Canadian Short Fiction

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Can "The Desjardins" by Duncan Scott be considered a Gothic novel?

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"The Desjardins" can be considered a Gothic novel due to its themes of isolation, inevitability of fate, and atmospheric phenomena. The story features an enigmatic family, the Desjardins, whose household stands out in the village. The narrative explores the chaos of fate through the family's inherited insanity and employs atmospheric elements, like snow, to symbolize mental and emotional states, aligning with Gothic literature traits.

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"The Desjardins" is a story meant to be a part of a story cycle that makes up In the Village of Viger. The combination of all the stories use similar motifs such as family, fate, loneliness, and the certain inevitability of life.

"The Desjardins" is a story that, although does not necessarily follow the classical Gothic model, it does have enough traits in style that show the key factors of the genre.

These are:

  • isolation- the story begins with the description of the Desjardins household. One, which whether isolated or not, does stick out of the rest due to its inhabitants. The Desjardins, an odd family with a curious reputation, is certainly one which is looked at from the townsfolk perspective as enigmatic.

The story reads,

JUST at the foot of the hill where the bridge crossed the Blanche stood one of the oldest houses in Viger. It was built of massive timbers The roof curved and projected beyond the eaves forming the top of a narrow veranda...

The description of the house also gives an enigmatic flavor to the voice of the narrator; the house is meant to look and feel differently and, like the family, is supposed to stand out regardless.

  • inevitability of fate- Gothic literature explores chaos in the form of fate. What happens when humans lose control of themselves, and of their lives? This aspect is clear in that the death of the elder Desjardin, and the subsequent fall of brother Charles, are due to insanity. The insanity that runs in the household is a known fact to the other brothers, and it keeps them in a constant state of fear- another Gothic element.

The best way to evidence this is when, after Charles's first breakdown where he believes to be Napoleon Bonaparte,  we hear two expressions that are also constants in the lives of the Desjardins

"It has come" sobbed Adele as she sank her knees beside the table.

"We must cut ourselves off;  we must be the last of our race". In those words, which in after years were often on his lips he hoped to find some comfort and so he continued to repeat them to himself.

Therefore, there is a history that the reader can only infer about and which makes the story even more mysterious.

  • changes or trends in atmospheric phenomena- the story tells how the snow seem to take the best of Charles's insanity. Moreover, the crazier he gets, the more snow he sees, all to the dismay of Adele and Phillipe, who have to endure this horrid reality. Although the tone of the narrative is light, and even humorous, Scott acknowledges the sad situation and tries to tell a sad story from a lighter side perspective.

The white snow is alludes to the whiteout that is going on in Charles's mind; the coldness alludes to the frozen emotional state of his affect, which is directly affected by his insanity.

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