Gothic Bodies: The Politics of Pain in Romantic Fiction

By Steven Bruhm | Go to book overview

4. The Epistemology of the Tortured Body

I

A young boy has been murdered. His lacerated body has been discovered near his home, the Castle Frankheim. The suspect: a ne'er-do-well from the rival house of Orrenburg, presumed to be operating under instructions from his boss. But the suspect, once apprehended, is reluctant to confess; the proper means must be taken to extort a confession. When Osbright, the victim's brother, learns that the "proper means" are the rack, and that until Frankheim "had recourse to torture, not a syllable would [the suspect] utter, but assertions of his own and his master's innocence," he is outraged. For Brother Peter, who had watched the scene and who now relates the details to Osbright, this was a moment of great sympathetic inspiration -- he heartily pities the suspect. But for Osbright this is an enraging judicial stupidity. Osbright had been relieved by the belief that Gustavus, Count of Orrenburg was responsible for the young brother's death, but now

That belief grew weaker with every question, which he put to brother Peter; he found, that while in possession of his strength and faculties the supposed culprit had most strenuously denied all knowledge of the crime; that the excess of torture alone had forced from him the declaration, that Gustavus of Orrenburg had any concern in it; that the name of Gustavus had been suggested by the prejudices of the suspicious and already exasperated father; and that the whole confession was comprised in the mere pronouncing that name, when the speaker was seduced into uttering it by the certainty of immediate release from tortures most excruciating. ( Lewis, Romantic Tales44-46)

Osbright's doubt is prudent. The tortured victim had lied. Young Joscelyn was accidentally killed by a wolf. The extorted confession was simply what the torturers wanted to hear and so the confession proves nothing. And the moral of the story: "Of all the defects of the human heart, there is none more encroaching, more insidious, more dangerous than mistrust: viewed

-94-

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Gothic Bodies: The Politics of Pain in Romantic Fiction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • 1. Pain, Politics, and Romantic Sensibility 1
  • 2 - Imagining Pain 30
  • 3. Spectacular Pain: Politics and the Romantic Theatre 59
  • Intermezzo 92
  • 4. The Epistemology of the Tortured Body 94
  • 5. Aesthetics and Anesthetics at the Revolution 120
  • Conclusion 146
  • Notes 151
  • Works Cited 165
  • Index 175
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