Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 2) >> Domesticating the Gothic: Realism and Romance in Simms's Richard Hurdis >> Page 2

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 2

Secondary Scholarship | 2007
Transcription even as it maintains plausibility. This notion of romance as a hybrid form
provides clues to understanding Simrns's objectives in Richard Hurdis.
Labeling Richard Hurdis a "romance," he signals his desire to give the text
stylistic amplitude, and throughout the novel, Simms uses several strategies
to bridge literary realism and gothicism. Consequently, the novel reads as
realistic fiction while it produces the emotional and psychological effects of
traditional gothic writing. By fusing these literary modes, Siimns enhances
the novel's dramatic power, fashioning a gothic atmosphere for the work
while he obeys the mimetic imperatives of realism.
To create this atmosphere, Simms describes the forests of the Old
Southwest, where much of the action in Richard Hurdis occurs, as a place of
gothic terror. The woods of the Alabama frontier present unknown dangers
to settlers and travelers, thus mirroring the gloomy castles, labyrinthine
catacombs, and towering mountain ranges in gothic fiction. The forests also
house the members of the Mystic Brotherhood, who move through the
wilderness like ghosts, terrorizing settlers and disappearing under cover of
darkness. Note the ease with which the "dark, swarthy" messenger of the
Brotherhood surprises Ben Pickett and John Hurdis as he slips in and out of
the forest to speak with them (182). While Simms gives the woods an aura
of mystery, he does not violate his realist aims in describing them. Thus he
avoids attributing any supernatural agency to the members of the Mystic
Brotherhood, and no ghosts or spirits emerge from the dark recesses of the
forests.
The woods, shrouded in mystery, operate as fitting backdrops for
horrible acts of violence. The "day-blind," a peculiar forested area near
Grafton's Lodge, serves such a purpose:
The road in one place ran between two rising grounds, the elevations of
which were greater and more steep than usual. On one side there was an
abrupt precipice, from which the trees almost entirely overhung the path.
This was called at that period, the `day-blind,' in a taste kindred with that
which named a corresponding region, only a few miles off, `the shades of
death.' (155)
By connecting the "day-blind" to a similarly gloomy place called "the shades
of death," Simms makes it a gothic space. Associated with death and
darkness, the "day-blind" provides an appropriate setting for the murder of
William Carrington, the best friend of Richard Hurdis. Simms is certainly
not the first writer to realize the literary potential of the frontier as a theater
for gothicism. In their fiction, Charles Brockden Brown and James
Fenimore Cooper, among others, often fashion wilderness regions into
sublime gothic landscapes. Simms differs from these writers in his
commitment to plausibility, and in Richard Hurdis he sheds all vestiges of
the supernatural to achieve a more mature realism.
Simms also enhances the novel's gothic atmosphere with horrific
images of death and violence. The discovery of Carrington's corpse is
particularly grisly. When Richard stumbles on the body, he finds his friend's
face "covered with blood and dust, one of his eyes protruding from its
socket, and the limbs, once so symmetrical and straight, now contracted and
fixed in deformity by the sudden spasms of death" (164). Here, Simms
indulges in gothic horror; similar images of death and dismemberment fill
2