Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 2) >> Domesticating the Gothic: Realism and Romance in Simms's Richard Hurdis >> Page 4

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Secondary Scholarship | 2007
Transcription morbid details of murder and death, and he accomplishes his objectives with
only a few scenes of horror. These scenes are, however, quite powerful, and
they help Simms paint a complex picture of Old Southwest culture. Simms's
commitment to realism makes the novel an interesting alternative to
Cooper's romanticized accounts of life on the frontier.
Taking another cue from gothic novelists, Simms uses setting to
underline Richard's psychological distress. According to Fred Botting,
"certain stock features [of gothic fiction such as sublime landscapes and
crumbling castles] provide the principal embodiments and evocations of
cultural anxieties" (2). Thus in many gothic texts, setting functions as a
metaphor for social or mental disorder. Benjamin F. Fisher asserts that
Simms employs setting for similar purposes in his poetry, "blend[ing]
exteriority with interiority in the creation of atmospheres that correspond to
and impart depth to the characterizations in these works" (65). As.a novelist
Simms adopts this method to reveal his protagonist's emotional frustrations
in Richard Hurdis. In Chapter Six, Richard, the narrator, describes a stormy
night he spent at Carrington's home. He remembers being agitated and
anxious while peering out a window and observing a "hurricane" raging in
the surrounding woods: "The stars were few and gave a faint light. The
winds were rising, and a murmur, almost like a moan, came from the black
forests in the distance" (35, 34). This tempest reflects Richard's psychic
turmoil. Significantly, the title of Chapter Six is "Evil Moods" (30).
Alienated from his family and consumed by restlessness, Richard indulges
these moods, revealing his emotional volatility.
This scene also demonstrates Simms's powers of narrative
compression. Significantly, in Chapter Thirty-Nine, Simms encourages his
readers to notice correspondences between nature and the human mind.
Here, Richard avers that "[t]he natural world abounds in similitudes for
humanity, which it is our misfortune, perhaps, too unfrequently to regard"
(234). He shows his awareness of these "similitudes" in Chapter Six, where
he connects a howling storm to the emotional strain he suffered immediately
before his departure for the Choctaw Territory. Through Richard's
description of the storm, Simms offers his readers a visual-projection of his
protagonist's distress. Using setting to establish Richard's mental state, he
reveals the man's inner turmoil without cataloguing his feelings and thoughts
in a soliloquy or a character sketch. To develop character, Simms relies on
the economy of visual images, depicting Richard's anxiety in a storm. In so
doing, he simultaneously advances plot and characterization, thus enhancing
the novel's realism.
Richard's response to the hurricane, which evidences other
borrowings from gothic sources, deserves critical attention. While he broods
over his brother's treachery and other matters, Richard does take some
solace in listening to "the music" of the storm (35). "In the vexed condition
of [his] mood, the hurricane" soothes his "rest" and "senses" (35). Richard,
who envies Carrington's "quiet mind," considers the hurricane a kindred
soul (34). Note that he personifies the storm, divining a "moan" in the
murmuring of the wind (34). Richard's identification with the hurricane