Monthly Archives: October 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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The Lost Son: New Podcast Pays Homage to Gothic Classics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy and Happy Halloween!


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,, and

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