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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Elements of the gothic in Melville and Conrad Connell, Penelope Lee


This thesis has two purposes. The first is to trace the gradual transformation of certain Gothic traits, primarily those of the veil and the Doppelganger, from their original form in the historical Gothic to the manner of their use by Joseph Conrad. The second is to interpret Moby-Dick. Lord Jim. The Secret Sharer, and Benito Cereno in terms of Gothicism, and by this interpretation both to strengthen some common interpretations and to indicate how certain others have resulted from the authors' careful and successful attempts to hide from their critics the moral beliefs and dilemmas in their works. When Coleridge wrote the Rime, he was introducing a new and very important setting into Gothic literature: the sea. Because of the formlessness of the sea, because of the suddenness of its change in appearance from serenity to malicious killer, and because its glassy surface hides unimaginable unknowns, it is obviously well-suited to Melville's purposes in Moby-Dick. He makes use of his readers' acquaintance with Gothic tales in portraying Ahab and Ishmael, who struggle for self-knowledge by facing the sea and its terrors. In Lord Jim, Conrad uses the same initial situation: the unseen agent of destruction which takes all security from Jim's life, and prompts in him a quest like that of the Ancient Mariner or the Wandering Jew. He exists behind a veil which represents, as it does in Moby-Dick, Benito Cereno, and most Gothic novels, the inability to clarify moral issues and act according to personal moral beliefs. This moral ambiguity is often phrased in other terms, namely the duality of being, the "good"-"bad" dichotomy, where two aspects of the same person are often separated by a veil of some sort; this can be seen in such stories as Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Wilde's Dorian Gray, and Poe's William Wilson. It is also the case with The Secret Sharer. In this story, Conrad makes a point of showing how the moral dilemma which Leggatt's presence evokes is dealt with by the captain--but not, I feel, to the captain's credit. The veil and the double motifs in these stories reveal an interesting transformation; though in early Gothic they are little more than plot devices, they become in Conrad central concerns, through which the interpretations of his stories may be effected. Thus, as I have tried to show, Gothicism, far from being a minor and short-lived type of fiction which died out in the early part of the last century, exerts a potent and central influence in such literature as Melville's and Conrad's.

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