We see what we want to see. We hear what we want to hear. We are what we believe, people say. This might be true but might be not – depends on the context and the logical consequences. People since the past centuries have been speaking about and believing in supernaturalism; ghost, superstition, myth. They want to see, hear about, and believe in it. Some of those things might really happen but some not. Critics according to science and logic have been thrown to break them, however, people keep talking about it. If those supernaturalism things are not into human logic, then why do people (who are definitely humans) keep the issue up to date? Throughout the centuries, why are people still so interested with the issue? There must be a reason for it. Perhaps the idea of supernaturalism itself is the thing that attracts people attention.
In this modern era, stories about ghosts, superstition, and myth are so much fond of. They are presented in movies, books, comics, and even on consumerism products. They are the theme of the Halloween day. They are the icons of the black day. At some occasions, they are not so scary anymore, but funny instead. When we compare it to the old days, the idea of supernaturalism is no longer horror. It is most likely to be entertaining now.
Looking into how all of these ups and downs and the development of supernaturalism is quite interesting (at least, to me as the writer of this essay). Not to mention when we look into it from the perspective of literature. Sarcastic history tracking. So much challenging. Therefore, in this paper the discussion about supernaturalism, the irrational, is talked about. Two short stories written by English writers will be summarized, analyzed, and compared. The first is the short story of Mary Shelley titled The Mortal Immortal from the Romanticism era, and the second is Charles Dickens’ To be Read at Dusk from the Victorian era. The discussion of the first comes first, while the second comes second.
The Mortal Immortal is a short story that tells about a man who becomes immortal but unhappy with his immortality. The man (his name is not mentioned in the story, so I will just call him the man) is the pupil of Cornelius Agrippa, a famous philosopher who has a dark career record that once made all of his servants run away. The man took the job under the Cornelius’ roof after the philosopher offers him a bundle of gold. He could not resist, of course, because he was poor and needed the gold. On the working days, Cornelius makes him busy all the time with his experiments, especially when he is working on a mysterious mighty elixir. The man works for days and nights. Always so busy. This business unfortunately, sadly, miserably makes him lose the love of his life named Bertha. She is his neighbor with whom he is madly in love. Bertha thinks that the man is not suitable for her as for he cannot grip two stones in one hand. A job should not interfere a relationship, she thinks. Therefore, she decides to break up with the man because she feels ignored. After all, she is not really into him anyway. At last, she runs away with another man named Albert Hoffer and leaves the man broken-hearted. The man is broken, torn into pieces.
The mighty elixir is finally done. Cornelius goes to sleep after the exhausted nights of making the concoction. But the man does not follow him to go to sleep. He is tempted to take the elixir – only a few drops of it – and he really does take them then. He thinks that the elixir can cure his broken heart and make him have Bertha back. It is an elixir anyway. It should be able to fix everything that goes wrong. After Cornelius wakes up, he does not realize that his pupil has taken a few drops of his elixir. The man feels safe and sound. However, one thing that he does not know yet is that the elixir is not made to fix a broken heart, but to make people immortal. Not knowing this fact, he feels so confident to show up in front of Bertha and asks her to marry him by threatening her. He gives her an ultimatum: she either marries him or be denounced and disgraced forever. She chooses the first option. Then, they get married and wish to live happily ever after.
A while later, Cornelius is dying. On his bed, he gives the man the elixir and tells him that it makes people immortal. Then, he dies. The man is not so sad with the philosopher’s death, instead, he is surprised with the fact that he has drunk an immortal elixir, but he still drinks it again to see whether it makes him really immortal or not.
Twenty years go by, the man’s physical look does not change at all, though his wife, Bertha, has aged so much. The man still looks like a twenty-year old man, and Bertha does not like it. Their marriage becomes sour with unending fights about the man’s immortality. People also start talking about him. He is isolated in his own environment. Lightning, thunderstorm. Bertha dies and leaves the man in an unending sadness. At this point, the man starts to feel suffered by being immortal. His loved one has gone forever but he has to live forever. So torturing. He finds no point in living anymore but he cannot die. Finally at his 323rd birthday, he decides that he will just go with the flow while hoping the elixir wear off soon. He also starts writing down his story.
That is the summary of The Mortal Immortal. Here is the summary of To be Read at Dusk.
To be Read at Dusk is a story about a man who eardrops five couriers outside the convent on the summit of the Great St. Bernard in Switzerland when they are talking about ghosts. There are two short stories talked about. The first is about a woman who meets the scary guy from her dream, and the second is about the twin James and John.
First story first. Clara is haunted by the face of a man in dreams before her wedding. She is very scared of meeting the man in her dream. After the wedding, she and her husband move to a house in Italy, but she is still scared of meeting the guy in her new house. However, after arriving in the new house and not finding the face that she does not want to see, she starts to enjoy her life and forget about her dream. Then, one night, her husband invites his colleague named Signor Dellombra to come over to their house for a dinner. Surprisingly Signor Dellombra is the man in Clara’s dream. Clara freaks out right away. However, her husband keeps inviting Signor Dellombra to the house so that she can face her fear and to see that nothing bad really happens. Suddenly one day, she is disappeared and the last time she is seen; she is with Signor Dellombra.
Second story. One of the couriers, who is from Germany, once had an engagement with an English gentlemen, a bachelor, whose name is James. The gentlemen has a twin brother, who is a bachelor too, whose name is John. Before James go to Germany, John gives him a visit in order to spend some time before he leaves. On the second day of the visit, John permits himself to go home because he does not feel well. Then, on the night, James mysteriously sees a man in a white cloth coming to him as if the man is giving him a certain sign. The door of the house then is suddenly knocked. It turns out to be John’s servant. He tells James that his master is dying and that James needs to see him right away. When James comes to John’s house, John shouts at him 'JAMES, YOU HAVE SEEN ME BEFORE, TO-NIGHT - AND YOU KNOW IT!', and so John dies.
Now talking about the writers of the two short stories.
Mary Shelley and Charles Dickens are two writers from different period of time. Mary was thirteen years older than Charles. She was born on August 30, 1797, in London, England. She married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1816. Two years after her marriage, she published her most famous novel, Frankenstein. She wrote several other books, including Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), the autobiographical Lodore (1835) and the posthumously published Mathilde. She also wrote short stories, one of which is titled The Mortal Immortal. Shelley died of brain cancer on February 1, 1851, in London, England.
Charles Dickens was a British novelist who was born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, England. He wrote the beloved classic novels Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. On June 9, 1870, Dickens died of a stroke in Kent, England, leaving his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished.
The two short stories, The Mortal Immortal and To be Read at Dusk, are originally from different era of English literature, but they share the same theme, which is supernaturalism, but with different delivery style. The Mortal Immortal from the Romanticism era presents the story with a tone that underestimates the existence of immortality. One thing that we should realize here is that immortality in this story is a sign of man’s perfection toward the world, especially toward love. However perfection never works out if it is too over, just like what is reflected in the story; immortality leads to total failure. On the other side, the tone in To be Read at Dusk from the Victorian era denies ghosts and other irrational occurrences. It can be seen from how many times the couriers say that the stories they are telling are not ghost stories, meanwhile they are ghost stories. Don’t we all know that a strong positive is actually a negative, and vice versa? So, if the couriers strongly argue that the stories are not about ghosts, then the truth is the opposite.
The characteristic of the Romanticism era is more into humans and their balance with the nature. As reflected in The Mortal Immortal, if a man tries to break their mortal faith (which is irrational), it means that he breaks the nature. Then as a result, nature fights back and takes a punishment to the man. In this context, for the man, not being happy with immortality is a form of punishment. The Mortal Immortal reflects the phenomena of the people in the Romanticism. They are so much interested with man’s perfection, human’s behavior, and nature’s balance. All of these three relate each other. If one of them is missing, then the balance of the nature goes wrong. People in this period also have left the characteristics of their previous periods whose people believe that immortality should be achieved to strengthen human’s existence. People in this period believe in an after-life, as proven in this short story The Mortal Immortal, which clearly declares that immortality does not bring happiness and being dead solves all problems.
The characteristic of the Victorian era is highly descriptive and emotionally expressive and it strives to be earnest and wholesome. As what can be seen in To be Read at Dust, the story is so much emotional and sarcasm. It uses expressive sentences showing that the stories in the story really happen (although they are irrational) and that they are not related to ghosts (although in fact it sounds like they are). The Victorian era is the continuation of the supernaturalism belief in the Romanticism era. However, the characteristic of the people who are more modern differs the two. Modernity has driven the period into secularism. The denial toward supernaturalism (things like ghosts, etc.) is very strong as what is reflected in To be Read at Dust. In the short story, although the characters tell about supernaturalism, they deny ghosts. It can also be seen that the form of supernaturalism, or in this context is ghosts, varies than the ghosts from the different periods.
Only looking at the theme and the fact that the two short stories come from different eras already tells us that the idea of ghost has existed throughout the centuries, not only in one period of time. Then when we look into it more closely again, (to me as the writer of this essay) the idea of supernaturalism more likely seems like they are ancestoring themselves, breeding from one generation to the next generations, creating different figures with similar characteristics, producing variety supernaturalism icons. The forms and kinds of supernaturalism vary from time to time influenced by technology and the fast development of people’s creativity. The influence of the writers is also important especially in creating scenes of history recollection to click people’s consciousness, making people feel connected with the story. In this case, Mary Shelley and Charles Dickens are the experts to take the role. Firstly, they are writers who know how to make a story go well. The idea of supernaturalism is only a plain main idea if not being put in a complex plot and unique characters. The more complex the plot is and the more unique the characters are, the more interesting the story is. Then, secondly, Mary and Charles are originally from England, so they know how English people are, therefore, their phenomenological is directly attached to the English people (I am talking specifically about England because the stories are originally from there). Then, the merry of superstition in the literary works is spread not only in England but also throughout the world over the period as for people share the same connection.
The existence of supernaturalism is quite vivid among people in countries over the world. Supernaturalism brings people’s history. It carries background stories. It is mixed with cultures and customs. The icon of supernaturalism itself represents people’s ideology. So we can take a conclusion then that supernaturalism cannot be vanished so easily because people find themselves in it, no matter if it is irrational or rational, illogical or logical.