As we keep discussing Reginald’s character in St. Leon, I find myself circling back to the stranger and his motivation for telling Reginald the secret of immortality and boundless wealth. Payton has said more than once that perhaps the stranger needed to tell Reginald in order to die, that it is like a curse that has to be passed on before the cursed person can finally die. I do not agree with Payton’s idea, but it did prompt me to reread the stranger’s introduction in the story.
What struck me was what the stranger said to Reginald: “The only thing I have left to do in the world is to die; and what I seek at present, is a friend who will take care that I shall be suffered to die in peace. Shall I trust you? Will you be that friend to me?” (Godwin 156). His words leave little room for interpretation: he wants to die and wants to someone to care for him for just a little while. Of course, like Allee mentioned in class today, the stranger seems to subscribe to the sentiment of gentilesse which refers to the idea that the nobility are “naturally” good people and gentlemen: “You are, I understand, a Frenchman, and your name the count de St. Leon?” (Godwin 156). It is after the stranger is assured that Reginald is a nobleman that the stranger decides Reginald could be a possible friend and confidant. To a modern audience, the stranger’s subscription to the idea of gentilesse can (and mostly will) be met with disgust and eye-rolling, but I think with the exposure of stranger’s bias and archaic beliefs, the audience can infer some facts about the stranger that are not otherwise told to us.
For instance, notice how the stranger is not affected by the fact that Reginald is a Frenchman. In fact, he thinks that is another important trait of Reginald’s, a kind of proof that Reginald is “worthy” or “acceptable” as a friend/confidant. If the stranger was only interested in the fact that Reginald was a nobleman, then why would it matter what country Reginald is from? And for it to matter so much that the stranger mentions that fact first instead of Reginald’s nobility? At first, I did not think it matter, but after revisiting the scene, I picked up an interesting bit of truth that the stranger gives us about his origin: “My name is not Zampieri; I am no Venetian” (Godwin 156). Now, this information by itself is not much, but when examined next to what the stranger finds important about Reginald’s identity, that being his country of origin and social status, I think there is a subtle hint about the stranger’s origin: that he is a Frenchman and most likely of nobility. If the scene is revisited with that information, everything falls into place.
The stranger found a person that he is willing to tell his secret to and to trust to care for him. After reading what unfortunate circumstances that Reginald finds himself in (and makes for himself) and the paranoia that he starts to develop, the stranger’s lack of trust is more understandable. However, unlike Reginald who finds help with society’s outcasts, the stranger places his trust in the notion of gentilesse and thus seeks someone of similar nature. As creepy and disgusting as it sounds, I think the stranger came to trust only “his own kind” as the years went on, and thus would mostly trust someone that he considered as one of “his own kind.” This would explain why, despite our own concerns and thoughts of Reginald being a good candidate, the stranger chooses Reginald as his friend/confidant; because like Reginald, the stranger is/was a noble Frenchman.
On top of all that, Reginald never introduces himself to the stranger. Instead, the stranger already knows who Reginald, almost as if he had been searching for Reginald on purpose and/or purposefully chose Reginald’s house: “As soon as we were seated, the stranger began: ‘You are, I understand, a Frenchman, and your name the count de St. Leon?’ [Reginald] bowed assent” (Godwin 156). The stranger, with this confirmation, then immediately asks Reginald to be his friend/confidant. There is no building of their relationship nor significant passage of time. The stranger showed up in the evening, went to bed, and he talks to Reginald about being his friend almost first thing in the morning. So, for all intents and purposes, Reginald suppose to be a complete stranger to the stranger, but that is shown to be false due to the stranger’s knowledge of him. Thus, I argue that the stranger intentionally “stumbled” upon Reginald’s house and chose Reginald due to his similar status as a French nobleman.
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