The Feminist She-Fiend of Victorian Literature: George W. M. Reynolds’ The Parricide

George W. M. Reynolds’ The Parricide (1846) is a fascinating Victorian crime novel, and at its center is one of the most fascinating women in Victorian literature, Sophia Maxwell, who tries to thwart the title character and his accomplice in their schemes and revenge herself upon them. She is an early example of feminism in Victorian literature in how she advocates for women, making her far more interesting than even the dramatic plot twists that fill the novel’s pages.

The Parricide is actually a rewrite of Reynolds’ first novel The Youthful Impostor (1835). I discovered this after I ordered a copy of The Youthful Impostor and only received a reprint of Volume 1. In trying to find a copy of Volume 2 online (which I never did), I discovered with the help of a friend that Reynolds’ rewrote and retitled the novel. Although Reynolds refers to the main character, James Crawford, several times in The Parricide as an impostor, he probably felt the new title would be more attention-grabbing and consequently sell more books.

Always curious why someone would rewrite a book, I tried to follow along in both volumes as I read to see what changes Reynolds made. I discovered he primarily took extremely long chapters and divided them into two or three chapters. Not until Chapter 20 of The Parricide, which coincides with Chapters 12 and 13 in The Youthful Impostor, does the text seem to vary significantly. Unfortunately, the first volume ends soon after so I couldn’t see just how much divergence there is and to what extent Reynolds majorly rewrote, although Stephen Knight, in his wonderful book G. W. M. Reynolds and His Fiction, sheds some further light on the differences between The Youthful Impostor and The Parricide, which I will discuss below.

Interestingly, The Youthful Impostor was published in Philadelphia but not London. When it was translated into French, a French reviewer made several points that Reynolds listened to in revising the novel as The Parricide. The most obvious change besides the title is a new dramatic prologue that discusses how parricide (killing one’s father) is the worst crime imaginable and forever weighs on the murderer’s mind. While Reynolds does not reveal it until the end, it is obvious to the reader from the novel’s opening pages when the main characters are introduced that James Crawford is the parricide, though he himself doesn’t know it until the book is almost over. Spoiler alert: I will give away all the secrets below. Before discussing further the differences between the two versions of the novel and the character of Sophia, the “feminist fiend” who interests me most, a plot summary is in order.

The novel opens by introducing the reader to the Crawford family. Mrs. Crawford has three children, James, Catherine, and Emily. The late Mr. Crawford died under mysterious circumstances after he had gone to visit his cousin Sir George Mornay, a baronet. While Mr. Crawford was heir to the baronetcy, he and his cousin had experienced a falling out years before. Furthermore, Mrs. Crawford’s marriage to her husband, though legal, is not verified because someone tore out the page from the church register that recorded it, thus making James Crawford’s legitimacy questionable and giving Sir George reason to deny James is his heir.

James has a friend, Mr. Arnold, who poses as a caring friend to all the family, but he is actually a highwayman who has led James into a life of crime (unknown to James’ mother and sisters). Among those crimes is robbing coaches and even murder. Somehow James never realizes that he and Arnold were the highwaymen who killed his own father, something Arnold keeps a secret until the end of the novel.

Arnold has another great secret that the reader figures out before the novel ends—he is Sir George Mornay, whom none of the Crawfords have met save the late Mr. Crawford. Sir George is determined not to let James be his heir, resulting in the murder of James’ father and his stealing the Crawfords’ marriage record. In fact, Arnold is intent on destroying the whole family, leading James into a life of crime and pretending to be in love with Emily until he gets her pregnant and then abandons her while claiming he has talked to her mother about their marrying.

The novel is full of one twist after another and makes for exciting reading even if the plot is somewhat predictable. However, the biggest surprise is Sophia Maxwell. James Crawford manages to finagle his way into Sophia’s affections because her father thinks him a man of business and the favorite of a wealthy Mr. Fitzgerald, who is really just another of Arnold’s cronies posing as a rich man. Consequently, through these false connections, James manages to acquire large sums of money from Mr. Maxwell and begins to associate with his daughter. Between the money Maxwell gives James, thinking he’s investing it, and the possibility that James will marry his daughter, given that James is heir to a fortune, Mr. Maxwell considers himself very fortunate.

However, Sophia soon begins to fear James’ interest in her is waning, so she decides to do some snooping, resulting in her discovering he is a villain. Not wanting to hurt her father, Sophia blackmails James into giving her the money he took from her father. Meanwhile, Mr. Maxwell is also owed money by Sir George Mornay, so Sophia goes to see him and realizes that he is Arnold, James’ accomplice, although at this point, James still does not realize his friend Arnold is really his enemy Sir George.

Arnold now starts to plot against Sophia, calling her a “wanton slut” and “she-fiend” in Chapter 37. When she goes to visit Sir George and discovers he’s Arnold, Arnold tries to strangle her, but someone comes to her rescue.

Sophia now wishes to be rid of James, but she feels like her “life’s current” is now blended with his. She goes to find Dimmock, James and Arnold’s accomplice who has been masquerading as Fitzgerald. She learns James paid him off by giving him money to go to America, but she finds his son, also a criminal, in poverty. With a little work, she gets the younger Dimmock to share with her details of crimes he knows James and Arnold have committed. She offers to help him financially if he’ll turn from a life of crime, so he becomes her loyal follower, even going to James and Arnold to negotiate, pretending to let them bribe him and making them believe he will side with them, only to turn against them.

Matters come to a climax when James acts like he will make things right with Sophia and even go through with marrying her. He invites Sophia to meet his family, but he leads her to people pretending to be his relatives who drug her and then let James rape her in a scene obviously inspired by the rape of Clarissa in Richardson’s famous novel. James then celebrates her rape by getting drunk while Sophia wanders home in a stupor.

The rape becomes a turning point for Sophia. After being ill for several days, she decides not to die to prove her virtue like Clarissa, but to become vindictive. Her father tries to learn what is wrong, but she will only tell him she has done nothing wrong but been punished for looking into others’ affairs. He silently fears she is becoming mentally unstable because mental illness runs on her mother’s side of the family.

Sophia now makes arrangements to meet Arnold and James on a bridge with the idea that they will be arrested. Despite the danger, they go to the meeting, and when the fake police Sophia has hired try to arrest them, they jump over the bridge, but Dimmock retrieves them with a rope he has secretly hooked to them. Arnold, by this point, is repulsed by Sophia’s unlady-like actions. The narrator even seems to agree with Arnold, saying there is something about her “so ominous of mental perversion and female impropriety” that it has “removed the thing from the comic and brought it under the compass of the desperate and tragical” and that Sophia’s ‘diseased taste” from her crushed hopes now worked a “dread revolution in her nature” (Chapter 45). Up until the rape, there is almost a sense of good-natured rivalry in how Sophia and her adversaries try to best one another, but now the narrator clearly sees any such hint of humor or fun is removed by Sophia’s “mental perversion.”

James now tells Arnold that he should cheer up because Sophia is on the border of insanity, so she cannot be a serious threat to them. These two villains are truly appalling at this point because they are not the least horrified by how they have tortured Sophia to the point of near-madness.

Sophia next decides she wants to start a community for women who will not marry, and she will do this by extorting money from James and Arnold so their crimes will pay for it. She never becomes quite clear, however, on what this community will be, referring to it as a place for “abjuring women” and a type of convent or nunnery. She gets Dimmock to extort 500 pounds from her adversaries to start the community while she looks at possible locations in Pentonville for her women’s asylum. She says these women will be her “disciples in a new social religion.” She also begins to claim she has visions that provide her with knowledge from heaven and she has supernatural aid to assist her in creating this community of women. She is almost a precursor to Mary Baker Eddy in the sense that she is practically setting out to found her own religion guided by the supernatural.

Sophia enlists the aid of a man named Donald to help her find a location, but his response to her is very sexist. He tells her she is not clear on what she wants so it is difficult for him to help her, and he asks her ignorant questions such as whether it will be a home only for ugly women who can’t find husbands or for a broader group of women. Sophia replies that it will be a home for wronged women and those who have enough sense not to want to marry. Donald takes such responses as a further sign Sophia is a little crazy, and he hopes she’ll come to her senses and maybe marry him, a sign that he thinks women are only good for one thing—to please men.

Once Donald finds a location for Sophia’s “folly,” as the narrator calls it, he again asks if she wants him to look for women who are old and ugly or young and beautiful. She replies she wants the “pure in heart.” The narrator then refers to Sophia’s plan as a “most impracticable institution” and “crazy scheme” (Chapter 50).

Meanwhile, James and Arnold plot to murder Sophia and frame Dimmock for it. Before that can happen, however, Sophia tells a doctor she is being influenced by spirits from above who are giving her guidance to create her institution. The result is she and Dimmock are confined to a madhouse and we never learn more about them after Chapter 51. The narrator in a few paragraphs bids Sophia goodbye here and tells us the “obdurate door” has been shut upon us and other than for our imaginations, we will be denied access to her further wretchedness.

The novel now moves to its dramatic conclusion. Eventually all is revealed. James learns Arnold is really Sir George, and then Sir George reveals that James was responsible during the highway robbery of killing his own father. Arnold/Sir George and James duel, and James dies, but Hunter, who is in love with Emily, whom Arnold got pregnant, then fights Arnold/Sir George and kills him. However, as Hunter brings the news to Emily, he reveals he has also been shot and he dies. The End.

Not even the good are rewarded in The Parricide. James and Arnold get what they deserve, but Hunter does not deserve to die, and Sophia and Dimmock do not deserve to be locked up in an insane asylum. One wishes that Reynolds had provided an afterword sharing what became of them, but we can assume they are never released. Knight remarks that the text says they will die of starvation, but I have been unable to locate such a passage.

It is worth noting here a few differences between The Youthful Impostor and The Parricide now that I have given the full plot. Knight reveals that Reynolds, who is well known for borrowing/stealing other people’s plots or story ideas, was inspired by Dumas’ play Angèle, and borrowed the pregnancy plot and duel scenes from it. The jail scenes were likely inspired by scenes from Ainsworth’s novels. Minor changes include that Lord Mornay is renamed Sir George Mornay and that Arnold only implied James had stabbed his father in the first novel, but Reynolds has Arnold insist James committed the murder in this novel, a change in line with the new title. Of most interest is that in the original novel, Sophia does not take on a detective role or dress like a boy. She is not intent on revenge nor has reason for it. Instead, in The Youthful Impostor, she is a minor character. Knight writes of her “James also meets a satirically treated ‘Matrimonial Advocate’: the rich wife he is offered is Sophia Maxwell, whom he already knows and admires, but James’s mysterious death will end their possible happiness.” One has to wonder what led Reynolds to revisit Sophia and develop her into one of the most fascinating and mistreated women in literature when he revised the novel.

It amazes me that The Parricide is not one of the best known Victorian novels. Is it great writing? Yes, if one likes potboilers—few authors do a better job than Reynolds of keeping the reader intrigued with a fast-moving plot. Is it great literature? Perhaps not, but Sophia Maxwell deserves to be one of the best known women in Victorian literature. What is surprising is that Reynolds allows the reader to sympathize with her and cheer her on, yet then he makes her insane and even lets the narrator disparage her. Perhaps the sympathy I feel as a reader is a result of my twenty-first-century sensibilities while Reynolds’ readers would have seen her as solely a mental perversion like the narrator. Even though the argument that she is insane has a basis in her father’s fear she will become insane because insanity runs on her mother’s side of the family, it is questionable if Sophia really is insane. Her desire to help women is laudable. That she doesn’t die but fights back when she learns her lover is a louse and even after he rapes her makes her one of the strongest women in literature to this point. One might argue her belief that supernatural beings are aiding her makes her insane, but wouldn’t that make most of the founders of world religions equally insane?

Also notable is that Reynolds turns on its head the idea that virtue must result in death if you are raped. And yet, Reynolds then seems to turn against Sophia by letting the narrator call her scheme impracticable and not allowing her to be the ultimate form of vengeance upon the male perpetrators. Reynolds seems to be on her side by showing the stupidity of Donald who can’t understand her intentions to help women, thinking she can only help ugly women no man would want, but at the same time, the narrator appears to be agreeing with Donald. Reynolds, who is known to have been a champion of women and to have supported his own wife, Susannah Reynolds, in her own novel writing and even to have benefited from her editing, likely was trying to be as subversive as he felt his readers would allow without going too far.

Certainly more work needs to be done on Reynolds’ attitudes toward women. Most of his female characters in other works, notably The Mysteries of London and The Seamstress, receive sympathetic treatment, yet while Reynolds mourns Sophia being locked up in her asylum, he will not lift his pen to free her. But perhaps that was the strongest statement he could make—to leave her locked up, to provide an overwhelming dose of reality about how women were treated in his society.

Consequently, Sophia Maxwell is one of those Victorian characters who haunts the reader after the book is closed, a women ahead of her time whose own creator may have felt he needed to lock her up because she had gotten out of hand.

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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 historical fantasy series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at http://www.GothicWanderer.com, http://www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and http://www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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

Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth: The Gothic Anthropocene, a Review

“damn good coffee never comes for free.”

— Timothy Morton and Rune Graulund

My opening quote is from Chapter 12 of Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth: The Gothic Anthropocene, edited by Justin D. Edwards, Rune Graulund, and Johan Höglund and just released by University of Minnesota Press. It references the situation we currently are coming to accept as a fact. All human activity has an effect on this planet and our climate, and that effect is usually a detrimental if not devastating one. Even the production of our coffee has had significant impact on the environment, both the harvesting and the packaging of it.

This blog post will review Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth and highlight some of the essays that discuss Gothic works that use environmental-related themes. The term Anthropocene in the subtitle refers to the time on this planet when humans have had the greatest impact on the earth, and Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth discusses that impact in all its severity, showing how Gothic our world and our lives have become as a result not just of the Industrial or Technology Revolutions but from our very earliest efforts to cultivate the earth and our misguided belief that we are its masters.

It is impossible for me to do complete justice to this book in a review, but I will say that the sixteen essays included in it are all illuminating, thoughtful, and interesting. I cannot discuss them all, but I enjoyed every single one and I appreciated that they are mostly free of academic jargon, though I did have to look up a few words, but mostly due to my own ignorance about climate change and the other environmental topics this book concerns itself with. I was glad to become better educated about them. The book is divided into four sections titled Anthropocene, Plantationocene (focused on agriculture), Capitalocene (referencing capitalism), and Chthulucene (referencing Lovecraft’s famous creation). The titles reflect the book’s larger discussion about the appropriateness or ineptness of the term Anthropocene to describe adequately the period of human impact on the earth.

As a student primarily of eighteenth and nineteenth century Gothic literature, I was not familiar with many of the works discussed, several of them being TV shows, films, and books from the last few decades, but the essays made me want to view or read most of them. Some of the better known works discussed include the recent Jurassic Park films, Jaws, and the TV series Twin Peaks. More classic works discussed are the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, and Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland. While climate change and man’s detrimental effects upon the earth are themes more frequently treated in late twentieth and early twenty-first century works, I appreciated looking back to these classic texts to show how these concerns were already treated in earlier works. Lisa M. Vetere’s essay “Horrors of the Horticultural” was probably the most interesting article to me because it discussed how the landscaping of the estate in Brown’s Wieland allows for the Gothic plot, primarily the biloquism/ventriloquism to take place that causes the horrors in the novel. I had never considered that aspect of the novel, but Vetere provides plenty of support from the text to convince me. At the same time, she discusses the consequences of landscaping at large, including the damage done by the tons of weedkiller people use every year to create unnatural, manicured lawns in their efforts to control nature.

Lovecraft is known for his works about prehistoric creatures who threaten mankind’s place on the planet, but Rune Graulund’s essay “Lovecraft vs. Vandermeer” shows how Lovecraft’s themes are being reworked in modern works like Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014) without the inherent racism Lovecraft uses and to show the earth does not inherently belong to humans. This concept of human dominance and their questionable right to the earth is discussed in numerous other essays. Fred Botting in “Monstrocene” discusses how humans need to come to terms with a multispecies concept on this planet and that we are all dependent upon one another for survival. I was left wondering if other species are as dependent upon us as we are upon them. I suspect not. Gothic re-imaginings of life after human extinction were also explored in various essays, including works in which humans become something other than human, as if to be anything other than human should be a cause for horror. Perhaps the opposite is true.

Texts that also seem to promote human ascendancy and even white male superiority are explored, such as the film The Meg in which strong, handsome white men destroy the giant sharks that threaten humanity. In “De-extinction” Michael Fuchs gives us another take on threatening animals by discussing how in the Jurassic Park films creatures are made de-extinct, and he reveals that this is no longer science fiction but becoming possible. However, as the Jurassic Park films warn, we cannot always control the consequences of our actions. Furthermore, reintroducing a species that was extinct could lead to the extinction of another species, so any efforts to try to manipulate nature can backfire on us.

Some of the essays were simply illuminating for me in relation to climate change and eco-friendly issues. In “Beyond the Slaughterhouse,” Justin D. Edwards discusses zombies and vampires as metaphors for our own meat-eating practices and how the Gothic asks how and what we can eat to be less destructive. I was stunned to learn one-third of the planet is given over to feeding the animals we eat and one-third of cereal is used for animal grain, making one wonder why humans could not just eat the cereal rather than the animals. Edwards adds that we try to gloss over our violence toward animals by redefining them so that we don’t eat cows but beef and we don’t eat pigs but pork.

Another essay I found fascinating was Laura Kremmel’s “Rot and Recycle: Gothic Eco-burial” which talked about sanitary issues with graveyards in the nineteenth century and how the formaldehyde and other chemicals we use for embalming today are not healthy for the earth. She goes on to explore eco-friendly burials, including the role mushrooms can play in it and how actor Luke Perry was buried in a mushroom suit. Timothy Clark’s “Overpopulation” made me realize that overpopulation is often misconstrued as a problem, and while I was stunned to realize the world human population has more than doubled in my lifetime, I also appreciated Clark’s point that population growth, which is greater in the southern hemisphere, is not so much the problem as the pollution growth caused by the less densely populated northern hemisphere. Rebecca Duncan’s “Gothic in the Capitalocene” reveals that the world economy is really dependent upon the world’s ecology. The two cannot be separated from each other going forward.

As Fred Botting states in “Monstrocene,” humans are a major geological force on this planet, so we have to come to terms with the damage we are doing. All the essays in Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth make that point vividly clear, and I felt a good balance was achieved in them between highlighting the dangers of climate change and the current crisis the human race is facing as well as in the analysis of how these topics are treated by a variety of novels, films, and television series.

Frankly, though the book is 344 pages, I was left wanting more. Most of the authors focused on more recent works, but given my own area of expertise in the Gothic, I would have appreciated more of an overview of the literary history of texts that discuss these themes. That said, that I am able to name several classics that are relevant to the discussion shows how the book made me conscious of works one might not at first associate with environmental issues. Fred Botting discusses Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) which I have written about myself. It features a disease that wipes out the human race in the year 2100, as well as signs of nature, such as the sea, also acting against mankind. The Last Man was largely ignored by critics until the last few decades. Another work that deserves mention, though few people know it is also titled The Last Man, or Le Dernier Homme (1805) by French author Cousin de Grandeville. It is also set in the future and depicts a dying human race. Crop failure, sterility, and wild weather are all elements of this novel as the forces of nature try to stop humans from reproducing. I also think about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island, Jules Verne’s adventure novels in which Captain Nemo explores the depths where creatures that men may not know lurk. Furthermore, Captain Nemo, in the 1961 film of The Mysterious Island, though not the book, experiments in food growth to try to help resolve the earth’s food shortage issues.

That there are not more essays on earlier works of literature is not a shortcoming of Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth but rather a testament to how it has made me go back and start to rethink about texts I already know, and how I will pay more attention to environmental issues in books and films going forward. And such references are everywhere in literature and film from pollution to mining to fishing and a variety of other activities that are spread across human history and permeate fiction, Gothic or otherwise.

Finally, I appreciate how the authors of Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth discuss how the realist novel is inept in trying to capture these concerns because climate change issues are not something easily depicted in a novel that focuses on the daily life of humans; rather to reflect the wide-ranging and long-term effects of environmental issues, the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and the Gothic are needed. No longer are critics ignoring these genres as if they were the ugly stepsisters of literature. Rather, they are being revealed to hold and be capable of conveying deep truths about the human condition and a future that may exist if we do nothing to try to prevent further climate change. At the same time, I take to heart Fred Botting’s remark that to see the future solely as horrible is to be unimaginative. Just because the future will be different from our present does not mean it is cause for horror.

In 2015, Disney released the film Tomorrowland, which got little positive attention from critics, though I feel it deserves greater recognition. It provided nostalgia about a time in mid-twentieth century America when the future was depicted in a positive manner as an age of wonders—think of Tomorrowland at Disneyland and The Jetsons. When did this viewpoint change? Well, even in the mid-twentieth century, we had no end of sci-fi and horror films about Godzilla, King Kong, and scientific experiments gone wrong all of which threatened humanity, so positive and negative views of the future have always coexisted, but in recent years, the trend has been almost completely negative. A better future is possible for us but we must heed the warnings of these Gothic works, and those from the scientific community.

Personally, Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth made me think much harder about my own personal impact on the earth, from mowing and watering my lawn to going through a drive-thru for coffee so one more plastic cup lid needs to be recycled. Even sitting in the drive-thru—fast food is rarely fast anymore given the worker shortage today—is polluting the earth as my car spits out fumes. And I get tired of fast food restaurants giving me plastic silverware I never use. I will start asking them ahead of time not to give me plastic. Opportunities to change exist everywhere if we look for and act upon them. No one really wants a Gothic future. Life is Gothic enough as it is. I hope readers will heed the Gothic’s message as highlighted in this book. It comes like Jacob Marley to ask us to reform before it is too late. I thank the authors of Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth for highlighting the Gothic’s dire message.

Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth is available from the University of Minnesota Press:

https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/dark-scenes-from-damaged-earth

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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 historical fantasy 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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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, Gothic/Horror Films, Literary Criticism, Mary Shelley

1928 Turkish Version of Dracula First to Equate Count with Vlad Tepes

The publication of the Icelandic Dracula and how it has turned out to be an abridged version of the Swedish Dracula has received a lot of attention by Dracula scholars in the last five or so years, but another translation, the Turkish Dracula, is also a fascinating freely adapted version of Stoker’s masterpiece. While critics debate whether the Swedish Dracula may be based on an earlier version of Dracula or whether Stoker had some hand in producing it, Dracula in Istanbul, the translation published by Neon Harbor in 2017, is definitely a free adaptation that Stoker could not have been involved in since it was published in 1928. The translator, Ali Riza Seyfioglu, actually named the novel Kasigli Voyvoda, which translates as The Impaling Voivode. However, the translation back into English has been titled Dracula in Istanbul because the 1953 Turkish film based on the novel was given that name, in Turkish Drakula Istanbul’da. The film can be found on YouTube for those curious to watch it, though it is itself very freely adapted from Seyfioglu’s translation.

Dracula in Istanbul is a fascinating book largely because it is the first to equate Dracula with Vlad Tepes. The main characters are Turkish and instantly think of Dracula as the great warrior who fought against Mehmed II. Instead of Jonathan Harker traveling from London to visit Count Dracula, we have a lawyer named Azmi traveling from Istanbul to assist Dracula with purchasing property in that city. The other characters similarly have Turkish names. Dr. Afif and Dr. Resuhi are Dr. Seward and Van Helsing. Mina is named Guzin and Lucy becomes Sadan. Arthur Holmwood/Lord Godalming becomes Turan and Quincey Morris is Ozdemir. They are all Turkish, and the three suitors for Sadan’s hand are men who fought in the Turkish War for Independence.

Because Vlad Tepes, referred to simply as Dracula in the novel, is known to have been the enemy of the Turkish people from nearly five centuries before, Guzin and Azmi immediately think of the Count Dracula whom Azmi is going to visit as a possible descendant of the warrior voivode Dracula who wreaked havoc on the Turks and impaled his enemies. Little do they know he is the same person, or so the text seems to imply, although it is never explained to us how he could still be alive centuries later or how he became a vampire.

The plot follows closely that of Stoker’s novel despite the changes in character names and setting. The events in Dracula’s castle are largely the same, but the changes begin to be more significant after that. Almost more interesting than the changes Seyfioglu makes is what he chooses to omit since the book translated is a paperback of only 158 pages and that includes seven pages devoted to photos from the film version.

The first notable omissions are when Dracula travels to Istanbul. There are no scenes aboard the Demeter, no captain nor ship log, no wolf running upon the shore, nor no old men on shore telling the female main characters of the past. Almost immediately after the scenes in the castle, Sadan becomes ill and everyone is concerned for her. The scenes with Sadan follow the text closely up to her death and through the scenes of the men having to hunt down and kill her. But all references to Renfield and an insane asylum are omitted.

Also omitted are all the scenes with Dracula in them in London, save for when Azmi first spots him and notes he has grown younger. There is no scene where money falls from a bag Dracula holds, and most notably, no scene where the men break in while Jonathan is unconscious and Mina drinks blood from Dracula’s chest. Consequently, Guzin never becomes close to changing into a vampire, so the men make no oath to kill her if need be, and there is no hunt for Dracula where her second sight abilities are used to pursue him. One wonders if the Islamic readers would have found such scenes too sexual so they were omitted, or perhaps the novel was simply considered too long by Seyfioglu, so he trimmed out more than half the text.

Dracula does not try to return to Transylvania, so no pursuit of him takes place. Instead, the men simply hunt down his coffins in various places in Istanbul and then sanctify them so he cannot return to them, thus narrowing down the possibilities of where he can be until they can slay him in his coffin. This change is close to the play and cinema versions first made from Stoker’s novel.

One interesting addition to the novel is that there is no use of Christian symbols, other than a cross a peasant woman tries to give to Azmi when he first goes to the castle and is in Romania. Garlic is still used to protect Sadan, but instead of crucifixes or sacred communion hosts, pieces of paper with verses from the Quran are inserted in the coffins so Dracula cannot rest there. Such papers are also used to seal up holes in the walls of Sadan’s tomb so she cannot enter except through the main entrance so the men can capture her.

The end result for Dracula is the same. Turan slices off Dracula’s head while Ozdemir stabs him, but Ozdemir is not wounded and does not die. Dracula disintegrates almost immediately, but Guzin does not witness a look of peace come across his face as in Dracula. Finally, there is no epilogue, and no young Quincey Harker to represent hope for the future.

These changes do not take away from the power of the novel. It is just as gripping as Stoker’s original, even if abridged. It even in at least one sense tries to improve upon Stoker’s novel by stating that the men who give Sadan blood fortunately and by coincidence all have the same blood type, a necessary correction since blood types were not fully understood in Stoker’s day and the blood transfusions would have killed Lucy if the blood types had not matched.

To what extent Stoker intended Count Dracula to be representative of Vlad Tepes is something that has been debated now for decades. Consequently, Dracula in Istanbul is interesting because the Turkish people instantly knew the association, one that would have been known by few if any of Stoker’s original British Victorian readers.

Also of interest is that the translator, who is passing the novel off as his own work with no reference to Stoker, uses the Gothic device of a found manuscript by stating in the preface that the papers that make up the novel were found in a pile as if they rained down from the sky. He found them wrapped in newspapers when getting off of a ferry and could not find their owner, but they clearly represent the journals of men and women that were arranged in a specific order. He states that the book almost reads like a novel, but he wonders if it can be true or not. I do not know if the found manuscript device is common in Turkish literature, but if not, it suggests Seyfioglu was knowledgeable of European Gothic literary traditions to use it. At the same time, he must have banked on the fact that his countrymen were not familiar with such traditions since he published the novel under his name with no credit to Stoker.

Dracula in Istanbul, with a foreword by Kim Newman and an afterword by Iain Robert Smith, is a fascinating addition to Dracula scholarship and helps us broaden our understanding of how literary characters from one culture are adapted by other cultures. In fact, Seyfioglu also translated Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Beasts of Tarzan to similar effect, and as Smith notes, Count Dracula has become a worldwide figure, even fighting Batman in a Filipino film and a resurrected Bruce Lee in a Hong Kong film. Each culture has seen fit to adapt him to their own needs. Anyone interested in Dracula and the development of the vampire in literature and film would do well to read Dracula in Istanbul.

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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 historical fantasy 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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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Gothic/Horror Films

Freaky Friday Meets Faust in Dumas’ Werewolf Novel

Alexandre Dumas’ Le Meneur de loups (The Wolf Leader), published in 1857, is one of the earliest werewolf novels. Prior to it, a werewolf story was included in the middle of English author Captain Marryat’s The Phantom Ship (1839) and English author George W. M. Reynolds provided a more thorough depiction of a character who turns into a werewolf in Wagner the Wehr-Wolf (1846-7). A few other pieces of werewolf literature, all by British authors, exist from this period, but Dumas’ novel may be the first werewolf story in French Gothic literature, and it does not appear to have been influenced by either Marryat or Wagner’s works.

The plot of The Wolf Leader is not complicated. What makes the novel interesting for me is how Dumas weaves in many Gothic elements that might be missed by someone who is not a serious student of the Gothic. I will summarize the plot here focusing on the Gothic elements worth noting.

The introduction begins with Dumas speaking in his own voice, telling how he heard this story from his father’s friend, Mocquet. Mocquet was superstitious and believed a local woman, Madame Durand, was a witch and was causing him to have nightmares. He held this low opinion of her because he said in her youth she was the mistress of Thibault, the wolf leader. By passing the story off as Mocquet’s, a real person he mentions in his Memoires, Dumas is using a literary device to make the story appear more authentic. Obviously, it is a supernatural tale that cannot possibly be true, but he can at least claim it is an authentic legend. Dumas says his father objected to Mocquet telling him supernatural tales, but when he was older and his father had died, Mocquet took him hunting and then told him the tale of Thibault.

Today, Dumas is best known for The Three Musketeers, but he was the author of many Gothic works, including The Count of Monte Cristo (1845), which plays with Gothic themes, as well as writing the play The Vampyre (1851) and using supernatural themes in his Marie Antoinette novels. The Wolf Leader, however, has received little attention by critics. According to Wikipedia, in 1951, Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas reviewed the 1950 Prime Press edition and placed it among “Dumas’s drabbest hack-work.” However, Franz Rottensteiner described it as “considerably superior from a literary point of view.” I would have to agree with the latter. While the book has its faults, Dumas thought out the plot carefully and used many Gothic elements for his story. That it could be dismissed as hack-work, however, may result from its rather light tone. Despite the dramatic incidents in the book and the overall Gothic theme of redemption, the main character suffers no major feelings of agony and there is no intensely Gothic atmosphere, the result being that it reads almost like a spoof on Gothic literature, and if not directly mocking Gothic literature, it has a light and almost humorous tone at least in several of the scenes. In fact, despite the main character’s less than moral behavior, readers may find themselves cheering him on to his next adventure.

That Dumas is drawing upon Gothic literary traditions is obvious from the beginning of the tale when we are told Thibault is a shoemaker. Similarly, the Wandering Jew was a shoemaker, and his profession immediately, therefore, tells us that Thibault is a Gothic wanderer figure, one who is or will be cursed. Of course, shoemakers are not supernatural and we could argue it is just a coincidence that he and the Wandering Jew were shoemakers, but given that just a few years earlier Dumas wrote Isaac Lacquedem (1852-53), his incomplete novel about the Wandering Jew, it is unlikely Dumas did not intentionally make Thibault a shoemaker.

Although a shoemaker, Thibault has received some education and traveled, which has given him a high opinion of himself. He has gotten permission to set up trade in the forest on the estate belonging to the Duke of Orleans. He is also unwilling to let others think they are better than him, despite the social disparity that exists in 1780, the year the novel is set, less than a decade before the French Revolution. Thibault’s troubles (or adventures) begin when he encounters the Baron of Vez, who is out hunting. When the baron asks him if he’s seen a deer, Thibault gives him saucy answers that result in the baron’s gamekeeper beating him. Afterwards, Thibault wishes for revenge and becomes determined to hunt down the deer before the baron can. Thibault issues this wish out loud and is heard by the devil or one of his minions, though Thibault doesn’t realize it at first.

Later, Thibault enters his goat shed and is surprised to find the deer the baron sought mysteriously tied inside. Thibault decides he will take it to the convent and sell it to the nuns to get money to buy a wedding dress for Agnelette, his beloved. However, before he can do that, a black wolf enters his cottage on its hind legs and speaks to him. The wolf explains that it brought Thibault the deer at his request and it offers to help Thibault get revenge on his enemies, the baron and the gamekeeper. To seal the pact, Thibault and the wolf exchange rings. Soon after, Thibault is astounded to hear the gamekeeper has died and his wish has come true. However, the baron is also ill and Thibault is forced to let the baron’s men kill his goat to make a healing potion for the baron. And so it goes with everything Thibault wishes. He wishes ill on his enemies, and while what he wishes comes true, it also leads to something detrimental for himself.

Agnelette soon after confronts Thibault about how he got the gold ring he is wearing. Unable to tell her he received it from the wolf, he claims he got it for their wedding, but she knows he is lying since it is obviously too large for her. She then breaks off their engagement.

Meanwhile, wolves begin to follow Thibault everywhere and obey him. Part of the pact with the wolf was that the wolf would be granted a hair for his first wish, two hairs for the second, four for the third, and so on. For every hair the wolf takes, a red one takes its place until soon Thibault has a shock of red hair, which he tries to conceal by combing his hair in different ways. His hair is a sign he has been marked by the devil, rather like the mark of Cain, and eventually, Thibault can no longer hide it.

Thibault has several more adventures, mostly involving women he decides he would like to wed, which results in wishes to possess them and be rid of their current suitors. In one such encounter, Thibault wishes he could become the Baron Raoul, the lover of a countess. Consequently, he is able to make love to the countess when he and the baron switch places for twenty-four hours. This is one of the most interesting scenes in the novel and probably the first case in literature of people switching places in the style popularized by the Disney film Freaky Friday (1976). Another novel using this plot is Vice Versa (1882) by F. Anstey, a novel in which a father and son, through use of a magic stone, switch places. That novel is said to have been so funny that English novelist Anthony Trollope died while laughing over it. (A myth about his death, but one often repeated.) While both Vice Versa and Freaky Friday use the switched roles theme for comical means, Dumas uses it more seriously. Thibault, under guise of the baron, ends up being pursued by the Countess’ husband and wounded in a duel. Fortunately, the twenty-four hours of switching places ends just before the baron dies, so Thibault finds himself returned to his own body.

By this point, people have figured out that Thibault is in some way involved with sorcery. He wakes in his home in his own body only to find his cottage on fire and people shouting “Death to the sorcerer! Death to the were-wolf!” (Thibault has not become a werewolf yet, but that he leads a pack of wolves that terrify the villagers has earned him the name.) He escapes from his house but now feels like “Cain, a wanderer on the face of the earth.” Earlier in the novel, he also compared himself to Cain because he brought about the death of the gamekeeper. These references to Cain again relate to the Gothic tradition and particularly the mark of Cain that showed Cain was cursed among men.

Homeless, Thibault now begins to sleep in a wolves’ den with his wolf followers. People fear him as he begins having his wolves destroy property, leading to the bishop excommunicating him. Then one day, Thibault rescues Agnelette from a wolf. She is not grateful but expects he will kill her. He tries to convince her to leave her husband and be with him, but while she admits she still loves him, she refuses. He then tells her he wishes her husband were dead. Terrified because she knows his wishes come true, Agnelette runs to her husband who turns out to be fine, but after Agnelette tells him of Thibault’s behavior, he goes to report the behavior to the authorities and is accidentally shot on the way. Soon after, Agnelette becomes ill over his death.

By this point, a year has passed since the day Thibault made his pact with the wolf. He is now cursing all his ill luck and wishing he had never met the wolf. The wolf now appears and says Thibault can still enjoy everything he wants if he will only take the wolf’s form. No one will then be able to hurt him because his skin will be so strong. He will have to be a wolf by night but can be a man by day. The only catch is that he must be a vulnerable wolf for twenty-four hours once a year. Thibault agrees to the proposal because he is assured he will have unlimited power and wealth. Once the agreement is made, the wolf takes on the form of a man and Thibault becomes a wolf. (If the novel was influenced by Reynolds’ Wagner the Wehr-Wolf, this would be the only scene because in that novel Faust convinced Wagner to take his place as a werewolf.)

Immediately, Thibault finds himself in trouble because it happens to be the twenty-four hours when he must be a wolf. He is hunted by the Baron of Vez and his dogs. As he flees from them, he comes to a church where he finds Agnelette’s funeral in progress. At that moment, he blames himself for her death, feels great sorrow, and asks God to restore her to life even if it means his death.

The baron’s dogs now catch up to him and attack. When the baron arrives, he finds the dogs fighting over a bloody wolf skin, but there is no body to be found. The priest presiding over the funeral says he heard Thibault’s prayer of repentance and sacrifice and that saved him. The sacrifice, however, isn’t a true one since Agnelette died anyway. The novel closes by telling us that each year on the anniversary of Agnelette’s death, a monk comes to pray beside her grave. The implication is that Thibault became a monk.

The novel’s storyline has one plot hole in that it never shows us Madame Durand as Thibault’s mistress, although she is the person who supposedly caused Mocquet to have nightmares and tell the story in the first place.

The novel is interesting for blending the Faustian pact with other themes of the Wandering Jew and Cain. At one point, we are even told that Thibault’s thoughts were like those of Milton’s Satan after he fell. This statement reveals that Dumas probably knew Paradise Lost (1667), which was a major influence in the development of the Gothic novel in England as I have discussed in my book The Gothic Wanderer.

Is The Wolf Leader Dumas’ best work? Far from it, but it is a highly readable and enjoyable novel. It is somewhat predictable and far from as complicated and wide-ranging a plot as in Reynolds’ novel. But it is also interesting that while Wagner agrees to be a werewolf, he does not wish to kill people. Thibault has few qualms about hurting his enemies, although he becomes more careful about making wishes as the novel progresses.

Given that the novel was written in 1857 but set before the French Revolution, it might be interpreted as showing the uprising of the common man against the French aristocracy, especially since Thibault’s first assault is upon a baron. Thibault is also shown as climbing the social ladder as the novel progresses, especially in relation to the women he desires. He goes from loving Agnelette, a peasant girl, to imagining himself marrying a widowed miller’s wife, then a bailiff’s wife, and then a countess, even becoming a baron himself for a short time. In each case, however, the women ultimately reject him or make fun of him behind his back. His social climbing also is obvious from his increasing wealth through not having to work since the wolves provide him with meat that he often sells to support himself. His improved financial situation makes people suspicious of him and in time accuse him of sorcery. We might interpret the novel as showing he is punished for his transgressions against the social order and rising above his class. In the end, he regrets that he was untrue to Agnelette, the only woman he really loved and the only one of his class. Only when Thibault tries to save her and repents is he redeemed from his crimes. The story is thus both subversive in its attacks upon aristocracy and ultimately conservative by showing the dangers or sin of trying to move beyond one’s class. In the end, like Milton’s Satan, pride comes before the fall for Thibault.

However one wishes to interpret The Wolf Leader, it is a fascinating piece of Gothic literature that deserves more attention than it has received, especially in relation to its social implications and revenge theme, a theme that Dumas used to greater effect in The Count of Monte Cristo. Dumas was a diverse and powerful writer, and while his work is somewhat uneven in quality, his lesser-known works deserve reevaluation.

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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 historical fantasy 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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Filed under Alexandre Dumas, Classic Gothic Novels, George W.M. Reynolds, revenge tragedies, The Wandering Jew

English Translation Published of Swedish Dracula—Is It a Lost Stoker Manuscript?

I am thrilled to announce the greatly anticipated publication of the Swedish version of Dracula in an English translation. In my opinion, this is the greatest literary event of the twenty-first century, or at the very least, the greatest literary mystery of our time.

The cover of Powers of Darkness reflects the mysterious female counterpart to Dracula in the novel.

Several years ago, I blogged here about the publication of the Icelandic version of Dracula, translated into English as Powers of Darkness. Not long after, it was discovered that another version of Dracula existed in Sweden and the Icelandic version was actually an abridged version of the Swedish translation of Dracula. More surprising is that the Swedish version is significantly longer than Dracula, with the scenes in Dracula’s Castle being much more extensive and shocking. The scenes in England are also significantly different, perhaps most fascinating because they reveal that Dracula is not singlehandedly trying to invade England, but rather he is at the head of an international conspiracy of world leaders to achieve global domination. I won’t say a lot more because I don’t want to spoil anyone’s reading pleasure, other than to warn that Dracula lovers need to prepare to have their minds blown by this Swedish version.

Many questions still exist about the Swedish Powers of Darkness. It seems likely to be an earlier version of Dracula that somehow made its way to Sweden and was published there. How it got to Sweden remains unknown. Nor do we know if Bram Stoker had a hand in it. Dracula was published in 1897 while the Swedish Powers of Darkness was serialized in 1899-1900. The Swedish version contains some references to events that happened in the intervening years between publications. Did Stoker prefer his earlier version, update it, and send it to Sweden? Or did the Swedish translator decide to make a few tweaks to Stoker’s earlier manuscript before publishing it? Or did the Swedish translator just decide to completely rewrite Dracula to suit his own tastes? All of these questions remain unanswered, but readers of Powers of Darkness can draw their own conclusions upon reading it.

This first publication in English includes the fully translated text of the original novel published in Sweden. It also includes numerous illustrations that were originally made for that publication. Plus, I am pleased to announce it contains introductory essays, including one by myself. I feel highly honored to be part of this august event. The introductory essays include an “Editor’s Preface” by Will Trimble, who sponsored the translation into English, “Dracula’s Way to Sweden—Revisited” by Hans Corneel de Roos, who first discovered and translated the Icelandic Powers of Darkness, “Romania and Racism in the Swedish Draculaby Tyler R. Tichelaar, and “Powers of Darkness Is an Important Addition to Dracula Lore Despite Heightened Xenophobia, White Supremacy, and Romaphobia” by Sezin Koehler. Each essay explores the differences between the texts and the virtues and flaws of the Swedish version compared to the original Dracula. In fact, don’t be surprised if you come away feeling that the Swedish Powers of Darkness is even superior to Dracula.

You can purchase the book online only as an ebook at this time. The full title to search for is Powers of Darkness: the wild translation of Dracula from turn-of-the-century Sweden.

The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other sites.

I hope you enjoy reading Powers of Darkness. Trust me, you will never think of Dracula in the same way again.

An illustration from the Swedish Powers of Darkness showing Count Draculitz meeting with his followers.

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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 historical fantasy 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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Robert Macaire, Reformed Gothic Transgressor

George W. M. Reynolds (1814-1897) needs no introduction to regular readers of this blog. I have written about numerous of his works here, especially his Gothic novels, but even his non-Gothic works contain elements closely associated with the Gothic. Reynolds was also an author who had no qualms about capitalizing upon the works of other authors, from his sequel to Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, titled Pickwick Abroad, to his borrowing of Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris to create the Victorian bestseller The Mysteries of London.

The British Library edition of Robert Macaire

In Robert Macaire; or, The French Bandit in England (1839), Reynolds again recycles someone else’s work to create his own. I had never heard of the character of Robert Macaire before reading this novel, but according to Wikipedia, he was a stock character in French literature for about sixteen years before Reynolds borrowed him and sent him across the channel. The Wikipedia entry on the character states:

Robert Macaire is a fictional character, an unscrupulous swindler, who appears in a number of French plays, films, and other works of art. In French culture he represents an archetypal villain. He was principally the creation of an actor, Frédérick Lemaître, who took the stock figure of ‘a ragged tramp, a common thief with tattered frock coat patched pants’ and transformed him during his performances into ‘the dapper confidence man, the financial schemer, the juggler of joint-stock companies’ that could serve to lampoon financial speculation and government corruption.

“Playwright Benjamin Antier (1787–1870), with two collaborators Saint-Amand and Polyanthe, created the character Robert Macaire in the play l’Auberge des Adrets, a serious-minded melodrama. After the work’s failure at its 1823 premiere, Frédérick Lemaître played the role as a comic figure instead. Violating all the conventions of its genre, it became a comic success and ran for a hundred performances. The transformation violated social standards that demanded crime be treated with seriousness and expected criminals to be punished appropriately. The play was soon banned, and representations of the character of Macaire were banned time and again until the 1880s. Lemaître used the character again in a sequel he co-authored titled Robert Macaire, first presented in 1835.”

The next mention of Macaire at Wikipedia is to Reynolds’ novel, and while Macaire would appear in numerous other works, including a 1907 film, what interests us is only his early depictions that inspired Reynolds. That depiction also includes Bertrand, his good friend, who often accompanies him. While the plot is more complicated than I will get into here, I will hit the highlights that make the novel interesting in relation to Reynolds’ other works.

In Reynolds’ novel, Macaire and Bertrand leave France for England, first robbing the Dover mail coach and tying up passenger, Charles Stanmore, who will figure later in the plot. They then obtain a letter from a business in Paris that says a M. Lebeau will be going to see Mr. Pocklington in England to transact business and asks that Pocklington advance money as needed to Lebeau. Macaire decides to pretend he is Lebeau and under that guise introduces himself to Pocklington, soon finding himself staying under Pocklington’s roof with his friend who goes by the name of Count Bertrand. Mr. Pocklington has a wife, and more importantly, a niece, Maria. Although Macaire is about forty and Maria closer to twenty, he soon wins her love. All the while, he is also receiving financial advances from her uncle under the belief they are connected to business.

Not surprisingly, Macaire seduces Maria, but not before making her vow to love him no matter who he truly is. The scene recalls those in Gothic novels like Melmoth the Wanderer, where a woman basically sells her soul to her lover. Maria makes the vow, and then Macaire reveals his true identity as a bandit.

Stanmore, the victim at the mail coach, is not only a friend of the Pocklingtons but romantically interested in Maria, and while she is not interested in him, he becomes jealous of Macaire, not at first recognizing him as his assailant. As the plot unravels with Macaire returning to France and Stanmore also traveling there, Stanmore not only realizes who Macaire is, but he discovers Macaire was responsible for previously murdering his father. Macaire, meanwhile, visits a cottage where a young girl, Blanche, has been placed in the care of a couple, Paul and Marguerite, who were involved in the murder of Stanmore’s father. Blanche knows nothing of her family other than that her mother was the daughter of a nobleman and her father was disliked by the family. It turns out Blanche is the granddaughter of a count who has entrusted her to Macaire’s care. Macaire goes with Blanche to a notary to discuss the terms of money her grandfather wishes to settle on her, but when the grandfather visits at the same time, he and his granddaughter are reconciled, which infuriates Macaire, who wishes to have control of Blanche’s money.

Meanwhile, Maria’s friends and family realize who Macaire is. When he returns for the wedding, it is interrupted by Stanmore, who declares Macaire’s identity and accuses him of murdering his father. Maria tries repeatedly, even by eloping, to be with Macaire because of the vow she made him, and also because she is pregnant with his child, but her hopes are useless. In the end, she becomes ill. Macaire visits her on her deathbed, when she implores him to vow to reform. Heartbroken when she dies, she having been the only person who ever truly loved him, Macaire decides he will reform.

However, by now Stanmore has helped collect evidence against Macaire, which results in his capture and arrest by the police. Macaire hopes to be released so he can spend the rest of his life in penance, but following a trial, he is found guilty of murder and sentenced to decapitation. Fortunately, one of his criminal friends helps him to escape.

The pivotal scene when Charles Stanmore attacks Macaire just before learning he is his father-in-law

By this point, Stanmore has met and fallen in love with Macaire’s former ward, Blanche. Macaire, unaware of the marriage, has his heart now set on finding Blanche and convincing her to spend the rest of her days with him. When he goes to her house, she is horrified, for only now does she realize he is the convicted man her husband has sought to prosecute. Macaire implores her to have mercy on him and not turn him over to the police. He then makes the shocking announcement that he is her true father. She is instantly overwhelmed with happiness to know her father and also in fear of her husband’s wrath. When Stanmore returns home, his anger at seeing Macaire knows no restraint and he wishes to arrest or even kill him, declaring that Macaire murdered his own father, but then Blanche reveals that Macaire is her father. At this stunning revelation, Stanmore instantly relents and agrees to let Macaire escape, even lying and trying to postpone the police from pursuing him.

In the end, Macaire escapes and goes to Switzerland where he lives another six years in solitude, an “outcast” doing penance until he dies. Although the novel does not contain Gothic elements, his being an outcast, a Gothic wanderer really, and the guilt he feels for his past transgressions make him cousin to repentful Gothic characters like William Godwin’s St. Leon and James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire. Macaire is actually one of the few in early Gothic novels who is not punished but allowed to find redemption through years of penance.

I suspect the novel was highly influenced by French drama, of which I know little. While coincidences and shocking revelations are not uncommon in Gothic literature and even the works of Dickens, I sense an influence here of French dramatists like Victor Hugo where the final scene is intended both to shock the reader/viewer and create deep emotion. Certainly, the dramatic revelation that Macaire is Blanche’s father and how this news immediately softens Stanmore’s heart has a similar shocking but almost cathartic effect on the reader. I felt the same grief and shock as when at the end of the opera Rigoletto, based on a play by Hugo, the father discovers that the sack he carries contains the corpse of his daughter.

Some other points of interest in the novel include when Macaire first returns to France, he goes to visit his fellow criminals. He enters the den of thieves and must give a password to get in, reminscent of secret societies, which often figure in Gothic novels. The author refers to the appearances of some of the criminals as being like Guy Fawkes, Cagliostro, and an insolvent priest. Cagliostro, notably, would be the alias of Joseph Balsamo, a historical magician or occultist of sorts who figures in Alexander Dumas’ Marie Antoinette novels of the 1850s.

Also notable is some of Reynolds’ social satire, which is often far from subtle. For example, in Chapter 37, Macaire escapes from the Pocklingtons by going down the neighbor’s chimney. The neighbor is a parson. When Macaire tells him the Catholics next door are saying mass and have tried to kill him, the parson declares “Catholics! What—are they Catholics?…if so, they are capable of anything.” He then gives Macaire some parson’s clothes to disguise himself. When Macaire then walks down the street dressed like a parson, we are told “the beggars in the street forebore to ask him for alms—because mendicants never do apply for charity to a clergyman, knowing very well that if they do, they will only be sent to the cage or the county gaol as rogues and vagabonds.”

Also of interest is that when Macaire is in prison, he meets a fellow prisoner who is executed for parricide or matricide, the jailor can’t remember which. (Reynolds had previously written in 1835 The Youthful Impostor, which he later revised and published as The Parricide, or The Youth’s Career of Crime. I have not yet been able to read this work, but one wonders if it is an intertextual play on his earlier work.)

Robert Macaire, besides its Gothic connections, is an interesting addition to the Newgate novels of the time. I feel Reynolds’ novel superior in pacing and plot to similar novels of the time such as William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard (serialized in 1839-1840) and Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford (1830). Paul Clifford may actually be another source for Robert Macaire since in that novel, Clifford is revealed to be the son of the judge who condemns him to death, similar to the fatherhood shock at the end of Robert Macaire. However, interestingly, and despite the controversy that the Newgate novels caused, Reynolds has no qualms with letting his criminal live—provided he is reformed of course. Plus, we should note that in the French version, as stated by Wikipedia above, Robert Macaire is also not punished, which caused outrage at the time. Certainly, the overlaps between the Gothic and crime novels are many, as would be evidenced later by Reynolds’ masterpiece, The Mysteries of London, a criminal and a Gothic transgressor being often the same kind of person, just one being surrounded by more Gothic atmosphere.

An early scene from the novel when Macaire asks Maria not to reveal his identity

It is worth mentioning that Robert Macaire includes eighteen illustrations by Henry Anelay, which are exquisitely done. I could find little about Anelay online, though he illustrated many novels in his day. The pictures really add to the text, although I did not like that they were often ten or twenty pages before the action they depicted, which gave away the plot a bit at times.

I read the British Library edition of the novel, which is basically a photocopy of the original. The print is extremely small and I fear I will end up going blind one of these days from reading their books, but they are often the only editions of Reynolds’ works available. As always, I hope my blog posts will help bring Reynolds to greater attention so better editions will be issued and his popularity will grow so he can take his place among the great Victorian novelists, alongside Dickens, Trollope, Bulwer-Lytton, Ainsworth, and the Brontes. While his style may not be as ornate and his plots as deep or philosophical, his social satire and the way he writes gripping plots make Reynolds worthy of far more attention than he has received.

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

New Book Discusses Treatment of Body in Gothic Literature

Dangerous Bodies: Historicising the Gothic Corporeal by Marie Mulvey-Roberts is one of the best books on Gothic literature that I have read in many years. Mulvey-Roberts previously published Gothic Immortals, which I loved and was a major source for my own book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, so I was honored when she agreed to write the foreword for my book. I am delighted that she has now published Dangerous Bodies, which explores how the human body as well as monsters’ bodies are treated in Gothic literature, although it explores far more than just that.

The book is divided into five chapters, and I can honestly say any one of these chapters, each a fine essay in its own right, is alone worth the price of the book. I will provide a few highlights from each chapter here with the hope you will read the book and explore in its entirety the wonderful discussion Mulvey-Roberts provides of some of the greatest Gothic texts.

“Chapter 1: Catholicism, the Gothic and the bleeding body” discusses both the role of Catholicism in Gothic literature as well as how bodies are treated, often by Catholics in the Gothic. Think of the scenes of the Inquisition in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), for example. Mulvey-Roberts provides historical context for the backgrounds to Gothic texts, including pointing out that in reality Protestants committed far more bloodshed and torture to bodies than Catholics in the broad Renaissance error. Furthermore, during the heyday of the Gothic novel, English Protestants were not really as anti-Catholic as often thought, but sympathetic to the French clergy fleeing the French Revolution. However, for me, the highlight of the chapter was the discussion of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), considered the first Gothic novel. I have to admit I always thought it a rather silly novel, but Mulvey-Roberts discusses how it is really a satire of the English Reformation, offering commentary on Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries. I won’t go into the details, but I feel the argument is very convincing and it shows that this very first Gothic novel was far from anti-Catholic and even in this early period, the Gothic was offering social commentary and a way to express the fears of the time, which would be more obvious in the 1790s when Gothic novels were largely fueled by the French Revolution. Mulvey-Roberts points out that The Castle of Otranto was itself written right after the conclusion of the Seven Years War and was doubtless influenced by that conflict.

“Chapter 2: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and Slavery” was frankly rather mind-blowing for me. In the past, I have often thought I could just not possibly read one more article about Frankenstein (1818), but I am so glad I read this chapter. I have never heard the argument that Frankenstein is largely a commentary on slavery or at least influenced by the horrors of that institution. Mulvey-Roberts argues that Mary Shelley was not an abolitionist, but rather believed in an ameliorist position to make the transition to an end of slavery easier. Immediate emancipation would have been detrimental to slaves who would not know how to survive without assistance—think of how the Monster feels abandoned by Victor Frankenstein. Mulvey-Roberts offers evidence that Mary Shelley would have been aware of the plight of slaves, especially in the West Indies. Shelley had a friend, Frances Wright, who bought a plantation in Tennessee and bought slaves to educate and prepare them for their labor, with Shelley’s support. Furthermore, Gilbert Imlay, Mary Shelley’s mother’s lover, was involved in the slave trade, and in 1816 while working on Frankenstein, Shelley read Charlotte Smith’s The Letters of a Solitary Wanderer (1800), a novel set in Jamaica concerning slavery. She also read Bryan Edwards’ history of the West Indies. One passage, in particular, is significant because it describes rebels, called “monsters,” who decapitated a husband, then dissected his pregnant wife and threw her unborn baby to the hogs. The rebels then put her husband’s head into her belly and sewed it up, all while the wife was still alive. Mulvey-Roberts notes that similarly Frankenstein’s Monster is created by suturing of different body parts. In addition, in the chapter Mulvey-Roberts discusses Matthew Lewis, author of The Monk (1795), as a slaveowner.

“Chapter 3: Death by orgasm: sexual surgery and Dracula” continued to exceed my expectations. Here Mulvey-Roberts showed how aware the author of Dracula (1897), Bram Stoker, was of medical information. Three of his four brothers were doctors, and the eldest, Sir William Thornley Stoker, was likely a model for Abraham Van Helsing and Dr. Seward. Thornley’s gynaecological operations have never before been considered in relation to Stoker’s novel, but Mulvey-Roberts has filled a huge gap in Stoker studies by outlining them here. She discusses in detail the role of female sexuality in the novel and especially the way Lucy is depicted as sexually licentious in the novel and how she is punished through surgeries meant to destroy her sexuality and reproductive parts. Mulvey-Roberts goes on to discuss surgery, masturbation, hysteria, and the vagina. Mulvey-Roberts concludes that Thornley was a major source of medical information for the novel and that Stoker’s notes for the novel confirm it. I was fully convinced by her argument.

These first three chapters were the ones that interested me most because they explored major Gothic works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although the remaining chapters were also interesting. “Chapter 4: Nazis, Jews and Nosferatu” discussed how Hitler used negative stereotypes of Jews to turn the German people against them. Mulvey-Roberts admits there is no evidence that Hitler ever saw the film Nosferatu but it is likely he did, and it may have added to his ideas for the negative caricatures of the Jews that he promoted. She discusses this famous silent film, the first film version of Dracula, in depth. She also goes into detail about the myth of the Wandering Jew and how it was used to demonize Jews, although at times some writers were sympathetic to the Jew. She then discusses how vampires have been linked to the Wandering Jew. And ultimately, how the true vampires were not the Jews, as the Nazis tried to convince people, but the Nazis themselves.

The final chapter, “Chapter 5: The vampire of war,” discusses how war has frequently been depicted as being like a vampire, especially a female one. The discussion involves the Crimean War, as well as the World Wars. Mulvey-Roberts also discusses several twentieth century films about vampires created during times of war, plus the novels of Kim Newman, which are written to illustrate what would have happened if Dracula had not been defeated—he would have taken over England, and that would have interesting repercussions for World War I.

In the conclusion, Mulvey-Roberts discusses how “the Gothic arises out of conflict.” The examples of Gothic depictions of slavery, physical abuse, and war throughout the book all attest to the truth of this statement.

Overall, Dangerous Bodies brings fresh blood to Gothic studies, reinvigorating it with new perspectives that enrich our understanding of it and help us to see what has always been there but perhaps hiding in the shadows, waiting to be illuminated.

I highly recommend Dangerous Bodies and hope Mulvey-Roberts will write many more books on the Gothic. The book won the IGA Allan Lloyd Smith Memorial Prize in 2017, which only proves how frightfully good it is.

In the United States, the book is 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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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula, Gothic/Horror Films, Mary Shelley, The Wandering Jew

Master Timothy’s Book-Case: George W. M. Reynolds’ Improvement on Dickens

George W. M. Reynolds (1814-1879) remains little known except by the most persistent readers of Victorian and Gothic Fiction. One reason he is ignored and even disparaged has to do with his rivalry with Charles Dickens, whom he outsold, and also because he tended to pirate ideas from others and then make them his own. I have written numerous blog posts here about many of Reynolds’ other novels, including Pickwick Abroad (1837-8), an unabashed sequel to The Pickwick Papers (1836-7). Most will likely not agree with me, but I frankly enjoyed Pickwick Abroad more than The Pickwick Papers, largely because Reynolds has much more of a plot to his novel.

This ebook edition from Travelyn Publishing is available at Amazon.

Master Timothy’s Bookcase is another example of how Reynolds was able to capitalize upon popular contemporary books and make them his own. In 1840-1, Dickens published Master Humphrey’s Clock, a work largely forgotten and seldom read today, known primarily because within its pages Dickens published The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) and Barnaby Rudge (1841). Dickens set out to write a serial centered around Master Humphrey, an old man with a longcase antique clock, in which he keeps his manuscripts. Master Humphrey gathers about him a group of friends who form a club consisting of them reading their manuscripts to each other. The manuscripts are the short stories in the book. Among the friends is Mr. Pickwick, so in some sense, the book is a sequel to The Pickwick Papers. Within Master Humphrey’s Clock, The Old Curiosity Shop was to be a short story, but Dickens then decided to develop it into a novel, and by the time Dickens got well into the novel, Master Humphrey’s Clock had become little more than a frame. When the novel was completed, Dickens briefly returned to the original format of Master Humphrey’s Clock before starting on Barnaby Rudge, and after Barnaby Rudge was concluded, he quickly wrapped up Master Humphrey’s Clock by having Master Humphrey die.

Honestly, there is little in Master Humphrey’s Clock of interest. The narrator is likeable but hardly fascinating and the short stories are forgettable. Even Dickens apparently realized the faults of the book, choosing that The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge would stand on their own in the future, as stated in the preface to the 1848 edition of The Old Curiosity Shop. Today, Master Humphrey’s Clock is usually published separately from the two novels it launched.

A cover page to the serial of Master Humphrey’s Clock at the time Barnaby Rudge was being serialized.

Reynolds clearly decided to capitalize on the popularity of Dickens’ work when he created the similarly titled Master Timothy’s Bookcase, which began circulating in July 1841, just a month or so before Master Humphrey’s Clock ended. However, in my opinion, Reynolds vastly improved upon Dickens’ format by tying the stories together far more tightly than Dickens. He also weaves in the supernatural to explain how all the stories become known to the main character, Sir Edmund Mortimer, through the supernatural agency of Master Timothy’s Bookcase.

The story begins with a brief history of the Mortimer family and the strange circumstances under which they have operated for centuries. Mortimer House is the family mansion in Canterbury. It has a wing that contains six special rooms. In each room, one of the past heads of the family has died. Each man is said to have learned the day of his death by dire warning and then gone to the appropriate room to die. On January 1, 1830, the sixth head of the family, Sir William Mortimer died, leaving his son Edmund to take up the title.

Sir Edmund does not know the full secret of the house until he inherits it. He does knows the family is watched over by a guardian genius. This genius, Master Timothy, soon appears and explains matters to him. Each past head of the family had been granted a gift as a means to find happiness. However, none of Sir Edmund’s ancestors succeeded in finding happiness with their choices. Most recently, Sir William had sought happiness in Wealth but failed to achieve it. Sir Edmund decides he will choose Universal Knowledge to help him make good decisions. (This is an interesting choice since it is similar to King Solomon choosing Wisdom; Solomon was known for his wise decisions, particularly in the case where two mothers claimed the same child was hers.)

Master Timothy tells Sir Edmund he will receive Universal Knowledge in the form of a supernatural bookcase that only he will be able to see and that will always be with him. Any time he wants to know anything about anyone or any situation, he can consult the bookcase and read the truth.

Master Timothy’s own story is then shared. In 1530, Sir Edmund’s ancestor, Henry Mortimer, was asked by a Mr. Musgrave to take a child to Lord Davenport and tell him it was his. Mr. Musgrave’s daughter, Mary, had apparently given birth to the child, fathered on her by the lord. However, Lord Davenport rejected the child, but when Henry tried to find Mr. Musgrave again, he had left the vicinity. Henry ended up raising the child himself. He named it Timothy after the relative who had raised him. After three years, Mary came to find Henry and Timothy. By then, her father, Mr. Musgrave, had died, and she was very wealthy. She decided to live near Henry and her child while pretending to be a widow. Unfortunately, Timothy died at age sixteen. Then Mary died, leaving all her wealth to Henry. Henry used the wealth to build Mortimer House. Then one night, Timothy’s apparition appeared to him and offered to reword his good deeds by granting him anything he wanted. Henry chose the gift of Glory, ultimately becoming a general and being knighted by King Edward VI. However, he did not find happiness.

Now having inherited the title and received his gift, Sir Edmund is not allowed to stay at Mortimer House. He can only return there to die, so he plans to live elsewhere. He is invited by Sir Ralph Lindsay to stay with him. From here, the plot becomes too complicated to easily summarize. Suffice to say, Sir Ralph’s family has its secrets, which eventually causes Sir Edmund to consult Master Timothy’s Bookcase. He continues to consult the bookcase throughout the novel in his various encounters with people until he begins to learn their secrets and begins to bemoan the gift of Universal Knowledge because it has revealed to him the hypocrisy of people.

While at first the knowledge is a mental burden to Sir Edmund, he never uses it to benefit himself or hurt others. However, he finally determines he can use the knowledge to help another, and so while in France, he tries to persuade a marquis to support his nephew’s wife, who is destitute. After Sir Edmund reveals to the marquis that he knows his secrets—secrets it is impossible anyone can know—the marquis agrees to aid his nephew’s wife. He gives Sir Edmund a box with valuables in it to bring to the widow, and Sir Edmund departs. However, the marquis is so upset that Sir Edmund knows his secret that he immediately cuts his throat with a razor. Sir Edmund is accused of murder and ends up in prison. He realizes his situation is the result of abusing the knowledge he received from the bookcase, and he wonders why the genius of his family would bestow gifts upon his family if they are only to bring misery to the Mortimers.

When Sir Edmund comes to trial, the judge decides he is a lunatic and sends him to an asylum in Paris. By this point, Sir Edmund himself wonders if he is a lunatic. He remains in the asylum until the Revolution of 1830 results in the inmates being freed. Sir Edmund now returns to England with plans to marry the woman he loves (who has her own secret, or rather she is keeping the secret of another, as Sir Edmund learned through the bookcase). But before the wedding can take place, Master Timothy summons Sir Edmund to return to Mortimer House, saying that upon his twenty-fifth birthday, he may peruse the family manuscripts. The servant at the house is alarmed when Sir Edmund arrives because he was not supposed to until the day before he is to die. Sir Edmund, however, assures him all is well. Sir Edmund is then granted the opportunity to read manuscripts that tell him the stories of all his ancestors and the various gifts they had chosen, each one of which brought misery.

Sir Edmund is now struck by the futility of seeking happiness. Then he sees an inscription suddenly appear over the door of the room he is in, making it clear this is the day he will die. Master Timothy appears and explains that man’s life comes to an end when he realizes the futility of the aim that influenced his career. Before he dies, Sir Edmund is allowed to see the largely miserable fates of all those he has known and whose stories he has learned through the bookcase. He remains skeptical he will himself die, waiting almost to the last second, thinking he is safe when an assassin breaks into the house and murders him, someone who bears him a grudge from earlier in the novel.

Sir Edmund dies as Master Timothy declares to him that the gift he should have chosen was Virtue—a curious choice since one can’t help recalling that the subtitle of Pamela (1740), considered the first novel, is “Virtue Rewarded.” This ending makes the novel far from perfect since Sir Edmund has never really done anything terribly unvirtuous or sought to hurt anyone, but apparently prying into people’s secrets is not virtuous. While Reynolds refers to Sir Edmund’s gift as Universal Knowledge, it is also clearly forbidden knowledge—the quest for which is a frequent Gothic plot that always results in disaster for those who seek it and stems back to the story of the Garden of Eden and eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. (For more on the quest for forbidden knowledge and its subsequent punishment in Gothic literature, see my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption.)

While Master Timothy’s Bookcase is not a perfect novel, the stories in it are more intricately weaved together than those in Master Humphrey’s Clock. No driving motive or goal strengthens the plot, but the number of stories, many of which concern crimes or at least secrets, makes the book read like a rehearsal for Reynolds’ much greater work, The Mysteries of London (1844-5), another book whose idea he stole from another author’s work, in this case French novelist Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-3). One reason Master Timothy’s Clock has received a little attention is that one of the stories offers a solution to who was the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask. (One is tempted to accuse Reynolds’ of trying to capitalize upon Dumas’ work here, but Dumas’ novel was not published until 1847-1850). Unfortunately, Reynolds’ story of the Man in the Iron Mask is probably the weakest and most predictable story in the novel, and it is the only one Sir Edmund does not learn from the bookcase but from another person he meets. I will not reveal who Reynolds claims the man was, but it is a real stretch that has nothing to do with French royalty. Despite the disappointing treatment of this mystery, I doubt most readers will be disappointed overall by Master Timothy’s Bookcase. In fact, I am surprised it is not one of Reynolds’ best-known works.

Is Master Timothy’s Bookcase great literature? No. Is it an entertaining novel that does reveal some truths about human nature? Yes. Is the morality a bit in your face, if not a little preachy? Yes, but so was the work of most of the Victorians. And if Sir Edmund had chosen Virtue over Universal Knowledge, what a dull novel it would have been. Fortunately, Reynolds was a masterful storyteller, as most of the novel reflects. Consequently, his place in Victorian and Gothic literature deserves far more assessment. After all, if he outsold Dickens, we are missing out on a real understanding of Victorian culture and literature if we overlook him. I look forward to the day when George W. M. Reynolds is hailed as a major author of the period alongside Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Eliot, and the Brontës.

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

William Harrison Ainsworth: Father of the Second Gothic Golden Age

Stephen Carver’s new biography of William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882), The Man Who Outsold Dickens: The Life & Work of W. H. Ainsworth, is an eye-opening look at the man who helped to start what I consider the Second Gothic Golden Age. The first Gothic Golden Age I would define as from 1789-1820, beginning with the publication of Mrs. Radcliffe’s first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and ending with the publication of Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer. With the publication of Ainsworth’s Rookwood in 1834, the Gothic was heavily revived and a new Gothic age began that would extend into the 1850s, ending roughly with the publication of George W. M. Reynolds’ last Gothic novel The Necromancer (1852). That is not to say the Gothic did not remain popular during the interim—Scott himself used Gothic elements in his novels, most notably in Anne of Geierstein—but Rookwood created a new form of Gothic that combined historical detail with Gothic elements on a level not done previously. In its wake would be many more Gothic novels by Ainsworth, as well as Gothic works by George W. M. Reynolds, and other English novels that used Gothic elements, including the works of Bulwer-Lytton, Dickens, and the Brontës, as well as several French Gothic novels.

A front page of “Reynolds sMiscellany” depicts England’s three bestselling authors of the day, Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, and Ainsworth. It is interesting that George W. M. Reynolds would pay such homage to these authors since Dickens particularly hated him for writing unauthorized sequels and spin-offs of his books.

Carver’s book is a straightforward biography that details the entire life of Ainsworth, while also taking time to give plot descriptions, literary criticism, and the reception history of the various books Ainsworth wrote. I will discuss here just some of the more interesting points Carver discusses, especially in relation to Ainsworth’s Gothic works.

Ainsworth’s life and career spanned most of the nineteenth century and the Romantic and Victorian periods. Ainsworth’s interest in the Gothic began early. In 1819, at age fourteen, he wrote the story “The Specter Bridegroom.” His early horror stories were influenced by Scott’s ballads, but this story also inverted Washington Irving’s “The Spectre Bride” by having the bridegroom not only be the specter but the Wandering Jew, showing Ainsworth was familiar with the Wandering Jew fiction of the period. (For more about the Wandering Jew in Gothic fiction, see my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption.) Carver says this story’s violent climax recalls those of William Beckford’s Vathek (1786) and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795). (Notably, the Wandering Jew made his first appearance in Gothic fiction in The Monk.)

Another early Gothic work was December Tales (1823), Ainsworth’s second published work when he was only eighteen. Among the Gothic stories is a wandering immortal who sells his soul for eternal life so he can revenge himself on his enemies; then he has eternity to repent. He experiences such agonies as drowning without dying, which predates the similar situation in Varney the Vampire (1846), whose title character continually tries to destroy himself, only to have nature continually thwart him—the volcano he jumps in spits him back out; the sea he tries to drown in casts him ashore.

As early as Ainsworth’s first novel, Sir John Chiverton (1826), Ainsworth was being compared to Scott and Radcliffe and blending the Gothic with historical romance. Carver refers to Sir John Chiverton as possibly the first example of nineteenth century literature struggling to establish a new form of English Gothic since it is set in England (39).

In the preface to later editions of Rookwood, Ainsworth talks about writing the novel with the trappings of Radcliffe, but with an English setting. He discusses the design of romance and his intent to start a Gothic revival, so the preface is really like a Gothic manifesto for a Gothic revival. I have written extensively about Rookwood elsewhere at this blog, so I won’t discuss it further here, but it is the seminal work of this Gothic revival. I will note that according to Carver, Scott’s St. Ronan’s Well (1823) appears to have been an influence on the novel, but Scott’s work is a comedy of manners, while Ainsworth uses the Cain and Abel motif, the Gothic, and revenge tragedy to create a Gothic extravaganza.

Rookwood’s success led Ainsworth to be the darling of literary circles. He was befriended by Bulwer-Lytton, invited to Lady Blessington’s literary evenings, and hailed as the English Victor Hugo and successor to Sir Walter Scott.

Carver goes on to discuss Jack Sheppard (1839) and its role in the Newgate novels controversy, which I will skip over discussing here.

The opening of Windsor Castle

Other novels of Gothic interest include Guy Fawkes (1841), which is a Gothic tragedy with a Catholic hero. The novel’s family is named Radcliffe, which may be a homage to Mrs. Radcliffe. According to Carver, Ainsworth transforms Guy Fawkes from a terrorist into a revolutionary leader and hero in the novel (119).

The Tower of London (1840) is interesting also because it turns an English monument into a setting of Gothic horror. It also shows the influence of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris (1831). In that novel, Hugo was treating the cathedral as if it were itself a book, “a book of stone.” Similarly, in Ainsworth’s novel, the history of England is written in the edifice of the Tower of London. (128). Like Notre Dame Cathedral, which was in disrepair when Hugo wrote his novel, the Tower of London was abandoned and neglected when the novel was published. Ainsworth’s novel resulted in the Tower becoming popular and being restored as a Victorian museum. The novel would be so popular that it would be referenced at length in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), nearly half a century later. Carver goes on to discuss how in successive novels Ainsworth turned national landmarks into Gothic castles, an epic and ongoing process of “psycho-geography” (130).

Significantly, while Ainsworth wrote Gothic novels, he continued to blend historical details into them. The Tower of London is about Lady Jane Grey, and Windsor Castle (1843) and Old Saint Paul’s (1841) also have historical backgrounds. Ainsworth always did a lot of research for his novels and he even includes indexes in some of them (149). In Windsor Castle, Henry VIII sells his soul to marry Jane Seymour, and the mythical Herne the Hunter helps the characters to save their souls. While Herne goes back to Shakespeare, Ainsworth creates his own version of Herne. He did the same with other legends and historical personages in a way that made them sink into the national consciousness so that what people thought they knew about their own English history and myth was really stuff they had learned from Ainsworth (151-2).

Other Gothic works include Auriol, or: The Elixir of Life (1850) and The Lancashire Witches (1849), both of which I’ve discussed at length in separate blog posts.

Worth mentioning, however, is that Ainsworth draws on Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and the depiction of Eve for his female witches. Carver argues that Ainsworth was in the feminist camp. In Jack Sheppard, his powerful sexual women are the ones left standing. In The Lancashire Witches, the witches are trail-blazing female characters because they self-emancipate. Eve in Paradise Lost dreams of flying, while Ainsworth’s witches do fly. Furthermore, the witches have a matriarchal dynasty, rather than one based in patriarchal authority. They are women of self-realization and determinism (163-66). Carver suggests that Alice, who has a mark on her forehead, may have inspired Stoker, in Dracula (1897), to give Mina the mark on her forehead (166). I think that a bit of a stretch given that the Mark of Cain was common in Gothic literature, but I will admit that usually it is on the forehead of a male and Ainsworth was the first to place it on a female’s forehead.

The Lancashire Witches was Ainsworth’s last major success and his last truly Gothic work, but he went on to write many more novels, most with Lancashire settings and about Lancashire history. Most notably, The Manchester Rebels of the Fatal ’45 (1873) discusses how Manchester raised a regiment to help support Bonnie Prince Charlie and is comparable to Scott’s Waverley (1814).

Ainsworth’s novels were popular enough in his time to be translated into German, Dutch, French, and Russian, and to sell well in America. In fact, Jesse and Frank James read or knew of them because they signed their letters to the newspapers as “Jack Sheppard” (212).

The Tower of London’s opening pages.

No doubt, Ainsworth deserves more recognition for his contributions to literature and his role in influencing many of his contemporary authors as well as those who came after him. An additional treat in reading this biography is how in-depth Carver is about the early Victorian publishing industry, particularly novel serialization, and we are given insight into Ainsworth’s relationships with Dickens, Thackeray, George W. Reynolds, his illustrator Cruikshank, and several other authors.

In the “L’Envoi” section that concludes the book, Carver provides an excellent summary of Ainsworth’s role in literature:

“In Ainsworth’s long life, we can see not only the struggle and commitment that necessarily comes of laying down one’s life for literature, but in his professional and personal relationships with friends and foes alike, the entire literary and cultural milieu of his age. And beyond this, there is the evolution of the English novel itself, from Romanticism to Realism, from Scott to Dickens. Writers like Ainsworth and his forgotten friends represent the transition, a dynamic period of literary production that was neither Regency nor Victorian but something in between, in which genres were born, merged and abandoned with dizzying speed.” (213)

Consequently, I feel Ainsworth is the link between the older Gothic novels of Radcliffe and a newer form of Gothic, which in Ainsworth’s novels meant a more historical Gothic, one also set in England, one valuable in itself, but that also paved the way for later works like Varney the Vampire and Dracula.

Ainsworth’s role in the evolution of the Gothic novel definitely deserves further exploration. I applaud Stephen Carver for this new biography that will raise new appreciation of Ainsworth, the author who not only rivaled his friend Dickens but inspired so many other great writers.

Stephen Carver also has a blog titled Ainsworth & Friends that is worth visiting.

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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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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, George W.M. Reynolds, Gothic Places, Sir Walter Scott, The Wandering Jew

Lady Athlyne or Lady Ninny? Bram Stoker’s Sexist Novel

Given how fascinating I find Dracula, it may be surprising to some that I have not devoured everything else by Bram Stoker. I have been very slowly working my way through several of his other novels, but the truth is that Stoker was not a great writer, and while some of his novels are interesting, especially the ones with supernatural plots, his writing style could be loose, wordy, and weak. After Dracula, I think the best novel he wrote was The Jewel of the Seven Stars, although the realistic The Man is also interesting. Even a relatively bad novel like The Snake’s Pass has its moments of great atmosphere, and The Lady of the Shroud and The Lair of the White Worm keep readers interested, despite their weaknesses. I admit to not having read the other six novels by Stoker (The Primrose Path, The Watter’s Mou’, The Shoulder of Shasta, Miss Betty, The Mystery of the Sea, and Seven Golden Buttons). Truth be told, if not for Dracula (I have written too many blog posts about it to link to them all here but they can be easily searched for), it is unlikely anyone would remember Stoker or any of his other novels. In this blog post, I will discuss Lady Athlyne (1908), which I have to say it is one of the silliest Victorian novels imaginable.

Lady Athlyne

Lady Athlyne’s biggest weakness is the overall concept of its plot. Joy Ogilvie, on a trip from New York to Italy, meets a woman who fostered the Earl of Athlyne. The woman raves about him so much that Joy and her aunt start to joke about her marrying him and referring to Joy as Lady Athlyne. Eventually, this leads to rumors that get back to the earl that someone is impersonating his wife. He goes to America to investigate, calling himself Hardy. At a horse race, he happens to save Joy’s life, not knowing she’s the one calling herself Lady Athlyne. Wanting to keep his identity secret, he continues to call himself Mr. Hardy. Of course, he and Joy fall in love. Eventually, Athlyne/Hardy returns to England. The Ogilvies then visit, but Joy’s father cannot understand why Mr. Hardy doesn’t correspond with them, not knowing his sister-in-law and daughter are carrying on a correspondence with him. Eventually, Joy sees Hardy again and they go joyriding in his car. A string of circumstances results in a compromising situation that is resolved by their marriage.

The whole plot is highly strained, and Stoker, while trying to write something like a drawing room comedy novel in the style of Oscar Wilde’s comic plays, fails to pull it off. The novel’s denouement goes on for chapters until the reader wishes he’d just get it over with.

There is nothing Gothic about this book. Wikipedia has a very poor entry on it that tries to draw comparisons between Lady Athlyne and Dracula and also find references in it to the historical events of the time, but it fails abominably. The novel is not Gothic. Stoker is not trying to build Gothic atmosphere, and there is no real social commentary in the novel other than Stoker’s sexist comments (more on that in a minute).

For Dracula fans, the only thing about the novel of interest is that among the earl’s string of names is that of Westerna. This name is very close to Westenra, the surname of Lucy in Dracula, which critics have made a lot over to argue it reflects the superiority of the West over the East. That Stoker uses the same name with the placement of the “r” in it changed, suggests maybe he wanted to make some link between Dracula and Lady Athylyne’s characters, but then he changed his mind. The similarity is interesting but not significant. Stoker can’t even get his main character’s full name right, the first time presenting it in Chapter 1 as “Calinus Patrick Richard Westerna Hardy Mowbray FitzGerald 2nd Earl of Athlyne” and then in Chapter 23 as “Calinus Patrick Richard Westerna Mowbray Hardy Fitzgerald, Earl of Athlyne” lowercasing the g in Fitzgerald and reversing the position of Mowbray and Hardy.

Other critics have talked about Lady Athlyne in relation to the New Woman, showing how Joy’s aunt is more modern in her willingness to correspond with the earl and how as an old maid of forty-five, she reflects the New Woman who doesn’t settle for marriage. However, Stoker suggests she’s unhappy to be an old maid, and in the end he marries her off. If anything, as in Dracula, Stoker is showing concern about the New Woman and any efforts by women to better their position in society and be equal to men.

The sexism of the novel is apparent in the ridiculous statements Stoker makes about the sexes. In Chapter 7 is this surprising statement:

“Joy was a woman in whom the sex-instinct was very strong. She was woman all over; type of woman who seems to draw man to her as the magnet draws the steel. Athlyne was a very masculine person and therefore peculiarly sensitive to the influence. That deep thinking young madman who committed suicide at twenty-three, Otto Weininger, was probably right in that wonderful guess of his as to the probable solution of the problem of sex. All men and all women, according to him, have in themselves the cells of both sexes; and the accredited masculinity or femininity of the individual is determined by the multiplication and development of these cells. Thus the ideal man is entirely or almost entirely masculine, and the ideal woman is entirely or almost entirely feminine. Each individual must have a preponderance, be it ever so little, of the cells of its own sex; and the attraction of each individual to the other sex depends upon its place in the scale between the highest and the lowest grade of sex. The most masculine man draws the most feminine woman, and vice versa; and so down the scale till close to the border line is the great mass of persons who, having only development of a few of the qualities of sex, are easily satisfied to mate with any one. This is the true principle of selection which is one of the most important of Nature’s laws; one which holds in the lower as well as in the higher orders of life, zoological and botanical as well as human. It accounts for the way in which such a vast number of persons are content to make marriages and even liaisons, which others, higher strung, are actually unable to understand.”

Interestingly, Otto Weininger, cited in the quote, wrote a book titled Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character) which became popular after his death. The book influenced the Nazis, and according to Wikipedia: “Weininger’s views are considered an important step in attempts to exclude women and Jews from society based on methodical philosophy, in an era declaring human equality and scientific thought.” Just one stupid thing Weininger wrote was “In the Jew and the woman, good and evil are not distinct from one another.” Seriously, Bram. This man was not someone to draw your philosophy about women from. Why would anyone listen to a twenty-three-year-old who killed himself? Stoker was thirty-three years older than Weininger and should have known better.

In Chapter 8, Joy’s aunt, Judy, spouts more sexism to her, saying:

“A woman wants a man to be master, and specially to be her master. She wants to feel that when it comes to a struggle she hasn’t got a chance with him, either to fight or to run away. That’s why we like to make a man follow when in truth we are dying to run after him—and to catch him up!”

In Chapter 10, we are told of Joy’s relationship to the earl:

“In that moment she had accepted him as her Master; and that acceptance on a woman’s part remains as a sacred duty of obedience so long as love lasts. This is one of the mysteries of love. Like all other mysteries, easy of acceptance to those who believe; an acceptance which needs no doubting investigation, no proof, no consideration of any kind whatever. She had faith in him, and where Faith reigns Patience ceases to be a virtue.”

Finally, Stoker makes several references to Eden and how God established marriage there. Toward the end of the novel, in Chapter 22, as Joy and Athlyne admit their love, Stoker tells us, “Instinctively the woman recognised the tone and obeyed, as women have obeyed the commands of the men they loved, and were proud to do so, from Eden garden down the ages.” What Bible was Stoker reading? I don’t remember Eve being very obedient to Adam about anything.

The novel might have actually worked as a fun comedy of errors over mistaken identity if the speeches didn’t go on for so long and include such inane sexist ideas. Instead, Stoker wrote an atrociously bad novel with characters none of us can remotely care about. As far as I am concerned, Joy is a complete ninny and any self-respecting twenty-first century woman would find her completely unsupportable.

I am left wondering how the author of Dracula could have written one of the greatest novels ever written and then followed it up with so much drivel. Stoker apparently worked harder on Dracula than on any other book and it’s also possible he had help from a good editor—a matter that still needs more investigation and was suggested first by H.P. Lovecraft, who stated that he once met a woman who had told him she had offered to revise Dracula for Stoker and that the manuscript she saw was in a terrible state. This suggests Stoker may have been seeking help with the novel. It also seems to me that a lot of Dracula’s strength comes from its first-Ottperson narration while many of his works, including Lady Athlyne, are in third person, allowing the narrator to intrude with his silly philosophical and sexist remarks, thus weakening the novel’s flow and the character development. That said, both The Snake’s Pass and The Lady of the Shroud are in first-person and fail to be great, though still readable, novels. Lady Athlyne, however, is an embarrassment to the author of the masterpiece Dracula.

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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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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula