Who is Gil-Martin?

Gil-Martin can be most simply described as Robert Wringhim’s doppelgänger. Once he appears, he seems to show up wherever Wringhim is, or elsewhere in the form of Wringhim. Wringhim is well aware that his friend can change appearances to resemble those he is in company with, and he does so often. Wringhim himself has a very amusing idea of who Gil-Martin really is: King Peter the Great of Russia, incognito on his European tour. He conceives this idea based on the man’s apparent power and abilities and the impression that Gil-Martin rules over a realm of some kind, a realm full of Christians. Wringhim chooses to respect the King’s disguise and not mention his true identity, but several references to it make for comical errors.

Because by then we have two ideas about the real true identity of Gil-Martin: he is either Satan, or he is all in Wringhim’s head (or, of course, both).

He certainly acts just like we would expect Satan to act. One of the pair’s main activities together—other than serial killing—is arguing religious principles (also the favorite pastime of Robert’s mother and the elder Wringhim). According to the healthy Christian peasantry, this is just like Satan, who “had been often driven to the shift o’ preaching [Christanity] himsel, for the purpose o’ getting some wrang tenets introduced into it, and thereby turning it into blasphemy and ridicule.” The first time they meet, Wringhim pretends to dispute a point he really believes, “and said, that ‘indubitably there were degrees of sinning which would induce the Almighty to throw off the very elect.’ But behold my hitherto humble and modest companion took up the argument with such warmth, that he put me not only to silence, but to absolute shame.”

Anytime the two disagree or Wringhim tries to loosen his grasp, Gil-Martin will always have a quick and snappy comeback, will always be able to convince Wringhim of his rightness and assuage his doubts. When Wringhim has a crisis of conscience before an attempt on the life of his brother, he has a vision of an angel telling him not to do it. When he tries to explain to Gil-Martin, the latter “answered that I had been in a state of sinful doubting at the time, and it was to these doubtings she had adverted.” Typically, Wringhim does not actually remember the details, only that Gil-Martin has seemingly supernatural powers of reasoning and persuasion:

I was obliged to admit the force of his reasoning; for though I cannot from memory repeat his words, his eloquence was of that overpowering nature, that the subtility of other men sunk before it; and there is also little doubt that the assurance I had that these words were spoken by a great potentate, who could raise me to the highest eminence, (provided that I entered into his extensive and decisive measure,) assisted mightily in dispelling my youthful scruples and qualms of conscience….

Of course, wouldn’t a successful delusion act just the same way—be always one step ahead of the conscious Wringhim, and be able to persuade him of things that would seem natural and logical though they might appear insane or wrong to an outsider? The question of whether Gil-Martin is corporeal seems to be answered in the affirmative, but the evidence is hardly decisive. There are plenty of instances within the memoir where Gil-Martin appears to interact with others and others appear to see and hear him, but again, we would expect a successful delusion to instigate just those sorts of false memories. There is also evidence from within the first editor’s narrative that Mrs. Logan and a witness to the killing of George Colwan later saw Gil-Martin in company with Wringhim, and in the form of George no less. But that story recounts events a hundred years previous based on tradition and folktales, which the editor later admits could have been influenced by printers who knew about the memoir.

There is also more ambiguous evidence from the memoir that Gil-Martin is not so tangible. He mysteriously doesn’t like to accompany Wringhim indoors, and he doesn’t meet Wringhim’s parents. When Gil-Martin is in combat with George, Wringhim sees him “flitt[ing] about like a shadow, or rather like a spirit.” Wringhim can’t vouch so well for the existence of his friend—or, sometimes, of himself:

I generally conceived myself to be two people. When I lay in bed, I deemed there were two of us in it; when I sat up, I always beheld another person, and always in the same position from the place where I sat or stood, which was about three paces off me towards my left side. …The most perverse part of it was, that I rarely conceived myself to be any of the two persons. I thought for the most part that my companion was one of them, and my brother the other….

Gil-Martin likewise seems to see the two of them as connected. He tells Wringhim that he could “sooner cause the shadow to relinquish the substance, than separate me from your side. Our beings are amalgamated, as it were, and consociated in one, and never shall I depart from this country until I can carry you in triumph with me.” Later, Gil-Martin similarly tells a despairing Wringhim, desperate to be left alone, that “I am wedded to you so closely, that I feel as if I were the same person. Our essences are one, our bodies and spirits being united, so, that I am drawn towards you as by magnetism, and wherever you are, there must my presence be with you.”

I said yesterday that I wouldn’t be able to answer the question of who Gil-Martin really is, and I can’t, but there may be a way around all these false starts, and which explains them. The final portion of the editor’s narrative suggests that the memoir is not in fact a memoir, but “a religious parable…to illustrate something scarcely tangible.” The narrator considers it a failure in this regard, because no one in his day would believe a story about “a man…daily tempted by the devil, in the semblance of a fellow-creature”—something plenty of peasants in Wringhim’s time (according to Wringhim) were prepared to believe. We probably shouldn’t pay too much heed to the editor, who admits that he doesn’t know what to make of the document he’s found (or the grisly scene where he believes he’s found Wringhim’s corpse). But this does explain a few things.

One problem with Wringhim’s dealings with Gil-Martin is that he records conversations and incidents that would be odd or confusing to someone who didn’t have any idea that Gil-Martin was, or might be, the devil. Wringhim’s assumption that his friend is Peter the Great furnishes many of these points. For example, when Wringhim asks whether his friend’s “subjects” are Christians, “‘All my European subjects are, or deem themselves so,’ returned he; ‘and they are the most faithful and true subjects I have.'” Nothing explicit there, to be sure, but it’s spooky for the suspecting reader. Why did Wringhim remember this specific conversation, and write it down word-for-word in such spooky form?

Later, an even better speech made, according to Wringhim, by Gil-Martin:

‘Believe me, my dear friend, for such a prize I account no effort too high. For a man who is not only dedicated to the King of Heaven, in the most solemn manner, soul, body, and spirit, but also chosen of him from the beginning, justified, sanctified, and received into a communion that never shall be broken, and from which no act of his shall ever remove him,—the possession of such a man, I tell you, is worth kingdoms; because every deed that he performs, he does it with perfect safety to himself and honour to me.’

Here he is talking about “the possession of such a man”—how could such a phrase not be suspicious to Wringhim? His friend is talking about him as “a prize” that “is worth kingdoms.” In scenes like this (and above, where Gil-Martin is notably on Wringhim’s “left side”), the reader often wonders how Wringhim could have been so blind and failed to realize he was being seduced by Satan. But on second thought a better question might be how Wringhim managed to record such scenes months and years after the fact in the writing of his memoir, in such specific, suspicion-rousing phrasing.

He also manages to use imagery, at least when he’s starting to feel suffocated and persecuted by Gil-Martin’s presence, that would be immediately recognizable to any Christian: “I felt as one round whose body a deadly snake is twisted, which continues to hold him in its fangs, without injuring him, farther than in moving its scaly infernal folds with exulting delight, to let its victim feel to whose power he has subjected himself….”

Of course, these details could be added after the fact, as Wringhim does seem to believe there is something infernal about his friend by the end of their adventures. And surely the devil works in mysterious ways, and could compel the creation of just such a well-constructed parable. Not to mention the layer upon layer of madness that might need to be deciphered with such an unreliable narrator. So still, no answer—that’s a good thing, of course.

4 comments to Who is Gil-Martin?

  • Anthony

    Im of the opinion that gill is the devil as mrs Calvert also seen Gil fighting George, although she wasnt aware who she saw, but she described how grieves opponent flitted back and forth during combat. Although this was in the authors narrative it was avert vivid account giving it more weight than other accounts in the aothors narrative.
    A point of further argument which could be bent either way is the fact that Gil never harms any individual physically and yet he instills so strong an idea in Robert that he drives him to commit the sin. On one hand this may be a gross manifestation of Roberts deeply set religious principle, however it cannot be overlooked that it was and is profusely believed both then and now that the devil is permitted to exist purely because God wills it so. From this and from ideas put forth in text such as the malleus malificarum it is sound to believe that the devil is able to tempt and bend a mans mind to the point of destruction, but he devils himself cannot physically cause harm to an individual as God would not allow it. I’m aware my argument isn’t at all complete, but I’m blazing at the moment and it’s all I can afford of the time being. I am of the opinion that gil is the devil. Oh and as one other majo point: it was widely thought that Roberts aquiantence was the devil among the towns folk. The explanation of this is the fact that Robert walks through the mob who are at dalcastle to essentially lynch him for the murder if his mother and his lover and yet he’s is simpley called a devil and allowed to escape when he encounters the mob as he is disguised as his friend. Would a mob genuinely not notice the very person they were seekin dimple because he had a cloak and a turban, no, therefore Roberts face was changed and such an event cannot be caused by a split personality. From this one may also use my own argument against me that this would be a physocal change induced by the devil, however by this point Robert has submitted himself to his “acquaintance” both life and soul, hence the devil having dominion over him. Also this key event occurs in the memoir and can therefore not ba discounted as potential myth. Really long arguement, but i’ve had a few and I ramble :)

  • Anthony

    And apparently can’t spell :)

  • Hmm, the mob scene could be a powerful force in this argument, you are right. I like the point you raise about the devil’s ability to bend minds but not commit physical harm, however I feel this allows Gil-Martin to be read as the Devil without requiring it. That is to say, a figment of Robert’s imagination could also bend his mind and could likewise not cause physical harm except through him.

    But I did tend to read him as the Devil myself as well.

  • Anthony

    The argument about Gil being unable to physically harm can be swung either way, but the idea that Gil and Robert are one and the same doesn’t make sense. My reason for this is that it would insinuate that Robert was suffering from some form of split personality disorder and there is no basis for this as such a disorder is normally brought on by severe trauma particularly in child hood such as abuse or neglect. Robert seems to have been doted on by his mother and adopted father and there is no hint of any form of abuse being directed towards him from anyone. Also Robert talks to Gil and I don’t know that there has ever been a case where a sufferer of multiple personality disorder has experienced more than one personality at the same time.
    Either way, whether it was the devil or just himself he was clearly a terrible person, remember what he did to that poor child in his class that was more intelligent than him and that was before Gil even made an appearance. Some of the religious arguments offered in the text as some sort of justification for the heinous acts committed are often infuriating. The idea of predetermination is totally alien to me, God gave us free choice and therefore how can someone be an elect. The sad thing is that Robert was indoctrinated as a child to believe this garbage and although he doubts it now and again he still has enough trust in the idea to take his own life and we know where you end up when you pull a stunt like that… stuck being a damn living tree in hell with your body hanging from your black leafless branches as a constant reminder that what you threw away in life will always remain as a constant reminder and tormentor that you can never again posses. Dantes inferno has some powerful imagery in it by the way :)