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

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

Lady Athlyne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Pre-Dracula Vampire Novel—The Pobratim: A Slav Novel

The Pobratim: A Slav Novel was published in 1895. When I first heard of it, I thought it was a translation of an original Slav novel, but it was actually written by “Prof. P. Jones,” which makes me think he was British, Jones being a Welsh name. I have been unable to learn anything about Professor P. Jones beyond the few clues the book offers. The novel was published by H.S. Nichols, a printer in Soho Square in London, and dedicated to Prince Nicholas of Montenegro. This would be Nicholas I of Montenegro (1841-1921), who was prince of that land from 1860-1910 and king from 1910-1918. The date and place given in the dedication is Trieste and June 17, 1895, which suggests the author lived abroad at the time. Clearly, Professor Jones knew a great deal about the Balkans and traveled through them. After all, Trieste is in modern Italy near Slovenia. In this article, I will provide a plot summary of the novel since almost nothing about it can be found online. I hope this article will create greater interest in it among readers and scholars.

Of course, the only reason most people would be interested in The Pobratim is that it contains a vampire and was published two years before Dracula. I only discovered it myself because it was mentioned by Andrew Boylan in his introduction to James Lyons’ translation of After Ninety Years, a Serbian vampire novella from 1880. Although The Pobratim is a pre-Dracula novel, I do not believe it influenced Stoker. I still think it interesting, though I would not regard it as a vampire novel but a novel about the Slavs that has a vampire in it.

“Pobratim” is the Slavic word for “blood brothers.” The novel’s focus is on the friendship of two young Slavic men, Milenko and Uros. Set in the nineteenth century, it appears to be written primarily to depict Slavic folklore and customs. One custom, common to the Balkans, is that of blood brothers. The novel begins with the two friends becoming blood brothers. In the United States, we might equate this with slitting the wrists of two friends and comingling their blood, but in the Balkans, it is a more formal ceremony. The two men actually swear to be lifelong blood brothers in a church ceremony. This ceremony includes a “best man” for each brother and is described as being like a “marriage.” It is a lifelong bond that is created that must never be rent asunder, and during the ceremony, the two friends even hold hands and kiss each other. Twenty-first century readers would raise their eyes at all this and think of same-sex wedding ceremonies, but our two heroes are strictly heterosexual here.

Prior to the pobratim ceremony, Uros and Milenko have been friends from childhood, but an old woman predicts that tragedy will part them. That tragedy is set in motion when Uros falls in love with Milena, a married woman. Uros and Milenko decide to become sailors and leave their home, which seems largely to be to get Uros away from Milena. Milena is married to Radonic, a violent and unlikeable man. Radonic is friends with Vranic, who has the second sight and is rather disliked in the community. Uros and Vranic are both aware that the other is interested in Milena, although Radonic is not yet suspicious of either.

The pobratim now sail off. Eventually they are involved in rescuing a shipwrecked family, including a young woman named Ivanka. They learn Ivanka’s father was good friends with Uros’ father many years before. The two fathers had once sworn that Uros and Ivanka would marry. However, Ivanka’s father confuses Milenko with Uros, and Milenko has fallen in love with Ivanka. Uros, as a result, acts obnoxious to get Ivanka’s father to dislike him and agree to marry Ivanka to Milenko instead. Besides, Uros is not interested in marrying anyone except Milena, whom he cannot have.

When the pobratim return home, Uros again begins seeing Milena. One day, when Radonic goes on a journey, Milena goes to visit Uros’ mother. Vranic, thinking he will catch Milena home alone and have his way with her, goes to Radonic’s house. However, Radonic, suspecting his wife of adultery, returns home and finds Vranic there. He claims he is there to protect Milena from Uros, but Radonic knows Vranic is after his wife and murders him.

Radonic now goes into hiding. The novel, in its interest in depicting Slavic life, goes into detail about what happens next. A “Karvarina” ensues—this is rather like the weregild of Anglo-Saxon culture—where a murderer is forgiven after paying a price for the dead man’s life. Radonic’s friends go to Vranic’s two brothers and manage finally to convince them to forgive Radonic in exchange for payment. The scene is one of the best in the novel as they go through the formalities of this process, the brothers claiming their brother is worth a great deal, even though the narrator tells us they hated him, and in the end, because everyone hated Vranic, the brothers receive very little.

Vranic’s spirit, however, is not happy. He returns in the form of a vampire and begins to torment one of his brothers—the novel gets confusing here since the brother is also referred to as Vranic (I’ll call him Vranic 2). The townspeople come to realize Vranic has become a vampire so they go through a ceremony where they dig up the corpse, say prayers over it, and then require Vranic 2 to stab his brother. However, it is dark and the clouds make it hard to see. He is supposed to stab his brother’s corpse in the neck, but he bungles it and only gets his cheek. As a result, the villagers are angry with him and he’s told his brother will now have eternal life as a vampire.

Vranic continues to torment Vranic 2, telling him he will soon be a vampire too and enjoy it. Vranic 2 is now urged on by Vranic to kill Bellenic, Uros’ father, which results in Vranic 2, in the scuffle, stabbing Uros, who tries to defend his father. Vranic flees the scene, horrified that he has committed murder. He finds it even more scary because he didn’t want to kill anyone but found that the vampire forced him to act against his will.

Meanwhile, Milenko comes to Uros’ aid, carrying his friend to a nearby convent to be nursed. Believing Uros is dying, his parents visit him and they manage to sneak Milena into the convent, disguised as a boy. By this point, Milena has learned that Radonic has died, and she has also given birth to his dead child. Uros’ dying request is that he and Milena may be married, which the monks finally agree to. Uros then dies, and Milenko returns to sea.

Vranic 2 has also fled to sea and now works on various ships. Eventually, Vranic 2 and Milenko’s paths cross again when Milenko’s ship comes to the aid of Vranic 2’s ship during a storm. Vranic 2 is in the water about to drown when he realizes Milenko is rescuing him. He then cuts the rope he has tied around himself in an attempt to rescue him because he fears Milenko’s retribution. He is never seen again, presumably drowning.

Milenko now receives a letter from Uros that he has not died. He fell into a state of unconsciousness and was about to be buried when he was able to waken and be restored to life.

The novel ends with joy as the characters celebrate Milenko and Ivanka’s novel.

The author, unfortunately, seems to forget that Vranic, the vampire, is still on the loose. However, in Slavic culture, vampires tend to torment their relatives, and so with Vranic 2’s death—nothing is ever said of what became of the other brother—apparently Vranic is no longer a threat to the community.

I have summarized the main plot here, but the novel is filled with interrupting stories and poems of Slavic folklore and myth that the characters are continually telling to one another. In some cases, these stories appear to be commentary upon the main plot or the novel’s themes. At other times, the stories seem to be included simply to delay the action or provide a break from the emotion and suspense. One such story is a narrative poem about St. George. The other stories would not be recognizable to English readers, but they are all entertaining. I do not know if P. Jones drew upon actual Slavic stories or made up the stories he included. Since the tale of St. George is included, I suspect many, if not all, of the other stories have some origins in Slavic folklore. Most contain supernatural elements, including a bargain with the devil, and some are love stories.

Oddly, the book ends with a list of “transcriber” corrections, which mostly are things like missing periods the “transcriber” added.

While Vranic is far from as effective a vampire as Dracula, or even earlier vampires in British literature like James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire or John Polidori’s Lord Ruthven, the novel itself is very interesting because it reflects an interest in the Balkans in Britain that predates Stoker, although is after LeFanu’s Carmilla (1872) which is also set in the Balkans. Overall, The Pobratim is very readable and interesting, which makes me surprised it is not more generally known, especially among Dracula scholars and vampire enthusiasts. I hope someone will do further work to reveal more about who P. Jones was and his reasons for writing the novel.

The Pobratim can be purchased in paperback and ebook formats at Amazon.

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

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Postcolonial Edition of Dracula Fills in Gaps and Dispels Myths About Eastern Europe

Universitas Press’ publication of Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition, edited by Cristina Artenie and Dragos Moraru, is one of the most significant editions of Dracula ever produced.

I have previously discussed on this blog three of Artenie’s other books, most notably Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices, which discusses the shortcomings of various past editors and editions of Dracula. Artenie, consequently, along with Moraru, created her own postcolonial edition of the novel.

The term “postcolonial” might seem surprising in relation to Dracula, but it is based on the fact that Romania, although never technically a colony, was usually treated like one by the British and other European powers. The British saw the Balkans as the breadbasket of Europe, and their interests in it resulted in some questionable politics ranging from the Crimean War to power plays with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, and Russia. Consequently, Romania was treated as if it were a colony, and arguments have been made by scholars that the novel reflects a fear of reverse colonialism if too many people from the Balkans come to England. Dracula’s vampirism is, thus, like a plague from Eastern Europe that must be prevented by the characters.

The entire text of Dracula is presented in the postcolonial edition. The book contains 528 footnotes illuminating the text. Many of the notes shed light on details of Victorian England, as well as technology, and the novel’s continual efforts to show Western civilization as technologically advanced and, therefore, superior to Eastern Europe and the Eastern or “Oriental” countries.

The book also points out and corrects several errors in earlier editions of Dracula that have often unknowingly been perpetuated as well as false information that other editors have provided. Overall, the main purpose has been to “avoid any justification or enhancement of Stoker’s ‘Othering’ of Romania and Transylvania” (Introduction, p. xxvii).

To me, the greatest strength of this edition is the simple history lesson it provides into Romania and what it really was like in the 1890s. Photographs are provided showing hotels in Romania at the time that were up to par with other fine European hotels. Much of the technology in the novel is treated as if it solely belongs to the West, ranging from shorthand to photography, yet the editors of this edition show that photography in Romania had been prominent and advanced decades earlier and shorthand was regularly used.

The editors also reveal that Stoker intentionally has Harker travel through the countryside during the day and only arrive at cities at night, thus he is unable to describe the cities, thereby removing any sign of their being just as civilized as the West. Harker stays in Bistritz where the innkeeper warns him not to go on to Dracula’s castle. The innkeeper is depicted as a superstitious peasant, yet Bistritz was a modern, flourishing town at the time. Because Harker travels through cities mostly at night, he would never get to see pleasant daytime scenes like the café scene depicted on the front cover of this edition of Bistritz at the turn of the century.

Another stereotype exposed in this edition, as part of the “othering” of Romanians that Stoker creates, is the superstition of the local people. The Romanian and Transylvanian characters are continually depicted as superstitious compared to the English main characters. However, the novel can easily be deconstructed to show perhaps that the peasants are wiser than the English characters. After all, in Stoker’s world, vampires are real and the peasants have had dealings with them, so they are intelligent enough to be cautious of vampires. As the editors point out later in the novel when the characters are pursuing Dracula—and particularly when Mina is herself becoming a vampire—Mina thinks nothing of commenting on how superstitious the people are. As the editors state in note 515, “Few sentences in the novel are as ridiculous as ‘They are very, very superstitious’ coming from someone turning into a vampire.”

The novel can be deconstructed around this dismissal of superstition since the vampires are real in the novel; consequently, the West is not wise but foolish to dismiss such beliefs. Furthermore, for all the focus on science and technology in the novel, it is only superstitious practices—using Catholic crosses, holy water, Eucharistic wafers—that are able to defeat Dracula along with old-fashioned violence. Quincey Morris, who commits the final murder of Dracula, is himself a hero of the Wild West, and thus, he goes to Romania like it is an exotic, uncivilized land where violence is necessary like in the Wild West to maintain law and order.

Another interesting aspect of this edition is that it reveals how Stoker not only argues for Western and especially British superiority but also the superiority of the upper classes. The editors point out that the English lower class characters are just as superstitious as the Romanians. Furthermore, the lower classes, like the Romanians, and even a Jewish character, continually must be bribed so the main characters can make progress in discovering Dracula’s whereabouts. By comparison, an English gentleman, the consulate clerk, whom the main characters encounter at Galatz, willingly helps them.

Altogether, I think anyone interested in Romania and what Stoker actually knew about it, as well as how he used his research to create fiction, will find this an extremely valuable edition. Stoker’s reading and sources are continually referenced and discussed. Information is provided on everything from Romanian and Transylvanian recipes and hotels to train schedules. The notes are especially thorough and fascinating in the opening chapter of Harker’s journey.

My only criticism of this edition is a lack of maps to show us Jonathan Harker’s journey and later the characters’ pursuit of Dracula across the Balkans. Such maps can be found online, one of the better ones being: https://infocult.typepad.com/dracula/2009/05/harker-travels-east-via-google-maps.html. However, people not familiar with Romania’s geography could have benefited from one in the front of the book so they could have easily followed along with the characters.

Overall, Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition is a long-overdue book that dispels many myths about the Romanian people and the levels of technology that existed in Eastern Europe at the time Stoker published the novel. I know I will return to it time and time again for illumination about the text. It will not only bring new understanding to Stoker’s novel and his writing process but is a vindication for the Romanian people and will hopefully encourage readers to discover the beauty and culture of Romania as it exists outside the pages of Dracula. Having visited Romania myself, I can testify that there is much more there worth seeing and experiencing than just a vampire legend that is not even native to the land. The difference between Stoker’s fictional world and the real Romania is like night and day as anyone will discover who visits that beautiful land.

Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition, as well as other works by Cristina Artenie and Dragos Moraru, is available at www.UniversitasPress.com.

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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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An Unusual Vampire Novel: Richard Laymon’s Bite

I am no expert on horror writer Richard Laymon (1947-2001), but a friend encouraged me to read his vampire novels, and while I don’t find a lot to write about in them, I do find a lot to enjoy. Earlier this year, I reviewed The Traveling Vampire Show (2000), probably Laymon’s best-known vampire novel, but he wrote two others, The Stake (1990) and Bite (1996). I have yet to read The Stake, so I’ll only discuss Bite here.

Like The Traveling Vampire Show, Bite is low on vampire appearances, and although it’s been described as horror, it is not really scary. Therefore, some vampire and Gothic or horror fiction fans might be disappointed by it, but what it lacks in vampires, it makes up for in a suspenseful, sexually-charged story that keeps the reader turning the pages, constantly wanting to know what will happen next.

In The Traveling Vampire Show, Laymon holds the suspense as the characters go through the day anticipating the vampire show that evening. In Bite, he does the opposite, having the vampire show up in the very beginning. I will not summarize all of the plot so I don’t give too much away. I’ll just say there is a vampire and the main characters, Sammy and Cat, have to kill him and then find a way to dispose of the body so they are not accused of murder—though killing a vampire may seem justified, who will believe them that their murder victim was a vampire?

The novel opens when Sammy finds Cat at his door. She wants him to help her kill the vampire who has been attacking her for the last year. Sammy and Cat are in their late twenties and dated in high school. Vampires aside, their relationship is really the meat of the novel and what ends up most interesting to the reader. Sammy is the narrator throughout, and it is clear from the start that he has never gotten over Cat. He is still highly sexually attracted to her, and so he is very willing to help her get rid of a vampire and all the mess that results from it. Plus, unlike in The Traveling Vampire Show where Laymon shied away from actual sex scenes because his characters were teenagers, these adults are able to have plenty of sex, even at some of the most unlikely times.

Once the vampire, named Elliot, is killed, the disposal of the body fills the bulk of the novel. Sammy and Cat decide to bury the body out of state, and so begins a road trip that will be filled with disasters, violence, and many twists and turns. Laymon is a master at keeping the suspense going and the reader guessing what will happen next.

Anyone who likes a suspenseful ride will not be disappointed. I didn’t miss the lack of a (living) vampire throughout most of the novel simply because there was so much else to keep me interested.

My only complaint is that while we have a great villain, why does he have to be gay and a pervert? Sure, gay people can be villains, but they can be villainous bank robbers or counterfeiters or carjackers—instead, there seems to be a trend of them always being perverts, and I find that offensive. Such is also the case in Outlander, as I’ve written about previously. In any case, these gay characters end up being more like vampires than the vampires themselves, which perhaps is intended by the author. In that respect, we can say Laymon was a product of his time, and he may have been more sensitive had he written the book today. That said, homophobia has been at the heart of the Gothic at least since Bram Stoker’s time as many a literary critic of Dracula will tell you.

Regardless of its flaws, the story in Bite does what it sets out to do—entertains—and it entertains extremely well.

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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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Dracula’s Icelandic and Swedish Versions: Translation, Plagiarism, or Fan Fiction?

In 2017, the literary world and especially Dracula fans were stirred by the publication of Powers of Darkness, believed to be a lost version of Dracula. For years, scholars have known of the Icelandic version of Dracula, but they had assumed it was just a translation of Bram Stoker’s novel. The curious thing was that it included a preface signed by Stoker. However, then Dutch literary researcher Hans Corneel de Roos discovered the Icelandic edition was a very different version of the story. Theories floated around that somehow someone in Iceland got a copy of an early version of Stoker’s novel and published it. The reason to think the novel represented an earlier manuscript of Dracula was that the scenes in Dracula’s castle were longer, but the scenes in London shorter. The book itself was only about half the length of Dracula (Berghorn 3) and many of the characters not as developed.

Powers of Darkness is the 2017 translation into English of the Icelandic translation of Dracula. It reveals many surprising changes between the Dracula we know and the Dracula read in Iceland for over a century.

However, since the publication of Powers of Darkness in English, further research has revealed that the book was not based on one of Stoker’s earlier drafts of Dracula, but rather upon the Swedish “translation” of Dracula. Whoever rewrote/translated Powers of Darkness borrowed from the Swedish translation and the strange differences can then be traced to that translation. Surprisingly, the Swedish translation is also quite bizarre. It turns out to be almost twice as long as Stoker’s Dracula (Berghorn 3). Furthermore, the preface to the Icelandic version that was believed to have been written by Bram Stoker is a forgery. Not only did Stoker not write it, but large portions of it are plagiarized from a Swedish priest. It is highly unlikely a priest would write or edit this preface. Instead, pieces of it were lifted from the memoirs of the priest Bernhard Wadström (Roos 12), who in his memoirs had written an essay about ghost apparitions.

This fascinating discovery leaves us with the question: Where did the Swedish version of Dracula come from? Further exploration has made it clear that the novel is not simply an earlier version of Dracula that Stoker wrote. The author of the Swedish version embellished Stoker’s work, given that Stoker published Dracula in 1897 and references in the Swedish version to the Orlean conspiracy of 1898-9 post-date Dracula (Berghorn 15).

I will not detail how these discoveries were made, but rather, I recommend people read my sources listed at the end of this article.

Of more interest to me is why would someone choose to rewrite Dracula? The answers to that are difficult to know. Since Powers of Darkness (Makt Myrkranna, the Icelandic version) has been published in English, I can only hope that a translation of the Swedish version (Mörkrets makter) will also be soon published in English so more scholars can compare the Swedish version to Stoker’s text. It is possible that an earlier version of Dracula was the source for the Swedish rewrite, and scholars have already determined that if it was based on a draft, it had to be a draft that post-dates 1892. That said, it seems unlikely the Swedish author, whose version was serialized in June 1899 to Feb 1900, thought he or she was solely working from an unpublished manuscript and would not have known that Stoker had already published Dracula. While Dracula had not yet acquired the great fame it enjoys today, it was known internationally, so I would think word of its publication would have reached the Swedish translator/author. Plus, it seems unlikely the author would have let a version of the manuscript just sit around. If the author had acquired it in 1892 or shortly thereafter, why wouldn’t he or she have published it sooner, even before 1897? Therefore, it seems unlikely to me that the Swedish author was working from an earlier version of Dracula. Instead, I believe the Swedish author was working from Stoker’s published version and embellishing the story as he went, although the case remains open.

David J. Skal, in his recent biography of Stoker, Something in the Blood, suggests the Icelandic version might be considered as “unauthorized fan fiction” (Brundan, Jones, and Mier-Cruz 303). I don’t think it’s as simple as that, although it may be.

First, it is certainly possible that the Swedish author simply enjoyed Dracula and wanted to fill in parts of the story by expanding it. But why then did the Icelandic author shorten it? That is complicated. According to Wikipedia, ten days after the Icelandic Powers of Darkness was published in 2017:

“De Roos and Stoker [Dacre, Bram Stoker’s great-nephew] were contacted by Swedish fantasy fiction specialist Rickard Berghorn, who claimed that Makt myrkranna must be based on an earlier serialization in the Swedish newspaper Dagen (The Day) under the title Mörkrets makter (equally meaning Powers of Darkness), from 10 June 1899 to 7 February 1900. In his interview with De Roos, Berghorn stated that Mörkrets makter was much longer than the ca. 160,000 words of Stoker’s English Dracula, and—unlike Makt myrkranna—upheld the epistolary style known from Dracula throughout the novel. Checking these claims against scans he obtained directly from Stockholm, De Roos established that there must have existed two different Swedish variants. It soon turned out that the second serialization of Mörkrets makter, in the tabloid Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga (Evening Paper’s Half-Weekly), from 16 August 1899–31 March 1900, as first obtained by De Roos, had been shortened to ca. 107,000 words, while dropping the diary style after Part I. Dagen, the sister paper Aftonbladet, and the Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga were owned by the same publishing company with the same editor, Harald Sohlman; Dagen was a daily Stockholm newspaper while Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga was a tabloid published twice a week for rural areas.

Did Bram Stoker play any role in the publication and translation of his novel in Sweden and Iceland?

“As the structure of the Icelandic version corresponded to that of the abridged Halfvecko-Upplaga variant (same chapter titles, no epistolary format in Part II), De Roos concluded that Ásmundsson must have used the latter as his source text, replacing various cultural references with hints to Icelandic sagas, while shortening the text even further, to ca. 47,000 words.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness#M%C3%B6rkrets_makter)

Since the Icelandic author also made changes to the manuscript as he abridged it, both the Icelandic and Swedish authors/editors might be considered as writers of fan fiction. However, there are other possibilities beyond just writing fan fiction.

Second, given that both the Icelandic and Swedish versions were serialized, a very real and practical explanation is that the authors expanded or abridged the text to meet the demand of the newspapers, which in turn were trying to meet the demand of the reading public. This, in turn, raises questions about whether the authors thought they were improving Dracula in some way to make it more attractive, palpable, or acceptable to their readers. An April 23, 2017 article by Mark Branagan in Express (online edition) described the Swedish version as a “‘SEX and violence’ version of Dracula deemed too shocking for Victorian Britain.” Was the Swedish author trying to make the story more sensational so it would help to sell the newspaper in Sweden, which may not have been as sexually repressive as England at the time? Perhaps the Icelandic author had similar reasons.

Third, we are left wondering what if any role Stoker had in the production of either of these versions of his novel. Theories were presented of how a manuscript of Dracula got to Iceland before the discovery of the Swedish version, but those we can probably now cast aside. Theories about how a manuscript got to Sweden have also been put forth (Berghorn17-19). However, at this point, we do not know enough to do more than guess.

Currently, many questions remain. I am hopeful a translation in English of the Swedish version will be published so we can learn more. Recently, on December 22, 2019, on his Weird Webzine Facebook page, Berghorn announced an English translation of the (longer) Dagen serialization is upcoming and has been accepted by a well-known publishing house. According to information supplied by Swedish literature scholar Martin Andersson, Berghorn will address anglicisms in passages that did not appear in Stoker’s Dracula, thus suggesting that an (other) English text must have been the basis of the Swedish version  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness_(Sweden)).

Dracula fans and scholars and, indeed, all of the literary world eagerly wait for more answers.

 

Sources:

Berghorn, Rickard. “Dracula’s Way to Sweden: A Unique Version of Stoker’s Novel.” Weird Webzine: Fantasy and Surreality.  Was available August 19, 2020 at: http://weirdwebzine.com/draculitz.html. Site no longer active.

Brundan, Katy, Melanie Jones, and Benjamin Mier-Cruz. “Dracula or Draculitz?” Translation Forgery and Bram Stoker’s ‘Lost Version’ of Dracula.” Victorian Review. 45.2 (Fall 2019): 293-306. Available at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/757842

de Roos, Hans Corneel. “Was the Preface to the Swedish Dracula Written by a Priest?: Bernhard Wadström and the ‘White Lady.’” Available at: https://www.vamped.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/HansDeRoos-WadstroemCase-v17-25May2018-for-W-D-Day.pdf

Wikipedia. Powers of Darkness. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness

Wikipedia. Powers of Darkness (Sweden). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness_(Sweden)

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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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Bram Stoker’s Carpathian Sources for Dracula

Until recently, it has largely been believed that Stoker was most influenced by J. S. Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) to set Dracula in the Balkan region. It appears he originally intended to set the novel in Styria (in southeast Austria), where Carmilla is set; then he came across references to Vlad Tepes that may have inspired the character of Dracula, so Stoker changed the novel’s location to Transylvania.

However, Stoker was not the first author to set a vampire story in the Carpathians. It is worth noting here, that Transylvania, and Romania, has no vampire tradition, but rather has had one imposed upon it by Europeans, and most intensely so by Stoker in writing Dracula. See my past post Racism in Dracula: The Romanian Perspective, largely based on the work of Romanian scholar Cristina Artenie.

Bram Stoker, whose sources for Dracula are still debated by scholars 123 years after the novel’s publication.

Previously, I have blogged about Jules Verne’s novel The Carpathian Castle (1893) as a possible source for Dracula. According to scholar Raj Shah, there are striking similarities between the description of Dracula’s castle and that of Jules Verne (Shah, Raj. “Counterfeit Castles: The Age of Mechanical Reproduction in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Jules Verne’s Le Château des Carpathes.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 56.4 (2014): 428–71. p. 432-33). However, while similarities exist, Verne’s story is intensely dull and fails beside Dracula itself, so I cannot imagine it was much of an influence. If Stoker did read it, it could only have inspired him to write a better story.

More recently, it has been suggested that Stoker may have borrowed from an even earlier vampire story set in the Carpathian Mountains. This story, “The Mysterious Stranger,” was first published in Chambers Repository of Instructive and Amusing Tracts. Vol. 8, no. 62, 1854, pp. 1–32. I came across mention of this story in an essay by Katy Brundan, Melanie Jones, and Benjamin Mier-Cruz titled “Dracula or Draculitz?” Translation Forgery and Bram Stoker’s ‘Lost Version’ of Dracula” (Victorian Review, Vol 45, No. 2, Fall 2019, p. 293-306). The authors suggest that the reason Stoker chose the Carpathians was the result of his coming across this short story, and they argue as follows for it being a source for Dracula:

“But he [Stoker] stumbled instead upon an anonymous vampire tale set in Transylvania, which helped redirect the novel’s setting toward eastern Europe. Like Dracula, “The Mysterious Stranger” (1854) features an older, aristocratic vampire with “piercing” grey eyes and a sallow complexion who lives in a castle in the wolf-infested Carpathians (14). The very anonymity of ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ seems to have invited borrowing, which Stoker promptly did. The tale’s exact origins eluded researchers for decades, but we now know it is an unauthorized translation of Karl von Wachsmann’s Der Fremde (The Stranger), first published in his collection Erzählungen und Novellen (1844).

“In closely modelling the early portion of Dracula on an anonymous, pirated translation of a German story, Stoker created new textual life from a translated text whose ties to the original author had been severed. This example demonstrates how nineteenth-century mass culture’s parasitic consumption—a mirror of the vampire’s own insatiable appetite—depended in part on translational practices. Stoker’s unauthorized reproduction makes him complicit in the archive’s suppression of the German author responsible for many details of Dracula’s character, from the vampire’s “repulsive” but magnetic manner to his waving the wolf pack away with a hand (“Mysterious Stranger” 14).” (297).

While I was intrigued about the possibility that Stoker was inspired by “The Mysterious Stranger,” I thought the argument here of the work as an influence rather weak. Two characters having “piercing” eyes is not enough. As I’ve shown in my book The Gothic Wanderer, eyes that are piercing or more likely hypnotic are a frequent attribute of vampires and go back to depictions of the Wandering Jew. A sallow or pale complexion is common to most vampires in literature also—Stoker would have found such details in earlier British vampire stories like Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire (1846), and so that leads us to just the Carpathian setting and the wolves for similarities. That said, I do think the story’s influence possible; I just don’t feel enough evidence exists to make a strong argument for it.

Readers can draw their own conclusions by reading “The Mysterious Stranger” themselves; the full text can be found online at: https://souo.fandom.com/wiki/Full_Text:_Mysterious_Stranger. However, I will summarize the story here to draw a few conclusions of my own.

The story begins when Count Fahnenberg, an Austrian nobleman, is traveling to an estate he recently acquired in the Carpathians. Accompanying him are his nephew Franz, his daughter Franziska, and her friend Bertha. Franz appears romantically interested in Franziska, but she confides to Bertha that he is too effeminate for her. By contrast, Bertha is engaged to Woislaw, a military man, who is heroic and admirable in Franziska’s eyes. Woislaw is away fighting in the Turkish war, while Franz refused to go.

On their way to the count’s new estate, they fear being attacked by wolves whom they can hear crying in the distance, so they take shelter in some ruins said to be haunted. As the wolves grow closer, a stranger appears and, by a gesture, sends them off. The rescued do not learn the stranger’s name.

When they arrive at the count’s mansion, the party learns from the locals that the ruins they took shelter in are those of Klatka Castle, whose last lord was Azzo von Klatka, a despotic tyrant who was hanged by the peasants he had oppressed.

When the count’s party returns to visit the ruins, they again meet the stranger who saved them. They thank him for his help and the count invites him to visit them. Although he seems like a hermit and is rather sullen, the stranger agrees to do so at a later date.

Eventually, the stranger becomes a regular visitor and shows interest in Franziska. She likes the stranger, who reveals his name as Azzo (a hint he is the nobleman who was hung). Franz, however, sees the stranger as a rival. After the visits begin, Franziska falls ill and begins having a strange dream in which Azzo comes in a mist, kisses her throat, then vanishes in a mist. The next morning, her neck is red with blood. No one can explain her illness or the dream.

Then Bertha’s fiancé, Woislaw, arrives from the war with the Turks. He has lost a hand in the war and has a new one made of gold, which is very strong. He recognizes Franziska’s symptoms and attributes them to the stranger. When the stranger next visits, Franz challenges him to a duel. In a tense scene, Azzo picks up Franz like he was a baby, but Woislaw intervenes and makes him drop Franz through the great physical strength of his golden hand. Azzo, thinking Woislaw’s strength is supernatural, calls him “blood-brother,” apparently believing Woislaw a vampire like himself.

Woislaw now visits the ruins and finds Azzo sleeping in his tomb. Woislaw nails Azzo’s coffin shut and leaves a packet of nails on top of it. Then he brings Franziska there and tells her she must drive the three nails (stakes) through it. After she does so, he says liquid will flow from the coffin. She must dip her fingers in the blood and besmear it on the scratch at her throat.

Only after Franziska does all this and begins to heal does Woislaw reveal that Azzo was a vampire, which he knew from his own past experience with one. He says a vampire must be destroyed by the one who has been afflicted by him, which is why Franziska had to kill Azzo.

The story ends happily with a double wedding between Franziska and Franz and Woislaw and Bertha.

While “The Mysterious Stranger” does have similarities to Dracula, especially in the vampire having control over wolves, the story being set in the Carpathians, and the vampire appearing in a mist and disappearing, as well as it seeming to be like a dream, there is also much that is strange about it—primarily the insistence that the victim is the one who must kill the vampire. Perhaps if Stoker was influenced by the story, he decided to change this element of vampire lore since that would require both Lucy and Mina to kill the vampire. Why he would make such a change could be an entire article in itself, disputing whether it was to increase the action of the plot not to have Lucy kill Dracula, or whether it was considered too unfeminine for a woman to commit such an act of violence.

Dr. John Polidori, whose story, The Vampire, was a major influence on vampire fiction in both England and France.

One also has to wonder about the origins of “The Mysterious Stranger” itself. While Stoker thought the story was written by an anonymous person, the version he read was really an unauthorized translation of Karl Von Wachsmann’s story “The Stranger” first published in 1844, more than half a century before Dracula, and only a quarter of a century after the publication of Polidori’s The Vampyre, considered the first real European and definitely English vampire story. Polidori’s story was tremendously popular in Europe, being translated and adapted into plays and eventually inspiring countless vampire works. More research needs to be done on whether Von Wachsmann knew Polidori’s story or was inspired by other works that were themselves inspired by Polidori’s story, or whether he had independent vampire sources to draw upon. Little appears to be known in the English-speaking world about Wachsmann, who lived from 1787 to 1862 and appears to have been part of the German literary Romantic Movement. Only the French and German versions of Wikipedia have entries for him (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Adolf_von_Wachsmann) and the translations of the pages reveal little that tells us much about his literary works. Unfortunately, most of his works appear not to have been translated into English. “The Mysterious Stranger” appears to have been a rare translation.

Certainly, the path to the creation of Dracula remains as mysterious as Dracula himself.

Poster for the Italian version of the The Curse of the Karnsteins starring Christopher Lee. It is doubtful this film was in any way influenced by “The Mysterious Stranger.”

As a side note, according to Wikipedia, the Italian film La cripta e l’incubo (The Curse of the Karnsteins) (1962), starring Christopher Lee as Count Ludwig von Karnstein, may have been influenced by “The Mysterious Stranger,” although Wikipedia admits that the film is more closely based on Le Fanu’s Carmilla. I watched the film recently (available on Amazon prime) and will say that I see absolutely no resemblance between the film and “The Mysterious Stranger,” but the Carmilla influence is obvious. “The Mysterious Stranger,” however, might make a very good film in its own right.

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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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Rookwood: The Gothic Family Plot Taken to the Extreme

William Harrison Ainsworth’s 1834 novel Rookwood took the literary world by storm in its day, and although it is largely forgotten now, its influence lingers on in much better known works of literature.

William Harrison Ainsworth, painted by Daniel Maclise

In Rookwood, Ainsworth wanted to write a Gothic novel in the style of Walpole and Radcliffe, but at the same time, he was heavily influenced by the rise of the historical novel, particularly by Sir Walter Scott, and so he set the novel in England in the reign of George II in 1737. This decision was also partly made because of his long-time interest in the famous highwayman Dick Turpin, who figures as a main character in the novel, and reflects the influence of the Newgate novels of the time, novels which focused upon criminals.

Anne Williams, in her book Art of Darkness: The Poetics of Gothic, has said “Gothic plots are family plots; Gothic romance is family” (22-3). Nothing could be truer of Rookwood, which has one of the most complex family inheritance storylines of any novel ever written.

The novel opens at the manor of Rookwood Place. The owner Sir Piers Rookwood has recently died after a bough of an ancient tree is found on the ground. Family legend says a death always follows the dropping of a branch from the tree. Sir Piers’ son Ranulph is believed to be the true heir to Rookwood Place, but Peter Bradley, the estate’s keeper, reveals to his grandson Luke Bradley that he is really Sir Piers’ legitimate and oldest son. Sir Piers had married Peter Bradley’s daughter, and Peter brings Luke into the family vault to show him his mother’s body and even the hand bearing the wedding ring. In a grotesque moment, Luke takes his mother’s hand and ring as proof of his legitimate birth. Not surprisingly, we also learn Luke’s parents were married by a Jesuit priest, Father Checkley. The Gothic loved to pick on Catholics, and the Jesuits were frequently manipulative plotters in Gothic storylines, especially in Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew (1846). Rookwood, however, may be the first use of Jesuits in a Gothic plot.

Peter Bradley now plots to marry Luke to his cousin Eleanor Mowbray, the daughter of Sir Piers’ sister. However, Ranulph is also in love with Eleanor. Luke is not interested in Eleanor at first. Rather, he has been raised by gypsies and is in love with a young gypsy named Sybil Lovel. At his grandfather’s insistence on the marriage to Eleanor, however, Luke finally gives way.

Eleanor Mowbray comes to Rookwood Place with her mother for Sir Piers’ funeral and under the belief she will marry Ranulph. However, their carriage is waylaid and they find themselves among the gypsies. Dick Turpin, at this point, intercedes to help Luke marry Eleanor. However, at the ceremony performed among the gypsies, Luke is fooled into marrying Sybil. Sybil, realizing Luke does not love her, kills herself. Sybil’s grandmother then takes revenge by poisoning a lock of Sybil’s hair and giving it to Luke, which eventually results in his death.

Rookwood’s cover page

After Luke’s death, Peter Bradley reveals that he is really Alan Rookwood, the brother of Reginald Rookwood, the father of Piers. (This makes the family tree extremely complicated since Luke’s parents were first cousins and he also has attempted to marry his first cousin.) Ranulph’s mother, Maud, who has been scheming for her son, now manages to find herself accidentally locked inside the family tomb with Peter Bradley, in one of the most terrifying moments in the novel as they realize they will die before they are ever found. In the end, Ranulph and Eleanor, the only surviving members of the family, marry.

The plot is more complicated than my summary, and it includes a long chase of Dick Turpin by the law, which goes on for many chapters and was said to thrill readers, although the modern reader wonders why Dick is really in the novel at all and wants to get back to the dysfunctional family plot.

The novel would win no awards for subtlety or even style, but it is a rousing good story for the most part. It is sensational and at times gory—who would want to carry around their long-dead mother’s hand? It is also amoral. The reader is not clear whom to cheer for. At times, it seems like Ainsworth is on Luke’s side as the rightful heir, but critic Stephen Carver in his article “The Design of Romance: Rookwood, Scott, and the Gothic,” argues that Luke’s fatal flaw is his lust for power, property, and revenge for his mother, which is why he fails in the end. Furthermore, Luke is driven on by his grandfather’s own desire for revenge upon the family—his own family.

As stated earlier, Ainsworth’s goal was to write a novel like Radcliffe. In the novel’s 1849 preface, he states, “I resolved to attempt a story in the bygone style of Mrs. Radcliffe,—which had always inexpressible charms for me,—substituting an old English squire, an old English manorial residence, and an old English highwayman, for the Italian marchese, the castle, and the brigand of the great mistress of Romance.” He succeeded in doing so, and notably, like Mrs. Radcliffe, he shies away from any actual supernatural events, although at times the characters think supernatural things are happening, and there are both family curses and legends and contradicting curses and legends. Like Mrs. Radcliffe, Ainsworth also sprinkles poetry throughout the novel, most of it in the form of songs, many of them about highwaymen and of questionable merit—Mrs. Radcliffe was no great poet herself. The songs tend to delay the action for the modern reader, but they have some charm.

The Bridal scene by George Cruikshank who did several illustrations for the novel.

Sir Walter Scott’s influence is prevalent in the novel’s historical setting in England—one of the first Gothic novels to be set in England rather than abroad. Ainsworth is less interested, however, in the historical drama of the period that Scott tried to depict in his own works. Stephen Carver, in the article referenced above, argues that Scott’s poetry was a greater influence on Ainsworth than his fiction.

Having just reread Notre-Dame de Paris, which was the subject of my last blog post, Victor Hugo’s novel was strongly in my mind as I read Rookwood, and consequently, I felt the influence of Hugo throughout. Given that Notre-Dame de Paris was published in French in 1831 and in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1833, it is very likely Ainsworth read the novel before or while writing Rookwood. Furthermore, Ainsworth references Hugo in his preface along with several other authors, stating:

“The chief object I had in view in making the present essay was to see how far the infusion of a warmer and more genial current into the veins of old Romance would succeed in reviving her fluttering and feeble pulses. The attempt has succeeded beyond my most sanguine expectation. Romance, if I am not mistaken, is destined shortly to undergo an important change. Modified by the German and French writers—by Hoffman, Tieck, Hugo, Dumas, Balzac, and Paul Lecroix (le Bibliophile Jacob)—the structure commenced in our own land by Horace Walpole, Monk Lewis, Mrs. Radcliffe, and Maturin, but left imperfect and inharmonious, requires, now that the rubbish which choked up its approach is removed, only the hand of the skilful architect to its entire renovation and perfection.”

It is noteworthy here that Ainsworth does not list Scott among the English writers of romance. Of course, that is not to say all these writers were influences upon Ainsworth since he wrote the preface in 1849, fifteen years after the novel was first published, and Dumas, for example, did not begin publishing until a few years after the novel’s publication. However, Hugo’s influence seems highly likely, especially since after the novel was published, Ainsworth was praised as “The English Victor Hugo” (Carver p. 4).

Turpin’s Flight Through Edmonton, also by Cruikshank

While the comparison to Hugo may be general because Ainsworth had written a popular Gothic and historical novel like Hugo, the influence seems more apparent in the sort of lack of a moral to the work, just as Hugo’s novel, as I argued in my previous blog post, presents an existential or amoral viewpoint. Certainly, Ranulph seems no more moral than Luke, and Luke has more reason to behave in dastardly ways because of his being cheated from his inheritance. None of the characters are overly moral, but the theme of revenge does suggest Luke fails due to his lust for property, as Carver suggests. In any case, as with Notre-Dame de Paris, we are left with bodies littering the novel’s pages and most of the characters dead because of their inability to control their passions. As scholar Heather Glen states, Dick Turpin, Luke, and other Newgate heroes seem driven to break the law to right the injustices of society (Glen xxii), and Luke here believes himself wronged and trying to right that wrong. This position of the hero also makes him an outcast in society, a type of Gothic wanderer, who is not a transgressor, but rather feels society has transgressed against him, and consequently, he must transgress against society to right the first transgression.

As for Rookwood’s influence, one has to wonder if the revenge theme played into the creation of Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Dumas’ Edmond Dantes also seeks revenge after being wronged. He just carries it out far more intelligently than Luke does.

More definitely, the novel influenced the works of Charlotte and Emily Brontë. In her introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Charlotte Brontë’s Tales of Angria, Heather Glen discusses Rookwood’s influence on the Angria stories. She says the character of Henry Hastings in the stories is an ironic treatment of Rookwood (Glen xxiii). In my opinion, Jane Eyre also well may have been influenced by Rookwood. The gypsies who are primary characters in Rookwood may have inspired Mr. Rochester dressing up as a gypsy in Jane Eyre. Notably, Brontë has Jane call this supposed gypsy a “Sybil,” which is the name of the primary gypsy character in Rookwood. Of course, the name is also appropriate since a Sybil can foresee the future and Brontë’s fake gypsy claims to be a fortune teller. Furthermore, while Sybil in Rookwood does not appear to be prophetic, the novel has several prophecies, one of which Sybil helps to fulfill.

Even more so, in reading Rookwood, one cannot help thinking of Wuthering Heights. The complicated family relationships of Rookwood all relate to a family fight over who will inherit the property. It is interesting that Luke has to prove himself the legitimate heir. Critics have often speculated that in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff may be Mr. Earnshaw’s bastard child. Heathcliff is also referred to as a gypsy in the novel since his origins are unknown. Luke was himself raised by the gypsies. Like Luke, Heathcliff tries to gain control of the family property. However, Heathcliff succeeds where Luke fails. Regardless, in the end, Heathcliff dies and the property returns to the only two remaining descendants of the Earnshaws and Lintons. Similarly, in Rookwood, the only remaining family members inherit the property. Emily Brontë must have had Rookwood in the back of her mind and simplified the family plot while also whitewashing the taint of illegitimacy from the novel enough just to hint at it for Heathcliff rather than make it blatant.

The Vault by Sir John Gilbert

Finally, I can’t help wondering if the creators of the Gothic TV soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971) were influenced by Rookwood. The house in the series is named Collinwood—is the similar name a coincidence? There is no plot of fighting over the inheritance of the property, but the series chronicles the Collins family over two centuries. Most notably, in the episodes set in 1897, there are gypsy characters, a dismembered hand of great power (which recalls Luke’s mother’s hand), and a family curse. The very complicated family tree of the series also reflects the complicated, multigenerational family tree of Rookwood.

Rookwood has been almost forgotten today, but it is a notable link in the chain of Gothic literature between Radcliffe and Scott and later writers like Dickens, George W. M. Reynolds, and the Brontës. I hope this article helps to create renewed interest in Rookwood and all of Ainsworth’s works.

(For other reviews at The Gothic Wanderer of Ainsworth’s work, visit Auriol, or the Elixir of Life and The Lancashire Witches.)

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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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Gothic Existentialism in Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris

Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), better known to English readers as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, due to the title chosen by Frederic Shoberl for his 1833 translation of the novel into English, is a curious book that can’t quite decide if it’s a novel, an exposé on fifteenth-century Paris, or a treatise on medieval architecture. For the modern reader, the result is impatience, some boredom, and a surprise because the story is not at all what one expects as a result of all the extratextual materials available. But most importantly for our purposes here, it is a key text in Gothic literature.

Frollo and Quasimodo in the 1996 Disney film

Let me clarify that by extratextual, I mean all of the extra materials inspired by the book, including the films, comic books, and cameo appearances of the Hunchback (his name is Quasimodo, though it is generally forgotten) in a variety of horror-related films and TV series. For example, in the 1996 TV film The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas, the Hunchback shows up to the Christmas party as part of The Munsters’ extended family. However, most of us probably know the Hunchback best from one of the many film productions, including the 1923 silent film with Lon Chaney, the 1939 film with Charles Laughton, the 1982 TV film with Anthony Hopkins, and the 1996 Disney animated film, which later was adapted into a more Gothic musical in Germany, and whose English cast album was released in 2015. All of these many versions cause people to believe they know the story, but Hugo’s original tale has been bastardized, romanticized, and deeply changed in most of these versions, including a frequently happy ending where Esmeralda rides off with Phoebus into the sunset. Hugo’s version is far darker, and perhaps less to our taste today, but it is still worth reading for its Gothic elements and its philosophy about life.

The story behind the novel is that Hugo was hired in November 1828 to write a two volume novel in the style of Sir Walter Scott. In 1823, he had favorably reviewed Scott’s Quentin Durward (according to A. J. Krailshemer’s “Introduction” to the Oxford World Classics’ edition). Scott’s influence is obvious in the historical elements of Notre-Dame de Paris, and yet, at the end of his life, Hugo denied ever writing a historical novel. That is not to say he disowned the book, but that he did not see it as historical. This is surprising given the novel’s many historical elements and Hugo’s great efforts to create an accurate depiction of the book’s physical and historical setting, but he obviously saw the novel’s Gothic and Romantic elements as more important than the historical ones. According to Krailshemer, while generally appreciative of Scott’s work, as his review of Quentin Durward shows, “Hugo regretted the absence of a truly epic dimension, a broadly sweeping view which would give the narrative some deeper meaning.”

The novel’s most overwhelming Gothic element is the cathedral itself. It is the equivalent of the discovered manuscript in most Gothic novels. Hugo wrote the novel largely to create interest in the cathedral and to help restore it. Throughout the novel, he talks about the importance of preserving architecture, and he even discusses how the printing press has killed architecture (in Book V, Chapter 2, “This Will Kill That”). Hugo argues that the great buildings of the past, especially cathedrals, were the books of their day, because they told stories, made statements, and generally educated the population in religion, politics, and history. The novel begins with Hugo claiming to have discovered an inscription in the cathedral, a Greek word, which he later claims was removed. I suspect the inscription is completely fictional and Hugo is here using a fictional technique to give authenticity to his tale. In fact, we learn Claude Frollo incised the word on the wall with a pair of compasses (Book 7, Chapter 4). This word is ’ANÁΓKH, and in the novel’s context, it appears to mean fate, compulsion, or determinism. While Christianity teaches that humans have free will, the novel ultimately shows that all the characters play out what are their natural propensities, unable to resist their natural passions or desires that ultimately lead to their destruction. We see this in how Frollo’s obsession with Esmeralda undoes his reason; we see it in how despite Frollo’s efforts to raise Jehan in a moral way, Jehan becomes a wastrel; we see it in how Esmeralda’s passion for Phoebus causes her to stupidly reveal her hiding place to the soldiers, thus leading to her execution, and we see it in Quasimodo, whose love for Esmeralda causes him to kill Frollo, the only one who loves him, and then to end his own life by burying himself in the tomb with Esmeralda, even though his love for her has been unrequited, as is the case with all the love in the novel. Indeed, not one character in the novel has his or her love returned, although most of the characters do feel love for someone. Ultimately, while the novel can be described as Gothic, historical, or Romantic, in many ways it feels like a precursor to the Naturalist movement of writers like Emile Zola.

Victor Hugo claimed he never wrote a historical novel.

But Notre-Dame de Paris’ role as Gothic literature is what most interests us here. A look at the three main characters, Claude Frollo, Esmeralda, and Quasimodo, will highlight the way Hugo effectively uses Gothic elements to create his dramatic and somewhat existential tale. Existential because, in the end, one has to wonder if the novel has any meaning other than to show the inability of the characters to create any sort of meaning and to show that the world is ultimately devoid of any supernatural forces, benevolent or sinister, to aid or even sympathize with humans, despite their religious beliefs.

 

Claude Frollo

Although later editions of the novel were named for Quasimodo, The Archdeacon of Notre Dame would perhaps be a more accurate title for the book because everything that happens in the novel begins with actions set into motion by Claude Frollo, Notre Dame’s Archdeacon.

Claude has many of the aspects of the Gothic Wanderer figure. Indeed, all three of the best known characters, Claude, Esmeralda the gypsy, and Quasimodo the hunchback, are Gothic Wanderer figures. Because Claude is our villain, however, he is the truest Gothic wanderer. He is strict in his religious beliefs, and yet incapable of overcoming his baser nature. Hugo develops his character early on by telling us what the people of Paris say about him, expressing their beliefs that he is a sorcerer. In time, we learn he is not, but he is obsessed with alchemy, which was aligned with sorcery in the medieval mind. Among Hugo’s inspirations for the novel was Henri Sauval’s Histoire et recherches des antiquités de la ville de Paris (1724). Among other things, Sauval mentions the statues and figures in Notre Dame and other buildings that alchemists associate with the mystery of finding the philosopher’s stone. Frollo is obsessed with learning the secret of the philosopher’s stone, which could allegedly turn lead into gold. In Gothic fiction, this secret is believed to be known to the Rosicrucians, and while Hugo does not mention the Rosicrucians, he may have been influenced by this aspect of the Gothic novel. Further research would be needed to learn if he had read such Rosicrucian novels as William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799), whose main character acquires the philosopher’s stone. However, it has been speculated that Hugo was himself a Rosicrucian or a member of some other similar secret order. This would not be surprising since his contemporary, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, was a Rosicrucian and the author of the Rosicrucian novel Zanoni (1842).

Frollo is an alchemist determined to discover how to create gold. He is obsessed with the gold of sunbeams and believes that in them lies the secret. However, the act of creating gold was itself considered a transgression against God. It was seeking to overturn the laws of nature and considered forbidden knowledge. The possession of such a stone would allow the owner to introduce gold into circulation, which would upset nations’ economies and also enrich the owner, giving him power to become a world leader. Such is the situation St. Leon experiences in Godwin’s novel (I discuss St. Leon in depth in my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption). Consequently, Frollo is committing a transgression through his alchemy efforts.

Frollo is so gung ho in these efforts that he goes to the house of Nicolas Flamel, who has died decades earlier, but was reputedly an alchemist himself. There Frollo occupies himself in:

Frollo and Quasimodo in the 1923 film.

“turning over the earth in the two cellars whose buttresses had been daubed with countless verses and hieroglyphs by Nicolas Flamel himself. Flamel was supposed to have buried the philosophers’ stone in these cellars and the alchemists for two hundred years, from Magistri to Father Pacifique, did not cease from tossing the soil about until the house, so roughly excavated and ransacked, finally turned to dust beneath their feet.” (Book 4, Chapter 5)

Frollo’s quest for forbidden knowledge eventually draws the attention of King Louis XI, who comes to him in secret, and together, they debate on astrology, medicine, and alchemy. The king thinks Frollo mad, but he needs money, so he wants to find the philosopher’s stone and they frequently talk after that. Frollo tells King Louis “to make gold is to be god. That is the only science.” (Book 5, Chapter 1) That Frollo wishes to be God is itself a transgression—the ultimate transgression of pride, which caused Lucifer’s fall from heaven.

Frollo’s quest for forbidden knowledge takes a new turn when he begins to lust over Esmeralda, who represents another type of forbidden knowledge because as a member of the clergy, Frollo has taken a vow of chastity, so the knowledge of sex is also forbidden to him.

I will pass over the details of Frollo’s attempts to deride and also seduce Esmeralda, but his interest in her transforms him metaphorically into a type of supernatural being. As he realizes the lust he has for her, a woman and a gypsy whom he should otherwise abhor, he realizes the relationship between love and hate, and how his position in society has caused him to turn love into hate.

“As he thus delved into his soul, when he saw what spacious provision nature had made in it for passions, he laughed all the more bitterly. He stirred up all the hatred, all the malice in his innermost heart, and recognized, with the cool eye of a physician examining a patient, that this hatred and malice was nothing but vitiated love; that love, source of every human virtue, could, in a priest’s heart, turn into something horrible, and that a man constituted like him, by becoming a priest became a devil. Then he gave a dreadful laugh, and suddenly paled again as he contemplated the most sinister aspect of his fatal passion, of that corrosive, poisonous, hateful, implacable love whose only outcome had been the gallows for one of them, hell for the other: she condemned, he damned.” (Book 9, Chapter 1)

We can almost feel sorry for Frollo here. Had he not had to take his unnatural vow of chastity, he could have married and had release from his lust. Had he sought after good things rather than the philosopher’s stone, he might not have isolated himself from mankind. Now his love for Esmeralda has made him into a devil, a type of supernatural being. Esmeralda recognizes this when he visits her in her cell, calling him a “monster.” In response, he begs for mercy:

“‘Mercy! mercy!’ murmured the priest, pressing his lips to her shoulders.

“She seized his bald head in both hands by his remaining hair, and strove to ward off his kisses as if they had been bites.

“‘Mercy!’ the wretched man repeated. ‘If you knew what my love for you is like! It’s fire, molten lead, thousands of knives in my heart!’

“And he held her arms still with superhuman strength. Distraught, she said: ‘Let me go, or I’ll spit in your face!’

“He let her go: ‘Degrade me, hit me, be vicious! Do whatever you like! But mercy! love me!’”

(Book 9, Chapter 6)

Here we see how Esmeralda has Frollo under her spell as if she is the one with the supernatural power, and he must beg mercy from her, yet she calls him a monster and she avoids his kisses as if they are bites, and just a few lines later, she does call him a “vampire.” He meanwhile holds her with superhuman strength—an attribute Quasimodo also shares.

Later, in one of the novel’s most vividly Gothic scenes, Pierre Gringoire (Esmeralda’s playwright husband) and Frollo try to rescue her and escape with her on a boat. Frollo is disguised by a hood and long robe, so that Esmeralda does not know him. As he rows the boat, he fills her with fear:

“He could be dimly seen in the bows of the boat, like a spectre in the dark. His hood, still lowered, had the effect of a kind of mask, and each time he opened his arms as he rowed, with the wide black sleeves hanging down, they looked like two huge batwings.” (Book 11, Chapter 1). Readers of classical literature here might liken him to Charon, who ferries the dead to hell, but more modern readers will think of the Phantom of the Opera, ferrying Christine to his underground cavern. The bat wings also again stir up the idea of a vampire here.

Finally, Frollo carries another mark of the Gothic wanderer: The Mark of Cain. In the Bible, God curses Cain by placing a mark on his forehead after he murders his brother. In Gothic literature, the Wandering Jew also frequently has a mark on his forehead for his transgression in refusing to let Chris rest on the way to Calvary. However, Frollo’s Mark of Cain is largely undeserved. Krailshemer says, “Frollo, now raving mad and made more so by the news of Jehan’s death, indirectly caused by his rejection of his brother, has to bear the mark of Cain to add to all his other crimes.” (However, Jehan is a drunkard and Frollo has simply refused to give him more money and support his bad habits—we would call it tough love today.) Later, Jehan joins the attack on the cathedral to rescue Esmeralda, which Quasimodo mistakes as an attempt to capture and kill her, so he ends up killing Jehan during the attack. Frollo learns of his brother’s death but does not seem to know Quasimodo killed Jehan.

Frollo himself plants the mark upon his forehead, talking to himself in horror after he learns of his brother’s death:

“He fell silent for a moment, then went on, as though talking to himself, in a loud voice: ‘Cain, what have you done with your brother?’ There was another silence, then he continued: ‘What have I done with him, Lord? I took him in, I brought him up, I fed him, I loved him, I idolized him, and I killed him! Yes, Lord, they have just now dashed his head before my eyes against the stones of your house, and it is because of me, because of this woman, because of her….’” (Book 11, Chapter 1).

After Frollo dies, and Quasimodo has been seen sending him to his death, we are told:

Many rumours went round concerning this incident. There was no doubt in people’s minds that the day had come when, in accordance with their pact, Quasimodo, that is the devil, was to carry off Claude Frollo, that is the sorcerer. It was supposed that he had shattered the body as he took the soul, as monkeys break the shell to eat the nut.

That is why the archdeacon was not interred in consecrated ground. (Book 11, Chapter 3)

This is the final suggestion of Frollo’s supernatural nature and again links him to vampires because he cannot rest in consecrated ground.

 

Esmeralda

Esmeralda is herself a type of Gothic wanderer, as are gypsies for being outcasts of society. The Parisians even go so far as to make Esmeralda nonhuman, believing she is a “supernatural” creature, and comparing her to a salamander, a nymph, and a goddess (Book 2, Chapter 3). Of course, all these words are translations from the French, but the supernatural element is still there. However, little does Esmeralda realize she is even an outcast among the outcasts, for she is not even a gypsy but a French child stolen from its mother.

Quasimodo and Esmeralda played by Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara in the 1939 film.

In Book VIII, Chapter 3, Esmeralda is even referred to as a “vampire” because she is a gypsy and consequently must be a child-stealer. Krailshemer translates the French as “vampire” but the word is actually “stryga,” which can also mean witch. In Albanian folklore, the styrga is a vampiric witch that sucks the blood of children. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shtriga)

Ironically, Esmeralda is cursed by her own mother, who calls her a child-stealer because she is a gypsy and because her own child was stolen by gypsies, only to learn later that Esmeralda is the child who was stolen. Esmeralda’s mother then tries to hide her when she is being pursued so she can be hanged. Esmeralda, however, believes she hears the voice of Phoebus, the man she loves, calls out his name, and thereby reveals her whereabouts, thus leading to her capture and eventual death. Her inability to overcome her passion for Phoebus, who is anything but a hero, and nothing more than a womanizer, brings about her downfall. While her love for Phoebus is not described as lust in the way Frollo’s love for Esmeralda is, it amounts to the same thing—both characters bring about their own downfall because of their inability to control their human desires.

 

Quasimodo

Quasimodo, like Esmeralda, is also an outcast, not because of his race but because of his deformity. Later, however, we will learn he is a gypsy child, traded like a halfing child, for a French child, which also implies a supernatural element, since halfings were the children of fairies traded for human children. His name itself means “half-made” suggesting like halflings he is only half-human. At the same time, Quasimodo is described as the child of a “sow” and a “Jew” (Book 4, Chapter 1), making him half-animal as well as half-human, though being part-Jewish would make him even less than half-human since in the Middle Ages, Jews were believed to have horns and be akin to the devil.

Later, Quasimodo displays superhuman, though not supernatural powers. Besides his incredible strength, he is very nimble and able to climb up the façade of the cathedral (Book 4, Chapter 3), which the modern reader will see as resembling the skills of Spiderman and which also is a precursor to Count Dracula. In fact, we have here the seeds of the future superhero character embedded in the Gothic.

That Quasimodo was adopted by Frollo, believed to be a sorcerer, adds to his supernatural nature. The people of Paris claim Quasimodo must serve Frollo for a set number of years, and then he will be given a soul, in a sort of reverse Faustian pact.

In an extended passage, Hugo describes Frollo and Quasimodo’s relationship:

“We must say, however, that the sciences of Egypt, necromancy, magic, even of the whitest and most innocent kind, had no enemy more relentless, no one who denounced them more inexorably to the officiality of Notre-Dame. Whether this was from genuine horror or the play-acting of the thief shouting: ‘Stop thief!’, it did not prevent the archdeacon being regarded by the learned heads in the chapter as a soul who had ventured into the antechamber of hell, lost in the caverns of the Kabbala, groping in the darkness of the occult sciences. The people made no mistake about it either; for anyone with a little sense Quasimodo was the demon, Claude Frollo the sorcerer. It was obvious that the bell-ringer had to serve the archdeacon for a given time, at the end of which he would carry off his soul by way of payment.” (Book 4, Chapter 5)

In short, Frollo is Faust to Quasimodo’s Mephistopheles.

While their bond is not supernatural in truth, Quasimodo does reverence Frollo for how the man saved him. However, both Frollo and Quasimodo have a love for Esmeralda that supersedes their love for each other. Indeed, there seems to be something Oedipal or Freudian here. Quasimodo seeks to kill his father-figure to be with the woman his father desires, although calling Esmeralda a mother figure might be going too far. In any case, after Quasimodo sends Frollo to his death, Quasimodo cries out, “Oh! all I have loved!” (Book 11, Chapter 2) in the realization that everyone he has loved is dead.

In the end, Quasimodo makes his way to the sepulcher where Esmeralda is buried, and there he wraps his fingers around hers and gives up his life so he can spend eternity with her, although she is dead and unable to know he is there with her.

The death of Claude Frollo, an early illustration.

 

Existential Ending

In the end, love is unrequited for all the characters, and all the characters have let their love or lust lead to their committing actions that have brought about their deaths.

Hugo has created a fatalistic world. There is no free will in it, for the characters are unable to stop themselves from acting as they do. Instead, we might call Hugo’s novel an early example of naturalism, and in the end, it is a very existential novel as well.

While earlier Gothic novels, even while often deriding Catholicism, worked within a Christian structure where the good are rewarded and the bad punished, it is too simplistic to describe anyone in this novel as good or bad. Even Frollo, who is the villain if there is one, had kind intentions in raising his brother after his parents had died and in caring for Quasimodo when no one else would. Yet in the end, any good in his nature is overcome by his uncontrollable lust. Despite the setting in Notre Dame, there is little about God in this novel. As Krailshemer says, “The most notable omission from the book is Christianity.” Consequently, what makes the novel most Gothic of all is the horror that life is meaningless and no matter what we do, death is the end. None of the characters go to their graves repenting their sins or having hope in redemption.

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

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Superheroes and the Gothic

Book Reveals Shortcomings in Annotated Editions of Dracula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Dracula, Literary Criticism

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

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

There rises an unspeakable desire

After the knowledge of our buried life;

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force

In tracing out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire

Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us—to know

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

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

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

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

The Scholar-Gipsy as Wanderer

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

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

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

An early edition of “The Scholar-Gipsy”

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

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

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

For what wears out the life of mortal men?

’Tis that from change to change their being rolls:

’Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,

Exhaust the energy of strongest souls

And numb the elastic powers.

Till having used our nerves with bliss and teen,

And tired upon a thousand schemes our wit,

To the just-pausing Genius we remit

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

 

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

Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire;

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

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

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

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

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

The Speaker’s Reaction

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

And once, in winter, on the causeway chill

Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,

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

Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,

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

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

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

But what—I dream! Two hundred years are flown

Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls,

And the grave Glanvil did the tale inscribe

That thou wert wander’d from the studious walls

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

And thou from earth art gone

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

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

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

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

And then we suffer!  and amongst us one,

Who most has suffer’d, takes dejectedly

His seat upon the intellectual throne;

And all his store of sad experience he

Lays bare of wretched days;

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

And how the dying spark of hope was fed,

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

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

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

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

‘Bounded by themselves and unregardful

In what state God’s other works may be,

In their own tasks all their powers pouring,

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

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

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

 

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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