts a tellingly anxious footnote. "By mode of criticism equally false and unjust," he explains, "The sentiments of my worst characters ... have been represented as my own, I must here trespass so far on the patience of the reader to assure him, that the sentiments ascribed to the stranger are diametrically opposed to mine, and that I have purposely put them into the mouth of an agent of the enemy of mankind" (Melmoth 303). (14)
By interrupting the narrative flow of the text itself, Maturin launches only to retract a rather pointed critique of Europe's colonial imperatives. Though many of the critical perspectives, including some very informed pieces by Norman A. Jeffares and Julia M. Wright, seem to agree with Nilo Idman's 1923 assertion that Maturin was "an ardent Irish nationalist who resented the Union," few take very seriously the revealing footnote that complicates the Wanderer's invective and points directly to the cultural double-bind it invokes. (15) If the strained excesses of English colonialism in Ireland created a social position identified, to paraphrase Margot Gayle Backus, as colonizer and colonized, then it follows that Maturin's writing testifies to this problem (132). Like most Gothic novels, Maturin's clearly wants to represent simple, unambiguous moral identities, but the bi-polar social context of Anglo-Ireland prohibits any such easy identification. Thus, the "enemy of mankind," himself an Anglo-Irishman in Maturin's novel, comes to speak a truth about colonialism that must be immediately stigmatized by the footnote. In fact, truth, ethics, and justice themselves begin to take on the character of the occult in Melmoth. In Maturin, the anxiety to counter such Jacobin, anti-colonial, or occult sympathies and to clarify the "real" moral truth leads to the overproduction of narrative, to the frantic need to tell more and more stories and to interrupt the stories being told in order to drive home the singular moral point of the initial tale. We see this technique recur throughout Fatal Revenge and Melmoth. The impossible social position that Maturin's novels come to allegorize appears constituted, then, by its desire for unity and for fragmentation, for colonial order and for rebellion, and for a rigorously self-possessed masculinity that also acts as a carefully protected and confined femininity. By setting the logic of the wrong marriage next to the bi-polar cultural identities that it engenders, I will demonstrate how Fatal Revenge allegorizes this anxiety.
The Terrors of a Masculinity "Born to Tremble and Weep"
Jacqueline Pearson has argued that much of Maturin's work "cannot be fully understood except in the context of its purposeful borrowing from, resistance to, and remaking of, female-authored models" (635). Pearson seems particularly interested in Maturin's retro-fitting of certain techniques lifted from the pages of Radcliffe, Edgeworth, and Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan) and deployed by Maturin in order to strengthen and secure his own literary reputation. She also goes on to argue that the masculine anxiety that underwrites Maturin's novels can be seen in his "persistent use of the image of transvestism or other forms of gender-reversal ... which may image Maturin's discomfort with his own transvestite role, as a male author adopting forms of female-dominated fiction" (640). Of course, in an essay published in an 1818 edition of The British Review, Maturin himself confesses his passionate enthrallment to what he calls the irresistible and dangerous delights of Anne Radcliffe's fiction. (16) In what amounts to an almost unwilling encomium to Radcliffe's work, Maturin focuses on her heroines, whom, he explains have "no struggles of energy, no bursts of passion [for]--they are born to tremble and weep" (20). Annibal and Ippolito di Montorio, the heroes of Maturin's Fatal Revenge certainly struggle with energies and passions, but, like Radcliffe's heroines, they are also "born to tremble and weep." One of the most lasting visions we have of the two brothers is that of them weeping uncontrollably in each others arms. (17) The text continually stages each brother's separate narrative are around that most Radcliffean of plot-devices, solitary confinement, and as Father Schemoli's final letter explains, each brother comes to experience "a mind weakened by loneliness and fear" (3: 439). From the novel's opening, the brothers are set up as doubles with Ippolito as the bold public figure who lives in Naples and refuses "inward cultivation" and Annibal as the "timid, gloomy" and introspective character who resides in the family castle at Muralto (I: 9, 31). Read together, the brothers come to know the passion and energy of such Radcliffean ineffectual suitors as Vincentio or Valan court, only as they also live through the privations and confinements that mark the life of Radcliffe's most famous heroine, Emily St. Aubert of The Mysteries of Udolpho. The Montorios experience a passionate desire for justice and vengeance while also experiencing a kind of life that makes it impossible for them to remain autonomous agents in the public and masculine spheres, and this impossibility is duly noted in the novel's concluding pages when the land, inheritance, nobility, and the very identity of the house of Montorio are all dissolved by legal fiat. As we are told near the end of the final volume, "the name, the title of Montorio ... are extinguished for ever" (3: 487). The loss of autonomy that sparks this conclusion is particularly marked by the fact that nearly every time Ippolito attempts to live out the masculine homosocial adventure story of the male-Gothic, the action switches over to find Annibal shut up in the confines of its female-Gothic equivalent writing letters about his forced solitude. The irreducible doubleness of the brothers, who must finally meet to weep and to work together to affect the text's ill-fated climax, provides the economy of tension in the novel. The fragmentary double-text folds the homosocial male exile narrative into the trembling fear of the female confinement narrative.
In the opening pages of Fatal Revenge, we learn that the present Count Montorio succeeded his own brother, who died along with all of his family in an unprecedented "domestic calamity" (I: 3). The novel frames this rather abstruse discussion of "domestic calamity" by setting the action in or "about the year 1690" (I: I). Strangely enough, then, the text's "domestic calamity" is temporally linked to the Battle of the Boyne and the Williamite confiscations in Ireland. If, with R. F. Forster, we mark this date as the formal beginning of the modern Anglo-Irish Ascendancy class, then the poetics of the wrong marriage in Maturin's text seem tied to the historical foundations of the modern history of colonialism in Ireland, to the penal era that preceded the Acts of Union by more than a century, and to one of the instantiating moments of Anglo-Irish identity. (18) Though the previous Count, Orazio di Montorio, was evidently much-beloved, the narrator goes on to describe him as "jealous, violent, and vindictive, even beyond Italian irritability ... his credulity was without bounds, his rage without restraint, and his vengeance without remorse" (I: 4). The main narrative begins in earnest after this brief introductory characterization of the family-line, but the pressing terrors of this unseen "domestic calamity" haunt the novel's protagonists, Ippolito and Annibal, the sons and heirs of the new Count Montorio. Much of the text's brooding, inexorable sense of mystery lies in its capacity to obsess about without fully revealing this foundational domestic disaster. The pain of the moment serves as a defining and communal one for the family while, at the same time, remaining somehow unknowable, obscure, and sublime.
The convolutions fly fast and furious after this early point in the novel. Annibal becomes so consumed by the tale of Orazio's family that he searches the forbidden apartment and bridal suite of the former Count in order to discover its potential secrets. Annibal and an old family servant, Michelo, eventually discover a skeleton concealed in a passage behind the wall of the apartment. Annibal believes it to be the body of Orazio di Montorio, and the villainous monk Schemoli reinforces this belief. Schemoli goes on to claim that the skeleton is his own, and that his is the spirit of Orazio, doomed to inhabit the body of a two-thousand year old man until his own murderer is killed and justice set to right. The murderer is eventually identified as the present Count Montorio, a dark usurper of a particularly Shakespearean stripe, and Ippolito and Annibal are continually confined, weakened, and harassed until each surrenders personal agency and, quite mechanically, works to commit parricide and to fulfill Schemoli's inhuman scheme. (19) In opposition to its Radcliffean predecessors, then, Fatal Revenge folds the issue of domestic confinement into the more overtly political problematic of usurpation, and these two elements finally represent the dialectical poles that define both Maturin's appropriation of the Radcliffean female-Gothic and his recasting of its basic tropes in terms of post-1798 Irish cultural nationalism. The masculine-usurper/ feminized-usurped narrative becomes an allegory for colonization in the era of the Union.
The novel's parricidal ending is a foregone conclusion by the close of its first and briefest volume, but one problem seems to trouble what would otherwise be a fairly predictable tale of paranormal vengeance. The skeleton concealed in the forbidden bridal suite is not that of Orazio. On the surface, the story seems to be a supernatural one that shores up a doctrine of divine, patrilineal succession, and in an overtly Burkean sense, for Maturin true order must have "the image of a relation of blood" that holds fast to dearest, patriarchal "domestic ties." (20) Let's admit from the outset that fratricide coupled to usurpation and compounded by parricide certainly disrupts what we might call our dearest filial and domestic ties. But Annibal's conclusion about Orazio's skeleton, a conclusion that determines the entire course of his narrative, is a false one. Moreover, Annibal's presumptions, which are paralleled by a more active false-ending in which Ippolito, in a dreamlike trance, gazes into a mirror only to imagine that he sees himself murdering his own father, warn us not to jump the gun, not to read only in terms of the ending. Rather, we should read the text in terms of the colliding, self-interrupting double-narratives of Ippolito and Annibal, of male and female forms. The teleological journey towards identity that the novel attempts to articulate is misleading, disrupted, miscarried. If Ippolito and Annibal cannot come to grips with their own identities because they are confined by historical circumstances, then the text itself also fails to move towards any conclusive or teleological narrative cohesion. One of the features of Maturin's Gothic that places it in opposition to that of other male writers like Lewis, Beckford, and even Godwin, is its inexhaustibly Radcliffean capacity to offer as it defers the immediate gratification of narrative closure. Its pleasure, or rather its narrative desire, lies in its ascetic facility for denying pleasure. Where Lewis' The Monk revolves around the lurid, carnivalesque fulfillment of every desire and temptation it entertains, Maturin's Gothic, even in an obsessively occult text like Melmoth, generally manipulates the reader with the dead-end and the unseen rather than providing fulfillment.
Of course, Pearson is correct to draw attention to the transvestism and gender anxiety that suffuses Maturin's writing, but her psychologizing account of Maturin's appropriations of the female-Gothic finally converts the engagement into a conscious confrontation between a masculinist culture and the feminine other it seemed determined to overmaster. But in the parallel stories of Annibal and Ippolito, Fatal Revenge shows a strange admixture of both the male and female Gothic formulas. Finally, the novel provides a reading of the two sub-genres and an early attempt to create that remarkably paranoid hybrid third form that I'm calling the Unionist Gothic, the purview of which is to represent the horrors of a social context that renders masculine subjects in the same language that has been deployed to define the boundaries of the feminine sphere.
In his discussion of the British Declaration of Right and the Magna Carta in Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke claims that British liberties are founded on the concept of "entailed inheritance," derived from forefathers and handed down to posterity (29). As Burke well knows, an entailment system relies on the good will of the patriarch because wives and daughters can readily be disinherited and dispossessed by such a system. The fear of just such structural dispossession lies at the heart of the Jane Austen novels, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. In merging the two gendered sub-genres of the Gothic, Maturin's Fatal Revenge extends the disinheritances and dispossessions that inhere in the entailment system into the colonial sphere. The novel, then, helps us to see that models of governance rely on the domestic affection metaphor as they also work to conceal the problem of structural dispossession.
Many of the critical takes on Maturin have actively worked to eliminate the complex dialectic of male and female forms by either simplifying or stigmatizing the form of Fatal Revenge itself. Nilo Idman's 1923 biography of Maturin appears to have set the tone for many of the subsequent scholarly studies of the novel. For Idman, the novel's plot "is sufficiently intricate to necessitate a commencement of the analysis from the end and to reveal the mystery at once" (21). Rather than recounting what the experience of reading Maturin's novel might be, Idman straightens out, while always acknowledging, the various convoluted twists and false turns of the plot of Fatal Revenge in order to unpack the narrative's teleology. In her own groundbreaking, tour de force reading of the gender politics of Maturin's work, Kate Ferguson Ellis begins by sketching--again, from the point of view of the novel's revelatory conclusion--the basic outline and shape of the book. Likewise, Dale Kramer's capacious overview of Maturin's career initiates a discussion of the book by claiming that its torturous digressions are best unpacked from the perspective of monk Schemoli's infamous "confessional letter," which constitutes the novel's final movement (28). While all of these approaches serve to clarify a text that remains, as Edith Birkhead once complained, bewildering enough to confound and trap even the most dedicated reader in its labyrinthine "mazes," none of them takes the text's maze-like form itself very seriously as a structural problematic. (21) The book methodically and resolutely unfolds the horrors of confinement and feminization as experienced by its young protagonists, Ippolito and Annibal, while also managing to hold Father Schemoli, the text's apparently unholy, supernatural agent, responsible for all of those various and sundry horrors. In continually deploying such techniques as false-endings, digressions, fragmentation, and dreamlike states of consciousness, not to mention such overused Gothic tropes as misidentified corpses, empty tombs, and bogus doors, the novel also works to structure the experience of its own reading as a similarly systematic and frenzied mode of confinement and feminization. Birkhead is certainly correct to assert that Fatal Revenge is a labyrinthine maze, but its system of traps articulates a process. That is, unlike previous critics who see it as either a symptom of the strictures of patriarchal culture or simply a futile attempt to imitate the Radcliffean Gothic, I interpret the novel's hybridizing form as offering a phenomenological look at the anxiety, fear, and fantasies of the breakdown of civil society that would result from male subjects being subjected to female confinements. In other words, Fatal Revenge deploys the structural trappings of the Radcliffean female-Gothic in order to allegorize the historical problems initiated by the Union and by the gender disorientation that it provoked.
Form and "Domestic Calamity"
Like much of Radcliffe's work, the main action of Fatal Revenge takes place in Italy, and Maturin's depiction of Monk Schemoli, who continually manipulates the superstitious beliefs of the other characters, appears, if anything, even more anti-Catholic than Radcliffe's similar characterization of Monk Schedoni in her 1797 novel, The Italian. Like Radcliffe and the majority of his other English-language predecessors, Maturin situates the action of his Gothic novel in the most notoriously Catholic region of Europe. As several critics have been quick to point out, the similarities between The Italian and Fatal Revenge do not end there (see Pearson and Kramer 26-38). Like Radcliffe's novel, Maturin's offers a story structured by confinement, the threat of the Inquisition, and the nefarious schemes of a complex, seemingly unredeemable Monk. (22) Annibal, as voracious a reader as any of Radcliffe's various heroines, continually finds himself confined within the various castles he visits, and like Radcliffe's heroines he tries to read the encoded signs--the portraits, books, and rooms--hidden in the recesses of the intimate and domestic spheres in order to find a way out into the more social, public world. Whereas Radcliffe's malevolent Father Schedoni initially stands in the way of the happy marriage and domestic bliss that marks the conclusion of The Italian, however, his near-namesake, Schemoli, appears to structure his entire plan as the consequence of a failed domesticity.
As we have seen most critics tend, like Annibal and Ippolito, to begin reading the text from the perspective of the end, from its final revelations about Schemoli and the "domestic calamity" that initiated the entire tragic tale, but, formally speaking, the novel enacts a far more complex process of feminization, collapse, and redirection than that of its own simple revenge-plot. As we witness Annibal's cycle of confinement from castle to dungeon to monastery paralleled by Ippolito's cycle of exile as he pursues and is pursued by both Schemoli and his father, we also see the narrative of the male-Gothic collapse into that of the female. In fact, the novel's form, predicated on false-endings, disruptions, and the double-structure of the Ippolito and Annibal tales, offers a logical process whereby we observe male subjects fused to or trapped within Radcliffean-female narratives that render autonomy largely impossible and terror as the unavoidable outcome. As the text revolves around an amalgam of male and female Gothic tropes, it also allegorizes the horror of losing the privileges that attend patriarchal masculinity. In large part, the Union-as-marriage metaphor works to affirm patriarchal masculinity as the Ur-figure for authentic autonomy, but reclaiming and reasserting the violence of phallic logic in order to avoid the confines of femininity and attain autonomy appears to be the response of a beleaguered, perpetually trans-gendered Irish masculinity. The idea of being feminized and manipulated constitutes the tense and palpable fear of both Annibal's and Ippolito's narratives. But, if we follow the linear path set up by the novel, we hold on to some hope of a restored order. The leading, suspenseful structure of the novel allows us to believe that the brothers will be able to restore their own masculinity through violence and that the efficacy of patrilineal succession will finally triumph.
After the brothers' swords meet "in their father's body," we finally learn the truth about the Montorio family's foundational "domestic calamity" from the confessional letter that Schemoli writes while awaiting execution in the prisons of the Inquisition (3: 328). "I am Orazio, Count of Montorio," he begins, "so long believed dead, and who rises from imaginary death only to bewail that it is not real" (3: 336). Orazio's first death, like those endings witnessed by Annibal and Ippolito, was a misleading illusion. Orazio goes on to explain that his bitter and licentious brother desired both the title, Count Montorio, and revenge on the Count's young bride, Erminia, who had spurned the brother's affections. Hence, in Iago-like fashion, the younger Montorio concocted a scheme to make the prudent, moral, submissive, but nonetheless, diffident Erminia appear unfaithful to Orazio. Very early in her life, Erminia married and bore a child to a young soldier named Verdoni, whom she subsequently believed to be murdered by bandits. Under acute pressure from her father, Erminia agreed to conceal the child and to marry the wealthy Count Montorio in order to help secure her family's standing in the community. But, of course, Verdoni has not been killed, and when he returns and hears of Erminia's marriage, he determines to leave Italy forever. Meanwhile, Erminia has chosen to confess her history to Orazio's jealous brother. Though she certainly does not hate Orazio and is about to give birth to their third child, in her heart the more authentic marriage to Verdoni, built upon ardent passion, trumps the marriage of social convention that she shares with Orazio. Orazio, though jealous and overprotective, appears noble throughout the story. As with the cultural and intellectual discourses surrounding the Irish Acts of Union, we have in Fatal Revenge a marriage plot tailored to fit the problem of usurpation. In fact, the text's wrong marriage plot deeply injures Erminia and Orazio and, eventually, everyone who comes into their sphere just as, for Maturin, the Union-as-marriage has injured the Catholic Irish, the Anglo-Irish, and the English.
Erminia confesses to the brother that she cannot go on with the charade and that after giving birth to Orazio's child, she will enter a convent. The younger Montorio uses all of this information to manipulate Orazio into believing that he is being cuckolded by Verdoni, that the Countess maintains another family, and that the Montorios will soon become a public laughingstock. In a jealous rage, the Count confronts Erminia only to discover her in the act of saying her final farewells to Verdoni and her first child. Schemoli then writes, rather shamefully, that he immediately caused Verdoni "to be stabbed before her sight" (3: 378). In fact, he goes on to exclaim, "I paused between every blow. I bid her listen to every groan" (3: 379). Upon seeing her true love brutally murdered, Erminia's "heart burst[s]" open and she fails onto Verdoni's bloodstained corpse (3: 379). The Count leaves Italy in a fit of madness, learns of his brother's misdeeds, lives the life of an isolated "savage," and journeys to the East where he eventually studies the occult and learns the art of hypnotism. In appearing to "go native," though, Orazio merely seems to give in to his true, violent, and uncivil instincts. In the terms set up by the novel, he may be noble, but he remains savage. From the opening pages of the novel, Maturin has prepared us to see this as part of the Count's boundless, Catholic "credulity" (1: 4). In the depths of a solitude that he refers to as a "total amputation from life," Orazio becomes consumed by his desire for revenge (3: 383). He deploys his knowledge of hypnosis to return to his castle and, through privation and confinement, to control the minds and actions of Annibal, of Ippolito, and, at times, even of his own usurper brother. Schemoli refers to his own actions at this point as "demonic," and the text stages his plan to recover his lands and name as an overtly terrifying act of mad revenge (3: 404-5). Thus, Maturin associates Schemoli's decision, born of grief, trembling, and isolation, not with something like decolonization, but rather with yet another dehumanizing form of usurpation and control. The new Count Montorio may be a usurper, but to murder him and erase the will and autonomy of his sons simply replicates the same treacherous logic. The flaw in Schemoli's planned revenge inheres in its fatal similarity to the duplicity of usurpation. His approach might appear to be justified, but it requires so much falsehood and malevolence that it comes to resemble precisely the twisted logic of usurpation that he reviles. In the terms of the novel, this simply makes Schemoli into "a villain with unimpaired conscience" (3: 405). Fatal Revenge replays and reflects the endless cycle of usurpation. Though Maturin's novel attempts to side against usurpation, it can never fully take the part of the dispossessed rebel whose Satanic energies drive the story. The novel heaps on so much complexity and so much minutiae in an attempt to balance the scales of justice that we come to see, once again, how Maturin's oeuvre overproduces narrative detail in order to find some brief instance of sympathetic moral clarity. Of course, the novel never produces the moral clarity it desires but, instead, imagines a villain who appears to transform into a heroic victim while somehow remaining thoroughly villainous. Even in his attempt to remake himself by the sheer force of personality, Schemoli/Orazio has merely made himself inauthentic. He has become a simulacrum of the terrorist personality that he would eschew. He does not reestablish his own agency, but rather accepts the powerful identity of the usurper as his own, or, that is, he accedes to the logic of usurpation in order to overcome a usurper. In effect, he becomes two personalities at once: the injured Orazio and the conniving Schemoli. At his very best, then, Schemoli/Orazio simply remains a villain of "unimpaired conscience." In focusing specifically on the experience of pain and loss, the tragic logic of the novel manages the remarkably incongruous feat of sympathizing and identifying with both villain and hero.
At this point in the text, Maturin has done much to convert the villain who has manipulated the entire plot into a justified victim, the terrorizer into the terrorized, and, moreover, when Schemoli becomes Orazio once again the narrator begins to describe him in feminine terms and to depict him, oddly enough, as melancholy and maternal. To add insult to injury, Orazio comes to discover that Annibal and Ippolito are his own sons, and so he experiences the utter and damnable pain of having turned his sons into murderers. Upon realizing his culpability, Orazio is described by the narrator as hugging his children "with the shriek and grasp of a mother" (3: 490). Like his wife, Erminia, he dies of a broken heart, and his blood pours out onto his sons, who are stained by and identified with his sin. Through the process of feminization and confinement, the brothers give in to terror, but in Schemoli, we seem to have a clear antagonist who acts as the agent of that terror. The text plays this out as a logical process, and in modern parlance it almost seems like a measurable sociological problem: being feminized produces psychic and political terror. When we come to the novel's real conclusion, and we discover that Schemoli is Orazio; that he has not been murdered and is not supernatural, but, rather, has had his title usurped and has experienced dehumanizing isolation, it is a fate coded as worse than death. The text does not allow for a restored patriarchal order, as Ippolito, who could have inherited the Montorio title from the usurper and set the system to right again, has become a murderer and social pariah stripped of the Montorio name and title (3: 487). In coming through this experience, the reader has learned to sympathize with the sentiments, born of privation and joined to domestic confinement, that create the condition of possibility for terror as well. At this point Orazio, too, comes to be depicted in feminine terms. He, too, was manipulated. Despite, or perhaps because of, its melding of female and male gothic tropes, the novel seems to sentimentalize the feminine as it also represents being identified with femininity as the foundation of all terror. Caught between an embattled and isolated femininity and the fearsome masculine anxiety it inspires, the main characters of Fatal Revenge metamorphose into men "born to tremble and weep," and in so doing they come to embody the incapacitating double-logic of post-1798 Anglo-Irish masculinity.
While the patriarchal colonial order remains at the heart of this problem, the logic of the Unionist Gothic seems to articulate both a conscious desire to shore up this order and an unconscious critique of its cyclical, debilitating logic. In fact, this logical collapse, this capacity of one identity to slide inevitably into another, even seems implicit in Edmund Burke's famous defense of the coherence of patriarchy against the inchoate violence of the revolutionary in Reflections on the Revolution in France. When Burke claims that in the face of social upheaval, "a King is but a man, a queen is but a woman; a woman but an animal, and an animal not of the highest order," he only protects a masculine order as he demonstrates that its loss is also a collapse of identities, an inevitable sliding of the masculine into the feminine and then into the bestial. In the "Preface" to his second novel, The Wild Irish Boy (1808), Maturin, writing again under the penname of Dennis Jasper Murphy, explains that the story of the Montorios "was said to be too defective in female characters and female interests." (23) Maturin's first novel may be deficient in female interests and characters, but the masculine anxiety that drives the text fears nothing so much as the feminine, or, that is, what Mary Corbett calls the "hierarchical opposition between English man and Irish woman" (3). This anxiety subsists in the Unionist Gothic's profound desire to draw on the powers of the male voice and its equally profound incapacity to do so. If we trace the dynamic of this anxiety as it courses through the paired narratives of Annibal and Ippolito and the final characterizations of Schemoli/Orazio, we find in Fatal Revenge a map of the breakdown of the marriage analogy for Irish colonization. The wrong marriage, a marriage that causes terror and the collapse of social order for all those involved, initiates this cycle.
University of Illinois
(1.) See Julian Moynahan, "The Politics of Anglo-Irish Gothic: Charles Robert Maturin, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and the Return of the Repressed," Anglo-Irish: The Literary Imagination in a Hyphenated Culture (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995) 116; Norman A. Jeffares, "Maturin the Innovator," Images of Invention: Essays on Irish Writing (Buckinghamshire: Colin Smyth, 1996) 131. Moynahan and Jeffares read Melmoth as the apotheosis of the Gothic tradition begun by Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Chris Baldick's 1989 "Introduction" to the Oxford Classics edition of Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (London: Oxford UP, 1998), problematizes the claims about Melmoth's status as the "last--and possibly the greatest--of the Gothic novels in the line from Walpole through Radcliffe and Lewis" (ix). For Baldick, such claims limit the boundaries of the genre and of Maturin's various borrowings from non-Gothic sources.
(2.) In "Maturin as Innovator," Jeffares reads Maturin's writings in light of Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads in order to claim that Maturin came "to see Irish resistance to English rule as part of a clash between two cultures, one nationalistic and romantic, based on Gaelic folk tradition and the 'natural' emotions of a native population living in close contact with nature, and the other cosmopolitan and neoclassical, making nature conform to the habits and tastes of society" (131). Moynahan locates in Maturin's texts, "both dread of a native revival and some longing for it" (116). In Margot Gayle Backus' The Gothic Family Romance: Heterosexuality and the Anglo-Irish Colonial Order (Durham: Duke UP, 1999), Maturin comes to represent the Ascendancy's repressed, self-consuming guilt. Nicola Watson's Revolution and the Form of the British Novel 1790-1825 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994), cites an 1819 edition of Blackwood's magazine as listing Maturin as one of the undesirably Jacobin authors of the Shelley, Keats, Byron ilk (117).
(3.) See in particular, Jacqueline Pearson, "Masculinizing the Novel: Women Writers and Intertextuality in Charles Robert Maturin's The Wild Irish Boy" (SiR 36 [Winter 1997]: 635so).
(4.) See Nilo Idman, Maturin: His Life and Works (London: Constable & Co., 1923) 263.
(5.) See Dale Kramer, Charles Robert Maturin (New York: Twayne, 1973) 26. Kramer, like most of Maturin's biographers, indicates that Maturin wanted the book to be entitled, The Family of Montorio, but that the publisher added the more compelling albeit predictable title Fatal Revenge.
(6.) See Dougherty, "Mr. and Mrs. England: The Act of Union as National Marriage," Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts, and Consequences of the Act of Union, Daire Keogh and Kevin Whelan, eds. (Portland: Four Courts P, 2001) 203.
(7.) See Jurgen Habermas' The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trans. Thomas Burger (Boston: MIT P, 1991) 43-56.
(8.) This argument follows the basic thesis of Mary Corbett's Allegories of Union in Irish and English Writing 1790-1870 (London: Cambridge UP, 2000). By 1867, when Matthew Arnold publishes On the Study of Celtic Literature, the discourses of science and alterity had changed to allow him to suggest that English "Character" was a racial quality not shared by the Irish, or by anyone else for that matter. Arnold clearly shows some sympathy for the Irish throughout his Study and suggests that the "racial" divide between the primitive Irish and the English can be healed by English understanding and by admitting that Ireland can be joined to England by blood ties (177). Arnold's solution resembles something like racial mixing.
(9.) Quoted in Charles Coote, History of the Union of the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland; With an Introductory Survey of Hibernian Affairs, Traced from the Times of the Celtic Colonisation (London: S. Hamilton, 1802) 76-77.
(10.) In "Marriage Against Inclination: The Union and Caricature," Acts of Union 140-58, Nicholas Robinson collects and discusses an entire series of these political cartoons. The image "Carrying the Union," originally published in March of 1800 by W. Holland, is currently listed in the British Museum's Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (which was published in eleven volumes between 1870 and 1954) as cartoon 9462A.
(11.) See Ellis, The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1989) 166.
(12.) Readings of Fatal Revenge follow the path set out by Nilo Idman's Maturin in that they all read the novel based on the ending.
(13.) Heinz Kosok's "Charles Robert Maturin and Colonialism," in Literary Inter-Relations: Ireland, Egypt, and the Far East, ed. Mary Massoud (Buckinghamshire: Colin Smyth, 1996) 228-34, and Norman A. Jeffares 131-49 read the gender relations in Maturin as a potential complication of nationalist sympathies.
(14.) Maturin placed this footnote in the text in part to defend himself against Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who had given a scathing review to Bertram. In Biographia Literaria, Coleridge goes so far as to claim that in Maturin's play, "the shocking spirit of Jacobinism seemed no longer confined to politics. The familiarity with atrocious events and characters appeared to have poisoned the taste, even where it had not directly disorganized the moral principles, and left the feelings callous to all the mild appeals, and craving alone for the grossest and most outrageous stimulants" (469).
(15.) See Idman 8. Heinz Kosok uses the footnote to unpack the problems that colonialism presented to Maturin (228-34).
(16.) British Review essay cited in Nilo Idman 20.
(17.) Charles Robert Maturin, The Fatal Revenge: Or, The Family of Montorio (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1807) Vol. 3: 290-91.
(18.) See R. F. Foster's "Shipwreck and Deliverance: The Foundations of the Ascendancy," in Modern Ireland: 1600-1972 (New York: Penguin, 1989) 138-63.
(19.) Victor Sage in "Diderot and Maturin: Enlightenment, Automata, and the Theatre of Terror," in European Gothic: A Spirited Exchange 1760-1960, ed. Avril Homer (New York: Manchester UP, 2002) 55-69, interprets Maturin's depictions of the horrors of a mechanized, dehumanized subject as allusions to Denis Diderot's La Religieuse.
(20.) See Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, J. G. A. Pocock, ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987) 30.
(21.) Edith Birkhead, The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance (New York: Russell & Russell, 1963) 82.
(22.) of course, Radcliffe's The Italian was, itself, written in response to Matthew Lewis' portrayal of the monk Ambrosio in The Monk .
(23.) See Maturin, The Wild Irish Boy (New York: Printed for E. Sargeant and M. & W. Ward, by D. & G. Bruce, 1808) Vol. 1: ix.
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|Title Annotation:||Charles Robert Maturin|
|Publication:||Studies in Romanticism|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2008|
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