Penitence, Punishment, and Pain: Negotiating Personal Authority in Francis Lathom's The Midnight Bell
Francis Lathom's novel, The Midnight Bell (1798), uses conventional gothic themes of crime, guilt, and punishment to interrogate gender roles and to explore how individuals may conform to, reject, or subvert mechanisms of social control in order to preserve their autonomy and sense of self. This paper examines the treatment of two characters, Countess Anna and Count Byroff, who each commit murder and come under the auspices of the Catholic penitential system and French judicial system, respectively. For Anna, voluntary self-flagellation provides an alternative form of self-authorization and subjectivity based on the special status of Catholic female religiosity, while Byroff's state-controlled subjugation results in his being objectified and feminized. While the subversive vision of male and female power dynamics is ultimately reversed, I argue that the novel's radical potential is never entirely contained, the high cost of the “happy ending” interrogating the social values on which such an ending depends.
Journal of Interdisciplinary Research, Volume 2, Number 1, pp. 29-46