Chapter Two: The affective force of the dream: the auto-da-fe in Melmoth the Wanderer.


"I am convinced that a real victim of an auto da fe (so called) never suffered more during his horrible procession to flames temporal and eternal, than I did during that dream," declares Alonzo in Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). (24) This is a remarkable statement, especially considering that when Alonzo has the dream, he is sleeping in one of the dungeon-like cells of the Spanish Inquisition and may be in danger of becoming a real auto-da-fe victim himself. In the nightmare, which comprises the space of one full page of text, Alonzo has been condemned to death as "an apostate monk and a diabolical heretic." Through a sort of self-differentiation, he watches himself while he is marched into a grand amphitheatre. "Amid the ringing of bells, the preaching of the Jesuits, and the shouts of the multitude," he is chained to a chair facing the crowd. But for a moment, as he looks on, the person in the chair becomes Juan, his brother, who at this point in the waking narrative is dead. Juan begs for mercy, clinging to him and shrieking, "Save me, save me." But the ceremony continues, and through a passage of protracted suffering and extraordinary detail, the flames engulf Alonzo:

My eyes ... melted in their sockets;--I opened my mouth, it drank fire,--I closed it, the fire was within,--and still the bells rung on, and the crowd shouted, and the king and queen, and all the nobility and priesthood, looked on, and we burned, and burned! (182) Alonzo is awakened by the sound of his own screams, only to find before him Melmoth the Wanderer, a demonic figure who has been visiting his cell late at night. At this point in the novel, Melmoth's supernatural capacity for bypassing the guards and entering Alonzo's locked cell has already begun to attract the attention of the authorities. Having inexplicably entered the cell and now standing before the newly awakened Alonzo, Melmoth takes advantage of the terror that the auto-da-fe dream has inspired in the inmate, offering to free him in exchange for his soul (183, 409). Until this moment, Alonzo has withstood the trials of the Inquisition and the fearful presence of Melmoth with unwavering courage. In fact, when he recalls his imprisonment earlier in the narrative, he remarks on his initial fortitude: "Great emergencies certainly inspire us with the feelings they demand.... I believe so it fared with me,--the storm had risen, and I braced myself to meet it" (174-75). However, the intensity of the nightmare overcomes his capacity to endure further suffering. Upon awakening, he collapses at the feet of his tempter: "With an impulse I could not resist,--an impulse borrowed from the horrors of my dream, I flung myself at his feet, and called on him to 'save me'" (183).

The foremost effect of Alonzo's dream is this impulse. This contrasts sharply with the prolonged, analytical deliberation that follows Lovel's vision in Scott's Antiquary. Although Alonzo's nightmare resembles a premonitory dream insofar as it pertains to a potential future, it neither issues from a benevolent spirit nor conveys a clear message. Moreover, unlike the stereotypical literary dream, the vision of the auto-da-fe does not merely reflect the surrounding narrative, but rather seeps into it with startling affective force. Despite the predominance of the representational approach in nineteenth-century oneirocriticism and twenty-first-century dream scholarship, the impact of this dream rests not in the interpretation of signs, but in its intensity. Informed by theories of affect, then, Alonzo's nightmare will serve as a point of departure for exploring the affective potential of nineteenth-century British dream-fictions, with a focus on those in the Gothic mode.

Dreaming Intensity

What many would trivialize as "only a dream" renders involuntary an action that Alonzo would normally consider unthinkable. On an impulse "borrowed from the horrors of [a] dream," a man who has striven to adhere to his moral code in the face of coercion, oppression, and even torture suddenly implores an unfeeling, demonic figure to save him (183, 76, 105, 111). The irresistibility of this horror-induced impulse suggests that it precedes conscious awareness or decision-making, positioning it in the realm of affect. In "Feeling, Emotion, Affect" (2005), Eric Shouse describes affect as an experience of "intensity" that is "always prior to and/or outside of conscious awareness" (par. 15). Although the terms "affect," "feelings," and "emotion" are often used interchangeably, the non-conscious quality of affect differentiates it from feelings, which are "personal and biographical," and from emotion, which is "the projection/display of a feeling" (pars. 3, 4). Whereas emotion can play a performative role in social interactions, the social encounters are themselves embedded in pre-personal, "non-conscious experience[s]" of affect, or "intensity" (par. 5).

Just as the sensation of horror precludes Alonzo from weighing the consequences before flinging himself at Melmoth's feet, the non-conscious immediacy of affect precludes dialectical reasoning. Gilles Deleuze (1978) characterizes affect as a "mode of thought insofar as it is non-representational" ("Spinoza" 2). Following Platonic logic, representational interpretation displaces reality onto the referent or at least shifts it to another sign. Plato's allegory of the cave illustrates the...

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