Deception and Disguise in A Sicilian Romance
by Ann-Marie Henry-Stephens
In naming her novel A Sicilian Romance, Ann Radcliffe may have attempted to deliberately deceive her readers by disguising the artistic complexities of this novel with its simple title. This novel is full of intrigue, suspense, tyranny, drama and villainy. It allows the reader to experience emotions ranging from fear and disgust to love and sympathy. Like the many characters who get lost in the recesses of the castle, the forests, the monastery, the ruined buildings, and the Sicilian landscape, so too do the readers get lost to the outside world when engaged in the plots and sub-plots of this novel. The Gothic elements (the haunted castle, the possible supernatural presence, the decay, and the dark gloomy environs) used in the novel help to enhance its richness and mysteriousness. The characters themselves are the most intriguing, for they embody the deceitfulness and the disguises which force the readers to want to discover all that lies behind the walls of the Mazzini castle.
Ferdinand, fifth marquis of Mazzini, a ruthless, tyrannical leader, heartless father, and cruel husband (to his first wife Louisa Bernini) was the personification of deceit. He had power, and he used it mercilessly and arrogantly. He ruled by overpowering, threatening, lying to, and manipulating others. When he met and fell in love with Maria de Vellerno, he sought to get rid of the woman he was already married to, without care for her or for her children. He imprisoned the ailing Louisa in the southern wing of the castle and then told everyone that she was dead. The marquis further compounded his deception by holding a funeral for Louisa "with all the pomp" due to her rank. He enlisted the help of a servant, Vincent, who was totally dependent on and in awe of him, to carry out his plans. In relating the story of her imprisonment Louisa said of him, "My prayers, my supplications, were ineffectual; the hardness of his heart repelled my sorrows back upon myself; and as no entreaties could prevail upon him to inform me where I was, or his reasons for placing me here, I remained for many years ignorant of my vicinity to the castle, and of the motive of my confinement" (177). In fact, the marquis never told the marchioness why she was being held, and she only gained this information through the 'softening' of Vincent's heart.
The marquis' deceitfulness knew no boundaries, for he went on to commit further acts that would allow him to go undetected. He shut up the southern section of the castle, left his daughters in the care of Madame de Menon, a dear friend of his first wife, and went to live in Naples with his son and new wife for many years. After the death of Vincent and his subsequent return to the castle, he still tried to cover his tracks. When Madame, the girls and the servants saw lights appear in and heard sounds emitting from the southern section of the castle, he dismissed their claims as, "the weak and ridiculous fancies of women and servants..."(14). Later on, when his son Ferdinand went to him with similar claims, he chose to attack his mind and manhood. When Ferdinand persisted in his claims, his father added to the mountain of lies, by telling him that the building was haunted by the ghost of Henry della Campo, a rival of his (the marquis') grandfather, who had been killed there many years ago. Ferdinand was deceived, for he believed his father's story, especially since the marquis claimed that he himself had witnessed the horror of seeing the ghost. The marquis also sought to deceive his superstitious and fearful servants, by taking them to the southern section and showing them fallen stones, which he claimed to be the cause of the sounds coming from that part of the castle. He made sure to stop short of where his wife was hidden. They, however, were not placated by his explanation.
The marquis was an ambitious man and did not hesitate to use whatever or whoever he could to achieve his ambitions. When the Duke de Luovo asked for his daughter Julia's hand in marriage, the marquis saw an opportunity for himself there and consented to the marriage solely on selfish grounds. He saw this marriage as a chance to gain more "wealth, honor and distinction" (56). He also saw a chance, at Julia's expense and through the duke's means, to "involve himself in the interests of the state" (188). The marquis sought to deceive the Duke also, for after Julia succeeded in running away from the castle and her nuptials, the marquis "carefully concealed from him her prior attempt at elopement, and her consequent confinement," thereby enraging the duke whose pride was wounded by the insult. They quarreled, but subsequently made up, allowing the marquis to gain a strong ally in his endeavors.
The Duke de Luovo was very much like the marquis in character. He loved power, and he exercised it at the expense of everyone. He had a violent temper and a very high opinion of himself and his authority. He pretended to care deeply for Julia, when he was really only interested in acquiring her because of her beauty. Once she revealed her true feelings to him, he was humiliated and inflamed so, with her father's consent, he sought to have her anyway. After her flight he pursued her mercilessly, simply because his passion for her "was heightened by the difficulty which opposed it." Julia was just an object of his desire and his pride.
The duke had another thing in common with the marquis; he too had a child who had run away from him. His son, Riccardo, had run away from him many years before, and he had never been able to find him. When he finally did encounter him, he was surprised to find him disguised as a banditti. Ricardo, after running away from his father, "had placed himself at the head of a party of banditti, and, pleased with the liberty which till then he had never tasted, and with the power which his new situation afforded him," was a contented young man (88). He knew that as a member of the nobility, if at any time he chose to shed this disguise and resume his rank, it could be accomplished with minimal explanations and scrutiny. His father's pride was devastated, and so he wished his son dead.
The true characters of "the men of the cloth" in this novel were curiously hidden from the world outside their monasteries. On his journey to find Julia, the duke encountered a monastery full of rowdy friars and a drunken Superior, whom he was initially told were "engaged in prayer," when he sought refuge at their gate. The Abate, at the abbey of St. Augustin, was another disguised individual. He used his position and authority to control those around him, and to seek revenge on those who opposed him. He was not the benevolent character that one would expect to find in his position. He used his power to defy Julia's father and he reveled in it. He accused Julia of using "the disguise of virtue" to gain his protection, but he instead tried to use her fear, her naivete, and her desperate situation to force her to become a nun.
The "fairer sex" was equally deceptive, but their reasons, for the most part, were based on love and self-preservation. Julia deceived her father not out of malice, but because of fear for the life she would have to live and because of her love for Hippolitus. She also deceived her sister Emilia, because of her love for her and her need to protect her from the marquis. Julia's deceptiveness was not only in her actions, but in her character, for she appeared to be a fragile girl who fainted or cried at every unbearable thought or deed, but she was in fact a very strong woman. She openly defied her father, fully aware of the consequences of her actions. She spent a very long time on the run, never really giving up hope, and never returning to her father. She was determined never to give in. A weaker woman might have returned home or committed suicide, rather than live through her experiences, but Julia never entertained those thoughts. She, however, found a woman like herself, who had made certain choices in her life, but this woman was not able to live with her choices.
Cordelia, Hippolitus' sister, was in many ways disguising herself as a nun. She had decided to "take the veil," but her heart was not in her vows. She was still very much in love with an earthly presence, Angelo. She may have succeeded in deceiving those around her, but she could not deceive herself, hence her early demise.
The supreme mask was worn by Maria de Mazzini, the wife of the marquis. This woman was able to blind her shrewd and devoted husband. She was a beautiful woman, with an explosive temper, a mean, jealous spirit, and the capacity to manipulate. Her strong desire to have Hippolitus, and her intense jealousy of Julia, drove her to encourage the marriage of Julia and the Duke de Luovo. She also succeeded in having Madame de Menon leave in order to save her reputation with her husband. She wrongfully assumed that the Madame possessed the same spiteful quality that she had. If anything, the marchioness was the marquis' one weakness. She did not really love him, for a woman like that could only truly love herself. She was able to convince him of her devotion to him, even though she had had numerous affairs while being married to him. She carried on these affairs right under his very nose, but was never suspected by him. When he finally discovered her treachery, via a servant, being so blinded by his feelings for her, he was not able to carry out his initial plan of killing her. He, instead, chose to reprimand her and this she used against him. She committed suicide, left a note blaming him for her act, and informed him of his own impending death by her hand. She had been able to deceive him one last time, when she poisoned his drink during their dinner the evening before.The author's biggest deceptive device though was the Mazzini castle, the focal point of the mystery. This building served as perfect cover for the characters, their actions, and the secrets within it. The walls were able to hide much of what went on within them. The castle hid information from the characters and from the readers. Madame de Menon, Julia, Emilia, Ferdinand, and the servants did not know what was responsible for the noises and lights in the southern section. The children did not know that their mother was alive and living so close to them. Ferdinand was not aware that as he was languishing in the dungeon, his mother was within a stone's throw. Maria de Mazzini did not know about the first marchioness. The marquis did not know that Maria was having affairs right there in the castle. He was not aware of her deceptiveness and her true character, which enabled him to be killed by her. He was not able to prevent Julia's escape from the castle and he was not aware of her return to it. This castle was the ultimate mask, for the readers never really see all of it and so cannot fully perceive all of its secrets, and so it retains its air of mystery till the very end of the story.
The Facets of Horror in The Haunting of Hill House
by Sal Pavone
In The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson's various themes seem to explode from the characters' minds into the house itself, then catapult back from the house into the character's unconscious. This reciprocal process throughout the novel reveals motifs of guilt, anger, loneliness, penetration, indecisiveness, neurotic behavior, identity crises, and the lack of self-introspection. These elements emerge through the use of the "doppelhanger," the structure of the house, and the historical background of Hill House. As the plot unfolds, the reader becomes familiar with the symbols that permit Jackson's idea of horror to emerge. The four main characters have either social, or personality dysfunctions, or are out of the realm of normal social accepted behavior. However, Jackson questions the constitution of the accepted behavior of a culture. Sometimes, the norm does not conform to every individual, and could cause unrest within that individual. Jackson looks closely at the responsibility of a specific culture's demands and standards on an individual, and the way an individual responds to them.
Eleanor's persona is the most troubled of all the four characters, because she has rarely delved into her unconscious mind, thus hurting herself by allowing her identity to dissipate. This lack of awareness becomes her "nernesis"she is a lost soul, as the other souls of unrest who dwell within Hill House. Her journey of terror begins when she first glimpses upon the "vile" house representing her initiation to the awakening of her unconscious. There, she is forced to face her own demons by the response of the trapped souls who reside in Hill House. She unwittingly awakens the house, and it responds to her as a malevolent protagonistEleanor antagonizes it with her presence. It tries to wear down her defense mechanisms, so she can finally face the horror of encountering her unconscious. As stated on the first and last pages of the novel, the narrator says that whoever walks in this house, walks alone. We, the readers, empathize with Eleanor's horror, because we know that in order to attain inner-peace, we too, must look deeply into our unconscious psyches to avoid neurosis or psychotic behavior. We realize that we cannot run away from our true natures; we must explore the domains of the unconscious, otherwise we live a life filled with anxiety and unhealthy obsessions.
This horror is the effect of Eleanor's disenchantmentshe hates her sister and family, she has no friends and apartment, and she is overly self-conscious of the way that others perceive her. Sadness pervades her life. She waits for something to happen instead of embracing what she wants. This stasis is unacceptable. She repeatedly thinks of "... Journeys end in lovers meeting," but in her case, she has not earned the joy of a lover, because of her self-contained, indecisive life. She also dwells on the idea that she has wasted so rnuch valuable time in her life. Her guilty mind obsesses on time, and she repeatedly contradicts herself by thinking "...In delay lies no plenty." At her first glance of Hill House, Eleanor is repulsed and turns cold, she wants to flee immediately. However, she overpowers the feeling and thinks, "But this is what I came so far to find. She really wants to look deep within herself. Jackson strikes a chord of horror in the reader, for we are all on this same arduous journey of self-discovery that is filled with obstacles and challenges. Similiar elements and circumstances can drive anyone to the precipice of irrational behavior. This insanity is also waiting for us if we are not in-tune with the rhythms within ourselves and our surroundings.
Eleanor's horror is foreshadowed in the past generation's "double" of herselfthe companion. Usually, when one encounters or hears their "other," one is either exposed to the dark side of their nature or death is imminent. Eleanor is chosen by the Hill House, because of tile split in her personality. She must pay for the past generation's sins which is a typical Gothic mode of expression. To fully develop the themes of unrest and disenchantment, Jackson mirrors the past onto the present. The similarity between the relationships between the Crain sisters and the companion to Eleanor and her sister seems uncanny. Jackson purposely juxtaposes the two groups in order for the "double " from the past to haunt Eleanor in the present. Both families are disputing for the rightful ownership of propertythe house and the car. The companion ignored Miss Crain's calling on the night of her death. Similarly, on the night of Eleanor's mother's death, she did not respond to the banging on the wall, for she was too tired. Guilt drives both women to suicide. Jackson stresses the consequences of harboring guilt. One must also look into the theme of abandonment by parents, friends, or children that may also cause a split in the companion's and Eleanor's psyches.
Hence, Eleanor will try to resolve tile faults of the past generation by encountering and facing her "other," the House. By doing so, she can rid herself of her neurosis, find inner- peace, and allow the unhappy souls who are trapped in Hill House to go onto a higher plane of existence. While Eleanor is within the house, she feels extremely frightened. Ironically, she simultaneously feels peaceful and has a sense of beloning, because of the other guests who act as a societal unit. She finally has found her home, she is the closest to exploring her inner-self than she has ever been before, because of the novel, social interaction.
Hill House symbolizes Eleanor's troubled unconscious. The seemingly encroaching hills that envelop the house represent the outside world pressuring Eleanor to look at her unharmonious nature. Also, the house is purposely built askew for the same mirroring effect. The Gothic architecture of Hill House is totally chaotic; Eleanor cannot see things clearly on the Outside and the inside like within herself and with others. The doors that close by themselves represent Eleanor's defense mechanisms (the doors become alive when she is not ready to encounter what the House is showing her). The house responds to her (she awakens it), because of her decaying nature. The doors are really the choices and avenues to Eleanor's self-awarnessshe has to open them herself. The long dark corridors reflect her losing her direction in life's meaningful journey.
The claustrophobic, concentric circles of the rooms (where there are no windows or eyes in the most interior of chambers) symbolize Eleanor's blindness to the world, she does not perceive herself or life clearly. Therefore, Dr. Montague will obviously choose the inner-most sanctum as the common area for their discourse. The narrator describes this room as having a purple sense about it, thus depicting the unexplored passions within Eleanor. It's the room where her passions will erupt. In this parlor, she reacts and is accepted by the other guests, she is becoming an "I," and The Romantic Period stresses the importance of oneself. The most important room is the library, the heart of the House, which Eleanor is not yet ready to enter. She smells decay, the decay of her real self.
Theo is juxtaposed to Eleanor because the former has come to terms with her homosexuality (Outside the norm for which Jackson questions). On the other hand, Eleanor has come to terms with little in her life, she lives in a fantasy world where she fabricates a different life. She is childlike and ego-centric. As the house makes her stronger, she decries Theo's lifestyleher feelings are coming to surface. This is merely the beginning of Eleanor's horrific journey of self-discovery.
The spirits within the House respond to Eleanor by pounding on all the doors, and stop at Eleanor's door trying to get in . Eleanor's defenses stop them at this time. As the pounding resumes, the other guests become privy to the sound, it becomes explosive and real, because her guilt and anger are so strong. It cannot be contained any longer, the odyssey has begun, and there is no turning back. The three other guestsLuke, Dr. Montague, and Theoare privy to the disturbances, because they all fall outside the realm of the norm. Luke is a thief and a liar, the Doctor dabbles in the Occult compromising his credibility as a rational man, and Theo is a lesbian.
According to Gothic style, Jackson's characters must come to terms with themselves via the house. The House only wants Eleanor, because her persona is the most flatteredshe is the most vulnerable.
In another instance, the house singles Eleanor out with the writing on the wall telling her to come home (to her inner-self). At this sight , Eleanor is terrified, yet exhilarated, because the house has made her feel special and distinct from the rest of the guests. She slowly realizes that she must encounter the House and herself alone in order to fullfill her self-actualization. However, as the House assumes more control over her, she withdraws in an unhealthy manner becoming paranoid and hysterical. Throughout her plights in the house, Eleanor seems confused and afraid, but feels strangely content. Her joy is the recognition by the House that she is an individual, an "I"
As Eleanor's nature splits more and more, she believes that she is projecting the disturbances from her own mind onto the house. The House, acting as a malevolent therapist, is exposing her insights too quickly. Her id is in the process of usurping her ego and super-ego. The "double," her dark, unexplored self, is becoming more dominant. Eleanor does not have the prior social sophistication and self-exploration to fight for her life effectively. She is becoming psychotic saying that it is the first time in her life where she has gotten a good night's sleepshe claims to be more peaceful, at home, as she is falling apart. She succumbs to the House because she is weak. Her id and ego are fighting for dominance in a terrain unfamiliar to her. In order to survive this ordeal, Eleanor must become assertive, ("a doer") , and confront the house to alleviate the anger and guilt that she feels for wasting her life. Her fantasies are arising more often. She obsesses on the rnotif that journeys end in lovers meeting. However, the missing part of the equation is self and unafraid to enter the library, the seat of her unconscious. She falters as she ascends the unsteady steps in the tower. Jackson does not allow her to descend into the house (she reverses the usual symbolism); she ascends to the top of the turret which signifies enlightenment and Eleanor's fear of penetration. At the top of the tower, she swoons as her sexual feelings are awakened. She is soon cooled off when Luke (a fantasized lover) forces her down. She had even thought the Doctor as a possible lover, until that fantasy was also crushed when she discovered that he had a wife. Now, there is no journey in lovers meeting. All her hopes for happiness are gone, and she is becoming part of the fabric of the House which she thought of as "vile." The Doctor fears for her sanity, and asks her to leave Hill House.
The House, acting as a vehicle of introspection, has allowed Eleanor to confront her identity, and she has found out that she cannot accept it. Eleanor finally makes a choiceto drive the car into a tree. Jackson can only give this character inner-peace through death. Her parameters of horror are the inability to know yourself, to be independent enough to make one's own choices, and to question the standards of society. Eleanor dies, for she is a passive person waiting for life to come to her. This passivity is unpardonable to Jackson. She wants people to be introspective, to question authority, and to form one's own identity.
In another story by Jackson, "The Lottery," the townspeople do not question authority from past generations, nor do they think for themselves. They stone a person to death every year for it is a tradition. Eleanor was chosen to be a guest, because as a child, stones were falling on her home. The stones in both stories could be an allusion from the Bible. One should not judge others unless one looks closely at themselves, thus realizing, their own imperfections. The congregation of those who stoned the woman in "The Lottery" have no individual identities, they became a mass of people who do not think for themselves. In Jackson's other short story, "Charles," the child fabricates another boy's identity to become the scapegoat for his misdeeds. Likewise, Eleanor and the woman in "The Lottery" become scapegoats and suffer for their past generation's sins and their lack of self-identity. Thus, Jackson stresses the importance of developing one's own identity or suffer the consequences. For her lack of selfexploration and her identity crisis, Eleanor must die according to Jackson's beliefs and in the framework of Gothic writing.
Revised: February 4, 2003