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Lewis and "Melmoth the Wanderer'

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  • Croft, Janet B.
    Short article from Notes and Queries that may be of interest: Mervyn Nicholson C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis Notes and Queries 2011 58: 130-132;
    Message 1 of 6 , Mar 1, 2011
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      Short article from Notes and Queries that may be of interest:
       
      Mervyn Nicholson
              C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis
              Notes and Queries 2011 58: 130-132; doi:10.1093/notesj/gjq231.
       
      Janet Brennan Croft
      Associate Professor
      Head of Access Services
      University of Oklahoma Libraries
      Bizzell 104NW
      Norman OK 73019
      405-325-1918
      Fax 405-325-7618
      jbcroft@...
      http://ou.academia.edu/JanetCroft/CurriculumVitae
      http://libraries.ou.edu/
      Editor of Mythlore http://www.mythsoc.org/mythlore.html
      Book Review Editor of Oklahoma Librarian http://www.oklibs.org/oklibrarian/current/index.html
      "Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the rising ape meets the falling angel." -Terry Pratchett
       
       
       
    • WendellWag@aol.com
      For those of us who don t have a subscription, what does it say? Wendell Wagner In a message dated 3/1/2011 9:30:14 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, jbcroft@ou.edu
      Message 2 of 6 , Mar 1, 2011
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        For those of us who don't have a subscription, what does it say?
         
        Wendell Wagner
         
        In a message dated 3/1/2011 9:30:14 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, jbcroft@... writes:
         

        Short article from Notes and Queries that may be of interest:
         
        Mervyn Nicholson
                C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis
                Notes and Queries 2011 58: 130-132; doi:10.1093/notesj/gjq231.
         
        Janet Brennan Croft
        Associate Professor
        Head of Access Services
        University of Oklahoma Libraries
        Bizzell 104NW
        Norman OK 73019
        405-325-1918
        Fax 405-325-7618
        jbcroft@...
        http://ou.academia.edu/JanetCroft/CurriculumVitae
        http://libraries.ou.edu/
        Editor of Mythlore http://www.mythsoc.org/mythlore.html
        Book Review Editor of Oklahoma Librarian http://www.oklibs.org/oklibrarian/current/index.html
        "Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the rising ape meets the falling angel." -Terry Pratchett
         
         
         

      • Croft, Janet B.
        Sorry, I thought it would let you get to it. Let me cut and paste below – Notes and Queries articles are very short: C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis 1. Mervyn
        Message 3 of 6 , Mar 1, 2011
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          Sorry, I thought it would let you get to it. Let me cut and paste below – Notes and Queries articles are very short:

           

          C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis

          1. Mervyn Nicholson

          + Author Affiliations

          1.      Thompson Rivers University, British Columbia
          1. mnicholson@...

          C. R. MATURIN is one of those authors remembered now only for one work: his 1820 Gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer.1 Melmoth is a peculiar book, even technically speaking. It is a convoluted tale-within-a-tale narrative, with stories unfolding into other stories to produce a narrative maze. This maze-like structure mirrors the ideas of the book: a shaggy-dog story of entrapment and lost direction, which ends at a cliff overlooking the sea, where the title character appears to have taken a final leap. His footsteps go up to the edge—and stop. We assume that he has found an exit from the maze, except that in the absurd world of Melmoth, the deadly sin of suicide means the beginning of more, and more, torture.

          The plot of Melmoth is confusing partly because we do not learn the premise of the story until the end, where we discover that Melmoth had purchased extended life by selling his soul to the devil. The deal, yielding an unimpressive 150 years, had a proviso that, if he could find someone willing to make the same sale, he would be freed from his demonic contract. (The theme of legalism and the absurdities of legalism is basic to the story.) Thus Melmoth’s long life becomes a desperate search for someone desperate enough to take his place, focusing on scenes of horror and entrapment, where people will presumably do anything to get out, including dispose of their soul at rock bottom prices. But the thesis of the book, if the book can be said to have a thesis, is that no one would give up his or her chance at salvation—a thesis that the book itself appears to contradict, given the fact that Melmoth did just that.

          Maturin, like C. S. Lewis, was an Irish Protestant, indeed a clergyman in the Church of Ireland. (The Church was unenthusiastic about his fiction.) Maturin was also related to a more famous Irish Protestant author: Oscar Wilde. He was Wilde’s great-uncle. It is not an accident that Wilde took the name of ‘Melmoth’ when he went into exile in France after imprisonment. The choice of name indicates not merely someone who wanders—an exile—but someone damned, who could not escape the hostility of a world order seemingly stacked against him.

          Melmoth the Wanderer presents a series of situations in which individuals confront a terrible fate (typically engineered by an omnipresent Popish Church). Then, an ostensible rescuer, Melmoth, arrives, and offers a way out—by selling their soul for the extended lifespan he fell for, thus getting him off the hook. In this sequence of tales of terror, there is an exception to the grim pattern: the story of Immalee (also called Isadora). Immalee is a beautiful young woman who is alone on a tropical island. She has grown up there, isolated from the world, innocent and naturally good. Melmoth, smelling vulnerability, arrives to tempt her, thinking that her isolation will make her do anything, including sell her soul, to escape. In what follows, Melmoth and Immalee engage in a series of surprising discussions—surprising because of their intellectual content, ranging over metaphysical questions about the nature of existence. Melmoth seeks to jar her from her innocent complacency, manipulating her into giving in to his demand. Melmoth is itself a surprisingly intellectual book, raising complex questions about the nature of humanity, about religion and human desire. But Melmoth’s aim is a practical one: to make Immalee obey. Immalee meanwhile shows innocent compassion for and interest in Melmoth, in danger because of her own goodness.

          Curiously, there is a very similar sequence in C. S. Lewis. Apart from their shared background, there are significant links, and I would argue that Maturin had a noticeable influence on Lewis, especially in his Perelandra. Perelandra is about a beautiful innocent woman who is alone on an island. A demonic interloper arrives and tries to make her commit a disastrous error that will cause her death and (this is Lewis after all) damnation. Lewis provides a defender for the lady (unlike Maturin), and the narrative consists largely of a series of fascinating dialogues—or trialogues—between the beautiful lady of the island, the demon-possessed Weston, who seeks to destroy her, and Ransom, sent to defeat her enemy. Like Immalee, the lady of Perelandra does not recognize her enemy as enemy: she is unfallen and unfamiliar with what Lewis calls ‘The terrible slavery of appetite and hate and economics and government which our race knows so well’ (Perelandra 114).

          I have not found explicit reference to Maturin in Lewis, but I believe it is a near certainty that he had read Maturin. Lewis read everything. He was especially interested in the fantastic, an area he read very widely in. The work of Irish Protestants held a deep interest for him, being an Irish Protestant himself (he was an early fan of Yeats and loved James Stephens). But what really connects Melmoth and Perelandra is the situation they focus on. In both cases, we are presented with an isolated tropical island, where a beautiful but vulnerable young woman is besieged by a demonic male who wants to take from her something vital—her soul (it is not, as one might expect, sex that draws Melmoth and Weston to the woman in question). In both cases, there are lengthy metaphysical discussions. These discussions have, also, an ulterior motive concealed from the woman, who could not possibly understand the danger: to get her to do something that will doom her. In both cases, the lady gives her demonic pursuer respectful attention. Both women, astute and capable of logical reasoning, demonstrate high intelligence, despite having no formal education or knowledge of the world. Both must engage in a kind of interaction totally new to them, with a demonic tempter (Lewis and Maturin both use the word ‘tempter’). The setting in both cases is conspicuous and important. In Lewis, the island is a paradisal floating island in a paradisal, unfallen world. In Melmoth, the island is an earthly paradise of beauty and natural abundance, hidden from the world. Immalee, like the Lady of Perelandra, is carefully described as in complete harmony with her Edenic surrounding.

          The dialogue is similar. The temptation dialogue is characteristic of Lewis’s fiction: by ‘temptation dialogue’, I mean a verbal struggle between an evil figure and an innocent or naïve character—it turns up often in Lewis’s Narnia books (e.g. the dialogue of Jadis with Digory in The Magician’s Nephew) and in his Till We Have Faces (Orual tempts Psyche). In Perelandra, the temptation dialogue is the heart of the story, what the narrative leads up to and away from, and is similar in placement to Maturin’s use of it in Melmoth. The temptation dialogue poses a difficult technical problem: the problem of creating an interesting good person—an innocent who is not a pasteboard or boring figure. The Lady of Perelandra and Immalee in Melmoth are both memorable character creations: they are not milktoast characters and they are not dull.

          They are set off by the villain, who in each case has a similar personality: he is bent upon demonstrating the meaninglessness of existence. It needs emphasis that the demonic vision preoccupied Lewis, not only in his fiction (That Hideous Strength most notably, a novel shaped by Stoker’s Dracula2) and his apologetics (The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters), but even in his criticism, especially A Preface to Paradise Lost. Lewis’s description of Satan precisely describes Melmoth: ‘What we see in Satan is the horrible co-existence of a subtle and incessant intellectual activity with an incapacity to understand anything’ (Preface to Paradise Lost 99). Meaninglessness combined with insistent aggression—the strong prey on the weak—is what Melmoth propounds, and it is central to Lewis’s conception of evil. In Melmoth’s horrific nihilism, existence is nothing more than using and destroying others in the interests of a self-absorption that is itself miserable and pointless. It is in many ways an anxious Modernist vision of alienation, anticipating the metaphysical ‘absurdity’ of existentialist analysis: I hate you, not because I have anycause to do so, but because the exhaustion of my resentment on you, may diminish that of the Deity towards me. If I persecute and torment the enemies of God, must I not be the friend of God? Must not every pang I inflict on another, be recorded in the book of the All-remembering, as an expurgation of at least one of the pangs that await me hereafter? I have no religion, I believe in no God, I repeat no creed, but I have that superstition of fear, and of futurity, that seeks its wild and hopeless mitigation in the sufferings of others when our own are exhausted.’3 Maturin’s book is a testament to the absurdity of legalistic thinking. It demands a model of good and evil that is not founded on obeying and disobeying authority, as it so often is in Christianity. Likewise in Lewis, evil is not disobedience to authority, primarily, but something else: a violation of desire, of primal integrity (integrity and desire that the besieged women of Perelandra and Melmoth symbolize)—a violation in which people corrupt and use others.

          The connection with Maturin is important not only because it illuminates Lewis’s sources, the way he absorbed and recreated his early reading, but because it illuminates a facet of Lewis that his religious admirers miss in their hurry to see in him only a conservative thinker like themselves.

          Footnotes

          ·         1 The French, notably Balzac and Baudelaire, liked Melmoth more than the English. The famous American writer—and theorist—of horror fiction, H. P. Lovecraft, admired Melmoth and considered it a significant advance in the genre. Melmoth closes the original ‘golden’ age of Gothic fiction that begins around the time of the French Revolution, featuring Ann Radcliffe, M. G. ‘Monk’ Lewis, Coleridge (in Christabel), and Mary Shelley, among others.

          ·         2 Stoker’s influence on Lewis is documented in my ‘Where the Hideous Strength Came From: Bram Stoker and C. S. Lewis’, Mythlore, lxxiii (1993), 16–23. Stoker, like Maturin, Stephens, Wilde, and Lewis himself, was another Irish Protestant.

          ·         3 C. R. Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer, ed. W. F. Axton (Lincoln, NA, 1961), 173.

           

           

          Janet Brennan Croft

          Associate Professor
          Head of Access Services
          University of Oklahoma Libraries
          Bizzell 104NW
          Norman OK 73019
          405-325-1918
          Fax 405-325-7618
          jbcroft@...
          http://ou.academia.edu/JanetCroft/CurriculumVitae
          http://libraries.ou.edu/
          Editor of Mythlore http://www.mythsoc.org/mythlore.html

          Book Review Editor of Oklahoma Librarian http://www.oklibs.org/oklibrarian/current/index.html

          "Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the rising ape meets the falling angel." -Terry Pratchett

           

          From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com [mailto:mythsoc@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of WendellWag@...
          Sent: Tuesday, March 01, 2011 8:41 AM
          To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Lewis and "Melmoth the Wanderer'

           

           

          For those of us who don't have a subscription, what does it say?

           

          Wendell Wagner

           

          In a message dated 3/1/2011 9:30:14 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, jbcroft@... writes:

           

          Short article from Notes and Queries that may be of interest:

           

          Mervyn Nicholson

                  C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis

                  Notes and Queries 2011 58: 130-132; doi:10.1093/notesj/gjq231.

           

          Janet Brennan Croft

          Associate Professor
          Head of Access Services
          University of Oklahoma Libraries
          Bizzell 104NW
          Norman OK 73019
          405-325-1918
          Fax 405-325-7618
          jbcroft@...
          http://ou.academia.edu/JanetCroft/CurriculumVitae
          http://libraries.ou.edu/
          Editor of Mythlore http://www.mythsoc.org/mythlore.html

          Book Review Editor of Oklahoma Librarian http://www.oklibs.org/oklibrarian/current/index.html

          "Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the rising ape meets the falling angel." -Terry Pratchett

           

           

           

        • Jason Fisher
          An interesting piece. It s too bad the author can t do more to establish that Lewis actually knew Maturin. To call it a near certainty that [Lewis] had read
          Message 4 of 6 , Mar 1, 2011
          • 0 Attachment
            An interesting piece. It's too bad the author can't do more to establish that Lewis actually knew Maturin. To call it "a near certainty that [Lewis] had read Maturin" simply because they were both Irish Protestants and "Lewis read everything" doesn't strike me as a particularly strong argument. Better would be to say it is merely "likely", no? The similarities are fairly striking, but not necessarily incontrovertible. In his conclusion, the author has leapt from assumption to presumption, asserting "[t]he connection with Maturin is important not only because it illuminates Lewis's sources, the way he absorbed and recreated his early reading", when no connection or source relationship has really been established. And on what basis can the author put Melmoth in Lewis's early reading? Again, this is the author's assumption — it has to be early reading if it influenced early writing; but the influence is unproven, merely assumed.
             
            I do think it's an interesting comparison, but I'd like to have seen a bit more effort to connect Lewis to Maturin. Failing that, the author of the note probably should have taken a more conservative line in claiming influence. Or he might have simply written a comparative piece and then wondered, in his conclusion, whether Lewis might have read Melmoth.
             
            Thanks for sharing this, Janet.
             
            Best,
            Jason


            From: "Croft, Janet B." <jbcroft@...>
            To: "mythsoc@yahoogroups.com" <mythsoc@yahoogroups.com>
            Sent: Tue, March 1, 2011 8:43:37 AM
            Subject: RE: [mythsoc] Lewis and "Melmoth the Wanderer'

             

            Sorry, I thought it would let you get to it. Let me cut and paste below – Notes and Queries articles are very short:

             

            C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis

            1. Mervyn Nicholson

            + Author Affiliations

            1.      Thompson Rivers University, British Columbia
            1. mnicholson@...

            C. R. MATURIN is one of those authors remembered now only for one work: his 1820 Gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer.1 Melmoth is a peculiar book, even technically speaking. It is a convoluted tale-within-a-tale narrative, with stories unfolding into other stories to produce a narrative maze. This maze-like structure mirrors the ideas of the book: a shaggy-dog story of entrapment and lost direction, which ends at a cliff overlooking the sea, where the title character appears to have taken a final leap. His footsteps go up to the edge—and stop. We assume that he has found an exit from the maze, except that in the absurd world of Melmoth, the deadly sin of suicide means the beginning of more, and more, torture.

            The plot of Melmoth is confusing partly because we do not learn the premise of the story until the end, where we discover that Melmoth had purchased extended life by selling his soul to the devil. The deal, yielding an unimpressive 150 years, had a proviso that, if he could find someone willing to make the same sale, he would be freed from his demonic contract. (The theme of legalism and the absurdities of legalism is basic to the story.) Thus Melmoth’s long life becomes a desperate search for someone desperate enough to take his place, focusing on scenes of horror and entrapment, where people will presumably do anything to get out, including dispose of their soul at rock bottom prices. But the thesis of the book, if the book can be said to have a thesis, is that no one would give up his or her chance at salvation—a thesis that the book itself appears to contradict, given the fact that Melmoth did just that.

            Maturin, like C. S. Lewis, was an Irish Protestant, indeed a clergyman in the Church of Ireland. (The Church was unenthusiastic about his fiction.) Maturin was also related to a more famous Irish Protestant author: Oscar Wilde. He was Wilde’s great-uncle. It is not an accident that Wilde took the name of ‘Melmoth’ when he went into exile in France after imprisonment. The choice of name indicates not merely someone who wanders—an exile—but someone damned, who could not escape the hostility of a world order seemingly stacked against him.

            Melmoth the Wanderer presents a series of situations in which individuals confront a terrible fate (typically engineered by an omnipresent Popish Church). Then, an ostensible rescuer, Melmoth, arrives, and offers a way out—by selling their soul for the extended lifespan he fell for, thus getting him off the hook. In this sequence of tales of terror, there is an exception to the grim pattern: the story of Immalee (also called Isadora). Immalee is a beautiful young woman who is alone on a tropical island. She has grown up there, isolated from the world, innocent and naturally good. Melmoth, smelling vulnerability, arrives to tempt her, thinking that her isolation will make her do anything, including sell her soul, to escape. In what follows, Melmoth and Immalee engage in a series of surprising discussions—surprising because of their intellectual content, ranging over metaphysical questions about the nature of existence. Melmoth seeks to jar her from her innocent complacency, manipulating her into giving in to his demand. Melmoth is itself a surprisingly intellectual book, raising complex questions about the nature of humanity, about religion and human desire. But Melmoth’s aim is a practical one: to make Immalee obey. Immalee meanwhile shows innocent compassion for and interest in Melmoth, in danger because of her own goodness.

            Curiously, there is a very similar sequence in C. S. Lewis. Apart from their shared background, there are significant links, and I would argue that Maturin had a noticeable influence on Lewis, especially in his Perelandra. Perelandra is about a beautiful innocent woman who is alone on an island. A demonic interloper arrives and tries to make her commit a disastrous error that will cause her death and (this is Lewis after all) damnation. Lewis provides a defender for the lady (unlike Maturin), and the narrative consists largely of a series of fascinating dialogues—or trialogues—between the beautiful lady of the island, the demon-possessed Weston, who seeks to destroy her, and Ransom, sent to defeat her enemy. Like Immalee, the lady of Perelandra does not recognize her enemy as enemy: she is unfallen and unfamiliar with what Lewis calls ‘The terrible slavery of appetite and hate and economics and government which our race knows so well’ (Perelandra 114).

            I have not found explicit reference to Maturin in Lewis, but I believe it is a near certainty that he had read Maturin. Lewis read everything. He was especially interested in the fantastic, an area he read very widely in. The work of Irish Protestants held a deep interest for him, being an Irish Protestant himself (he was an early fan of Yeats and loved James Stephens). But what really connects Melmoth and Perelandra is the situation they focus on. In both cases, we are presented with an isolated tropical island, where a beautiful but vulnerable young woman is besieged by a demonic male who wants to take from her something vital—her soul (it is not, as one might expect, sex that draws Melmoth and Weston to the woman in question). In both cases, there are lengthy metaphysical discussions. These discussions have, also, an ulterior motive concealed from the woman, who could not possibly understand the danger: to get her to do something that will doom her. In both cases, the lady gives her demonic pursuer respectful attention. Both women, astute and capable of logical reasoning, demonstrate high intelligence, despite having no formal education or knowledge of the world. Both must engage in a kind of interaction totally new to them, with a demonic tempter (Lewis and Maturin both use the word ‘tempter’). The setting in both cases is conspicuous and important. In Lewis, the island is a paradisal floating island in a paradisal, unfallen world. In Melmoth, the island is an earthly paradise of beauty and natural abundance, hidden from the world. Immalee, like the Lady of Perelandra, is carefully described as in complete harmony with her Edenic surrounding.

            The dialogue is similar. The temptation dialogue is characteristic of Lewis’s fiction: by ‘temptation dialogue’, I mean a verbal struggle between an evil figure and an innocent or naïve character—it turns up often in Lewis’s Narnia books (e.g. the dialogue of Jadis with Digory in The Magician’s Nephew) and in his Till We Have Faces (Orual tempts Psyche). In Perelandra, the temptation dialogue is the heart of the story, what the narrative leads up to and away from, and is similar in placement to Maturin’s use of it in Melmoth. The temptation dialogue poses a difficult technical problem: the problem of creating an interesting good person—an innocent who is not a pasteboard or boring figure. The Lady of Perelandra and Immalee in Melmoth are both memorable character creations: they are not milktoast characters and they are not dull.

            They are set off by the villain, who in each case has a similar personality: he is bent upon demonstrating the meaninglessness of existence. It needs emphasis that the demonic vision preoccupied Lewis, not only in his fiction (That Hideous Strength most notably, a novel shaped by Stoker’s Dracula2) and his apologetics (The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters), but even in his criticism, especially A Preface to Paradise Lost. Lewis’s description of Satan precisely describes Melmoth: ‘What we see in Satan is the horrible co-existence of a subtle and incessant intellectual activity with an incapacity to understand anything’ (Preface to Paradise Lost 99). Meaninglessness combined with insistent aggression—the strong prey on the weak—is what Melmoth propounds, and it is central to Lewis’s conception of evil. In Melmoth’s horrific nihilism, existence is nothing more than using and destroying others in the interests of a self-absorption that is itself miserable and pointless. It is in many ways an anxious Modernist vision of alienation, anticipating the metaphysical ‘absurdity’ of existentialist analysis: I hate you, not because I have anycause to do so, but because the exhaustion of my resentment on you, may diminish that of the Deity towards me. If I persecute and torment the enemies of God, must I not be the friend of God? Must not every pang I inflict on another, be recorded in the book of the All-remembering, as an expurgation of at least one of the pangs that await me hereafter? I have no religion, I believe in no God, I repeat no creed, but I have that superstition of fear, and of futurity, that seeks its wild and hopeless mitigation in the sufferings of others when our own are exhausted.’3 Maturin’s book is a testament to the absurdity of legalistic thinking. It demands a model of good and evil that is not founded on obeying and disobeying authority, as it so often is in Christianity. Likewise in Lewis, evil is not disobedience to authority, primarily, but something else: a violation of desire, of primal integrity (integrity and desire that the besieged women of Perelandra and Melmoth symbolize)—a violation in which people corrupt and use others.

            The connection with Maturin is important not only because it illuminates Lewis’s sources, the way he absorbed and recreated his early reading, but because it illuminates a facet of Lewis that his religious admirers miss in their hurry to see in him only a conservative thinker like themselves.

            Footnotes

            ·         1 The French, notably Balzac and Baudelaire, liked Melmoth more than the English. The famous American writer—and theorist—of horror fiction, H. P. Lovecraft, admired Melmoth and considered it a significant advance in the genre. Melmoth closes the original ‘golden’ age of Gothic fiction that begins around the time of the French Revolution, featuring Ann Radcliffe, M. G. ‘Monk’ Lewis, Coleridge (in Christabel), and Mary Shelley, among others.

            ·         2 Stoker’s influence on Lewis is documented in my ‘Where the Hideous Strength Came From: Bram Stoker and C. S. Lewis’, Mythlore, lxxiii (1993), 16–23. Stoker, like Maturin, Stephens, Wilde, and Lewis himself, was another Irish Protestant.

            ·         3 C. R. Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer, ed. W. F. Axton (Lincoln, NA, 1961), 173.

             

             

            Janet Brennan Croft

            Associate Professor
            Head of Access Services
            University of Oklahoma Libraries
            Bizzell 104NW
            Norman OK 73019
            405-325-1918
            Fax 405-325-7618
            jbcroft@...
            http://ou.academia.edu/JanetCroft/CurriculumVitae
            http://libraries.ou.edu/
            Editor of Mythlore http://www.mythsoc.org/mythlore.html

            Book Review Editor of Oklahoma Librarian http://www.oklibs.org/oklibrarian/current/index.html

            "Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the rising ape meets the falling angel." -Terry Pratchett

             

            From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com [mailto:mythsoc@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of WendellWag@...
            Sent: Tuesday, March 01, 2011 8:41 AM
            To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
            Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Lewis and "Melmoth the Wanderer'

             

             

            For those of us who don't have a subscription, what does it say?

             

            Wendell Wagner

             

            In a message dated 3/1/2011 9:30:14 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, jbcroft@... writes:

             

            Short article from Notes and Queries that may be of interest:

             

            Mervyn Nicholson

                    C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis

                    Notes and Queries 2011 58: 130-132; doi:10.1093/notesj/gjq231.

             

            Janet Brennan Croft

            Associate Professor
            Head of Access Services
            University of Oklahoma Libraries
            Bizzell 104NW
            Norman OK 73019
            405-325-1918
            Fax 405-325-7618
            jbcroft@...
            http://ou.academia.edu/JanetCroft/CurriculumVitae
            http://libraries.ou.edu/
            Editor of Mythlore http://www.mythsoc.org/mythlore.html

            Book Review Editor of Oklahoma Librarian http://www.oklibs.org/oklibrarian/current/index.html

            "Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the rising ape meets the falling angel." -Terry Pratchett

             

             

             

          • Croft, Janet B.
            Yes, if it had been a longer piece for Mythlore those are the sorts of questions I would have asked. I’ve only read bits and pieces from Notes and Queries
            Message 5 of 6 , Mar 1, 2011
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              Yes, if it had been a longer piece for Mythlore those are the sorts of questions I would have asked. I’ve only read bits and pieces from Notes and Queries over the years, and they do tend to be more speculative about connections and influences, from what I can see. Still, interesting to see the comparison.

               

              Janet

              From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com [mailto:mythsoc@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Jason Fisher
              Sent: Tuesday, March 01, 2011 9:54 AM
              To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
              Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Lewis and "Melmoth the Wanderer'

               

               

              An interesting piece. It's too bad the author can't do more to establish that Lewis actually knew Maturin. To call it "a near certainty that [Lewis] had read Maturin" simply because they were both Irish Protestants and "Lewis read everything" doesn't strike me as a particularly strong argument. Better would be to say it is merely "likely", no? The similarities are fairly striking, but not necessarily incontrovertible. In his conclusion, the author has leapt from assumption to presumption, asserting "[t]he connection with Maturin is important not only because it illuminates Lewis's sources, the way he absorbed and recreated his early reading", when no connection or source relationship has really been established. And on what basis can the author put Melmoth in Lewis's early reading? Again, this is the author's assumption — it has to be early reading if it influenced early writing; but the influence is unproven, merely assumed.

               

              I do think it's an interesting comparison, but I'd like to have seen a bit more effort to connect Lewis to Maturin. Failing that, the author of the note probably should have taken a more conservative line in claiming influence. Or he might have simply written a comparative piece and then wondered, in his conclusion, whether Lewis might have read Melmoth.

               

              Thanks for sharing this, Janet.

               

              Best,

              Jason

               


              From: "Croft, Janet B." <jbcroft@...>
              To: "mythsoc@yahoogroups.com" <mythsoc@yahoogroups.com>
              Sent: Tue, March 1, 2011 8:43:37 AM
              Subject: RE: [mythsoc] Lewis and "Melmoth the Wanderer'

               

              Sorry, I thought it would let you get to it. Let me cut and paste below – Notes and Queries articles are very short:

               

              C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis

              1. Mervyn Nicholson

              + Author Affiliations

              1.      Thompson Rivers University, British Columbia
              1. mnicholson@...

              C. R. MATURIN is one of those authors remembered now only for one work: his 1820 Gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer.1 Melmoth is a peculiar book, even technically speaking. It is a convoluted tale-within-a-tale narrative, with stories unfolding into other stories to produce a narrative maze. This maze-like structure mirrors the ideas of the book: a shaggy-dog story of entrapment and lost direction, which ends at a cliff overlooking the sea, where the title character appears to have taken a final leap. His footsteps go up to the edge—and stop. We assume that he has found an exit from the maze, except that in the absurd world of Melmoth, the deadly sin of suicide means the beginning of more, and more, torture.

              The plot of Melmoth is confusing partly because we do not learn the premise of the story until the end, where we discover that Melmoth had purchased extended life by selling his soul to the devil. The deal, yielding an unimpressive 150 years, had a proviso that, if he could find someone willing to make the same sale, he would be freed from his demonic contract. (The theme of legalism and the absurdities of legalism is basic to the story.) Thus Melmoth’s long life becomes a desperate search for someone desperate enough to take his place, focusing on scenes of horror and entrapment, where people will presumably do anything to get out, including dispose of their soul at rock bottom prices. But the thesis of the book, if the book can be said to have a thesis, is that no one would give up his or her chance at salvation—a thesis that the book itself appears to contradict, given the fact that Melmoth did just that.

              Maturin, like C. S. Lewis, was an Irish Protestant, indeed a clergyman in the Church of Ireland. (The Church was unenthusiastic about his fiction.) Maturin was also related to a more famous Irish Protestant author: Oscar Wilde. He was Wilde’s great-uncle. It is not an accident that Wilde took the name of ‘Melmoth’ when he went into exile in France after imprisonment. The choice of name indicates not merely someone who wanders—an exile—but someone damned, who could not escape the hostility of a world order seemingly stacked against him.

              Melmoth the Wanderer presents a series of situations in which individuals confront a terrible fate (typically engineered by an omnipresent Popish Church). Then, an ostensible rescuer, Melmoth, arrives, and offers a way out—by selling their soul for the extended lifespan he fell for, thus getting him off the hook. In this sequence of tales of terror, there is an exception to the grim pattern: the story of Immalee (also called Isadora). Immalee is a beautiful young woman who is alone on a tropical island. She has grown up there, isolated from the world, innocent and naturally good. Melmoth, smelling vulnerability, arrives to tempt her, thinking that her isolation will make her do anything, including sell her soul, to escape. In what follows, Melmoth and Immalee engage in a series of surprising discussions—surprising because of their intellectual content, ranging over metaphysical questions about the nature of existence. Melmoth seeks to jar her from her innocent complacency, manipulating her into giving in to his demand. Melmoth is itself a surprisingly intellectual book, raising complex questions about the nature of humanity, about religion and human desire. But Melmoth’s aim is a practical one: to make Immalee obey. Immalee meanwhile shows innocent compassion for and interest in Melmoth, in danger because of her own goodness.

              Curiously, there is a very similar sequence in C. S. Lewis. Apart from their shared background, there are significant links, and I would argue that Maturin had a noticeable influence on Lewis, especially in his Perelandra. Perelandra is about a beautiful innocent woman who is alone on an island. A demonic interloper arrives and tries to make her commit a disastrous error that will cause her death and (this is Lewis after all) damnation. Lewis provides a defender for the lady (unlike Maturin), and the narrative consists largely of a series of fascinating dialogues—or trialogues—between the beautiful lady of the island, the demon-possessed Weston, who seeks to destroy her, and Ransom, sent to defeat her enemy. Like Immalee, the lady of Perelandra does not recognize her enemy as enemy: she is unfallen and unfamiliar with what Lewis calls ‘The terrible slavery of appetite and hate and economics and government which our race knows so well’ (Perelandra 114).

              I have not found explicit reference to Maturin in Lewis, but I believe it is a near certainty that he had read Maturin. Lewis read everything. He was especially interested in the fantastic, an area he read very widely in. The work of Irish Protestants held a deep interest for him, being an Irish Protestant himself (he was an early fan of Yeats and loved James Stephens). But what really connects Melmoth and Perelandra is the situation they focus on. In both cases, we are presented with an isolated tropical island, where a beautiful but vulnerable young woman is besieged by a demonic male who wants to take from her something vital—her soul (it is not, as one might expect, sex that draws Melmoth and Weston to the woman in question). In both cases, there are lengthy metaphysical discussions. These discussions have, also, an ulterior motive concealed from the woman, who could not possibly understand the danger: to get her to do something that will doom her. In both cases, the lady gives her demonic pursuer respectful attention. Both women, astute and capable of logical reasoning, demonstrate high intelligence, despite having no formal education or knowledge of the world. Both must engage in a kind of interaction totally new to them, with a demonic tempter (Lewis and Maturin both use the word ‘tempter’). The setting in both cases is conspicuous and important. In Lewis, the island is a paradisal floating island in a paradisal, unfallen world. In Melmoth, the island is an earthly paradise of beauty and natural abundance, hidden from the world. Immalee, like the Lady of Perelandra, is carefully described as in complete harmony with her Edenic surrounding.

              The dialogue is similar. The temptation dialogue is characteristic of Lewis’s fiction: by ‘temptation dialogue’, I mean a verbal struggle between an evil figure and an innocent or naïve character—it turns up often in Lewis’s Narnia books (e.g. the dialogue of Jadis with Digory in The Magician’s Nephew) and in his Till We Have Faces (Orual tempts Psyche). In Perelandra, the temptation dialogue is the heart of the story, what the narrative leads up to and away from, and is similar in placement to Maturin’s use of it in Melmoth. The temptation dialogue poses a difficult technical problem: the problem of creating an interesting good person—an innocent who is not a pasteboard or boring figure. The Lady of Perelandra and Immalee in Melmoth are both memorable character creations: they are not milktoast characters and they are not dull.

              They are set off by the villain, who in each case has a similar personality: he is bent upon demonstrating the meaninglessness of existence. It needs emphasis that the demonic vision preoccupied Lewis, not only in his fiction (That Hideous Strength most notably, a novel shaped by Stoker’s Dracula2) and his apologetics (The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters), but even in his criticism, especially A Preface to Paradise Lost. Lewis’s description of Satan precisely describes Melmoth: ‘What we see in Satan is the horrible co-existence of a subtle and incessant intellectual activity with an incapacity to understand anything’ (Preface to Paradise Lost 99). Meaninglessness combined with insistent aggression—the strong prey on the weak—is what Melmoth propounds, and it is central to Lewis’s conception of evil. In Melmoth’s horrific nihilism, existence is nothing more than using and destroying others in the interests of a self-absorption that is itself miserable and pointless. It is in many ways an anxious Modernist vision of alienation, anticipating the metaphysical ‘absurdity’ of existentialist analysis: I hate you, not because I have anycause to do so, but because the exhaustion of my resentment on you, may diminish that of the Deity towards me. If I persecute and torment the enemies of God, must I not be the friend of God? Must not every pang I inflict on another, be recorded in the book of the All-remembering, as an expurgation of at least one of the pangs that await me hereafter? I have no religion, I believe in no God, I repeat no creed, but I have that superstition of fear, and of futurity, that seeks its wild and hopeless mitigation in the sufferings of others when our own are exhausted.’3 Maturin’s book is a testament to the absurdity of legalistic thinking. It demands a model of good and evil that is not founded on obeying and disobeying authority, as it so often is in Christianity. Likewise in Lewis, evil is not disobedience to authority, primarily, but something else: a violation of desire, of primal integrity (integrity and desire that the besieged women of Perelandra and Melmoth symbolize)—a violation in which people corrupt and use others.

              The connection with Maturin is important not only because it illuminates Lewis’s sources, the way he absorbed and recreated his early reading, but because it illuminates a facet of Lewis that his religious admirers miss in their hurry to see in him only a conservative thinker like themselves.

              Footnotes

              ·         1 The French, notably Balzac and Baudelaire, liked Melmoth more than the English. The famous American writer—and theorist—of horror fiction, H. P. Lovecraft, admired Melmoth and considered it a significant advance in the genre. Melmoth closes the original ‘golden’ age of Gothic fiction that begins around the time of the French Revolution, featuring Ann Radcliffe, M. G. ‘Monk’ Lewis, Coleridge (in Christabel), and Mary Shelley, among others.

              ·         2 Stoker’s influence on Lewis is documented in my ‘Where the Hideous Strength Came From: Bram Stoker and C. S. Lewis’, Mythlore, lxxiii (1993), 16–23. Stoker, like Maturin, Stephens, Wilde, and Lewis himself, was another Irish Protestant.

              ·         3 C. R. Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer, ed. W. F. Axton (Lincoln, NA, 1961), 173.

               

               

              Janet Brennan Croft

              Associate Professor
              Head of Access Services
              University of Oklahoma Libraries
              Bizzell 104NW
              Norman OK 73019
              405-325-1918
              Fax 405-325-7618
              jbcroft@...
              http://ou.academia.edu/JanetCroft/CurriculumVitae
              http://libraries.ou.edu/
              Editor of Mythlore http://www.mythsoc.org/mythlore.html

              Book Review Editor of Oklahoma Librarian http://www.oklibs.org/oklibrarian/current/index.html

              "Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the rising ape meets the falling angel." -Terry Pratchett

               

              From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com [mailto:mythsoc@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of WendellWag@...
              Sent: Tuesday, March 01, 2011 8:41 AM
              To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
              Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Lewis and "Melmoth the Wanderer'

               

               

              For those of us who don't have a subscription, what does it say?

               

              Wendell Wagner

               

              In a message dated 3/1/2011 9:30:14 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, jbcroft@... writes:

               

              Short article from Notes and Queries that may be of interest:

               

              Mervyn Nicholson

                      C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis

                      Notes and Queries 2011 58: 130-132; doi:10.1093/notesj/gjq231.

               

              Janet Brennan Croft

              Associate Professor
              Head of Access Services
              University of Oklahoma Libraries
              Bizzell 104NW
              Norman OK 73019
              405-325-1918
              Fax 405-325-7618
              jbcroft@...
              http://ou.academia.edu/JanetCroft/CurriculumVitae
              http://libraries.ou.edu/
              Editor of Mythlore http://www.mythsoc.org/mythlore.html

              Book Review Editor of Oklahoma Librarian http://www.oklibs.org/oklibrarian/current/index.html

              "Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the rising ape meets the falling angel." -Terry Pratchett

               

               

               

            • David Bratman
              ... I suppose that my immediate reaction of spoiler alert! makes me unworthy. ... Then they weren t merely Irish Protestants, the vast bulk of whom are
              Message 6 of 6 , Mar 1, 2011
              • 0 Attachment
                > The plot of Melmoth is confusing partly because we do not
                > learn the premise of the story until the end, where we
                > discover that Melmoth had purchased extended life by
                > selling his soul to the devil.

                I suppose that my immediate reaction of "spoiler alert!" makes me unworthy.

                > Maturin, like C. S. Lewis, was an Irish Protestant, indeed
                > a clergyman in the Church of Ireland.

                Then they weren't merely "Irish Protestants," the vast bulk of whom are
                nonconformists like Presbyterians. Maturin and Lewis were, then, both
                adherents of the Established Church of Ireland, a very small body and a much
                closer connection. Nicholson goes on to describe Wilde, Yeats, and Stephens
                as "Irish Protestants" also, but he doesn't say whether they were Church of
                Ireland or nonconfirmists. Insofar as sectarian distinctions are of any
                importance, this is.

                > It is not an accident that Wilde took the name of ‘Melmoth’
                > when he went into exile in France after imprisonment.

                And given the close association of the name of Melmoth with Wilde by Lewis's
                time, some comments on Lewis's opinion of Wilde - and could he separate the
                man from the work? - might be relevant here, if they're available.

                > I have not found explicit reference to Maturin in Lewis, but I
                > believe it is a near certainty that he had read Maturin. Lewis
                > read everything. He was especially interested in the fantastic,
                > an area he read very widely in. The work of Irish Protestants
                > held a deep interest for him, being an Irish Protestant himself

                Each sentence here is a separate and distinct plunge into the Sea of Rampant
                Speculation (or, if you prefer, a jump to the Isle of Conclusions).

                > But what really connects Melmoth and Perelandra is the situation
                > they focus on. In both cases, we are presented with an isolated
                > tropical island, where a beautiful but vulnerable young woman is
                > besieged by a demonic male who wants to take from her something
                > vital—her soul (it is not, as one might expect, sex that draws Melmoth
                > and Weston to the woman in question).

                Well, that settles it, then. Lewis couldn't possibly have come up with this
                on his own. (But in that case, where did Maturin get it?) I agree with
                Jason: "he might have simply written a comparative piece and then wondered,
                in his conclusion, whether Lewis might have read Melmoth."
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