Academic journal article Interactions

Space and the Anxiety of Empire in Matthew Lewis' Isle of Devils/Matthew 'Monk' Lewis' in Isle of Devils Adli Siirinde Mekan Ve Imparatorluk Korkusu

Academic journal article Interactions

Space and the Anxiety of Empire in Matthew Lewis' Isle of Devils/Matthew 'Monk' Lewis' in Isle of Devils Adli Siirinde Mekan Ve Imparatorluk Korkusu

Article excerpt

Matthew 'Monk' Lewis is best known for the literary sensation and social scandal produced by his gothic novel, The Monk (1796), and for the theatrical success of his prolific melodramas. However, he is less well known as the author of The Journal of a West India Proprietor (1834) which documents his Atlantic travels and his relationships as a slave-owner of two slave plantations in Jamaica. This link to slavery would seem to justify the labels of "paradoxical" and "contradictory" inscribed on his image by some in his close literary circle of romantic authors (Byron, Shelley) and by certain aristocratic friends (royal figures, Lord Holland, and members of parliament). The Journal repeats these figures of paradox and contradiction in ways that identify Lewis with profound nationalist anxieties in the wake of an expanding empire. Notwithstanding its titular association with the definitive form of private subjectivity, the Journal reveals a persistent preoccupation with the larger public relations of empire to nation. The Journal draws on a genealogy of spatial tropes from Lewis' earlier works that situate these two entities oppositionally: empire defines relations that are antithetical and fraught with threats of division and corruption, while nation is framed defensively as a mythic, pure, homogeneous space, sanctified to preserve Englishness inviolate from the designs of heterogeneous others. Focused on the interstitial positioning of the poem The Isle of Devils within the Journal, this essay theorizes that Lewis displaces the revolutionary threat of empire onto to a failed Atlantic project involving a demon-king/rebel slave, and displaces English nationalist xenophobia and anti-Catholic impulses onto a hapless female symbol of lost Portuguese imperial power. The poem's spatial structures thus assume cautionary and allegorical meanings recovered at the intersection of national crisis and the aesthetic resolution of that crisis in the heterotopic space of a convent. (1)

In view of its relative unfamiliarity, I want to provide here a synopsis of the poem. From his oceanic island, the protagonist, the Demon-king, raises a storm which wrecks and sinks a ship sailing from Goa to Lisbon. Among the imperiled passengers are the niece, Irza (thirteen years old), and son, Rosalvo (sixteen years old) of the Portuguese viceroy, who are soon to be married to each other. Irza survives but is washed ashore and lured on to the island by its natural beauty and enchanted by the occult power of its Demon-king. Once under his spell, he holds her captive in his grotto, rapes her, and indirectly torments her through the agency of his imps. She bears him two children, the first, a monster child with shaggy limbs and fiery eyes, the second, the antithesis of the first, a child with bright blue eyes, scant gold locks and ivory brow. Some three months after the first child's birth, Rosalvo is swept ashore on the far side of the same island. He tries to rescue Irza, but the Demon-king interrupts him, and dashes out his brain with a club. After three years on the island, Irza's teacher and confessor, a monk, is also found to have been saved miraculously with other monks, and together they return to save her. She is torn between the joy of embracing freedom and the pain of abandoning her child. As the monks in the rescue boat row her away, her demon lover stands on a cliff, holding the fair child high up to view, desperately trying to lure her back. She rejects those entreaties. In a wild rage, the Demonking dashes that child against the rocks. He then plunges into the sea, drowning both himself and the monster child. Irza returns to Portugal to become a nun, lives a pious life, performs works of charity, bringing comfort and succour to the poor, aged and infirm.

Before proceeding to the central concerns of this essay, I will sketch out here a road map to figure the lay of the discussion. In the paragraph following this one, I preview those theoretical and critical sources I have found significant to my objectives here, either because they illuminate and complement my arguments, or because they represent points of divergence or opposition. …

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