Perhaps the most understandable reaction to Charles Maturin’s gothic novel, Melmoth the Wanderer, is that of confusion. The book is anything but simple to digest as attempts at locating a narrative center from which to scrutinize characters and events are repeatedly frustrated. In fact, Melmoth is a novel constructed around multiple shifting and decidedly decentred viewpoints. As storyline piles upon storyline the reader is left struggling to keep up with rapidly changing narrative perspectives. Ultimately, the narrative(s) is/are defined by what poststructuralist theorists have termed ‘enonciation’ or, more broadly, ‘utterance.’ V.N. Volosinov states that “The organizing center of any utterance, of any experience, is not within but outside – in the social milieu surrounding the individual being” (60). That is to say, each utterance is coloured and qualified by the conditions of its being uttered; communications are overtly tied to the situations surrounding their transmission. As such, an utterance is not to be seen as transmitting a static and self-contained communication that can be repeated, but as an ever shifting dialogue that changes form with its changing surroundings. In making meaning, the telling is as important as the tale. It is this complexity that is reflected in the overtly dialogic/polyphonic structure of Melmoth the Wanderer. As the novel progresses, any hint of a centred and authoritative narrative stance (whatever form it might take) gets confused with and obscured by the several surrounding narrative conditions and the several narrative voices of the tale’s several narrators.
Certainly, one of the most significant conditions of utterance explored within the pages of Melmoth the Wanderer is the factor of the speaker. The novel, despite its intriguingly singular subtitle A Tale, is delivered by several and various tellers. From the very outset, Maturin points up the importance of this detail. A telling case in point occurs when the senior Melmoth, near death, requests that one of the hired mourners at his bed will “get up a prayer” for him (15). In compliance, one of the markedly Catholic women begins to read, “with more emphasis than good discretion” a badly chosen passage from Melmoth’s “Protestant prayer book” (16). Here, the import of the speaker’s identity is underscored when John Melmoth, “hearing the inappropriate words uttered by the ignorant woman” takes the book from her hand and begins to read a more suitable selection “in a suppressed voice” (16). What is notable about this incident is the fact that the prayer book, the text itself, remains the same. The nature of the utterance, though, is altered significantly, with regard to both tone and content, as a result of shifting readers. Thus, it is clear from the very beginning of the novel that who speaks is as important a feature of utterance as what is said in that the speaker’s distinctiveness invades and colours both form and content.
In effect, this episode serves as a reminder that there are no static and authoritative accounts; utterance is always in flux, shifting as the origin of vocalization shifts. Complicating this matter further within the novel is the fact that it is constructed largely of embedded tales, layering narrative voice upon narrative voice. The effects of this narrative mode are illustrated early in the second chapter of the novel when John Melmoth summons an old woman to explain the strange circumstances of his uncle’s death; the narrator, at this point, relays the information in “nearly” the woman’s own words but sparing “the reader her endless circumlocutions, her Irishisms, and the frequent interruptions” (22). What remains is, thus, a hybrid report collaboratively generated through the utterances of the old woman and the narrator both. Hence, the absence of any single authoritative voice within the novel is made overt as each account is the product of several various voices.
This having been said, Maturin does begin his novel with a more or less conventional third-person narration and even has his narrator refer back to the “author of the tale” (12) at one early point as the implied authoritative voice behind the text. However, this perspective does not last very long. Throughout the greater part of the novel there is an overt absence of any singular authoritative voice in favour of a complex layering and fragmentation of marginalized, disenfranchised, and often, as Julia Wright notes, ‘disinherited’ voices. Thus, fewer than twenty pages into the novel, the history of Melmoth the Wanderer is originally given by Biddy Brannigan, at the request of John Melmoth. Of note here is the narrator’s assertion that Brannigan is sent for only as “Melmoth’s last resource” (24). The initial description of the “withered Sybil” (10), given upon Melmoth’s having first arrived at his uncle’s home, presents Brannigan in a decidedly dismissive light. Overtly associated with the folk traditions of the Irish peasantry as an authority on “the ‘evil eye,’” she is characterized as both a charlatan, “practicing on the fears, the ignorance, and the sufferings of beings as miserable as herself,” and a superstitious believer who “probably felt a large share of” her audience’s enthusiasm (10). It is significant, then, that this blatantly discredited source serves as the voice of the novel’s earliest account of the Wanderer. Moreover, Brannigan’s narrative is couched in terms consistent with her folk/oral traditional values and assumptions; it is founded upon “strange reports,” and what “was said” to be true (26), as well as what “was therefore judged,” and the teller’s own “solemnly-attested belief” (27). At this point the narrative has entered into uncertain territory. On the one hand, both the voice and the narrative mode are compromised through the preceding scepticism expressed by the third person narrator. On the other hand, Brannigan’s narrative is allocated a certain degree of privilege here as the only account available to this point, the third person narrator having, in essence, deferred to the sibyl.
Stanton’s account, following closely after Brannigan’s oral narrative, displaces the authoritative centre in a comparable manner. Like Brannigan’s narrative, Stanton’s is marked by the identity of its teller. Stanton, a Protestant Englishman, is described as being “a man of literature, intelligence, and curiosity” (28). Hence, in place of Brannigan’s oral tale grounded in folk legend and tradition, Stanton’s narrative takes the apt form of a written manuscript and is grounded in first-hand experience and observation. The manuscript is, in essence, akin to a historical or scientific report. It is a collection of data gathered by Stanton in his effort to satisfy his curiosity about Melmoth. This reading is supported by Stanton’s feelings, upon having tracked Melmoth down in London, “of disappointment at the futility of his pursuits, like Bruce at discovering the source of the Nile, or Gibbon on concluding his History” (43-44). The surface implications here are that Stanton’s account, being based in fact and discovery rather than superstition, will surpass Brannigan’s in reliability and detail. This, of course, is not the case. Where Brannigan offers a concise yet whole depiction of Melmoth, Stanton offers fragmented details not only in that the physical manuscript is disintegrating, but also in the fact that it ends with Stanton asserting his “desire of meeting him once more” (59). Such is the nature of Stanton’s investigatory mode; synthesis is deferred as additional data is sought out. Furthermore, there are indications that Stanton may be unreliable; although he is a self-described “man of genius” (45), his obsession with Melmoth suggests “to some prudent people that he was deranged” (45) and he ends up in a mad-house as a result. Thus, as with Brannigan’s narrative, the conditions of utterance surrounding Stanton’s manuscript make it suspect. More important, though, is the fact that such utterances are the only accounts of Melmoth that the novel provides as the third-person narrator of remains detached, neither substantiating nor refuting the first-person accounts as given.
However, the key move toward narrative distancing begins with the “Tale of the Spaniard.” Once again, the identity of the teller becomes a crucial condition of utterance here as the distinctly Catholic voice of Alonzo Moncada, the first person narrator of this tale and the framing voice of the greater part of the novel, displaces a third-person narrative voice that has been marked as unquestionably Protestant in its identification of a “Protestant prayer book” as one of “our prayer-books” (16). This narrative shift is significant in that, as Robert Kiely notes “Melmoth the Wanderer is filled with satirical jibes at the Catholic preoccupation with active charity and the competitive means by which Catholics try to attain heaven” (205) and, for the most part, these anti-Catholic sentiments are presented either directly or indirectly through Moncada. A striking example comes in the form of a speech given by a dying monk who advises Moncada that “The repetition of religious duties, without the feeling or spirit of religion, produces an incurable callosity of heart” and, further, that he believes “half our lay-brothers to be Atheists” (112). However, Moncada’s cynicism is balanced by his acknowledgment of such “just” Catholics as the Bishop who comes to rescue him and even the guards of the Inquisition at the hands of whom Moncada states “we were treated with great humanity and consideration” (240) on the night of the fire. There can be little doubt that the overall tone of the tale is both infected with and complicated by the identity of its Catholic teller.
As with previous tellers, Moncada’s identity would also seem to have an influence upon the form that his tale takes. For all intents and purposes, Moncada’s narrative relating his experiences in the monastery might be classified as a typical martyr’s tale (excepting, of course, the fact that Moncada survives). Although Moncada does describe the physical deprivation and anguish to which he is subjected by his fellow monks stating that he “had no food for many days” and was permitted “no water in [his] cell” (152), his focus remains on the spiritual deprivation from which he suffers. “[E]xcluded from the matins” (151), Moncada protests to his Superior that he is “forbid to pray, – they have stripped my cell of crucifix, rosary, and the vessel for holy water” (153). However, Moncada makes clear that, in spite of these conditions, he did “still continue to pray” (159). This narrative, then, presents itself as something of a saint’s tale of devotion in the face of religious persecution. In keeping with this tradition Moncada speaks of being tempted with the promise of relief from his suffering if he will renounce his faith and “Rise from your bed, trample on the crucifix which you will find at the foot of it, [and] spit on the picture of the Virgin that lies beside it” (155). Ultimately, Moncada’s refusal to reject his faith in face of such great suffering casts the speaker as a devoted saintly figure. It is significant, then, that Moncada prefaces his account of Melmoth with this personal history, thereby affording his voice a degree of religious authority. However, this authority is complicated by the fact that the tormenters in his tale are Catholic monks and, although Moncada desires not to be a monk, he remains always a Catholic. Moncada’s position in offering a doubly marginalized perspective (that of a Catholic excluded by Catholics) remains, thus, in the foreground of his speech as a significant condition of utterance.
This foregrounding of the conditions of utterance is continued after Moncada’s escape from the Inquisition when he breaks off from his own history to tell the “Tale of the Indians” that he has transcribed for the Jew, Adonijah. Again, what is significant here is not only that there is another level of narrative, but that this narrative comes from a Jewish source (moving us further into the margins from the Protestant Christianity of Maturin himself as well as the third-person narrator of his frame tale). Making this narrative shift most intriguing, though, is that fact that with Adonijah’s manuscript Maturin provides what is essentially the closest that the novel comes to supplying an omniscient narrative. Indeed, Adonijah’s account moves from “an island in the Indian sea” (272) to “a villa belonging to [the Aliaga] family” in Madrid (330), to “a wretched inn” (395) where Don Francisco stops for the night on his journey homeward. In each setting the narrative presents the details of private conversations and even the very internal thoughts of various characters. Whereas Moncada includes in the telling of his own history explanations for his knowledge of events taking place in his absence, more than once in the form of a confession from “a monk who was on his dying bed” (164), Adonijah’s manuscript offers no such explanations. The implication here is that the true origin of the manuscript is to be found beyond the limitations of human knowledge in the divine. Hence, Adonijah takes on the characteristics of a prophet like figure and his manuscript those of divinely inspired scripture. This portrayal is reinforced by Adonijah’s very language which is marked with the distinctive verbal cues of the King James Bible: “thou shalt know the secret that hath been a burthen to the soul of Adonijah” (269). In one sense, then, the conditions of utterance surrounding Adonijah’s words suggest a uniquely authoritative perspective. However, this reading is complicated not only by the fact that Adonijah occupies a marginal position as a Spanish Jew, but also by the fact that the words of the manuscript are delivered through Monsada’s own layer of narrative and that their very accuracy relies heavily upon Moncada’s memory.
It has been pointed out by some critics, such as Chris Baldick, that despite this layering and shifting of narrators, the narrative remains “tonally continuous, so that the reader will often forget (as Maturin himself seems to do) just who is speaking at any given point” (xii). However, this observation ignores the distinct shifts in tone that often take place within the writings or tellings of a single narrator, such as Adonijah. One of the more pronounced examples of such a shift occurs in relation to Adonijah’s change of setting from Immalee’s Island to her home in Madrid. Here, highly charged melodrama invested with “emotion and terror” (324) gives way momentarily. Taking its place is a comic satire on Catholicism as the self-consumed Donna Clara expresses her baffled heartache to the gluttonous Father Jose, “Maturin’s only full comic character” (Harris 274), over Isidora’s (Immalee’s) suggestion “that religion ought to be a system whose spirit was universal love” (333). Later, Donna Clara has her “mind [made] easy” at Father Jose’s assurance that “all the inhabitants of those accursed Indian isles [will] be damned everlastingly” (339). The shift to an overtly ironic tone here is somewhat disorienting in that it seems ill-suited both for Adonijah’s prophetic script and Moncada’s urgent narration. Rather, there is the distinct sense in such passages that the voice of Maturin’s narrator, or of Maturin himself, is invading the text. A more intriguing instance of this type of confusion occurs in chapter twenty-two in the form of a strangely out of place defence, addressed “[T]o the mere reader of romance” (373), of the narrative’s seeming implausibility. As Linda Bayer-Berenbaum notes, “The reader is suspended between perspectives when he reads such statements. He finds himself wandering between realities in an eerie, undefined limbo” (88). In short, Maturin’s novel is anything but tonally continuous; tonal shifts within the novel simply resist serving their expected purpose of drawing clear distinctions between separate voices, instead working to point up the layering of narratives and the cross contamination of narrative stances (including that of the author) that results.
Tangled within these layers of narrative in Melmoth is “The Tale of Guzman’s Family” (which turns out to be the story of the Walberg family). Some critics have dismissed this section as a throw away story, considering the marginal and almost invisible role of Melmoth within the tale. Joseph Lew, however, notes that the conditions of Walberg are those in the novel most easily identifiable with Maturin himself who was, like Walberg, a poor Protestant in Catholic surroundings, struggling to feed his family. What we might otherwise read for clues as to the authoritative authorial stance of the novel is ultimately obscured, though, as it is relayed back to us only through several levels of enunciation and marginalization. The original teller of this tale is described only as “a stranger” who is “willing to pass away some hours […] in relating […] some circumstances relating to the wanderer” (397). Although not verified, there are hints that this stranger, with his “collections of facts relative to [Melmoth]” (396), is Stanton. The time period is certainly correct as Moncada makes clear in his suggestion that three years prior to this meeting Melmoth had divided his time between Immalee’s island and “the mad-house where the Englishman Stanton was tossing on his straw” (298). Assuming that this is the case, it is interesting to note that before reaching the ears of John Melmoth this narrative concerning a Protestant family and originating form a Protestant orator passes through Adonijah the Jew, and Moncada the Catholic. Simply put, any temptation to identify the intermittently manifest Protestant stance as a locus of authority within the novel is undercut by the inclusion of said stance in the enonciative process. Even the assumed position of the author himself, as represented by Walberg, is ultimately displaced by the collaboration of several marginalized narrative voices.
Maturin makes it a point to continuously draw attention to these layers through a number of different techniques. The most simple of these is his use of punctuation, specifically the insertion of a single quotation mark (‘) at the beginning of each paragraph not attributed to his third-person narrator. It might be argued that this use of grammatical signposts is not so thorough as it should be, in that Maturin overlooks indicating the position of narratives within narratives with double and triple quotation marks. Nevertheless, the result is a constant reminder that these tales originate out of specific tellers under specific conditions. This point is made even more overtly with occasional direct narrative intrusions through which the third person narrator steps in as if to remind us of the complex conditions surrounding the tale. Perhaps the most explicit example of this occurs during the “Tale of the Indians” which, having been interrupted by John Melmoth, is continued by Moncada only after the narrator has stepped in to announce, “He proceeded with the story of the unhappy Indian, as recorded in the parchments of Adonijah, which he had been compelled to copy, and of which he was anxious to impress every line and letter on his listener, to substantiate his own extraordinary story” (298-99). Here Maturin underscores the importance to our understanding of meaning of not only the tale itself and its several tellers, but also of the physical parchments, the listener, and even Moncada’s motivation for relaying the narrative. Such passages, serve the function of bringing these conditions to the fore as a reminder that utterance is not inert or fixed. It is constantly being reassembled and enonciated through conditions of narration.
Although easily overlooked, one of the most significant of these conditions in shaping the narration is the actual physical space in which utterances are formed. Throughout the novel Maturin consistently provides a specific setting for the transmission of each narrative, from Biddy Brannigan’s oral legend delivered from “the hearth-stone” (24) of a room in the Melmoth home, to the manuscript transcribed by Moncada in Adonijah’s subterranean “chamber” (267). In each case, the setting itself, and the power relations implied, established, and enforced by this physical space influence both what is uttered and how utterance is received. Such material and spatial factors become vital within the tales as well in defining the formation and reception of such utterances as confessions, pleas, and doctrinal or political declarations. Time and again situations surrounding communication within the novel serve to underscore the fact that where something is said is often as important as who says it.
Perhaps, the most telling illustration of the import of physical space as a condition of utterance is evident in Stanton’s account of his imprisonment within the mad-house. Surprised to find himself alone behind the locked door of a cell, Stanton calls out only to have his voice “echoed in a moment by many others, but in tones so wild and discordant, that he desisted in involuntary terror” (47). It is clear that in the context of a mad-house Stanton’s cries for help, which might be expected to demand attention elsewhere, carry little significance. To Stanton’s horror, this truth is only reinforced when “a man of savage appearance” (48) does come to his cell. Stanton, speaking in the distinct authoritative tone and language of a man confident in his own rank as compared to that of his addressee, demands “Release me, villain” and follows up by asking “Will you dare detain me?” (48), to which “the ruffian” responds by “applying a loaded horse-whip to his back and shoulders” (48). The circumstances of this incident demonstrate the speech act theories of Pierre Bourdieu who has suggested that “the use of language […] depends upon the social position of the speaker, which governs the access he can have to the language of the institution” (109). Simply put, in occupying the space of a madman, Stanton is taken to occupy the social position of a madman and, as such, his words are stripped of all claims to authority. Interestingly, Stanton reacts to this situation with silence in hopes that the “appearance of submission and tranquility” (49) will afford him an opportunity of escape. Even this behaviour fails, though, as it is “interpreted by the callous ruffian […] as a more refined species of that cunning which he was well accustomed to watch and baffle” (53). This episode ultimately works to highlight the impossibilities of utterance that is not informed and coloured by the physical and social space in which it is voiced. Furthermore, Stanton’s experience within the claustrophobic confines of the mad-house offers a key to understanding the enonciative workings of power relationships within the several similarly enclosed spaces in which so many of the novel’s tales are given utterance.
Serving as what is certainly the most overtly gothic of such tales is the story of the parricide embedded in Moncada’s own tale of his escape from the monastery. What is significant about this narrative, aside from the fact that it offers yet a further level of marginalization in being relayed by an outcast of society, is the notable similarity between the circumstances of the tale and the circumstances surrounding its transmission. Alone with his parricide accomplice “in the vault of a convent, beyond the help or reach of man” (203), Moncada initially has his companion forbear telling his tale feeling, “by the narrator that it must be something horrid” (203). However, when the narrative is picked up, at the request of Moncada, it soon becomes clear that the tale’s horror does not originate out of the narrator alone. In relating the fate of the tunnel’s “last inhabitants” (203), the parricide reveals his (ostensibly) former role as an instrument of the Superior, leading his unwitting victims “through the very passages you have traversed tonight” (208). Here, the uncanny repetition of the setting of the tale in the setting of its vocalization adds an unsettling layer of meaning to the narrative prompting Moncada to demand the parricide to “Stop,” observing that he is “tracing my course this night step by step” (208). Thus, the parricide (and Maturin for that matter) builds up the horror of the tale through its enonciation; the conditions surrounding his utterance are as significant in Moncada’s reception of the narrative as are the words being uttered.
Contributing further to the effects of physical space on the reception of the parricide’s narrative is the overt power relationship between speaker and listener. Unlike Stanton whose own speech is rendered powerless through his position as a captive orator, Moncada finds himself a captive listener powerless in relation to the horrific speech of the parricide. This dynamic is duly noted by the parricide himself who confronts Moncada’s objections asking, “what good would your suspicions do you, – you are in my power?” (208), before continuing on with his tale to its sensationalistic and homicidal conclusion. In effect, the parricide’s position of power within the enclosed space of the tunnels allows him to utter the unutterable, even implicating himself in murder as a means of provoking horror in Moncada while experiencing no fear of reprisal for himself.
Ultimately, the conditions of utterance surrounding the parricide’s tale and Stanton’s experience in the mad-house are important not only in what they reveal about these particular incidents, but also in the light they shed on Moncada’s various utterances. An examination of Moncada’s speech, taken on the whole, exposes an intriguing detail: Moncada invariably receives and conveys his tales in the context of enclosed physical spaces, often in the position of a captive. This detail is especially significant in light of the fact that the greater part of the novel is voiced either by or through Moncada. Moncada’s experience in the prison of the Inquisition serves as a useful illustration here. Brought before the inquisitors for examination, Moncada is questioned on his visitation from Melmoth and, responding that a person had indeed “appeared in my dungeon,” is interrupted by the Supreme who instructs him “You must call it a cell” (230). While this may seem a trivial semantic quibble, it is important to note that the Supreme here is actively redefining both Moncada’s physical space and his very discourse. The utterance that Moncada communicates in the prison of the Inquisition, it is clear, is as much a product of where he is and of his captive position as it is of Moncada, the orator himself. Thus, speaking of Melmoth’s own communication Moncada states “he uttered words that it would not be respectful to repeat” (230). With this Moncada points up the very dissimilar positions of Melmoth, who being unconfined by the enclosed physical space of the prison is free to vocalize similarly unrestrained utterances, and himself, who being confined by the prison must consciously restrain his own utterances even in repeating the speech of another. When one of the judges visits Moncada in his cell this restraint becomes absolute as Moncada begins to defend his behaviour and is silenced by the judge’s observation “that he came to speak and not to listen” (231). This pattern is repeated throughout the prison episode wherein Moncada’s speech is always qualified and coloured by his position as a captive.
The pattern continues, though, even after Moncada has escaped the prison and found a place “of refuge” (268) from the Inquisition in Adonijah’s secret room. Moncada’s position in this room, alternately referred to as a “chamber” (267) and a “vault” (270), shares much in common with his positions within the prison and even within the tunnels of the monastery that he shared with the parricide. In each case he is subject to the control of others, as evidenced in Adonijah’s eerie echoing of the parricide with his statement “Thou art in my power” (265). As Julian Moynahan suggests, “Moncada has not, after all, found his way to freedom. He has only exchanged cell for cell” (126). Moncada’s utterance is, in accordance, notably restrained in the context of this latest enclosed space. In response to Adonijah’s command “thou wilt hearken to me, and heed my words,” Moncada recalls that “[he] could not speak” (268). What Moncada does do within the confines of Adonijah’s room is write or, more accurately, he transcribes. The distinction here is an important one as it accentuates the fact that Moncada’s primary lingual activity within this setting is to scribe the words of someone else. Further, Moncada makes a point to specify that he conducted this activity “Involuntarily” (272). If Moncada’s communication is restrained or silenced within the context of the prison, it is essentially hijacked at this point. As a captive scribe Moncada has his authorial control compromised and made subject to the conditions of his captivity and, in the end, to Adonijah’s text itself. Ultimately, Moncada’s “Tale of the Spaniard,” well over half of which is comprised of the contents of Adonijah’s manuscript, is inundated with the impact of such physical and social conditions of utterance defined by enclosure and confinement.
In this light, the conditions under which the “Tale of the Spaniard” is transmitted to John Melmoth are illuminating. Confined to bed in “a low, mean, wretchedly furnished apartment” (72) of the Melmoth house, Moncada is once again essentially a captive. While the power disparity between the two parties is somewhat more subtle within this space than those explored above, it is no less real. Due to his illness, Moncada cannot leave and it is this circumstance, in combination with John Melmoth’s prodding “into the motive of his voyage to Ireland” (72), that leads him to disclose the tale that “a few days past I believed it was not in mortal power to compel me to disclose” (72). Further, it is evident in Moncada’s deferential language, with which he addresses his listener as “Sir” throughout the tale (177, 209, 226, 268, et cetera), that he regards John Melmoth as a superior, at least in the context of the Melmoth home. This condition is crucial to the form that Moncada’s narration takes. When Moncada responds to a portion of his narrative concerning his brother with passionate emotion inconsistent with John Melmoth’s “uncontinental feelings,” he is entreated “to spare the description of his feelings, and proceed with his narrative” (131). Not only does Moncada oblige here, but when the focus of the narrative comes back to his brother at a later time he declares “I will spare you, Sir, the detail of the feelings” (177). Clearly, then, Moncada’s position as a guest/captive within John Melmoth’s house is a factor of restraint in the enunciation of his tale.
There are clues, moreover, that this factor may be even more crucial than it first appears. Moncada’s “stately politeness” (71) serves as a reasonable explanation for the otherwise inexplicable lacunae that interrupt even his own first-hand accounts. Indeed, it is interesting that these gaps occur at points of extreme emotion or horror within the narrative. An example of such a narrative break follows the parricide’s sinister announcement, “they knew their doom” (211), concerning the husband and wife that he betrays and locks into a room beneath the monastery. As Moncada hears this story first hand, rather than reading it from a damaged manuscript, the sense is that he is intentionally leaving something out in relating the tale to John Melmoth. Of course, this is not the first time he has done this; Moncada’s selective omissions in speaking to John Melmoth bear a striking resemblance to his omission, when speaking to the judges of the Inquisition, of “words that it would not be respectful for me to repeat” (230). Throughout the novel, then, Moncada’s privileged position as the primary orator is compromised by the restrictive physical and social spaces in which his utterances are often restrained, silenced, and even taken over.
Standing in stark contrast to Moncada, interestingly enough, is Melmoth the Wanderer. As noted earlier, Melmoth is not so easily contained within enclosed physical spaces and thus, his utterance is likewise unrestrained. Time and again within the course of the novel Melmoth is said to be the source of speech that others, such as Walberg, “cannot utter” (427). However, in “The Tale of the Indian” Melmoth takes his place as a central figure, and is given a central voice as he works to educate and then to tempt Immalee. The setting of this episode is worthy of notice. Unlike Moncada, who receives and vocalizes utterance always in the context of enclosure, the lessons that Melmoth delivers to Immalee (while admittedly embedded within Moncada’s restrained narrative) take place in the decidedly unrestrained wide open space of a (nearly) unpopulated Indian island. This variance of physical setting has substantial enonciative implications. Melmoth’s speech, unlike that of any other within the novel, is accompanied by an outward gaze. Hence, upon his second visit to Immalee Melmoth brings with him a telescope so that he might “shew [her] something of the world” (289). When Melmoth speaks he does not demand that Immalee listen, but rather that she “Look and judge” (292). His listener’s gaze is, thus, turned not toward him as the speaker, but toward the world he speaks of. Melmoth presents himself as a guide, simply explaining what Immalee sees and instructing her to “Look again” (294) when she fails to see. This situation affords Melmoth’s utterance the impression of an external authority not so easily achieved within the enclosed spaces where other utterances in the novel are formed. Through the formulization of utterance in the context of an open and unrestrained physical setting, Melmoth would seem to achieve a certain position of privilege as an origin of utterance within the text. Where Moncada’s utterance is restrained, Melmoth’s is unrestrained; where Moncada’s tells from within himself, Melmoth shows and illuminates what is without.
This privileged position is undercut, though, by the self-acknowledged motivation behind Melmoth’s utterance which is to have Immalee “learn to suffer” (288), creating a distinct tension between authorial endorsement and condemnation. This tension is most pronounced in Melmoth’s extended misanthropic rant in which he condemns humankind for the “unequal division of the means of existence” that allows a person to “die of want on the threshold of a banquet-hall” (302-03). This is an interesting passage in that there is a sense of Melmoth being given a surprising degree of latitude, far surpassing his blatantly manipulative explanations of what Immalee observes through the telescope. Much about the passage would seem to indicate that the narrator/author is sympathetic to the views being expressed. That Maturin is aware of this possible reading is evident in his attempts to counter it with a footnote assuring us “that the sentiments ascribed to the stranger are diametrically opposite to mine, and that I have purposely put them into the mouth of an agent of the enemy of mankind” (303). As such critics as Robert Kiely and Kathleen Fowler suggest, however, this disclaimer is somewhat difficult to swallow (Fowler 524). Maturin’s assurance is undercut in a number of ways, the most obvious being that Melmoth is speaking on behalf of the desperate and the disenfranchised in this passage, the very types of characters with which we are encouraged to sympathize throughout the novel.
Furthermore, if we are not to trust Melmoth directly, it is fairly clear that we are to sympathize with Immalee. Since she, in all of her innocence, is appalled by the information relayed to her, it only stands to reason that we, likewise, will be appalled. Given the impact of such factors of enonciation on Melmoth’s utterances, it is difficult to recognize Maturin’s footnote as having the weight necessary to determine and define our reading of the ideas being expressed. It should also be noted that while discussing religion with Immalee, Melmoth begrudgingly finds himself admitting the virtues of Christianity which “enjoins [its members] to be mild, benevolent, and tolerant; and neither to reject or disdain those who have not attained its purer light” (296). Maturin’s footnote complicates this utterance as it, too, has been placed in “the mouth of an agent of the enemy of mankind” (303) and should therefore, by Maturin’s reasoning, be dismissed. Confusing matters further is Immalee’s response to these words which is to exclaim “Christ shall be my God, and I will be a Christian” (297). In this instance, Melmoth’s words have “an effect precisely the opposite of his original intent” (Howells 146) and, as a result, his privileged status as an orator is dramatically compromised bringing to the fore yet another pertinent factor of enonciation: the listener/reader’s role in the formulation of utterance.
Within the pages of Melmoth the Wanderer this is a significant role, indeed, as no tale within the novel is intact and complete. Stanton’s “discoloured, obliterated, and mutilated” (28) manuscript, as a case in point, is missing some frustratingly crucial passages so that John Melmoth “could just make out what tended rather to excite than assuage [his] feverish thirst of curiosity” (58). Such gaps in the text invite writerly participation. Hence, when Moncada discloses details pertaining to the Wanderer’s role, the narrator asserts that John Melmoth, “from the narrative of Stanton, had been prepared to suspect something of this” (264). Not only does this statement accentuate the fluidity of utterance as the nuanced implications of Stanton’s text shift in relation to Moncada’s narrative, but it also draws attention to John Melmoth’s involvement in utterance as a reader who brings his own experiences and assumptions to the text. Such writerly involvement is evident throughout the novel as the various readers and listeners are required to speculate as to the nature of the unutterable and “incommunicable” (264) fractions of the tales without which the tales make very little sense. Moncada’s occupation as a scribe for Adonijah serves as a useful illustration. The manuscript, containing “the Spanish language written in the Greek characters,” is “unintelligible to the officers of the Inquisition” (270). Moncada’s ability to read both Greek and Spanish puts him in a position to bring utterance to the text through his reading. Even here, though, the possibilities of an authoritative reading are compromised by gaps in the text that Moncada cannot recover “nor could Adonijah supply the deficiency” (356).
In essence, Moncada’s position reflects that of Melmoth the Wanderer’s implicit reader. Like Moncada, the reader contributes to the enonciation of the text, interpreting events and drawing connections. However, gaps remain that can only be filled with speculation and conjuncture. In conventional gothic mode, Maturin weaves mystery into his novel; unlike most gothic works, though, Melmoth the Wanderer never unveils its mystery. Rather, tales are begun only to be left unfinished as Moncada’s “intention of disclosing […] the fates of the other victims” (534) of the Wanderer is never realised and the reader, like John Melmoth, is never afforded the opportunity to “hear the sequel” (534). Although Maturin prefaces his novel by declaring that “The hint of this Romance (or Tale) was taken from a passage in one of my Sermons” (5), the end result bears little resemblance to the genre of which it was born. In place of authoritative synthesis we are left with a polyvocality of various and diverse utterances. By the final chapters even the Wanderer is referring to himself in Biddy Brannigan’s decidedly indefinite terms of what “has been said” (538) and what “has been reported of me” (537). Ultimately, we are left in a situation where narrative authority has collapsed beneath the weight of narrative perspectives and conditions of utterance far too diverse to cohere into a single unified point of view. Any promise of enduring centrality that the novel might suggest remains eternally “silent and unutterable” (542).
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