Anachronisms In Ackroyd — страница 2

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the novel in Chatterton’s actual deathbed scene. And these very same details are again presented in Charles’ deathbed scene. His right arm fell away and his hand trailed upon the ground, the fingers clenched tightly together; his head slumped to the right also, so that it was about to slide off the hospital bed. His body arched once in a final spasm, quivered, and then became still. ‘Chatterton’ was finished. (p. 170) This passage describes Charles’ death. The last line quoted ties together the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As Charles dies, Wallis finished his portrait of Chatterton’s death. It is almost as though it was Charles’ death that Wallis is portraying, not Chatterton’s. Charles’ death somehow completes the painting which was created 130 years

earlier. To corroborate this argument, shortly after Charles’ death, his son Edward visits the Tate Gallery. When he looks at the picture of the deathbed scene, he “sees his father lying on the bed in place of Chatterton (who at any rate is Meredith).” (Finney, p. 258) Here Edward realizes that his father will never wholly die, because he will live on in this painting. Nevertheless, Chatterton’s death still echoes the portrait left by Wallis. He has the same pose, and characteristics as bestowed upon him by Wallis. He ends up “dying not with the grimace produced by the effects of arsenic but with the smile that both Wallis and now Ackroyd bestow on him.” (Finney, p. 258) Throughout the novel, the past plays an important role on the present. All of the writers

presented in this novel (Charles, Harriet Scrope, Philip, Andrew Flint) are influenced by the past. Charles tries to write a book about Chatterton and his forgeries; Harriet plagiarizes plots from obscure nineteenth century novels; Philip wants to write the book on Chatterton which Charles had begun before his death; Andrew peppers his language with quotations from past works and classic authors. But at the same time, the present seems to influence the past. As we have already shown, Wallis’ portrait is only completed upon Charles’ death, and the elements of this painting come to reflect what has happened in the past, at Chatterton’s death, as well as those in the present during Charles’ death. Upon his death, Chatterton’s face has the smile which was given to him by

Wallis in his painting. Had he not painted his death this way, would Chatterton have had a grimace of pain due to the horrific death he encountered rather than a smile? During the nineteenth century narrative, Meredith tells Wallis that “I dreamed of Chatterton the other night. I was passing him on some old stairs.” (p. 139) Charles also had a vision of Chatterton while sitting in the park. “Charles looked down again in despair and, when he glanced up, the figure of Thomas Chatterton had disappeared.” (p. 3) Here we find one of the anachronisms which Ackroyd has used in the novel. As he dies, Chatterton sees Wallis and Charles. “I will not wholly die, then. Two others have joined him – the young man who passes him on the stairs and the young man who sits with bowed

head by the fountain – and they stand silently beside him. I will live for ever, he tells them.” (p. 234) In seeing these visions on his deathbed, Chatterton realizes that he will live on through the eyes and lives of others after him. Ackroyd is thus merging the three time periods together. In so doing, he is forcing the reader to perceive the three time periods at once. The time continuum is shattered, and all time becomes one. The end of the story is timeless, since Chatterton dies and is united with both Wallis and Charles, who will only live long after his death. In forcing the reader to question the one element which is usually constant in a novel, time, Ackroyd is unsettling his audience. They are forced to accept what is being presented to them even if in their own

rational mind it is impossible. The reader usually tries to identify secure elements in a novel to hold on to. In this case, many of the characters are plagiarists and time has no real meaning. What is there left for the reader to hold on to? By bending the rules and boundaries of time, Ackroyd can create a world in which Charles Wynchwood, Henry Wallis and Thomas Chatterton can all be together for a brief instance. Bibliography REFERENCES Ackroyd, Peter. Chatterton. Toronto: Penguin Books Canada, 1993. Finney, Brian. “Peter Ackroyd, Postmodernist Play and Chatterton.” Twentieth Century Literature, 38, 2 (1992): 240 – 261. 38d