Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 2) >> Domesticating the Gothic: Realism and Romance in Simms's Richard Hurdis >> Page 5

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Secondary Scholarship | 2007
Transcription serves to underline his isolation from others; unable to take comfort in
human companionship, he seeks the society of nature. His social detachment
presents problems. While Richard emerges as a hero at the end of the novel,
Simms indicates that Richard's wanderlust, pride, and self-destructive
impulses threaten the social order. Richard's "perversity" certainly disturbs
Carrington, who warns his friend that he "will pay for" this quality in his
"nature" (33). Indeed, the young, prideful Richard cannot control his
passions or communicate effectively with others, and he is indirectly
responsible for Carrington's death. For a time, Richard's perverse behavior
makes him an outcast, and as a social outsider, he resembles many gothic
heroes. Like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, Byron's Cain, and Shelley's
Frankenstein, Richard, who fails to respect his social obligations, becomes a
lonely wanderer. Richard does not, however, remain an outsider. After
avenging his friend's blood and exposing his brother's treachery, he returns
to Marengo and embraces domestic life. A dynamic figure, he matures in
the novel, and he is psychologically complex. Thus in his portrayal of
Richard, Simms adapts gothic conventions to produce a unique character that
suits his realist design.
Simms also employs gothic elements in his descriptions of John
Hurdis and Mat Webber, modeling these characters upon the standard gothic
villain, - a figure remarkable for his wickedness.4 Richard repeatedly
describes his elder brother John as a devilish serpent. For example, in
Chapter Four, he calls him an "adder" and a "base, dishonest reptile" (19-
20). These reptilian images highlight John's cunning and two-facedness. He
often lies and schemes; John toys with the emotions of women, conspires
with Ben Pickett to murder his brother Richard, and works to conceal his
responsibility for Carrington's death. Portrayed as a deceitful serpent, John
resembles the archfiend Satan. The narrator reinforces this characterization
in Chapter Ten, referring to John as "the tempter" (61). Richard even
suggests that his brother is actually in league with the devil, labeling John's
agreement with Pickett an "infernal compact" (71). Thus the elder Hurdis is
Mephistopheles and Faust. As a demonic character, John stands, like the
Luciferian villain of gothic literature, as a menace to social order, threatening
the sexual innocence of a young girl and putting his own family in peril.
In addition to John Hurdis, the highwayman Mat Webber emerges
as a diabolical figure. Recalling his first encounter with Webber, Richard
observes that the rogue leader had a dark complexion, dark eyes, and wore
"the moccasins of an Indian" (128). The dark skin and eyes are features of
the typical gothic villain, and there are shades of Cooper's Magua in this

4 In his essay "`To Shadow forth Its Presence: Simms's Gothic Narrative Poems," Benjamin F.
Fisher comments on affinities between characters in Simms's poetry and gothic villains,
focusing on the depiction of the chief or "cassique" in "The Cassique of the Accabee" (See pp.
66-9). This study reveals Simms's indebtedness to gothic fiction and acknowledges the
innovative fusion of literary modes in his writing. According to Fisher, Simms enhances "the
realism in his creative works by adapting Gothicism to his purposes" (69). Richard Hurdis is no
exception to this trend.