The Castration of Gothic Irish Masculinity
Placed in the era of Modernism, James Joyce’s “The Dead’ has elements stemming from Gothicism in Ireland. Though not explicitly Gothic, Joyce’s bourgeois Irish Male Gabriel Conroy exhibits similarities with Gothicism’s females, monsters, and ideology. Joyce’s exposure to the Gothic surely influenced his writing and led to the creation of a fluidity between the physical and Gothicism; while “The Dead” is not defined as a piece of Gothic literature, it contains underlying tones revealing the influence of Irish Gothic writers, centralized in Dublin, such as Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker. Though critics argue that Joyce’s characterization of Gabriel suggests Gothic tendencies, they tend to overlook the historical context of Gothicism and Modernism in relation to Joyce and his connection to Le Fanu and Stoker through proximity and Dublin, Ireland Origins.
Modernism, corresponding to the late 19th and early 20th century, follows Neo-Gothicism into a more realist way of writing. Saying Joyce was a Modernist writer is circumstantial to the time period, while contributing to his writing style and themes; however, just coming out of the Neo-Gothic age, Joyce was exposed to elements of Gothicism in the late 19th century, such as Stoker’s pivotal novel Dracula. Prior to Neo-Gothicism, other forms of the Gothic were prevalent in Europe, deriving from the evolution of Graveyard Poetry to Early Vampirism, Terror Gothic, Horror Gothic, and Post-Gothicism. Gothicism’s aesthetic stems from the political and Romanticism of 18th to 19th century, “[engaging] issues of beauty, the character of the sublime and the grotesque, the political dynamics of British culture […], the quality of being English […], the structure of the economy […], and the place of women in hierarchies of power” (Riquelme 586). However, many critics tend to overlook the aspect of Early Vampire fiction in relation to later works of Gothicism and Modernism. Writers such as Le Fanu and Stoker produce Gothic elements of living with death, also apparent in works of Female-Gothic, though both Irish Gothic writers produced works of considerable accountability in the Female-Gothic sphere. Carmilla, though predating Dracula by twenty-six years, uses a façade to convey the youthfulness of vampirism. This is continued in “The Dead” through Gabriel’s own façade of superiority through his patriarchal bourgeois status, evident in “the mirror of [his] glistening shoes” “[reflecting] what Gabriel sees, or wants others to see” (Pecora 238). Furthermore, the usage of Female-Gothicism prevalent in Carmilla and Dracula categorizes their use of vampirism as “tropes of female confinement and ghostliness,” intended as “classic Gothic” aesthetics (Hansen 640). Female confinement of Carmilla, the female vampires in Draclua, and Gabriel himself are used to suppress the sexuality of the oppressed; in the case of Gabriel, his manliness is thwarted by the female encounters at the dinner party, starting with Lilly’s obtuse response on the patriarchy: “The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you” (Joyce 154). This blow to Gabriel’s good intentions causes his character to befall the fate of females within the Female-Gothic and sustain the need to maintain the façade of male superiority, such as Carmilla and Dracula’s female vampires.
More so, in regard to the influence of Gothicism on Joyce, Hansen comments on the structure of “The Dead” as Joyce’s “[integration] […] [of] the Gothic into the form, plot, and characters,” thus subtly weaving Gothic influences into an otherwise Modernist text (640). Hansen considers the undermining of credibility by the social world and a breakdown of “control over the private sphere” within the Female-Gothic in conjunction with Gabriel’s own character. Joyce implements the basic fundamentals of the Female-Gothic in the Gothic sphere in an otherwise Modern work, the only way to introduce metaphysical elements of living and dead entities, the usurpation of Gabriel’s manhood, and the role of society in an otherwise product of “colonial ideology” (640). As he becomes defined by his awkward position in the social order, even though he is supposed to exhibit a “powerful, masculine sense of control” with an understanding of “the past he’s inherited,” his predetermined credibility dwindles as does his masculinity (Hansen 640). Furthermore, the colonial ideology of masculinity dominating femininity, or England domineering Ireland, is met with contradictory aspects of Gothicism in “The Dead.” Confinement in a place of social order brings Gabriel to assume the feminine role of inferiority: he becomes the England undermined by Irish nationalism. However, in becoming England, he is “haunted by the ghostly presence of barely perceived oppressed and forgotten voices from the past,” symbolically represented by Molly Ivors (Hansen 640). Molly, the Irish nationalist activist at the party, confronts Gabriel on his Irish nationality, deeming him a West-Briton and diminishing Gabriel’s masculine superiority because he is insufficiently patriotic. To lock Gabriel into the lesser role, Molly concludes that he “’has no answer’” when asked why he is “’sick of [his] own country, sick of it!’” (Joyce 165). This confinement is shared between Gabriel and females of Gothicism; the constant undermining of an inferior figure by the domineering patriarchy forces both figures to detach themselves from society.
Gabriel’s lingering between the living and the dead corresponds with the use of vampirism, among other monsters, in Gothicism. Ed Cameron attributes the monster of society in Gothicism of the “social antagonisms” of society (21). Dracula, for example, portrays the monopolistic capitalist that served as a potential threat in the late 19th century. Gabriel can be seen as the monster in “The Dead,” his character definitive of the problems society tries to escape from, such as Irish/English nationalism and societal status as a bourgeois male figure lacking in masculinity but attempting domination of the female sphere. Furthermore, if we apply this concept to Le Fanu’s female antagonist Carmilla, we see how society renders a monster based on the appearance, consumption, confinement, and usurpation of the female figure. As the vampires in both Stoker’s and Le Fanu’s works literally consume, the idea of consumption in a materialist world plays into the idea of escapism from the societal confinements of what is acceptable and what is not. What is and what is not admirable may be applied to what is Modernist and what is Gothic. Cameron continues on to apply Freudian principles of desire versus fear to the concepts found in Gothicism: we fear what we desire and desire what we fear, thus eliminating the separation between the two and creating a sole object we both fear and desire. Gabirel explicitly desires Gretta, a symbol for Irish nationalism and the West, but fears her rejection, much like the other females he encounters throughout “The Dead.” Ultimately, Gabriel’s masculinity and credibility dwindles due to his desire stemming from fear and vice versa, allowing superiority to thwart his power and confine him, similar to the females in Gothicism. In his inability to assert his dominance and credibility, Gabriel must reject his Irish nationalism and confine himself in society, explaining his awkward tendencies, and becomes blind to his own privileges.
In Gabriel’s ability to coincide with societal limitations around him and blend seamlessly into this exceedingly transgressing world into the elements of the feminist rising and patriarchal usurpation, so merits the “banality of the modern vampire […]” (Hughes 143). The vampire ability of co-existence resembles Gabriel’s own modernity within “The Dead,” though evident is his attempts to pursue more than he is welcome in the feminist backlash that comes unwarranted to his patriarchal superiority. Within these co-existing practices, vampires within the Gothic are able to live within the “heterosexual world, to slip imperceptibly from his distinctive nocturnal identity into the conformity and anonymity of a working-day persona” making this their “strongest armor and [their] greatest shame” (143). Gabriel embodies the very confined nature of the vampire, specifically female, in his inability to be naturally sincere but also attempting to survive among the masculinity inhabited by the females surrounding him. In this cross-gendering façade, Gabriel appears feeble and reliant on the necessity of this “armor” to promote a sense of awareness and belonging in an otherwise fabricated world he no longer appertains.
However, the use of the living and the dead found in Stoker’s and Le Fanu’s works are both seen as “’a melancholy unity,’” and the critic may claim Gabriel in this sphere of his “’own sacrifice of himself’” where “’he is conscious”’ of this union (Pecora 237). The female in the Gothic form is often presented with a similar dilemma, either pertaining to the circumstances of her birth or through an intruding figure, where she must become sacrificial to understand life and death in unity without exclusion. Gabriel’s “’self-abandonment’” is shown as an “east affiliation and apparent communion with ‘all the living and the dead’” to be “something quite apart from the ‘heroic’ surrender” (237). Pertaining to the Female-Gothic, the heroine does not embody heroic sensibilities, but is subjected to become a symbol for innocence and depravity, where her confinement becomes a forced surrender, such as Gabriel is forced to come to terms with life and death together upon learning of Michael Furey, Gretta’s ex-lover.
Furey himself not only pertains to the fear versus desire Freudian idea as mentioned prior, but also another monster in this realm Gabriel has fabricated in a Gothic sense. Furey is seen as a metaphysical form rendered in Gretta’s past; even though he is a real figure to Gretta, he is seen as a representation of anti-realism, or the metaphysical to Gabriel and becomes a threat to his already thwarted masculinity. As a monster, Furey represents the usurpation of social order, the confinement of inferiority to a specific role of society, and ghostliness that is only associated within the Gothic sphere of femininity. The detachment that Gabriel feels from Gretta at this moment is represented in the Gothic form according to critical analysis of the style; in correlation with escapism, Gabriel then looks out the window at the snow “general all over Ireland” “falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of the end, upon all the living and the dead” (Joyce 194). Not only is Gabriel alluding to the escape of himself in understanding that his love with Gretta is metaphysical at best, but he conveys the unity of “all the living and the dead” under the marriage of snow, such as everything is hidden together, like the masks Gabriel and the females of the Gothic wear (194). However, Furey becomes the realism in the mind of Gabriel though purely anti-realism in form; due to the actual way he is comparing his love and Furey’s love with Gretta, Gabriel constructs Furey as his own form of societal monstrosity, conveying the antagonisms Gabriel finds within himself into a purely fictitious figure better acquainted with the vampires of Stoker’s and Le Fanu’s works. The metaphysical formation of figures such as Carmilla come to conclude Furey’s consumption of Gabriel’s life; Le Fanu’s Carmilla is sucking the life out of our female protagonist, Laura, to maintain the façade that keeps her real, least she should succumb to the ghostliness of anti-realism that she otherwise embodies. Furey is at the point of ghostliness, a repetitive theme of the Gothic, but through Gabriel feasting on Gretta’s nostalgia for her past lover, Furey becomes a physical figure that otherwise usurps Gabriel’s position on his bourgeois patriarchal pedestal. In comparison to Stoker’s Dracula, not only does Furey represent Dracula in his consumption on the female form, but Gabriel is symbolic for the vampiric and living female, thus Furey is feasting upon Gabriel much like Gabriel is feasting upon Gretta’s sadness, like the vampire females target Dracula’s visitor, Dr. Van Hesling.
The ghostliness Joyce implements through Furey into “The Dead” is further portrayed in “the form of a young man” and “other forms” Gabriel notices when looking out the window (194). These forms are otherwise the dead, shrouded in “partial darkness” and attributed to Gabriel’s imagination, as “he was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence” (194). Kelly Anspaugh asserts that the idea of the living and the dead in unity arrives with the analytical assertion that the dinner party Gabriel attends every year is actually a funeral procession. Anspaugh suggest that the idea of Gabriel performing a eulogy as his speech, the word choice including “’mortal’” and “’perished alive’,” and the “’haunting’” of Michael Furey are exemplary of the characters of “The Dead” as the dead (1,10). Michael Furey is further pulled into this Gothic analysis through providing Gabriel with the opportunity to contemplate all he just learned as he stares out the window and at Gretta sleeping, he is filled with “typical response to the appearance of the Gothic: ‘a vague terror seized [him]… as if… some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him… But he shook himself free of it with an effort to reason’” (10). In part with the metaphysical that is represented best by Furey’s part in “The Dead,” Gabriel also exhibits the replacement of reason with emotion in realizing his love for Gretta being defined by Furey’s love for Gretta. Joyce replaces the Modernist’s view of actual society to implement the idea of Gabriel’s emotional, anti-realist tendencies to convey the Gothic, or dark ways in which Joyce has constructed “The Dead;” Joyce’s influence by the Gothic is used to portray an otherwise symbol for conformity of a society brutal on patriarchy versus matriarchy as a work of emotion, conferment, and the metaphysical. Gabriel’s character is not formatted to the society around him, but is a product of the ideals of society. His own attempts to conform without luck, or see his privileged life, are met with the elements of the Gothic that usurp his otherwise Modernist life.
It is noted by Joyce that Gabriel’s “soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead,” best represented as the west, or Ireland; the west had been established solely as death through the various encounters of Gabriel with his nationalism and physical location in relation to Ireland. Interestingly, Dracula’s west is England, in lieu of his position in Transylvania, and is noted by Stoker as a foreigner to British soil. Though Gabriel is explicitly Irish, the idea of him being a foreigner to Irish soil could be appointed by his anti-nationalism and West Briton ideology as presumed by Molly Ivors. However, his technicality as a foreigner to British soil would also connect him to Stoker’s vampire, and thus provide further analysis to Gabriel’s character as a fictitious monster and figure of the societal order, much like Dracula has become.
Accounting for the conflict Gabriel has with Gretta over desire and fear derives from sexual aggression he exhibits in the bedroom. Sexuality plays importance to the vampires of Gothicism, giving them a placement in the physical and emotional world yet conveying very anti-realist ideas of consumption of life through sexual acts. Both vampires of Le Fanu and Stoker are formed around their sexuality; many critics acclaim Le Fanu’s vampire to lesbianism, while Stoker’s Dracula is purely a patriarchal formation of the domineering role men held over women, especially in the ways of fornication. However, Gabriel attempts to attain the sexuality that both Carmilla and Dracula attain through feasting upon their victims in a sexual insertion of a phallic shape in the skin of an otherwise helpless victim, but he is unsuccessful. Gabriel’s attempts at controlling his patriarchal duties as a bourgeois male have been thwarted, thus he is unwilling to assume the role of oppressor in the bedroom with Gretta. His encounter with the distressed Gretta comes as a blow to his sexuality and attempts at intercourse that, otherwise, would have asserted his masculinity and dominance in the relationship. Gabriel’s depiction of Gretta in an objectified manner that stimulates his masculinity otherwise succumbed to the stress of the funeral procession earlier, comes with sexualized language for the retreat back to their room; “she mounted the stairs” and Gabriel resisted his “desire to seize her,” contributing to his rising egoism and the idea of Gretta “mounting” him in a throw of sexual enthusiasm. Gretta’s blow to Gabriel’s authority and sexual interaction comes into the picture with emotional grief; however, Gabriel is unperturbed upon learning about Furey at first to throw off the oppression Furey inflicts. Gabriel asks “’what did [Furey] die of so young, Gretta? Consumption, was it?’” to convey his superior position to the otherwise childish Furey and proposing his death as meager and small in light of Gabriel’s love for Gretta (191). He is met with Gretta’s admittance, thinking “’he died for [her]’” (191). Not only is Gabriel pushed underneath the patriarchal Furey, but the ghostliness of Gretta’s deceased ex-lover is forever an intrusion upon Gabriel’s contention with the physical and metaphysical and the actuality of his love versus the fabrication of his role in society. Thus, even though not a female in the way Gabriel has come to represent the female in Female-Gothic, Furey symbolically is the last female Gabriel has to contend with in attacking his authority and ego.
The idea of feminism in “The Dead” comes from the Female-Gothic, as mentioned, though is historically accounted for in the works of Stoker and Le Fanu. Joyce uses the influence of Gothicism to implement the themes shown in Stoker’s and Le Fanu’s works into an otherwise Modernist writing. Though he uses the Female-Gothic and vampiric-like tendencies to convey the darkness within “The Dead” as a piece hovering on the line between what was Terror-Gothic, Neo-Gothicism, and Modern-Gothicism, he also implements the themes throughout the Gothic such as aestheticism, metaphysics, and unity between the living and the dead. Joyce’s “The Dead,” under my own analysis, is best rendered as a Post-Terror Modernist Gothic story. His use of Gothicism in “The Dead,” let alone in the title, conveys the impact of writers such as Stoker and Le Fanu onto the 20th century Modern era and, stylistically speaking, the Modernist push adheres to many Gothic elements of escapism, materialism, and societal order. While Modernists do not adhere to the darkness of the Gothic in the same format, Joyce does; while using Gothic elements in an otherwise explicit Modernism text, Joyce is able to “integrate hints from the Gothic into the form, plot, and characters,” while also using “cross-gendering” to create “a subtle rewriting […] of the Female-Gothic form,” that “blends seamlessly” Gothic and Modernism together (Hansen 640). Joyce’s assertion of the Gothic through influence of the Irish Gothic writers preceding him is evident, if not obvious, in “The Dead,” proposing Joyce’s purposeful implication of this style to create a piece made of darker matter.
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