Contemporary Scottish Gothic pp 54-88

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Authentic Inauthenticity: The Found Manuscript

  • Timothy C. Baker

Abstract

While the trope of the found manuscript has been aligned with Gothic since its beginnings, it is peculiarly prominent in Scottish writing.1 The coupling of the discovery of an ancient manuscript with anxiety over its authenticity can be traced to James Macpherson’s publication of the first Ossian poems in 1761, igniting a controversy that was still preoccupying Scott in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Beginning at least with Samuel Johnson’s mockery of Macpherson’s claim to have ‘two chests more of ancient poetry’ in addition to the original manuscripts of Fingal, the idea of a text that is not what it seems, or what it claims to be, haunts the national imagination.2 Reflecting on Macpherson and others, Joseph Ritson claims in 1794 that ‘[t]he history of Scotish [sic] poetry exhibits a series of fraud, forgery, and imposture, practised with impunity and success’.3 As he details at length in the introduction to his collection of Scotish Songs, this apparent tendency to forgery is a peculiarly Scottish vice:

It seems both unreasonable and arrogant that the Scotish writers alone should expect all the world to be satisfied with their naked assertions upon a subject in which interest or partiality must naturally render their testimony suspected; but, indeed, as not one single Erse manuscript, either ancient or modern, (and Mr Macpherson pretended to have several,) has been yet deposited in any public library, or even seen by any person of veracity, the question seems completely decided, though not much to the honour of that gentleman [Hugh Blair], his advocates, or adherents. (23)

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Notes

  1. 1.
    As Margaret Russett notes, the first edition of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto discusses the text’s origin in a found manuscript, while the label of ‘Gothic’ does not appear until the second edition; as such, the idea of the ‘found manuscript’ in some senses predates the founding of genre. Margaret Russett, (2009) Fictions and Fakes: Forging Romantic Authenticity, 1760–1845 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 13.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Joseph Ritson (1869) ‘A Historical Essay on Scotish Song’, in Scotish Songs in Two Volumes, vol. 1 (Glasgow: Hugh Hopkins), pp. 11–114, p. 67.Google Scholar
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    James Hogg (2002) The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Written by Himself, With a Detail of Curious Traditionary Facts and Other Evidence by the Editor, ed. P.D. Garside (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), p. 165. In his ‘Memoir of the Author’s Life’, Hogg laments that his associates ‘sneer at my presumption of being the author of that celebrated article. […] Luckily, however, I have preserved the original proof slips and three of Mr. Blackwood’s letters relating to the article’.Google Scholar
  4. James Hogg (2005) Altrive Tales, ed. Gillian Hughes (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), pp. 44–45. Proof of authenticity lies not in the text itself, but in the form of supporting documents. Meanwhile, he claims not only that Confessions was so ‘replete with horrors’ he could not sign it, but that he does ‘not remember ever receiving anything for it’ (p. 55); in opposition to the Chaldee manuscript, he is able to distance himself from the text through a lack of supporting materials.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p. 12. Victoria McCandless’s dislike for Through the Looking Glass, mentioned above, and Crumey’s discussion of Carroll and Zeno in an essay on Euclid and literature perhaps indicate an aligned approach. Andrew Crumey (2009) ‘Mathematics and Literature’, in Michele Emmer and Alfio Quarteroni (eds), Mathknow: Mathematics, Applied Sciences and Real Life (Milan: SpringerVerlag), pp. 3–25, pp. 18–19.Google Scholar
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    Sean Bowden provides clear explanations of Deleuze’s debt to the stoics and of the relation between physical and metaphysical surfaces. Sean Bowden (2011) The Priority of Events: Deleuze’s Logic of Sense (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), pp. 16–17, 138–139.Google Scholar
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    See Joe Hughes (2008) Deleuze and the Genesis of Representation (London and New York: Continuum), p. 25. Hughes here clearly traces the concept of Aion to Blanchot.Google Scholar
  45. 44.
    It is undoubtedly only a coincidence that in an early work on The Logic of Sense Jean-Jacques Lecercle finds a ‘Hyde-like’ character in Ferdinand de Saussure, and further categorizes theory and analysis in terms of ‘ghostly words’, but such overlaps between Gothic and theory are surprisingly common. Jean-Jacques Lecercle (1985) Philosophy through the Looking-Glass: Language, Nonsense, Desire (London: Hutchinson), pp. 2, 118.Google Scholar
  46. 45.
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    Ibid., p. 114. See, for instance, ‘A Gossip on a Novel of Dumas’s’, where he compares the view of the ‘winter moonlight’ in Scotland with ‘the crowded and sunny field of life in which it was so easy to forget myself’ that he finds in his reading. Robert Louis Stevenson (1999) R.L. Stevenson on Fiction: An Anthology of Literary and Critical Essays, ed. Glenda Norquay (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), p. 119.Google Scholar
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    As Vladimir Nabokov argues, to support his claim that an allegorical reading of the novella would be ‘tasteless’, in Jekyll and Hyde ‘the unreal central character belongs to a brand of unreality different from the world around him’: Jekyll does not fully exist in the world, Nabokov insists, and so cannot be truly pathetic or tragic, but only works at the more conventional level of the story. Vladimir Nabokov (1980) Lectures on Literature, ed. Fredson Bowers (London: Wiedenfeld and Nicolson), pp. 180, 255.Google Scholar
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    This itself resembles Blanchot’s claim that ‘he who dies is anonymous’: death cannot be seen as happening at an individual moment, nor as pertaining to a particular individual, but is always neutral. Maurice Blanchot (1989) The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press), p. 241. For this reason, as well as the more obvious practical one, Jekyll cannot write his own death, but it must exist as potential.Google Scholar
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    The library scene, in keeping with the intertextual allusions prevalent in Crumey’s work, bears a close resemblance to the enormous library, with its vanishing books, described at the beginning of George MacDonald’s Lilith, while its depiction of the origin of texts in the unconscious suggests Stevenson’s essay ‘A Chapter on Dreams’. The novel as a whole is also surprisingly close to Cyrano de Bergerac’s comic histories of the sun and moon, as discussed below, both structurally and in the central claim that ‘there are infinite worlds within an infinite world’. Cyrano de Bergerac (1965) Other Worlds: The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon and the Sun, trans. Geoffrey Strachan (London: Oxford University Press), p. 75.Google Scholar
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    Stephen J. Burn convincingly combines postmodern and cognitive theories to propose a ‘Multiple Drafts model’ for understanding Crumey’s work, whereby each separate element, or draft, serves to divorce the novel from its ‘ontological anchors’: ‘Genres are invoked, overloaded, and replaced as a competing draft reorients the reader’s attention. Within this fluid matrix, even basic terms for defining character […] become dynamic concepts’. Stephen J. Burn (2012) ‘Reading the Multiple Drafts Novel’, MFS: Modern Fiction Studies, 58.3, 436–458, p. 446. In a very different way, Jekyll and Hyde works similarly as a ‘Multiple Drafts’ novel: see Julia Reid’s account of both the novel’s merging of detective narrative with Gothic form and her account of the differences between the novel’s two principal drafts.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Timothy C. Baker 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy C. Baker
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AberdeenUK

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