Bellamy’s Gun: Weaponized Emotions in Burney’s Camilla

Alphonso Bellamy, born Nicholas Gwigg, is what my roommate’s high school students would call “extra.” From the false name to the directness of his evil plots against Eugenia to the overblown speeches he makes toward her, almost every aspect of his character is extremely extra. All of these excesses make him more caricature than character, the ‘fortune-seeker’ who serves as a foil to more realized characters who pursue a wealthy marriage more subtly.

If Bellamy is meant to show us something about the other characters by his excesses, it’s important to consider his most extreme – and ultimately fatal – excess. Bellamy’s threats of suicide exceed Sir Sedley’s melodramatic flailings or Sir Hugh and Camilla’s fits. So, what are these threats of suicide revealing about everyone else’s behaviors?

Bellamy’s threats seem, at first glance, much like Sedley’s repeated insistence that Camilla is hurting him by not returning his favors. In one of his letters, Sedley asks, “Tomorrow, then, . . . you will not, I trust, kill me again tomorrow?” (553). ‘Killing’ is clearly a metaphor; she can’t kill him ‘again’ if she hasn’t already killed him once, and he can’t be writing if he is actually dead. He follows with an exhortation that she “tell me, then, to what century of that period your ingenious cruelty condemns me to this expiring state, ere a vivifying smile recalls me back to life?” (553). This is a little bit extra, but it’s also clearly metaphorical and, given the character, possibly tongue-in-cheek.  The two men are similar (perhaps not to Sedley’s credit) but are not the same.

Camilla interprets the letter as an indication that “Sir Sedley thought her only coquettishly trifling,” and assumes he is responding to her according to socially-accepted conventions (553). She’s embarrassed, but not afraid. Bellamy’s serious threats, in contrast to Sedley’s facetious ones, make Eugenia “overcome with horror” and convince her to agree to marry him on the spot (806). This could be read as an indication that Camilla ‘reads’ people better than Eugenia does, because the former realizes that there’s no literal threat to Sedley’s life while Eugenia does not realize that Bellamy is not likely to actually kill himself.

However, this similarity could also be read as an indication of Bellamy’s bad intentions, in contrast to Sedley’s mostly good ones. Bellamy does not technically commit suicide, but he does prove his seriousness by using a real, loaded gun the second time he threatens Eugenia. He could frighten her with an empty gun, but he goes beyond empty rhetoric to a loaded gun. Where Sedley hopes to persuade Camilla to go along with him, Bellamy steps over the bounds of persuasion and into coersion.

If the point of the suicide threats is to show the way emotions can be used not only as pathos appeals, but also as methods of direct control, we might ask who else’s emotions are weaponized in the text. Many characters try to elicit pity in the others, but a few wield more extensive emotional power. Sir Hugh’s emotions define life at Cleves, and while his family members don’t seem to mind, they are also frequently afraid to upset him or argue with him because he may go into a fit and die. Sir Hugh does not seem to be making himself ill on purpose, or intentionally wielding the threat of getting ill in order to get he wants, but his constant illnesses do give him more power over his family members.  In particular, the girls are often compelled to feel or feign happiness in order to appease him.

Similarly, Camilla’s letters home from the inn capitalize rhetorically on her upcoming death, and ultimately her deathbed letter to Edgar convinces him of her love. Like her uncle, Camilla is suffering from actual physical illness and genuinely believes herself to be dying. Certainly, the instruction that her letter to Edgar be delivered only after her death precludes it from being read as an intentional coercion tactic. That does not mean her emotions aren’t being weaponized – though it might mean that, like Bellamy, these weaponized emotions are as much, or more, of a threat to her than they are to everyone else, as her body threatens to give out. In a novel driven by attempts to control one’s own emotions while reading others’, weaponized emotions are both powerful and dangerous, even toward the person wielding those emotions.

One thought on “Bellamy’s Gun: Weaponized Emotions in Burney’s Camilla

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *