Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 2) >> Domesticating the Gothic: Realism and Romance in Simms's Richard Hurdis >> Page 7

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Secondary Scholarship | 2007
Transcription depravity. His horrible treachery mirrors that of the brutal gothic villain,
who defies the laws of society to pursue his own desires. Significantly,
Hurdis and Carrington visit Webber immediately after they call on Colonel
John Grafton and his family. Juxtaposing these two scenes, Simms
establishes a sharp contrast between Grafton, the consummate host, and
Webber, the treacherous host. Whereas Grafton fulfills all of his duties as
master of the house, Webber denies these duties and molests those he is
bound to protect. This contrast serves to reinforce Webber's bestial cruelty.
Simms's portrayal of Webber anticipates fictional incarnations of the
vampire in the Victorian period, particularly Stoker's Count Dracula. Like
Dracula, Webber is a dissembling host whose claw-like nails reveal his true
animal nature.
While Simms fashions John Hurdis and Mat Webber as gothic
villains, he maintains verisimilitude in characterizing them. Neither John
nor Webber is totally evil. Although John Hurdis is a craven traitor, his
failure to kill the emissary of the Mystic Brotherhood makes him an object
of pity. Richard imagines John's response to this loss of nerve: "To look
upon that poor, base criminal now, . . . his hair soaked by the sweat of his
mental agony, and all his limbs without life and we should no longer hate,
but pity and we should almost forget his crime in the paralyzing
punishment which followed it" (222). Here, Richard describes his brother's
suffering as a reflection of Christ's anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Although John is no innocent, sacrificial lamb, Richard uses this language to
make his brother a more sympathetic character. Simms makes similar efforts
to humanize Mat Webber. Consider Webber's remarks about Colonel
Grafton's elitism. The outlaw tells Richard that he does not object to
recognizing Grafton as a "gentleman," but that he bristles when the wealthy
planter insists on making others "feel it" when they stand "before him"
(139). Commenting on this passage, John Guilds observes that Simms let
"Richard ponder over Webber's words and grant them a certain credence"
("Realism" 50). This is not to say that Simms shares Webber's disdain for
all class distinctions.6 He does, however, strike a chord in this passage that
resonates with the democratic values of his readers. Associating Webber
with leveling forces in American society, Simms makes the felon a more
sympathetic figure. Humanized thus, John Hurdis and Mat Webber differ
from the typical gothic villain, who is a flat character.
As he employs gothic elements in setting and characterization,
Simms also incorporates a significant allusion to Macbeth into the novel to


6 See. C. Hugh Holman's introduction to Simms's Views and Reviews in American History and
Fiction for a brief history of Simms's political views. Holman argues that Simms's work from'
the 1830s and 1840s manifests a "democratic Jacksonianism" (xxxvi). This populism, tempered
by sympathies with the aristocratic South, shapes the portrayal of Mat Webber in Richard
Hurdis.



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