As our class has another date with St. Leon and another hundred pages is being read, a red flag jumps out at me: the stranger that Reginald encounters and takes into his home. At first, the stranger seems a unfortunate soul in need of compassion and help, but upon Reginald’s reluctance to keep a secret from his wife, the stranger spits poison that inevitably taints Reginald’s relationship with his wife and his children:
“Feeble and effeminate mortal! . . . Was ever gallant action achieved by him who was incapable of separating himself from a woman? Was ever a great discovery prosecuted, or an important benefit conferred upon the human race, by him who was incapable of standing, and thinking, and feeling, alone? Under the usurping and dishonored name of virtue, you have sunk into a slavery baser than that of the enchantress Alcina. In vain might honour, worth, and immortal renown proffer their favors to him who has made himself the basest of all sublunary things—the puppet of a woman, the play-thing of her pleasure, wasting an inglorious life in the gratification of her wishes and the performance of her commands!” (Godwin 157)
The stranger is directly attacking Reginald’s masculinity and the equal partnership that he shares with his wife Marguerite. The stranger verbally combats right after Reginald expresses how much he is attached to Marguerite’s hip: “My wife is a part of myself; for the last six years at least I have had no thought in which she has not participated; and these have been the most tranquil and happy years of my life . . . and I will not now consent to any thing that shall infringe on the happiness of my soul” (Godwin 157). Also, up to this moment (excluding Reginald’s unfortunate gambling problems), Reginald and Marguerite lived in harmony and happily with Marguerite somewhat in charge during times of crisis. Before the stranger plants his poisonous seed of not being man enough, Reginald is actually grateful and takes pride in his wife’s ability to clean up his problems and to keep the family together and alive. He and his family coexist in peace, communicating with one another and loving each other to the point that even after his gambling issue in Paris, they were able to meet the right people and piece together a life of “peace and tranquility” (Godwin 155). So, for the stranger to react negatively as he did raises a red flag not only because of what the stranger was attacking, but the way that his words make Reginald feel and incite change in his behavior.
As stated before, Reginald was happy as he was with his family before the stranger appeared, but the poison of the stranger’s words slowly killed Reginald’s Garden of Eden. Reginald resists at first and defends his wife and her character, but as the stranger refuses to grant the knowledge that Reginald so desires, Reginald weakens and falls prey to the stranger’s poisonous thoughts: “Shall I shut upon myself the gate of knowledge and information? Is it not the part of a feeble and effeminate mind to refuse instruction, because he is not at liberty to communicate that instruction to another—to a wife?” (Godwin 159). Notice the words that he uses: “feeble” and “effeminate,” the words that the stranger had thrown at him and used to degrade him. Reginald, after much debating and feeling awful for not being forthcoming to Marguerite about the stranger, settles on keeping the information a secret from her and the family:
“I reasoned thus with myself: what excites my scruples is simply the idea of having one single secret from my wife and family . . . Other men have their secrets: nor do they find their domestic tranquility broken by that circumstance. The merchant does not call his wife into consultation . . . the statesman does not unfold to her his policy and his projects; the warrior does not take her advice . . . the poet does not concert with her his flights and his episodes. To other men the domestic scene is the relaxation of their cares; when they enter it, they dismiss the business of the day, and call another cause. I only have concentrated in it the whole of my existence. By this means I have extinguished in myself the true energy of the human character. A man can never be respectable in the eyes of the world or in his own, except so far as he stands by himself and is truly independent. He may have friends; he may have domestic connections; but he must not in these connections lose individuality” (Godwin 166-167)
Though Reginald does not refer to himself as “feeble” or “effeminate” again, he does echo a concern that he is not behaving as a “real” man. Throughout the quote he compares himself to other men, creating a contrast between himself and “real” men that are manly men to ever manly and “don’t need no woman.” Because the stranger has planted doubts of Reginald, his masculinity, and his role in the family, Reginald is convinced to do as the stranger wanted and to keep the stranger’s knowledge a secret from Marguerite. This is the beginning of the end for Reginald’s domestic Garden of Eden, leading to him distancing himself from his wife and children which tears and wounds his bond with them. Because of the stranger and his elixir, Reginald is convinced that distancing himself from his family is the best thing despite how his wife and children protest. Reginald does this even after the stranger has died, too affected by the poison to save himself and his Garden.
(Word count: 931)