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Numéro 11, août 1998

Direction : Michael Eberle-Sinatra (directeur)

Éditeur : Université de Montréal

ISSN : 1467-1255 (numérique)

DOI : 10.7202/005812ar

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Article

Unnationalized Englishmen in Mary Shelley's Fiction

William D. Brewer

Appalachian State University


1

The title-character of Mary Shelley's novel Lodore (1835), a British aristocrat, begins his Grand Tour of Europe at the age of nineteen:

Once on the continent, the mania of travelling seized him. He visited Italy, Poland, and Russia: he bent his wayward steps from north to south, as the whim seized him. He became of age, and his father earnestly desired his return: but again and again he solicited permission to remain . . . until the very flower of his youth seemed destined to be wasted in aimless rambles, and an intercourse with foreigners, that must tend to unnationalize him, and to render him unfit for a career in his own country.[1]

Lodore is one of several young Englishmen in Shelley's fiction who go abroad, become 'unnationalized,' and then find reassimilation into their native cultures difficult if not impossible. She considers the controversy over the advantages and disadvantages of the Grand Tour in the first part of Lodore; she explores the consequences of prolonged global travel in Mathilda (written 1819), and her last novel, Falkner (1837), examines the formative influence of Indian culture on a young English soldier. In this essay, I will argue that these characters reflect her concern about the effects of travel on impressionable young Englishmen, particularly travel outside of Western Europe.

2

During the eighteenth century English tourism boomed,[2] and more and more Englishmen became involved in the lucrative trade with India and, later, its colonization. This increased contact with other cultures provoked both cosmopolitan and xenophobic responses. Travel provided educational opportunities; it also, in the view of some critics, presented vulnerable (and inadequately supervised) young men with innumerable temptations. They could waste time and money gambling and drinking, frequent brothels, contract venereal disease, [3] or marry against their family's wishes. Of course, they could do the same things in England, but xenophobic commentators believed that there were more corrupting influences and opportunities for misconduct on the continent. Opinions were similarly divided regarding the customs and religious beliefs of the various cultures that English merchants, soldiers, and missionaries encountered in India. For example, while the famous orientalist William Jones presents a sympathetic portrait of Hindu morality,[4] Robert Southey's The Curse of Kehama (1810), which begins with a sati, or ritual sacrifice of wives on the funeral pyre of their husband, mounts an Evangelical Christian critique of Hinduism. [5]

3

This essay will examine the ways in which Shelley incorporates these cultural debates into her fiction. Lodore, Mathilda's unnamed father, and the title-character of Falkner all spend many years abroad, and their exposure to foreign customs and creeds has a profound influence on their behavior and their moral principles. To varying degrees, they are modeled on Lord Byron, whose Grand Tour included such exotic countries as Albania, Greece, and Turkey and who was later ostracized by Regency society because of his putative violation of the incest taboo. They become cultural hybrids, torn between the mores and customs of England and those of foreign cultures.

4

As Jeremy Black observes, while the Grand Tour was intended to '[equip] the traveller socially and [provide] him with useful knowledge and attainments', [6] a number of its critics believed that it was, at best, an expensive waste of time. For example, Thomas Pennant claimed that the English students at the Academy of Geneva

either give themselves up to the rural sports of the country or abandon their studies for the enervating pleasures of the South of France, unknown to their friends who are regretting the unaccountable expenses of an education they were taught to believe was as reasonable as it was good. [7]

The negative effects of Grand Tour could, however, be more serious. Black notes that 'Problems were created when impressionable young men fell in love. Venereal disease was bad, but so was a mesalliance.' Highly-born and wealthy tourists might fall in love with women below them in class or fortune. In some cases, 'Forceful intervention was necessary':

George, Viscount Parker's involvement with an Italian woman, and his failure to heed the instructions of his father, Lord Chancellor Macclesfield, led Macclesfield to mobilize the resources of British diplomacy to regain his son. The young James Stuart Mackenzie fell for the famous opera-singer Barberini and arranged to marry her in Venice. This was prevented by Archibald, 3rd Duke of Argyll, who used his friend John, 3rd Earl of Hyndford, envoy in Berlin, to have Barbarini brought to Berlin and Mackenzie banned from Prussia. She had earlier engaged the attention of Samuel Dashwood.[8]

Shelley addresses the problem of ill-advised foreign marriages in Lodore, in which Horatio Saville, the son of a nobleman, marries Clorinda, a mentally unstable Italian woman. Horatio is partly, but only superficially, 'Italianized' (L 168) by his wife, who refuses to accompany him to England and torments him with her 'jealous freak[s]'. (L 171) His father, Lord Maristow, admonishes him to return to England: '"your career, your family, your country, must not be sacrificed to her unreasonable folly".' (L 279) Luckily for Horatio, Clorinda suddenly dies as a result of a 'burst . . . blood-vessel' (L 279): 'the victim of the violence of passion and ill-regulated feelings native to her country, excited into unnatural force'. (L 275) Her timely death allows him to return to England, rejoin his aristocratic family, and resume his career as a member of the ruling class. Shelley cautions against marriages between members of different cultures more explicitly in her review-essay '[The English in Italy]' (1826):

We can none of us attempt, with impunity, to engraft ourselves on foreign stocks: the habits of our childhood cling to us, and we seek in vain for sympathy from those who have travelled life quite on a different road from that which we have followed.[9]

In Fleetwood: or, The New Man of Feeling (1805, republished 1832), Shelley's father, William Godwin, describes the Parisian debaucheries of his privileged title-character. Sent to 'make a tour of other countries for [his] improvement', Fleetwood becomes infatuated with 'a finished coquette', and when she proves unfaithful, he attaches himself to another.[10] The 'inconstancy' of his second mistress teaches Fleetwood 'to abhor and revile her sex',[11] and his misogyny affects his marriage, many years later, to an Englishwoman:

Every time she did any thing that jarred with my propensities—my favourite theory about the female sex revived; I recurred to the bitter experience of my youth; and swore that, however it might in certain instances be glossed over, all women were in the main alike, selfish, frivolous, inconstant, and deceitful. [12]

In Fleetwood Godwin suggests that even when they do not lead to a mésalliance, a tourist's sexual adventures can have a negative influence on his later life.

5

A prolonged residence abroad could also affect a young man's future political career. John Wilkes, the renowned political adversary of George III, believed that this was a significant problem:

that mistake we too often run into, of sending our young nobility and young gentlemen upon their travels . . . before they know enough of the constitution of their own country to give a just or even tolerable account of it[,] . . . makes them very apt, from what they see abroad, to imbibe false or inadequate ideas of the true foundation and end of government. The consequence of which is that when, by inheritance or election, they are admitted to a share in the legislative authority of their own country, they are in great danger of espousing . . . the wrong side of the question.[13]

Thus the dangers of the Grand Tour are political as well as domestic; since many tourists are of the ruling class, any 'false and inadequate ideas' that they absorb in foreign countries can have a devastating effect on their legislative careers.

6

Although the protagonist of Shelley's historical novel The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830) is not a tourist, it could be argued that his career as a pretender to the British throne is negatively affected by his long sojourn on the continent. Richard of York (also known as Perkin Warbeck) is forced to flee from England as a young boy after Henry VII, having defeated Richard III, becomes king. He is taught that he is the son of Edward IV and that it is his duty to regain the throne of England, and the novel recounts his many failed attempts to oust Henry Tudor. He spends his formative years in Spain, where he becomes 'accomplished in knightly exercise in the land of chivalry'.[14] Unfortunately for him, England is no longer a feudal nation: 'The spirit of chivalry, which isolates man, had given place to that of trade, which unites them in bodies'. (FPW 306) Thus the outmoded chivalric ideas that Richard absorbs in Spain put him at a disadvantage in his struggle against the politically astute and unprincipled Henry VII. Unable to understand or adjust to the 'commercial spirit [which has] sprung up during [Henry's] reign', (FPW 306) he fails abysmally in his attempts to rally his countrymen to his cause.

7

Lord Byron was the most famous tourist of Shelley's time. His Grand Tour began when he was twenty-one, on 2 July 1809, and ended on 14 July 1811. During these two years he visited Portugal, Spain, Albania, Greece and Turkey. As Leslie Marchand observes, Byron's travels 'instilled in him a deep-lying cosmopolitanism'. [15] They extended well beyond the usual itinerary of a Grand Tourist to the Albanian palace of Ali Pacha, a 'politician, bandit, road-builder, sadist, peace-keeper, mass-murderer and energetic bisexual'.[16] Back in England, Byron considered returning to the Levant, and in a 9 September 1811 letter to Augusta Leigh he jokingly wrote that he believed he would 'turn Mussulman in the end'.[17] To Francis Hodgson he declared:

In the spring of 1813 I shall leave England for ever. . . . Neither my habits nor constitution are improved by your customs or your climate. I shall find employment in making myself a good Oriental scholar. I shall retain a mansion in one of the fairest islands, and retrace . . . the most interesting portions of the East. [18]

But despite this resolution, he remained in England and became a literary celebrity following the publication of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Cantos I and II. His scandalous affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, who was married, mercurial, and indiscreet, was followed by an ill-advised engagement to Annabella Milbanke, whom he married on 2 January 1815. Lady Byron left him a year later, and they became legally separated on 21 April 1816. Hounded by rumors of cruelty, infidelity, incest (with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh), and sodomy,[19] Byron left England for good. Shelley told Thomas Moore in 1827 that Byron 'had told her all about his sister' and expressed 'her surprize & disgust at finding he had also told it to Medwin'. [20] Moreover, she was appalled by his treatment of her step-sister, Claire Clairmont, whom Byron impregnated before leaving England, and summarily dismissed in Switzerland.[21] He later placed his and Clairmont's illegitimate daughter in a convent, where she died at the age of five. Byron's assimilation into Italian culture was so successful that in '[The English in Italy]' Shelley dubs him 'the father of the Anglo-Italian literature' and identifies his poem 'Beppo as being the first product of that school'.[22]

8

In essence, the life-stories of Shelley's Lord Lodore, Mathilda's father, and Falkner follow the trajectory of Byron's career. These characters return to England after spending many years abroad and are unable to readjust to life in their native country. They also develop dysfunctional relationships with Englishwomen. While Lodore's feelings toward his wife are bitterly antagonistic, Mathilda's father is unable to control his incestuous desire for his daughter. Falkner abducts Alithea Rivers, who became Mrs. Neville during his absence from England, and she drowns trying to escape him. Like Byron, Lodore leaves England with a ruined reputation. Mathilda's father attempts to make amends for his transgressive behavior by committing suicide, and Falkner travels 'from place to place, pursued by [the] upbraiding ghost' [23] of the woman he has buried in unconsecrated ground. Their failures to reassimilate themselves into English society and observe its customs have tragic consequences.

9

Lord Raymond, the Byron-surrogate in Shelley's The Last Man (1826), also spends a significant time abroad, fighting 'in the Greek wars'.[24] But unlike Lord Lodore, Mathilda's father, and Falkner, he is able to function effectively in English society for a number of years; in fact, he becomes Lord Protector of England. Ultimately, however, he re-enacts the Byronic pattern of transgressive action and self-banishment: his clandestine relationship with an expatriate Greek woman, Evadne, destroys his marriage, and he exiles himself from his native land, rejoining the struggle in Greece. Like Shelley's other Byronic characters, he is the 'slave' of his 'over-ruling heart' (TLM 45) and prone to self-destructive acts: unable to persuade his men to enter plague-infested Constantinople, he rides in alone and is killed by 'some falling ruin'. (TLM 149) But since The Last Man is set in the future (the twenty-first century), it does not directly address the nineteenth-century cultural issues explored in this essay: the effects of the Grand Tour and Indian colonization on young Englishmen.

10

Byron was not the only cultural hybrid who engaged Shelley's imagination: less than a year after the composition of Mathilda she met Percy Shelley's cousin, Thomas Medwin, who had spent five years in the Indian army, and in 1822 she met Edward John Trelawny, who told her numerous tales of his exploits in the south seas. Medwin, who had retired from the Indian army, spent the winter of 1802-21 with the Shelleys, and in January Edward Ellerker Williams, whom Medwin had known in India, joined them in Pisa.[25] According to Nigel Leask, Medwin's Indian experiences had a profound influence on him:

After a love affair with a Hindu woman which had ended badly but which nevertheless had the effect of converting Medwin to the doctrines of the Hindu reformer Rammohun Roy[,] . . . the stability of his cultural identity was shaken no less than his health . . . [H]e had survived the cholera epidemic which ravaged the grand army of Lord Hastings in November 1818, [and] had witnessed at least one incident of sati or widow-burning at Mandla.[26]

He read 'a part of his journal in India' to the Shelleys on 4 November 1820.[27]

11

Shelley described Trelawny as 'a kind of half Arab Englishman . . . he is clever—for his moral qualities I am yet in the dark . . . [He has] raven black hair which curls thickly & shortly like a Moors . . .[,] his shoulders are high like an Orientalist'.[28] Trelawny, whose naval career in the Indian Ocean was actually quite undistinguished, appeared to be more Byronic than Byron himself and regaled the Shelleys with mendacious accounts of his life as a privateer. He later accompanied Byron to Greece, where he joined the forces of a Greek brigand, Odysseus Androutzos, whose thirteen-year-old half-sister he married. It seems likely that most of Shelley's Byronic characters (with the exception of Mathilda's father, since the composition of Mathilda predates Shelley's friendship with Trelawny) were at least partly influenced by this strange 'half Arab Englishman.'

12

After reading Lodore, Claire Clairmont complained to Shelley that the title-character is a 'á<beastly> modification of the beastly character of Lord Byron'.[29] Subsequent commentators on the novel have tended to agree with this identification: Ernest Lovell, Jr. argues that Lodore, along with Castruccio (the male protagonist of Valperga [1823]), Raymond, and Falkner, 'were modelled in significant part on Byron',[30] Jane Blumberg asserts that Valperga, The Last Man, Lodore, and Falkner 'take the Byronic hero as their central characters',[31] and Lisa Vargo contends that 'Lodore is meant to represent a conflated version of Byron and Trelawny'.[32] Lord Lodore, like Byron, takes an extended and somewhat exotic Grand Tour: whereas Byron explored the Levant, Lodore wanders through central and eastern Europe, periodically secluding 'himself in some unattainable district of northern Germany, Poland, or Courland' (part of present-day Russia). (L 35)[33] His father dies during his travels, and his devoted sister, Elizabeth Fitzhenry, sadly asks: 'Wherefore did he leave his native country? Wherefore return to reside in lands, whose language, manners, and religion, were all at variance with his own?' (L 34) Shelley answers Elizabeth's questions:

Passion, and the consequent engrossing occupations, usurped the place of laudable ambition and useful exertion. He wasted his nobler energies upon pursuits which were mysteries to the world, yet which formed the sum of his existence.

L 35

During his thirteen-year absence from England, Lodore has a long, enervating affair with 'a Polish lady of rank', and 'the better energies of his mind [are] spent in forging deceptions, and tranquillizing the mind of a jealous and unhappy woman.' (L 50) He eventually tires, however, of these 'unlawful pursuits,' and returns to England to marry 'one whom his judgment, rather than his love, should select' and begin a political career: 'he wished to accustom himself to the manners and customs of his own country, so as to enable him to enter upon public life'. (37).

13

But when he returns to England at the age of thirty-two, he finds that he has little in common with his fellow aristocrats: 'he did not feel one of them.' He withdraws 'himself from the haunts of men' and mourns his 'wasted . . . youth'. (L 37) Riding through a lightning storm, he comes to the aid of a beautiful fifteen-year-old, Cornelia Santerre, and unwisely decides to marry her in spite of 'the discrepancy of their age, and consequently of their feelings and views of life'. (L 43) But his attempts to overcome his Cornelia's 'deficiencies in education' (L 42) are frustrated by her interfering mother. '[A]ccustomed to be managed by his [foreign] mistress,' Lodore is unable to contend 'with the sinister influence of his mother-in-law' over his wife, whose 'inexperience render[s] her incapable of entering into the feelings of her husband'. (L 46) Lady Lodore's 'deficiencies in education' and insensitivity to her husband's 'feelings' do not, however, prevent her from becoming 'the glass of fashion—. . . imitated by a vast sect of imitators' (L 73) following Lodore's self-exile from England. Unlike her unnationalized husband, she skillfully performs her culturally prescribed roles: society regards her 'as an injured and deserted wife, whose propriety of conduct [i]s the more admirable from the difficulties with which she [i]s surrounded'. (L 72-73)

14

Having failed to achieve 'domestic felicity,' Lodore pursues a career in 'public affairs' but is again disappointed:

His long residence abroad prevented his every acquiring the habit of public speaking; nor had he the respect for human nature, nor the enthusiasm for a part or a cause, which is necessary for one who would make a figure as a statesman. His sensitive disposition, his pride, which, when excited, verged into arrogance; his uncompromising integrity, his disdain of most of his associates, his incapacity of yielding obedience, rendered his short political career one of struggle and mortification. 'And this is life!' he said; 'abroad, to mingle with the senseless and the vulgar; and at home, to find a—wife, who prefers the admiration of fools, to the love of an honest heart!'

L 47

This recalls both John Wilkes's concern about the disorienting effects of travel on the 'young nobility and young gentlemen' who have the opportunity to lead their country and Byron's brief political career (which did not, however, appear to involve much 'struggle and mortification'). Partly because of Lodore's many years abroad, the 'family tradition, that a Fitzhenry had sat in parliament' (L 6) comes to an end.

15

Lodore's situation becomes even worse when his Polish mistress, now Countess Lyzinski, visits London with their illegitimate son, Count Casimir. Unaware of Lodore's relationship to him, Casimir flirts with Lady Lodore. Overcome by the 'unnatural flame' (L 59) of jealousy, Lodore strikes the youth and thus faces the prospect of fighting a duel which could result in the spilling of 'kindred blood.' In order to avoid 'making the innocent a parricide' (L 56), he flees to America, leaving his wife and taking their infant daughter with him. He violates the code of honor by refusing to give 'satisfaction' (55) to his son, but he commits a much more serious offense when he separates Cornelia from her daughter: 'to deprive a mother of her child were barbarity beyond that of savages'. (L 61) Completely 'unnationalized' by his Grand Tour, he fails both as a husband and politician and must leave his native country in disgrace.

16

Lodore settles 'in the district of Illinois in North America', (9) where his farming reflects his cultural hybridization: he often chooses 'practices' employed in 'Poland and Hungary [over] American and English modes of agriculture' (10) In America he develops an abnormally close relationship with his daughter, Ethel Fitzhenry: 'she inspired her father with more than a father's fondness'. (L 19) When Whitelock, Ethel's drawing instructor, declares his love for her, Lodore impulsively decides to leave America 'before she should invest [Whitelock], or any other, with attributes of glory, drawn from her own imagination and sensibility, wholly beyond his merits'. (L 75) While waiting to sail to England, he overhears an American discussing 'the intemperate violence of Lodore—and the youthful Lyzinski's wrongs.' When the American says that 'My lord . . . sneaked off like a mean-spirited, pitiful scoundrel,' Lodore strikes him. According to Shelley, duels 'are more fatal and more openly carried on [in America] than in [England]'; (90) in light of this cultural difference, Lodore's challenge is particularly rash. The two men fight a duel, Lodore is killed, and his daughter loses the only parent she has ever known. Vargo notes that the duel's 'Byronic aspects may have something to do with Byron's incident with a dragoon in Italy'.[34] Like Byron, Lodore is prone to impulsive and self-destructive acts.

17

Lodore suggests, however, that in some cases foreign acculturation can have a positive effect. While Lord Lodore's long stay abroad has a devastating effect on his political career and domestic life, his daughter's upbringing in the wilds of Illinois prepares her to live in poverty in England:

She had spent her youth among settlers in a new country, and did not associate the idea of disgrace with want. . . . She had acquired a practical philosophy, while inhabiting the western wilderness, . . . which stood her in good stead under her European vicissitudes. The Red Indian and his squaw were also human beings, subject to the same necessities, moved . . . by the same impulses as herself.

257

This passage indicates that a long sojourn in a foreign country can be enlightening and even prepare one for 'European vicissitudes.' Of course, Ethel's and Lodore's characters, backgrounds, and genders are different. Since she is a woman, Ethel could not have had a political career even if she had stayed in England, and she does not feel compelled to quarrel violently with those who offend her. Thus unnationalization does not affect her in the way it affects her father.

18

I have unchronologically grouped together the next two works I will discuss because they both feature Englishmen who travel to India. As Nigel Leask points out,

The anxieties embodied in British Romantic writing about the East—both the assertion of superiority and the fear of instability and absorption—reflect the tenuous nature of East India Company rule in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, its necessary investment in the Mughal terms of power and its complicated attitude to indigenous idioms . . . There is space here for hybridized Englishmen as well as hybridized Indians.[35]

Romantic-era writers were particularly intrigued by the Hindu custom of sati. Godwin declares in Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) that this practice is incomprehensible to Europeans: 'What can be more contrary to European modes than the dread of disgrace, which induces the Brahmin widows of Indostan to destroy themselves upon the funeral pile of their husbands?'[36] In Southey's The Curse of Kehama, which Shelley read in 1814 (Journals 27), sati is presented as a barbaric and inhumanly cruel practice. The protesting younger wife of Arvalan is forced onto his funeral pyre:

Woe! woe! Nealliny,

The young Nealliny!

They strip her ornaments away,

Bracelet and anklet, ring, and chain, and zone

. . .

O sight of misery!

You cannot hear her cries,...all other sound

In that wild dissonance is drown'd;...

But in her face you see

The supplication and the agony,...

See in her swelling throat the desperate strength

That with vain effort struggles yet for life;

Her arms contracted now in fruitless strife,

Now wildly at full length

Towards the crowd in vain for pity spread,...

They force her on, they bind her to the dead.

Then all around retire;

Circling the pile, the ministring Bramins stand,

Each lifting in his hand a torch on fire.

Alone the Father of the dead advanced

And lit the funeral pyre.

1.8-9

As Southey writes in his preface to The Curse of Kehama, his poem is a critique of 'the religion of the Hindoos, which of all false religions is the most monstrous in its fables, and the most fatal in its effects'. [37]

19

In contrast, Sydney Owenson presents a much more sympathetic perspective on sati and Hinduism in general in her novel The Missionary: An Indian Tale (1811), which Shelley read in 1817. (Journals 180) The heroine of The Missionary is Luxima, 'the Prophetess and Brachmachira of Cashmire',[38] who falls in love with Father Hilarion, the Franciscan missionary of the novel's title. As the Pundit of Lahore tells Hilarion, women of Luxima's caste are willing participants in the rite of sati:

Pure and tender, faithful and pious, zealous alike in their fondness and their faith, they immolate themselves as martyrs to both, and expire on the pile which consumes the objects of their affection, to inherit the promise which religion holds out to their hopes; for the heaven of an Indian woman is the eternal society of him whom she loved on earth.[39]

Later in the novel, Hilarion is sentenced to death by the Inquisition and taken to be burned at the stake. Luxima runs to the auto da fè and sees

in every thing she beheld, a spectacle similar to that which the self-immolation of the Brahmin women presents: . . . she believed the hour of her sacrifice and her triumph was arrived, that she was on the point of being united in heaven to him whom she had alone loved on earth; and when she heard her name pronounced by his well-known voice, she rushed to the pile in all the enthusiasm of love and of devotion.[40]

Whereas Southey's denunciation of sati is unequivocal, Owenson suggests while Luxima's expression of selfless love is misguided, it is far more admirable than Christian fanaticism: fatally wounded by an Inquisitor, Luxima expires 'with a smile of love and a ray of religious joy shedding their mingled lustre on her slowly closing eyes'.[41]

20

D. S. Neff has explored some of the possible influences of The Curse of Kehama and The Missionary on Frankenstein.[42] For example, he contends that at the end of Frankenstein 'the creature, like Luxima, is attracted to the idea of death on a funeral pyre, wishing to commit his own version of sati, vowing to ascend the 'funeral pile [of his creator] triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames, with his ashes later "swept into the sea by the winds".'[43] I would argue that The Missionary also influenced Shelley's conception of acculturation in Mathilda and Falkner. Leask convincingly argues that

The polemical thrust of [Owenson's] novel is to show that . . . cultural assimilation cannot succeed; rather than 'making a Christian' Hilarion only succeeds in 'destroying a Hindu,' and he himself ends up a hybrid.[44]

At the conclusion of The Missionary, Hilarion becomes an outcast 'whose religion [is] unknown' and who is found dead 'at the foot of an altar which he had himself raised to the deity of his secret worship.' Neither Christian nor Hindu, he 'pray[s] at the confluence of rivers, at the rising and the setting of the sun'.[45] Similarly, in Mathilda and Falkner the major male characters are transformed by their Indian experiences. They become unnationalized and violate cultural taboos when they return to their native cultures.

21

In Mathilda, the title-character's father is heartbroken after Mathilda's mother, Diana, dies a few days after giving birth to her. Diana had persuaded him to 'become one among his fellow men; a distinguished member of society, a Patriot', (M 179) but after her death he precipitately leaves England and their infant daughter, taking 'the road of Germany and Hungary to Turkey'. (M 181) His travels are longer and far more exotic than Lodore's:

He . . . passed the sixteen years of absence among nations nearly unknown to Europe; he . . . wandered through Persia, Arabia and [like Hilarion] the north of India and had penetrated among the habitations of the natives with a freedom permitted to few Europeans.

M 187

The fact that he is allowed to move among the 'natives with a freedom permitted to few Europeans' suggests that he easily adapts to their cultures, perhaps because he has never been fully integrated into his own. During his sixteen-year absence Mathilda's father fails to develop or mature:

All the time he had passed out of England was as a dream, and all the interest of his soul, all his affections belonged to events which had happened and persons who had existed sixteen years before. It was strange when you heard him talk to see how he passed over this lapse of time as a night of visions; while the remembrances of his youth standing seperate [sic] as they did from his after life had lost none of their vigour. He talked of my mother as if she had lived but a few weeks before.

M 188

Rather than enlightening him, his years abroad seem to have halted his social and psychological development: his foreign experiences are 'a night of visions' through which he escapes from the realities of bereavement and parental responsibility. He returns to his daughter an antinomian:

The burning sun of India, and the freedom from all restraint had . . . encreased the energy of his character: before he bowed under, now he was impatient of any censure except that of his own mind. He had seen so many customs and witnessed so great a variety of moral creeds that he had been obliged to form an independant [sic] one for himself which had no relation to the peculiar notions of any one country.

M 188

Although Mathilda's father is usually compared to William Godwin, this passage seems more descriptive of Byron.[46] Like Byron, Shelley's character is 'a man of rank', (M 176) the recipient of a public school and university education, and a freethinker who is resistant to 'any censure except that of his own mind.' He is also well-travelled, and his years abroad provide him with a cosmopolitan perspective on local customs and moral creeds. Most important, Mathilda's father, like Byron during his Regency career, proves susceptible to transgressive sexual impulses. After spending a 'few short months of Paradisaical [sic] bliss' (M 189) with Mathilda, he becomes jealous of a young man who courts her and realizes that his love for his daughter is sexual rather than paternal. While he recognizes that his incestuous passion is 'unlawful and monstrous', (M 207) he fails to conquer or sublimate 'this guilty love more unnatural than hate'. (M 210)

22

Mathilda's father soon becomes convinced that he can 'never . . . conquer [his] love' for his daughter, who 'in [his] madness' seems to be the reincarnation of his dead wife. His delusion may stem from his exposure in India to the Hindu doctrine of metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls.[47] He is incapable of establishing a normal father-daughter relationship with Mathilda because he feels as though 'her mother's spirit was transferred into her frame'. (M 210) Having repudiated his culture's mores without constructing a coherent belief-system of his own, he lacks a coherent moral base, and this is part of the reason that he falls prey to his transgressive desires. Without a cultural identity, he is little more than a 'desiring machine.'[48] In the end, he avoids violating the taboo against incest by violating the prohibition against suicide. His foreign experiences thus undermine his ability to resist 'unlawful' desires and render him incapable of performing his duties as a father in upper-class English society. Significantly, while dying of 'a rapid consumption' (M 243) three years after her father's suicide, Mathilda describes her impending funeral in language that recalls the sati ceremony:

no maiden ever took more pleasure in the contemplation of her bridal attire than I in fancying my limbs already enwrapt in their shroud: is it not my marriage dress? Alone it will unite me to my father.

M 244

The father's foreign acculturation seems to have been somehow transferred to his daughter.

23

The title-character of Falkner has resemblances to both Byron and Trelawny. As Pamela Clemit observes,

In her portrayal of the central character, the passionate and self-divided Rupert John Falkner, Mary Shelley drew on episodes from the lives of her friends Lord Byron and Edward John Trelawny, notably Byron's expedition to Greece in 1823, and Trelawny's account of his rebellious childhood in Adventures of a Younger Son (1831), which she prepared for publication and saw through the press.[49]

Unlike Lodore and Mathilda's father, Falkner is abused as a child, both at home and at school. He finds a temporary relief from his life of 'blows and stripes, cold neglect, reprehension, and debasing slavery' (F 162) in the company of Mrs. Rivers and her daughter Alithea, who inspire him 'to conquer [his] evil habits'. (F 163) His schooldays abruptly end when an usher tries to kill his pet mice and, in the ensuing struggle, Falkner cuts his head with a knife. Mrs. Rivers arranges with his uncle to have him placed in 'the East Indian military college'. (F 167) Following the death of Mrs. Rivers, Falkner discovers that he loves Alithea, but her father violently rebuffs him when he asks for permission to marry his daughter. He sails to India still believing that she will someday be his bride.

24

In India Falkner serves, like the Shelleys' friends Medwin and Edward Ellerker Williams, as 'an officer in a regiment of the [East India] Company's cavalry'. (F 171) Falkner's contempt for 'the English governors' (F 172) of India recalls Trelawny's sentiments in Adventures of a Younger Son:

In India Europeans lord it over the conquered natives with a high hand. Every outrage may be committed almost with impunity, and their ready flexibility of temperament has acquired a servile subordination. . . . the greatest kindness from Europeans, for long and faithful services, never exceeds what is shewn to dogs.[50]

Falkner identifies with the victims of colonial oppression: 'I took part with the weak, and showed contempt for the powerful. . . . I attached myself to several natives; that was a misdemeanor. I strove to inculcate European tastes and spirit, enlightened views, and liberal policy, to one or two native princes.' He learns 'the language and respect[s] the habits and feelings of the natives' and dreams 'of driving the merchant sovereigns from Hindostan'. (F 171-172) Falkner privileges 'European tastes, spirit, enlightened views and liberal policy' while embracing Indian 'language, habits, and feelings'; he attempts to Westernize native princes while deploring the English influence in India. His conflicting attitudes reflect his growing cultural hybridity. Even Alithea begins to seem 'eastern' to him:

I never saw a young Indian mother with her infant but my soul dissolved in tender fancies of domestic union and bliss with Alithea. There was something in her soft, dark eye, and in the turn of her countenance, purely eastern; and many a lovely, half-veiled face I could have taken for hers; many a slight, symmetrical figure, round, elegant and delicate, seemed her own.

F 173

In his 'fancies' Alithea Rivers becomes Anglo-Indian.

25

Falkner inherits his family's estate after ten years and returns to England to propose marriage to Alithea. Like Mathilda's father, he regards his years abroad as 'a dream' from which he wakes into 'the real world' (F 184) of English life. Back in England, he discovers that Alithea has married another man. Convinced that her husband is unworthy of her, he implores her to break her marriage vow and run away with him. He describes her situation in terms that recall the plight of a sati victim, declaring that she 'must not offer [her]self up a living sacrifice to that base idol [her husband]'. (F 182) She refuses, however, to leave her husband, and, 'resolved to bend [English] laws to [his] desires', (F 184) Falkner abducts her. Horrified by this criminal act, Alithea drowns trying to escape him. He then commits an act which he recognizes, in retrospect, 'may . . . appear more shocking to [his] countrymen, than all that went before' (F 190): he buries Alithea hastily and without ceremony. According to Falkner, his 'shocking' behavior must be judged within the context of his ten years of acculturation in India, where his 'modes of action were formed':

I knew little of English customs. I had gone out an inexperienced stripling to India, and my modes of action were formed there. I now know that when one dies in England, they keep the lifeless corpse, weeping and watching beside it for many days, and then with lingering ceremonies, and the attendance of relations and friends, lay it solemnly in the dismal tomb. But I had seen whole armies mown down by sword and disease; I was accustomed to the soldier's hastily dug grave, in a climate where corruption follows fast upon death. To hide the dead with speed from every eye, was the Indian custom.

F 190-191

Soon after these events, he attempts suicide. His first impulse is to 'destroy [him]self at her side, and leave [their] bodies to tell a frightful tale of mystery and horror', (F 191), but the presence of his terrified henchman prevents this act of atonement. He travels, therefore, to 'a secluded village of Cornwall, with the intent there to make due sacrifice to the outraged manes of Alithea'. (F 192) Falkner's plan to commit suicide following the death of his beloved may also be related to his Indian acculturation: he decides to perform an impromptu sati with himself in the role of the sacrificial widow and with a revolver rather than a funeral pyre as his instrument of destruction. According to the protagonist of Owenson's The Missionary, 'the idea of death [is] ever welcome to an Indian's mind': 'the crime of suicide to which despair might urge its victim, [is] sanctioned by the religion of the country, by its customs and its laws'.[51] Falkner's suicide attempt is, however, thwarted when a child, the orphaned Elizabeth Raby, knocks his pistol out of his hand while he sacrilegiously sits on her mother's grave.

26

Having failed to commit suicide like Mathilda's father, Falkner flees England like Lodore, bringing Elizabeth with him in his 'somewhat erratic . . . course [through] Paris, Hamburgh, Stockholm, St. Petersburgh, Moscow, Odessa, Constantinople, . . . Hungary to Vienna'. (F 31) Subsequently, he fights in the Greek war of independence while Elizabeth waits for him in 'the Ionian Isles'. (F 53) His love for his adoptive daughter recalls the incestuous or quasi-incestuous feelings Mathilda's father and Lodore have for their daughters. Inadequately socialized themselves, these father-figures are ill-equipped to raise young girls: their love for their daughters tends to be obsessional and sexual rather than paternal. Thus Falkner feels that Elizabeth will 'be his: not like the vain love of his youth, only in imagination, but in every thought and sensation, to the end of time'. (F 32) As Katherine C. Hill-Miller observes, 'he yearns for his adopted daughter to succeed and replace his lover, Alithea [Rivers]'.[52] Later in the novel, Elizabeth recognizes that her relationship with Falkner has been abnormally close: 'I suppose . . . that I am something of a savage—unable to bend to the laws of civilization. I did not know this—I thought I was much like other girls—. . . I nursed my father when sick: now that he is in worse adversity, I still feel my proper place to be at his side . . . He is my father—my more than father'. (F 238)

27

In addition to caring for her unnationalized father, Elizabeth helps him become reassimilated into British society. Falkner's reacculturation is, however, extremely arduous. He confesses his criminal behavior to Elizabeth and to Alithea's son, Gerard Neville, expecting Gerard to kill him in a duel. But Gerard reveals Falkner's crime to his father, who has him arrested for Alithea's murder. Falkner must languish in prison, where he again meditates 'self-destruction', (F 244) and suffer the humiliation of a public trial: 'the gaze of thousands—the accusation—the evidence—the defence—the verdict—each of these bearing with it to the well-born and refined, a barbed dart, pregnant with thrilling poison; ignominy added to danger'. (F 279) After enduring a lengthy period of public scrutiny and humiliation, Falkner is found innocent of Alithea's murder. Gerard Neville and his fellow citizens forgive him, and he experiences 'As much happiness as any one can enjoy, whose inner mind bears the unhealing wound of a culpable act'. (F 299) Shelley's final novel suggests that in order to be reintegrated into his native culture, the 'unnationalized' Byronic hero must subdue his pride and submit to the judgment of the culture whose laws and values he spurned.

28

Thus in Shelley's Lodore, Mathilda, and Falkner, long sojourns abroad, especially in exotic countries like India, have negative effects on her male protagonists. In these works she critiques both the institution of the Grand Tour and British imperialism: the Grand Tourist in Lodore can never truly go home, and in Falkner the young Indian army officer, the Englishwoman he loves, and her son are among the many victims of empire. This does not mean, however, that Shelley believes that foreign acculturation is always harmful: as I have noted, Native Americans teach Ethel Fitzhenry how to deal with poverty, and the fatalism that Falkner learns during his 'eastern life' helps him 'meet the evils of his lot'. (F 254) Shelley's point is sociological rather than xenophobic or insular: her novels describe how exposure to the mores and customs of foreign cultures can confuse and unnationalize unformed or psychologically vulnerable young men. Without a strong sense of national identity her Byronic characters become cultural hybrids and, following their return to England, are unable to perform effectively and appropriately in the important masculine roles of father, husband, lover, citizen, or legislator. Disoriented by the 'dream' of foreign travel, they never learn how to function in 'the real world' of English society.


 

Notes

[1]

Mary Shelley, Lodore, ed. Fiona Stafford, Volume 6 of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, General Editor Nora Crook with Pamela Clemit (London: William Pickering, 1996) 33; hereafter abbreviated as F.

[2]

Jeremy Black, The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992) p. 7.

[3]

Black, The British Abroad p. 191.

[4]

P. J. Marshall, The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970) pp. 40-1.

[5]

D. S. Neff, 'Hostages to Empire: The Anglo-American Problem in Frankenstein, The Curse of Kehama, and The Missionary,' European Romantic Review, 8.4 (Fall 1997) pp. 389-392, 394-396, 401-402.

[6]

Black, The British Abroad p. 289.

[7]

Quoted from Black, The British Abroad p. 299.

[8]

Black, The British Abroad p. 202.

[9]

Mary Shelley, "[The English in Italy]," in Matilda, Dramas, Reviews & Essays, Prefaces & Notes, ed. Pamela Clemit, Volume 2 of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, General Editor Nora Crook with Pamela Clemit (London: William Pickering, 1996) 150.

[10]

William Godwin, Fleetwood: or, The New Man of Feeling (London: Richard Bentley, 1832 [1805]) pp. 39, 48; hereafter Fleetwood.

[11]

Fleetwood 62.

[12]

Fleetwood 263.

[13]

Quoted from Black, The British Abroad p. 288.

[14]

Mary Shelley, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, a Romance, ed. Doucet Devin Fischer, Volume 5 of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, General Editor Nora Crook with Pamela Clemit (London: William Pickering, 1996) 88; hereafter abbreviated as FPW.

[15]

Leslie A. Marchand, Byron: A Portrait (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970) p. 99.

[16]

Peter Cochrane, 'Nature's Gentler Errors: Byron, the Ionian Islands, and Ali Pacha,' The Byron Journal, 23 (1995) 23.

[17]

Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand, 12 Vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973-82) II, 94.

[18]

Byron's Letters and Journals II, 163.

[19]

Leslie A. Marchand, Byron: A Portrait p. 225.

[20]

Quoted from Paula Feldman, 'Mary Shelley and the Genesis of Moore's Life of Byron,' SEL, 20.4 (Autumn 1980) 613.

[21]

See Letters I, 226.

[22]

Mary Shelley, "[The English in Italy]" 149.

[23]

Mary Shelley, Mathilda, in The Mary Shelley Reader, ed. Betty T. Bennett and Charles E. Robinson (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990)192; hereafter abbreviated as M.

[24]

Mary Shelley, The Last Man, ed. Jane Blumberg with Nora Crook, Volume 2 of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, General Editor Nora Crook with Pamela Clemit (London: William Pickering, 1996) 27; hereafter abbreviated as TLM.

[25]

Emily W. Sunstein, Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989) pp. 187, 195-6.

[26]

Nigel Leask, British and Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) pp. 68-9.

[27]

Mary Shelley, The Journals of Mary Shelley, ed. Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995 [1987]) 339; hereafter abbreviated as Journals.

[28]

Mary Shelley, The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. Betty T. Bennett, 3 vols. (Baltimore and London : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980-88) I, 218.

[29]

The Clairmont Correspondence: Letters of Claire Clairmont, Charles Clairmont, and Fanny Imlay Godwin, ed. Marion Kingston Stocking, 2 Vols. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995) vol. II, p. 341.

[30]

Ernest J. Lovell, Jr., 'Byron and the Byronic Hero in the Novels of Mary Shelley,' The University of Texas Studies in English, 30 (1951) 175.

[31]

Jane Blumberg, Mary Shelley's Early Novels: 'This Child of Imagination and Misery' (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1993) p. 60.

[32]

Lisa Vargo, 'Introduction,' in Mary Shelley, Lodore, ed. Lisa Vargo (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1997) p. 26. Emily Sunstein declares (without elaborating on her point) that Lodore 'is Byron neither in temperament nor actions, and is more likely drawn from the Beauclerk brothers'. [Emily W. Sunstein, Mary Shelley p. 320n] Shelley quotes, however, from Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage in her description of Lodore: 'Quiet to quick bosoms is a hell' (L 12; Childe Harold 3.370).

[33]

Shelley's views of Eastern Europe were shaped by the letters she received from Claire Clairmont, who worked for years as a governess in Russia; Gittings, Robert and Jo Manton, Claire Clairmont and the Shelleys 1798-1879 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) pp. 91-123.

[34]

Vargo, 'Introduction' p. 27. See Letters I, 228.

[35]

Leask, British and Romantic Writers and the East p. 24.

[36]

William Godwin, Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin, General Ed. Mark Philp. 7 Vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto, 1993) vol. III, p. 19.

[37]

Robert Southey, The Curse of Kehama (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1810) p. vii.

[38]

Sydney Owenson, [Lady Morgan], The Missionary: An Indian Tale, 3 Vols. (Delmar, N. Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1981 [1811]) vol. 1, p. 78; hereafter The Missionary.

[39]

The Missionary vol. I, p. 99.

[40]

The Missionary vol. III, pp. 188-189.

[41]

The Missionary vol. III, p. 215.

[42]

Joseph W. Lew also discusses the relationship between Frankenstein and 'Orientalist fictions' like The Missionary; see Joseph W. Lew, 'The Deceptive Other: Mary Shelley's Critique of Orientalism in Frankenstein,' Studies in Romanticism, 30.2 (Summer 1991) 255. For discussions of The Curse of Kehama and The Missionary within the context of Percy Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, see John Drew, India and the Romantic Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) pp. 235-254.

[43]

Neff, 'Hostages to Empire' p. 401.

[44]

Leask, British and Romantic Writers and the East p. 128.

[45]

The Missionary vol. III, p. 221.

[46]

See, for example, Terence Harpold's heavily biographical reading of Mathilda ['"Did you get Mathilda from Papa?": Seduction Fantasy and the Circulation of Mary Shelley's Mathilda,' Studies in Romanticism, 28 (Spring 1989) 49-67] and Katherine C. Hill-Miller, 'My Hideous Progeny': Mary Shelley, William Godwin, and the Father-Daughter Relationship (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995) p. 105.

[47]

Shelley would have read in a footnote to Owenson's The Missionary that 'To quit life, before it quits them, is among the Hindus no uncommon act of heroism; and this fatal custom arises from their doctrine of metempsychosis, in which the faith of all the various cast[e]s is equally implicit'. (The Missionary vol. II, p. 145n) Southey quotes from the Bhagavad Gita in one of his notes to The Curse of Kehama: 'As a Man throweth away old garments and putteth on new, even so the soul, having quitted its old mortal frames, entereth into others which are new'. [Southey, The Curse of Kehama p. 280]

[48]

I borrow this term from the postmodern identity theorists Deleuze and Guattari. [Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990) p. 20]

[49]

Mary Shelley, Falkner, a Novel, ed. Pamela Clemit, Volume 7 of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, General Editor Nora Crook with Pamela Clemit (London: William Pickering, 1996) ix; hereafter abbreviated as F.

[50]

Edward John Trelawny, Adventures of a Younger Son, ed. William St. Clair (London: Oxford University Press, 1974) p. 50.

[51]

The Missionary vol. II, p. 145.

[52]

Katherine C. Hill-Miller, 'My Hideous Progeny' p. 181.

Auteur : William D. Brewer
Titre : Unnationalized Englishmen in Mary Shelley's Fiction
Revue : Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 11, août 1998
URI : http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/005812ar
DOI : 10.7202/005812ar

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