As I sit here in my favorite spot, contemplating the biblical lessons found in Le Fanu’s ghost story, The Familiar, it has become very clear to me why gothic literature is so dear to my heart. Gothic writers do not hold back, they are not afraid to explore any topic despite how controversial it may be, and as a result give the reader a terrifying glimpse into the unrestrained human psyche.
My first experience with this terror came when I read S.T. Coleridge’s poem Christabel. After I finished reading it the first time, I had to sit back and catch my breath.
I needed to know why the poem made me feel like it did.
I was absolutely terrified, yet I could not put my finger on exactly what it was about the poem that gave me such a fright. Due to this unexplainable reaction, I made this poem the topic of an extensive research paper…I needed to know why the poem made me feel like it did.
The period in which Coleridge wrote this particular poem was wrought with personal tragedy. He was wrestling with romantic thoughts of another woman, his faith was falling apart, and he was struggling with drug addiction. Without going into too much detail I discovered that, based on personal turmoil and spiritual confusion, Coleridge used this poem to flirt with what would happen to his relationship with God if he fully embraced his sin. His conclusion? To fully embrace sin means to have the beloved Father turn his back. His words are bone-chilling:
Within the Baron’s heart and brainIf thoughts, like these, had any share,They only swelled his rage and pain,And did but work confusion there.His heart was cleft with pain and rage,His cheeks they quivered, his eyes were wild,Dishonoured thus in his old age;Dishonoured by his only child” (lines 636-643).
Works like these allow us to explore dangerous, even deadly, situations from a point of relative safety and take to heart the lessons learned from a fictional character’s demise. I am learning that lesson as I study Le Fanu’s character, Captain James Barton. As I delve into this story and study the Scriptures, I have felt a deep conviction in my own heart that says I do not see the Word of God as power, instead I tend to view it as beautiful words on a page. Paul tells us that:
“…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (ESV 1 Co 1.18).
When trapped in the valley of trial and temptation, it is so easy to forget this simple truth and rely on our own power to save us. Le Fanu’s character, Sir James Barton, tried to rely on his own power to save himself and the results were disastrous. It is my prayer that those of us who call ourselves by the name of Christ never forget this simple truth in the face of overwhelming trial.
Biblegateway. Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles. 2001. Web. 9 July 2016.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Christabel.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Major Works. Ed.H.J. Jackson. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1985. Print.