The Figure of the Dybbuk
THE FIGURE of the revenant-in the form of a ghost or in some other shape-stalks through Romantic literature. He is a presence not to be put by. In a time of radical novelty, of emancipation from tradition in all its forms, the past nevertheless lays its palsied hands on the present. The doggerel verses quoted above are spoken by the Bleeding Nun, a figure from the past who threatens to blight the life and loves of the young hero in M. G. Lewis’s Gothic novel The Monk (1795). She is got rid of eventually, her bones being decently reinterred and laid to rest. And paradoxically enough her removal is accomplished with the help of Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew. It is he who releases Raymond from the spell of the revenant, and thus enables him to go forward into the light, liberated from inherited guilt. Raymond might very well have remarked, in the words of Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, that history was a nightmare from which he was trying to awake. It was the Jew who helped him to wake up.
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