The merchant character in the Gothic arises from the genre's exploration of class, specifically the problems caused when the rising middle class pushed against the boundaries of their social limitations. This is not a Gothic invention; Restoration-era novels such as Daniel Defoe's Roxana (1724) considered the merchant a valuable financial entity to be exploited, but not as suitable a social match as the aristocracy.
The chapbook Knight of the Broomflower the heroine Almeria is the daughter of a merchant. Almeria, the chapbook suggests, was safe and well-protected until her father sought the company of the monk Ambertus "that he might benefit by his eloquent discourse, and receive both pleasure and instruction." It is only due to this merchant's seeking society with him that Ambertus becomes aware of Almeria's existence, as if by reaching beyond his role to seek further instruction, Almeria's father is somehow responsible for the terrible treatment she receives from Ambertus and his thugs. In this case, the Gothic seems to challenge the wisdom of the merchant class in attempting to engage in the type of intellectual life normally reserved for their superiors.
The chapbook Fatal Jealousy; or Blood will have Blood! makes a more complicated case against attempting to cross class boundaries: both the hero and heroine are condemned by their attempts to marry someone from another class. Bellarmine is the daughter of a goldsmith, and noble Alphonso marries her in spite of her father's objections and his parents' arrangement of a previous noble engagement. Bellarmine's father, Miguel Sorano, dislikes and distrusts the nobility, harboring bitter resentment for their propensity to "look down upon his ignoble birth and mechanical occupation with the same eye that a peacock surveys a sparrow," viewing the nobles as "drones in the hives, profligates, and consumers of the industrious." Sorano has selected another merchant to marry Bellarmine because he likes the merchant's "frugality and steadiness" and believes he will make a good business partner. The nobility, for its part, seems determined in this chapbook to embody Sorano's profligate stereotype; Alphonso breaks a perfectly good chain of gold solely to create an excuse to infiltrate the Sorano household. The interesting twist in this story is Alphonso's decision to cast aside his nobility, pretending to be a merchant to gain Sorano's blessing for the wedding, and then convincing his new father-in-law to allow him to join the merchant's business, so that "Sorano and Alphonso shall be entwined as goldsmiths and partners in industry!" This promise, however, is unfulfilled; in the end, Sorano retires from his business to follow Alphonso and Bellarmine to their ancestral estate.
As might be expected, the nobility violently rejects this marriage across classes. By marrying outside their classes, both Bellarmine and Alphonso are doomed; by the end of the chapbook Alphonso is driven by the trickery of his ex-fiance to murder Bellarmine in a fit of jealous rage and dies of grief. In this chapbook, again, we see the problems that befall characters who reach above or below their station; in this case not intellectually, but socially. The issue is not the middle class acquisition of wealth, in these stories; Bellarmine's family has plenty of money, but the narrative seems to be suspicious that wealthy commoners might appear to be appropriate marital prospects for impressionable young nobles such as the Duke.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Fatal Jealousy; or, Blood Will Have Blood! Containing the History of Count Almagro and Duke Alphonso; Their Combat in the Dreadful Tournament and the Death of the Beautiful Bellarmine, Through the Artifice of Sophronia, Her Rival, Unknown