Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 2) >> Domesticating the Gothic: Realism and Romance in Simms's Richard Hurdis >> Page 3

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 3

Secondary Scholarship | 2007
Transcription gothic novels. Consider also the scenes surrounding the death of
Carrington's fiancee Emmeline Walker. When Emmeline hears of her
lover's death, she falls terribly ill. Richard bleeds the invalid to relieve her,
but only "[a] few drops of jellied blood" ooze from the incision (241). The
horror intensifies as Emmeline's condition worsens. When Richard and
Hodges try to pour medicine down the patient's throat, Emmeline bites down
on the wineglass, "crunching it into the minutest fragments" (244).
Clutching her throat to prevent her from swallowing, Richard draws "out the
bits of glass, but not without cutting [Emmeline's] mouth in the most
shocking manner" (244). Recalling the horrid scene, Richard claims that
"blood ran from her mouth, and over the side of her pallid face, staining its
purity; and her tongue, bleeding also all the while, hung over her lips" (244).
The gory details of Emmeline's last days certainly evince gothic influences.
Simms's use of horror in Richard Hurdis transcends, however, the tawdry
sensationalism of popular gothic writing. He places lurid images
strategically in the novel to emphasize important themes. For example, in
the passages cited above, Simms draws attention to things that are out of
place: an eye out of its socket, arms and legs out of their normal positions,
blood on faces, and a tongue hanging out of a mouth. These anomalies
represent the chaos that results from the work of the Mystic Brotherhood, a
criminal organization aiming to subvert social order. The goals of this gang
correspond to those of the standard gothic villain, who challenges
established authority and flouts social mores.
While these graphic images derive from gothic fiction, they also
amplify the novel's realism. For instance, Carrington's death registers the
brutality of life in the Old Southwest.3 In this lawless. ' region, where
highwaymen prey on settlers and travelers, murders like Carrington's are
common, and Richard's description of his friend's body, which captures the
violence of backwoods life, reinforces the novel's verisimilitude. Scenes of
vigilante violence in Richard Hurdis are also true to life. Although Richard
has no legal authority to bring criminals to justice, he forms a posse to
pursue Carrington's killers. Such practices are customary on the rugged
frontier. Simms incorporates the same grim realism into Richard's-account
of Emmeline's illness. Hodges, an ignorant country doctor, cannot provide
Emmeline with quality care. Indeed, Richard, who has absolutely no
medical training and questions Hodges's skill as a physician, administers
most of the patient's treatments. He bleeds Emmeline, and he clumsily
forces her to swallow one of Hodges's backwoods remedies. Through these
actions, Simms shows his readers how crude and primitive frontier medical
practice truly was. Considering the realism of these images of death and
violence, one should avoid dismissing them as the mere trappings of gothic
horror. These gruesome details offer readers glimpses into the darker
realities of frontier life. To be sure, Simms does not fill his novel with

3 See John Guilds's essay "The `Untrodden Path': Richard Hurdis and Simms's Foray into
Literary Realism" for an investigation of Simms's efforts "to portray the Alabama frontier of the
1820s and 1830s in its true colors" (50).

3