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
+ Author Affiliations
Thompson Rivers University, British Columbia
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
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 any … cause 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.
↵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.
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On Behalf Of WendellWag@...
Sent: Tuesday, March 01, 2011 8:41 AM
Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Lewis and "Melmoth the Wanderer'
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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:
C. R. Maturin and C. S. Lewis
Notes and Queries 2011 58: 130-132; doi:10.1093/notesj/gjq231.
"Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the rising ape meets the falling angel." -Terry Pratchett