- "Who's Your Father, Dear?"Haunted Bloodlines and Miscegenation in Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees
Ann-Marie MacDonald's novel, Fall on Your Knees, is commonly characterized as a feminist novel or family saga. Many critics, such as Juliann Fleenor, have recognized a connection between the female or feminine novel and the Gothic, in particular, that female Gothic is concerned with household dramas and threats to women. A quick survey of the plot of this novel leaves no doubt that it is Gothic: There is a family curse, a haunted house, a young woman in peril of sexual violation, a concern for family bloodlines, spiritually hollow Catholicism, a woman confined to an attic, several dead mothers, family secrets including incest, and orphans who learn the truth about their parentage. One might argue that Gothic conventions do not a Gothic novel make. However, these plot elements are not superficial but are an integral part of the story. Still, while haunted houses, haunted people, and haunted bloodlines signify the Gothic, MacDonald does not merely replicate past Gothics; she uses the conventions to illustrate how racial prejudices cloud judgement. The perceived sin of miscegenation, and the anxiety to prevent it, haunts this text and haunts the bloodlines of the families, generation after generation.
There is a small body of work exploring the Gothic in Canadian literature that focuses primarily on ambivalent responses to the wilderness and other potentially menacing spaces. In The Haunted Wilderness: The Gothic and Grotesque in Canadian Fiction, Margot Northey observes a parallel between "the dark wilderness of the [End Page 177] mind" and the "fearful presences" of the actual wilderness (61). Northey examines the practice of reflecting the psychological state of characters in representations of nature (6). In Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature, Margaret Atwood explores some of the folklore surrounding the Canadian North, drawing upon Northrop Frye's writing about the state of Canadian imagination and identity. Frye recognizes that Canada's development was not defined by a frontier, as was the case in the United States, but was populated by garrisons—outposts in the wilderness that had to be protected by the community. This theory suggests that Canadians fear what lies beyond the gates of the garrison and are, therefore, community-centred rather than individualistic. Frye and Atwood have applied this theory to reading and writing literature to construct fearful portrayals of nature; in particular, Atwood's story "Death by Landscape." Although Fall on Your Knees focuses on domestic terrors, the sublime beauty of Cape Breton Island creates a Gothic atmosphere, reminiscent of Ann Radcliffe's novels, in which nature is awe-inspiring but the greater dangers (other than banditti) lie within the home, castle, or monastery.
Susanne Becker, in Gothic Forms of Feminine Fictions, takes a post-modern approach, suggesting that female or domestic spaces in novels by Canadian writers reflect Gothic anxieties, such as excess, containment, and the transgressive nature of female sexuality. Becker defines texts such as Atwood's Lady Oracle or Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women as neo-Gothic because they use irony and the grotesque to disrupt or parody feminine myths of the "proper woman" or the femme fatale. These roles are clearly recognized and performed by characters in this novel, especially by the proper Mercedes and the debauched Frances. Characters such as Frances take comfort in exploiting and parodying such roles, but the plot resists the perpetuation of these roles. They are reversed in the end, in that Mercedes is not respected and Frances is welcomed into the community. Irony in Fall on Your Knees is present in the self-reflexive performances of the characters and contributes to the construction of the novel as neo-Gothic. MacDonald's novel fits Becker's definition of neo-Gothic: It "reflects the feminine dimension of the on-going cultural and literary change . . . gothic horror is domestic horror, family horror, and addresses these obviously 'gendered' problems of everyday life" (4). Becker also relies on Julia Kristeva's theory of abjection to explore female subjectivity in neo-Gothic literature. Abjection, as a state of borders and borderlessness, plays significantly into the [End Page 178...