Tuesday, February 21, 2006


The Gothic theme of love could be more accurately described as obsession.  The Gothic ideal of woman is young and utterly innocent, whether from the common lack of experience of youth, as with Tatyana and the girl glimpsed by Chichikov, or the conspiring of exotic circumstances to preserve Immalee untainted.  The woman often is consumed by an undeserved devotion, the cause of which appears to be that the target of her affections was - quite literally in the case of Immalee - the first man she saw.
It is difficult to avoid wondering exactly what is the working definition of this love.  Absence seems to play a part - Immalee, even when secretly wed to him as Isidora, sees Melmoth only when he wanders into her garden, Tatyana meets Onegin once briefly before declaring her love, and Chichikov does not even know the girl in the carriage by name.
As Melmoth the Wanderer exemplifies, the idea of romance appears to begin with a conscious ideal in the mind of the female, into which role the male is then somewhat arbitrarily placed.  Pushkin acknowledges this outright:
"Those figures fancy has created
Her happy dreams have animated:
the lover of Julie Wolmar
Malek-Adhel and de Linar,
And Werther, that rebellious martyr,
And Grandison, the noble lord
(With whom today we're rather bored) -
All these our dreamy maiden's ardor
Has pictured with a single grace,
And seen in all....Onegin's face."
The value of this variety of love is weighed according to several factors.  The ideal love should;
-be unrequited
-encompass the lover's thoughts to the exclusion of all else
-end in tragedy
-be veiled in secrecy
-involve as little actual contact between the lovers as possible
(The romance between Melmoth and Immalee fulfills each requirement admirably.)
In addition, this love is an extremely introspective emotion.  The other person is described, not so much as a participent, but in terms of the effect he/she has on the other, though this latter is done through extremes of passionately romantic language.  The love  character feels is an all-encompassing emotion, which one could imagine would be very difficult to sustain over a long period of time.  Aspects of the divine are often invoked, and the state of mind of the character thus afflicted is overwhelmed with the object of his/her affections.  Gogol as well as Pushkin treats this with something of a parody; after describing the girl's "golden hair," the "graceful little oval of her face," and her "delicate little ears," which cause Chichikov to "gaze at her for several minutes, paying absolutely no attention to the commotion with the horses and the drivers," Gogol describes the effect this countenance might have had on a young man in familiarly breathless and superlative language.  The effect on Chichikov, however, being somewhat older and more jaded, is to cause him to sigh at the inevitable changes he imagines
life and her older female relatives will wreak on her, and to spend a moment of thought on the belated regret that he never got her name. 

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