Monday, December 5, 2011

The Authorial Identity in Vathek

In the article, “The Author in the Novel: Creating Beckford in Vathek,” R.B. Gill remarks on the self-conscious writing style of Beckford. Gill argues that Vathek consisted of many “Beckfords” meaning one could draw many different identities from Vathek and from some of this other works. The author states, “Not finding that centre or authorial identity, critics (and Beckford himself) have created a number of identities to satisfy their own perceptions of the needs of the novel” (242). For Beckford, he utilized a self-conscious writing style, like Sterne, to create an “authorial” identity within their works.
For Vathek, Beckford creates a world of contradictions. “Like Sterne , Beckford watches himself write and is intrigued by the possibilities of expressing himself in guises -now moral, now perverse, now coy, now sublime. He cannot resist indulging himself momentarily in some ludicrous or incongruous aspect of his material” (243). These contradictions, for Gill, allow a certain distance, but “Beckford wants us to observe him laughing at his subject , manipulating it: a gentleman engaged with compromising material but, never the less, in thorough control of it and able to smile knowingly at his own folly. In this mixture of opposites, Vathek, like many other neoclassical works, has a civilized sophistication that acknowledges its own role –playing” (243-244). From this acknowledgment as a piece of fiction, Beckford was highly aware and intent on creating himself within his work according to Gill.
But, through his self-conscious writing style, Beckford both creates himself and distances himself from this identity within the novel. He uses his “self-abnegating humour” and contradictions to allow a literary distance from the Caliph he fashions for himself. This distancing would allow a gentleman like Beckford to create an “authorial identity” within his scandalous novel, yet still maintain an identity as a gentleman. Gill writes, “The novel's puzzling mixture of opposites invites the reader to seek an inner author, the ‘real’ Beckford accessible through psychological examination” (245). It’s easy for the reader to draw comparisons to Beckford’s life and see Vathek as an extension of Beckford.
Gill goes on to explore the seeming opposites of Beckford’s life. Stating Beckford was involved with a man, yet married and had two children. For Gill, the contradictions of Beckford’s life may explain the contradictions we see in Vathek. Because we can draw many different meanings from this novel, we can create multiple different Beckfords. Gill suggests that, like the character Vathek, we can create our own understanding and image of Beckford whether or not this is true.
I find this article interesting in that it suggests that we don’t really need to know the “true” Beckford to understand this story. Whether or not Beckford was Vathek is not the issue for as readers we can construct our own image of Beckford. Do you think that this novel made you understand Beckford psychologically? Can you see any instances of Beckford’s self-conscious writing style? What “Beckford” do you get out of this novel?
Works Cited:
Gill, R. B. "The Author in the Novel: Creating Beckford in Vathek." Eighteenth Century Fiction. 2nd ed. Vol. 15. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Dec. 2011. e6ccb7-00d6-4df2-a294-bf39c691d3fe%40sessionmgr104&vid=5&hid=112>.

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