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'My voice shall ring in your ears': the acousmatic voice and the timbral sublime in the Gothic Romance

Foley M (2016) 'My voice shall ring in your ears': the acousmatic voice and the timbral sublime in the Gothic Romance, Horror Studies, 7 (2), pp. 173-188.

First paragraph: '... you shall rise rattling in your chains, and rustling from your straw, to greet me, ‒‒ yet still you shall have the curse of sanity, and of memory. My voice shall ring in your ears till then, and the glance of these eyes shall be reflected from every object, animate or inanimate, till you behold them again'. (Maturin 1998: 44)

Recorded in the account of the Englishman Charles Stanton – a found manuscript which forms one of the six embedded tales of Charles Maturin‘s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) – this promise of eternal imprisonment, horror and auditory persecution is delivered by the infernal Melmoth to a beleaguered Stanton as he is imprisoned in a continental asylum. With a darkly bleak cell as its setting, the passage cited here invokes a number of recognised symbols of Gothic entrapment. Stanton will be enchained, he is warned, throughout his sickening descent into depravity, with his every move paroled by Melmoth‘s gaze: a paralysing look that strips Stanton of his humanity but not his reason. The gaze and the voice – the theorizing of which has so fascinated Jacques Lacan and his acolytes in the Slovenian school of psychoanalysis – are consistently the bearers of horror and persecution in Maturin‘s novel. Of particular interest to the argument that will be developed below regarding the acoustics of the Gothic Romance is that the agony of Stanton‘s bodily enchainment is redoubled by an auditory assault from a seemingly sourceless voice. Stanton is threatened not just by the paralyzing gaze of the fiend before him but he must bear also the uncanny peal of Melmoth‘s disembodied voice and its a-symbolic'ring‘. This early encounter between Stanton and Melmoth sets a precedent for the sonic concerns of Maturin‘s novel more widely, foreshadowing, as it does, the verbal assaults of the Inquisition that occur later in 'The Spaniard‘s Tale‘. While, drawing from the theories of Michel Foucault, the importance of sight and obscurity to its aesthetic forms has been highlighted frequently in studies of the early British Gothic, the object voice‘s role in these fictions has been considered more scarcely. As I hope to prove here, the obscured or sourceless voice as a means of auditory persecution is an important mechanism, not only in the male Gothic of the originate period of the British Gothic Romance, but, too, in the novels of Ann Radcliffe. Radcliffe‘s tales of terror, which are exemplary of the Female Gothic mode, tarry with the object voice more cautiously than Maturin‘s fiction; while in the creature‘s rejection by society in Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein (1818/1831) – another Gothic horror of the early nineteenth-century – there is a particularly important turning point that marks a change in register from the voice as an invoker of desire in Radcliffe to its more visceral incarnation as excess and drive in Maturin.

AuthorsFoley Matt
Publication date01/10/2016
Date accepted by journal23/06/2016
PublisherIntellect Ltd
ISSN 2040-3275

Horror Studies: Volume 7, Issue 2

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