St. Leon: The Isolating Effect of Knowledge, a Parallel to Paradise Lost

As I have been reading St. LeonParadise Lost keeps coming back to my mind. Reginald refers to Paradise Lost in the novel so it is not surprising, but an interesting idea dawned on me when I read this quote in St. Leon:

“I might now be said to have reached the end of my adventure: I had closed one grand experiment upon the donation of the stranger. What had it produced to me? Not one atom of the benefits I anticipated; not a particle of those advantages which a little while ago had made the intoxications of my waking dreams. Its fruits had been distasteful and loathsome. Whether I looked to my person, my family, or my fame, I had felt in all the miserable effects of this treacherous and delusive gift” (243)

Reginald says this after he has been imprisoned for refusing to tell the magistrate about the stranger, where and why the stranger died, and Reginald’s part in the event. He also refused to clear up how and why he suddenly had an impressive amount of wealth after the death of the stranger. So while Reginald expresses unhappiness with his decision to do as what the stranger told him that Reginald could do (that is, become “immortal” and have an endless supply of money), he is sitting in a cell that he is in due to his refusal to grant the magistrate knowledge. Reginald keeps his silence because that he is what he promised the stranger that he would do, not necessarily to be difficult or to hoard his knowledge. However, this incident echoes previous points in the novel in which Reginald’s silence on the matter of the stranger and the money has negative affects on Reginald’s life and relationships.

A devastating example is when his son Charles demands to know the truth and for Reginald to prove that he is not a bad person and that he did not commit some horrible act to get wealth. Reginald refuses and pleads his innocence, but Charles uses undeniable logic against his father:

“You have given utterance to different fictions on the subject, fictions you now confess to be such; how am I to be convinced that what you say at this moment is not dictated more by a regard for my tranquillity, than by the simplicity of conscious truth? . . . Your character is blasted; your honour is destroyed” (213)

To sum up, Charles is saying that because his father (Reginald) has lied so much, Charles can never believe him. This drives Charles to leave his father, as to not be dragged down into disgrace, and to cut ties even with his sisters and his mother. Even when faced with Charles’ severance, Reginald keeps his mouth shut about the truth and does not reveal even a hint of the truth and knowledge that he gained from the stranger.

While the events with the magistrate and Charles do not parallel with Paradise Lost, the way that gaining and keeping the knowledge affects Reginald’s life does. Thinking back to how eating the Forbidden Fruit affects Eve is where I draw the parallel. For a moment, Eve does consider how she is now (or will be) superior to Adam, but it does not take long for Eve to realize that her action could isolate herself from Adam, emotionally or physically. The realization that now Eve could lose Adam and be alone is what drives her to give Adam the fruit. While Reginald has not currently given anyone his “fruit of knowledge,” he is experiencing what Eve did for a short instance: isolation, loneliness, and disconnection. There are multiple times in which Reginald expresses being cut off from humanity and from his family, like there is a distance between him and them that was not there before. The emotional response to that sentiment varies, but when he is in prison, Reginald hates that he did what the stranger had done which in turn is a hatred for his knowledge. He is where he is not only because he refuses to “give” his fruit of knowledge, but because his “eating” of the stranger’s “fruit” has led him there. If he had not listened, if he had refused to keep a secret, Reginald would not be in prison. His family would still be at peace, and his son would be at home. However, just like Adam and Eve, Reginald “ate” the fruit and thus was exiled from his Garden of Eden.

(Word count: 745)