Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 2) >> Domesticating the Gothic: Realism and Romance in Simms's Richard Hurdis >> Page 6

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Secondary Scholarship | 2007
Transcription description, which reflects the tendency of Anglo-American writers to
demonize Native Americans. Thus this character sketch draws on British
and American gothic traditions. The narrator also uses snake imagery to
sustain his portrayal of Webber as devil. Recounting a visit to Webber's
home, Richard remembers becoming angry about the way his host spoke of
Colonel John Grafton, a wealthy landowner. He feels that Webber's speech
and demeanor on this occasion "indicated" a "viperous malignity" toward
Grafton (141). Commenting with contempt on Webber's reluctance to kill
Carrington, Richard insists that the brigand did not scruple to shed blood;
Webber simply wanted to avoid detection, for he "was governed entirely by
a selfish policy, which calmly deliberated upon its works of evil" (157). The
narrator suggests that Webber pursued his hellish aims with the cool,
calculating air of a serpent lying in wait for its prey.
Using other animal images in his descriptions of John Hurdis and
Mat Webber, the narrator further establishes them as gothic villains. In
Chapter Four, Richard tells of a violent encounter he had with his brother
John before leaving Marengo for the Choctaw Territory, claiming that they
exchanged insults. He adds that John's "face grew black as he gazed on"
him, while the "foam flecked his blanched lips even as it gathers upon the bit
of the driven and infuriated horse" (22). This description indicates that John
is a slave to animal impulses. Like the typical gothic villain, he is base and
carnal. John certainly shows this brutality when he plots his brother's
murder with- Ben Pickett.5 His manipulation of Ben's innocent, feeble-
minded daughter Jane seems even more sinister. Indeed, Pickett's wife
Betsy believes that John poses a sexual threat to her child. When she
accuses him of trying to corrupt Jane, an enraged John says that he "will not
hear" her (96). Betsy then reaches out to detain him, and he turns "in her"
grip "like an impatient steed beneath a curb which chafes him" (96). Using
bestial imagery once again to underline John's savage cruelty, Simms
encourages his readers to view Richard's brother as a gothic villain. Indeed,
John's animalistic behavior resembles that of Walpole's Prince Manfred and
Lewis's Ambrosio, two blackguards who prey on innocent young women.
The narrator uses similar animal images to. characterize Mat
Webber. For example, Richard mentions that the "nails of [Webber's]
fingers had not been cut for a month, and looked rather like the claws of a
wild beast than the proper appendages of a man" (140). The criminal's
behavior bears out the appropriateness of this description. With the help of
his criminal associates, Webber, in his own home, attacks Hurdis and
Carrington, his creditor. For Simms and his narrator, this act constitutes an
egregious violation of the laws of civilized society. Webber, as host, clearly
fails in his duty to offer his guests hospitality and protection. Even worse,
Webber, a debtor to Carrington, plays Judas to his benefactor. By attacking
Hurdis and Carrington, Webber shows the true depths of his cruelty and

5 In his treacherous scheming, John resembles Cain, another popular figure in gothic and
Romantic literature.