Book Reveals Shortcomings in Annotated Editions of Dracula

Anyone interested in Dracula and Dracula studies needs to read Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices by Cristina Artenie. In fact, anyone interested in annotating literary classics would benefit from reading this book.

At this blog, I have previously reviewed Artenie’s book Dracula Invades England and the essay collection she edited Gothic and Racism. I expected Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices would reiterate a lot of what Artenie said in those other works, in which she looked at Dracula from a postcolonial perspective and revealed the lack of true research into Romanian and especially Transylvanian history and culture by Dracula scholars in their attempts to understand and source Stoker’s novel. I was pleased to find that while this book has some repetition, the majority of it covers new ground.

As a scholar and fan of Dracula myself—I admit to being one of those scholars who went to Romania to tour Dracula-associated places and surprised to find it was not a perpetually dark, stormy night in Transylvania—and through my visit to Romania and reading Artenie’s work, I have come to realize just how unfair it is to the Romanian people to have Dracula be regarded as the emblem for their country by the rest of the world. I am completely won over by Artenie’s efforts to redeem her homeland from Gothic stereotypes that make it synonymous with vampires. As Artenie points out, Romania does not even have a vampire tradition—Stoker imposed one on the country—and the country is still trying to live it down—or in some cases, capitalize upon it through tours and tourist sites. Consequently, I found the depth of her discussion in this book only added to my understanding of the injustices committed by Stoker’s novel and its subsequent editors, who while not intending to be harmful or racist, out of oversight have done more harm than good in perpetuating stereotypes of the Romanian people.

Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices is divided into two sections. Part I focuses on Editorial Theory and Part II on Editorial Practices. Even if you are not remotely interested in how Stoker treats Romania in a less than accurate manner, anyone interested in Dracula studies will still find Part I invaluable because Artenie walks readers through a discussion of every annotated edition of Dracula that has been published, explaining the literary theories as well as idiosyncrasies of the various editors and their editions. She discusses the role of an editor, the politics of annotation, and the different types of annotation made. This discussion should be of interest to anyone interested in annotation and the editing of literature. Artenie repeatedly refers to how editors rely upon Stoker’s text, and in most cases, on his notes, as well as the sources he used in his notes. Plus she shows where they sometimes go overboard citing sources Stoker could not have known or they rely on other editors’ works for their own annotations. Most importantly, she reflects how there is an absence of focus upon Romanian sources used in the annotations. In addition, she discusses how the various editors have different agendas, linked to their different theoretical readings of Dracula, such as theological, historical, and psychosexual, but also from their own desire, springing from a love of the text, to bolster it by providing additional information to support the way it creates a Gothic atmosphere complete with Romanian superstition and vampire mythology. For example, Florescu and McNally’s annotations are designed to help bolster their belief that Vlad Tepes is the basis for Count Dracula. Artenie discusses also the extratextual myth of Dracula—created by the countless films, comic books, and other Dracula spin-off materials that make Count Dracula a household name to people who have not even read the book—influence our reading of the novel. Artenie’s voice is important, consequently, because it will make future editors think about how they edit books as mediators between the text and its readers, and it will make people aware of the agendas various editors may be working from.

The second half of the book is largely a close reading of Dracula divided into various topics to show just how lacking Dracula scholarship has been in understanding both Romania and Stoker’s use of it. Artenie goes into detail about Romania’s geography, taking editors to task for not providing maps of the country in their editions or for including outdated maps, or not even bothering to learn anything about Romania’s geography but just quoting from sources that are themselves ill-informed. She discusses both landscapes and cityscapes in the novel, and she goes into great detail about the food eaten in the novel and how editors have annotated it. She also discusses how editors and the sources they have used—never Romanian sources—have misunderstood the Romanian people’s history, mocking their claims to being descended from the Romans because they were not viewed as civilized enough, and she discusses how the editors tend to exoticize and orientalize Romania in a way that supports the Romanian myth created by Stoker’s text rather than look at the reality of Romania.

One prime example of how editors have failed to do their job in relation to understanding Romania and annotating the novel properly that Artenie cites is from when Jonathan Harker is warned of danger by the innkeeper’s wife on St. George’s Day, which is April 23 traditionally. However, the event happens on May 5 in the novel, because May 5 in England is April 23 in Romania, given that England used the Julian calendar while Romania used the Gregorian calendar at the time. The woman gives Harker a crucifix, which suggests she is Catholic, although most Romanians are Eastern Orthodox and do not use crosses—this is likely a mistake Stoker made, but editors have gone overboard trying to explain Stoker’s reasons for this, including suggesting the woman is a Hungarian Catholic. However, if that was the case, she wouldn’t think May 5 is St. George’s Day because Hungarians would use the Julian calendar. (This discussion also makes me realize how the novel focuses upon Catholic symbols like holy water and crucifixes as a means to defend or at least fend-off Dracula. This, in itself, is rather culturally irresponsible since it suggests that Catholicism, not Eastern Orthodoxy, is the religion that can defeat Dracula. Stoker, being Irish, of course associated Christianity predominantly with Catholicism, and the novel can be read as a vindication of Catholicism in the Gothic tradition since earlier Gothic novels mocked Catholicism as a religion of superstition. However, while Stoker was championing Catholicism, he was overlooking Eastern Orthodoxy, which would be the religion of the Romanians. Or perhaps his use of Catholicism was a veiled effort to show once more that the West is superior to the East because only the Western form of Christianity can defeat vampires.) Artenie concludes Part II with discussions of how the editors continually vampirize Transylvania; this discussion includes analyzing the word nosferatu at length and showing it is itself another error in the novel.

In addition to Artenie’s overall purpose of analyzing various editorial practices used for Dracula, I found that she drops many fascinating tidbits of information I had not heard before. For example, she mentions there are similarities between Dracula and The String of Pearls, the penny dreadful that introduced Sweeney Todd to the world. I had not seen The String of Pearls discussed as a Dracula source before. Also interesting is mention that Anne Rice was a student of Leonard Wolf, who composed the first annotated edition of Dracula, and that he read Interview with a Vampire and gave Rice feedback before she published it. Later, Wolf also was a consultant on the screenplay by James V. Hart for Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Also, I did not know Mary Elizabeth Braddon, best known as the author of Lady Audley’s Secret, had written a vampire story named “Good Lady Ducayne.” These are all tidbits worth exploring further. But perhaps the most fascinating to me was that H. P. Lovecraft claimed he knew a woman who had offered to revise Dracula for Stoker and said the manuscript she saw was a fearful mess. I have often wondered, as have other critics, if Stoker had help in writing the novel or at least a very good editor because Dracula is superior to his other works. While the woman Lovecraft mentions apparently did not get the job, it’s suspected Stoker’s good friend Hall Caine may have helped him.

Artenie concludes this insightful study by saying that she hopes her work will make both current and future editors rethink their editorial practices and create new or revised editions of Dracula that take into consideration the Romanian perspective. While I fully support this statement, it’s a bit ironic that Artenie took her own advice and in the same year published Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition—an edition I will review on this blog this autumn.

Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices was published in 2016 by Universitas Press in Canada. In the United States, it’s available at Amazon.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Escaping the “Strange Disease of Modern Life”: Matthew Arnold’s Two Wanderers in “The Scholar-Gipsy”

The Gothic Wanderer figure is closely related to the Romantic wanderer and the Byronic hero. While the Gothic is associated with the supernatural, at its heart is a deeper spiritual search for the meaning of life. While Matthew Arnold’s poetry is not Gothic, it is filled with attempts to understand what Wordsworth described as “the burden of the mystery” (Brown 86). This burden is living without knowing the meaning of life. Arnold continually questioned what life’s meaning might be and asked how it might be found. In this respect, he is at one with his Gothic predecessors and contemporaries, on a quest for the meaning of life, which is truthfully forbidden knowledge to mankind. He declares he is on this quest in “The Buried Life” (1852):

There rises an unspeakable desire

After the knowledge of our buried life;

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force

In tracing out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire

Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us—to know

Whence our lives come and where they go. (47-54)

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), perhaps best known for his poem “Dover Beach”

Arnold was so concerned about what was the meaning of life and how he could find out its meaning that in “Self-Dependence” (1852), he declared he was “Weary of myself, and sick of asking/What I am, and what I ought to be” (1-2). Yet however weary this topic made Arnold, it also fascinated him so that he could not resist continually exploring it in numerous poems.

“The Scholar-Gipsy” (1853) is perhaps Arnold’s most thorough exploration of how one might find out the meaning of life. Although the Scholar-Gipsy is the title character, the poem’s primary concentration is upon the speaker’s reaction to the Scholar-Gipsy; therefore, the speaker is the poem’s protagonist whose actions form the plot, while the Scholar-Gipsy merely provokes the speaker into thought (Buckler, Matthew Arnold, 170). Arnold chooses the Scholar-Gipsy to provoke the speaker’s thoughts because the Gipsy is a wanderer, and wandering is synonymous with the actions of people upon earth as we wander both physically and mentally in our attempts to find meaning in life. The Scholar-Gipsy wanders while waiting for the spark from Heaven to fall, and the speaker wanders in his thoughts while trying to keep faith in the story of the Scholar-Gipsy, which symbolizes the speaker’s own search for an understanding of life. In the poem, Arnold uses these two wanderers to recreate the stages of innocence and experience in the Romantic myth of consciousness. By recreating the Romantic myth of consciousness, Arnold is also rejecting Carlyle’s own recreation of this myth in Teufelsdrockh, the wanderer of Sartor Resartus (1838). To understand how Arnold rejects Carlyle by recreating this myth, I will first treat Arnold’s depiction of the Scholar-Gipsy as a wanderer, and then I will discuss the speaker’s reaction to the Scholar-Gipsy.

The Scholar-Gipsy as Wanderer

Besides the poem’s short introduction and conclusion, “The Scholar-Gipsy” may be broken into two main sections, one focusing on the Scholar-Gipsy (31-130), and the second focusing on the speaker’s reactions to the Scholar-Gipsy (131-230). After the brief introduction to the pastoral setting and the speaker, the poem focuses on the Scholar-Gipsy, beginning with the speaker saying he will read from Glanvil’s book “the oft-read tale” (32) of the Scholar-Gipsy, which he then summarizes for us. During this summary, the speaker refers to the Gipsy as a wanderer (63, 180) or as wandering (134) and roaming (38), which reflects the speaker’s own wandering state of mind. The speaker begins summarizing by saying how in the seventeenth century, a scholar left Oxford to roam with the gipsies and learn their lore. Later, when two of the Scholar-Gipsy’s former classmates at Oxford met him, he told them that the gipsies “had arts to rule as they desired/The workings of men’s brains,/And they can bind them to what thoughts they will” (45-7). The Scholar-Gipsy said he intended to learn this art from the gipsies, and once he knew it, he would impart this knowledge to the world.

Most literary critics are in agreement that when the Scholar-Gipsy abandons Oxford to follow the gipsy lore, he is really abandoning the intellectual world of Oxford to search for a knowledge that cannot be gained by intellectual means. Arnold uses the story of the Scholar-Gipsy fleeing Oxford as a commentary upon his own contemporary Victorian society. Dyson remarks, “The Victorian predicament, in so far as Arnold represents it, was a tragic one—to desire with the heart what was rejected by the head, to need for the spirit what was excluded by the mind” (262). Lionel Trilling declares that the poem “is a passionate indictment of the new dictatorship of the never-resting intellect over the soul of modern man” (112). For Arnold, the nineteenth century’s processes of rationalization and intellectualization could not completely satisfy mankind’s inner desires; all of science’s arguments could still not explain to him the meaning of life; because man cannot understand life’s mystery by the use of intellect, Arnold suggests that we must search elsewhere for the answer. Brown remarks that the Scholar-Gipsy, while a student at seventeenth century Oxford, already feels the headache caused by the development of modern intellectual debate; already his head feels overtaxed and he fears the loss of his mystical, spiritual side if he does not leave the university (45). Similarly, the speaker makes the same complaint about the present time, describing it as “this strange disease of modern life,/With its sick hurry, its divided aims,/Its heads oertax’d its palsied hearts” (203-5). Arnold also speaks out against the intellectual trends of the day, “For strong the infection of our mental strife,/Which, though it gives no bliss, yet spoils for rest” (222-3). In joining the gipsies, the Scholar-Gipsy has rejected the instruments of the intellect and seeks to find the answers in intuition, but intuition will only work at chance moments rather than by purposely trying to find the answers (Brown 45). The Scholar-Gipsy tells his fellow scholars that he will impart the gipsies’ secret to the world, “But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill” (50). The Scholar-Gipsy himself comes to embody the idea that not by intellectual searching, but only at chance moments can insight and knowledge be arrived at. The Scholar-Gipsy becomes himself a rare sight, not seen by searching intellectuals, but only by simple or innocent people like children, maidens, and shepherds, who are closer to nature and live simpler lives; nor do these people see the Scholar-Gipsy while they work, but rather during their idle moments, when they are swimming, dancing, or roaming the countryside, they may catch a glimpse of him.

That the spark cannot be discovered by intellectual processes makes the spark just as mysterious as the Scholar-Gipsy himself. Arnold never tells us specifically what this spark is. The Scholar-Gipsy says it is the arts of the gipsies which “rule as they desired/The workings of men’s brains,/And they can bind them to what thoughts they will” (45-7). Several scholars have discussed how this spark is a type of mesmerism, or what today we call hypnotism, which we know Arnold was interested in (and is a frequent element in Gothic literature), for two of the poem’s working titles were “The first mesmerist” and “The wandering Mesmerist” (Culler 179). But since the poem’s final title and text contain no mention of mesmerism, Arnold apparently decided mesmerism was not adequate to describe what he wanted the spark to be, although he did retain from Glanvil the idea of the Scholar-Gipsy hearing and controlling his friends’ conversation.

An early edition of “The Scholar-Gipsy”

Whatever Arnold intended the spark to be, it is not easily defined. Madden states that the spark from heaven is a spiritual insight into life and an artistic skill (68) while Jump says the closest answer is that it is a form of mysterious wisdom (97). Culler may be closest to Arnold’s meaning when he says the spark represents lost knowledge from some ancient culture (192). This interpretation is based on the poem’s conclusion (231-50) where the Scholar-Gipsy is likened to a Tyrian trader who flees from the Greeks. The Greeks represent intellectualism, just as Oxford is an intellectual world from which the Scholar-Gipsy flees. The Tyrian leaves the Greeks to go to the “Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians” (249) for whom he undoes “his corded bales” (250). This passage suggests that life’s answers cannot be found in the knowledge of Western civilization. Because Greek culture came to dominate the ancient world, and thus influence Western culture, Greek philosophy and wisdom is the basis for much Western learning. In placing such a value upon Greek culture, Western civilization forgot the possible values of other cultures such as those of the Tyrians and Iberians, whose ancient wisdom and knowledge have now been largely lost (Knight 54). Arnold’s Tyrian trader refuses to impart his knowledge to the Greek intellectuals, but rather it is to the “shy” Iberians that he gives his knowledge. It is important that the Iberians are shy, for so also is the Scholar-Gipsy (Knight 54). The Scholar-Gipsy continually seeks his “solitude” (210), haunting “shy retreats” (70), and loving “retired ground” (71) and “shy fields” (79). The shy Iberians might be likened to the idle children, maidens, and shepherds who, like the Scholar-Gipsy, are outside the world of the intellect, and therefore, they have the occasional fortune to catch a glimpse of the Gipsy.

Culler interprets the final line of the poem where the Tyrian trader undoes his corded bales to mean that the Scholar-Gipsy is imparting his knowledge to the world (192). However, in the poem, the Gipsy himself never receives the spark from Heaven, so it is unlikely he can impart this knowledge to humanity. Instead, the Gipsy’s life becomes a continual searching for the spark, which makes him immortal because he has only “one aim, one business, one desire” (152). The speaker describes the Gipsy’s constant, unchanging life as,

–No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours!

For what wears out the life of mortal men?

’Tis that from change to change their being rolls:

’Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,

Exhaust the energy of strongest souls

And numb the elastic powers.

Till having used our nerves with bliss and teen,

And tired upon a thousand schemes our wit,

To the just-pausing Genius we remit

Our worn-out life, and are—what we have been.

 

Thou hast not lived, why should’st thou perish, so?

Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire;

Else wert thou long since number’d with the dead!

Else hadst thou spent, like other men, thy fire! (141-54)

The world’s troubles and changes make men age and grow old, but the Scholar-Gipsy’s one goal and his isolation from civilization grant him perpetual youth. Because the Scholar-Gipsy never does find the spark, his life and his quest are both perpetual (Madden 68).

Perpetual youth and a never-ending quest are what most equate the Scholar-Gipsy with the traditional image of the wanderer. Honan remarks that the continual wanderings of the Gipsy and the mythical mantle that he takes on might suggest the reappearances of some type of deity (276). If not a deity, the Gipsy is certainly immortal, and this immortality and continual wandering seem reminiscent of the Wandering Jew, a popular theme and character among the Romantics and Gothic novelists. The Wandering Jew was also the inspiration for Carlyle’s creation of Diogenes Teufelsdrockh in Sartor Resartus (1838), a work that heavily influenced Arnold’s poem. (For a full discussion of the Romantic period’s treatment of the Wandering Jew, and how Carlyle transformed the Wandering Jew from a Romantic into a Victorian figure, see my chapter on Sartor Resartus in my book The Gothic Wander.)

Traditionally, the Wandering Jew’s life is one of unhappiness and eternal wandering as he yearns for death and rest; however, the Scholar-Gipsy appears contented, if not happy. Carlyle, in the character of Teufelsdrockh, transformed the image of the Wandering Jew from a forlorn character into a Christ-figure who passes from being an aimless wanderer into becoming a prophet and guide to humanity, reminding us of our heavenly home and the eternal life awaiting us. Arnold, like Carlyle, also transforms the wanderer figure; however, while Carlyle’s wanderer becomes a prophet who reminds mankind of the eternal life awaiting them in Heaven, Arnold’s wandering Gipsy achieves eternal life upon earth. Arnold’s wanderer is also different from Carlyle’s because the Scholar-Gipsy’s wandering is not aimless, but rather, he has “one aim” (152). To understand why Arnold chose to differ from Carlyle, we must now look at the psychological effect of the Scholar-Gipsy as a myth and symbol upon the speaker.

The Speaker’s Reaction

The speaker, the poem’s true protagonist, is similar to the Scholar-Gipsy for he also fears the modern, intellectual world of Oxford. The speaker states that he is well aware of the “strange disease of modern life, / With its sick hurry, its divided aims, / Its heads o’ertax’d its palsied hearts” (203-5). Compared to the unhappy modern world, the Scholar-Gipsy’s seventeenth century was a much simpler time. However, even in those distant days, the Gipsy felt the encroaching threats of intellectualism and the modern world, so he fled from Oxford. In Blakean terms, the Scholar-Gipsy fled to preserve his innocence; in contrast, the speaker already feels a personal loss of innocence, for he is experienced enough to realize the pains and disease of modern life. The speaker longs to escape the modern world and return to the state of innocence, which the Scholar-Gipsy has preserved for himself. The speaker begins this search to regain his innocence by calling upon the shepherd to come and “again begin the quest!” (10). To regain his innocence, the speaker seeks to make his life similar to that of the Scholar-Gipsy. The speaker is already aware of his similarities to the Gipsy, for like him, the speaker has fled from Oxford into a secluded, pastoral scene: “Screen’d in this nook o’er the high, half-reap’d field,/And here till sun-down, shepherd! will I be” (21-2). From this secluded spot, the speaker can only catch a glimpse of Oxford’s towers in the distance (30). Once segregated from the modern world, the speaker says he will read again “the oft-read tale” (32) of the Scholar-Gipsy. After summarizing this tale for the reader, the speaker comments upon how rare it is to see the Gipsy, and the necessity of being an innocent and idle person to catch a glimpse of him. The speaker concludes these remarks by mentioning his own chance encounter with the Gipsy.

And once, in winter, on the causeway chill

Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,

Have I not pass’d thee on the wooden bridge,

Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,

Thy face tow’rd Hinksey and its wintry ridge? (121-125)

That the speaker has seen the Gipsy shows that he once also had the childlike innocence the Gipsy retains. Now the speaker hopes to regain this innocence or reassure himself that it still exists within him. He feels he can be reassured of his innocence if he can once again catch a glimpse of the Gipsy. Yet the speaker knows he cannot see the Scholar-Gipsy when purposely looking for him, so he tries to see the Gipsy mentally by reading Glanvil’s tale and transporting himself back to the simpler world of the seventeenth century which represents for him the simpler stage of his own now lost innocence (Madden 67). The speaker is suffering from displacement, realizing he is no longer capable of innocence because he is conscious of unhappiness, yet he is also unable to participate in the modern world because his longing for a return to innocence alienates him from modern life (Madden 51). Johnson states that the Scholar-Gipsy, and later the Tyrian trader, have become “images for the speaker’s lost self,” which he mourns and wishes to regain (60).

After the speaker recalls the story and his own encounter with the Scholar-Gipsy, he suddenly feels he cannot regain the past nor again feel a connection to the Scholar-Gipsy. He exclaims:

But what—I dream! Two hundred years are flown

Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls,

And the grave Glanvil did the tale inscribe

That thou wert wander’d from the studious walls

To learn strange arts, and join a gipsy-tribe;

And thou from earth art gone

Long since, and in some quiet churchyard laid— (131-7)

Here, the speaker has woken from his dreams of hope that innocence can be restored or that he can see or be like the Scholar-Gipsy. Numerous critics have marked the similarity between this passage and Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” and the dream vision poems of Coleridge (Bush 78, Culler 183). Like Arnold’s speaker, the speaker in Keats’s poem is tired of the world, remarking how the nightingale has never known, “The weariness, the fever, and the fret/Here, where men sit and hear each other groan” (23-4). As Arnold’s speaker wants to lose himself in the dream of being like the Scholar-Gipsy, so Keats’s speaker wishes to abandon himself to the beauty of the nightingale’s song; he is even willing to die listening to this song. However, Keats’s speaker awakes from his revery to ask, “Was it a vision, or a waking dream?/Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?” (79-80). Arnold’s speaker also awakes from his daydream, believing his desire to see the Scholar-Gipsy can never become real, for the Gipsy lived two hundred years ago and must now be dead. Culler remarks that at this point, if Keats, Shelley, or Coleridge had been the poet, “The Scholar-Gipsy” would have ended, as does Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.” However, Arnold allows his poem to continue exploring the Romantic myth of consciousness (184).

For this one stanza, Arnold’s speaker is almost in despair, feeling it impossible that the Scholar-Gipsy still lives, and so symbolically, it is impossible for the speaker to regain that state of innocence. But he quickly recovers from this despair by realizing the Scholar-Gipsy cannot be dead; death is caused by the weariness of life, but the Gipsy has not been wearied by life’s troubles because he flees from intimacy with mankind, thereby escaping the change and modern life that cause men to grow old and die (141-150). Next the speaker makes a connection between the past and the present by realizing that like the Scholar-Gipsy, modern people also wait for something, although they are less aware of what they wait for, so they have a tendency to despair. The speaker, imagining that he addresses the Gipsy, states that all people “wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope” (170), because we are “Light half-believers of our casual creeds,/Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d” (172-3). “For whom each year we see/Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new” (176-7). Yet, in all our misery, “Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?” (180). Like the Scholar-Gipsy, Arnold’s speaker says all people wait for a spark from Heaven to fall, and this spark will reveal to us the meaning of life, which, until we understand it, remains a burdensome mystery.

Among all those who suffer from the modern disease of life, the speaker focuses on one person who has had more success than others in dealing with suffering:

And then we suffer!  and amongst us one,

Who most has suffer’d, takes dejectedly

His seat upon the intellectual throne;

And all his store of sad experience he

Lays bare of wretched days;

Tells us his misery’s birth and growth and signs,

And how the dying spark of hope was fed,

And how the breast was soothed, and how the head,

And all his hourly varied anodynes. (182-90)

The poem does not state the identity of this person. Arnold later said he had Goethe in mind as the one on the intellectual throne (Honan 277); however, some critics have suggested that this reference is to Carlyle (Buckler, “Scholar-Gipsy”, 683). It may be a mixture of both, for Goethe heavily influenced Carlyle, who then influenced Arnold, so it is difficult to make a clear-cut distinction. Arnold knew Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, which was itself influenced by Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Both works have heroes who wander about in despair seeking some meaning in life that will help them escape their depression. However, Goethe’s Werther ultimately commits suicide, while Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh emerges from his despair into a state of enlightenment. This enlightenment consists of realizing that questing after knowledge will not explain life’s mysteries, and instead, people should work to make the world a better place. Certainly, Sartor Resartus was in Arnold’s mind while writing “The Scholar-Gipsy,” for like Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh, both the Scholar-Gipsy and the speaker are also searching for ways to stay in or return to a state of innocence and escape from despair. We know Arnold had a great admiration for Carlyle’s writing that eventually changed into an equally great dislike. In 1848, the year Arnold began working upon “The Scholar-Gipsy,” he referred to Carlyle’s writing as “the style and feeling by which the beloved man appears,” but eleven and a half years later, he remarked upon “that regular Carlylean strain which we all know by heart and which the clear-headed among us have so utter a contempt for” (Honan 22-3). Perhaps Arnold was so tired of Carlyle’s writing and intellectualization of man’s state that he later refused to admit that Carlyle was the one he intended to be upon the intellectual throne, so he instead named Goethe.

Arnold felt he could not accept Carlyle’s philosophy that it is work, not happiness, that is man’s purpose in life. For Arnold, happiness depended upon understanding life’s mystery, which Carlyle said man was not meant to understand. Arnold tried to make Carlyle’s philosophy his own in his poem “Self-Dependence” (1852), where he suggests that by working, we may arrive at understanding. The speaker of “Self-Dependence” looks up at the stars and sees them performing their functions without worrying about the greater universe, which leads them to greatness:

‘Bounded by themselves and unregardful

In what state God’s other works may be,

In their own tasks all their powers pouring,

These attain the mighty life you see.’ (25-8)

Yet in the next year, when Arnold wrote “The Scholar-Gipsy,” he felt this solution was not sufficient. Therefore, just as Carlyle transformed the Romantic image of the wanderer into a prophet who preaches what became the Victorian Gospel of Work, so Arnold transformed the wanderer image by rejecting Carlyle’s depiction to create his own. While Carlyle says we are selfish to worry about our own happiness and should instead work selflessly to make the universe better because we can never know the meaning of life, Arnold says there may be some people who can learn life’s mystery. However, these people are not those who search intellectually, but people who have found another means for arriving at this knowledge. Unfortunately, Arnold’s speaker feels he can never be one of these fortunate people.

As the “Scholar-Gipsy” ends, the speaker imagines himself telling the Scholar-Gipsy to “But fly our paths, our feverish contact fly!” (221), and “Then fly our greetings, fly our speech and smiles!” (231). The speaker no longer wishes to see the Scholar-Gipsy because he knows the Gipsy will die if he has contact with the speaker who is no longer innocent. The speaker would prefer that the Gipsy continue his search so someday, someone may understand life’s mystery and find happiness, even if it cannot be himself. In forsaking his chance to regain his innocence by seeing the Scholar-Gipsy, the speaker has performed a selfless act, as does Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh, but unlike Teufelsdrockh, the speaker does not find a task to replace his search. The poem ends on a note of false resolution, for while the speaker may be resolved that he can never see the Scholar-Gipsy, regain his innocence, or understand life’s meaning, Arnold could not resign himself to such a possibility. He would continue to search for an answer to life’s mystery in later poems, including “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse” (1855), and in “Thyrsis” (1866), he would once more try to find the Scholar-Gipsy.

 

Works Cited

Arnold, Matthew. “The Buried Life.” 1852. Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 575-77.

Arnold, Matthew. “The Scholar-Gipsy.” 1853. Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 580-6.

Arnold, Matthew. “Self-Dependence”. 1852. Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 577-8.

Brown, E. K. Matthew Arnold: A Study in Conflict. 1948. n.p.: Archon Books, 1966.

Buckler, William E. On the Poetry of Matthew Arnold: Essays in Critical Reconstruction. New York: New York UP, 1982.

Buckler, William E. “The Scholar-Gipsy and Thrysis.” Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 681-3.

Bush, Douglas. Matthew Arnold: A Survey of His Poetry and Prose. New York: Macmillan, 1971.

Carlyle, Thomas. Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdrockh. 1838. New York: Odyssey Press, 1937.

Culler, A. Dwight. Imaginative Reason: The Poetry of Matthew Arnold. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1966.

Dyson, A.E. “The Last Enchantments.” Review of English Studies. 8 (1957): 256-65.

Goethe, Johann. The Sorrows of Young Werther. Ed. David E. Welbery. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1995. Vol. 11 of Goethe: The Collected Works. 12 Vols.

Honan, Park. Matthew Arnold: A Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.

Johnson, W. Stacy. The Voices of Matthew Arnold: An Essay in Criticism. New Haven, CT.: Yale UP, 1961.

Jump, J. D. Matthew Arnold. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1965.

Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967. 1184-5.

Knight, G. Wilson. “The Scholar Gipsy: An Interpretation.” Review of English Studies. 6 (1955): 53-62.

Madden, William A. Matthew Arnold: A Study of the Aesthetic Temperament in Victorian England. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1967.

Trilling, Lionel. Matthew Arnold. New York: W.W. Norton, 1939.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Literary Criticism, The Wandering Jew

One of the Most Fun Vampire Novels Ever Written

Richard Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show (2000) is one of the most entertaining vampire novels I’ve ever read. Unlike most of the earlier Gothic novels I review, this more modern story is full of humor along with some teenage angst that just adds to the laughs.

The original 2000 cover

I find this novel hard to classify. I hesitate to call it Gothic—it would more properly be called horror, especially because of the goriness that marks the novel’s climax, which is said to make ti belong to the splatterpunk subgenre. It might also be called a buddy story or coming-of-age novel, and it rather reminded me of the film Stand By Me for its setting in the 1960s and its focus on three teenagers who want to go see the Traveling Vampire Show.

Our narrator is Dwight, a sixteen-year-old boy whose father is the police chief of the small town where the novel is set. The other main characters are Rusty, his best friend, who tends to be a bit annoying at times, and Slim, a female friend who frequently changes her name depending on which book she’s currently reading—she used to be Dagny. Dwight has feelings for Slim, and consequently, we get a lot of information about teenage boys’ sexual urges in this novel.

The story opens when fliers appear all over town advertising the Traveling Vampire Show that will be held in a field outside town that night. The three friends decide to go to the field the morning of the show to see the show be set up and try to get a glimpse of Valeria, the advertised beautiful vampire, who will be the star of the show. Since the show says only those eighteen years of age and older will be allowed in, they think watching the show be set up is the best chance they will have.

I won’t go into detail on the plot because that would spoil all the fun, but the kids do eventually make it to the show. The novel follows the three friends’ misadventures throughout the day as they become convinced that the show’s workers are following them and may be planning to do them mischief. I would have felt impatient with the novel, waiting for the vampire to show up, if the dialogue and antics of the characters were not so funny and entertaining throughout, and there are plenty of twists to keep you wondering what will happen.

When Valeria finally does show up on stage, we discover Laymon has done his research into Gothic literature. She is described as being like the Wandering Jew and having mesmeric powers—all part of the Gothic vampire tradition.

What then follows is a climax you have to read to appreciate. What I loved best was I was left guessing until the very end whether the vampire was real or not.

The most recent paperback edition, which shows the flier for the show, describing Valeria as gorgeous, beguiling, and lethal.

I guarantee that The Traveling Vampire Show will not disappoint. It’s one of the most entertaining novels I have read in recent years. It’s also not as heavy as most Gothic novels, even by modern Gothic and horror standards. The teenagers have sexual angst but not the depressive angst of Stephenie Meyers’ or Anne Rice’s vampires.

If you like humor mixed with a little ’60s nostalgia and a vampire thrown in for good measure, you will love The Traveling Vampire Show.

I wish to thank Robert Burke for bringing The Traveling Vampire Show to my attention.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, The Wandering Jew

Mary, Queen of Scots at Center of Two Classic Gothic Historical Novels

I have been slowly working my way through the works of George W. M. Reynolds and decided next to read Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1858-9) which appears to have been his penultimate novel. I have also long wanted to read Sophia Lee’s The Recess (1783) and since that novel also centered on Mary, Queen of Scots, I thought reading them back to back would be a good idea.

Of course, Mary, Queen of Scots’ tragic story has been told and retold countless times to the point where I am rather sick of hearing it, but because I like Reynolds, I wanted to see what he would do with it. Plus, Lee is considered one of the early important Gothic novelists so I felt I should familiarize myself with her work. However, I found myself disappointed by both of these novels.

Title page to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, including a portrait of Reynolds

Reynolds’ story has to be the weakest of his books that I have read (I have reviewed numerous of his other novels on this blog), and it made me wonder if he was losing interest in writing novels since he quit writing them by 1860, even though he lived until 1879. That said, the problem with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots may be that his choice of subject matter was flawed from the start since he could not easily create a lighthearted romance on the tragic subject. The story concerns a young Italian, Sir Lucio, who is shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland in the 1560s. He is the only survivor of the shipwreck. He is carrying with him the papal dispensation that will allow Queen Mary to marry her cousin Lord Darnley. In his attempt to reach Mary, Sir Lucio learns of a secret plot against her and is taken prisoner by her brother, the Earl of Murray. However, he manages to escape with the help of Mary Douglas, who becomes his love interest in the novel. He makes his way to Mary’s court and befriends Mary’s secretary, David Rizzio. A great deal of intrigue follows which results in Sir Lucio more than once saving the day by thwarting or manipulating the Earl of Murray and his allies.

Unfortunately, we all know how the story is going to turn out, so Reynolds focuses primarily on weaving the love story between Sir Lucio and Lady Mary Douglas. By the end of the novel, Sir Lucio is revealed to be an Italian prince and gains Mary Douglas’ hand. They wed and then move to Italy. By this point, the true plot of the novel is over. However, Reynolds then provides us with some letters that Queen Mary writes to Mary Douglas describing the events that lead to her downfall, her husband’s death, her marriage to Bothwell, and ultimately her death. In my opinion, the novel rather falls apart in the end, deconstructing itself from the heroic and romantic tale it began as by transforming itself into a tragedy without any real showing, just telling, to bring about its conclusion. Overall, the novel was not well thought out, and consequently, it feels like, if not a failure, a very weak effort.

One interesting place in the novel where Reynolds deviates from history is to depict David Rizzio as an older and hunchbacked man. Perhaps Reynolds does so because he is writing for a Victorian audience who would not want to read about the scandal of Rizzio being suspected to be Queen Mary’s lover. However, given that Reynolds was the author of The Mysteries of London, which is filled with shocking scenes, his decision to stay away from any scandal concerning Queen Mary and Rizzio is surprising.

The novel is not really Gothic in the sense that nothing supernatural happens and none of the main characters ever fear anything supernatural, but in at least one scene, Sir Lucio claims that a room is haunted to frighten those conspiring against Mary so he can make his escape from them.

Overall, I found the book somewhat disappointing, though very readable.

Sophia Lee’s The Recess was even more of a disappointment to me because while Reynolds has fallen into obscurity and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots is not one of his better known works, The Recess is continually referenced as an important early work of Gothic fiction. Frankly, to call it Gothic is a bit of a stretch in my opinion.

Sophia Lee

The novel tells the story of two sisters, Matilda and Ellinor, who are the daughters of Mary, Queen of Scots through a secret marriage she had to the Duke of Norfolk. The sisters have been raised in secret in a “recess”—a hidden underground series of rooms that is connected to a convent. The girls do not know anything about their origins and assume Mrs. Marlow, who cares for them, is their mother. Only as teenagers are they told the truth about their parentage.

Life begins for the girls when the Earl of Leicester seeks refuge with them. Immediately, Matilda falls in love with him. He secretly marries her and takes them to Kenilworth where Queen Elizabeth comes to visit. At this point, Elizabeth tells Leicester she is ready to marry him—their historical love affair has been famous for centuries—but he cannot because he is already secretly married to Matilda. The queen then decides to take the girls with her to court. Leicester and Matilda eventually flee to the recess to hide and avoid the queen’s wrath, only to find it has been taken over by banditti. This is really the only moment of any true Gothic atmosphere in the novel. Matilda and Ellinor are also separated when Matilda and Leicester leave the court. Matilda has many other adventures that follow, including Leicester dying and her giving birth to a daughter, Mary, named for her mother. Matilda becomes a “wanderer”—a term she uses many times, the significance of which in Gothic fiction I detail in my book The Gothic Wanderer—living in France and then the West Indies before managing to return to England to learn the fate of her sister. She arrives at the home of the Countess of Pembroke, a relative of Leicester’s, where she learns Ellinor’s story.

Meanwhile, Ellinor had fallen in love with the Earl of Essex, Leicester’s ward, and she had her own series of misadventures, including being in Ireland with Essex and being captured by rebels. Eventually, Essex, whom Elizabeth I also falls in love with, is executed for treason, causing Ellinor to seek refuge with the Countess of Pembroke.

For a short time, Matilda and Ellinor are reunited before Ellinor dies. By this point, Matilda’s daughter Mary has grown up. By accident, Matilda and Mary meet Henry, Prince of Wales, son of James I. Of course, Mary falls in love with her cousin Henry, and of course, he dies, meaning his brother will one day be King Charles I. Mary also ends up dying and Matilda is left alone. She journeys to France where she befriends a woman whom she then tells her story to in the form of a long letter that makes up the novel.

The novel overall is tedious to read—it was a great hit in its day and was part of the Sensibility mode of fiction, causing people to weep and feel great sympathy for the characters—but today, it is rather a bore. The novel is almost all telling without showing—there is little dialogue or scene development or even character development. The characters are all largely wooden despite the supposed emotion the scenes are supposed to evoke. Some critics have claimed the novel was revolutionary for its time in showing women involved in adventure and political intrigue as opposed to other women’s fiction of the time like the works of Fanny Burney. However, the storylines are largely improbable and over the top, and I can’t even say it was revolutionary since it reads like a later version of Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722) or Roxana (1724), the latter of which is the tale of a fictional mistress of King Charles II.

This edition has an excellent introduction by April Alliston

If anything The Recess is more interesting as historical fiction than Gothic fiction. Although Lee does not strive to be historically accurate, she does paint a colorful picture of the age of Elizabeth I. The edition I read has an excellent introduction by April Alliston, who makes Lee sound far more interesting than her novel by discussing her family history, including her father’s career on the stage as a rival of the great David Garrick, plus Lee’s own writing of drama, and later her opening a school in Bath with her sister. Lee’s literary circles are especially interesting. It is possible that she knew both Jane Austen and Mrs. Radcliffe—speculation exists that Mrs. Radcliffe may have attended her school. Lee also knew Fanny Burney, and her sister Harriett was proposed to by William Godwin. Of particular interest to me is that she knew Jane Porter, author of The Scottish Chiefs (1809), whom I have often thought of as the first British historical novelist, but Lee predates her, as does Defoe. No doubt, The Recess influenced Porter and also Sir Walter Scott. Alliston also discusses how Lee was herself influenced by the earlier female French historical novels of the seventeenth century, including La Princesse da Cleves, probably written by Madame de Lafayette (1678), as well as by Shakespeare and other Renaissance playwrights, especially given her family’s role in the theatre and the frequent historical plays performed on the English stage.

I find the argument that The Recess made the Gothic novel popular rather weak. I would give that credit to Mrs. Radcliffe. The authors of the earliest Gothic novels—Horace Walpole, Clara Reeves, Sophia Lee, and William Beckford—were still trying to figure out what a Gothic novel was. It would be Mrs. Radcliffe who firmly set the standard for all the Gothic novels that would follow.

As a side note, if you enjoy reading about Mary, Queen of Scots, I would recommend watching the TV series Reign, primarily about Mary’s years in France. The series aired on the CW network from 2013-2017. I admit after the first episode I was totally turned off by the rock music and the unrealistic costumes that made it look like a show made for teenagers rather than one making any efforts to being historically accurate, but over time, the series improved and really grew on me, once I accepted it for what it was—more historical romance than historical truth. It certainly is the heir to novels like those of Lee and Reynolds, and since Catherine de Medici is one of the main characters in it, also an heir to Dumas’ Marguerite de Valois (1845). Mary, Queen of Scots’ years in France are usually overlooked when telling her tragic story, so the show provides an interesting narrative from that perspective.

Advertisement for the final season of Reign, depicting left to right, Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Catherine de Medici

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, George W.M. Reynolds

The Forgotten Gothic: The Count of Monte Cristo

In titling this post “The Forgotten Gothic,” of course, I know no one has forgotten Alexandre Dumas’ phenomenal bestseller, The Count of Monte Cristo, first published in serial form in 1844, but what I think people have forgotten or never fully realized is just how much Dumas’ novel plays with Gothic elements in its depiction of the count and the chain of events he sets in motion in his thirst for revenge.

An early illustration of Dantès after his escape from the Chateau d’If

When I first read The Count of Monte Cristo in 1992, I admit I found it deadly dull. I had expected a gripping adventure novel, but the translation I read—I am not sure who the translator was, but he heavily edited the novel to about half its actual length, he used stilted, formal English which loses the charm of Dumas’ original language, and he censored word choice and parts of the plot to make it more appealing to a British Victorian audience—made the novel lacking in vivacity. Many other early English translations abridged and censored Dumas’ original. For example, in several translations, the count’s enthusiasm for hashish was censored. However, when a member of the Trollope and His Contemporaries listserv I belong to mentioned that the Robin Buss translation revealed a new understanding of Edmond Dantès’ intense desire for revenge in the novel, I decided to revisit the book, having always been attracted by its Gothic atmosphere in film versions. Buss’ excellent translation really brought the story to life for me and made me realize not only what an incredible book it is, but what a significant link The Count of Monte Cristo is in the chain of Gothic literature.

The Count of Monte Cristo has never failed to be popular as evidenced by the numerous film, TV, and comic book adaptations of it as well as abridged versions for children. Most of these renderings of it, however, have done it a disservice. While perpetuating the novel’s popularity, they have led people who have not read the novel to think they know The Count of Monte Cristo. They do not. Even the 2002 film starring Jim Cavaziel as the count, which is probably the best film version, fails to do the novel true justice because it cuts so much to simplify the plot into a two-hour film. In truth, the novel runs to 464,234 words or about 1,000-1,300 pages depending on the edition. It is so long because it has several subplots all tied to the count’s desire for revenge. The 2002 film and most others seek a happy ending, usually by not letting the count’s love, Mércèdes, die, and they make numerous other changes, which leave the films as weak renditions of Dumas’ vision. The novel would be better served if adapted into a television miniseries so all its subplots could be treated fully as they deserve. Hopefully, someday that will happen. It has happened in France, but no English miniseries has been made in decades.

I invite readers to reread the novel for themselves in the Buss translation because I will not summarize the entire plot here. However, a very detailed summary of the novel’s plot can also be found at Wikipedia. Instead, here I will discuss the novel’s Gothic elements and some of its possible literary influences. I believe it is a remarkable novel in the Gothic tradition that serves as a transition piece between early and late nineteenth century Gothic novels as I will illustrate at the end of this essay.

Most readers know the basic story, even though it has been simplified in the cinematic versions they are familiar with. Edmond Dantès is wrongfully accused of plotting to help restore Napoleon. He has four primary foes who accuse him without his knowledge. These enemies are his shipmate Danglars; Fernand Mondego, who is in love with Dantès’ fiancée Mércèdes; Caderousse, an unscrupulous neighbor who dislikes Dantès; and Villefort, a magistrate who wants to protect his father, a Napoleon supporter, and more importantly his own career, which could be jeopardized by the paper Dantès has brought back from where Napoleon is in exile.

James Caviezel as The Count of Monte Cristo in the 2002 film.

Dantès remains in prison for fourteen years, which is where the Gothic elements begin. Dantès’ imprisonment recalls other Gothic novels filled with castles and prisons where characters are usually unjustly imprisoned. In prison, Dantès meets the Abbe Faria. Faria is particularly interesting because he meets Dantès while digging a tunnel that eventually leads to Dantès cell. Together, the men plan to escape. Faria is a Gothic character in the sense that, as Buss tells us in the novel’s excellent introduction, he is based on Portuguese cleric Jose Custodia de Faria, an eccentric figure in Paris in the early nineteenth century who was known for his experiments with hypnotism and magnetism. He was a student of Swedenborg and Mesmer and lectured on hypnotism. Hypnotism/magnetism are frequent themes in Gothic literature—the Wandering Jew, Svengali, and Dracula all have hypnotic eyes. Faria also draws geometric lines in his cell which cause his keepers to think him mad, but they reflect he has knowledge beyond most men and they do not understand he is planning his escape. He reflects in this knowledge the Gothic treatment of the Rosicrucian figure, who usually works for mankind’s wellbeing and has two great gifts, the secret of life extension and the philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold. Faria reflects the gift of life extension in that he has had several strokes but has a “life-giving draught,” a sort of elixir of life, that restores him to health. As for the philosopher’s stone, he doesn’t know how to turn lead to gold, but regardless he has knowledge of a great treasure, one he reveals to Dantès that Cesar Borgia hid on the isle of Monte Cristo. He gives Dantès a paper written in “Gothic characters” that reveals the hiding place of his treasure. This paper is equivalent to the found manuscript in many Gothic novels that reveals secrets of the past. Besides working with Dantès to escape, he also educates Dantès, including teaching him several languages, which allows Dantès to disguise his identity as needed once he does escape.

Before they can escape, Faria dies. Dantès then escapes by hiding in the body bag given to Faria. He is flung into the sea but manages to survive, is rescued by pirates, and eventually gets to Monte Cristo where he finds the treasure, sets himself up under the disguise of a wealthy nobleman, and sets about his revenge. Dantès imprisonment lasts for fourteen years, which recalls the length of time the biblical Jacob labored so he could wed his beloved Rachel, but Dantès, upon returning to Marseilles, learns that Mércèdes has married his enemy Fernand, who now masquerades as a nobleman himself. More notably, Dantès’ escape is equivalent to a rising from the dead since he disguises himself as Faria’s corpse and then returns to life. He has basically been buried alive, not literally but through his imprisonment, and now he has resurrected. In rising from the dead, he is both a vampire figure and a Christ figure, but as the novel progresses, he gradually transforms from the former to the latter role.

Other Gothic elements surrounding Dantès’ character include how he learns to communicate with the sailors and pirates who rescue him. They make signs to one another to communicate much like the freemasons. The freemasons were often associated with conspiracy theories and were claimed to have done everything from building the Tower of Babel to causing the French Revolution. That Dantès works with them shows he is himself a manipulator of politics and economies. Indeed, the Rosicrucians’ possession of the philosopher’s stone was seen as a transgression against God, as evidenced in novels like William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799), because it allowed them to manipulate national and world economies. Dantès has a similar power through his incredible wealth, although he only uses it to manipulate the downfall of his enemies. He is referenced by another character as being like Cagliostro and the Comte de Saint-Germain, saying he has the wit of one and the philosopher’s stone of the other. Cagliostro was an Italian adventurer with an interest in the occult, including alchemy. Saint-Germain was of unknown birth but became a nobleman and philosopher with an interest in alchemy who claimed to be 500 years old to deflect inquiries into his origins.

Dantès is equated with several other historical and mythic figures as well. Early in his return to civilization, he calls himself Sinbad the Sailor, drawing upon Arabian Nights metaphors. The Gothic frequently used the Arabian Nights technique of stories within stories, although Dumas does not use that framework, but the many subplots serve a similar purpose. The Sinbad metaphor applies to all the “wandering” Dantès does in his early years as he sets into motion the plans for his revenge—something that aligns him with other Gothic Wanderer figures who are usually transgressors, most notably the Wandering Jew. Dantès is also linked to the Arabian Nights by being called an Ali Baba because he finds the treasure in a secret cave.

Most in line with the Gothic tradition is how Dantès is likened to a Byronic vampire. When he arrives in Paris, he is described by other characters as being a type of Byronic hero, specifically Manfred, and like Byron, he is described as having the gift of spellbinding others—another reference to hypnotism. Later, he is described as having a hand as icy as a corpse, for which he is compared to Lord Ruthven, the hero of John Polidori’s The Vampire (1819), said to be based on Lord Byron. As noted earlier, Dantès has risen from the grave like a vampire. He is also described by other characters as “ageless”—suggesting he shares the Rosicrucian gift of life-extension or perhaps the long life of a vampire. One scene in the novel that may well have inspired Bram Stoker in writing Dracula (1897) occurs when the character Franz visits the Count of Monte Cristo and is served hashish. He falls asleep and dreams of making love to three female statues in the count’s residence of the courtesans Phryne, Cleopatra, and Messalina. This scene is erotic and brings to mind the incident of sexual dreams Jonathan Harker has in relation to the female vampires in Dracula’s castle.

The actual Chateau d’If where Dantès is imprisoned in the novel.

The novel’s resurrection theme continues when Dantès learns from Bertucci, a Corsican and his servant, about how he had once broken into a home of Villefort and discovered Villefort burying a treasure. Bertucci attacked Villefort to get the treasure, only to discover instead the box contained a child whose umbilical cord was wrapped around its neck; Bertucci believes Villefort thought the child dead and was burying it—trying to hide its existence since it is also illegitimate—but Bertucci realizes the child is alive and rescues it. The child has then literally risen from the grave. The child grows up to be named Benedetto. He is a malevolent being, and in time, Dantès hires him to help bring about his revenge against his enemies. Later, Dantès will reveal the secret of this child’s burial when he invites Villefort and his mistress, mother of the child, to the house, which he has purchased now for himself. He frightens them by saying the house is haunted by ghosts and then recounting the story of the child’s burial without revealing the players’ names.

As the novel continues, Dantès creates havoc in the lives of his enemies, while his true identity remains unknown to them. He enjoys promoting his mysteriousness, telling Villefort he’s one of the superior angelic beings and his kingdom is great because he’s cosmopolitan—no one can claim to know his birthplace and only God knows when he’ll die. Because he’s cosmopolitan, he has no national scruples. These references again make him akin to the Wandering Jew, cursed by God to wander the earth for who knows how long—but who often is depicted as working to reduce his curse by serving God’s purposes. Dantès’ cosmopolitan nature in the novel may well have inspired Lew Wallace’s depiction of The Wandering Jew in his novel The Prince of India (1893), in which the Jew, masquerading as an Indian prince, goes to Constantinople at the time of its fall in 1453. The Wandering Jew in the novel also has a great treasure that is hidden away. It is also likely that The Count of Monte Cristo, with its emphasis on revenge, inspired Wallace’s novel Ben Hur (1880), which also is about revenge and redemption. Further research needs to be done to see if Wallace was a reader of Dumas’ novel, but I think it very likely.

Faust is also part of Dantès’ characterization. Dantès claims, that like everyone else, he has been tempted by Satan; here he takes on the role of Christ, offered great wealth if he will worship Satan. This biblical scene is the original Faustian pact, a common theme in Gothic literature, though Christ refuses to make it, and so does Dantès. He claims he resisted this temptation by becoming an agent of Providence, punishing and rewarding according to God’s will. He is viewed as one of God’s angels by the Morel family in the novel, to whom he is a benefactor, Monsieur Morel having owned the ship Dantès had sailed upon and having been the only one who sought to help Dantès when he was unjustly accused.

In truth, Dantès in the guise of the Count of Monte Cristo is a master of disguise. He claims as his close associates Lord Wilmore of England, who hates him after some nasty business happened between them in India, and a friend, the Abbe Busani. Actually, they are not his associates but people he also masquerades as. He does so especially when Villefort makes inquiries of both to find out the truth about the count. Of course, in both roles, Dantès feeds Villefort incredible stories. One is that the count bought a house to open up a lunatic asylum—perhaps another suggestion that seeped into Bram Stoker’s brain in writing Dracula. After all, Dracula is also a count and buys a house near a lunatic asylum where he manipulates the lunatic Renfield.

The Wandering Jew theme in the novel may have been suggested to Dumas partly because of his source material. The novel is based on the true-life story of Francois Picaud, who was a shoemaker or cobbler. Dumas found the story in Jacques Peuchet’s Police dévoilée: Mémoires historiques tirés des archives de Paris… (1838), a collection of anecdotes from the Paris police archives. While Picaud’s story shares many similarities to that of Dantès in the novel, Dumas made some changes such as shifting Dantès’ origins to Marseilles rather than Paris. However, what interests me here is the shoemaker origins. The Wandering Jew was himself a shoemaker who refused to let Christ rest outside his door on the way to Calvary; as a result he was cursed to wander the earth until Christ’s return. The shoemaker theme relates to the wandering—shoes being needed for long journeys. Here also we may have an influence of the novel upon Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) since Dr. Manette, when imprisoned in the Bastille, takes up shoemaking. Manette wanders about his rooms ceaselessly at night. Manette’s imprisonment in the Bastille also recalls Dantès’ long imprisonment, including that he was wrongly accused. Dickens would also use the resurrection theme in his novel, Manette being reclaimed to life, and there is a resurrection man, Jerry Cruncher, in the novel whose initials are the same as those of Jesus Christ. (For more on the Gothic elements of A Tale of Two Cities, see my book The Gothic Wanderer.)

One other Gothic theme in the novel is that of gambling. Madame Danglars is a great gambler who gambles away much of her husband’s fortune. Gambling is not limited to gaming, however; the count purposely uses the telegram to create false rumors that affect the buying and selling of stocks, which leads to Danglars’ financial ruin. Gambling was seen as a transgression against God in Gothic literature because people tried to rise above their social and financial status by gambling to gain great wealth. This transgression was linked to the philosopher’s stone that could manipulate world economies by manufacturing wealth.

Buss, in his introduction, says that Dumas could not have written this novel without first being influenced by Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-4). That novel created urban crime fiction, and Paris is similarly the setting to the later parts of Dumas’ novel. Certainly, that Dumas took the frame of his story from Jacques Peuchet’s Police dévoilée: Mémoires historiques tirés des archives de Paris… suggests that he was trying to create an urban crime story to ride the coattails of Sue’s popular novel. Although only part of The Count of Monte Cristo is set in Paris, it is in the Paris scenes that the count enacts most of his revenge, creating many mysteries that those he would be revenged upon do not understand. At the same time, Dantès is benevolent much like Prince Rodolphe in Sue’s novel. Rodolphe disguises himself as a common worker to go out among the people, like Haroun al-Rashid—another tie to the Arabian Nights—to find people deserving of his benevolence. However, while in Sue’s novel, the prince aids convicts to help reform them, in Dumas’ novel, the count aids criminals only so they will help him achieve his revenge. These criminals in the end are also punished in various ways, despite their role in bringing about the count’s form of justice.

The Chateau de Monte Cristo, a home Alexandre Dumas built with money from the sales of his novels. Today, it is a museum.

Despite Dantès’ believing he is the hand of Providence, at the end of the novel, when he sees the full extent of the misery he has inflicted upon his enemies, he begins to question whether he has acted justly. After almost everyone in Villefort’s family has died, Villefort realizes he has been unjust toward his own wife, who has poisoned some of the family. He says she caught the disease of crime from him like it was the plague and he decides they will leave France together to wander the earth—another play on the Wandering Jew theme. However, Villefort arrives home to find it is too late—his wife has already killed herself. At this point, Dantès reveals who he is to Villefort, and having pity on him, tells him he has paid his debt and is satisfied. It’s too late, however; Villefort goes mad. Dantès then rushes from the house in horror, fearing he has gone too far.

Dantès is now filled with doubt and despair. He meets Mércèdes one last time—she long ago realized who he was and she begged him to spare her son when the two dueled—film versions often make the son Dantès’ son—but Dumas did not go that far. Dantès now parts from Mércèdes, knowing he has impoverished her and her son after her husband, Fernand, committed suicide, but he makes sure they are provided for.

Reexamining his life, Dantès next travels to the Chateau d’If, where he had been imprisoned, and there hears from the guard the history of the abbe and the escaped prisoner—the guard does not realize he is telling Dantès his own story. Dantès now asks God to take away his doubt that he has been acting as God’s agent in carrying out his revenge. When the guard gives Dantès the abbe’s manuscript of the history of the Italian monarchy as a gift, Dantès notices the book’s epitaph, “‘You will pull the dragon’s teeth and trample the lions underfoot,’ said the Lord,” and takes it as a sign that he has done the right thing in bringing about justice.

In the novel’s final chapter, Dantès completes his transformation from a resurrected vampire into a resurrected Christ figure. Throughout the novel, while he has wreaked revenge on his enemies, he has also spared the good, especially those of the second generation who were not responsible for their fathers’ sins. By not punishing sins to the third and fourth generation like the Old Testament God of the Hebrews, he also acts like a Christ figure who forgives sins. Among the second generation is Valentine, the daughter of Villefort. When Villefort’s wife was poisoning members of the family so that her son could become sole heir, Dantès manipulated events so that when Valentine’s life was in jeopardy, it would only appear she had also died. Dantès does not reveal his secret even to Valentine’s lover, Max Morel. Now in the novel’s final scene, he brings Max to the isle of Monte Cristo, where Max expects the count will help him carry out his suicide because he is so grief-stricken over Valentine’s death. Instead, Max finds Valentine there, alive and well, like Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead by Christ (a reference Dumas makes, thus equating the count with Christ). One also can’t help thinking of Romeo and Juliet in this scene where poison and suicide both figure in for the lovers, but instead of tragedy, life and happiness are restored.

In truth, while films and other adaptations of the novel have treated The Count of Monte Cristo as a great adventure novel, it is truly much more akin to Shakespearean and other Renaissance revenge tragedies. The novel may well have brought the revenge theme strongly back into literature in a way it had not known since the Renaissance. It is probably no accident that a slew of novels focused on revenge followed in the nineteenth century.

The first such novel that comes to mind is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Heathcliff, like The Count of Monte Cristo, is bent upon revenge. Heathcliff also has a great deal of mystery about both his origins and how he came by his wealth and what he did in the years he was absent from Wuthering Heights. I do not know if Emily Brontë read The Count of Monte Cristo, but I think it very likely since the novel’s publishing history in England, as detailed at Wikipedia, shows that several translations were available in England beginning in 1845, including serialization beginning in 1845 in W. Francis Ainsworth’s Ainsworth’s Magazine. Another abridged serialization appeared in The London Journal between 1846 and 1847, and the first single volume translation in English was an abridged version published by Geo Pierce in January 1846 as The Prisoner of If or The Revenge of Monte Christo. The novel also began appearing in April 1846 as part of the Parlour Novelist series of volumes, translated by Emma Hardy and in an anonymous translation by Chapman and Hall in 1846. One would have to learn more about the dating of the manuscript of Wuthering Heights to determine if an influence is possible in this short timeframe. (Some suggest she began the novel as early as 1837 but no later than October, 1845.) However, Brontë also read French—in fact, she lived in Belgium in 1842 to perfect her French so she could teach it. Given that the novel was published in France in 1844, that allows three years for Brontë to read it and be influenced by it in writing her own novel. I find I am not the first to suggest this possibility. Robert Stowell argued this point in “Brontë Borrowings: Charlotte Brontë and Ivanhoe, Emily Brontë and The Count of Monte Cristo,” Brontë Society Transactions, 21: 6 (1996), 249–251. However, while Stowell highlights similarities between the novels, there is no hard evidence to prove Brontë read Dumas. The text of Stowell’s article can be found at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/count-monte-cristo.

As mentioned earlier, revenge is a key theme also in Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur (1880) along with the title character’s ultimate redemption when he becomes a Christian and learns forgiveness. Wallace scholars are well aware of Dumas’ influence on Ben Hur and The Count of Monte Cristo also influenced Wallace’s later novel The Prince of India (1893). According to Wikipedia:

Ben-Hur was also inspired in part by Wallace’s love of romantic novels, including those written by Sir Walter Scott and Jane Porter, and The Count of Monte Cristo (1846) by Alexandre Dumas, père. The Dumas novel was based on the memoirs of an early 19th-century French shoemaker who was unjustly imprisoned and spent the rest of his life seeking revenge. Wallace could relate to the character’s isolation of imprisonment. He explained in his autobiography that, while he was writing Ben-Hur, ‘the Count of Monte Cristo in his dungeon of stone was not more lost to the world.’”

Also, as noted above, I suspect influence on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In addition, The Count of Monte Cristo brings to mind the wealthy and mysterious financier Melmotte in Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1872) and even Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) because of his equally enormous wealth and mysterious background. While more research should be done to confirm these possible influences, to me, the novel’s incredible influence on both Gothic and realistic fiction that followed it cannot be overstated.

Alexandre Dumas

Too often, The Count of Monte Cristo has been dismissed as an adventure novel and even reduced to a children’s classic. In truth, it is a masterpiece of Gothic fiction, drawing upon numerous Gothic themes to tell not only a story of revenge but the transformation of one man’s soul as he struggles between his human inclinations for revenge, a belief in God, and trying to find a happy medium of justice where evil is punished but the good rewarded while leaving room for benevolence and redemption. It is time that the novel receive the critical attention it deserves, including taking its place in the Gothic canon on the same shelf as Polidori’s The Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and firmly planted between Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Alexandre Dumas, Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Gothic Places, revenge tragedies, The Wandering Jew

A Review of the Essay Collection “Gothic and Racism” Edited by Cristina Artenie

Gothic and Racism is a collection of essays about how Gothic literature reflects racist ideas and uses ideas about race to create the horror central to it as a genre. This collection, published in 2015 by Universitas Press, is edited by Cristina Artenie. I have previously reviewed Artenie’s book Dracula Invades England (2015) at this blog. When Artenie saw my blog post, she was kind enough to contact me and send me copies of her three other books. This blog post is about the first of those books. Future blog posts will be made about her other two books Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices (2016) and Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition (2016).

Gothic and Racism is composed of a very diverse group of essays about the Gothic. While my interest in the Gothic is primarily eighteenth and nineteenth century novels, the collection includes essays on modern novels, films, a television series, and a Gothic memorial in India. While some of these essays interested me more than others, I found them all informative and insightful. My only real criticism is that some are written in too academic a language for my taste. Not wishing to write in that style is one of the reasons I left academia. I have never understood why someone would utilize a large word when they could use a small one. Consequently, some were easier to read than others, but the patient reader will find all of them of value.

Since I will not discuss all the essays here in detail, it is fair to provide a complete list of them so topics that may not interest me as much but would interest others can be brought to people’s attention. Besides Artenie’s introduction, there are ten essays altogether:

  1. “Gothic Horror and Racial Infection in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” by Avishek Parui
  2. “Abramovitch’s The Mare: Russian Imperialism and the Yiddish Gothic Novel” by Meital Orr
  3. “Strange Gods, Monstrous Aliens, and the Ignoble Savage: Revealing and Obscuring Xenophobia in H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu’” by Joanna Wilson
  4. “The Appropriation of the Gothic in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries” by Jessica Birch
  5. “Bigger Faustus: The Purpose of Diabolism in Richard Wright’s Native Son” by Mark Henderson
  6. “Women of Colour in Queer(ed) Space: Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees” by Monalesia Earle
  7. “Return of the Repressed Slaveholding Past in Three Horror Films: Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934), Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) and White Dog (1982)” by Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns, Mariana Zárate, and Patricia Vazquez
  8. “A House Divided: Porous Borders in American Horror Story: Murder House (Fox TV, 2011)” by Lance Hanson
  9. “Forever Beyond the Forest: Dracula and the Neo-Victorian Editors” by Cristina Artenie
  10. “Mutiny Memorial: Imperial Gothic in Victorian Delhi” by Ipshita Nath and Anubhav Pradhan

To discuss each essay would be tedious and ruin the experience for readers of reading the book for themselves, but I will point out some of the interesting highlights of some of the essays.

In the introduction, Artenie begins with a discussion of how the Gothic is racist in its treatment of people from other cultures and nations. It uses “othering” of people from other cultures as a way to turn them into monsters or at least objects of terror. She argues that while the tendency to “other” people is now acknowledged and fully explored in postcolonial literature, it has been largely overlooked in Gothic studies. For example, editors of Dracula have completely ignored how the novel turns the people of Transylvania, Romania, and Eastern Europe into the Other to create an atmosphere of horror in the novel.

I found Meital Orr’s essay on Abramovitch’s The Mare particularly interesting since I had never heard of the novel. Orr discusses how oppression of the Jews in Russia led to Abramovictch’s novel. The novel really turns Western European Gothic literature’s treatment of Jewish people on its head. In most Gothic novels, the Jews are racial stereotypes or symbolic of the Wandering Jew, as in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795). Orr discusses how Melmoth the Wanderer influenced Russian literature, particularly Doestoevski and Abramovitch. In The Mare, however, Abramovitch makes the anti-Semite the Gothic devil figure. Abramovitch thereby pioneered the Yiddish Gothic novel, using racism itself as the true source of Gothic horror. I am looking forward to reading The Mare at a future date to learn more about how Abramovitch used the Gothic’s own tropes to turn it against itself.

I have to admit I have never read any of H. P. Lovecraft, which seems like a serious void in my reading of the Gothic, but I did find Joanna Wilson’s essay on “The Call of Cthulha” very interesting. I was especially interested, however, in the theme of racial degeneration in some of Lovecraft’s other works, including “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (1921) in which the title character commits suicide upon discovering his great-great grandmother was a white ape. This interests me since Lovecraft was writing about the same time Edgar Rice Burroughs was writing his Tarzan novels and Caspak series—in the latter, characters evolve from ape to human within one lifetime. Of course, Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) is also relevant here.

Several of the essays analyzed how the African-American experience is treated in the Gothic. Mark Henderson’s essay on Richard Wright’s Native Son was interesting because he sees the novel as a continuation of the “negative Romanticism” of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. Wright plays on white people’s fear of black people by turning the main character Bigger into a type of Frankenstein monster who has been created by the whites—he becomes the monster they fear because they create him. Jessica Birch’s essay discussing Charlaine Harris’ Southern vampire mysteries points out that American Gothic is often perceived as specific to a particular region. Birch cites Toni Morrison’s statement that American Gothic is haunted by race. I found this viewpoint interesting because when I think of American Gothic, I think of Poe and Hawthorne primarily and do not feel that is true in them. Hawthorne’s Gothic comes out a Puritan mindset of guilt. Poe’s horror often has European settings and I don’t remember any characters of other races in it, though there may be. However, I also think of Charles Brockden Brown and James Fenimore Cooper who preceded Poe and Hawthorne. Brown’s Edgar Huntly and Cooper’s novels to a lesser extent rely on Native Americans to be the sources of horror for the main characters. However, today, American Gothic horror instead relies a great deal on the horrors and repercussions of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans. How the horrors of slavery continue to affect America is wonderfully explored in this book’s essay “Return of the Repressed Slaveholding Past in Three Horror Films: Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934), Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) and White Dog (1938). The first film is racist in itself while the other two films explore the legacy of slavery and racism. However, these legacies are not limited to the United States. Monalesia Earle’s essay in this book discusses Ann Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, a novel set in Nova Scotia that explores black, female, and queer issues.

Lance Hanson’s essay on American Horror Story: Murder House made me convinced I never want to watch the TV show as being too violent and over the top for me. However, his essay is interesting because of what it says about American Gothic. He quotes Teresa Goddu’s Gothic America: “the [American] gothic tells of the historical horrors that make national identity possible yet must be repressed in order to sustain it,” and then he shows how the TV show reflects this truth. He also quotes a review of the show by James Donaghy in The Guardian which reflects what for me is the problem with most horror films and TV shows today: “It fails miserably to differentiate between paying homage to horror and throwing every single horror trope into a blender and pouring the results over our heads.” I feel there is no true sincerity in horror film today, which makes many of them more disgusting or laughable than truly scary or worth watching. An example is Sleepy Hollow (1999), starring Johnny Depp, which begins with a powerful Gothic atmosphere but by the end of the movie becomes camp, which completely ruined the film for me.

I found Nath and Pradhan’s article on the Mutiny Memorial in New Delhi a rather surprising essay to include in a collection focused mostly on books and film. However, the authors make a good case for discussing why this memorial to British and Indian soldiers who died in an 1857 mutiny against British rule has a Gothic design. The authors discuss other Gothic buildings of the time period including the Palace of Westminster (the parliament building) and the Albert Memorial as examples of how Gothic architecture came to be equated with Englishness and the English national identity. Consequently, a Gothic monument in India was a way to express English dominance of India.

My primary interest in this book, of course, was the two essays on Dracula. Avishek Parui’s essay “Gothic Horror and Racial Infection in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” builds a lot on previous scholarship about race in Dracula and the concept that Count Dracula and his vampirism reflect a fear of Eastern European immigration to England. Parui expands on the idea by talking about how the British and French at the time had pseudo-scientific fears of degeneration and biological regression. Anthropologists of the time promoted racial inferiority beliefs in the possibility of evolutionary reversal to a lesser race, which they feared could occur through racial mixing. Of particular interest was how women with masculine features were seen as degenerate, excessively erotic, and lacking in maternal feeling. This for me explains a lot about the way more outspoken women in British literature and cross-dressing women are treated in eighteenth and nineteenth century novels. See my previous posts on this topic on Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1802), Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison (1754) and Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809). In Dracula, Lucy reflects this kind of mannish woman in her remark that she would like to marry all three of her suitors. This makes her a deviant, monopolistic woman, and consequently, degenerate and more likely to fall into Dracula’s power.

Finally, Cristina Artenie’s essay on editorial practices in Dracula was the one I really read the book for. This essay is likely an earlier or shorter version of the book that followed it, Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices, which I intend to review in full at this blog later, so I won’t go into great detail on it, but Artenie makes an incredible case for just how much foolishness has gone into Dracula studies. She references five major annotated editions of Dracula and a few minor ones. She notes that while the novel only has seven chapters in total set in Romania/Transylvania, they are the most heavily annotated. Unfortunately, the annotations often rely on quoting Stoker’s notes rather than his actual sources. They also rely on inaccurate sources that were written by people from outside Romania/Transylvania. Worst of all, they often rely on quoting one another rather than getting to the bottom of sources. The result is a continual repetition of misinformation. The editors also often reference their own travels through Romania on “Dracula tours” and their conversations with people they met in Romania, many of whom are not Romanian. Furthermore, they focus on looking for similarities in the Romanian landscape and historical places to affirm similarities with the novel rather than focusing on the differences from the text. They also love to rely on foreign sources about Vlad Tepes and even exaggerate them to make them more grotesque, ignoring Romanian sources that report how much Tepes’ opponents slandered him. Worst of all, they fail in their annotations to distinguish between what is fiction/fantasy and what is reality in Dracula when it comes to depictions of Romania. As I previously stated in my review of Artenie’s Dracula Invades England, her revelation about these issues that reflect a preconceived if unintentional racism toward the Romanian people in the novel and by its editors is groundbreaking in Dracula scholarship because it increases our understanding of the novel and its cultural influence, which has included making Dracula the first thing that comes to mind when Romania is mentioned. For more on this topic, see also my blog post about my own recent visit to Romania. I admit to being guilty of exactly what Artenie is complaining about—going to Romania to search for Dracula connections as if Romania were some sort of Gothic Disneyland. It is not, and frankly, I came away disappointed by the lack of Dracula atmosphere in the country, despite efforts by the tourism industry, but I found so much that is wonderful about Romania that I hope to return some day. I left Romania feeling what an injustice has been done to it by Stoker’s novel, and then I discovered Artenie’s work and was thrilled to know at least one Romanian is fighting to dispel these myths and the rampant racism that has resulted.

Gothic and Racism is well worth reading, and I highly recommend it to all interested in Gothic studies. I hope the contributors all continue to make their voices heard in revealing the role racism has played in Gothic fiction, and by extension, helping to heal much of our Gothic historical past.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

 

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula, Gothic Places, Gothic/Horror Films, Literary Criticism, The Wandering Jew

The Husband as Horror: Charlotte Smith’s Montalbert

Charlotte Smith’s 1795 novel Montalbert, although not strictly a Gothic novel, uses many Gothic themes and elements to create a somewhat uneven but still powerful story. Smith (1749-1806) was the author of several late eighteenth century novels that use Gothic elements. She was a contemporary of Fanny Burney and Mrs. Radcliffe and wrote largely in the same vein as them. She was also a precursor to Jane Austen, and her poetry had an influence on the Romantics. Previously, I blogged about her novel Ethelinde (1789).

The most affordable edition of Montalbert, although a poor edition without page numbers and many typos. Good editions of her novels are hard to find.

At the center of Montalbert is young Rosalie Lessington. She is the youngest daughter in her family, but experiences a sort of coldness from her parents, a situation that is exasperated when her father dies and omits her from his will. Soon after, Rosalie learns she is really the daughter of Mrs. Lessington’s friend, Mrs. Vyvian. Mrs. Vyvian, before she married her current husband, had loved an Irishman named Ormsby, but her father, named Montalbert, opposed the marriage and forcefully had them separated. Mrs. Vyvian was then coerced into marrying her current husband, whom she has always had a bad relationship with. When she gave birth to Ormsby’s illegitimate daughter, Rosalie, she asked Mrs. Lessington to raise the child as if she were her own. Rosalie eventually learns the truth of her birth, and Mrs. Vyvian tells her a detailed story of love and separation from Ormsby, including the horrible belief that her father had Ormsby killed. Mrs. Vyvian’s story is one of the most Gothic sections of the novel.

In Mrs. Vyvian’s illicit romance, Smith seems to be drawing upon Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison (1753-1754). Richardson’s novel focuses on Englishman Sir Charles’ love for the Italian Clementina. Because he is Anglican and she Catholic, and because of familial opposition, they cannot be married. In Montalbert, both Mr. and Mrs. Vyvian are Catholic, although he later leaves the church while she remains Catholic. Her lover, Ormsby, being Irish, is also likely Catholic, so it is not religion but social and financial status that cause Mrs. Vyvian’s father’s opposition to the marriage. Regardless, the family’s Catholicism will affect Rosalie’s own future marriage.

Rosalie’s illegitimacy plays on Gothic and Sensibility novel themes as well. In Burney’s Evelina (1778), the title character is illegitimate and seeking her father’s recognition. Later, in Burney’s The Wanderer (1814), the main character is assumed illegitimate. In other novels like Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest (1791), the main character’s father remains unknown and, consequently, an incestuous relationship almost results for her.

Smith uses illegitimacy and incest as themes in Montalbert. Before Rosalie learns the truth about her identity, Mrs. Vyvian’s son returns to England with his cousin, Montalbert (for whom the novel is named). Rosalie and Montalbert become smitten with each other, but everyone else assumes Rosalie and the young Vyvian are attached and both the Lessingtons and Mrs. Vyvian oppose the match. Mrs. Vyvian finally tells Rosalie that young Vyvian is her half-brother. Fortunately, Rosalie is instead involved with her cousin Montalbert, and marriages between cousins are permissible.

Rosalie was raised Protestant and Montalbert Catholic, but she agrees to marry him regardless. However, the marriage must be secret because while he had an English father, his mother is a wealthy Italian of noble birth who would not approve because she has already picked another young woman to be his bride. Montalbert assures Rosalie they can be married by a priest and later he’ll make peace with his mother. Rosalie agrees to the secret marriage. This section of the novel is one of the weakest. Smith does not develop Rosalie and Montalbert’s relationship enough to convince us of their love, but before we know it, not only are they married but Rosalie is pregnant.

Smith is less interested in romance than in putting her heroine in a precarious situation so the rest of the novel’s plot will work. However, it should be noted that Montalbert is typical of other men in Gothic novels by women. Like Valancourt in Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Montalbert is charming but ultimately impotent in his ability to act like a real man. Valancourt fails to rescue Emily St. Aubert when she is imprisoned in Udolpho—he doesn’t even go after her but instead becomes mixed up in gambling and ends up in prison. Montalbert is far from being a manly man, being under the thumb of his rich mother. He brings Rosalie to Italy in secret, then leaves her at Messina with his friend while he goes to wait on his mother. Rosalie is now separated from Montalbert for nearly half the novel, constantly awaiting his return. Like Valancourt, Montalbert becomes an absent presence as the reader keeps wondering where he is and when he will finally come to Rosalie’s aid.

While at Messina, Rosalie’s troubles begin. Smith, unlike other Gothic novelists, does not set her novel in the distant past but in more recent times. Later, she even reveals it’s the year 1784. Rosalie experiences one of the real earthquakes that occurred at Messina in February and March 1783 (1784 actually but the old calendar was used in Italy at this time when the new year began on March 25). During the earthquake, Montalbert’s friend, Count Alozzi, has his villa destroyed, as is the building where Rosalie resides. Fortunately, she and her child survive, as does the count. The count then takes her to his home in Naples, although she does not want to go but would rather wait for Montalbert to return. Later, we learn Montalbert thinks she died in the earthquake, and only after he learns she lives, does he begin to follow her.

The most Gothic scenes of the novel follow when the count takes Rosalie and her child to Calabria to a fortress, the Castle of Formiscusa. Not surprisingly, the castle is haunted by a murdered knight. But Smith shies away from introducing the supernatural. Instead, we are reminded of confinement scenes in other Gothic novels like Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) as well as Mrs. Radcliffe’s works. Rosalie is served by a rather unfriendly nun and confined to the castle and its grounds, basically the count’s prisoner, unable to leave or send word to Montalbert of her whereabouts.

Outside the castle, Rosalie meets Walsingham, an Englishman who befriends her and helps her escape to Marseilles. From there, they book passage to England. Rosalie understands the impropriety of traveling with a man who is not her relative, but she feels she has no choice and Walsingham appears to be honorable. Most people who see them together assume they are married. Walsingham quickly falls in love with Rosalie, but being a gentleman, he represses his feelings and promises to help her reunite with her husband. Walsingham has his own past, having loved a lady named Leonora, who has died. Consequently, he lives the melancholy life of a wanderer and even tells Rosalie that once he helps her reunite with Montalbert, he will return to the life of a “dissipated wanderer,” seeking a way to replace the happiness she has given him.

Charlotte Turner Smith. Her bad marriage forced her to write for money and she used her marriage as source material.

Eventually, Montalbert catches up with Rosalie and Walsingham in England, but by the time he does, he’s heard rumors that Rosalie is with Walsingham and believes she has been unfaithful to him. In a moment of true horror for Rosalie, Montalbert sees her on the beach and calls out her name, but when she tries to approach him, he runs from her, saying she is lost to him forever. Rosalie is shocked and beside herself; soon after, she becomes completely immobilized when Montalbert sends men to remove her son from her. Montalbert’s temper and assumption she is unfaithful make him a sorry excuse for a husband and father, and his rejection of her becomes the greatest cause of horror for Rosalie in the novel.

Rosalie now becomes very ill. During this time, her half-brother, Vyvian, and her adopted brother, Lessington, find her and bring her father Ormsby to her. Ormsby was not killed by Mrs. Vyvian’s father but has been in India all these years, becoming filthy rich.

Montalbert now shows himself at Rosalie’s residence to state he has killed Walsingham. In truth, he has confused Walsingham with a cousin of the same name whom he killed in a duel. When the correct Walsingham now arrives, Montalbert shoots him. Walsingham, in great pain, pleads his innocence and forgives Montalbert for killing him, wishing Rosalie and Montalbert only happiness.

Fortunately, Walsingham recovers from his wound. Montalbert is now reunited with Rosalie and allows her to see her child. However, being estranged from his mother, he is financially cut off from his inheritance. Ormsby is willing to support his daughter and her family, but Montalbert and Ormsby don’t get along, resulting in Ormsby hoping Montalbert will go abroad as a fugitive after the murder he committed, so he can have his daughter and her son to himself.

However, Walsingham saves the day. He goes to Montalbert’s mother and manages to work out a reconciliation between her and her son so that Montalbert will have an income and she will leave her wealth to her grandchildren. Everyone is now happy except Walsingham, who decides he will wander to Spain, Portugal, and the East Indies, seeking science and knowledge; the only thing that softens the sadness of his destiny is knowing Rosalie is happy.

Talk about unrequited love. Smith’s novel is full of coincidences and plot twists that feel rather unrealistic, but where she excels is in creating in Walsingham a true Gothic wanderer figure. While most Gothic wanderers commit transgressions, he is innocent yet his grief over Leonora and now his inability to be with Rosalie make him an outcast from the human race. In his altruistic behavior, Walsingham is an early version of Dickens’ Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities (1859) who gives his life to save the husband of the woman he loves. Similarly, Walsingham acts always for Rosalie’s happiness even when her husband behaves like a maniac. Rosalie is, frankly, a fool to have married Montalbert in the first place, and one cannot help but think her married life will be miserable with such a man. This is a weak man who cannot stand up to his own mother, who has a violent temper, and who easily jumps to assumptions and accuses his wife of infidelity. Even though Smith resolves Rosalie’s current marriage problems, we can only imagine the horror and perhaps terror of living with such a man for life.

Like many of Smith’s other novels, Montalbert was influenced by her own unhappy marriage. Her father forced her into a marriage that she said made her a “legal prostitute.” Her husband was a violent, immoral man. Montalbert does not seem immoral in his activities, but he certainly has a temper. I’m actually surprised Smith allows Rosalie to stay with Montalbert in the end, but to have Rosalie run off with Walsingham or in some way kill off Montalbert might have been too indecorous or unrealistic an ending, even if it’s the ending the reader would prefer.

After finishing the book, Walsingham is the character the reader remembers. Although not a transgressor, his going off to seek knowledge and science finally links him to transgressive Gothic wanderers who seek forbidden knowledge like the title character of William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799). I wish Smith were more specific in what Walsingham seeks—he is not the type to delve into the supernatural, but rather, he is likely seeking the meaning of life—while his sadness makes his life appear pointless and existential. Smith’s use of religion in the novel only causes problems for her characters. The novel is devoid of any sense of Christian redemption, which is at odds with many of the more religious Gothic novels of the time. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) is often cited as perhaps the first existential novel. However, Montalbert predates it by thirty-one years, and while Smith does not wax philosophical in it, much can be read between the lines.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. He also writes history and historical fiction about Upper Michigan. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Mary Shelley

The End of Human History: Mary Shelley’s Pandemic Novel “The Last Man”

The following blog post is an excerpt from my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, written in 1826 and set in the future 2081-2100 has never been more relevant than it is now during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The Last Man: The Rejection of Romanticism

The Last Man is a more mature expression of the existentialism Shelley developed in Frankenstein, yet it has received less critical attention, largely because the critics condemned it upon its publication in 1826. After the 1833 second edition, the novel was out of print until 1965. One of the major criticisms against the novel was that it merely mouthed the Romantic theories of Percy Shelley, a charge also made against Frankenstein. A close reading of the novel, however, reveals that Mary Shelley did not use the novel to express her husband’s theories, but rather, she created her own uniquely existential and anti-Romantic vision of the future. Written shortly after the deaths of John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron, The Last Man mourns the passing of the great Romantic poets and their ideas, but simultaneously, it exposes the severe flaws of Romanticism and its natural supernaturalism. The novel’s negative and apocalyptic vision of the twenty-first century is a repudiation of Romantic millennialism. Shelley further rejects the possibility of God, Nature, or some divine and benevolent force that orders the universe and directs it toward some glorious goal. Even more so than Frankenstein, The Last Man emphasizes that even if God exists, He is not concerned in human affairs and has no plan for human salvation. Shelley’s rejection of a possible hopeful future for humanity is best evidenced in her inversion of the Romantic myth of consciousness. All the Romantic poets had their own versions of this myth which purports that people pass from a stage of innocence in childhood into experience as adults; once in the stage of experience, people long to return to the stage of innocence, but this return is impossible. Most people remain in the stage of experience, while a few progress into wise innocence where they can acquire what Wordsworth termed the “philosophic mind” (“Intimations” 184) to reconcile themselves with the past and use experience for their benefit. Shelley inverts this Romantic belief system in the stages of the main character’s life. Lionel Verney’s childhood begins in the stage of experience where he is an orphaned outcast and wanderer. Lionel passes into a happy stage of innocence as an adult when he marries and has friends; however, he returns to experience when a plague wipes out the human race, leaving him the sole survivor. He is then unable to find innocence again because of the misery he has known and the lack of other humans to console him. Shelley’s inversion of the Romantic myth of consciousness displays her rejection of Romanticism and her existential belief that there is no future happiness for people because there is no divine plan or order to the universe. This perspective, distinct from Shelley’s Romantic contemporaries, reveals that she had her own intellectual abilities and literary talents rather than merely being the mouthpiece of her husband and friends’ Romantic beliefs. Shelley also adapts the Gothic wanderer figure, as in Frankenstein, by creating a main character who is innocent yet suffers from others’ transgressions. Lionel Verney becomes the ultimate example of the existential Gothic wanderer who is isolated in a world without meaning.

 

The Sibyl: Immortality and Prophecy

The charge that Shelley was her husband’s mouthpiece stems from critical overemphasis upon the extent to which Percy Shelley assisted his wife in editing Frankenstein. While her husband was dead by the time Shelley wrote The Last Man, critics have pointed to the “Author’s Introduction” as proof of Percy Shelley’s influence upon the novel. In the introduction, Mary Shelley creates a fictional source for the novel by using the Gothic mode of discovering a fragmented manuscript which she has merely edited (Mishra 162). Shelley claims that she and her companion (Percy Shelley) came upon this manuscript while visiting the Sibyl’s cave near Naples. The manuscript was a collection of unorganized narrative fragments written on leaves that Mary Shelley had to arrange and decipher. The writing was in numerous languages including “ancient Chaldee, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, old as the Pyramids. Stranger still, some were in modern dialects, English and Italian” (3). The leaves contain prophecies, names of famous people, exultations of victory or woes of defeat (3). From the leaves, Shelley collects all those that detail Lionel Verney’s eyewitness account of how the human race became extinct because of a plague during the last years of the twenty-first century. These leaves are assembled to form the novel’s text.

Shelley uses the Sibyl’s cave as the tale’s source because the Sibyl’s immortality makes her symbolic of a Gothic wanderer. Traditionally, the Sibyl was punished for rejecting Apollo’s sexual advances by being condemned to eternal life without eternal youth and constantly being forced to prophesy the future (Smith 48). As with the Gothic wanderer who achieves life-extension, the Sibyl finds that her extended life is only extended misery. The Sibyl becomes the novel’s doppelganger of Lionel Verney who remains alive while the rest of the human race dies from a plague. While Lionel does not prophesy like the Sibyl, his story of the future is inexplicably found in the Sibyl’s cave three centuries before the occurrence of the events described. Steven Goldsmith has argued that the Sibyl represents Mary Shelley because the Sibyl had Apollo’s prophesies breathed into her as Apollo’s medium. Similarly, Shelley was the medium for her husband’s Romantic vision, which she was attempting to prolong by writing The Last Man (275-7). I believe Shelley did not intend such a symbolic comparison, but instead, she merely compared herself to the Sibyl because she had outlived her Romantic friends. In addition, like the Sibyl, Shelley felt she was prophetic because she was writing about the future. Shelley’s pessimistic prophecy rejects the Romantic belief that the human race will eventually evolve into a state of millennial happiness. Instead, Shelley believed in a form of existentialism in which life is without meaning so no future state of happiness will be likely or lasting. Shelley’s existential ideas are best reflected in her depiction of Lionel Verney’s life as an inversion of the Romantic myth of consciousness.

 

Lionel Verney as Gothic Wanderer

The Last Man begins with Lionel Verney’s childhood in the stage of experience as opposed to the Romantic belief that childhood is the stage of innocence. Shelley draws on the Gothic tradition by depicting Lionel as a wanderer and social outcast because his father committed the social transgression of gambling. Shelley possibly drew upon her father’s St. Leon to depict Lionel’s father as a gambler who impoverishes his family because of his vice. Lionel’s father was not born a noble, but he worked his way up in society until he became the King of England’s closest friend; however, Mr. Verney became addicted to gambling and fell into debt. Mr. Verney’s adversities were relieved by the king in exchange for promises that he would mend his ways. Mr. Verney failed to keep these promises because “his social disposition, his craving for the usual diet of admiration, and more than all, the fiend of gambling, which fully possessed him, made his good resolutions transient, his promises vain” (6). The king remained indulgent toward his friend, but the queen disapproved of her husband’s friendship. Eventually, the king grew tired of his wife’s complaints and made one last attempt to reform Lionel’s father by paying off his debts. Mr. Verney ruined this final chance for his salvation, as Lionel explains:

“as a pledge of continued favour, he received from his royal master a sum of money to defray pressing debts, and enable him to enter under good auspices his new career. That very night, while yet full of gratitude and good resolves, this whole sum, and its amount doubled, was lost at the gaming-table. In his desire to repair his first losses, my father risked double stakes, and thus incurred a debt of honour he was wholly unable to pay. Ashamed to apply again to the king, he turned his back upon London, its false delights and clinging miseries; and, with poverty for his sole companion, buried himself in solitude among the hills and lakes of Cumberland.” (6-7)

During this exile, Lionel’s father married a lowly cottage-girl and became the father of Lionel and his sister, Perdita. Soon after his children’s births, Mr. Verney died of debt, leaving his children as “outcasts, paupers, unfriended beings” (8).

Lionel grows up in this wilderness exile, himself becoming practically a wild man. He feels victimized by his father’s gambling which has resulted in his being denied his rightful social position. Lionel also hates the royal family for not having further assisted his father. Lionel’s youth is spent as an outcast.

“Thus untaught in refined philosophy, and pursued by a restless feeling of degradation from my true station in society, I wandered among the hills of civilized England as uncouth a savage as the wolf-bred founder of old Rome. I owned but one law, it was that of the strongest, and my greatest deed of virtue was never to submit.” (9)

Lionel’s sister grows up in a similar fashion, indulging in “self-created wanderings” inspired by her fancy as a means to escape from her dull common life (10).

Lionel’s existence in this stage of experience ends when he seeks revenge by poaching on royal land. When he is caught for his crime, Lionel is brought before Adrian for punishment. Adrian, who is based on Percy Shelley, is the son of the late king, who abdicated his throne and agreed to the monarchy’s abolishment; however, Adrian retains social prominence with the title Earl of Windsor, and the royal family remains much respected in England. Consequently, while both Adrian and Lionel have been disinherited from their birthrights, Adrian does not feel the same extreme displacement as Lionel. Upon their introduction, Adrian immediately greets Lionel as the son of his father’s friend, thus acknowledging a bond between them. When Adrian asks Lionel, “will you not acknowledge the hereditary bond of friendship which I trust will hereafter unite us?” (17), Lionel feels an instant restoration to his rightful, hereditary position at court, remarking “I trod my native soil” (18). Lionel and Adrian’s friendship thus reestablishes a sort of lost Eden experienced by their fathers. Lionel now enters the stage of innocence, remarking, “I now began to be human. I was admitted within that sacred boundary which divides the intellectual and moral nature of man from that which characterizes animals” (20). Lionel’s happiness culminates in his marriage to Adrian’s sister and his sense of belonging to a family.

 

The Existential Plague

Lionel remains in the stage of innocence for several years until he is thrust back into experience when a worldwide plague begins to eliminate the human race. As the plague sweeps across the globe, the novel’s main characters watch the world’s population rapidly diminishing. Realizing their own chances of survival are slim, they gamble with the plague by attempting to escape from it. Adrian decides to lead the few remaining English people to Switzerland where the healthy climate may best protect them from the plague’s power. While the journey will have enormous risks and hardships, and the odds are completely against them, the English people agree to make the exodus.

The plague serves as the novel’s vehicle for expressing its existential philosophy. Shelley displays the lack of meaning in human existence by repeatedly showing the impossibility of defining or interpreting the plague. There is no order or reason to the plague’s choice of victims as it kills young and old, rich and poor, wicked and innocent. At the same time, the earth undergoes tumultuous weather suggestive of an apocalypse, but natural events continually resist all attempts to interpret them. An example of the impossibility of interpreting events occurs when the English people are about to cross the English channel. The exodus of the English severely differs from the biblical exodus of the Israelites because the English do not have God to guide them, although they wish to believe God is controlling events. When the English arrive at the channel, rather than the water splitting apart for them to walk across on dry land, the sea is in a furious tumult and burning globes fall from the sky. The people try to interpret these globes as a sign of God’s intention to destroy humanity (270-1). While the people succeed in crossing the channel into France, they remain severely frightened of the supernatural events occurring, and their fears only increase with their inability to read meaning in these events. If God does intend to destroy humanity, He is being inconsistent with Christian belief for He destroys both the evil and the good, thus differing from biblical accounts of the apocalypse.

The plague becomes the ultimate Gothic villain in the novel because the inability to understand it makes it all the more frightening. Continually, characters find that their interpretations are incorrect; what are believed to be supernatural occurrences are rationally explained in the manner of Mrs. Radcliffe (Birkhead 167). For example, a Black Spectre is sighted by the party travelling to Switzerland. The people think they are witnessing a supernatural warning of their approaching deaths, but the Spectre is later revealed to be merely a French nobleman on a horse (299). The explanation for these minor supernatural occurrences only increases the Gothic horror of the plague whose meaning continues to be indeterminable. Most characters continue to interpret the plague as the instrument of God’s wrath to destroy humanity, but the text continually rejects any Christian interpretation of events. The voice of religion in the novel turns out to be that of a fanatic who preaches that the plague will end if humanity repents for its sins. This man gains many followers who protect themselves by hiding in a compound in Paris. The plague enters the compound and kills everyone except the religious leader. The leader then commits suicide after confessing that he knows of no divine plan associated with the plague, and he was merely trying to manipulate people to gain power.

While such scenes demonstrate the plague’s resistance against all attempts to define it, critics have nevertheless insisted upon attaching symbolism to the plague, thus overlooking Shelley’s existential purpose. Barbara Johnson has interpreted the plague in relation to democracy and the French Revolution by calling it “a nightmarish version of the desire…to spread equality and fraternity throughout the world” (264). Johnson cites a minor scene in the novel where a high born girl, Juliet, loves a man from the lower class. Juliet’s father separates the couple, but the plague then kills Juliet’s family, allowing her to be with her lover, and symbolically breaking down class lines. Johnson’s reading is unconvincing because eventually the plague kills Juliet, her beloved, and their child. Johnson argues further that the plague is “lethal universality” and that it “deconstructs” boundaries between countries and people (264). While the plague appears to spread equality, ironically, when it ceases, the three people left alive are members of the English nobility. Steven Goldsmith and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have tried to depict the plague as a feminist protagonist who wishes to wipe out human history because men have denied women a voice (Goldsmith 313, Gilbert and Gubar 247). This argument weakly rests upon the novel’s female authorship. The text fails to support this feminist interpretation because not only is human history not erased, but it is a man, Lionel Verney, who writes down the end of human history to preserve it.

John Martin’s 1849 painting of The Last Man.

Shelley’s use of the plague is best described as a symbol of existentialism that allows for the elimination of the entire human race except for Lionel Verney. Mary Shelley felt total isolation after the death of her husband and friends, so she felt she could best express her feelings by depicting one man alone in the world as she felt herself to be alone; consequently, she needed a way to eliminate all but one human, and the plague was a logical means for human extinction. Shelley may have derived the idea of the Last Man from contemporary poems that had used the theme, including Byron’s “Darkness” (1816), Thomas Campbell’s “The Last Man” (1823), and Thomas Hood’s “The Last Man” (1826). Anne Mellor remarks that all these works “invoke a Judaeo-Christian framework and the possibility of a finer life elsewhere, either on earth or in heaven. Mary Shelley explicitly denies such theological or millennial interpretations of her plague” (Introduction xvi). Paley in agreement, adds, that death and the plague both exist in The Last Man “somewhere between personification and myth in a borderland where causality seems nonexistent” (120). Mary Shelley intends the only meaning of the plague to be its meaninglessness, so that its destruction of humanity will reflect life’s futility.

The plague’s mode of operation is as inexplicable as its meaning. The only people who survive the plague are Adrian, Clara, and Lionel—all English, noble, and related by marriage or blood. Of these three, Lionel is the only one to catch the plague and recover, while Adrian and Clara remain immune. Surprisingly, Lionel catches the plague from a black man, although he is in England and could easily receive it from a multitude of English people. The event occurs during a scene of Gothic horror as Lionel returns home to his family after a long journey. As he enters the house, he hears a groan and,

“without reflection I threw open the door of the first room that presented itself. It was quite dark; but, as I stept within, a pernicious scent assailed my senses, producing sickening qualms, which made their way to my very heart, while I felt my leg clasped, and a groan repeated by the person that held me. I lowered my lamp and saw a negro half clad, writhing under the agony of disease, while he held me with a convulsive grasp. With mixed horror and impatience, I strove to disengage myself, and fell on the sufferer; he wound his naked festering arms round me, his face was close to mine, and his breath, death-laden, entered my vitals. For a moment I was overcome, my head was bowed by aching nausea; till, reflection returning, I sprung up, threw the wretch from me, and darting up the staircase, entered the chamber usually inhabited by my family.” (245)

Why Shelley chooses to have Lionel receive and then become immune to the plague is hard enough to explain, since no one else who acquires it gains immunity. Even less comprehensible is why Lionel receives the plague from a negro. Perhaps being plague-stricken and black makes the negro a double outcast who foreshadows the intense isolation Lionel will later know. Of the few critics who have written upon the novel, none have succeeded in providing convincing interpretations of this scene. Vijay Mishra suggests it is Lionel’s compassion that causes him to receive the plague and his recovery is a symbol of Christ’s passion and resurrection (177-8). However, because Shelley rejects the Christian myth, and Lionel is never able to redeem anyone, he is an unlikely character to associate with Christ. Furthermore, Lionel’s treatment of the negro is completely lacking in compassion. Anne Mellor argues that “From this unwilling but powerful embrace of the racial other (significantly, this is the only time that a ‘negro’ is specifically mentioned in the novel), Verney both contracts and, recovering, becomes immune to the plague” (Introduction xxiv). Mellor’s statement attempts to find a racial purpose in the scene, but she fails to elaborate upon her statement that the scene is significant, suggestive that she is unsure of its significance. The negro is never mentioned again, but on the same page, Lionel’s son dies, so the negro’s black skin may equate him with the blackness of Death that has entered Lionel’s home. Lionel’s lack of compassion in the scene should not be read as bigotry but rather as fear of catching the plague. He is so frightened after inhaling the negro’s breath that he may automatically assume he caught the plague when in reality, he merely suffers from exhaustion. Lionel is only ill for a few days, so he may have merely needed rest and not contracted the plague after all. Whether Lionel ever actually contracts the plague, the scene further emphasizes the inexplicable purpose of the plague and the existential world in which it operates.

 

The Gamble with Death

After the plague completes its rampage, leaving only Clara, Adrian, and Lionel alive, the novel again uses the gambling motif to depict Lionel as a Gothic wanderer victimized by others’ transgressions. The remaining three characters realize they have outlived the plague by the time they reach Venice. Because Adrian and Clara are not blood relatives, they are the only two people who are capable of repopulating the earth. Shelley’s interest in rewriting Paradise Lost is reflected, therefore, in her placing Adrian and Clara in the potential position of a new Adam and Eve. Shelley then revises the Eden story by making Adrian and Clara feel no responsibility or desire to create a new human race. Rather than a God or an angel to warn them against sin, Adrian and Clara are warned by Lionel against foolhardiness when Clara wishes to travel to Greece where her parents are buried. The easiest way to make the journey from Venice would be by boat, but Lionel objects to the dangers of travelling by sea rather than land. His companions nevertheless persuade him to make the journey with them. They are willing to gamble with their lives, and consequently, the future of the human race, for the mere whim of visiting Greece, and subconsciously perhaps, from a desire to die. At the same time, they believe their survival of the plague may mean that Fate has preserved them for some future purpose, so their lives are charmed against potential harm. Even when a storm arises while they are at sea, Clara, like a typical gambler, denies the possibility of losing her life by refusing to consider the seriousness of the danger. She remarks, “Why should I fear? neither sea nor storm can harm us, if mighty destiny or the ruler of destiny does not permit. And then the stinging fear of surviving either of you, is not here—one death will clasp us undivided” (321). Despite the continual failure of attempts to find meaning in events, Clara retains a belief in destiny and the order of the universe. Similarly, a gambler convinces himself of his chance to win despite the odds being that he will lose. Lionel is aware that Clara and Adrian’s past success in surviving the plague has transformed them into gamblers who are unwilling to believe they can tempt Fate and lose. Lionel himself experiences the gambler’s numbness at moments of great risk when he is surrounded by the dangers of the storm at sea.

“resignation had conquered every fear. We have a power given us in any worst extremity, which props the else feeble mind of man, and enables us to endure the most savage tortures with a stillness of soul which in hours of happiness we could not have imagined. A calm, more dreadful in truth than the tempest, allayed the wild beatings of my heart—a calm like that of the gamester, the suicide, and the murderer, when the last die is on the point of being cast—while the poisoned cup is at the lips,—as the death-blow is about to be given.” (322-3)

Lionel applies the gambling metaphor to the many choices and risks in life. Clara and Adrian allow the gambler’s resignation to descend upon them because they feel that it can hardly matter if they die since the plague has so drastically changed the world. If there is meaning to life or some intended destiny for them, then they believe they have nothing to fear. As with most gambles, they lose when the ship sinks, and they both drown. Lionel manages to swim to shore, realizing he is now the Last Man upon earth.

This conclusion brings the novel full circle by its repetition of the gambling motif. Earlier Lionel had been exiled from his birthright because of his father’s gambling; now he has become exiled from all humanity because others were willing to gamble with their lives, never considering his own happiness. In both cases, gambling has destroyed the family unit. Clara and Adrian, as a new Adam and Eve, bring about a second fall of humanity, but this time the fall is more serious, for while Adam and Eve’s transgression introduced death for humanity, Clara and Adrian’s transgression results in human extinction.

Lionel’s solitary position marks his return into a stage of experience that completes Shelley’s inverse of the Romantic myth of consciousness. Lionel acknowledges that he has returned to the earlier stage of his life by comparing the present to his youth and feeling his burden will be easier to bear because he long ago learned to survive without depending upon others (338). Nevertheless, Lionel mourns the loss of the human race. To assuage his loneliness, he writes the history of the end of humanity, which becomes the novel. When the novel is completed, he decides he will wander the earth on the small chance of finding another human who has also survived the worldwide plague. Clara and Adrian’s gambling transgression has resulted in Lionel’s return to his childhood role of Gothic wanderer as he recognizes, “A solitary being is by instinct a wanderer, and that I would become” (341). Lionel differs from earlier Gothic wanderer characters, however, because he wanders as the result of others’ transgressions rather than his own.

Lionel’s final isolation reflects Mary Shelley’s personal grief over the deaths of her husband and Lord Byron. Adrian’s drowning is a direct parallel to the drowning of Percy Shelley (Mishra 185), and earlier in the novel, Lionel’s sister, Perdita, had drowned herself because her husband, Lord Raymond, was dead, a scene reflecting Shelley’s own wish for death so she might join her husband (Mellor, Introduction xi). Shelley might also have chosen for Clara and Adrian to die together as a way to rewrite her own life, herself taking on Clara’s role so she could die with her husband. Shelley, however, identified most fully with the main character, Lionel Verney, as evident from her journal entry of May 14, 1824: “The last man! Yes I may well describe that solitary being’s feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me” (Paley 109). The grief Shelley feels for her former companions inspired her to write The Last Man, as Lionel Verney, to solace the grief of his solitary existence, records the events that resulted in his complete isolation.

 

The End of Human History: Deconstructing Lionel’s Manuscript and Shelley’s Novel

Lionel Verney’s manuscript is the history of his life and an eyewitness account of how the plague destroyed humanity. He writes without an audience to read his work, yet his act of writing assumes he will have readers since the purpose of writing is to communicate (Paley 121; Mellor, Introduction xiv). Lionel realizes no one will ever read his work, yet he attempts to remain positive by stating that he will write on the chance that the world will be re-populated by people of whose existence he may not know, and someday, they will want to learn how earlier humanity had become extinct (339). In writing the final chapter of human history, Lionel seeks to make history’s end memorable and meaningful to the reader even if in essence, his task is pointless because his work will not be read. Lionel attempts to enforce meaning upon his experience, but the more he writes and tries to explain what has happened, the more unclear the meaning of the plague becomes. He questions why he should live and considers suicide, but then rejects it, choosing instead to believe that there is some reason for why he is the only human survivor.

But this [suicide] I would not do. I had, from the moment I had reasoned on the subject, instituted myself the subject to fate, and the servant of necessity, the visible laws of the invisible God—I believed that my obedience was the result of sound reasoning, pure feeling, and an exalted sense of the true excellence and nobility of my nature. Could I have seen in this empty earth, in the seasons and their change, the hand of a blind power only, most willingly would I have placed my head on the sod, and closed my eyes on its loveliness for ever. But fate had administered life to me, when the plague had already seized on its prey—she had dragged me by the hair from out the strangling waves—By such miracles she had bought me for her own; I admitted her authority, and bowed to her decrees. (337-8)

Against all hope, Lionel continues to insist that there is a reason why he has not been destroyed by the plague, and since Fate has saved him, he must obey her. When Lionel finishes his history and decides to write no more, but rather to search for other survivors, it marks the defeat of language and meaning because he has told his story to himself and is now left without anyone else to communicate. Lionel remains hopeful that there are other survivors who will read his manuscript, but in this hope, he is seeking to delude himself rather than to be realistic. Even if his writing is meaningful because it consoles Lionel, without other readers, the work will be worthless when he dies. The end of Lionel’s writing demonstrates that meaning only exists in communication and human relationships (Paley 121; Mellor, Introduction, xiv, xxii). Mellor interprets the novel as a reflection of Derrida’s theory that human history is dependent upon language. While Lionel continues to live, human history has not ended, but there is no reason to record it because without Lionel being able to communicate his story to others, it can have no meaning (Introduction xii). Mellor suggests that the futility of Lionel’s writing makes The Last Man the first example of a work that is fully conscious of how its language can be deconstructed as it continually attempts to place meaning upon what is meaningless (Introduction vii). Mellor concludes that the novel suggests “all conceptions of human history, all ideologies, are grounded on metaphors or tropes which have no referent or authority outside of language” (Mary 164). The novel becomes Shelley’s rejection of the Romantic belief in imagination’s ability to create lasting meaning.

Lionel’s return to the stage of experience is the final step in Shelley’s rejection of Romanticism. While the novel is partially written to mourn the loss of the great Romantic poets, it also clearly reveals the flaws in Romantic theories. Shelley rejects the belief of her father, William Godwin, that human life could be extended by the evolution of reason, as he expressed in St. Leon. Shelley’s novel reveals the inability of reason to fend off accidents and disease which cannot be prevented or explained logically. Shelley also rejects Godwin and Percy Shelley’s belief in millennialism, which argues that the human race slowly evolves and progresses. Mary Shelley completely erases this possibility by causing the human race to become extinct. Shelley most harshly criticizes Romanticism’s exaltation of Nature as having salvific value for people. Wordsworth believed that with Imagination, one could interpret Nature as benevolent. Early in The Last Man, Lionel uses his imagination to see Nature as benevolent, but he is already aware that it is his imagination that so defines Nature. “So true it is, that man’s mind alone was the creator of all that was good or great to man, and that Nature herself was only his first minister” (5). By the novel’s conclusion, however, Lionel realizes the danger of the human imagination’s distortion of Nature. Mellor notes that here Shelley’s criticizes the two main points of Romanticism: “that nature can be the source of moral authority and that the human mind can create meanings of permanent value” (Mary 164). Lionel experiences Nature’s sadistic personality when the plague destroys all but one member of the human race, yet allows other creatures to survive in multitudes upon the earth. In despair, Lionel exclaims, “Shall I not bestow a malediction on every other of nature’s offspring, which dares live and enjoy, while I live and suffer?” (334). Yet Lionel still attempts to believe in a Romantic Nature that is benevolent. In words reminiscent of the Ancient Mariner’s blessing of the sea serpents, and Wordsworth’s blessing upon the creatures in the “Intimations Ode,” Lionel declares his love for the earth’s remaining creatures.

“Ah, no! I will discipline my sorrowing heart to sympathy in your joys; I will be happy, because ye are so. Live on, ye innocents, nature’s selected darlings; I am not much unlike to you. Nerves, pulse, brain, joint, and flesh, of such am I composed, and ye are organized by the same laws. I have something beyond this, but I will call it a defect, not an endowment, if it leads me to misery, while ye are happy.” (334)

However, Lionel’s moment of Romantic sensibility is immediately destroyed.

“Just then, there emerged from a near copse two goats and a little kid, by the mother’s side; they began to browze the herbage of the hill. I approached near to them, without their perceiving me; I gathered a handful of fresh grass, and held it out; the little one nestled close to its mother, while she timidly withdrew. The male stepped forward, fixing his eyes on me: I drew near, still holding out my lure, while he, depressing his head, rushed at me with his horns. I was a very fool; I knew it, yet I yielded to my rage. I snatched up a huge fragment of rock; it would have crushed my rash foe. I poized it—aimed it—then my heart failed me. I hurled it wide of the mark; it rolled clattering among the bushes into dell. My little visitants, all aghast, galloped back into the covert of the wood; while I, my very heart bleeding and torn, rushed down the hill, and by the violence of bodily exertion, sought to escape from my miserable self.” (334)

Lionel’s intense emotions reflect that even the Romantic belief in Nature is contrary to Lionel’s experiences of reality. Nature cannot be a solace to him, so he decides, “I will not live among the wild scenes of nature, the enemy of all that lives. I will seek the towns” (335). By declaring that Nature is the enemy of all that lives, Lionel has completely rejected Romanticism’s value of Nature, in favor of the value of human relationships, although he cannot benefit from them. Lionel leaves the country and travels to Rome where the buildings still proclaim the one time existence of humanity; it is the only environment where Lionel can retain any sense of meaning because it retains the memories of those with whom he once communicated.

Despite all he has suffered, Lionel continues to long for an explanation of his situation. He still wonders whether other human beings live or whether a God exists. In the novel’s final paragraph, Lionel sets off in his boat, alone save for a dog he has befriended, describing his future as “Thus around the shores of deserted earth, while the sun is high, and the moon waxes or wanes, angels, the spirits of the dead, and the ever-open eye of the Supreme, will behold the tiny bark, freighted with Verney—the LAST MAN” (342). Paley suggests that Lionel’s solitary journey is a reference to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner (121). Shelley cruelly parodies the Ancient Mariner’s continuous need to tell his story, by placing Lionel in a position where he writes from a desire to communicate, although there is no one to read or hear his tale. Consequently, unlike the Ancient Mariner, Lionel will never even know momentary relief of telling his story. Lionel’s reference to the Supreme as existing and even having an “ever-open eye” suggests his hope that he will still someday understand the miseries he has endured. His desire to continue hoping is a refusal to acknowledge what he fears, that there is no meaning and there is no God. The novel’s opening epigraph from Paradise Lost foreshadows this conclusion: “Let no man seek / Henceforth to be foretold what shall befall / Him or his children” (XI, 770-2). These words are spoken by Adam after the Fall when Michael, showing Adam the future, reveals to him the flood that will destroy humanity. Shelley focuses upon this moment in Paradise Lost because it foretells the future, but fails to foresee God’s divine plan of salvation for humanity by Christ’s death and resurrection. By using this reference to the Flood, Shelley is suggesting that human extinction is the eventual future of humanity. Lionel realizes humanity is fated for extinction, yet to the end he continues to hope, only to be tortured with memories of the happiness he once knew but now has lost forever (Paley 114-5). Lionel’s final quest marks his role as a Gothic wanderer alienated from the world. His determination against all hope to find other humans represents the continual human need to search for meaning and to have someone with whom that meaning can be communicated.

 

Of additional interest is a previous blog post I wrote on a French novel on the Last Man theme that may have influenced Shelley’s novel: https://thegothicwanderer.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/the-last-man-cousin-de-grainvilles-dernier-le-homme-and-mary-shelley/

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.comwww.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

 

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Mary Shelley

Racism in Dracula: The Romanian Perspective

Last September, I went to Romania in search of Dracula’s roots. For the results, see my previous blog post Touring Romania, Land of Dracula. Little did I realize before I went that Romania has no vampire tradition. According to my tour guide, they have fairies and dragons and witches, but no vampires. That is not to say they have not capitalized upon Dracula. Tourists wanted to see the inn where Jonathan Harker stayed, so they built one. Tourists wanted to visit Dracula’s castle, so they declared Bran Castle was his. There are Dracula museums in Bucharest and Sighisoara where Vlad Tepes’ birthplace is a popular restaurant. In short, the Romanians are willing to make tourist dollars off Dracula.

But there is a sadder aspect to the Dracula mania. The Romanian people don’t really get all the fuss over Dracula. Worse, they do not always appreciate their country being associated with vampires, as if it were some giant haunted house/amusement park for tourists to visit. In truth, the Romanians have been belittled by the association of Dracula with their country.

I came away, despite my great love and admiration for Stoker’s novel, feeling sad for the Romanian people. After all, no one likes to be depicted via stereotypes. And so, I was delighted when I discovered Cristina Artenie’s book Dracula Invades England. The book’s title is a bit vague. A better title would have been Dracula from the Romanian Perspective. However, I suspect many Dracula scholars would have ignored such a title. That is too bad because Artenie has written one of the best scholarly works about Dracula I have ever read. As she points out, today there are scholarly editions of Heart of Darkness that discuss Joseph Conrad’s treatment of “the Other”—the Africans in his novel. Therefore, it’s time that scholars address how the Romanians, specifically the Transylvanians, become “the Other” in Dracula. Artenie argues that Dracula, like Heart of Darkness, is a novel about colonization, and although that argument might seem a bit surprising at first, she makes a compelling case.

I will only briefly summarize a few of Artenie’s arguments because I want to encourage people to read the full book for themselves. One of the primary arguments addresses the long-standing question of whether Stoker intentionally modeled Dracula on Vlad Tepes. After reading this book, I am left with little doubt that he did. In the past, scholars have pointed to the vagueness of Dracula’s speech about the history of his family and race, saying it is slightly incoherent and placed in the mouth of a ruthless madman. However, Artenie discusses the historical essence of it and then declares that both Stoker and scholars are “Othering” Romania through the speech itself and their responses to it, thereby creating a pseudo-history of medieval Romania that denies its true history. Other reasons to believe Stoker knew perfectly well he was modeling Dracula on Vlad Tepes include that his brother George was in the Turkish military and fought against Romania in its war for independence. Stoker later helped his brother write his memoirs, which, although he never visited the Balkans, made him well-versed in the region. Furthermore, Mary of Teck married the future George V in 1893, just four years before Dracula was published. The actor Henry Irving, for whom Stoker was business manager, was friends with Princess Mary’s mother so Stoker would have known her. More importantly, Mary of Teck was a descendant of Vlad Tepes. Dracula’s invasion of England, then, in a sense is the invasion of Vlad Tepes’ descendants into England.

The question remains whether the Tecks knew of their descent from Vlad Tepes, or if Stoker knew it. Previously, McNally and Florescu, in their book In Search of Dracula, had explored Vlad Tepes and first promoted the idea that Stoker based Dracula on him. However, they also fudged some of their research, according to Artenie, claiming Romanian sources that did not exist or simply preferring to “orientalise” East Central Europe. A promised follow-up volume to their famous book that would be written in collaboration with Romanian specialists to provide a more accurate history of Dracula, Vlad Tepes, and Romania never happened. One of the errors McNally and Florescu made was to claim Vlad Tepes had no direct descendants but that Mary of Teck was descended from his half-brother (mentioned in their later book Dracula, Prince of Many Faces). Artenie cites the same genealogy as them, but also other genealogies that show the British royal family has more than one link to Vlad Tepes and his other family members (p. 79-82), including a direct descent from Vlad Tepes through Mary of Teck—a claim Prince Charles in recent years popularized when he announced he was descended from Vlad Tepes.

Beyond Dracula, Romania is famous for its painted eggs.

Artenie argues that Stoker depicts Romanians, and Transylvanians in particular, as “the Other” because Romania was practically a colony of Britain at the time. After the Crimean War, England was opposed to the Romanian question of independence, largely because Romania was Britain’s bread-basket—it had a grain-growing economy and its independence threatened Britain financially in terms of importing its grain to England.

Of course, Artenie also discusses how Vlad Tepes is a national hero to the Romanian people. Dracula scholars have relied on the stories of the horrible acts of Vlad Tepes as the inspiration for Stoker’s novel, but they have failed to note that many of these stories came from his enemies, including Russian monks who condemned Vlad because they could not forgive him for converting to Catholicism. In truth, Vlad was an intelligent, perhaps ingenious diplomat, who did whatever he had to do to protect his country from the Turks and internal enemies. His methods may seem cruel today, but they were no worse than those of many others in his time.

Ultimately, Artenie sheds a much-needed light on the disservice Stoker and the entire Dracula industry—from popular films to scholarly literary criticism—have done to Romania. Using Edward Said’s Orientalism as a model, she argues that Romania has succumbed to orientalization or othering by scholars, but then she goes a step further, coining the term “draculism”:

draculism is the discourse that enhances the characteristics of a place or person with the specific aim of linking the object of the discourse to Stoker’s vampire, Dracula. Draculism does not refer to the legends surrounding the historical figure Vlad Tepes, which would have been long dead if not for Stoker, but is instead the direct result of Stoker’s vampirisation of Vlad Tepes and of Transylvania. It is from Stoker’s novel that the West’s understanding of current and past developments in the region is derived. As such, the Other Europe [Eastern Europe] is too often seen as barbarian or retrograde because of its alleged link to the fictional Transylvanian vampire. (p. 164)

View of courtyard at Bran Castle, which falsely claims to be Dracula’s castle.

I am surprised Artenie does not comment upon the flourishing Dracula tourist industry in Romania. However, she does mention that the Cold War and Iron Curtain also helped to keep the Balkans and Eastern Europe relegated to an “Other” position for the West.

Artenie notes that Dracula scholars have completely ignored Romania’s history. Scholarly editions of Dracula fail to criticize Stoker’s depiction of Romanians, yet editions of other Victorian novels depicting colonialism do so. Scholars, to date, have only focused on Stoker himself and the works of other scholars, while ignoring Romania, which has been the invisible elephant in the room through all these decades of Dracula criticism. In the end, one could almost say that Stoker and Dracula scholars have been the true vampires, sucking blood out of Romania to leave it only a stereotypical shell of its true self.

Now that I have been to Romania and experienced for myself what a wonderful country it is and how warm and kind the people are, I feel guilty myself for “othering” Romania by going there in search of Dracula’s roots. Romania deserves far better. So does Dracula criticism. I welcome Artenie’s authentic, original, and Romanian voice to the discussion. I also look forward to reading her other works: her book Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices, the essay collection she edited Gothic and Racism¸ and perhaps most notably, Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition, which she served as co-editor for with Dragos Moraru.

Romania is also home to stunning painted monasteries and church’s. Here is one in Bucharest.

Dracula Invades England is available in the United States at Amazon.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

 

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Filed under Dracula, Gothic Places, Literary Criticism

Ontario-Set Vampire Novel Draws on Gothic Traditions

Michael Rowe’s debut horror novel, Enter, Night (2011) is a pleasant (though scary) surprise in horror fiction, or Gothic literature—the term I prefer—because it is a novel that feels very modern but draws very intensely upon traditional Gothic elements.

It is impossible not to give away some of the plot to discuss the novel properly, so this is a warning if you haven’t read it yet.

The novel was recommended to me by a friend who follows this blog. Because I live in Marquette, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Superior and Enter, Night takes place on the Canadian side of the lake, only a few hours’ drive from me, he thought I would be interested in it. I was very interested because of the inclusion of Ojibwa themes and history as well as French-Canadian history. These interest me because I am a writer of Upper Michigan history, am descended from seventeenth-century French-Canadian voyageurs who traveled the Great Lakes with the Jesuits, and am writing a biography of Charles Kawbawgam, the local nineteenth-century Ojibwa chief in the Marquette area. Therefore, a book that takes my favorite historical area and combines it with my beloved Gothic is sure to win me over—provided it is done well, and Michael Rowe pulls it off very well.

The novel’s primary modern section takes place in a small town in Ontario in 1972 not far from Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario. I will not go into the plot of this section that covers about 340 pages. However, I did like that the young boy in this section is a fan of The Tomb of Dracula comic book series of the early 1970s and also watches the popular vampiric TV soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971), which shows Rowe is well aware that he is writing in a Gothic tradition. In the afterword, Rowe also mentions how his mother gave him his first copy of Dracula when he was ten. Beyond these references, I don’t know how familiar Rowe is with the rest of the Gothic tradition, but the last section of the novel suggests to me he is very familiar with it.

In the novel’s primary section, the town of Parr’s Landing is the victim of a vampire scourge. In the last section, we learn the origins of this scourge through a discovered manuscript written by a Jesuit priest in the seventeenth century.

Discovered manuscripts have been an element of Gothic literature since its beginning. Mrs. Radcliffe has her main character discover one in The Romance of the Forest (1791) and the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764) claims to be a discovered manuscript itself. In Enter, Night, the discovered manuscript reveals ancient shocking horrors. It tells the story of a Jesuit priest who travels to a mission where he has heard that terrible things have happened. The journey to this remote mission across the Great Lakes reminds me of the journey in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) to find Kurtz, who has basically become a madman and been set up like a god over the Natives. Like Conrad’s Marlow, Father Nyon, who narrates, will discover that the true horror is the person he has come to find.

While the seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries had the purpose of trying to convert the Native Americans to Christianity, Father Nyon discovers that rather than spreading Christianity, Father de Céligny is spreading terror because he is actually a vampire. Father Nyon has already heard rumors of a possible weetigo (wendigo) in the area—wendigo is an Ojibwa term for a man who becomes a man-eater or cannibal; however, he had no idea that he would find not a cannibal but a true vampire in one of his fellow Jesuits. Father Nyon eventually realizes that Father de Céligny purposely left France to come to the New World so he could practice his vampirism more effectively, thinking himself safer in the New World where he would also have a large, innocent population to feed upon.

Rowe’s decision to make his vampire be a French Jesuit priest is interesting for many reasons. First, Rowe is drawing upon the Gothic theme of secret societies that alter world politics. The Jesuits were one of many such secret societies that the Gothic used. Specifically, in Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew (1846), the Jesuits are the great villains. For more on Jesuits and conspiracy theories, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesuit_conspiracy_theories.

Rowe does not directly blame the Jesuits, but rather, he shows how this vampire has infiltrated the Society of Jesus to use it as a cover for him to carry out his evil. As the sole Jesuit at his mission, he has the ability to feed off the Native Americans he has come to convert. This is practically an Antichrist role, placing him in the position to do the opposite of what he is intended to do. One can’t help but also wonder whether Rowe has in the back of his mind how many Catholic priests have used their positions to hurt rather than help their flock by engaging in sexual abuse of minors.

The vampire tradition has always played off the tradition of Christ, turning it upside down. In Catholicism, the Eucharistic bread and wine, through the miracle of transubstantiation, are turned into Christ’s actual body and blood. Consequently, when Catholics take communion, they are engaging in what may be termed a form of cannibalism. The vampire tradition draws upon this concept by showing a supernatural being that feeds upon others’ blood, and many Gothic novels quote the Bible, referring to the blood as being the life.

The influence of Dracula on Enter, Night is also present in Father de Céligny being a French aristocrat—actually a count. Similarly, Dracula is a count. Furthermore, the early Gothic novels of the 1790s served as a veiled commentary on the French Revolution, and later, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) would use Gothic elements to openly depict the French Revolution. (See my book The Gothic Wanderer for more on Dickens’ novel and how the Gothic responded to the French Revolution.) Aristocrats were frequent villains in Gothic literature, including in Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest, Eleanor Sleath’s The Orphan on the Rhine (1798), and, of course, A Tale of Two Cities.

Another way Dracula influences Rowe’s novel is the spread of vampirism from one country to another. Dracula’s goal is to travel to England where there will be plenty of fresh victims for him. Many critics have discussed how Dracula is planning to invade and colonize England. Similarly, in Rowe’s book, a count plans to invade the New World to satiate his thirst and spread vampirism.

Vampirism has often been seen as a metaphor for the spread of disease, including venereal diseases and more recently AIDS. However, in Rowe’s novel, one can’t help thinking of smallpox and the other diseases Europeans brought to the Native Americans.

Of course, by the manuscript’s end, Father Nyon has managed to defeat Father de Céligny, imprisoning him in a cave, which he will eventually escape from in 1972 to terrorize the town of Parr’s Landing in the more modern part of the novel.

I think Michael Rowe has done a wonderful job of creating a true page-turner while clearly writing within the Gothic tradition and creating new twists on old Gothic themes. He is a modern-day James Fenimore Cooper in taking the Gothic from Europe and transporting it to the forests of North America. He also introduces homosexual characters in the modern section of the novel, another frequent though subtle and underlining theme in early Gothic fiction, especially in vampire novels. Consequently, it isn’t surprising that Rowe is the editor of two Queer Fear anthologies. He is also the author of several other horror novels I may just have to check out.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula