Marauder and Radical Exceptionalism
While Knickerbocker’s exceptionalism is reactionary, allowing him to place his account of New York’s history above others in the service of celebrating Van Twiller’s “golden” reign, Charles Lucas’s The Infernal Quixote (1801) portrays quixotism as a radical form of exceptionalism. Lucas’s quixote, James Marauder, possesses talents and advantages akin to those of Smollett’s Launcelot Greaves, though Marauder’s idealism is not one of justice under law and for the benefit of the wider community, but one of an unrelenting self-regard that leads to anarchism and libertinism.
The Infernal Quixote typically appears as a footnote rather than a focus in studies of British quixotism and of the anti-Jacobin novel, though it represents a watershed moment for quixotic exceptionalism.1 To this point I have discussed the exceptionalist tendencies of quixotes as means of intervening in politics at the social, national, and international levels, contending that exceptionalism is a unifying characteristic of quixotes, even as it takes different objects, and even as it results in different political orientations. The Infernal Quixote marshals exceptionalism in this way as well, but it also places quixotic exceptionalism directly in conversation with its contemporary political theory, particularly William Godwin’s Political Justice (1793).
As Susan Staves notes, Marauder is a “more extreme example of . . . the ideological quixote,” a vehicle through which Lucas could convey the extent to which he “obviously loathed the very idea of the French revolution.”2 Not only is Lucas straightforward in his loathing of any hint of British sympathy for the French Revolution, but he also included in The Infernal Quixote footnotes to passages in Godwin’s Political Justice that Marauder was meant to expose as dangerous and destructive. In this way The Infernal Quixote portrays quixotic exceptionalism as a precondition of radical political theory.
When Political Justice first appeared in 1793, it made Godwin something of a celebrity political philosopher. The primacy of reason and rationality underpinned the foundational texts of Enlightenment political philosophy, like Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1689), Rousseau’s The Social Contract (1762), and Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), all of which made the rational case for stable government despite the fact that government meant giving up certain natural liberties. Political Justice, on the other hand, was the first book of political philosophy in the British tradition to make the rational case for anarchism. Godwin did so by offering a compelling critique of Lockean, rights-based individualism, rendering an argument for anarchism from an otherwise unlikely repudiation of individual rights as a driving force of civil society. That is, Godwin rejects the notion of individual rights, claiming rights are “superseded and rendered null by the superior claims of justice.” At the same time, however, he elevates “independence of the individual” to a higher status than individual rights, drawing an important distinction between a sense of political justice based in the liberal individual-rights tradition and one based in the liberal individualist tradition of independence from government.3 For Godwin, independence is not about rights but rather the freedom to develop moral frameworks. As such, Political Justice was received as an exception to the dominant strands of eighteenth-century political philosophy.
Godwin, too, was treated as an exception in more ways than one, since his rapid ascent to the stratosphere of political philosophy was met shortly after with a rapid descent into controversy and infamy. He was celebrated as having surpassed the likes of Paine, Locke, Rousseau, and Burke with his new book. Political Justice sold for three guineas, ten times more than Burke’s Reflections, so that when the threatening prospect of the book’s radicalism initially came up, William Pitt the Younger is said to have argued against suppressing it on grounds that the book was too expensive to reach a broad enough audience to cause any real problems.4 William Hazlitt described Godwin in 1793 as “blazed as a sun in the firmament of reputation; no one was more talked of, more looked up to, more sought after.” By Hazlitt’s account, Wordsworth is said to have told a young student to “throw aside your books of chemistry, and read Godwin.”5 Not surprisingly, then, Wordsworth was an admirer of Godwin, as were Coleridge and Percy Shelley; and Godwin was thought to have been particularly influential upon the young.6
But when the French Revolution turned toward the Terror, vindicating Burke’s much cheaper book and calling Godwin’s arguments in Political Justice into question, Godwin was made an exception in another way, as a scapegoat for British radicalism in the face of the Terror in France. Wordsworth and Coleridge disavowed Godwin’s philosophy amid Pitt’s efforts to suppress English radicalism before it might foment into a British version of the most horrifying elements of the French Revolution. As Isaac Kramnick notes, Godwin was singled out for particularly harsh condemnation in the years of the British loyalist backlash during and immediately after the Reign of Terror. Godwin was a common target in anti-Jacobin pamphlets, associated with atheism and sin and mocked in the press when he and Mary Wollstonecraft—both of whom were open critics of the institution of marriage—decided to wed when Wollstonecraft became pregnant.7 It is this image of Godwin—as a godless radical, hypocrite, and fomenter of Jacobin malfeasance—to which Lucas responds in The Infernal Quixote.
But is this a fair portrait of Godwin? To understand how quixotism works in The Infernal Quixote, we need to understand what ideas from Political Justice Lucas was interested in engaging and undermining. Despite its portrayal in Lucas’s novel, Political Justice itself warned of the dangers of revolution and of mob mentality and was certainly more nuanced on the issue of marriage than Godwin’s detractors gave him credit for. Given that Lucas associates Marauder with both the French Revolution and the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the first of Lucas’s readings of Political Justice that demands attention is the idea that Political Justice advocates revolution.
It would be difficult to make a convincing argument that Godwin was a revolutionary and that Political Justice advocated revolution, particularly of the kind that transpired in France in 1793–94. Godwin notes in his preface to Political Justice that, having read Swift’s political writings and the “Latin historians,” he was convinced twelve years before writing Political Justice that “monarchy was a species of government essentially corrupt.” He also credits Rousseau for providing “additional stimulus” and ultimately acknowledges the French Revolution for “the determination of mind which gave birth to [Political Justice]” (5). But while the French Revolution was an inspiration for what Godwin called “the desirableness of a government in the utmost degree simple,” the French Revolution itself was not a model for achieving the ideal society Godwin envisioned in Political Justice.
Godwin’s central argument is indeed radical, relative to the Enlightenment liberal tradition from which he deviated, but the means by which Godwin envisioned social progress were far from radical or revolutionary. By “government in the utmost degree simple,” Godwin meant stripping down the assumptions of social contract to a society in which justice was a consequence not of government, but of reasoned, sincere, moral cultivation of just social relations among individuals. Godwin posited three kinds of authority: the authority of reason, by which, as reasoned persons, we have authority over ourselves; the authority of the esteemed other, by which estimable people influence others who rightly look up to those deserving of esteem; and, finally, the authority of government.8 For the desirable progression to take place from what Godwin understood as unjust and irrational governmental authority to anarchical society run by the authority of reason and of estimable social models, societies needed to cultivate the preconditions of sincerity, justice, and duty to self and others.
What this amounts to in Godwin’s political theory is not bloody revolution but its opposite. Godwin calls for a gradual transition away from reliance on government, a vision of reform whose pace and wariness of abrupt change are much closer to Burke’s cautions in Reflections on the Revolution in France than to Jacobinism. As Godwin writes, describing this vision:
Government cannot proceed but upon confidence, as confidence on the other hand cannot exist without ignorance. The true supporters of government are the weak and uninformed, and not the wise. In proportion as weakness and ignorance shall diminish, the basis of government will also decay. This however is an event which ought not to be contemplated with alarm. A catastrophe of this description would be the true euthanasia of government. If the annihilation of blind confidence and implicit opinion can at any time be effected, there will necessarily succeed in their place an unforced concurrence of all in promoting the general welfare. (181–82)
What Godwin calls the “decay” of government—not a radical uprising through immediate political action—is the goal of Political Justice, and too abrupt a change would be a serious barrier to the outcomes that most interested Godwin.
We have further evidence that Godwin did not advocate abrupt, radical change. When Godwin became ensnared in the conflict between Pitt’s government and the London Corresponding Society, a group seeking suffrage and parliamentary reform, largely inspired by Political Justice, Godwin sided against the reformers agitating in his name. The Pitt government took the relatively modest London Corresponding Society to trial for treason in 1794.9 In a pamphlet Godwin published anonymously, Considerations on Lord Grenville’s and Mr. Pitt’s Bills Concerning Treasonable and Seditious Practices and Unlawful Assemblies (1795), Godwin claims the London Corresponding Society is a threat to social order, its activism premature and impetuous. Quoting Pope—“fools rush in, where angels fear to tread”—Godwin urges recognition of the delicate and volatile nature of “the machine of human society.”10 In the end, Godwin, the supposed radical, not only defended his vision in Political Justice from English Jacobin groups like the London Corresponding Society but in so doing aligned himself with the Pitt government’s illiberal “Grenville and Pitt Bills,” the Treason Act and the Seditious Meetings Act, both of 1795. These are not the actions of a radical revolutionary.
While Godwin’s ideas in Political Justice constituted a radical departure from the rights-based, contractarian center of Enlightenment political philosophy, Godwin was nevertheless far from radical in the Jacobin sense. “If conviction of the understanding be the compass . . . we shall have many reforms, but no revolutions,” writes Godwin; “revolutions are the produce of passion, not of sober and tranquil reason” (186). And perhaps more tellingly, in relation to the reactionary quixotism of Diedrich Knickerbocker, and the radical quixotism of Marauder, Godwin was suspicious of both extreme reactionary politics (“friends of antiquity”) and extreme futurism (“friends of innovation”), both of which he deemed “enemies” of “the great cause of humanity” (196).
Beyond general associations of Political Justice with Jacobinism, Lucas also focuses in The Infernal Quixote on Godwin’s views on marriage and on women’s rights and education. A central conflict in The Infernal Quixote—Marauder’s reckless seduction and ruination of Emily Bellaire—makes pointed references to Political Justice and its potential to lead virtuous young women like Emily into ruin. While Political Justice is perhaps less attentive to the institution of marriage than is Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) (to which Lucas also reacts), Godwin does devote an appendix to “Co-operation, Cohabitation and Marriage.”
As the title of the appendix suggests, Godwin’s views on marriage are an extension of his views on cooperation. Godwin reasons from the rhetorical question, “Can there be a good reason for men’s eating together, except that they are prompted to it by the impulse of their own minds?” (675). Here he recognizes the importance of social interactions, conversations, and various forms of cooperation for what he calls “moral independence,” the ongoing critique that each person in a society levels upon another for the purpose of progressive moral improvement. However, he argues that any otherwise avoidable cooperation—any supererogatory cooperation—should be avoided (674, 679). Cooperation is for Godwin an evil because it demands the interruption of one’s own best thoughts and desires as they might lead to “progressive improvement,” and thus the sacrificing of time and attention one might otherwise spend pursuing one’s own best inclinations and intellections: “The ideas, associations and circumstances of each man are properly his own; and it is a pernicious system that would lead us to require all men, however different their circumstances, to act by a precise general rule. Add to this that, by the doctrine of progressive improvement, we shall always be erroneous, though we shall every day become less erroneous” (678).
It follows from this viewpoint that cohabitation only intensifies the conundrum cooperation introduces, the conflict between humans as social beings who must not withdraw from society, lest they risk interrupting progressive improvement, and humans as reflective beings whose personal time and individual needs are of utmost value. Godwin expresses this conundrum in terms of “the limits of individuality”: “Every man that receives an impression from any external object has the currents of his own thoughts modified by force; and yet, without external impressions, we should be nothing. Every man that reads the composition of another suffers the succession of his ideas to be, in a considerable degree, under the direction of his author” (680). As we will see when we come to Marauder’s quixotism and seduction strategies in The Infernal Quixote, Godwin’s recognition that reading necessarily interrupts our thoughts by force is important for thinking about how quixotes read. But the risk of cohabitation that concerns Godwin here is that living in continual proximity with another imposes the likelihood of supererogatory cooperation at every turn. Those who cohabitate risk losing the ability to think and judge for themselves without interruption (681).
Not only are thoughts interrupted, such that cohabitation can “melt our opinions into a common mould,” but cohabiting parties face the additional prospect of growing into hostile and unhappy relations with one another (681). “To oblige them to act and to live together,” writes Godwin, “is to subject them to some inevitable portion of thwarting, bickering and unhappiness. This cannot be otherwise, so long as men shall continue to vary their habits, their preferences, and their views” (681). Cohabitation, then, is a recipe for both the diminution of the independent, free-thinking self, and the close-quarters struggle over inevitable differences of habit and thought between parties, and the fluctuation of those differences over time.
It is important to understand that when Godwin critiques marriage in Political Justice, his critique arises from general principles as opposed to an attempt to specifically target the institution of marriage for radical reform. Godwin’s concerns about cooperation and cohabitation precede and inform his concerns about marriage. Living together produces an overfamiliarity between cohabitating parties “where intercourse is too unremitted,” such that the politeness one might practice in disagreement or conflict with a stranger can give way to “surliness and invective” between husband and wife or intimate friends (682). Nevertheless, we can understand why Lucas was alarmed by the critique of marriage in Political Justice, given the extent to which Godwin critiqued marriage as injurious not simply to the married, but to European societies at large.
Godwin’s opposition to marriage is rooted in practical as well as principled observations. Especially relevant to the impact of quixotism on the young and idealistic, Godwin’s contention that marriage is “for a thoughtless and romantic youth of each sex to come together, to see each other, for a few times and under circumstances full of delusion, and then to vow eternal attachment” turns the conservative concern about promiscuity on its head. “In almost every instance,” observes Godwin, “[romantic youth who marry] find themselves deceived” (682). Marriage is for Godwin too final a proposition, and too much like a monopoly in which exclusive rights of possession over women is the operative motive, what Godwin calls “the most odious selfishness” (682). Such a monopoly creates the preconditions for bickering of the sort any general cohabitation arrangement fosters, as well as for abuse and possessiveness.
In light of this critique, Godwin anticipates responses like the ones Lucas levels in The Infernal Quixote, responses centered on the potential of a society to devolve into promiscuity and crass, unstructured, and socially destructive forms of relations between women and men. To address such expectations of “brutal lust and depravity” overtaking European societies, Godwin challenges the assumption that promiscuous relations would be the default human desire in a marriage-free society: “It is a question of some moment whether the intercourse of the sexes, in a reasonable state of society, would be promiscuous, or whether each man would select for himself a partner to whom he will adhere as long as that adherence shall continue to be the choice of both parties. Probability seems to be greatly in favor of the latter” (683). Godwin draws this conclusion based on the rationale that parties who have initiated some form of selection—who saw something of merit in one another from the start—are not likely to forget the merits they saw “when the interview is over” (683). In other words, “friendship . . . may be expected to come in aid of the sexual intercourse, to refine its grossness, and increase its delight” (683). While these arguments for how amorous relationships develop are marshaled in favor of marriage, reasons Godwin, they should apply just as well to relationships out of wedlock.
Godwin points out a number of arguments typically made in favor of marriage that should apply just as well to nonmarital relationships. Inconstancy, for example, is a form of promiscuity; but it only becomes magnified as a grave problem when practiced “in a clandestine manner,” as in marriage (684). Raising and educating children well is in the interest of society at large when understood as a benefit of marriage, but the burdens of childcare and education may “be amicably and willingly participated by others” in the event the mother’s “share of the burden” is rendered unequal (684). Since marriage is for Godwin a barrier to a more “public” system of educating young people, it inhibits not only healthier and more just courtship and friendship practices but the health of society more broadly (685).
Given the quantity and focus of Lucas’s direct references to Godwin’s views on government and marriage in The Infernal Quixote, we might expect that Marauder’s quixotism is a consequence of having read Political Justice as avidly as Don Quixote reads chivalric romances, though Marauder’s reading habits are only part of his quixotism. Marauder does read the likes of Godwin, Rousseau, and Voltaire, all representatives of Francophone or Francophile radicalism in the novel, but Lucas constructs an image of Marauder from a young age that illustrates how Marauder was always predisposed to forms of political philosophy that Lucas regarded as fundamentally empty and self-serving.
Toward the middle of volume 2 of The Infernal Quixote, Lucas schematizes a collection of “modern” and “modernized” philosophies he deems a threat to order and morality, including “Epicureans,” “Illuminati,” “Libertinians,” “Naturals,” “Reasoners,” and “Nothingers.”11 For Lucas, Godwin is a Nothinger, one who abides by the maxim “there is nothing but what [Nothingers] know—Of course it follows, that they know everything” (2.289, 285). As Lucas writes, “every Jacobin is of the sect” (2.291). But most tellingly, Marauder is no mere acolyte of Godwin, but a subscriber to all of these malignant philosophies (2.295).
As I mentioned, however, Marauder was not simply “turned,” in quixotic fashion, by any one philosopher or even by any number of them. Lucas gives us an account of how Marauder was raised and how he came to regard himself the way he does, and Marauder’s upbringing is the root of his quixotism. I have suggested that while quixotes need not be rich—as Launcelot Greaves and Marauder both are—they must possess enough socioeconomic privilege to access and cultivate the high-minded mentality that enables a powerful literary imagination. Lucas opens The Infernal Quixote by contrasting the births of his hero and villain, Wilson Wilson and Marauder, with the precise effect of demonstrating how Marauder is raised with an air of superiority—to believe boundlessly in his superiority at every turn—whereas Wilson is raised with humility. Wilson, the son of a carpenter, and Marauder, of noble birth, are born on the same day in the same town, mere moments apart. Whereas Wilson’s life demonstrates how “the seeds of virtue and religion . . . so sedulously planted in his mind, were now producing their true fruits,” Marauder’s tutelage leads him down a path of infamy that he, whom Lucas describes as naturally “of a dark complexion,” appears destined to tread (1.81; 3.26). Nevertheless, Marauder develops a quixotic exceptionalist outlook in perhaps the purest form we have yet seen (1.15).
When I suggest that Marauder’s quixotism is pure quixotic exceptionalism, I mean that his quixotism is not merely defined by his exceptionalist outlook but also perpetually focused on the idea of his own exceptionality. Parson Adams proceeds with an exceptionalist outlook in attempting to address the injustices in the eighteenth-century English countryside, and Arabella evinces her exceptionalism in proceeding with a reality that her servants struggle to access; but unlike Marauder, neither of these quixotes seeks self-aggrandizement for its own sake. Marauder’s is a quixotism of self-possession and self-regard, and for an important reason. Considering that Godwin’s chief remedy in Political Justice for innovating beyond unjust and irrational government is the cultivation of a morally independent self—a self beholden to the noblest form of authority, the authority of reason one exercises over oneself—Lucas’s critique relies on portraying Marauder’s quixotism as a magnified and exalted version of Godwinian individualism. Even in his extreme self-regard Marauder pursues a form of justice, which Lucas associates with Godwin’s notion of political justice.
Lucas tells us that Marauder’s education from youth differed dramatically from Wilson’s education, as the former was conducted “with far greater éclat” (Lucas peppers his narration with French words throughout, either as backhanded compliments or overt insults) (1.38). When Wilson and Marauder first meet as children, in a fight over a contest on which Marauder has wagered, we are told Marauder “considered himself an adept at the broadsword; and confident of his strength,” and spoke of Wilson as “the carpenter’s indolent son,” implying Wilson fails to earn equivalence with the position Marauder was born into (1.46, 48). Volume 1 of the novel is filled with intimations about how Marauder views himself as exceptional. Described with dogged frequency as “haughty” or possessing “hauteur,” Marauder “saw himself in the first situation in the kingdom, and in every other person, but the Majesty, fancies he beheld an inferior” (1.52). Similarly, Marauder fancied himself a philosopher from a young age and always disdained modesty: “ ‘What is modesty?’ he would say. ‘It is a consciousness of some defect or weakness. Is it not proverbial that a villain cannot look you in the face, and why are men ashamed or shy, but under the idea that the people they are addressing, are their betters—or that the actions they are performing, are not altogether right?’ ” (1.69–70).
Marauder’s disdain for modesty is rooted not merely in arrogance but in the belief that one who is behaving with modesty must be doing something morally and epistemologically wrong. Recalling Godwin, Marauder’s exceptionalism challenges what Lucas views as a dangerously exceptionalist element of Godwin’s political philosophy, the logic by which moral independence or “free-thinking” might create a self-assuredness detached from reality, or from a conflicting, shared morality outside the individual’s belief system. As Lucas informs us, “Unlike those young men of fortune who have a conductor or leader, commonly called a tutor, to attend them, [Marauder] in every case acted and judged for himself” (1.84). Further, of the nature of Marauder’s tutelage, “his tutors had not led his mind to what they thought was proper, but had improved it in those points in which he thought proper to be instructed” (1.164). In Marauder’s belief in his own exceptionality—his quixotism of self-regard—we see a narrow interpretation of the guiding ideology of Political Justice, that of reason’s sovereignty over the individual as the prime sovereign relationship in an ideal society.
We can summarize Marauder’s quixotism, then, as a quixotism of self-regard, inculcated by and through the fact that “from [Marauder’s] youth every thing had been subservient to him. His haughty, ambitious soul could ever brook restraint from any one” (1.164). This extraordinary self-regard conditions Marauder to believe unflinchingly in his own exceptionality, which Lucas emphasizes repeatedly throughout the novel. Lucas links Marauder’s exceptional qualities and abilities to his quixotism of self-regard. At one point Lucas describes Marauder as “ever quicksighted,” an expression of his ability to quickly discern the best angles for prevailing upon others but also a play on words that sounds like “quixoted” in the English pronunciation (2.213).12 As the stakes of Marauder’s scheming and deception build and become more pronounced as the novel progresses, Marauder’s most intense outbursts of “violent” “agitation of . . . mind” are occasioned almost always by blows to his formidable pride (4.19). And when Marauder is defeated while posing as his alter ego, “M’Ginnis,” in the Irish Rebellion, we are told “the natural pride and turbulence of Marauder’s temper was heightened by his late disappointment” (3.34).
Further, Marauder refuses to serve as an acolyte to any one philosophy or political party, as “his watchful prudence had thus prevented his enslaving himself to a party, before he had the power or full means to be a principal” (1.213). And perhaps more tellingly of his exceptionalist attitude, recalling Lucas’s assignation of Marauder to “all” of the radical “modern” and “modernized” philosophies, Marauder does not actually subscribe to them all but is, as Lucas writes, “Above them all” (2.295). In this sense Marauder is the quixotic exceptionalist par excellence, his quixotism rooted in a fantastic idealism about his own worth and capabilities and directed exclusively at aggrandizing its only object, himself, as a superior to everyone else.
Having constructed this foundation of quixotism, Lucas moves to demonstrate that such a quixotism of self-regard leads one naturally and logically to embrace the radical tenets of Jacobinism. Because Lucas’s contention is that Godwin’s political philosophy is a form of “Nothingism” and that Jacobinism is buoyed more by evil and waywardness than any coherent or tangible political philosophy, Lucas must be clever in his rendering of Marauder’s quixotism. That is, if Marauder were simply an avid reader of Godwin, Wollstonecraft, and Rousseau—a traditional quixote turned by a particular kind of book—then Lucas would be conceding that Jacobinism has some substance that might be attractive to men of considerable ability, like Godwin and Marauder (much of the fear and concern The Infernal Quixote works to generate is related to the seductive power of radicalism over impressionable young women like Emily Bellaire). If, on the other hand, Marauder’s quixotism were only generally fanatical, without connection to the ideas Lucas deems responsible for the French Revolution and the Terror of 1793–94, the critique would miss its mark. Instead, Lucas ingeniously writes Marauder’s quixotism as a quixotism of self-regard that aligns with a reductio ad absurdum of the guiding logic of Political Justice, tacitly picking up on the exceptionalist tradition in quixotic narratives and positing a kind of Godwinian exceptionalism as a precondition for Jacobin politics.
Perhaps no object of quixotic exceptionalism is better looked after in Lucas’s novel than the virtue and sensibilities of young women, who stand in the novel in metonymic relation to the evils of the French Revolution writ large. That Marauder’s exceptionalism enables him to prevail upon Emily and gravely endanger Emily’s younger sister, Fanny, speaks to the strength of the link Lucas perceives between libertinism, “free-thinking” women, and the breakdown of social order necessary to bring about the Reign of Terror in France. For this reason it is important to observe the relationship between Marauder’s quixotic exceptionalism and the central plot that drives both Marauder’s iniquity and Wilson’s heroism in the novel, Marauder’s interest in seducing Emily.
Responding to some of the fears and concerns—over what and how women read—that animate the female quixote novels of Lennox and Tenney, Lucas re-creates quixotic reading scenes of the sort that imperil Arabella and Dorcasina. Just as Arabella reads French romances, and Dorcasina reads British romances whose endings are too tidy to accurately represent the challenges of the US frontier, Marauder’s hauteur develops through tours in France and Italy. Outsider values that do not align with the customs, values, and challenges of the “home” society come from books in the case of female quixotes, prevented by eighteenth-century gender norms from traveling freely as their male counterparts do; but Marauder absorbs French influence firsthand. Marauder “surpassed every European nation in their own characteristics” (1.87). Having returned from France prepared to initiate his designs to vigorously pursue Emily, Marauder relies on a mixture of his self-assuredness and exceptionalism and his familiarity with the writings of Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Rousseau, Diderot, and Voltaire. The rival Wilson vies for Emily’s affection as well, but the fact that his humility, propriety, and moral steadfastness are no match for Marauder’s haughty charm highlights the novel’s paternalistic concerns about women’s judgment.
Lucas introduces Emily as so prepossessing, “so perfectly fascinating,” that Marauder “could not behold her with indifference,” a buildup to the pivotal moment in which Marauder successfully convinces Emily of the value of Godwin’s and Wollstonecraft’s ideas on marriage and women’s rights (1.91). The humble Wilson, whose social rank is below Emily’s, is equally taken by Emily’s appearance and manner but resolves, rather than to conquer Emily, to “conquer his fruitless, his presumptuous love” (1.96). Wilson fires a warning shot for readers when he informs Emily that he suspects Marauder is harboring passions for Emily without disclosing them to her in earnest, worrying rightly that Emily might fall for Marauder’s deceptive courtship tactics (1.118).
Yet it turns out to be Wilson’s traditionalism—his premature invocation of marriage—that scares Emily off into the arms of Marauder, suggesting a critique of Emily’s tutelage as much as Marauder’s. As Lucas writes: “Wilson, with increasing ardour, proceeded.—But will my lovely girl promise me her favour, will she sanction my love, will she consent to my wishes, and kindly permit me to speak to her guardians, to say I have her approbation to address them, to hasten—” (1.120). Emily, taken aback, cuts him off: “Oh dear me! what a hurry the good man is in! Indeed I can promise nothing. You know we are both children in the eyes of the law” (1.120). Whereas the novel represents Wilson as its moral center who demonstrates solicitation of “consent,” “sanction,” “permission,” and “approbation” to propose—not even to Emily (given her age), but to her guardians to answer for Emily first—Emily’s refusal represents her first step down a dangerous path. Even as her actions are themselves both prudent and moral—Emily tells Wilson to “ ‘wait patiently’ . . . laying her hand familiarly on his”—her refusal to move too quickly in the direction of marriage echoes Godwin’s own cautionary words in Political Justice about “thoughtless and romantic youth of each sex [who] come together . . . under circumstances full of delusion” (Lucas 1.120; Godwin 682).
Emily’s judgment, even when prudent, is always on slippery ground, priming her for Marauder’s philosophical intervention. Unlike the cautious but sincere Emily, Marauder is every bit the exceptionalist as a beau, as assured of his amatory success each step of the way as of the failure of his competition. When his pressuring leaves Emily both intrigued and speechless, Marauder interprets her look as “in his own favour” (1.125). Lucas tells us that, whereas Wilson doubts his suitability for Emily, Marauder believes Emily is superior to Wilson but inferior to himself, a function of his quixotism of self-regard (1.132). Convinced of his superiority and the superiority of his own philosophy, Marauder assumes the role of tutor to instruct Emily in philosophical principles that will flatter her and mold her in his favor.13 And when Marauder does at last prevail upon Emily, Lucas attributes it to “flattery . . . levelled . . . at a weak fortification,” for which “Vanity commanded in chief, and Folly was Prime-Minister” (1.148). Marauder repeats this self-assured predation with Emily’s sister, Fanny, exclaiming, “I know what women are!” and “how easily are women taken!” in signals of both his self-assurance and the emptiness of his ostensible concern for women’s education and autonomy (4.185, 230).
In Lucas’s reconfiguration of the female quixote reading scene, Marauder “br[ings] many books” to Emily, having marked particular passages for her attention, sometimes venturing to “pointedly” read passages aloud to her. “What do you think of this lady’s notions?” he asks after introducing Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman. “I think she is very favourable to our sex,” Emily replies (1.135). She questions the values of the people of France, stating “they were the most polite and gallant nation in the world,” but when they “killed their king,” they became “no better than savages”; then Marauder minimizes and apologizes for regicide (1.168). Marauder continues by lavishing upon Emily compliments about her intellect, invoking “such a string of female names, that even Emily began to fancy herself half a Grecian” (1.136). Then Marauder introduces Emily to Rousseau and French novels, which Emily delights in and annotates in the margins, indicating her attentiveness and approbation (1.174).
Similar to the politics of the female quixote narrative, in which women discover a set of newly empowering values and ideas through readings of culturally or temporally foreign texts, Marauder tempts Emily with his reading material. Unlike the female quixote narrative, however, the fact that liberal ideas are coming from Marauder poisons the exercise, turning the liberation potential of the female quixote reading scene into a predatory scenario in which the operant quixotism belongs to Marauder, not Emily, who becomes a victim of it through no power of her own. Marauder carefully manipulates her with texts that foreground women’s independence, like Vindication and, presumably, Rousseau’s Julie (1761), which features an illicit sexual relationship between Julie and her tutor.14
When it comes to marriage, Marauder deftly takes the opposite approach to Wilson, invoking Godwin’s argument that long-term cohabitation is likely to lead to bickering and unhappiness. Rather than asking Emily, with Wilson’s avidity, to consent to the opposite of the marital arrangement Wilson proposes—that is, to consent to an intimate relationship without matrimony—Marauder insinuates the possibility of the relationship he wants without avowing his own desire. Quoting Political Justice verbatim on the ills of cohabitation, Marauder “laughed at its author”; and quoting Godwin again on the selfishness of making an exclusive and permanent claim on a partner in marriage, Marauder quips that he is “the most selfish man breathing!” (1.153–54). In refusing to come on too strong, as Wilson did previously, Marauder disavows his Godwinian principles as a means of advancing them.
Here again Marauder’s quixotism, which enables him to proceed with total confidence in his schemes and to be continually reinforced by his successes, sets up Lucas’s critique of Godwin. That Emily falls for Marauder and eventually elopes with him against her younger sister’s better judgment is a consequence of her “young and inexperienced mind” and the fact that “her guardian and his wife were weak, silly, fashionable people.” This is “more a consequence” than her beauty and charm, such that Lucas presents young women like Emily as never really having much agency to resist the self-assured and beguiling courtship of men like Marauder (1.154). The issue is not simply that Godwin or Wollstonecraft might directly poison the sensibilities of young women but that they might imperil young women by way of the savvy and unscrupulous men who use such ideas to prevail upon women. Once again, though Godwin’s expressed concerns in Political Justice about marriage as a destructive force are geared primarily toward the ways marriage actually encourages clandestine inconstancy and the monopolization of women’s bodies and attention, Marauder’s quixotism represents an interpretation of Godwin as an enabler of destructive self-regard that leads to predatory behavior.
Marauder’s predatory behavior extends as well to Emily’s sister, Fanny, whom Marauder lures to and holds captive in his isolated, private house, threatening to “exert the rights of conqueror” unless Fanny yields consent (4.241). Having abandoned Emily after compelling her to elope with him, and after having pursued other women as well behind Emily’s back, Marauder’s endless desire for self-gratification functions as a critique of libertinism, linking libertinism to his quixotism of self-regard, which is itself an adulterated version of Godwinian moral independence. A less salient and underacknowledged critique of Godwin in Lucas’s novel goes beyond libertinism and Jacobinism and focuses on the heart of Political Justice, the idea of moral independence. For this reason, quixotism—and particularly the exceptionalist quality of quixotes—becomes for Lucas an essential vehicle for critique.
We can observe Lucas’s most powerful critique in The Infernal Quixote only by understanding Marauder’s quixotism, particularly his quixotic conversion. The novel ends with Wilson getting wind of Marauder’s scheme to capture Fanny and discovering where Marauder has taken her. Just as Marauder is about to take Fanny by force, Wilson arrives to stop him. The two battle, resulting in Marauder taking a fall that leaves him severely injured and dazed. Wilson and his army hold Marauder in custody while he receives medical treatment. Awakening from a fever-induced swoon, Marauder appears to be experiencing a traditional quixotic conversion. He initially “spoke but little” upon awaking after his fever broke, and the next day “the amendment on Marauder was truly astonishing. He spoke rationally, even professed a readiness to set off immediately towards Ireland” to be held accountable for his role as M’Ginnis in the Rebellion. And he refuses to see “that infamous villain, Imphell,” his trusted attorney and agent in a number of devious schemes (4.349–50).
The climax of the novel comes soon after when Marauder, with “no appearance of insanity returning,” is being escorted to Ireland and decides suddenly to break free of the group and begin running “alone and free . . . with maddening fury . . . desperately through the most arduous places” (4.354–55). What appears at first like an escape attempt becomes something else altogether: “One moment he paused. Recollection shot across his mind. A guilty pang smote him; and, with incredible speed, he flew across the plain. . . . The soul of Marauder staggered. The figure stopped. Every deadly fiend of guilt, depravity, and madness urged Marauder forward. He was about to force his way against it when lo! another form sprung forward, in which his appalled heart recognized the features of Wilson” (4.356–57). That Wilson has conquered Marauder, dealing him a rare setback that punctures his quixotism, is significant here. But we also learn that for the first time Marauder feels guilt, which throws him headlong into emotional and existential disarray. Wilson is the impetus for Marauder’s conversion, but the conversion is in this moment not yet complete, particularly as Marauder is about to break back into his quixotism of self-regard before he sees Wilson, that sudden reminder of his limitations, standing in his path. “Every form but this, Marauder could have opposed,” Lucas tells us. “Against every other he had been successful; here he had been again and again subdued and humbled” (4.357).
The most remarkable turn in Marauder’s conversion comes in the next moment, when, in response to seeing Wilson in his path, Marauder “guided only by fear . . . flew—no matter where”: “Each Fury aided the speed of Marauder—Despair goaded him forward to the edge of the yawning precipice that overhangs the town;—just tottering on the brink, one look he threw behind him—he saw—and leaped, with his utmost exertion, into the deadly abyss. . . . Wilson . . . first learned of the frenzied virulence with which disappointed guilt had smote the soul of Marauder” (4.358–59).
In the end, Marauder, confronted with his fallibility and failure in the form of Wilson, is urged to take his own life by “despair” and “disappointed guilt,” feelings of which Marauder had been virtually incapable prior to his final and fateful confrontation with Wilson. The exceptionalist quixote, “whose birth, fortune and expectations made him equal with the first characters in the Kingdom,” but “whose pride, conceit, and ambition lifted him above them all,” would sooner throw himself off a cliff than face the prospect that he is not exceptional after all (4.361).
For this reason Lucas’s ending is remarkably important for the study of quixotism, because it acknowledges the logical limits of the politics of exceptionalism. Because Marauder’s quixotism is pure exceptionalism, to the extent that his self-regard perpetuates a program of endless self-gratification and self-reinforcement, the cure becomes the total annihilation of self. Marauder’s suicide becomes the dark scene of quixotic conversion, and so Marauder becomes quixotism’s ultimate cautionary figure. By the same stroke, this is also Lucas’s most compelling critique of Godwin’s Political Justice. That is, if we are concerned about the potential of Godwin’s rational anarchism to produce solipsistic or morally intransigent individuals, on account of Godwin’s focus on the evils of cooperation and government, then we might fear a quixotic Godwinian. Marauder is just such a figure, so enamored of his own philosophies and abilities that he is incapable of apprehending the destruction they cause, not even the destruction of his own life in that searing moment when Marauder realizes he is not and was never equipped to process and to live through the death of his exceptionalism.
As I have suggested, The Infernal Quixote has important implications for our understanding of quixotism as eighteenth-century political theory, an eighteenth-century theory of exceptionalism. The Infernal Quixote’s direct engagement with Political Justice—a major work of eighteenth-century political theory—brings quixotic exceptionalism full circle. In his rendering of Don Quixote as a justice-oriented character who proceeds in the dress and with the ethos of Spanish imperialism, Cervantes opened the door for authors to re-create quixotes as exceptionalists in various forms. In Marauder, Lucas gives us a character whose quixotism is pure exceptionalism and whose exceptionalism is in the service of expressly critiquing Godwin’s theory of sovereignty long before scholars like Carl Schmitt, Giorgio Agamben, and Paul Kahn began to theorize the relationship between exceptionalism and sovereignty. In this sense The Infernal Quixote shows us that the concept of quixotic exceptionalism was developed enough in the minds of eighteenth-century novelists that, by the rise and fallout of the French Revolution at the turn of the nineteenth century, the quixote motif was both logical and potent as a means of engaging issues of political theory.
In the following coda I will bring some of the case studies we have covered in this book back into perspective to elaborate on this idea that exceptionalism was a discernable motif in quixotic narratives by the time Lucas portrayed quixotic exceptionalism in The Infernal Quixote. But I also conclude the argument of this book by touching on a few of the ways quixotic exceptionalism is relevant beyond even political theory, relevant to yet more fundamental questions about how we know what we know. As Marauder hunches over his wounded coconspirator, Fahaney, before departing for Ireland to join the Rebellion, he “was careful to whisper a few data in Fahaney’s ear” (3.16). Further, and very characteristic of quixotes, Marauder believed “in reality every thing was subservient to his interest” (3.21). Exceptionalism impacts how quixotes see the world, share their impressions, and interpret their realities. And because of this, exceptionalism illustrates the important ways quixotism and epistemology become mutually relevant.