The article “Life After Pseudodeath” discusses the shift in Vathek’s attitude after he realizes that his love Nouronihar is actually alive. The author begins the essay with a short discussion on other Gothic novels that play to the interest of the Orient, Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas and Frances Sheridan’s Nourjahad, and how they “thinly disguise Western and even Christian concepts and attitudes in Middle Eastern Islamic attire” (pg. 171).
But, unlike the other novels that the author discusses, Vathek doesn’t try to justify the actions or veil Christian beliefs in Islam, it actually “embraces and confirms hedonism as the valid lifestyle selection of its main character,” which is something that pretty much all of the novels we have read this semester have not done (pg. 171).
The scene in Vathek where he realizes his love isn’t dead is a bit of a Hollywood moment. The emir of the dwarves Fakreddin realizes Vathek’s interest in his daughter, Nouronihar, even though she is slated to be married to Gulchenrouz. Nouronihar and Gulchenrouz are both drugged by the emir and are sent to a secluded area, so that when they awake, they will believe that they have died and are in Paradise. But, they soon begin to realize that they are not in fact dead and ‘escape,’ for lack of a better term, and run into Vathek.
Vathek, who’s life is based on decadence and sin, mourns her death and seems to be making more moralistic choices in what could be shown as a more pious life. But, when he sees Nouronihar, he is overtaken by lust and goes right back to how he was before, not following Islam and accepting a hedonistic lifestyle. Because he enjoyed the “splendors of life” before he met Nouronihar, it “contributes less to his damnation than does his search for supernatural power through the agency of the Giaour, a pursuit that explicitly ends in Vathek’s perdition,” (pg. 171-172).
This acceptance of a hedonistic lifestyle and lack of moral repositioning is what sets Vathek apart from its contemporaries. In the other novels that were discussed, the main characters in them confessed their sins or rejected the things they once partook in. Vathek on the other hand, fully embraces them and never has that moral moment that we have seen in previous novels (Robinson Crusoe definitely). He never regrets what he has done to get where he has gotten himself, just that he doesn’t like the punishment he has to live with.
The only moral realization in Vathek is when “The narrator states that Vathek deserves the loss of all hope in ‘a receptacle of eternal fire’ for the ‘unrestrained passions and atrocious deeds’ he has committed (119, 120),” (pg. 172). Otherwise, the novel mentions very little about remorse or salvation.
I found this to be very interesting and true. While reading Vathek I think I was looking for that moral realization sometime in the novel, but never found it. Vathek just kept indulging and kept continuing on the path of damnation without a regret. The decadent lifestyle that he lived was so over the top that I also couldn’t help wondering if the reason there is no moral compass in this novel is because the entire book is a moral compass. Almost all of the other books that we’ve read this semester mention praising God in some form, whether it’s converting others, being virtuous or just mention of it in regular conversation, but none have employed potential reverse psychology.
I would definitely agree with the author completely. Vathek was nothing like what I thought it would be in the slightest both story-wise and moralistically. I think it was interesting that the author chose other novels that had similar storylines and settings and compared them, which makes Vathek stand out even more.
Do you think that Vathek stands out of the genre as a novel that fails to embrace the ‘moral’ literature of the time, or can the entire story be seen as a commentary on what happens when you fail to be moral and follow God? Is this book a push for religion or atheism? Do the events that unfold throughout the novel support a religious lifestyle or not?
Brewer, Lawton A. “Life After Pseudodeath: William Beckford’s Vathek.” Explicator 67.3 (2009): 170 – 173. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.