Unmaking a monster in which a particular culture is heavily invested is not easy, but it has been attempted a number of times. For example, it is a process that has been worked through in relation to vampires in the twentieth century, beginning with the attempt to make Count Dracula himself more sympathetic in Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tapes (1975) and Frank Langella’s version of the Count in Dracula (stage play 1977–80; film, 1979, dir. John Badham), which presented him as a sexual saviour to repressed Western women. George Romero gave the world a sad and pathetic teenage vampire in Martin (1986), more pitiable than frightening, and this sympathising strain continued with the vampires of Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) and the Cullen family in the Twilight series (written by Stephenie Meyer, 2005–8).41 The transformation of the vampire from a satanic freak to a likeable and often extraordinarily attractive hero has taken place over a century and has been a hugely successful undertaking. There are profound socio-cultural reasons why previously reviled monsters, particularly vampires (probably because they are often physically attractive) became increasingly sympathetic as the twentieth century progressed. The monsters of the past were often seen to represent people marginalised by the politics of normality, and – commenting on the late 1980s – Margaret Carter claims that ‘creators of fictional vampires often choose the Romantic path of identification with the “alien” supernatural being, rather than with the superstitious majority bent on excluding and destroying him or her’.42 After all, outsiders are no longer so unproblematically hated but are often lionized as heroes oppressed by a conservative society. Monsters appeal to certain kinds of readers, too, like teenagers, who worry that they are considered monstrous by adults and who can see themselves reflected in liminal figures like vampires and werewolves. As Carol Senf points out, ‘the changing attitudes towards authority and toward rebellion against authority have . . . led to a more sympathetic treatment of the vampire’.43 Making the vampire more sympathetic has required enormous social and cultural changes as well as a new range of literary, cinematic and televisual representations, and the work is still not really complete. For Leland to attempt the same kind of transformation of Catholics in the eighteenth century was brave.
The tactic taken by Leland to effect this unmonstering resembles one highlighted by the critic Robin Wood in his study of monsters of the 1970s. Wood argues that monsters are where cultures dump their repressed desires, those generated not merely by the universal and basic repression central to the human’s entry into civilisation but also, adapting Herbert Marcuse, by the ‘surplus repression’ that is specific to particular cultures and societies and which articulates what that particular culture finds most disgusting or disturbing, ‘the process whereby people are conditioned from earliest infancy to take on predetermined roles within that culture’.44 The monster contains everything that a specific society wishes to banish from its normative version of the self, which is one reason why it needs to be exorcised and destroyed repeatedly, since adhering to normality is a never-ending project for each individual. It is important to be hesitant in using such a politically and ideologically weighted word as ‘repression’ about such monstering because it suggests too strongly an unconscious process over which individuals have little or no control. If the eighteenth-century monster represents Catholics, as I have repeatedly argued, it might be rightly objected that there was no great ‘repression’ of anti-Catholicism in eighteenth-century Irish culture – of course, the same is true of the kinds of groups Wood argues are monstered in twentieth-century America: homosexuals, feminists, the working class – all openly reviled groups and all very publicly disadvantaged.
However, what Wood is drawing attention to is that the structure of horror dramatises the act of repression. In one conventional horror plot, the monster, which represents the social groups so despised by the dominant culture, invades normal society and is then combated by agents of normativity who kill and banish it, allowing social repression to be reasserted at the end. As Wood puts it:
central to . . . [the horror film] . . . is the actual . . . dramatization of the repressed . . . in the figure of the Monster. One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses, its re-emergence dramatized . . . as an object of horror . . . and the happy ending (when it exists) typically signifying the restoration of repression.45
Now, obviously Wood’s theory is too generalised and broad-stroke to be convincing as a universal theory of horror, but he usefully nuanced it later, identifying, for example, what he called ‘progressive’ versions of the monster where the audience/reader is invited to begin to deconstruct the monster’s otherness, to actually identify with the monstrous and against the conservative society that seeks to kill it.46 Perhaps the best representative of a ‘progressive’ horror film along the lines of Wood’s theory is James Whale’s brilliant Bride of Frankenstein (1935), where Boris Karloff’s performance as Frankenstein’s monster is carefully modulated so as to elicit audience sympathy, and it becomes almost impossible by the end of the film to support the baying village elders who want the creature destroyed.
Although Wood’s revision of his original theory is useful for understanding a great many Gothic and horror texts, it is necessary to nuance his argument slightly. In some kinds of horror, the audience is not called to identify with the monster but is asked to dispense with notions of monstrosity altogether. These are narratives where the villain remains villainous, but rather than accept the over-inflated version of evil ascribed to him by the reading culture, the text asks if it is possible to imagine badness without monstrosity. In a reversal of the horror story where the sceptical observer has to be brought to recognise that they are not dealing with just a bad person but an incarnation of metaphysical evil (the stories of M. R. James are the best examples of this), in some cases readers/audiences are presented with an example of a figure they would normally consider a creature of the outer darkness only to find that Satan is not actually behind everything and they are just dealing with a very dangerous individual.
In contemporary terms, a good example of this shift from monstrous evil to individual badness is certain treatments of the paedophile, perhaps the most reviled figure in current culture. Given contemporary sensitivities it is very easy for a film-maker or writer to gesture towards a character’s sexual interest in children as a shorthand way to implicate them in metaphysical evil. Examples of horror texts which demonise characters by invoking their sexual desire for child characters include Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game (1985) and the recent (and terrible) film The Human Centipede (2009; direct. Tom Six), although Quilp’s dwarfish and possibly satanic monstrosity was compounded by his lascivious desire to make Little Nell his second wife in Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–1). Other more dangerous texts have taken more care with the paedophile figure and tried to ‘humanise’ him (an expression which makes clear the problems involved in such exercises as it indicates that even the suggestion of paedophilia tends to ‘dehumanise’ perpetrators in the eyes of the public). An interesting example of a film which attempts to humanise the paedophile monster is The Woodsman (2004; dir. Nicole Kassell), which invokes fairy-tale tropes and iconography to conjure a sense of menace and terror around its central character, a paedophile47 newly released from prison (played by Kevin Bacon, an actor with whom audiences appear to have difficulties sympathising in general, who had already played a one-dimensional, sadistic, psychologically warped ‘paedophile’ in the film Sleepers (1996; dir. Barry Levinson)); it slowly and carefully delineates his character as not only likeable but also heroic (though there remain a great many problems with the depiction of paedophilia in this film). A more complex attempt to make a child rapist a threedimensional character is the controversial Happiness (1998; dir. Todd Solondz), which features an extremely disturbed paedophile who progresses from masturbating to tween magazines to sodomising his son’s friend on a sleep over. While the film clearly condemns this character’s behaviour, and ends with his arrest and imprisonment, it also invites the audience to see him as a multifaceted and tragic figure rather than an inhuman demon.
‘Progressive’ is not really the right term for these kinds of horror stories since, unlike the films identified by Wood, they do not ask us to be supportive of or tolerate the social group being unmonstered (thankfully we are not asked to see paedophilia or paedophiles as acceptable and in need of integration). Instead they demand that individuals be decoupled from their monstrous tendencies. The individual paedophile is to be pitied, though paedophilia is still treated as a serious crime. These texts are ‘liberal’ in the more robust sense since the audience is not asked to sympathise with an abstract idea but with individual people who have complex psychological lives, families and feelings. Of course, a text can have both ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ elements to it, ‘regressive’ and ‘progressive’ elements. However, such nuancing is useful when attempting to analyse the unmonstering attempts of Longsword.
The shift away from the cosmic evil of the Catholic towards a more localized – and for that reason, more containable strain – of evil explains much of Longsword’s lack of power as a novel. Although its plot has many twists and turns, it consistently refuses to indulge in fantasies about a global Catholic conspiracy such as are found in the fulminations of Walter Harris and Richard Woodward. Conspiracies are constantly brought up, but repeatedly dismissed as fantasises. When treating of rumours and conspiracies in Longsword, Leland confirms the opinions of one reviewer of John Curry’s Historical Memoirs who wrote that exaggeration of the numbers killed in 1641 is hardly surprising for ‘those who are old enough to remember the many strange reports that flew like wild-fire from one part of England to another, upon what was called runaway Saturday in the late rebellion of 1745’. Fear was the reason why such exaggerations were believed because ‘when facts are seen through the medium of fear, they appear of course magnified beyond the bounds of truth’.48 This sentiment is repeated in Longsword where one character reflects that ‘terror seemed to have greater influence than entreaties or promises’ (Vol. 1, p. 45). Such fear needs to be dispelled, and cooler heads prevail, so that rumours and exaggerations can be examined in as objective a manner as possible. On almost all occasions where a conspiracy could be inferred in Longsword, Leland’s narrator reveals that there is no such thing in existence.
Longsword’s enemy Count Savouré pretends to find the presence of Longsword and his men in the region evidence of a vast conspiracy to invade France, ‘affected to regard the tale of their distress as vain and fictitious; and expressing strong apprehensions of a conspiracy formed by his enemies in concert with his officer to seize the island’ (Vol. 1, p. 50). The Count sounds a bit like those paranoid Protestants who imagined that the appearance of a Jesuit in an area was an indication that 1641 was about to be re-enacted. Rumours and conspiracy theories here are simply pretexts for action desired all along. Instead of such rumours and rumblings gaining sway over the main characters in the novel, it instead shows how supposedly implacable enemies become friends, such as Les Roches and Longsword. They not only save each other’s life on numerous occasions but also become life-long companions (perhaps as a good example to Leland’s Anglican readers). Rivalries between compatriots are also warned against, and a ‘reluctance against shedding the blood of countrymen’ praised since such compatriots should have become ‘endeared’ to one another ‘by natural affection and a long social intercourse’ (an indirect rebuke to John Temple who blamed Protestants for growing warm and friendly towards their native Irish neighbours and therefore less suspicious of their behaviour) (Vol. 1, p. 65).
Jumping to an anti-Catholic conclusion is calmly prevented throughout the novel. Justly tired of the oppression of his enemy Malleon, Longsword inveighs against the whole of France, sounding briefly like a character in Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer: ‘Is charity so great a crime? Is tyranny suffered to rage thus without control in France?’ He is answered with judicious cool by a Cistercian abbot who looks at him ‘with a look in which affection and authority were united’, instructing him that ‘the time calls for calm and determined measures’ rather than passionate and harsh outpourings of vitriol that generalise (Vol. 1, pp. 40–1). It is ‘suspicion, grief, and imagination’ that spreads nervous confirmations of a conspiracy among the supporters of Mal-leon rather than facts (Vol. 1, p. 68). There is, of course, a kind of ‘Catholic’ conspiracy at the heart of the book, a conspiracy to deprive Longsword of his lands, his son and his wife by a cabal with the monk Reginhald, his brother Grey and Duke Raymond as its chief plotters (though various lackeys come and go), but again this conspiracy is a localized concern and is not being orchestrated by mitred demons in the cloisters of the Vatican.
In Fiction Unmask’d, Harris asks, regarding the Gunpowder plot, ‘surely it cannot be a necessary Consequence, that because only thirteen are discovered in a Plot, that no more are embarked upon it?’49 In Longsword, Leland effectively replies that although it could be said that three people are behind the plot to destroy William de Longespée this does not mean that they all share equally in guilt or enthusiasm, and it does not mean either that the actual conspirators are monsters. Although Raymond would be the chief beneficiary of the plot to steal Longsword’s lands and convince his wife Ela to marry him, he is a figure riven with guilt and doubts, genuinely in love with Ela and frequently regretful that he has to hurt her to take what he wants. Indeed, at one point, ‘with all the bitterness of remorse, he viewed the majestic ruins of exalted beauty and greatness, the fatal effect of his lawless passions’ and immediately ‘his haughty soul melted into pity’ (Vol. 2, p. 146). Likewise, Grey becomes nervous and guilty at numerous points in the plot, and he too is not as bad as he initially seems. Even Reginhald is ‘too conscious of his guilt not to feel the most violent secret emotions of terror’ (Vol. 2, p. 141).
As we have seen, John Curry and other historians enacted a kind of religious cross-dressing, writing as Anglicans in drag in order to further their political and ideological agendas. This ecumenical cross-dressing was later to be performed by the Gothic writers Charles Maturin (writing as Dennis Jasper Murphy) and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (writing as Father Francis Purcell). Although Leland was not capable of this level of denominational transgression, he does write as a narrator of the Catholic Middle Ages, which required him, in John Patrick Delury’s terms, to write ‘across the traditional line of antagonism’, which is important.50 Horace Walpole adopted a medieval guise when writing a ‘sympathetic’ novel of the Middle Ages, posing as Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto; Thomas Leland’s choice to write a medieval novel without distancing his narrator from the time and events depicted means that he too dons a medieval Catholic garb and crosses party lines.
This strategy is particularly powerful in a period before the medieval and the Gothic had gone through compete rehabilitation, given that Leland’s novel was published prior to those of Walpole and Reeve, who both refashioned the Middle Ages so that it became legitimate in a fictional sense. Praising ‘medieval’ traces which remain in contemporary society – particularly the medieval Gothic constitution – sets Leland apart from modernisers who wish to see the medieval wiped out as an atavistic hangover. David Lloyd points out that the term ‘medieval’ has extraordinarily negative connotations in much discourse: ‘When we name certain social formations “medieval”, then, are we designating simply formations that have yet to be and will be, in the fullness of time, sublimated into modernity, or are we designating the more troubling sites of resistance and recalcitrance to modernity’s advent?’51 In this case, Leland directly addresses the tendency to characterise the medieval past as barbarous, and the modernising fantasy that the past could be completely obliterated and a new temporal order inaugurated. Revolt against tradition is here designated as illegitimate rather than medieval tradition itself. If the usurpers like Reginhald and Grey are dangerous figures, then Longsword, who wishes to pass on an intact inheritance to his son in the form of his castle home, is an embodiment of medieval continuity. If, to the reformers and the republicans of the Civil War, and later to revolutionaries like Thomas Paine, the medieval past was one characterised by ‘a kind of sluggish fixity that inhibits progress’,52 to Leland it is, contrarily, the source of progress, the site of resistance to tyranny, and the place where liberty was established and enshrined (specifically with the signing of Magna Charta).
Reginhald is clearly the most important figure here. What Leland is very careful to do is separate him out from his co-religionists and even his fellow monks. Reginhald is a monk ‘whose mind but ill-suited his profession, or his residence in a seat of piety’ (Vol. 2, p. 1). Indeed, so different is he from his fellow monks that Reginhald is actually terrified of them, ‘whom he dreaded from a consciousness of his own excesses’ (Vol. 2, p. 2). They too feel nothing but antipathy towards him, though they also ‘feared the power which supported, or seemed to support him’ (Vol. 2, p. 2). There is certainly a corruption here given that these monks ‘turned their eyes from his offenses, and suffered him to disgrace and disturb their house by scandalous excesses, utterly subversive of holy discipline and order’, including drunkenness, sexual perversion and profanity (Vol. 2, pp. 2–3). The problem for the monks is not that they are evil, or agents of the devil, but that they are dependent on Raymond for the continuance of their order. Because the secular arm controls the sacred instrument, the monks are essentially powerless to remove Reginhald. Leland’s evil monk is in fact dependent on secular powers – a far cry from the typical anti-Catholic rhetoric which envisioned the pope attempting to exert control over the state. Where Walter Harris obsesses over the ability of the evil tentacles of Catholic power to reach from the Vatican to overthrow rightful monarchs, Leland highlights the despotic power of petty local lords who conduct a reign of terror over holy men and women whose only wish is to serve God rather than man. Although Reginhald acts extremely imperiously, his schemes very quickly come to nothing. In fact, he is terrified when in the presence of the Countess Ela, before whom ‘he stood abashed and confused; and the consciousness of his own vile purposes served to increase his disorder’, and she is quick to respond when he claims it is her duty under God to marry Raymond, calling him an ‘abandoned and hateful wretch’ who profanes ‘the name of heaven’ (Vol. 2, pp. 10, 14–15).
Reginhald is not so much an agent of Satan, then, as a rather pathetic and insecure man who desperately and ineffectually attempts to use the Catholic Church as a way to achieve his ambitions. It is true that, now and again, the devil does appear in the frame as an analogous figure to Reginhald and the other villains, so that the novel often seems on the verge of appealing to the satanic as a way of explaining how such terrible things happen to good men and women. The reader is told that Grey, ‘like the great enemy of mankind’, watches ‘to ensnare the innocent, and to seduce the weak’, but it is also clear that this is indeed an analogy rather than description of anything real (Vol. 2, p. 20). The devil is not literally assisting Reginhald and his brother. Moreover, it is the Catholic monks who eventually find Reginhald out. Before the plot collapses on his head the ‘enormities’ of Reginhald’s crimes are revealed. Outstanding amongst them is his rape of a ‘country maiden’ whom he attempts to ‘swap’, once sexually satiated with her, for the concubine of another of his associates, who is so disgusted that he reports Reginhald to the rest of the fraternity: ‘the whole cloister was instantly filled with sorrow and indignation. Every instance of outrage and irreverence which he had committed were now recalled to mind’ (Vol. 2, pp. 139–40). The monks resolve to make sure that Reginhald suffers the full judicial consequences of his actions. The difference between Reginhald and monks such as Ambrosio in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) or Schedoni in Anne Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797) is striking. The crimes of Ambrosio and Schedoni are covered up by others, because of the inherent secrecy and obscurity of Catholicism itself, and the kind of ‘mental reservation’ attacked by Harris, according to which the Catholic Church permits debauchery as long as the intention to serve God can be argued. This inherent Catholic perversity is not the reason Reginhald gets away with his crimes for so long, and moreover, once he is expelled, the evil he represents is also eradicated. When Reginhald is hanged, the reader is informed that his evil has been exorcised and the monastery can return to a state of true holiness: ‘The wicked Reginhald, condemned by the man for whom he had proceeded to such enormous guilt, was led away, in vain imploring mercy, urging the unmerited severity of his fate, and gnashing his teeth in rage and despair’ (Vol. 2, p. 155).
Leland’s sympathetic treatment of the Catholic as a potentially loyal citizen may have been partly influenced by attempts which his Catholic friends were making at the time to devise an oath of allegiance to the king which Irish Catholics could take without having to declare against Catholic doctrines – an effort which would have in one fell swoop rendered unconvincing attempts to depict Irish Catholics as inherently disloyal. Charles O’Conor in particular was
convinced that a solemn denial by Catholics of Protestant charges that Catholic teaching, among other things, laid down that no faith should be kept with heretics or that the pope could dispense Catholics from the obligations of an oath, would bring about a new understanding between Catholics and Protestants and thus facilitate the admission of Catholics to the category of citizen.53
While O’Conor’s efforts were not successful, and indeed Rome was not very enthusiastic about the idea of an oath, the effort in itself may have been enough to convince Leland that Catholics were serious about their relationship with the Anglican state and that disloyalty was a projection of Anglican fears.
I am suggesting, then, that Longsword should be read as Leland’s imaginative rapprochement with Catholics (though not Catholicism) and the medieval as a means of preparing imaginatively for a potential social rapprochement between political bedfellows in Ireland, like himself and Charles O’Conor. Indeed, much of Leland’s writing more generally could be read as part of this ideological project of bringing together different and hitherto opposing sections of Irish society on a non-sectarian basis. In a suggestive examination of what she calls the ‘School of Irish Oratory’ Katherine O’Donnell has argued that Trinity Unmaking Monsters in Longsword 191 College intellectuals like Leland, who spent much of their careers examining rhetoric and linguistics, could be seen as working in imaginative sympathy with Gaelic Ireland, which was often characterised as adept in the rhetorical arts. In a period when rhetoric tended to be caricatured as dangerous, practiced by political subversives out to deceive and bamboozle agents of legitimate state authority, Trinity scholars like Leland and Dr John Lawson praised rhetoric and the great rhetoricians of the past like Demosthenes and Cicero as potent examples to the present: ‘Their study of eloquence takes the speeches of Demosthenes and Cicero as exemplary, evoking the image of a speaker stirring the passion for justice in a civic assembly and inspiring a sense of community and common cause against tyrannical rule’.54 In this sense, the examination of rhetoric and oratory coincided with Leland’s sense of an ancient constitution which enshrined rights and privileges in need of vigorous and powerful defence against so-called modernising projects. Irish Anglican patriotism found an effective voice in the example of Demosthenes, as set forth in Leland’s The Orations of Demosthenes against Philip (1754–61). Indeed, as Robert Welch explains, this book quickly became ‘the model for the Anglo-Irish tradition of parliamentary speaking as practised by Edmund Burke, Henry Grattan, John Philpot Curran, and others of his students in accordance with the idea of exalted style.’55
Leland’s ideological optimism and his political ecumenism could go some way to help explain the strange decision to end Longsword with the protagonist surviving the poison which killed him in reality. Christina Morin points to the ending of the novel as important, noting that ‘it is, in fact, William’s ghostly return from the dead that precipitates the denouement of the tale, ousting the intruders, freeing Ela from enslavement in her own home, and reuniting the young family in what seems to be a happy-ever-after conclusion’. This is a domestic reconciliation mirrored by the rapprochement within public life as traitors are banished and Longsword returned to his rightful place in political as well as family life. Morin argues that there is rather too much narrative emphasis on despair and melancholia to be altogether displaced by the apparently joyful conclusion, too much violence has taken place to render the ending really satisfying.56 However, what really undermines the novel’s favourable conclusion is the reader’s knowledge that the historical Longsword was indeed poisoned and died upon his return from France, and that despite his close attention to history, Leland has altered the past in order to manufacture the happy ending. Leland is telling the reader what ‘should have happened’ rather than what did happen. This utopian strategy implicates Longsword in what the Marxist Ernst Bloch has called a ‘Principle of Hope’. Fredric Jameson views narrative as where the ‘hurts’ of history are both reflected and potentially healed of trauma through ‘happy’ conclusions. Jameson points out that oppressive, alienating experience is the basic truth of historical process – history is ‘what hurts’, and alienation is what happens when human beings live in reality. However, humans also have the ability to imagine a better, different reality, which is what narrative – especially fantastic narrative – is for since it allows us to provide imaginative resolutions to real problems and thus help restore hope for the future. This leads Jameson to endorsing Bloch’s ‘utopian’ reading of fairy tales, ‘with its magical wish-fulfilments and its Utopian fantasies of plenty’.57
It is crucial to consider the fairy-tale ending of Longsword when examining the novel as a kind of utopian fiction, because in it, Leland takes one historical fact – that Longsword was indeed killed by poison when he returned home – and transforms it to give historical figures a counterfactual happy-ever-after that they were not permitted in reality. Longsword’s conclusion is an expression of a kind of Jamesonian hope of a non-oppressive future, the kind of hope particularly necessary in a country like Ireland, divided bitterly between Protestants and Catholics without any apparent indication of reconciliation in the future. In this way, by writing Longsword, Leland participated in a ‘socially symbolic act’ as it allowed him to deal with both the hurts of history and offer possible means by which these hurts could be overcome imaginatively (it is in the act of an imaginative leap that the potential for political reconciliation is first considered). Morin is concerned at what appears to be the dismissal of historical fact in Longsword’s utopian ending, but it might be better to read the end of the novel through Jameson’s or Ernst Bloch’s eyes, where the ‘principle of hope’ overcomes a narrative of despair, resurrection defeats death, friendship prevails over enmity.