#96 ~ Melmoth the WandererAugust 27, 2008 at 9:07 pm | Posted in Books, Reading | 6 Comments
Tags: achieving immortality, anti-Catholicism in literature, Charles Robert Maturin, Gothic Fiction, James Joyce, Melmoth the Wanderer, My Antonia, Oscar Wilde, selling your soul to the devil, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Ulysses, Willa Cather
Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin
Earlier this year Devourer of Books posted about the Penguin Books giveaway and I quickly joined for my chance to get a free book. When I found out that the Penguin Classic book assigned to me was Melmoth the Wanderer, I had flashbacks to Junior Year Honors English taught by Sister Irene Mary. Our final project for that class was a 20 to 25 page term paper. Sister gave us options as to what that paper would be about: architecture, art, or literature. I chose literature. Once that decision was made, Sister selected the book for us. There were only three of us who chose literature. The day that the assignments were handed out, three brand new books were proped up on the chalk board: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, My Antonia by Willa Cather, and Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery. I was the one singled out to readVanity Fair. Even in high school I enjoyed a reading challenge. Still, my heart sunk when I noticed that my book was twice as thick as My Antonia.
Melmouth the Wanderer tells the story of Jonathon Melmoth, a man who comes into his uncle’s estate upon that miserly man’s death. Before he died, his uncle asked him to destory the portrait in his private room along with the papers in the drawer. After Johnathon believes that he sees someone in the house when his uncle dies, he cannot resist the tempation of reading those papers, which end up telling the story of the Melmoth family. Thus begins his trek toward selling his soul.
The tone, themes and narrative methods are classically gothic. Everything is dark and foreboding. From the moment you enter into Melmoth’s manner, you sense that you better watch over your shoulder. The history of the Spanish sailor who rescues Johnathon from the cliff sweeps you away into the world of forced vocations to a Jesuit convent and his multiple attempts at escape despite the cost to his safety and sanity. What made this novel difficult to read was the narrative style. Whereas it is typical for a paragraph to start with each new speaker, Maturin included the dialog of two or more characters within the same paragraph. Without a careful and close reading, it because quite easy to get lost. There also were times where the level of detail was oppressive, much like being in a one-sided conversation with someone who makes sure to cover every minute detail. There were sections of the novel, often where single paragraphs went on for three plus pages, where I found myself getting impatient a needless wade into the quagmire.
In the end, I did not complete this novel. When I realized I was 255 into the novel and I was just getting to the point in the Spanish sailor’s story where he was finally brought before the Inquisition, I couldn’t continue. It wasn’t because the basic plot wasn’t enjoyable. It was actually. However, the style in which this story was written and the number of references made by the author within the text made reading this novel feel like climbing Mt. Everest without any preparation or supplies. It was frustrating not having the source material to read along with it.
This novel would be best read in a classroom setting or by someone who was willing to devote weeks of time, energy and study to it. I wouldn’t have been able to read and enjoy Ulysses without the guidance and encouragement of a wonderful professor. I’m in no way comparing Charles Robert Maturin to James Joyce. There was no poetry in Maturin’s prose, but I would imagine that there could be an engaging course taught about Melmoth the Wanderer.
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