Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Mary, Maid of the Inn" - time structure

In connection to our Tuesday discussion of "Castle of Otranto" and the elements of Gothic literature, this ballad undoubtedly demonstrates the strangeness of the Gothic literature. Initially, Mary is described as a "maniac" and death is a central theme of the poem - her love Richard is discovered to steal bodies from the church graveyard and is later hanged, causing her insane status. However, one of the stylistic elements that I thought made this ballad particularly similar to the style of "The Castle of Otranto" was the use of the "flash-back," or not complying to chronological time.
In the poem, we are initially presented with Mary working at the Inn, already well into her "maniac" state of mind. However, the poem flashes back to Mary as a girl when she decides to go to the abbey, where she witnesses Richard's actions and his death. As we said on Tuesday, one of the elements of Gothic literature is that the plot goes back and forth through time. Likewise, this unnatural time structure further emphasizes the supernatural elements of the play such as insanity and death. It somewhat disorients the reader, adding to the strange nature of the genre itself.

1 comment:

  1. Great observation! This is especially important in Southey's poem when compared to the others, which have a pretty straight forward temporal movement. While earlier ballads are primarily narratives that run beginning to end, Southey introduces elements more common in the gothic novel. There also seem to be lapses in narrative in Southey's poem: what exactly happens between stanza XX and XXI? How does she tell the story? Could she have kept it a secret? Does she purposefully resign Richard to death? While seemingly a simple narrative, it ends with a lacuna, a gap in the narrative that opens up multiple interpretations.