New Book Reveals Dracula’s French and British Gothic Ancestors

Dr. Tyler. R. Tichelaar’s new literary history, Vampire Grooms and Spectre Brides, reveals how nineteenth-century French and British Gothic novelists were continually inspired by each other to create some of the most memorable characters in literature, from Quasimodo to Dracula.

Marquette, MI, January 2, 2023—Gothic literature studies usually focus on one nation’s tradition. Dr. Tyler R. Tichelaar, however, argues that the Gothic crossed the English Channel regularly, providing blood transfusions of new life into the Gothic corpus as revealed in detail in his new book Vampire Grooms and Spectre Brides: The Marriage of French and British Gothic Literature, 1789-1897.

When Gothic novels are mentioned, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) quickly comes to mind, but Dracula was only one in a long tradition of vampire stories that stretches back to John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819). Dracula scholars today focus on the handful of British vampire stories by John Polidori, James Malcolm Rymer, and J. S. Le Fanu, as sources for Dracula, but in Vampire Grooms and Spectre Brides, Tichelaar looks to the plethora of vampire texts from France by Charles Nodier, Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon, Alexandre Dumas, Paul Féval, and several other authors as influential in the creation of Stoker’s masterpiece. In fact, the female vampires in Dracula make far more sense within the context of the French vampire tradition.

Beyond Dracula, French literature inspired numerous British Gothic works and was inspired by them. Tichelaar explores how early British Gothic novelists like Radcliffe, Lewis, and Scott influenced French Gothic works by Hugo, Dumas, and Sue, and those works inspired British works by William Harrison Ainsworth, George W. M. Reynolds, Charles Dickens, and many others. Besides vampires, Tichelaar examines such literary archetypes as immortals, werewolves, cursed transgressors, and redeemed Gothic wanderers. Separate chapters include thorough discussions of the city mysteries genre and depictions of secret societies and the French Revolution in Gothic novels.

Tichelaar argues that by exploring how the French and British Gothic traditions influenced each other, a new understanding arises of many literary classics from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Count of Monte Cristo to A Tale of Two Cities and Dracula. “To explore the French and British Gothic traditions together,” says Tichelaar, “is like performing an archeological dig that exposes the missing links in Gothic development. Reading Dracula and Carmilla in the context of early French Gothic literature allows us to understand better the continuity of the Gothic tradition. Today, Paul Féval is almost unknown and largely overlooked by scholars of British literature, yet his vampire and Irish novels probably influenced Bram Stoker. Even British novelists like Ainsworth and Reynolds, who have been ignored by literary critics, provide fascinating understandings of the Gothic’s cross-cultural influence. Dickens and Stoker regularly visited France, and French authors regularly read British works, so the two literatures deserve to be read together as one Gothic literary tradition.”

Vampire Grooms and Spectre Brides: The Marriage of French and British Gothic Literature includes in-depth discussions of a wide range of British and French Gothic novelists from 1789-1897, including Mrs. Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, Sir Walter Scott, John Polidori, Charles Nodier, Victor Hugo, William Harrison Ainsworth, George Croly, Edgar Quinet, Eugène Sue, Paul Féval, George W. M. Reynolds, Alexandre Dumas, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Charles Dickens, Marie Nizet, J. S. Le Fanu, Jules Verne, and Bram Stoker. The book’s cover art by Ukrainian artist Inna Vjuzhanina perfectly complements the title, suggesting not only the marriage of these two literary traditions but how the first literary vampires, including Polidori’s Lord Ruthven, continually tried to dupe unsuspecting women into marrying them so they could avoid eternal damnation. A comprehensive index, endnotes, and an extensive bibliography complete the study.

About the Author

Tyler Tichelaar with a statue of Bram Stoker in Romania.

Tyler R. Tichelaar has a PhD in Literature from Western Michigan University and Bachelor and Master’s Degrees in English from Northern Michigan University. He owns his own publishing company, Marquette Fiction, and Superior Book Productions, a professional editing, proofreading, and book layout company. The former president of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association, Tichelaar has been a book reviewer for Reader Views, Marquette Monthly, and the UP Book Review, and regularly blogs about Gothic, Arthurian, and Michigan literature and history. Tichelaar is the award-winning author of thirteen novels and nine nonfiction books, including The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, When Teddy Came to Town: A Novel, and Kawbawgam: The Chief, The Legend, The Man.

Vampire Grooms and Spectre Brides: The Marriage of French and British Gothic Literature, 1789-1897 (ISBN: 978-0-9962400-9-3 hardcover; 978-0-9962400-8-6 paperback; 979-8-9872692-0-6) is available through local and online bookstores.

For more information, visit www.GothicWanderer.com. Publicity contact: tyler@marquettefiction.com. Review copies available upon request.

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Filed under Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens, Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, George W.M. Reynolds, Literary Criticism, Sir Walter Scott, The Wandering Jew

Guest Post: Why I Love the Gothic Story “The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens – by Rayne Hall

Today, we have a guest post by author and Gothic lover Rayne Hall. First, I’ll introduce her, then she’ll talk about Dickens’ “The Signal-Man” and then she has a special offer regarding her new book you won’t want to miss!

Rayne Hall MA is the author of over 100 books, mostly Dark Fantasy and Gothic Horror, e.g. The Bride’s Curse: Bulgarian Gothic Ghost and Horror Stories. She is also the acclaimed editor of Gothic, Fantasy and Horror anthologies (e.g. Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard, and author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series for advanced-level writers, including the bestselling Writer’s Craft series e.g. Writing Gothic Fiction.

Born and raised in Germany, Rayne Hall has lived in China, Mongolia, Nepal and Britain. Now she resides in a village in Bulgaria, where men perform the annual demon dance, ghosts and sirens beckon, and abandoned decaying houses hold memories of a glorious past.

Her lucky black rescue cat Sulu often accompanies her when she explores spooky derelict buildings. He delights in walking across shattered roof tiles, scratching charred timbers and sniffing at long-abandoned hearths. He even senses the presence of ghosts… but that’s another story.

Rayne has worked as an investigative journalist, development aid worker, museum guide, apple picker, tarot reader, adult education teacher, belly dancer, magazine editor, publishing manager and more, and now writes full time.

Why I Love the Gothic Story “The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens

By Rayne Hall

(copyright Rayne Hall 2023)

Charles Dickens (1812 –1870) was a fiction writer, editor and social critic. Today, he is best known for his novels, including Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, depicting life in Victorian England. Few people realise that Dickens also wrote fine ghost and horror stories.

‘The Signal-Man’ is one of the stories which drew me to the horror genre – the kind of story I like best, Gothic, psychological, atmospheric, scary by implication rather than by gore. Each time I read it, it has the same disturbing effect, leaving me to wonder: what if the narrator had not interfered, had not tried to help the signal-man by calming him? Would the signal-man have paid attention to the call, heeded the warning, and averted the accident? How guilty is the narrator of the signal-man’s death? Does he feel the guilt? Should he?

Throughout the story, the narrator felt and acted compassionate and caring on the one hand, patronising and detached on the other. We don’t learn how he feels at the end, if his ‘superior’ attitude gives way to feeling foolish. As readers, we know only how we would feel in his place.

This is not the only question the author leaves for the readers to decide. Dickens doesn’t even reveal what the signal-man had really seen – or thought he had seen – and where the visions and premonitions had come from.

Although the ending is strong and leaves a powerful impact, it doesn’t answer all questions, and instead encourages the readers to think and draw their own conclusions.

Charles Dickens wrote this story a few months after he survived a horrific railway disaster, the 1865 Staplehurst Rail Crash. The train crossed a viaduct where a section of the rails had been removed for engineering works and derailed, with parts of the train tumbling into the dry riverbed below.

When his carriage hung at a steep angle off the viaduct into the river, Dickens escaped with his life. For hours, he aided injured fellow passengers, some of whom died in his arms. The directors of the railway company presented him with a piece of plate as a token of their appreciation for his assistance.

Dickens never got over this trauma. For two weeks after the accident, he lost his ability to speak, and for the rest of his life, he was terrified of trains and used alternative modes of transport where possible. According to his son, he never fully recovered from the terror of that day.

I know from experience how scary it can be to revisit personal traumas to weave them into fiction. Dickens wrote this story just a few months after the event, with the horrifying events fresh on his mind. This must have required great courage.

A second railway disaster, which happened a few years earlier and was still in the public mind at the time, also fed Dickens’ creative imagination for this tale: the Clayton Tunnel Crash of 1861. A series of human and technical errors, combined with misunderstandings and unfortunate coincidences, caused two trains to crash into each other in a tunnel, killing 23 and injuring 176 passengers.

One of the crucial factors in that train crash was a misunderstanding between two signal-men. An investigation revealed the horrifying conditions under which these men worked: one of them had been working a continuous 24-hour shift! His job required intense, non-stop concentration, and we can imagine how tired his brain was at the time of the accident. Even in his tired state, he did his best to avert the accident, but did not realise that his counterpart at the other end of the tunnel had misunderstood him. When the inquest revealed how these men, on whom the safety of trains and passengers depended, had worked without proper break, a public outcry ensued, and different rules and systems were put in place.

As well as an author and editor, Charles Dickens was a social reformer. Often, he combined these roles, using his fiction to expose intolerable living and working conditions, flagging up social injustices. He saw literature as a springboard to moral and social reform.

No doubt, he was moved by the plight of two signal-men involved in the Clayton Tunnel Crash who had been too tired to avert the disaster. In writing his story, Dickens exposed another aspect of the inhumane working conditions of signal-men.

The story’s titular character lives and works in total isolation, in a remote signal box where he has practically no human contact. As a result, his mental health suffers. Through the narrator’s perspective, Dickens presents it as a life that can descend into madness. Yet this man is in charge of the safety of trains. Dickens used his story to arouse pity for men working under such conditions, and alert the public to the resulting dangers.

In this, he was remarkably successful. Dickens was what we today would call an ‘influencer’. His stories helped shape public opinion influenced the decisions of the authorities, and contributed to several legal reforms.

I admire how Dickens manages to use the plight of fictional characters to expose real social injustices, and to inspire moral, ethical and political action without ever sounding preachy. This, I think, is literature at its noblest: inspiring readers to change their attitudes and bring about improvements, without preaching or dogma.

In tone, this story is decidedly Gothic. I’ve identified the following typical elements of Gothic literature:

The location is isolated, remote, difficult to reach and creepy: ‘The cutting was extremely deep, and unusually precipitate. It was made through a clammy stone, that became oozier and wetter as I went down.’

The building is dark, dilapidated, battered by the elements: His post was in as solitary and dismal a place as ever I saw. On either side, a dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of sky; the perspective one way only a crooked prolongation of this great dungeon; the shorter perspective in the other direction terminating in a gloomy red light, and the gloomier entrance to a black tunnel, in whose massive architecture there was a barbarous, depressing, and forbidding air. So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world.’

The means of communication with the outside world are limited. The signal-man can use the telegraph machine to contact his colleagues along the track, and when a train passes, he can exchange a hurried signal with the driver, that’s all – except when a wanderer happens to come to this spot and seek a conversation, like the narrator does, an extremely rare circumstance.

The story begins when an outsider enters the scene, disrupting the status quo. This happens with the first word, the narrator calling “Halloa!”

A growing sense of danger and impending doom pervades the story. We readers know that a disaster will unfold, and are as helpless as the characters to prevent it. ‘There is danger overhanging somewhere on the Line. Some dreadful calamity will happen.’

Darkness, light and shadows create mood and contribute to the plot – for example, the red warning light.

Part of the story unfolds at sunset, that special time of the day when day gives way to night and the sinking sun dyes the horizon. Dickens’ description of the twilight’s effect is sparse, but powerful. ‘… so steeped in the glow of an angry sunset, that I had shaded my eyes with my hand before I saw him at all.’

Windy weather contributes to the atmosphere. ‘The wind and the wires took up the story with a long lamenting wail.’

The tunnel represents the dangerous underground space so common in Gothic fiction. ‘…and the gloomier entrance to a black tunnel, in whose massive architecture there was a barbarous, depressing, and forbidding air. So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world.’

In typical Gothic fashion, the line between sanity and madness is blurred: The narrator believes that the inhumane isolation has affected the signal-man’s mental health. ‘When I saw him in this state, I saw that for the poor man’s sake, as well as for the public safety, what I had to do for the time was to compose his mind. Therefore, setting aside all question of reality or unreality between us…’

A character has a dark past that he prefers not to reveal. The signal-man mentions having wasted education opportunities in his youth, but does not elaborate. We readers are left to surmise what happened. Since he seems to bear his new life like a penalty for past deeds, it seems likely that he committed something worse than mere classroom truancy.

Paranormal elements are present, e.g. the ghost that appears and disappears. ‘I ran right up at it, and had my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when it was gone.’

There are communications from the supernatural realm, e.g. the warning voice, and the warning bell ringing that only the signal-man can hear: ‘The ghost’s ring is a strange vibration in the bell that it derives from nothing else, and I have not asserted that the bell stirs to the eye. I don’t wonder that you failed to hear it. But I heard it.’

A death contributes to the unfolding story: the demise of the young lady in the train.

Guilt, one of the key elements of Gothic fiction, plays a role when we readers wonder if the narrator caused the signal-man’s death – even though the narrator himself doesn’t seem to feel this guilt.

Great Gothic fiction flag ups and deals with social issues. In this story, it’s the working condition of signal-men.

Of course, no single work of Gothic fiction contains all tropes of Gothic literature. ‘The Signal-Man’ features neither a disputed inheritance nor a forbidden love; those would simply not fit into this plot.

However, one crucial trope of Gothic fiction is conspicuous by its absence: passion.

Throughout the tale, the narrator remains strangely detached and analytical, even when he feels strongly about something. The signal-man, although conscientious, is not passionate about his job. Although he teaches himself in his spare time, he’s not passionate about learning either. While he is distressed and worried about the warnings, he is not passionate about finding out what they mean.

This absence of passion is strange in a work of Gothic fiction, and the sense of detached, analytical interest from the narrator’s point of view feels alien – but in my opinion, this makes this story all the more chilling.

To me, ‘The Signal-Man’ is Gothic fiction at its finest: creepy, thrilling, thought-provoking.

When I was editing the anthology The Haunted Train: Creepy Tales from the Railways and selected the stories, I was happy to include this masterpiece of Gothic fiction.

ABOUT THE BOOK THE HAUNTED TRAIN: CREEPY TALES FROM THE RAILWAYS

Come on board for a Gothic journey in a funicular railway in Victorian England, a freight train in the Carpathian mountains, a high tech sky train in Bangkok, an underground railway in Tokyo. Visit stations which lure with the promise of safe shelter but harbour unexpected dangers. Meet the people who work on the tracks – stationmasters, porters, signal-men – and those who travel – commuters, tourists, dead bodies, murderers and ghosts.

In this volume, editor Rayne Hall has collected twenty of the finest– and creepiest – railway tales. The book features the works of established writers, classic authors and fresh voices. Some stories are spooky, some downright scary, while others pose a puzzling mystery.

Are you prepared to come on board this train? Already, the steam engine is huffing in impatience. Listen to the chuff-chuff-chuff from the locomotive and tarattata-tarattata of the giant wheels. Press your face against the dust-streaked window, inhale the smells of coal smoke and old textiles, watch the landscape whoosh past as you leave the familiar behind and journey into the unknown.

But be careful: you can’t know the train’s real destination, nor your fellow travellers’ intentions. Once you’ve closed that door behind you and the wheels start rolling, you may not be able to get out.

The ebook is available for pre-order from Amazon at the special offer price of 99 cents until 31 January 2023. (After that date, the price will go up.) https://mybook.to/Train.

The paperback edition will be available soon.

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Filed under Charles Dickens, Classic Gothic Novels, Gothic Places

A New Biography of Jane and Anna Maria Porter, the Mothers of Historical Fiction

In 2017, I wrote a blog post here on Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1810), in which I lamented that more is not known about Jane Porter or her relationship with Sir Walter Scott in connection to the development of the historical novel. That gap in literary history has now been filled by a monumental biography just published by Devoney Looser titled Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës. The lack of information about Jane Porter available is apparent just in the fact that I was clueless she had a sister, Anna Maria Porter, who was also a historical novelist, and though Jane’s junior by three years, was published first.

Looser’s dedication to the sisters’ memory is extraordinary given the compiling of this 500-plus-page biography that must have taken her years to research and write. Between them, the sisters published twenty-six books, the best known today being Jane’s The Scottish Chiefs and Thaddeus of Warsaw, but Jane also wrote The Spirit of the Elbe, The Pastor’s Fire-Side, and Duke Christian of Luneberg, plus many more. Anna Maria’s titles included The Lake of Killarney, The Hungarian Brothers, and Don Sebastian, to name only a few. Beyond the novels, Looser had access to countless letters by the sisters that have only come to light in recent years. The letters show the depth of their affection for each other, as well as their humor, and give deep insight into the workings of their family and how they felt the need to write to support their family when their brothers were often falling into debt.

Looser’s book needs to be read to do full justice to the sisters. I will just briefly say it is invaluable for many reasons. One of the chief is how the critics of the day responded to the sisters, often suggesting they should put down their pens. We also get insight into the workings of the literary world in the first half of the nineteenth century as the sisters made deals to sell their books, including how many copies to be printed, what they were paid, and what they received for future editions. Looser often compares what they were paid to other writers, including Austen and Scott, to put the amounts in context. In addition, the sisters wrote for magazines, and they wrote plays that sadly were mostly failures, including due to being rewritten by others.

One of the book’s real marvels is the depiction of the social circles the Porter sisters existed within. They had many connections to members of the gentry and even nobility, counting dukes as their friends and a Russian princess as their sister-in-law. They continually tried to get favors in regards to their publishing through this network, but usually with little success. American publishers made a fortune off Jane’s novels yet paid her nothing. Jane also tried to acquire a pension from the government, going so far as to write Duke Christian of Luneburg about George IV’s ancestors to get his help. Instead of receiving a long-term annual payment, she was only given a few occasional and small monetary gifts that barely sustained the family.

Anna Maria Porter

The sisters’ social circles included other female authors. Brother Robert Ker Porter was an artist, which opened the art world to the sisters, plus they had many friends in theatrical circles. The result is the sisters experienced more freedom in society than one would expect, given the limited social circles of the females in Jane Austen’s novels.

And then there is the sisters’ relationship with Sir Walter Scott. I had read that Scott was friends with the Porters, but Looser makes the relationship clear that they were only acquaintances in their youth, and long before Scott took up his pen. Years later when the sisters were novelists and he was a poet, they renewed their acquaintance, but they were never really more than acquaintances. In 1814, Scott published Waverley without revealing his identity, but it was generally known he was the author. In the preface, he claimed he had begun the novel a decade before, which meant he could avoid any claim of being influenced by Jane’s The Scottish Chiefs. He also cited the names of other authors, including Maria Edgeworth, who inspired him, but the Porter sisters’ names were noticeably absent. The sisters were always cordial to him, but also resented that he never acknowledged that they had been writing historical fiction before him, and he never acknowledged it, acting as if his work were original. The sisters were clearly jealous of his popularity, though they never openly accused him of plagiarizing their works or ideas, but they did want him to acknowledge their role in the development of the historical novel. The ultimate insult came when Scott died and Jane was asked to donate to the fund to help save Abbottsford because Scott’s debts were so great. Jane had known debt all her life, yet she contributed so she would not be seen as being mean for not doing so.

Jane Porter

I do think The Scottish Chiefs a remarkable historical novel with many of the elements Scott used in his own works. (At times, it also equals or surpasses Scott in dullness, but overall, it is a masterpiece.) Of course, its style is different from Scott’s, but I don’t think anyone can deny it is a great achievement in the historical novel that predates Scott’s work. Yes, it may be more romance than historical, but it was a vast improvement on earlier historical romances like Sophia Lee’s The Recess. Whether Jane Porter or Sir Walter Scott “invented” the historical novel may be argued for generations to come, but as much as I like much of Sir Walter Scott’s work, I would give the laurels to Jane as the true originator. As for Anna Maria Porter, I have yet to read any of her work, but I am sure she deserves partial credit given how the sisters worked together in partnership, not helping to write each other’s novels, but deliberately taking turns writing novels to support the family.

While Looser’s book is a tremendous achievement and one of the best literary biographies I have read in years, it is not without a few shortcomings. Despite the copious endnotes that list her sources, there is no proper bibliography. I would have liked to see a list of all her sources, especially those by the other few Porter scholars like Thomas McLean, whom she quotes. I also feel that the descriptions of the Porter sisters’ novels could be more extensive. Looser briefly tells us what each novel is about, but she does not go into detailed plot summaries, much less real literary criticism. I can understand this minimalism with the lesser known novels, but I think Thaddeus of Warsaw and The Scottish Chiefs could have had entire chapters devoted just to analyzing the works. Looser must have wanted to focus more on the sisters and their lives than the details of their work. Notably, Looser does not give the novels much praise herself, which suggests while the sisters are fascinating, perhaps their work is less so. I hope not since I think both Thaddeus of Warsaw and The Scottish Chiefs extremely readable and interesting, with a few lapses here and there, but if they are the two that became most famous, it’s possible the others are sub-par. Only reading them will tell. Hopefully, volumes of criticism on the Porter sisters’ novels are yet to be written.

A dramatic moment in The Scottish Chiefs, painted by N. C. Wyeth

I sincerely wish Looser’s book paves the way for a renewed interest in the Porter sisters. With the exception of Jane’s two best-known works, no critical editions exist of the other novels. Most of them can be bought in poorly produced editions online at Amazon—the kind that are often reprints with small fonts and scarcely readable. Instead, scholarly editions of all their books need to be produced, as well as ebook editions that contain their complete works so readers of Looser’s fascinating biography can get to know the sisters better.

I thank Looser for her devotion to making the Porter sisters real people who live again two centuries after they created a genre that remains one of the most popular in literature today.

Addendum: After Devoney Looser read my blog, she wrote to tell me she will be posting a bibliography at her website https://www.sisternovelists.com/

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, the upcoming Vampire Grooms and Spectre Brides: The Marriage of French and British Gothic Literature, King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other fiction and nonfiction titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Alexandre Dumas’ Castle Eppstein: A Mix of Drama and Radcliffean Romance

Castle Eppstein is one of Dumas’ earliest novels, first published in 1843. Some confusion about its title exists since it was published in Brussels that year as Albine and then in France the next year as Chateau d’Eppstein. In English, it is known as Castle Eppstein or The Castle of Eppstein with the subtitle The Spectre Mother sometimes added. That said, it is not one of Dumas’ better-known works, so it is easy to see why its various titles have caused some confusion as noted by Alfred Allison who wrote the introduction to the Ruined Abbey Press edition that I read.

Allison notes that some critics have suggested Dumas simply translated a work from the German and it is not original to him. Dumas may have been indebted to the works of German author LaFontaine (1759-1839) for some of his inspiration, but the work is his own. Another source of inspiration, and the reason I was most interested in reading the novel, is Mrs. Radcliffe. Indeed, Castle Eppstein begins in a style that recalls The Mysteries of Udolpho, but it quickly moves into something entirely different and wholly Dumas’ own. Being an early novel, however, it lacks the skill and artistry of Dumas’ later masterpieces. It was also written at a time when Dumas was still very much a dramatist, and some of the dialogue reflects that, the characters feeling rather outspoken and a bit overly dramatic in their speeches. The novel also reveals that Dumas was not yet the master of plots and framing devices, as I will discuss below. Regardless, the work is interesting as an early use by Dumas of the Gothic.

Dumas certainly starts off well. He begins with a group of characters telling ghost stories at a party held by the Princess Galitzin, a real-life person Dumas knew. This telling of stories is a plot device he will later use in The One Thousand and One Ghosts (1849). In that work, several stories are told while in Castle Eppstein, Count Elim says he has witnessed a ghost for real, and his story then makes up the remainder of the book.

Count Elim tells how he was out hunting and got separated from the rest of his party. He took shelter at Castle Eppstein in Germany only to find it deserted save for two servants, a married couple. They tell him Count Everard lives there and that he has not left the castle for twenty-five years, but now he has gone to Vienna. The castle is in no state to host visitors because it is falling into ruin. The only room fit for habitation is the Red Room where Count Everard sleeps, but it is haunted. The servants offer to give up their bed to Count Elim, but he insists he’ll sleep in the haunted room. That night, he sees a female ghost enter the bedchamber. He feels terror, but she shakes her head, as if to say, “It is not him,” and departs. This scene very much recalls similar scenes in Radcliffe, such as when Ludovico sleeps in a haunted chamber in The Mysteries of Udolpho. In her novels, Radcliffe explains the supernatural as reality, so it is not surprising that Count Elim thinks a trick has been played on him and looks for a switch of some sort in the wall that would have let someone enter the room. Finding nothing, he begins to believe he has seen a ghost. He says nothing to the servants but departs in the morning for Frankfort, where he finds a professor and tells him what he has experienced. The professor tells Count Elim he has seen the ghost of Countess Albini. He then tells the Count a shocking tale about Castle Eppstein and its family that reveals the supernatural is a reality in this novel, thus leaving behind any hints of Mrs. Radcliffe.

The main story begins in 1789. Count Rodolph of Eppstein has two sons, Maximilian and Conrad. Maximilian is the eldest and Rodolph’s heir. He is also a widower with a son. Since his wife’s death, Maximilian has been busy debauching local women, but he thinks nothing wrong with creating bastards. Conrad, however, has married Naomi, the daughter of a servant, and thus is seen as having disgraced the family. In his heart, Rodolph knows Conrad is the honorable son, but he must abide by tradition and what society warrants so he banishes Conrad and Naomi, and they go to France. Meanwhile, Maximilian weds a wealthy woman, Albina. Albina has romantic visions of heroes and thinks Maximilian is such a man, but she soon learns otherwise. After Rodolph dies, Maximilian becomes the count and he and Albina reside at Castle Eppstein. In time, he becomes abusive to her and then leaves her at the castle while he goes off to Vienna.

By this point, the Napoleonic wars have begun and the French have invaded Germany. One day, the castle’s servants find a wounded French soldier named Jacques in the forest and bring him to the castle to recover. Jacques develops a friendship with Albina, and after he recovers, he remains at the castle for an extended period, the news of which eventually reaches Maximilian’s ears, making the count believe his wife has been unfaithful to him.

Maximilian returns to Eppstein, but by then, Jacques has left. Albina now tells Maximilian he is about to have a child. He immediately accuses her of adultery. She assures him she has been faithful, but they have an argument and he accidentally causes her to fall. She goes into labor and dies, but a son, Everard, is safely born.

Everard grows up without any real relationship with his father because Maximilian does not believe he is his son. However, Everard does have a relationship with his deceased mother. A legend says that the Countesses of Eppstein only half die if they die on Christmas night as Albina did. Consequently, she watches over Everard. Albina had also been friends with Wilhelmina, Naomi’s sister, and Wilhelmina agreed, since she was pregnant at the same time as Albina, to be his wet nurse and watch over Everard. Consequently, Everard grows up with Rosamond, Wilhelmina’s daughter.

Rosamond goes off to a convent for school while Everard lives at the castle, not becoming educated but living almost like a wild boy of the forest. When Rosamond returns, she educates Everard and they fall in love. During all this time, Maximilian remains absent. He sends Everard a letter saying he can live at the castle, but they are not to see each other. This changes, however, when Maximilian’s son by his first wife dies, making Everard his heir. Maximilian then returns home and finds that Everard is a son to be proud of.

Conflict ensues again when Maximilian wants Everard to marry a woman of the nobility and he wants to marry Rosamond. The result is a physical fight between the men that is only stopped when Conrad appears at the castle. Conrad now reveals to Maximilian that he was the Captain Jacques who had stayed at the castle long ago. Because he serves Napoleon, he had to keep his identity a secret. He had told Albina, however, that he was her husband’s brother; they developed a friendship but nothing more.

Maximilian now feels despair that he wrongfully accused Albina and caused her death. But then his pride gets the better of him and he refuses to apologize to her. He disappears into the castle, and when he does not reemerge, everyone else becomes concerned for him. The next day, they search for him in the castle and find him dead beside Albina’s tomb. Her skeletal hand has reached up and twisted the gold necklace around his neck, apparently strangling him.

This sad event puts a damper on Everard and Rosamond’s love. Dumas quickly wraps up the story by telling us Conrad died at Waterloo. Rosamond entered a convent at Vienna, and Everard remained at the castle. This ending is unsatisfying since it only completes what the professor at Frankfort apparently knew about the family. We never learn why Everard was gone to Vienna when Count Elim visited Castle Eppstein. Did he finally decide to go be with Rosamond, even though she entered a convent? Dumas appears to have lost the thread of his story, forgetting to wrap it up properly.

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870). Castle Eppstein was one of his earlier novels and reflects his writing for the stage.

The novel starts out well with its opening Radcliffean haunted castle mystery, but it then turns overly melodramatic. The characters speak like actors on a stage and are mostly stick figures with little development. The sense of mystery gets lost in the long descriptions of Everard and Rosamond’s unconsummated love, turning it into a rather trite romance. Even when Everard convinces Rosamond to become engaged to him, she wants to wait two years because she knows eventually he will want to be with an aristocratic woman. Why Everard and Rosamond do not marry after Maximilian dies is not satisfactorily explained. His death is not a sufficient cause of grief since he’s barely been a part of their life. But the biggest plot hole is why Conrad felt the need to keep his identity secret for so long. Exactly how he serves Napoleon or why Albina could not tell Maximilian about Conrad is never satisfactorily explained. Had Albina just told Maximilian that Jacques was Conrad, the characters would have all been saved a lot of grief, but then there would have been no novel.

The end result is that Castle Eppstein falls somewhat flat. Fortunately, Dumas would use the Gothic to much greater effect in future works, notably The Count of Monte Cristo, the Marie Antoinette novels, and his play The Vampire.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, the upcoming Vampire Grooms and Spectre Brides: The Marriage of French and British Gothic Literature, King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other fiction and nonfiction titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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The Lost Son: New Podcast Pays Homage to Gothic Classics

The Lost Son is a new audio drama podcast (radio play) being released on October 25. I was pleasantly surprised when its author and director, Cole Burgett, offered me the opportunity to preview it. The Lost Son draws upon Gothic literature and particularly the 1941 Universal horror film The Wolf Man. That said, I felt it had a lot in common with the classic TV Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows because of its episodic structure, plus because that series also featured a werewolf plot, and it also had somber yet compelling theme music.

The Lost Son is divided into three episodes, each roughly half an hour long. It is set in 1899 with the main character, Dr. Emily Goodwin, now an old woman, recalling the strange events she participated in that year. Emily is a woman doctor, a rare thing still in late Victorian times, and her sex causes some contention with a detective when she becomes involved in an investigation. The story is set in New York. Emily practices medicine in New York City but travels to Ballard Hall in the central part of the state for the main events of the plot.

I won’t give away the full plot but just say enough to pique interest. The story opens when Emily receives a letter from Andrew Ballard, a man she formerly loved, asking her to come and visit him. Emily has conflicting feelings since she broke off her relationship with Andrew because he was often secretive or at least unwilling to share his feelings with her. However, Andrew says he needs her help, and she decides to answer his call, even though her fiancé is not happy with the idea.

Emily travels to Ballard Hall, a place sufficiently Gothic and eerie, described as being like a castle from the Dark Ages and a “relic” of the time of “superstition and the sword.” The man who drives her to the house tries to convince her to return with him rather than stay there, which reminded me of the warnings Jonathan Harker experiences before he arrives at Dracula’s Castle, but like Jonathan, Emily decides to stay.

Once Emily arrives at Ballard Hall, she immediately sees Andrew, who is handsome with his mother’s eyes but his dad’s disposition. His mother died before Emily ever met her, but she remembers his father’s cruel face and rough demeanor. Andrew reveals to Emily that his father died a few weeks before and that he seemed to have gone mad in the end, wandering about the house at night, speaking to his mother’s specter, and claiming there is a curse upon their family. Then he was found dead outside, apparently killed by a wild animal. Andrew is not fully forthcoming about everything, however. Only when the local doctor, Arthur Darrow, arrives, does Emily learn the full story.

Arthur tells Emily that Andrew’s father’s death is not the only murder. Several other people have been killed in the area, presumably by a wild animal, or possibly someone is committing murder then making it look like a wild animal has done the killing to throw investigators off the scent. As the local coroner, Arthur has been the lead investigator of the deaths, but now a Pinkerton detective is being sent to the area to investigate.

While the killings are worrisome, what alarms Emily the most is that Arthur is concerned for Andrew’s sanity. Emily has noticed Andrew wearing a signet ring that he says has been passed down in the family for generations and which has the image of a wolf on it. Arthur tells Emily there is a family tradition that the Ballards have been cursed with werewolfism, and Andrew not only believes his father may have been killed by a werewolf but that he may himself be the werewolf. As a doctor, Emily says she cannot believe in lycanthropy, but the horrible events that follow make her question everything she knows. Furthermore, when the Pinkerton detective arrives, his probing interrogation makes her question whether her feelings for Andrew are getting in the way of her seeing the truth.

I can’t say more or I would spoil the story, but I will say that I loved the final episode because of how stunningly in keeping with Gothic tradition it is—it reminded me of both Ainsworth’s Rookwood and Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and several other classic Gothic novels. The villain, whose identity I won’t reveal, does a splendid job of being evil. In fact, when Emily declares to the villain, “You’re a monster!” the villain replies, “You have no idea,” showing what delight they find in being evil. Gosh, I love a good villain!

The entire podcast is well done, with a plot that draws on traditional Gothic elements of ancestral curses, Gothic forests and mansions, madness, despair, revenge, and a mystery to be solved. I loved the secrets revealed and the overall story.

As an audio drama, The Lost Son succeeds well. Some of the dialogue and acting felt a bit more modern than one would want for 1899, but there was no space for long speeches and descriptions in a basically ninety-minute program and the story’s conciseness keeps the pace moving nicely. All the actors did a fine job, and I could visualize the action and scenes well just from the words spoken, the tones of the voices, and the few sound effects used. The division into episodes, with cliffhangers and the recurring theme music, added to the suspense.

I’m not a listener to podcasts usually—in fact, the only similar one I’ve listened to was a radio play that was a sequel to Dark Shadows, but I really enjoyed The Lost Son. I listened to all three episodes in one sitting and felt the time passed quickly—more so than many a movie of similar length I’ve sat through.

If you love podcasts that resemble old radio plays, and especially if you love Gothic literature, you’ll love The Lost Son. If you’re not a podcast listener, I recommend you give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.

All three episodes of The Lost Son will be released on October 25, 2022, on Buzzsprout, and it will be available on all major listening platforms, which you can find listed at https://thelostson.buzzsprout.com/, plus you can listen to a sneak peek there before the show is officially released.

Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

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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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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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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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