Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Just as Goth, in its various contemporary stylistic iterations, is a surface representation of our darker selves, Gothic literature emerged as a means of investigating Nature. Science (among other portentous forces of change, such as social and moral reforms) "disrupted" tried-and-true ideals, conventions and customs. As of the early nineteenth century, cultures clashed as the influences of the old world gave way to the new. To some extent, these changes were premature, and a depth of comprehension as to the reasoning behind these changes was underdeveloped, as (typically) the reformers charged ahead.

Superstition is introduced as an aspect of Melmoth the Wanderer through the “doctress” that John Melmoth meets upon his return to his uncle’s shambling estate. She is a self-appointed healer—essentially a witch, perhaps even capable of "wizardry." However, she’s only a part of the unsavory milieu. That reference to superstition is a reminder of the impulse behind Gothic aesthetics: the investigation of an “infinite number of other infinite things the nature of which is hidden from us” (scholarship as quoted by David Huckvale, Touchstones of Gothic Horror). Or, to capsulize Hamlet to Horacio, all things in heaven and Earth. Just as the Murder Mystery is an attempt to interpret empirical evidence, the Gothic Tale is a means to study ambiguous natural phenomena and the reaction or denial of human behavior for consequences and signs of the meaning of existence.

It’s unfortunate, yet part of the appeal of the genre, that in Gothic Lit, the omens all tend to be bad ones. The Melmoth curse is such that it must have an immersive, atmospheric manifestation, and this would be the volcanic, mother-of-all-storms in chapter 4.

Toward the night the storm came on in all its strength; Melmoth’s bed was shaken so to render it impossible to sleep. (And with the) crashing in of the roof, and the splinters of the broken windows that were already scattered about his room.

Melmoth, “unable to pass his curse of eternal life to anyone else, must ultimately pay the price for his bargain with Satan” (Huckvale). Like in Shelley’s Frankenstein, the tensions between God and Man, and the curse that befalls Man the Transgressor, are the cautionary morals of the tale.

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