Arranged Marriage Perfect Juxtapose in Gothic Twister: An Interview with bestselling author Michelle M. Pillow

Today I’m pleased to host Michelle M. Pillow, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Forget Me Not, previously reviewed on this blog, and numerous other Gothic, romance, and shapeshifter novels.

How long have you been writing professionally?

My first paranormal romance was published in 2004 under the title The Mists of Midnight. It has since been revised and was just re-released under the title Forget Me Not.

michellepillowHow many novels have you published?

Over 100.

Wow. What’s your secret for producing so much? Do you write on a specific schedule?

I wish there was a magic formula I could share, but it comes down to hard work. I treat writing like a career—one that I love, but one that demands a lot of work and dedication due to the competitive nature of the business. It’s a full-time-plus job that I’m always doing.

At any given time I’ll have several projects in various stages. Some are in the planning and research stage. Others are being written. Then others will be with editors. Then there are aspects of being a professional author that people often forget about—namely marketing and promotions. It’s not all book signings and appearances, either. I’ve had to learn how to build websites and run online ad campaigns, and build graphics. It’s a balancing act, and there are times where I’m up until 3 a.m. just to make a deadline.

All that said, I absolutely love my job. To be a writer, I think that’s important. You have to love it, feel it inside of you as something you have to do, or this industry and the sacrifices it demands will wear you down fast.

Are all your books in the same genre?

As a writer, I love to tell a story and not be limited by one time period or genre, so you’ll see a variety of books under my name. When I create characters and the worlds they live in, I like to set them down and throw things at them, and then just let them react the way their personalities and histories would dictate. I often never know how a story is going to end when I start it.

Which authors inspire you?

In high school, I loved the section of the library where I’d find books that hadn’t been checked out for decades. This ended up being a lot of the literary classics—Austen, Bronte, Dumas, James Fenimore Cooper, and Tolstoy. Pride and Prejudice is still a favorite. The romantic in me loves the courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth, including his not-so-well-done first marriage proposal. These books were like little buried treasures I’d read on my lunch breaks. I have always loved history and, ultimately, went to college to study it, and these books afforded a peek into historical lives and struggles.

Later, I discovered Steinbeck, including his travelogue, Travels with Charley: In Search of America. His insights into the wide variety of people he met, and into the universal feeling people had in longing to be somewhere else, anywhere but where they were, spoke to me, as I began to consider my own characters and their motivations.

Many of my books have historical and/or paranormal influences, even if they are not strictly historically set. Some of the stories that inspire me have inspired many, including Shelley and Stoker, along with various other Gothic writers and ideas. I find the Victorian notions of vampires entertaining and very in line with societal beliefs at the time—including not being able to enter a home without an invitation, which reflected the social art of how to properly call on a person’s home and receive guests as a way to safeguard decent people from evil. Edgar Allan Poe was another author I enjoyed, especially the mental breakdown in “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

In your latest novel Forget Me Not, arranged marriage is the pretense for the story, which offers up all kinds of stringent gender roles. Was it a conscious decision to do that?

Arranged marriages in the 1800s are simply a continuation of a phenomena that had been around since ancient times. Marriage was seen as a logical choice, from the desire to make advantageous matches for a family that were both financially sound and socially acceptable. It was with the Victorians that the idea of romantic love really started to take real hold. Consider for a moment Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; theirs is recognized as a love match. Forget Me Not is set during the Regency period, in a world that really marks a time of change between the thought processes of the Middle Ages to modern day society as we recognize it. Now, we would hardly think it acceptable (and rightly so) that a woman belonged first to her father, and then to her husband, including her belongings.

To be honest, though, arranged marriages create the perfect backdrop for romance and conflict to happen.

Does your main character Isabel Drake rebel against protocol?

Absolutely! Unlike her meeker younger sister, Jane, Isabel cares less about being a good and dutiful daughter, and wants more out of life than to marry for money and comfort. The book takes place in 1812 when marriages weren’t necessarily always arranged, but they were treated as more of a business decision than simply off the basis of love and desire. The general opinion was that women needed a breadwinner, and men wanted a woman who could take care of the home and children. Marriages became more of a partnership agreement, often instigated or encouraged by families.

As an interesting fact, in regards to a woman being the property of her husband, in 1882 the Married Women’s Property Act became law to allow a woman to own presents given to her. True story.

Dougal Weston is Isabel’s tutor in the novel. Would you say he is the archetypal aloof romantic hero in the tradition of Mr. Darcy, or is he more of an antihero?Dougal is a classic leading man with his own personal goal to achieve in the story, nothing to do with Isabel at first, even though he appears as her tutor. But when their stories collide, this whole new realm of possibilities opens up. It adds several layers to the story, which peel back at the right time. Like everyone, these characters are complicated with many motivations and needs.

Michelle Pillow's new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Michelle Pillow’s new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Speaking of layers, there’s no shortage of twists—well thought of twists—in Forget Me Not. Did they come naturally, or were they devices as milestones that you built the story around?

Great question. I was very lucky with this story. It was one of the first books I wrote, and it was actually the first one that was published back in 2004. And it flowed from start to finish. My muse was kind to me back then.

Talking of muses, how do see your muse?

She’s a crazy lady with an endless supply of cups of coffee, and a very demanding personality. I think she’d be happiest if I typed two books at once. Dr. Who fans will know what I’m talking about when I liken her to the angel statue in “Blink.”

How or where does Forget Me Not fit in the stack of Michelle M. Pillow’s works?

Well, it’s romance, which is what I do. But then the Regency and the Gothic (which I classify as Paranormal) aspect of it puts Forget Me Not slightly off center from my futuristic and shifter works. When I started writing, Historicals were what I really wanted to do. But as it turned out, I found traction with other subgenres of romance.

Is there a follow up to Forget Me Not?

No. Forget Me Not is a standalone title. I do think it gives the reader’s mind plenty to daydream about and imagine in the world created, away from the words actually written.

I do have other historical novels, including the National RT Award winner Maiden and the Monster. It is a medieval set historical romance. I also have other stories with the same feel and tone as Forget Me Not. One would be the shorter work, Everlastingly.

Thank you, Michelle, for joining me today. Where can we learn more about your novels?

Visit me at www.MichellePillow.com. Information and buy links for all of my novels are there. They can be found at most major bookstores. Thank you for having me.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Michelle Pillow’s New Novel Reflects that Gothic Romance Is Alive and Well

As a scholar of the classic Gothic novel of the nineteenth century, from time to time I like to read twenty-first century Gothic novels to see how well the seeds that Mrs. Radcliffe planted are flourishing. I’m happy to report that authors like Michelle Pillow are keeping the Gothic tradition alive and well by utilizing standard Gothic plot devices but making them their own as the Gothic evolves into something more spiritual and less terrifying than its originators may have first imagined.

Michelle Pillow's new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Michelle Pillow’s new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Forget Me Not has all the classic Gothic elements a reader could want, and it draws heavily upon those early novels for its setting and atmosphere. We can also define it as a regency novel—since it’s set in England in 1812—when George IV was still Prince Regent of England. Readers today might call it paranormal rather than Gothic, and, of course, it also falls into the romance novel category.

The story begins when Isabel Drake and her sister Jane are speculating about whether Rothfield Park is haunted. The family has let the manor house from its owner, the Marquis of Rothfield. Legend says that during a fire, a child and servant died in the house. Jane claims that she has seen evidence of hauntings in the castle, but Isabel thinks Jane has just let her imagination get the better of her after reading a “shilling shocker.” (Shilling shockers were popular short books in the nineteenth century that often plagiarized longer best-selling Gothic novels and were abridged to be affordable, costing only a shilling.) This scene recalls Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and the thrills that Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe have over reading “horrid” novels by Mrs. Radcliffe and others.

Isabel, however, has bigger problems than ghosts. Her parents do not like how she treats her governess so they have decided to hire a tutor approved by the colonel, nephew to the Marquis of Rothfield, whom they plan for her to marry. Isabel wants nothing to do with marrying the colonel or with a new tutor.

In anger, Isabel goes riding and comes to the woods, where a heavy mist is setting in. She meets there a mysterious child who asks her to play with her, but Isabel refuses, feeling spooked. As she tries to return home, she has an accident with a tree branch and falls from her horse.

Isabel has no memory of the accident, but by the time she recovers, she finds her parents have left her alone at Rothfield with her new tutor, Dougal Weston. Here, I admit, my willing suspension of disbelief was a bit challenged—no self-respecting noble family of this time would leave their daughter alone with just the servants and a handsome male tutor—but Michelle Pillow will provide some surprising and ultimately believable explanations for this chain of events before the novel is over.

Dougal Weston turns out to be unlike any tutor Isabel ever expected. He really doesn’t teach her much of anything—just asks her to read and then discuss with him what she read. Isabel soon starts to suspect he isn’t a tutor but someone with an ulterior motive for being at Rothfield.

Nevertheless, Isabel finds herself falling in love with him and confesses to him that she is now repeatedly seeing the ghost child. Dougal appears interested in the history of the house and the ghost child, but he also tries to comfort Isabel and calm her fears. His comforting eventually goes a bit too far—though Isabel doesn’t object—and you guess it, they have quite enjoyable sex. Before long, Isabel is starting to consider how she might shirk off her social status and marriage expectations to run off and live in a cottage with Dougal.

Eventually, however, Isabel begins to suspect Dougal is just using her to learn more about the ghost child. Dougal then asks Reverend Stillwell to speak to Isabel about the ghosts. Reverend Stillwell is a sort of medium who can communicate with the dead; he explains things to Isabel about ghosts that make her feel more comfortable and realize she isn’t crazy. He also will encourage Isabel and Dougal to seek happiness.

I can’t say more without giving away all the plot twists, but I will just say that I love how Michelle Pillow takes old Gothic themes and makes them new. Before the story is over, there’s even a cursed man who has made a Faustian pact to obtain knowledge from evil wizards in exchange for his soul. However, he can prevent himself from going to hell if he captures other souls for the devil—a classic Victorian twist previously used by authors like George W.M. Reynolds in The Necromancer (1852). Pillow also draws on regency novel conventions—there’s even a runaway marriage to Gretna Green, worthy of a Jane Austen novel. Finally, I didn’t see the final plot twist at the end, though I think I should have, but in any case, I was delighted by it.

Forget Me Not is not quite Jane Austen, but if you enjoyed books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, then Forget Me Not should give you plenty of ghostly pleasure. If you’re a fan of television shows like The Ghost Whisperer or films like The Sixth Sense, you’ll also find more enjoyable modern spins on ghosts and the Gothic in these pages. After you finish Forget Me Not, I suspect you will want to read more of Michelle Pillow’s novels—fortunately, she has written plenty in both the romance and paranormal genres.

For more information about Forget Me Not and Michelle Pillow, visit www.MichellePillow.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde: A Missing Link to Romanticism and the Gothic

This blog might well be titled, “Charlotte Smith, where have you been all my life?” because Smith was a major influence on the development of the early novel, and yet I only just discovered Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806) about a year ago when my friend Ellen Moody began blogging about her. Then I began to wonder why I had never heard of her. She was a poet much respected by the Romantics—in fact, she was a distant relative by marriage of Wordsworth and gave him letters of introduction when he went to France. She also wrote ten novels that were very popular and influential in their day. She wrote them all between 1788 and 1798. The first, Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle, was a bit immature in style and structure, but it set the tone for much of her later work. The plot concerns an orphan, the believed illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, who, to make a long story short, discovers she is the legitimate daughter of her father and therefore the rightful heir to the castle, despite the manipulations of a rather sinister uncle. Emmeline also has a series of troublesome suitors before she marries the man she loves. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Radcliffe when I read it—the sinister uncle, the illegitimacy, all feel very Gothic, although it is not a Gothic novel.

Charlotte Smith's second novel, Ethelinde, has just been released by Valancourt Books as a critical edition with an introduction by Ellen Moody.

Charlotte Smith’s second novel, Ethelinde, has just been released by Valancourt Books as a critical edition with an introduction by Ellen Moody.

Then I read Smith’s second novel, Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake (1789). By her second novel, Smith had matured into an accomplished novelist. The novel has just been released for the first time in a critical edition by Valancourt Books, complete with an introduction and notes by Ellen Moody. Upon reading this book, I could well see why Moody feels such enthusiasm for Smith.

Moody had previously told me that Smith uses Gothic elements in her novels, although none of the novels can be rightly termed Gothic. I would certainly not consider Ethelinde to be Gothic, but there are some Gothic elements in it, and Moody says that it was an influential novel upon Ann Radcliffe and Jane Austen, which I can well believe. In her introduction, Moody draws parallels between the novel and Austen’s Mansfield Park specifically.

When I read Ethelinde, I really felt like it was a bridge between the earlier eighteenth century novelists and Radcliffe and Austen. There is much in the novel that owes a debt to earlier sentimental or sensibility novels and the novel of manners. At one point, Ethelinde is in danger of being raped, a clear nod to Richardson’s Clarissa (1748). Ethelinde is also subjected to a host of disagreeable relatives, which reminded me a great deal of Fanny Burney’s Evelina (1778). In Evelina, the title character is more or less persecuted by her middle class relatives who lack genteel manners. In this novel, Ethelinde has both middle class and wealthy relatives, none of whom are quite as comical as in Evelina, but who still have comical elements and some of them are far more cruel in their snobbery and putting on airs once Ethelinde finds herself largely without a protector and penniless.

But what most interested me about this novel was how it is a precursor to Romanticism and Radcliffean Gothic. The Romantic Movement is usually dated from 1798 when Wordsworth and Coleridge published The Lyrical Ballads, but there is much in Smith that shows Romanticism was already alive a decade earlier. Ethelinde opens at Grasmere Castle, a fictional castle in the Lake District. It was so popular with readers that many went to the Lake District and came away disappointed that it wasn’t real. It’s possible that the depiction of the castle inspired Wordsworth later to settle in Grasmere. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge were admirers of Smith’s poetry as well, which often focused on nature.

Ethelinde is at the castle with a pleasure party that includes her cousin, Lady Newenden, and her husband Sir Edward Newenden. The first volume of this five-volume novel takes place at the castle and concerns Ethelinde enjoying nature while also being courted by some disagreeable young, rich men who are friends of her relatives. Eventually, she meets a young man, Montgomery, who seems to be at one with nature and develops a connection with him, especially after he saves her from drowning while all the other men stand and watch or yell at the servants to save her. Montgomery is the character whom I believe is referred to in the subtitle as the recluse. He and his mother live humbly and isolated in Grasmere, but they are of genteel blood. Ethelinde is immediately taken with Montgomery, who at first seems like a character right out of Wordsworth.

The attention to nature in this first volume of the novel also predates Radcliffe’s focus on nature in her novels. In Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Emily St. Aubert is constantly admiring the beauty of nature and feeling how it calms the soul. By comparison, the villains in the novel, especially Montoni, do not notice nature or see it as a solace or inspiration to the soul. In Ethelinde, the title character enjoys nature, while her obnoxious cousin, Lady Newenden, can find no pleasure in it, constantly complaining she is cold or hot when she is outdoors and fretting over her health—often for attention. Lady Newenden quickly becomes one of the villains of the novel when it is revealed she is likely to or already cheating on her husband. Before the novel is over, Sir Edward will separate from his wife; he will also be accused by her parents of being the adulterer because it becomes obvious that he has feelings for Ethelinde. While in time Sir Edward admits to such feelings, Ethelinde remains true to her love for Montgomery.

Another significant theme in the novel is that of illegitimacy. Smith had already played with this theme in Emmeline, and it was a common theme in earlier novels such as Evelina. Smith, however, does not make illegitimacy so shocking or detrimental as does Burney. In Evelina, the heroine is concerned that her father will not recognize her as his legitimate daughter. In Ethelinde, while Ethelinde is clearly legitimate, many of the supporting cast of characters are not, including Mrs. Montgomery’s brothers and her niece. Nor is illegitimacy something that leads to Gothic situations of incest as in Radcliffe where it nearly leads to a marquis raping his niece in The Romance of the Forest (1791). In her book Art of Darkness, the critic Ann Williams remarks, “Gothic plots are family plots; Gothic romance is family.” The same is true in Ethelinde, minus the Gothic elements. There are twists and turns and surprises along the way for the relatives, most notably when Montgomery’s illegitimate cousin ends up being married to Ethelinde’s brother, Harry Chesterville.

Smith, although focusing on a female main character, and therefore writing what could be considered feminine Gothic, if the book were truly Gothic, also plants the seeds for the masculine Gothic in two of her characters, Harry Chesterville and Sir Edward Newenden. In masculine Gothic novels, such as Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795), William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799), and Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), the male characters are often tormented by guilt over their past crimes, by how their poor decisions destroy their families, and by longing for what they cannot obtain. In the novel, gambling, which will be a major transgression in Gothic literature (see Chapter 4 of my book The Gothic Wanderer), leads to the destruction of Ethelinde’s family’s wealth. Her father cannot control his gambling and thus loses most of the family fortune. Then her brother goes on spending sprees that ultimately bankrupt them. While Ethelinde’s father, Colonel Chesterville, feels great guilt over what he has done and fears for Ethelinde’s wellbeing as a result, it is her brother, Harry Chesterville, who becomes the true Gothic wanderer figure who commits transgression through his inability to curb his spending. He ends up in debtor’s prison, leading to his father’s worries turning into illness and his eventual demise. Harry is tormented, describing himself as the “murderer” of his own father. At one point, he becomes so consumed with guilt that he attempts suicide. Harry is like other men in Gothic fiction who seem unable to stop their addictions—fortunately, he is Ethelinde’s brother and not lover. Radcliffe would allow Emily St. Aubert, her Gothic heroine, to marry Valancourt, who also falls into the gambling transgression in The Mysteries of Udolpho, although Valancourt is, thankfully, not a villain and has all the attractions, initially, of Montgomery in his love for nature.

Charlotte Smith, whose own life with an abusive husband she had to leave, causing her to turn to her pen to support herself and her children, included many autobiographical elements into her novels.

Charlotte Smith, whose own life with an abusive husband she had to leave, causing her to turn to her pen to support herself and her children, included many autobiographical elements into her novels.

While Ethelinde will love and eventually marry Montgomery, his forest god appeal wears off as the novel continues and he is seen as a bit more one-dimensional. The really interesting male in the novel, who also is a forefather to the masculine Gothic wanderer figure, is Sir Edward Newenden. In her introduction to the novel, Moody compares Sir Edward to Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities (1859), who is tormented by love for the woman he cannot have. In the end, Sir Edward is in the same situation, loving Ethelinde, torn between his love for her and social proprieties that make him try to work things out with his wife. When Lady Newenden dies and Sir Edward is finally free to marry Ethelinde—she believes Montgomery has died at sea at this point—Montgomery dramatically reappears and Sir Edward is forced to step aside to see another man marry the woman he loves. Actually, even if Montgomery hadn’t reappeared, Ethelinde makes it clear that her love for Montgomery would make it impossible for her to marry Sir Edward.

Sir Edward is interesting because he is mentally tormented, but not quite a transgressor. I would argue that he did commit a transgression in marrying Lady Newenden for her money, but we are definitely intended to sympathize with him. He is also an early version of several other characters who haunt the pages of near-contemporary novels because they cannot have the love they desire. Interestingly, those characters are usually women. In Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1800), Harriet Freke cannot have the man she loves because she is too outspoken and even crossdresses—her last name is no accident—women who are not feminine are freaks. In Burney’s The Wanderer (1814), the outspoken Elinor, believed to be a portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, also fails to obtain the hero’s love. Both women are examples of transgressing against the patriarchal code while the true heroines of the novels are sufficiently feminine and well-bred enough to know their place in society. Sir Edward, by being a divorced man and having married for money, has also transgressed against society and morality, and therefore, is not worthy of winning the heroine’s hand.

Finally, I would add that the novel has many interesting references to the colonies. Many of the male characters go to the colonies to seek their fortunes. While Smith does not overtly speak out against the exploitation that occurs because of the colonies, they are, to some extent, depicted as dangerous or immoral places. It is in the West Indies that Mrs. Montgomery’s brother, Harcourt, ends up having an illegitimate daughter (not that that can’t happen in England, but it is a sign that morals are lessened in the colonies), and Montgomery nearly dies when returning to England from India. Later novelists would be more brutal in the threat the colonies pose to morality in England—especially the Bronte sisters in Jane Eyre (1847), Wuthering Heights (1847), and Villette (1853), H. Rider Haggard in She (1886), and Bram Stoker in Dracula (1897).

In short, Ethelinde and Charlotte Smith played a central role in the development of the novel of manners, the Gothic, and Romanticism. I would refer people to Moody’s introduction for more about Smith’s influence on Jane Austen. Certainly, Ethelinde has been neglected for far too long. It is a missing link between Richardson, Burney, and Radcliffe. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Romanticism, the Gothic, and the development of the novel.

You can purchase the new edition of Ethelinde from Valancourt Books at or at most online or local bookstores.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Dracula Meets King Arthur’s Descendants in New Novel: Lilith’s Love

For Immediate Release

New Novel Merges King Arthur, Lilith, and Dracula Legends

Marquette, MI, November 18, 2016—Since the dawn of time, Lilith, Adam’s first wife whom he spurned in Eden, has held a grudge against Adam and Eve’s descendants, and since the time of King Arthur, the descendants of Britain’s greatest king have sought to stop her from wreaking havoc upon the human race. But never could they have envisioned Dracula joining Lilith’s forces.

Lilith's Love brings together the legends of King Arthur, Dracula, and the Bible in a surprising mix of Gothic and historical fantasy.

Lilith’s Love brings together the legends of King Arthur, Dracula, and the Bible in a surprising mix of Gothic and historical fantasy.

Lilith’s Love is the fourth of five volumes in Tyler R. Tichelaar’s The Children of Arthur series. The series began with Arthur’s Legacy in which Lilith, in her incarnation as Gwenhwyvach, Guinevere’s half-sister, sought to destroy Camelot. The series continued through Melusine’s Gift and Ogier’s Prayer as Arthur’s modern day descendants, Adam and Anne Delaney, discovered the truth about their heritage and, with the aid of Merlin, tried to stop Lilith from destroying all that is good in the world.

Now things come to a head when Adam and Anne meet Quincey Harker, the child born to Jonathan and Mina Harker at the conclusion of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Quincey’s mother, Mina, had been forced by Dracula to drink his blood, and as a result, Quincey was born with superhuman powers and a tendency toward evil. Ultimately, Quincey is forced to choose between good and evil, and what he learns on his journey could ultimately make the difference in finally defeating Lilith, but nothing, everyone quickly realizes, is quite what it seems.

Lilith’s Love, like its predecessors, blends together myth and history to create a new imagining of mankind’s past and the possibilities for its future. Part Arthurian legend, part sequel to Dracula, the novel stars a legendary cast of characters, including Merlin, Emperor Constantine XI, the Wandering Jew, Dracula, Captain Vanderdecker of the Flying Dutchman, and Lilith herself. Readers will take a magic carpet ride from the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the beginnings of a New World Order in the twenty-first century, rewriting a past we all thought we knew to create a future far more fabulous than we ever dreamed.

Arthurian authors and fans have been delighted with each volume of Tyler R. Tichelaar’s The Children of Arthur series. Sophie Masson, editor of The Road to Camelot, praises the first book, Arthur’s Legacy, as “an intriguing blend of action-packed time-slip fantasy adventure, moving love story, multi-layered mystery, and unusual spiritual exploration.” Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, states of Lilith’s Love, “Tichelaar deftly weaves together history, myth, and legend into a tale that takes the reader on an epic journey through time, connecting characters and events you’d never expect….” And Rowena Portch, award-winning author of the Spirian Saga series, proclaims that the Children of Arthur is for those who “love the mystical magic of Camelot but thrive on the excitement and tribulations of Game of Thrones.”

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of numerous historical fiction novels, including The Marquette Trilogy, The Best Place, and the award-winning Narrow Lives, as well as the scholarly books The Gothic Wanderer and King Arthur’s Children, the latter of which served as research and inspiration for The Devon Players’ upcoming independent film Mordred. Tichelaar is currently writing the final book of the Children of Arthur series, Arthur’s Bosom, to be released in late 2017.

Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four (ISBN 9780996240024, Marquette Fiction, 2017) can be purchased in paperback and ebook editions through local and online bookstores. For more information, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com. Review copies available upon request.

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New Book on Spring-Heeled Jack Explores Jack’s History, including Gothic Connections

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack: From Victorian Legend to Steampunk Hero by John Matthews is a fascinating look at a sometimes overlooked character who has had a significant impact on sensational and Gothic literature as well as the public’s imaginations and fears for nearly two centuries now. Matthews, who is perhaps best-known for his many books on the Arthurian legend, has compiled nearly every known reference and possibility related to Spring-Heeled Jack into this book.

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack, just released by author John Matthews

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack, just released by author John Matthews

Those not familiar with Spring-Heeled Jack will wonder why they have never heard of him. He first appeared in London and its surrounding areas in 1838 and continues to be sighted every few years, it seems, both in England and now the United States and perhaps even in a few other places around the globe. His origins lie in several startling attacks he made upon unsuspecting women in the early Victorian period. He is frequently described as dressed in black, wearing a cape, having long fingers, pointy ears, and eyes that glow red or blue. His most famous feature, however, is his amazing ability to spring or leap enormous distances, sometimes twenty feet from the ground to a roof or even thirty feet from one rooftop to the next.

In this encyclopedic book about all things Spring-Heeled Jack, Matthews begins by going back to the original sources. He quotes in detail the numerous newspaper reports of Jack and his attacks upon his victims. Most of his attacks were relatively mild, just appearing and frightening women, or mildly assaulting them, although in some cases, he attacks with knives, especially the men who pursue him.

Jack was likely some sort of criminal who developed a spring mechanism for his shoes, but just who he was has never been fully revealed. He quickly became a legend and soon many copycat crimes were occurring; some of these criminals were caught but others not. Jack also often acted like the typical highwayman who was a popular literary figure in the Newgate novels of the 1830s, and later, Jack the Ripper at least left behind one note where he signed himself as Spring-Heeled Jack, though as Matthews notes, Jack the Ripper was a serial murderer while Spring-Heeled Jack’s crimes are far less severe and seem mostly intended just to shock and frighten people. Nevertheless, the Ripper’s crimes took place in the 1890s, showing that Spring-Heeled Jack retained a hold on the Victorian imagination.

While the historical newspaper accounts are interesting, for me, what is more fascinating is Jack’s appearances in literature. Matthews details how Jack soon became part of popular culture. By 1840, there was a stageplay produced about him. In 1867, there was a penny dreadful published titled Spring-Heeled Jack—The Terror of London, and in 1878, another serial was published with the same name. The difference between these two works is significant. In the first, Jack is depicted as a demon figure. In the latter, he is a young nobleman deprived of his inheritance whose actions are based on his desire to get revenge on those who have cheated him; others copy his crimes, but this second penny dreadful makes it clear that Jack is a clever trickster type of hero. I find this transition in Jack’s character fascinating since I am a firm believer that the Gothic Wanderer figure in nineteenth century literature was eventually transformed into our modern-day superhero figure. In this version, Jack has the qualities of the Gothic Wanderer in being disinherited, although he is lacking guilt and commits no true crimes.

Equally fascinating is the possibility that Jack is an early version of Batman. Matthews notes that there is no evidence that Batman’s creator, Bob Kane, knew anything of Spring-Heeled Jack, but he provides plenty of evidence that bat-man figures were in the popular imagination well before Batman arrived on the scene. (More on that below.)

An illustration of Spring-Heeled Jack from the 1867 serial.

An illustration of Spring-Heeled Jack from the 1867 serial.

Matthews devotes a great deal of time trying to determine the origins of Spring-Heeled Jack as a fictional or popular culture figure beyond whether or not he was a true historical criminal. He digs back into mythology looking at Jack’s origin in devil figures (one of Captain Marryat’s novels, Mr. Midshipman Easy, from 1835 is cited as a source here also; in it a character wears a devil’s costume and springs into a house frightening people), Jack the Giant Killer (with a nod to King Arthur here), the popular Jack-in-a-Box toy, and Robin Hood, since Jack is often depicted as a hero fighting against the rich. That said, Jack is also depicted as aristocratic and possibly preying upon the poor—one of the possibilities for his identity is the historical Marquis of Waterford.

This aristocratic side to Jack fascinates me and brings me to the one omission in the book, for which perhaps there is no evidence, but which seems to me very likely—that Jack influenced the creation of Dracula and the vampire legend. Of course, the vampire figure had already been popularized in England with John Polidori’s The Vampire in 1819. But the depiction of vampires still had a long way to go before Dracula set the standard for vampire characteristics. One of the possible sources for Spring-Heeled Jack that Matthews cites is the “Moon Hoax of 1835” in which it was claimed that a civilization had been discovered on the moon and that it was inhabited by winged men which were called “man-bats.” This may well be the first suggestion of men connected to bats. Of course, Dracula has the ability to change into a bat in Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic, and as I’ve pointed out in my previous blogs about French novelist Paul Féval, vampires were also associated with bats in his novel Vampire City (1875). Could Spring-Heeled Jack, whose cape is often depicted as looking like wings tied to his arm, have also influenced the depiction of Dracula? I have not been able to find any link between Stoker and Spring-Heeled Jack, but the Jack was in the popular imagination so doubtless Stoker knew of him. Note that Dracula is also a count and Stoker’s novel has been read as being a story about how the nobility preyed upon the lower classes. Dracula’s victims, like Jack’s, are also predominantly female.

Another interesting connection between Spring-Heeled Jack and Dracula can be found in another possible version of Jack that Matthews mentions—The Mothman, who was first sighted in 1966 in West Virginia and whom the film The Mothman Prophecies was made about. The Mothman is also winged and can fly. Interestingly, it is claimed he was spotted just before the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001—this suggests he might play a role in political events. Similarly, the Wandering Jew has often been said to appear during historical events, including the French Revolution and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Wandering Jew is often cited as an influence upon Stoker, particularly because Stoker was manager for the actor Henry Irving and he encouraged Irving to consider playing the Wandering Jew. Stoker also wrote about the Wandering Jew in his book Famous Impostors. Jack the Ripper’s murders were also associated with the Jews as instigators of the crimes. Could Spring-Heeled Jack have had some connections to the Wandering Jew in the popular imagination?

The cover of the 1904 serial about Spring-Heeled Jack.

The cover of the 1904 serial about Spring-Heeled Jack.

In any case, the story of Spring-Heeled Jack is a true historical and literary mystery that continues to fascinate. Matthews concludes the book by looking at Jack’s appearances in film, television series, and comic books in more recent years. He omits mention that Jack also was featured in an episode of the short-lived 2016 television series Houdini and Doyle, likely because the book was already being prepared for printing when the series aired, but it shows that Matthews’ prediction at the end of the book that Spring-Heeled Jack will likely be around for many years to come is true without a doubt.

The book also contains numerous illustrations, including several colored plates, and the appendices contain the full text of the 1878 penny dreadful version of Jack’s story.

Overall, The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack is a true treasure trove for anyone interested in Jack himself, or popular culture, Victorian crime, the Gothic, comic books, or superheroes. It’s published by Destiny Books and is available worldwide including all the major online booksellers.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Superheroes and the Gothic, The Wandering Jew

Paul Féval and the Vampire Gothic: The Path from Radcliffe to Stoker

In my previous blog, I talked about Paul Féval’s first vampire novel, The Vampire Countess (serialized 1855, published 1865). In this blog, I will discuss his other two vampire novels Knightshade (1860) and Vampire City (1875). But first, let me explain my title.

Ann Radcliffe never wrote a vampire novel, but no one can deny her place at the forefront of Gothic novelists. She was really the first major influential Gothic novelist with the success of her books The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and The Italian (1797). While numerous other Gothic novelists were her contemporaries, they were all likely influenced by her. Her popularity caused even non-Gothic novelists like Fanny Burney and Jane Austen to include Gothic elements in their novels. Consequently, Radcliffe is not only the mother of the Gothic but the mother of the vampire novel.

She also had a tremendous influence upon French literature. In his introduction to the Black Coats press edition of Vampire City, Brian Stableford states that there were no less than forty editions of The Mysteries of Udolpho published in France in the early nineteenth century. Consequently, it is no wonder that Paul Féval chose to pay Radcliffe tribute in a mocking way in his novel Vampire City.

Paul Feval on the cover of a French edition of his works.

Paul Feval on the cover of a French edition of his works.

As for Stoker, my interest in Féval began when I first heard he had written three vampire novels decades before Stoker’s Dracula (1897), so I was naturally curious whether Stoker had read them. I discussed this possibility somewhat in my last blog. There isn’t much of an influence if any apparent between Féval’s novels and Stoker’s Dracula, but nevertheless, there may have been some influence, even if indirectly. I will note a few of the possible influences below.

First, let us look at Féval’s short novel Knightshade (its true French name is Le Chevalier Ténèbre. It was published in book form in 1860, but actually is a later work than The Vampire Countess which was published in 1865, but serialized in 1855. The novel is about two brothers named Ténèbre. One is a vampire and the other an oupire. Vampires, of course, drink blood, while oupires are eaters of human flesh.

The story begins at a party where Baron von Altheimer is entertaining the guests with a story about the brothers. The baron tells how the brothers impersonated gypsies to get inside Prince Jacobi’s home where they abducted his daughter, Lenore, for a ransom. The irony is that the baron is actually one of the brothers and also present is his brother, who is impersonating a clergyman. In fact, the brothers are masters of impersonation. The baron even claims his goal is to capture the brothers and bring them to justice, all part of his ruse.

I won’t spoil the story by telling it all, but eventually, a young marquis, who was at the party, discovers the secret and begins to hunt down the brothers. In the process, he also falls in love with Lenore, and with Prince Jacobi’s help, the brothers’ resting place is discovered. According to Féval, the brothers must return to their graves once a year. If their hearts are burned with a red-hot iron, then the world can be rid of them. (This is one of Féval’s vampire rules—that they die by a red-hot iron, unlike Stoker’s stake through the heart.)

The killing of the vampires is carried out, but at the end, we are told their criminal activities continue, suggesting they have somehow risen from the grave.

Knightshade is considered an early work of metafiction and introduces vampire brothers.

Knightshade is considered an early work of metafiction and introduces vampire brothers.

In the book’s introduction and afterword, Brian Stableford talks about how Féval never quite wanted to give full credit to the supernatural, and so he leaves the reader wondering whether the brothers really were vampires or they are just using vampirism as one of their disguises to confuse people and carry out their crimes. Stableford also notes that Féval is writing an early form of metafiction here where characters tell tales and include themselves in the tales. The novel itself references Galland, and Stableford refers to the novel as using the Galland’s formula. Galland was the translator of The Arabian Nights into French, which had a huge influence on French and indeed on Gothic literature with its stories within stories, but also in its cliffhangers.

But did the novel influence Stoker? There is only one small detail that I think might suggest that Stoker read the novel. Lenore has a small pet dog, and that dog is named Mina. I have at least seen one literary critic remark that the source for Stoker’s female protagonist in Dracula, Mina, is unknown. Mina is not an English name, so why did Stoker choose it? I wonder whether he took it from Féval.

While Knightshade is an interesting and entertaining novel, it suffers from what many of Féval’s other novels, including The Wandering Jew’s Daughter and The Vampire Countess suffer from—a confusing narrative that makes you almost feel like you’re reading a fragment or poor translation. This is largely due to the novels being serialized and Féval making them up as he writes each installment without a master plan or outline. Such, however, is not the case with Vampire City. It was still serialized and the plot wanders about in a nonsensical way at times, but there is a stronger narrative drive to it that makes it entertaining reading and carries the reader along fairly effortlessly.

The premise of Vampire City lies in Féval’s desire to mock Ann Radcliffe and her Gothic form. Stableford suggests it is the first real Gothic parody novel, although I would argue that Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey (1818) and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818) both are parodies of the form, and as Stableford points out, even what is considered the first Gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), can hardly be taken seriously.

However, Féval’s parody far surpasses anything prior to it. I agree with Stableford that it is a novel far ahead of its time and may be the first horror-comedy, which is what the Gothic has largely devolved to in our own time. I complained in my last blog about authors who lack sincerity in writing Gothic novels, and that was the case with Féval’s first two vampire stories, but here he is intentionally parodying, and so the lack of sincerity is not grating but amusing.

Like many Gothic novels, Vampire City has a narrative frame. Paul Féval writes himself into the novel, complaining about how the English are pirating his novels. He has a fictional female friend named Milady (perhaps a tribute to Dumas’ character in The Three Musketeers) who tells him she knows where he can get a wonderful story to write about. She takes him to England where he meets the ninety-seven-year-old cousin of Ann Radcliffe, who tells him a story about Radcliffe that explains her fascination with the Gothic and where she got the material for her novels.

Féval’s version of Radcliffe, who is called Anna or She throughout, has been compared to the character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and not without merit since Anna ends up pursuing and helping to destroy a vampire.

The story begins when Anna Ward is about to marry William Radcliffe (her husband in real life). Féval was aware that very little was known about the details of Ann Radcliffe’s life, and so he felt she was fair game to do with as he liked. In fact, he draws upon a short biography written by Sir Walter Scott for the few details about her life that were known at the time. In the novel, Anna leaves her home on the morning of her wedding, leaving her bridegroom behind, because she has received a letter from her cousin Cornelia’s prospective bridegroom, Ned, that Cornelia has been kidnapped.

Vampire City creates a fictional vampire hunter version of Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe in a way reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Vampire City creates a fictional vampire hunter version of Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe in a way reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The kidnapper turns out to be Monsieur Goetzi, who is a vampire. Anna and a servant then head to the continent and end up pursuing Monsieur Goetzi across Europe in an effort to kill him and rescue Cornelia. They first find Ned at an inn where he has been attacked by Goetzi and is lingering near death. They also meet Polly, who has become practically a vampire herself because Goetzi attacked her. She is his first victim, and consequently has a special connection to him. She says that only she can help kill him, which must be done by inserting a key in his breast at a specific hour when he is weak. (Féval is making up his own rules about vampires as he goes along and there are numerous instances of this throughout the novel. Prior to Dracula setting the standard for what vampires can and cannot due, vampire characteristics were fair game to make up, although some standards had already been set in books like Polidori’s The Vampire (1819) and Rymer’s Varney the Vampire (1847), and Féval is intentionally going overboard in his parody.) Meanwhile, Goetzi is able to elude the vampire hunters again and again—he does this partly because all of his victims become part of him in a sense and can even seem to double for him or at least serve his purposes. At one point, he escapes by crossing water and brings all his doubles or companions with him. They all actually enter inside of him and then he lays flat on the water and floats on his back, feet forward to his destination.

The humor is evident throughout the novel. Anna and her companions finally make it to Vampire City where all the vampires reside. They get inside the city and manage to cut out Goetzi’s heart, but then the other vampires awaken and pursue them. Eventually, the vampire hunters are saved by the sound of celestial music. It turns out their rescuer is not an angel, but the godlike Arthur, a young nobleman whose true identity Anna’s cousin says she cannot reveal, and the music is caused by him playing a lute as he drives by. He is completely oblivious to how he has saved Anna and her companions. (At the very end, it is revealed that the godlike Arthur was really the young Duke of Wellington.)

Other humor is often pointed at Radcliffe herself. Allow me to quote a few passages. This first one is taken from the scene where she is about to leave home to go to the continent on her rescue mission:

“Although she had not yet composed any of her admirable works, she already possessed the brilliant and noble style which Sir Walter Scott was to praise to the skies in his biography. Indeed, she could not help exclaiming: ‘Goodbye, dear refuge. Happy shelter of my adolescence, adieu! Verdant countryside, proud hills, woodlands full of trees and mystery, shall I ever see you again?’”

You cannot help laughing out loud if you’ve read Radcliffe because her heroines do talk in such affected style, although the style seems Romantic rather than absurd when reading Radcliffe because she draws the reader so fully into her fictional worlds.

In several places, Féval tries to use Radcliffe’s style of introducing supernatural events and then always providing a realistic explanation for them. In this passage, he explains how at the crucial moment, a supernatural event like the characters falling into a pit that suddenly opens in the ground is possible.

“The earth suddenly opened up to engulf them, thus confirming the presentments of our Anna. If you balk at believing in the instantaneous formation of a deep pit, I will freely confess that the personal opinion of our Anna was that a cave-in had already taken place, caused by the high tides of the new moon. The principal charm of a narrative like ours is its realism. And besides, in making further progress we shall encounter more than enough hyperphysical incidents. She was fond of that word—which could, I suppose, be rendered ‘supernatural.’”

In fact, the novel is supremely funny. I rarely laugh out loud when reading, but I did so several times while reading Vampire City.

One final example of how Féval tries to give rational explanations for the supernatural comes with the very end of the novel when Anna has gotten herself into a very sticky situation, then wakes up to find it was all a dream and that it is her wedding day. But Féval goes a step further, having Anna’s cousin, in telling the story, assure us it wasn’t all a dream because after she marries, Anna goes to the continent and discovers the places she visited and many other events that have happened that seem to have coincided with her dream, perhaps a sign that she has the second sight.

I think Vampire City was simply ahead of its time in its mocking of the Gothic and consequently was overlooked as a minor work, but any student of the Gothic will find it a treat to read.

But what of Féval’s influence on Stoker? In his Afterword, Stableford states without reservation “Stoker certainly never read Féval.” He also mentions the influence of LeFanu’s Carmilla (1871-2) upon Dracula and says that LeFanu probably never read Féval. However, Stableford says that Féval, LeFanu, and Stoker all read Dissertations sur les Apparitions des Esprits, et sur les Vampires (1746) by Dom Augustin Calmet, which clearly was a huge influence on vampire fiction so it is not surprising if there are coincidental similarities in their works.

D

Bram Stoker, whose novel Dracula would set the standard for vampire characteristics.

Bram Stoker, whose novel Dracula would set the standard for vampire characteristics.

Personally, however, I think there are some similarities that might suggest Stoker read Féval. As I mentioned earlier, the name Mina might have come from Féval. Not that it wasn’t an existing name, short for Wilhelmina, but it is not a common English name to my knowledge—perhaps the name similarity is a coincidence, perhaps not.

Perhaps the most striking similarity concerns Mina’s relationship with Dracula and Polly’s relationship with Goetzi. In Dracula, Mina Harker, because she is Dracula’s victim, is able to help lead the men to Dracula when he flees across the continent. In Vampire City, Polly is able to do the same, and throughout the process, she is both longing to destroy Goetzi to get revenge as well as sympathizing with him. Similarly, Mina is torn between the vampirism in her and her desire to destroy Dracula. Polly actually goes a bit further and becomes Goetzi once his actual body is destroyed. I don’t know of any cases where vampires have doubles in the form of their victims before Féval or again until Dracula, which makes me think there could be an influence here.

Another similarity is the use of animals. Neither Polidori’s vampire, nor Varney the Vampire, nor Carmilla, nor any of the other pre-Stoker vampires appear to have doubles or control over animals who serve them. In Vampire City, however, the vampires often have dogs, bats, and other creatures serving them. In Dracula, the vampire not only has control over such creatures but can turn into them.

Many critics have also written about homosexual elements in vampire literature and in Dracula particularly. Stoker never goes so far as to make it explicit, but in Féval when the vampires awaken in Vampire City, they are described as “The men of considerable stature, but for the most part effeminate; the females, by contrast, were both tall and bold.” These sound like typical stereotypes of effeminate gay men and butch lesbians to me.

Finally, is it a coincidence that Arthur is a hero and savior in Vampire City and that there is an Arthur Holmwood among the male heroes in Dracula? Holmwood is Lord Godalming while Féval’s Arthur turns out to be the future Duke of Wellington, who was himself “Honorable” as the third son of an earl in his youth, the age at which he appears in Vampire City.

We may never know whether Stoker read Féval, and to some extent it does not matter. To say Stoker drew from Féval may in some ways limit Stoker’s genius. To say Féval influenced Stoker may make it seem like Féval’s work is inferior to Stoker’s. It may be a detrimental argument for both their sakes. That said, one cannot help wondering, and I do not believe either author is more or less important if Stoker was influenced by Féval. Both made significant contributions to vampire literature and deserve to be read and acknowledged for it.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Literary Criticism, The Wandering Jew

The Vampire Countess: Paul Féval, Vampire Fiction, and the French-British Gothic Influence

When I first heard about Paul Féval (1816-1887)—a writer of serialized French Gothic novels—technically, they are termed feuilletons—meaning serialized novels—who wrote about vampires some forty years before Bram Stoker and whose stories take place in or have characters from Eastern Europe, I was intrigued and wondered whether Stoker knew Féval’s work and was inspired by it in creating Dracula.

Whether or not Stoker ever read Féval is open to question and not something we can accurately determine. However, in this blog and my next one, I will look at the possibilities of an influence. There certainly was a great deal of influence among French and British novelists of the mid-nineteenth century. Féval properly belonged to a generation or even two before Stoker, but he was contemporary with another great British Gothic author, George W.M. Reynolds. Reynolds and Féval would be rivals of a sort in the literary world. After French author Eugene Sue came out with his The Mysteries of Paris (1842-3), Féval wrote an imitation in French he called The Mysteries of London (1843-4), which was published under the pseudonym Francis Trolopp—a play on the name of popular English novelist Frances Trollope (mother to novelist Anthony Trollope). Then Reynolds wrote a serial with the same title (1844-8), but in English. Féval apparently accused Reynolds of plagiarism and thought British authors were pirates ever after that (with no qualms, apparently, from how he had borrowed his own fellow French author’s idea). Obviously, French and British authors, therefore, were influencing one another.

An 1862 caricature of Paul Feval by Etienne Carjat.

An 1862 caricature of Paul Feval by Etienne Carjat.

Another example of this influence concerns Charles Dickens. I discovered in a collection of Charles Dickens’ letters that Dickens knew Féval. Dickens regularly corresponded with French actor Charles Fechter, and in a November 4, 1862 letter to Fechter, Dickens writes:

“Pray tell Paul Féval that I shall be charmed to know him, and that I shall feel the strongest interest in making his acquaintance. It almost puts me out of humour with Paris (and it takes a great deal to do that!) to think that I was not at home to prevail upon him to come with you, and be welcomed to Gad’s Hill; but either there or here, I hope to become his friend before this present old year is out. Pray tell him so.”

Later, in a letter to Fechter from February 4, 1863, Dickens again writes that he is in Paris and says, “Paul Féval was there, and I found him a capital fellow.” If only we could have known what was said at that meeting between two such illustrious authors.

How extensive Dickens and Féval’s relationship was is not known. Féval is not mentioned in either Ackroyd or Johnson’s biographies of Dickens, so it is doubtful they got to know each other well. Despite that, in the prologue to his novel Vampire City (published 1875 but believed to have been written about 1867 and therefore before Dickens’ death in 1870), Féval refers to Dickens as “My dear and excellent friend.” In this passage he is complaining about how English authors have pirated his works and he quotes Dickens for support on the matter, saying “Charles Dickens said to me one day, by way of apology: ‘I am not much better protected than you. When I go to London, if I happen to have an idea about my person, I lock my notecase, put it in my pocket and keep both hands upon it. It is stolen anyway.’” Were Dickens and Féval truly close friends or did Féval simply feel that quoting an English author would support his argument, especially Dickens who was widely known to have had his works pirated?

In any case, there clearly was an influence between French and British authors and they knew of each other’s works. However, Féval, because of the piracy, resisted having most of his works translated into English, although pirated versions happened, though I know of no evidence that his vampire novels were, but that does not mean Stoker might not have known of them. That said, according to Neil Miley in Henry Irving and Bastien-Lepage, Stoker spoke only broken French, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t read it. I myself can read French far better than I can speak it, so it’s possible Stoker did read Féval’s vampire novels.

Féval would publish three vampire novels. The first, The Vampire Countess (1855 serialized; published in book form in 1865), will be the focus of the rest of this blog. The other two Knightshade (1860) and Vampire City (1874), I will discuss in my next blog where I will make some more comparisons between Stoker and Féval’s work. Fortunately for us, Black Coats Press (named for another of Féval’s novels) has reprinted these vampire texts with excellent introductions and afterwords by British author Brian Stableford. Stableford is extremely knowledgeable on the French serialized novels of the mid-nineteenth century and he writes extensively in these books about Féval’s place in his country’s literature alongside his contemporaries like Eugene Sue and Alexander Dumas (who would write a play The Vampire, the success of which may have led to Féval writing The Vampire Countess and whose novel Joseph Balsamo was inspired by English Gothic author Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni).

In Stableford’s afterword to The Vampire Countess, he goes into detail about all of the vampire novels published before it. I was surprised by how many of them there were—The Vampire Countess, Stableford says is probably the sixth full-length novel published. I was only aware of two prior to The Vampire Countess—John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and James Malcolm Rymer’s serialized Varney the Vampire (1846-7) because my area of interest has been British Gothic. Apparently, the vampire was a popular topic on the Continent as well. According to Stableford, the first five would be:

Der Vampyr (1801) by Ignatz Ferdinand Arnold

Lord Ruthven, ou les Vampires (1820) by Cyprien Bérard

La Vampire, ou La Vierge de Hongrie (1825) by Etienne-Léon Lamothe-Langon.

Varney the Vampyre (1846-7) by James Malcolm Rymer

La Baronne Trépassée (The Late Baroness) (1853) by Pierre-Alexis Ponson du Terrail

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

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

Stableford states that no known copy exists any longer of the first novel by Arnold. The second novel should probably be Polidori’s novel The Vampire, but Stableford omits it because it is not a lengthy work, more of a novella, while acknowledging its incredible influence on French Gothic literature. In fact, Bérard’s novel is definitely based on it since Polidori’s vampire was named Lord Ruthven (infamously modeled upon Lord Byron). Also noteworthy from this list is that Lamothe-Langon’s novel’s subtitle translates as The Virgin of Hungary, which shows that Eastern European characters and settings in vampire fiction long predate Stoker. In fact, a scholarly work on vampires to which Lamothe-Langon certainly had access was Dom Augustin Calmet’s treatise, Dissertations sur les Apparitions des Esprits, et sur les Vampires (The Vampires of Hungary and Neighboring Regions in English), first published in Paris in 1746, and reprinted several times. Like The Vampire Countess, Lamothe-Langon’s novel concerned Napoleon, so clearly Féval was influenced by it. In his introduction, Stableford also mentions Theophile Gautier’s novella La Morte Amoureuse (1836), which not only was known to Féval, but was also translated into English under the title Clarimonde, which further proves that French and British authors were reading and influencing each other across the channel.

But what of The Vampire Countess? Is it significant in our vampire journey toward Dracula? As I said, we have no indication that Stoker read it, but there is much in it that sets us up for Dracula.

Let me say here before discussing the novel’s plot that Féval is not always an easy author to read. The first of his novels I read was The Wandering Jew’s Daughter, a more or less comic novel making fun of the popularity of the Wandering Jew in the literature of the time. If there’s one thing I dislike in literature, it is the inability to take your subject seriously. A lack of sincerity, the blending of horror with comedy, is what has spoiled most modern horror films, and while Féval wasn’t the first to mock the Gothic tradition, he certainly didn’t improve on it when it came to the Wandering Jew tradition. Féval would also take the vampire legend less seriously in his later two vampire novels, but in The Vampire Countess, he is at least trying to be serious. There are comical elements to the novel, but a Gothic atmosphere is mostly retained and remains haunting throughout the story.

Paul Feval on the cover of a French edition of his works.

Paul Feval on the cover of a French edition of his works.

That said, the novel has some flaws from a lack of tight plotting—the fault of serialization—as well as because it is a sequel to an earlier novel, La Chambre des Amours (The Love Nest). Unfortunately, I don’t believe The Love Nest has been translated into English and Black Coats Press has reprinted The Vampire Countess without its prequel. The result is that it is difficult to make sense of many of the main characters and understand their relationships to one another since Féval assumes we know them when we read The Vampire Countess. Consequently, I found the novel confusing for quite a while, and like The Wandering Jew’s Daughter, I almost felt like I was reading a fragment of what could be a great book. Not until about a third of the way through this roughly 300-page book does the story become really fascinating.

I won’t go into all of the plot of The Vampire Countess, but just summarize the main points. Féval, as Stableford points out, can’t decide from the opening of the novel whether or not to take his vampire theme seriously. He talks of how vampires are being talked about in Paris, largely because of some bodies found in the Seine, but he also introduces the metaphor that Paris itself is the real vampire of the novel, sucking the life out of people, and suggesting it is not real vampires but simply crime in Paris that is the problem.

That said, the vampire countess is very real as a supernatural being, even if not quite the typical vampire. There is no bloodsucking in the novel, which is what vampires are defined by today. Instead, this vampiress is trying to retain her youth, which she can only do by tearing the scalps off young women and wearing them as if they are her own hair—that transforms her to be youthful again for a short time before she regains her old age. I suspect Féval knew of or drew on sources that knew of Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614), the infamous Hungarian countess who liked to bathe in the blood of young virgins, believing that would help her to retain her youth. (That said, Elizabeth Bathory is not mentioned in Calmet’s work.)

Féval also makes his vampire very sexual. She masquerades as Countess Marcin de Gregory, but in truth, she is Addhema, a legendary vampiress who has a male vampire lover, Szandor. Szandor will only kiss her (Stableford points out that the French word used could mean more than kiss, maybe orgasm) if she brings him large sums of money. The final scene of the novel depicts them in the throes of their passion before Addhema kills her lover and herself by plunging a red hot iron through his heart and then hers—a murder-suicide. It is quite a sexual and disturbing scene, especially for a Victorian era novel.

The Vampire Countess was serialized in 1855 but not published in book form until 1865.

The Vampire Countess was serialized in 1855 but not published in book form until 1865.

There is much else about the Vampire Countess that is both confusing, not necessarily logical, and fascinating. While Addhema passes herself off in France as the Countess Marcin de Gregory, she also at one point claims to be Lila, whom she says is the countess’ sister. Lila seduces the main character Rene and tells him the story of Addhema. She does this because the vampiress cannot have a lover unless she first tells him the truth about her being a vampiress. Lila gets around this by telling Rene the story but not clarifying that she is the vampiress. Later, Rene dreams that Lila turns into the countess, but when he wakes, it’s not clear whether he was with Lila as the vampiress or not. This dream or hallucination of Rene’s is part of Féval’s intentional blending of reality and the supernatural to keep the reader and characters questioning whether vampires are real, as well as Féval’s own inability to be sincere about his vampire fiction.

The novel is set when Napoleon was First Consul, and Féval pulls Napoleon into the plot. One of the men the countess marries ends up accusing Napoleon of being her lover and challenging him—of course, Napoleon comes out on top here. Later, the countess claims Napoleon has given her a letter so military men will do her bidding. In truth, she has a forged document. She also appears to be plotting to overturn Napoleon and is in league with the Brotherhood of Virtue. None of these political activities are completely clear in the novel—least of all why the countess is politically motivated at all since it cannot serve her purpose to stay young or to achieve money to pay Szandor for the kisses she craves.

Altogether, The Vampire Countess is a strange novel, much of it feeling like filler that Féval wrote to fill his serial pages because he wasn’t sure yet where the plot was going. It is far from a perfect or even a truly powerful Gothic novel save perhaps for the final scene where Addhema plunges a red hot iron into Szandor’s heart—the scene reminds me of the passionate scenes in Anne Rice’s vampire novels. In my opinion, Féval lacked the intensity or sincerity of Eugene Sue or James Malcolm Rymer which kept him from being a first rate Gothic novelist. That said, The Vampire Countess is an interesting novel because of its historical place in vampire fiction and because it is the most serious of Féval’s vampire novels. Certainly, no one can deny that Féval holds a significant place in the Gothic and serialized literature of his day.

As for whether he influenced Stoker, more exploration is needed, and I will continue that quest in my next blog.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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