Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 2) >> Domesticating the Gothic: Realism and Romance in Simms's Richard Hurdis >> Page 9

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Secondary Scholarship | 2007
Transcription drama's interest in the paranormal. Whereas Shakespeare emphasizes
supernaturalism in Macbeth, Simms avoids injecting similar material without
modifications into a realistic novel. By referring indirectly to Macbeth, he
tailors the gothic elements of the play to suit his mimetic goals. Thus he
gives his novel the "feel" of the gothic while steering clear of overt
supernaturalism. Assuming that his readers are familiar with Macbeth,
Simms uses the allusion to the play to borrow its gothic mood and to create a
similar atmosphere of dread and terror in Richard Hurdis.8
As he blends literary modes in this novel, Simms performs an
impressive feat. Realizing the potential of gothic material for American
writing, he builds on the work of Brown, Cooper, and others, adapting such
material to communicate distinctly American experiences. While he draws
on American gothic traditions in his novel, Sirnms outshines his literary'
predecessors as a realist. For example, in Richard Hurdis, he offers a more
accurate portrayal of frontier life than Cooper.9 Simms's characters,
particularly his female characters, which often transcend the types of
sentimental fiction and romance, are also more psychologically complex
than Cooper's. This is not to say that Richard Hurdis is a representative
realist text. Simms's experiments with narration in the novel are not entirely
successful. Commenting on the limitations of Simms's narrative technique,
Guilds suggests that Simms "tries to have it both ways: he seeks to achieve
the sense of reality in the narrative by having the vision limited to the
protagonist; and at the same time he seeks to present a well-rounded tale,
usually dependent upon authorial omniscience" ("Realism" 52). Although
these shifts in perspective may seem awkward or confusing, one should
acknowledge the significance of Simms's artistic achievements in the novel.
Guilds focuses on Simms's accomplishments as an early practitioner of
literary realism, but critics should also consider his adaptations of literary
gothicism. Indeed, Sirnms is an important transitional figure, and his
antebellum writing constitutes a significant link in the chain of literary
influence from Cooper to the novelists of the American Renaissance and
their disciples. By domesticating the gothic in Richard Hurdis, Sirnms paves
the -way for American writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frank Norris, and
others who experiment with realism and romance in their fiction.


8 To describe Simms's efforts to make the novel's setting "gothic," I modify a phrase from
William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman's A Handbook to Literature. In an entry entitled "Gothic
Novel" (pp. 237-8), Harmon and Holman discuss modern novels that try "to create the same
atmosphere of brooding and unknown terror as the true Gothic novel" (237).

9 In "The `Untrodden Path': Richard Hurdis and Simms's Foray into Literary Realism," John
Guilds argues that "[t]he harsh, brutal frontier of Simms's experience and observation contrasts
sharply with the idealized frontier of Cooper's imagination and reading" (53).


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