Monday, October 25, 2004

Fiedler, 100-200
I wasn’t sure why Fiedler kept talking at such length in the first 100 pages about English authors. In the first 100 pages he spokes at such great length about Richardson. This time he talks a lot about Charles Brockden Browning, the great gothic writer, as well as Fielding and Sir Walter Scott—Finally! One I think I’ve read! It becomes clearer here, though (finally!) that he spends so much time analyzing the work of these writers because he wants to show that their stories are mature treatments of love or of male-female relationships, in contrast to American novels, which—like Cooper’s for example—are just children’s novels.

So in the chapter “Prototypes and Early Adaptations,” Fiedler is still talking about Richardson and European novels, but he’s discussing what began to happen when the bourgeois novels began to be written anti-bourgeois writers. Then, “seduction and adultery […] turn into symbols not of a struggle between established and rising classes, but between the exceptional individual and conventional society” (100). That’s a sort of romantic [my word] struggle. So this “artist of the new age” (101) has become a self-conscious type who has “betrayed his father” to become writers.

Fiedler moves from this idea to the next, that in 1789, William Hill Brown published the first American novel anonymously—titled The Triumph of Sympathy or The Power of Nature. The title page said its purpose was to “win the mind to Sentiment and to Truth” as well as “to represent the specious CAUSES, and to expose the fatal CONSEQUENCE, of seduction” for young women (102). But, as Fiedler says, he must not have been confident about the book’s ability to do so if he published it anonymously.

It turns out to be a sentimental, schlocky book, with characters like Mrs. Holmes, who is a “serious sentimentalist.” Fiedler uses this to make some generalizations, citing Geoffrey Dorer: “They idiosyncratic feature of the American conscience” he says, “is that it is predominantly feminine…Duty and Right Conduct become feminine figures” (104). This is an interesting observation because I think in some cases it might still be true. Dorer also says “the fact that the rules for moral conduct are felt to emanate from a feminine source is a source of considerable confusion to American men. They tend to resent such interference in their own behavior, and yet are unable to ignore it, since the insistent maternal conscience is a part of their personality…A second result is that modesty, politeness, neatness, cleanliness—come to be regarded as concessions to feminine demands, and…as such they are sloughed off—with relief but not without guilt” (104).

Actually, I think what he is saying is true—particularly for the time, and particularly for now, in some relationships. But why should it be so? Why would men resent interference in their behavior? Why should men resent feminine interference in their behavior? Why isn’t it the opposite?

Next is Chapter VI, “Charles Brockden Brown and the Invention of the American Gothic.” Fiedler starts by talking about the first Gothic novelist, Horace Walpole, who wrote The Castle of Otranto in 1764 (112). Although Walpole’s novel had the “major themes,” it wasn’t until Anne Radcliffe, termed a “female scribbler” that gothic fiction became successful. Radcliffe, who was known as the “Shakespeare of the Romance writers,” read Walpole’s book and wrote “variations on the archetypal theme” to develop a gothic novel of her own (113).

Fiedler contrasts the Richardsonian and Radcliffean “treatments of the pursuit of the maiden,” which is to say, I believe, the difference between the early sentimental and gothic novels (114). First, they differ in setting. The sentimental novel takes place in the real world, whereas the gothic novel takes place in the “dark region of make-believe” where there may be castles, ghosts, or other supernatural elements. Also, the “tone and emphasis” differ. The sentimental novel may be “melodramatic or even tragic,” but “its intent is to reveal the power of light and redemption, to insist that virtue if not invariably successful is at least always triumphant” (114). By contrast, the gothic novel portrays “the power of darkness.” The focus is not on the heroine, but instead on the villain—Fiedler calls him the “villain hero.” So were are to focus on his “temptation and suffering,” as well as “the beauty and terror of his bondage to evil” (115).

But Radcliffe is called “polite” in comparison to “enfant terrible” Matthew Gregory Lewis, who wrote The Monk (400 pages) in three weeks. Wow! He was an English novelist. Henry James, though, was an American novelist influenced by these gothic tones (118).

Another popular influence of these gothic novels was the ghost story. An interesting point Fiedler makes about these stories is that they seem to be “parodies of the immortal soul in which men had begun to lose faith” (118). In other words, the ghosts were a symbol of the dying embers of Christian faith. Interesting, he notes that “the Devil lived on in the imagination after the death of God” (118).

One of the most common of the gothic symbols is “the shadow” (119). This is the person who imprisons the maiden—a “devious Inquisitor, corrupt nobleman…” or some other type. Fiedler also goes on to discuss the other archetype of this kind of story, the “hero-villain,” which is the Faust type. This is a person who “seeks not to taste life without restraint but to control it fully; and his essential crime…is, therefore, not seduction but the Satanic bargain” (120). So it substitutes terror for love. So, he says, “some would say…that the whole tradition of the gothic is a pathological symptom rather than a literary movement, a reversion to the childish game of scaring oneself in the dark, or a plunge into sadist fantasy” (121). Fiedler compares the gothics to the retreating Beatnik writers as well as movements like Dada, Surrealism, and Pop Art (122).

In fact, he says, “the gothic is an avant-garde genre, perhaps the first avant-garde art in the modern sense of the term” (122). Fiedler says that the gothicists weren’t just avant-garde ”in their literary aspirations, but radical in their politics” because they were “anti-aristocratic, anti-Catholic, anti-nostalgic” (124).

It was hard to translate the gothic novel to America because the gothic novel represented some purely European concerns. For one, “a gothic country house on Long Island … remains not merely unconvincing but meaningless” (132).

Charles Brockden Brown solved many of the problems of adaptation of the gothic novel to America. For example, for the “corrupt Inquisitor and lustful nobleman” archetypes, “he substituted the Indian” (148). For the “haunted castle and the dungeon, Brown substitutes the haunted forest.” Fiedler notes these “ancient, almost instinctive symbols” connecting the selva oscura back to Dante.

No wonder Fiedler hasn’t got much hope for the American novel. The next chapter is VII: “James Fenimore Cooper and the Historical Romance.” Ugh. Fiedler compares this genre to the gothic, saying it shares “a concern with the past and desire to restore to prose fiction ‘the improbable and marvelous,’ which the sentimental novel of contemporary life had disavowed” (150).

Also, here Fiedler begins to distinguish between white romanticism and black romanticism, as “gothic subtraditions” (150). Fiedler explains, “the white or philistine variety is based on a belief in the superiority of feeling to intellect, the heart to the head; though for it the heart is carefully distinguished from the viscera or the genitals, whose existence is scarcely admitted at all” (150). The white Romantic writer may get material from sources such as folk tales or ballads because “the primitive remains something clean and heroic, immune to the darkness and demonic” (150) because “the cheerful and hopeful note” is necessary for his work to be truly romantic, and “melancholy is treason” (151). If you think this is close to basic sentimentalism, you’re right. It is. Fiedler says it is “not merely a ‘male’ counterpart to the Richardsonian ladies’ novel, it is also a predestined best-seller” (151). The people who wrote them, too, he says were, like the “female-scribblers,” a new kind of “merchant authors.”

Now one interesting factor of these books is the landscapes. Fiedler says that one of the chief interests in the books was “vicarious tourism.” This kind of novel “represents the sight-seeing of the middle classes before cheap and speedy transportation had made it possible to do it in the flesh” (151). So, in many cases, the readers were not as much interested in penetrating the character’s mind as they were in penetrating, say, the landscape of Africa. In fact, he says, it “is precise Africa they want, mapped, documented, and in detail; and it is Africa they get” (152). So setting was a critical factor of these white romances.

A little later Fiedler discusses Fielding as a comic novelist, one who took a “more masculine comic view of life” (156). And though he may have been melodramatic, he was far different from the later Romantics.

Apparently, it was a trend at the end of the 18th and 19th centuries to term people “Shakespearean novelists.” But the name never really stuck until Sir Walter Scott came along. The “pseudo-Shakespearean novel,” says Fiedler, is “not merely middlebrow; it is also theatrical” (157). It shifts “the center of interest from character to plot, from analysis to section” (157).

Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) was the first successful historical novel. Others existed before then, but his was the true mark of the genre (159). Interestingly, Fiedler calls him a “middle-aged novelist” because he did not publish his first novel until he was 43 (160)!

Scott, of course, was English, as was Fielding. But Fiedler writes about them to generate a comparison to Cooper. Cooper’s books, are clearly for children, he says (170). They’re books with “boyish” themes and no real plots that deal with love, because “love always threatens to develop into sexuality and sexuality would turn the pure anti-female romance into the travesty of inversion and would frighten off the child reader” (171).

Nonetheless, Fiedler sees this “boyish” theme repeated in Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn as well as in many other important authors. So he says “Cooper…first dreams the American version of this theme, converting a peripheral European archetype into the central myth of our children” (171).

Fiedler has to state the obvious about Cooper: He stayed within the theoretical in his books. “Cooper had, alas, all the qualifications for a great American writer except the simple ability to write” (181-182).

Fiedler discusses The Last of the Mohicans, the popular favorite of Cooper’s books. It contains elements of romances like “the good Indian and the bad, the dark Maiden and the fair, the comic tenderfoot and the noble red patriarch; these elements are presented in their pure essences” (191). So although the other characters seem to be types and the scenery is wooden, the archetypal romance elements are there and strong.

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