Category Archives: Classic Gothic Novels

Mary, Queen of Scots at Center of Two Classic Gothic Historical Novels

I have been slowly working my way through the works of George W. M. Reynolds and decided next to read Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1858-9) which appears to have been his penultimate novel. I have also long wanted to read Sophia Lee’s The Recess (1783) and since that novel also centered on Mary, Queen of Scots, I thought reading them back to back would be a good idea.

Of course, Mary, Queen of Scots’ tragic story has been told and retold countless times to the point where I am rather sick of hearing it, but because I like Reynolds, I wanted to see what he would do with it. Plus, Lee is considered one of the early important Gothic novelists so I felt I should familiarize myself with her work. However, I found myself disappointed by both of these novels.

Title page to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, including a portrait of Reynolds

Reynolds’ story has to be the weakest of his books that I have read (I have reviewed numerous of his other novels on this blog), and it made me wonder if he was losing interest in writing novels since he quit writing them by 1860, even though he lived until 1879. That said, the problem with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots may be that his choice of subject matter was flawed from the start since he could not easily create a lighthearted romance on the tragic subject. The story concerns a young Italian, Sir Lucio, who is shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland in the 1560s. He is the only survivor of the shipwreck. He is carrying with him the papal dispensation that will allow Queen Mary to marry her cousin Lord Darnley. In his attempt to reach Mary, Sir Lucio learns of a secret plot against her and is taken prisoner by her brother, the Earl of Murray. However, he manages to escape with the help of Mary Douglas, who becomes his love interest in the novel. He makes his way to Mary’s court and befriends Mary’s secretary, David Rizzio. A great deal of intrigue follows which results in Sir Lucio more than once saving the day by thwarting or manipulating the Earl of Murray and his allies.

Unfortunately, we all know how the story is going to turn out, so Reynolds focuses primarily on weaving the love story between Sir Lucio and Lady Mary Douglas. By the end of the novel, Sir Lucio is revealed to be an Italian prince and gains Mary Douglas’ hand. They wed and then move to Italy. By this point, the true plot of the novel is over. However, Reynolds then provides us with some letters that Queen Mary writes to Mary Douglas describing the events that lead to her downfall, her husband’s death, her marriage to Bothwell, and ultimately her death. In my opinion, the novel rather falls apart in the end, deconstructing itself from the heroic and romantic tale it began as by transforming itself into a tragedy without any real showing, just telling, to bring about its conclusion. Overall, the novel was not well thought out, and consequently, it feels like, if not a failure, a very weak effort.

One interesting place in the novel where Reynolds deviates from history is to depict David Rizzio as an older and hunchbacked man. Perhaps Reynolds does so because he is writing for a Victorian audience who would not want to read about the scandal of Rizzio being suspected to be Queen Mary’s lover. However, given that Reynolds was the author of The Mysteries of London, which is filled with shocking scenes, his decision to stay away from any scandal concerning Queen Mary and Rizzio is surprising.

The novel is not really Gothic in the sense that nothing supernatural happens and none of the main characters ever fear anything supernatural, but in at least one scene, Sir Lucio claims that a room is haunted to frighten those conspiring against Mary so he can make his escape from them.

Overall, I found the book somewhat disappointing, though very readable.

Sophia Lee’s The Recess was even more of a disappointment to me because while Reynolds has fallen into obscurity and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots is not one of his better known works, The Recess is continually referenced as an important early work of Gothic fiction. Frankly, to call it Gothic is a bit of a stretch in my opinion.

Sophia Lee

The novel tells the story of two sisters, Matilda and Ellinor, who are the daughters of Mary, Queen of Scots through a secret marriage she had to the Duke of Norfolk. The sisters have been raised in secret in a “recess”—a hidden underground series of rooms that is connected to a convent. The girls do not know anything about their origins and assume Mrs. Marlow, who cares for them, is their mother. Only as teenagers are they told the truth about their parentage.

Life begins for the girls when the Earl of Leicester seeks refuge with them. Immediately, Matilda falls in love with him. He secretly marries her and takes them to Kenilworth where Queen Elizabeth comes to visit. At this point, Elizabeth tells Leicester she is ready to marry him—their historical love affair has been famous for centuries—but he cannot because he is already secretly married to Matilda. The queen then decides to take the girls with her to court. Leicester and Matilda eventually flee to the recess to hide and avoid the queen’s wrath, only to find it has been taken over by banditti. This is really the only moment of any true Gothic atmosphere in the novel. Matilda and Ellinor are also separated when Matilda and Leicester leave the court. Matilda has many other adventures that follow, including Leicester dying and her giving birth to a daughter, Mary, named for her mother. Matilda becomes a “wanderer”—a term she uses many times, the significance of which in Gothic fiction I detail in my book The Gothic Wanderer—living in France and then the West Indies before managing to return to England to learn the fate of her sister. She arrives at the home of the Countess of Pembroke, a relative of Leicester’s, where she learns Ellinor’s story.

Meanwhile, Ellinor had fallen in love with the Earl of Essex, Leicester’s ward, and she had her own series of misadventures, including being in Ireland with Essex and being captured by rebels. Eventually, Essex, whom Elizabeth I also falls in love with, is executed for treason, causing Ellinor to seek refuge with the Countess of Pembroke.

For a short time, Matilda and Ellinor are reunited before Ellinor dies. By this point, Matilda’s daughter Mary has grown up. By accident, Matilda and Mary meet Henry, Prince of Wales, son of James I. Of course, Mary falls in love with her cousin Henry, and of course, he dies, meaning his brother will one day be King Charles I. Mary also ends up dying and Matilda is left alone. She journeys to France where she befriends a woman whom she then tells her story to in the form of a long letter that makes up the novel.

The novel overall is tedious to read—it was a great hit in its day and was part of the Sensibility mode of fiction, causing people to weep and feel great sympathy for the characters—but today, it is rather a bore. The novel is almost all telling without showing—there is little dialogue or scene development or even character development. The characters are all largely wooden despite the supposed emotion the scenes are supposed to evoke. Some critics have claimed the novel was revolutionary for its time in showing women involved in adventure and political intrigue as opposed to other women’s fiction of the time like the works of Fanny Burney. However, the storylines are largely improbable and over the top, and I can’t even say it was revolutionary since it reads like a later version of Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722) or Roxana (1724), the latter of which is the tale of a fictional mistress of King Charles II.

This edition has an excellent introduction by April Alliston

If anything The Recess is more interesting as historical fiction than Gothic fiction. Although Lee does not strive to be historically accurate, she does paint a colorful picture of the age of Elizabeth I. The edition I read has an excellent introduction by April Alliston, who makes Lee sound far more interesting than her novel by discussing her family history, including her father’s career on the stage as a rival of the great David Garrick, plus Lee’s own writing of drama, and later her opening a school in Bath with her sister. Lee’s literary circles are especially interesting. It is possible that she knew both Jane Austen and Mrs. Radcliffe—speculation exists that Mrs. Radcliffe may have attended her school. Lee also knew Fanny Burney, and her sister Harriett was proposed to by William Godwin. Of particular interest to me is that she knew Jane Porter, author of The Scottish Chiefs (1809), whom I have often thought of as the first British historical novelist, but Lee predates her, as does Defoe. No doubt, The Recess influenced Porter and also Sir Walter Scott. Alliston also discusses how Lee was herself influenced by the earlier female French historical novels of the seventeenth century, including La Princesse da Cleves, probably written by Madame de Lafayette (1678), as well as by Shakespeare and other Renaissance playwrights, especially given her family’s role in the theatre and the frequent historical plays performed on the English stage.

I find the argument that The Recess made the Gothic novel popular rather weak. I would give that credit to Mrs. Radcliffe. The authors of the earliest Gothic novels—Horace Walpole, Clara Reeves, Sophia Lee, and William Beckford—were still trying to figure out what a Gothic novel was. It would be Mrs. Radcliffe who firmly set the standard for all the Gothic novels that would follow.

As a side note, if you enjoy reading about Mary, Queen of Scots, I would recommend watching the TV series Reign, primarily about Mary’s years in France. The series aired on the CW network from 2013-2017. I admit after the first episode I was totally turned off by the rock music and the unrealistic costumes that made it look like a show made for teenagers rather than one making any efforts to being historically accurate, but over time, the series improved and really grew on me, once I accepted it for what it was—more historical romance than historical truth. It certainly is the heir to novels like those of Lee and Reynolds, and since Catherine de Medici is one of the main characters in it, also an heir to Dumas’ Marguerite de Valois (1845). Mary, Queen of Scots’ years in France are usually overlooked when telling her tragic story, so the show provides an interesting narrative from that perspective.

Advertisement for the final season of Reign, depicting left to right, Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Catherine de Medici

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

The Forgotten Gothic: The Count of Monte Cristo

In titling this post “The Forgotten Gothic,” of course, I know no one has forgotten Alexandre Dumas’ phenomenal bestseller, The Count of Monte Cristo, first published in serial form in 1844, but what I think people have forgotten or never fully realized is just how much Dumas’ novel plays with Gothic elements in its depiction of the count and the chain of events he sets in motion in his thirst for revenge.

An early illustration of Dantès after his escape from the Chateau d’If

When I first read The Count of Monte Cristo in 1992, I admit I found it deadly dull. I had expected a gripping adventure novel, but the translation I read—I am not sure who the translator was, but he heavily edited the novel to about half its actual length, he used stilted, formal English which loses the charm of Dumas’ original language, and he censored word choice and parts of the plot to make it more appealing to a British Victorian audience—made the novel lacking in vivacity. Many other early English translations abridged and censored Dumas’ original. For example, in several translations, the count’s enthusiasm for hashish was censored. However, when a member of the Trollope and His Contemporaries listserv I belong to mentioned that the Robin Buss translation revealed a new understanding of Edmond Dantès’ intense desire for revenge in the novel, I decided to revisit the book, having always been attracted by its Gothic atmosphere in film versions. Buss’ excellent translation really brought the story to life for me and made me realize not only what an incredible book it is, but what a significant link The Count of Monte Cristo is in the chain of Gothic literature.

The Count of Monte Cristo has never failed to be popular as evidenced by the numerous film, TV, and comic book adaptations of it as well as abridged versions for children. Most of these renderings of it, however, have done it a disservice. While perpetuating the novel’s popularity, they have led people who have not read the novel to think they know The Count of Monte Cristo. They do not. Even the 2002 film starring Jim Cavaziel as the count, which is probably the best film version, fails to do the novel true justice because it cuts so much to simplify the plot into a two-hour film. In truth, the novel runs to 464,234 words or about 1,000-1,300 pages depending on the edition. It is so long because it has several subplots all tied to the count’s desire for revenge. The 2002 film and most others seek a happy ending, usually by not letting the count’s love, Mércèdes, die, and they make numerous other changes, which leave the films as weak renditions of Dumas’ vision. The novel would be better served if adapted into a television miniseries so all its subplots could be treated fully as they deserve. Hopefully, someday that will happen. It has happened in France, but no English miniseries has been made in decades.

I invite readers to reread the novel for themselves in the Buss translation because I will not summarize the entire plot here. However, a very detailed summary of the novel’s plot can also be found at Wikipedia. Instead, here I will discuss the novel’s Gothic elements and some of its possible literary influences. I believe it is a remarkable novel in the Gothic tradition that serves as a transition piece between early and late nineteenth century Gothic novels as I will illustrate at the end of this essay.

Most readers know the basic story, even though it has been simplified in the cinematic versions they are familiar with. Edmond Dantès is wrongfully accused of plotting to help restore Napoleon. He has four primary foes who accuse him without his knowledge. These enemies are his shipmate Danglars; Fernand Mondego, who is in love with Dantès’ fiancée Mércèdes; Caderousse, an unscrupulous neighbor who dislikes Dantès; and Villefort, a magistrate who wants to protect his father, a Napoleon supporter, and more importantly his own career, which could be jeopardized by the paper Dantès has brought back from where Napoleon is in exile.

James Caviezel as The Count of Monte Cristo in the 2002 film.

Dantès remains in prison for fourteen years, which is where the Gothic elements begin. Dantès’ imprisonment recalls other Gothic novels filled with castles and prisons where characters are usually unjustly imprisoned. In prison, Dantès meets the Abbe Faria. Faria is particularly interesting because he meets Dantès while digging a tunnel that eventually leads to Dantès cell. Together, the men plan to escape. Faria is a Gothic character in the sense that, as Buss tells us in the novel’s excellent introduction, he is based on Portuguese cleric Jose Custodia de Faria, an eccentric figure in Paris in the early nineteenth century who was known for his experiments with hypnotism and magnetism. He was a student of Swedenborg and Mesmer and lectured on hypnotism. Hypnotism/magnetism are frequent themes in Gothic literature—the Wandering Jew, Svengali, and Dracula all have hypnotic eyes. Faria also draws geometric lines in his cell which cause his keepers to think him mad, but they reflect he has knowledge beyond most men and they do not understand he is planning his escape. He reflects in this knowledge the Gothic treatment of the Rosicrucian figure, who usually works for mankind’s wellbeing and has two great gifts, the secret of life extension and the philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold. Faria reflects the gift of life extension in that he has had several strokes but has a “life-giving draught,” a sort of elixir of life, that restores him to health. As for the philosopher’s stone, he doesn’t know how to turn lead to gold, but regardless he has knowledge of a great treasure, one he reveals to Dantès that Cesar Borgia hid on the isle of Monte Cristo. He gives Dantès a paper written in “Gothic characters” that reveals the hiding place of his treasure. This paper is equivalent to the found manuscript in many Gothic novels that reveals secrets of the past. Besides working with Dantès to escape, he also educates Dantès, including teaching him several languages, which allows Dantès to disguise his identity as needed once he does escape.

Before they can escape, Faria dies. Dantès then escapes by hiding in the body bag given to Faria. He is flung into the sea but manages to survive, is rescued by pirates, and eventually gets to Monte Cristo where he finds the treasure, sets himself up under the disguise of a wealthy nobleman, and sets about his revenge. Dantès imprisonment lasts for fourteen years, which recalls the length of time the biblical Jacob labored so he could wed his beloved Rachel, but Dantès, upon returning to Marseilles, learns that Mércèdes has married his enemy Fernand, who now masquerades as a nobleman himself. More notably, Dantès’ escape is equivalent to a rising from the dead since he disguises himself as Faria’s corpse and then returns to life. He has basically been buried alive, not literally but through his imprisonment, and now he has resurrected. In rising from the dead, he is both a vampire figure and a Christ figure, but as the novel progresses, he gradually transforms from the former to the latter role.

Other Gothic elements surrounding Dantès’ character include how he learns to communicate with the sailors and pirates who rescue him. They make signs to one another to communicate much like the freemasons. The freemasons were often associated with conspiracy theories and were claimed to have done everything from building the Tower of Babel to causing the French Revolution. That Dantès works with them shows he is himself a manipulator of politics and economies. Indeed, the Rosicrucians’ possession of the philosopher’s stone was seen as a transgression against God, as evidenced in novels like William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799), because it allowed them to manipulate national and world economies. Dantès has a similar power through his incredible wealth, although he only uses it to manipulate the downfall of his enemies. He is referenced by another character as being like Cagliostro and the Comte de Saint-Germain, saying he has the wit of one and the philosopher’s stone of the other. Cagliostro was an Italian adventurer with an interest in the occult, including alchemy. Saint-Germain was of unknown birth but became a nobleman and philosopher with an interest in alchemy who claimed to be 500 years old to deflect inquiries into his origins.

Dantès is equated with several other historical and mythic figures as well. Early in his return to civilization, he calls himself Sinbad the Sailor, drawing upon Arabian Nights metaphors. The Gothic frequently used the Arabian Nights technique of stories within stories, although Dumas does not use that framework, but the many subplots serve a similar purpose. The Sinbad metaphor applies to all the “wandering” Dantès does in his early years as he sets into motion the plans for his revenge—something that aligns him with other Gothic Wanderer figures who are usually transgressors, most notably the Wandering Jew. Dantès is also linked to the Arabian Nights by being called an Ali Baba because he finds the treasure in a secret cave.

Most in line with the Gothic tradition is how Dantès is likened to a Byronic vampire. When he arrives in Paris, he is described by other characters as being a type of Byronic hero, specifically Manfred, and like Byron, he is described as having the gift of spellbinding others—another reference to hypnotism. Later, he is described as having a hand as icy as a corpse, for which he is compared to Lord Ruthven, the hero of John Polidori’s The Vampire (1819), said to be based on Lord Byron. As noted earlier, Dantès has risen from the grave like a vampire. He is also described by other characters as “ageless”—suggesting he shares the Rosicrucian gift of life-extension or perhaps the long life of a vampire. One scene in the novel that may well have inspired Bram Stoker in writing Dracula (1897) occurs when the character Franz visits the Count of Monte Cristo and is served hashish. He falls asleep and dreams of making love to three female statues in the count’s residence of the courtesans Phryne, Cleopatra, and Messalina. This scene is erotic and brings to mind the incident of sexual dreams Jonathan Harker has in relation to the female vampires in Dracula’s castle.

The actual Chateau d’If where Dantès is imprisoned in the novel.

The novel’s resurrection theme continues when Dantès learns from Bertucci, a Corsican and his servant, about how he had once broken into a home of Villefort and discovered Villefort burying a treasure. Bertucci attacked Villefort to get the treasure, only to discover instead the box contained a child whose umbilical cord was wrapped around its neck; Bertucci believes Villefort thought the child dead and was burying it—trying to hide its existence since it is also illegitimate—but Bertucci realizes the child is alive and rescues it. The child has then literally risen from the grave. The child grows up to be named Benedetto. He is a malevolent being, and in time, Dantès hires him to help bring about his revenge against his enemies. Later, Dantès will reveal the secret of this child’s burial when he invites Villefort and his mistress, mother of the child, to the house, which he has purchased now for himself. He frightens them by saying the house is haunted by ghosts and then recounting the story of the child’s burial without revealing the players’ names.

As the novel continues, Dantès creates havoc in the lives of his enemies, while his true identity remains unknown to them. He enjoys promoting his mysteriousness, telling Villefort he’s one of the superior angelic beings and his kingdom is great because he’s cosmopolitan—no one can claim to know his birthplace and only God knows when he’ll die. Because he’s cosmopolitan, he has no national scruples. These references again make him akin to the Wandering Jew, cursed by God to wander the earth for who knows how long—but who often is depicted as working to reduce his curse by serving God’s purposes. Dantès’ cosmopolitan nature in the novel may well have inspired Lew Wallace’s depiction of The Wandering Jew in his novel The Prince of India (1893), in which the Jew, masquerading as an Indian prince, goes to Constantinople at the time of its fall in 1453. The Wandering Jew in the novel also has a great treasure that is hidden away. It is also likely that The Count of Monte Cristo, with its emphasis on revenge, inspired Wallace’s novel Ben Hur (1880), which also is about revenge and redemption. Further research needs to be done to see if Wallace was a reader of Dumas’ novel, but I think it very likely.

Faust is also part of Dantès’ characterization. Dantès claims, that like everyone else, he has been tempted by Satan; here he takes on the role of Christ, offered great wealth if he will worship Satan. This biblical scene is the original Faustian pact, a common theme in Gothic literature, though Christ refuses to make it, and so does Dantès. He claims he resisted this temptation by becoming an agent of Providence, punishing and rewarding according to God’s will. He is viewed as one of God’s angels by the Morel family in the novel, to whom he is a benefactor, Monsieur Morel having owned the ship Dantès had sailed upon and having been the only one who sought to help Dantès when he was unjustly accused.

In truth, Dantès in the guise of the Count of Monte Cristo is a master of disguise. He claims as his close associates Lord Wilmore of England, who hates him after some nasty business happened between them in India, and a friend, the Abbe Busani. Actually, they are not his associates but people he also masquerades as. He does so especially when Villefort makes inquiries of both to find out the truth about the count. Of course, in both roles, Dantès feeds Villefort incredible stories. One is that the count bought a house to open up a lunatic asylum—perhaps another suggestion that seeped into Bram Stoker’s brain in writing Dracula. After all, Dracula is also a count and buys a house near a lunatic asylum where he manipulates the lunatic Renfield.

The Wandering Jew theme in the novel may have been suggested to Dumas partly because of his source material. The novel is based on the true-life story of Francois Picaud, who was a shoemaker or cobbler. Dumas found the story in Jacques Peuchet’s Police dévoilée: Mémoires historiques tirés des archives de Paris… (1838), a collection of anecdotes from the Paris police archives. While Picaud’s story shares many similarities to that of Dantès in the novel, Dumas made some changes such as shifting Dantès’ origins to Marseilles rather than Paris. However, what interests me here is the shoemaker origins. The Wandering Jew was himself a shoemaker who refused to let Christ rest outside his door on the way to Calvary; as a result he was cursed to wander the earth until Christ’s return. The shoemaker theme relates to the wandering—shoes being needed for long journeys. Here also we may have an influence of the novel upon Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) since Dr. Manette, when imprisoned in the Bastille, takes up shoemaking. Manette wanders about his rooms ceaselessly at night. Manette’s imprisonment in the Bastille also recalls Dantès’ long imprisonment, including that he was wrongly accused. Dickens would also use the resurrection theme in his novel, Manette being reclaimed to life, and there is a resurrection man, Jerry Cruncher, in the novel whose initials are the same as those of Jesus Christ. (For more on the Gothic elements of A Tale of Two Cities, see my book The Gothic Wanderer.)

One other Gothic theme in the novel is that of gambling. Madame Danglars is a great gambler who gambles away much of her husband’s fortune. Gambling is not limited to gaming, however; the count purposely uses the telegram to create false rumors that affect the buying and selling of stocks, which leads to Danglars’ financial ruin. Gambling was seen as a transgression against God in Gothic literature because people tried to rise above their social and financial status by gambling to gain great wealth. This transgression was linked to the philosopher’s stone that could manipulate world economies by manufacturing wealth.

Buss, in his introduction, says that Dumas could not have written this novel without first being influenced by Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-4). That novel created urban crime fiction, and Paris is similarly the setting to the later parts of Dumas’ novel. Certainly, that Dumas took the frame of his story from Jacques Peuchet’s Police dévoilée: Mémoires historiques tirés des archives de Paris… suggests that he was trying to create an urban crime story to ride the coattails of Sue’s popular novel. Although only part of The Count of Monte Cristo is set in Paris, it is in the Paris scenes that the count enacts most of his revenge, creating many mysteries that those he would be revenged upon do not understand. At the same time, Dantès is benevolent much like Prince Rodolphe in Sue’s novel. Rodolphe disguises himself as a common worker to go out among the people, like Haroun al-Rashid—another tie to the Arabian Nights—to find people deserving of his benevolence. However, while in Sue’s novel, the prince aids convicts to help reform them, in Dumas’ novel, the count aids criminals only so they will help him achieve his revenge. These criminals in the end are also punished in various ways, despite their role in bringing about the count’s form of justice.

The Chateau de Monte Cristo, a home Alexandre Dumas built with money from the sales of his novels. Today, it is a museum.

Despite Dantès’ believing he is the hand of Providence, at the end of the novel, when he sees the full extent of the misery he has inflicted upon his enemies, he begins to question whether he has acted justly. After almost everyone in Villefort’s family has died, Villefort realizes he has been unjust toward his own wife, who has poisoned some of the family. He says she caught the disease of crime from him like it was the plague and he decides they will leave France together to wander the earth—another play on the Wandering Jew theme. However, Villefort arrives home to find it is too late—his wife has already killed herself. At this point, Dantès reveals who he is to Villefort, and having pity on him, tells him he has paid his debt and is satisfied. It’s too late, however; Villefort goes mad. Dantès then rushes from the house in horror, fearing he has gone too far.

Dantès is now filled with doubt and despair. He meets Mércèdes one last time—she long ago realized who he was and she begged him to spare her son when the two dueled—film versions often make the son Dantès’ son—but Dumas did not go that far. Dantès now parts from Mércèdes, knowing he has impoverished her and her son after her husband, Fernand, committed suicide, but he makes sure they are provided for.

Reexamining his life, Dantès next travels to the Chateau d’If, where he had been imprisoned, and there hears from the guard the history of the abbe and the escaped prisoner—the guard does not realize he is telling Dantès his own story. Dantès now asks God to take away his doubt that he has been acting as God’s agent in carrying out his revenge. When the guard gives Dantès the abbe’s manuscript of the history of the Italian monarchy as a gift, Dantès notices the book’s epitaph, “‘You will pull the dragon’s teeth and trample the lions underfoot,’ said the Lord,” and takes it as a sign that he has done the right thing in bringing about justice.

In the novel’s final chapter, Dantès completes his transformation from a resurrected vampire into a resurrected Christ figure. Throughout the novel, while he has wreaked revenge on his enemies, he has also spared the good, especially those of the second generation who were not responsible for their fathers’ sins. By not punishing sins to the third and fourth generation like the Old Testament God of the Hebrews, he also acts like a Christ figure who forgives sins. Among the second generation is Valentine, the daughter of Villefort. When Villefort’s wife was poisoning members of the family so that her son could become sole heir, Dantès manipulated events so that when Valentine’s life was in jeopardy, it would only appear she had also died. Dantès does not reveal his secret even to Valentine’s lover, Max Morel. Now in the novel’s final scene, he brings Max to the isle of Monte Cristo, where Max expects the count will help him carry out his suicide because he is so grief-stricken over Valentine’s death. Instead, Max finds Valentine there, alive and well, like Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead by Christ (a reference Dumas makes, thus equating the count with Christ). One also can’t help thinking of Romeo and Juliet in this scene where poison and suicide both figure in for the lovers, but instead of tragedy, life and happiness are restored.

In truth, while films and other adaptations of the novel have treated The Count of Monte Cristo as a great adventure novel, it is truly much more akin to Shakespearean and other Renaissance revenge tragedies. The novel may well have brought the revenge theme strongly back into literature in a way it had not known since the Renaissance. It is probably no accident that a slew of novels focused on revenge followed in the nineteenth century.

The first such novel that comes to mind is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Heathcliff, like The Count of Monte Cristo, is bent upon revenge. Heathcliff also has a great deal of mystery about both his origins and how he came by his wealth and what he did in the years he was absent from Wuthering Heights. I do not know if Emily Brontë read The Count of Monte Cristo, but I think it very likely since the novel’s publishing history in England, as detailed at Wikipedia, shows that several translations were available in England beginning in 1845, including serialization beginning in 1845 in W. Francis Ainsworth’s Ainsworth’s Magazine. Another abridged serialization appeared in The London Journal between 1846 and 1847, and the first single volume translation in English was an abridged version published by Geo Pierce in January 1846 as The Prisoner of If or The Revenge of Monte Christo. The novel also began appearing in April 1846 as part of the Parlour Novelist series of volumes, translated by Emma Hardy and in an anonymous translation by Chapman and Hall in 1846. One would have to learn more about the dating of the manuscript of Wuthering Heights to determine if an influence is possible in this short timeframe. (Some suggest she began the novel as early as 1837 but no later than October, 1845.) However, Brontë also read French—in fact, she lived in Belgium in 1842 to perfect her French so she could teach it. Given that the novel was published in France in 1844, that allows three years for Brontë to read it and be influenced by it in writing her own novel. I find I am not the first to suggest this possibility. Robert Stowell argued this point in “Brontë Borrowings: Charlotte Brontë and Ivanhoe, Emily Brontë and The Count of Monte Cristo,” Brontë Society Transactions, 21: 6 (1996), 249–251. However, while Stowell highlights similarities between the novels, there is no hard evidence to prove Brontë read Dumas. The text of Stowell’s article can be found at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/count-monte-cristo.

As mentioned earlier, revenge is a key theme also in Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur (1880) along with the title character’s ultimate redemption when he becomes a Christian and learns forgiveness. Wallace scholars are well aware of Dumas’ influence on Ben Hur and The Count of Monte Cristo also influenced Wallace’s later novel The Prince of India (1893). According to Wikipedia:

Ben-Hur was also inspired in part by Wallace’s love of romantic novels, including those written by Sir Walter Scott and Jane Porter, and The Count of Monte Cristo (1846) by Alexandre Dumas, père. The Dumas novel was based on the memoirs of an early 19th-century French shoemaker who was unjustly imprisoned and spent the rest of his life seeking revenge. Wallace could relate to the character’s isolation of imprisonment. He explained in his autobiography that, while he was writing Ben-Hur, ‘the Count of Monte Cristo in his dungeon of stone was not more lost to the world.’”

Also, as noted above, I suspect influence on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In addition, The Count of Monte Cristo brings to mind the wealthy and mysterious financier Melmotte in Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1872) and even Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) because of his equally enormous wealth and mysterious background. While more research should be done to confirm these possible influences, to me, the novel’s incredible influence on both Gothic and realistic fiction that followed it cannot be overstated.

Alexandre Dumas

Too often, The Count of Monte Cristo has been dismissed as an adventure novel and even reduced to a children’s classic. In truth, it is a masterpiece of Gothic fiction, drawing upon numerous Gothic themes to tell not only a story of revenge but the transformation of one man’s soul as he struggles between his human inclinations for revenge, a belief in God, and trying to find a happy medium of justice where evil is punished but the good rewarded while leaving room for benevolence and redemption. It is time that the novel receive the critical attention it deserves, including taking its place in the Gothic canon on the same shelf as Polidori’s The Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and firmly planted between Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

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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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Filed under Alexandre Dumas, Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Gothic Places, revenge tragedies, The Wandering Jew

A Review of the Essay Collection “Gothic and Racism” Edited by Cristina Artenie

Gothic and Racism is a collection of essays about how Gothic literature reflects racist ideas and uses ideas about race to create the horror central to it as a genre. This collection, published in 2015 by Universitas Press, is edited by Cristina Artenie. I have previously reviewed Artenie’s book Dracula Invades England (2015) at this blog. When Artenie saw my blog post, she was kind enough to contact me and send me copies of her three other books. This blog post is about the first of those books. Future blog posts will be made about her other two books Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices (2016) and Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition (2016).

Gothic and Racism is composed of a very diverse group of essays about the Gothic. While my interest in the Gothic is primarily eighteenth and nineteenth century novels, the collection includes essays on modern novels, films, a television series, and a Gothic memorial in India. While some of these essays interested me more than others, I found them all informative and insightful. My only real criticism is that some are written in too academic a language for my taste. Not wishing to write in that style is one of the reasons I left academia. I have never understood why someone would utilize a large word when they could use a small one. Consequently, some were easier to read than others, but the patient reader will find all of them of value.

Since I will not discuss all the essays here in detail, it is fair to provide a complete list of them so topics that may not interest me as much but would interest others can be brought to people’s attention. Besides Artenie’s introduction, there are ten essays altogether:

  1. “Gothic Horror and Racial Infection in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” by Avishek Parui
  2. “Abramovitch’s The Mare: Russian Imperialism and the Yiddish Gothic Novel” by Meital Orr
  3. “Strange Gods, Monstrous Aliens, and the Ignoble Savage: Revealing and Obscuring Xenophobia in H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu’” by Joanna Wilson
  4. “The Appropriation of the Gothic in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries” by Jessica Birch
  5. “Bigger Faustus: The Purpose of Diabolism in Richard Wright’s Native Son” by Mark Henderson
  6. “Women of Colour in Queer(ed) Space: Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees” by Monalesia Earle
  7. “Return of the Repressed Slaveholding Past in Three Horror Films: Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934), Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) and White Dog (1982)” by Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns, Mariana Zárate, and Patricia Vazquez
  8. “A House Divided: Porous Borders in American Horror Story: Murder House (Fox TV, 2011)” by Lance Hanson
  9. “Forever Beyond the Forest: Dracula and the Neo-Victorian Editors” by Cristina Artenie
  10. “Mutiny Memorial: Imperial Gothic in Victorian Delhi” by Ipshita Nath and Anubhav Pradhan

To discuss each essay would be tedious and ruin the experience for readers of reading the book for themselves, but I will point out some of the interesting highlights of some of the essays.

In the introduction, Artenie begins with a discussion of how the Gothic is racist in its treatment of people from other cultures and nations. It uses “othering” of people from other cultures as a way to turn them into monsters or at least objects of terror. She argues that while the tendency to “other” people is now acknowledged and fully explored in postcolonial literature, it has been largely overlooked in Gothic studies. For example, editors of Dracula have completely ignored how the novel turns the people of Transylvania, Romania, and Eastern Europe into the Other to create an atmosphere of horror in the novel.

I found Meital Orr’s essay on Abramovitch’s The Mare particularly interesting since I had never heard of the novel. Orr discusses how oppression of the Jews in Russia led to Abramovictch’s novel. The novel really turns Western European Gothic literature’s treatment of Jewish people on its head. In most Gothic novels, the Jews are racial stereotypes or symbolic of the Wandering Jew, as in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795). Orr discusses how Melmoth the Wanderer influenced Russian literature, particularly Doestoevski and Abramovitch. In The Mare, however, Abramovitch makes the anti-Semite the Gothic devil figure. Abramovitch thereby pioneered the Yiddish Gothic novel, using racism itself as the true source of Gothic horror. I am looking forward to reading The Mare at a future date to learn more about how Abramovitch used the Gothic’s own tropes to turn it against itself.

I have to admit I have never read any of H. P. Lovecraft, which seems like a serious void in my reading of the Gothic, but I did find Joanna Wilson’s essay on “The Call of Cthulha” very interesting. I was especially interested, however, in the theme of racial degeneration in some of Lovecraft’s other works, including “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (1921) in which the title character commits suicide upon discovering his great-great grandmother was a white ape. This interests me since Lovecraft was writing about the same time Edgar Rice Burroughs was writing his Tarzan novels and Caspak series—in the latter, characters evolve from ape to human within one lifetime. Of course, Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) is also relevant here.

Several of the essays analyzed how the African-American experience is treated in the Gothic. Mark Henderson’s essay on Richard Wright’s Native Son was interesting because he sees the novel as a continuation of the “negative Romanticism” of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. Wright plays on white people’s fear of black people by turning the main character Bigger into a type of Frankenstein monster who has been created by the whites—he becomes the monster they fear because they create him. Jessica Birch’s essay discussing Charlaine Harris’ Southern vampire mysteries points out that American Gothic is often perceived as specific to a particular region. Birch cites Toni Morrison’s statement that American Gothic is haunted by race. I found this viewpoint interesting because when I think of American Gothic, I think of Poe and Hawthorne primarily and do not feel that is true in them. Hawthorne’s Gothic comes out a Puritan mindset of guilt. Poe’s horror often has European settings and I don’t remember any characters of other races in it, though there may be. However, I also think of Charles Brockden Brown and James Fenimore Cooper who preceded Poe and Hawthorne. Brown’s Edgar Huntly and Cooper’s novels to a lesser extent rely on Native Americans to be the sources of horror for the main characters. However, today, American Gothic horror instead relies a great deal on the horrors and repercussions of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans. How the horrors of slavery continue to affect America is wonderfully explored in this book’s essay “Return of the Repressed Slaveholding Past in Three Horror Films: Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934), Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) and White Dog (1938). The first film is racist in itself while the other two films explore the legacy of slavery and racism. However, these legacies are not limited to the United States. Monalesia Earle’s essay in this book discusses Ann Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, a novel set in Nova Scotia that explores black, female, and queer issues.

Lance Hanson’s essay on American Horror Story: Murder House made me convinced I never want to watch the TV show as being too violent and over the top for me. However, his essay is interesting because of what it says about American Gothic. He quotes Teresa Goddu’s Gothic America: “the [American] gothic tells of the historical horrors that make national identity possible yet must be repressed in order to sustain it,” and then he shows how the TV show reflects this truth. He also quotes a review of the show by James Donaghy in The Guardian which reflects what for me is the problem with most horror films and TV shows today: “It fails miserably to differentiate between paying homage to horror and throwing every single horror trope into a blender and pouring the results over our heads.” I feel there is no true sincerity in horror film today, which makes many of them more disgusting or laughable than truly scary or worth watching. An example is Sleepy Hollow (1999), starring Johnny Depp, which begins with a powerful Gothic atmosphere but by the end of the movie becomes camp, which completely ruined the film for me.

I found Nath and Pradhan’s article on the Mutiny Memorial in New Delhi a rather surprising essay to include in a collection focused mostly on books and film. However, the authors make a good case for discussing why this memorial to British and Indian soldiers who died in an 1857 mutiny against British rule has a Gothic design. The authors discuss other Gothic buildings of the time period including the Palace of Westminster (the parliament building) and the Albert Memorial as examples of how Gothic architecture came to be equated with Englishness and the English national identity. Consequently, a Gothic monument in India was a way to express English dominance of India.

My primary interest in this book, of course, was the two essays on Dracula. Avishek Parui’s essay “Gothic Horror and Racial Infection in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” builds a lot on previous scholarship about race in Dracula and the concept that Count Dracula and his vampirism reflect a fear of Eastern European immigration to England. Parui expands on the idea by talking about how the British and French at the time had pseudo-scientific fears of degeneration and biological regression. Anthropologists of the time promoted racial inferiority beliefs in the possibility of evolutionary reversal to a lesser race, which they feared could occur through racial mixing. Of particular interest was how women with masculine features were seen as degenerate, excessively erotic, and lacking in maternal feeling. This for me explains a lot about the way more outspoken women in British literature and cross-dressing women are treated in eighteenth and nineteenth century novels. See my previous posts on this topic on Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1802), Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison (1754) and Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809). In Dracula, Lucy reflects this kind of mannish woman in her remark that she would like to marry all three of her suitors. This makes her a deviant, monopolistic woman, and consequently, degenerate and more likely to fall into Dracula’s power.

Finally, Cristina Artenie’s essay on editorial practices in Dracula was the one I really read the book for. This essay is likely an earlier or shorter version of the book that followed it, Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices, which I intend to review in full at this blog later, so I won’t go into great detail on it, but Artenie makes an incredible case for just how much foolishness has gone into Dracula studies. She references five major annotated editions of Dracula and a few minor ones. She notes that while the novel only has seven chapters in total set in Romania/Transylvania, they are the most heavily annotated. Unfortunately, the annotations often rely on quoting Stoker’s notes rather than his actual sources. They also rely on inaccurate sources that were written by people from outside Romania/Transylvania. Worst of all, they often rely on quoting one another rather than getting to the bottom of sources. The result is a continual repetition of misinformation. The editors also often reference their own travels through Romania on “Dracula tours” and their conversations with people they met in Romania, many of whom are not Romanian. Furthermore, they focus on looking for similarities in the Romanian landscape and historical places to affirm similarities with the novel rather than focusing on the differences from the text. They also love to rely on foreign sources about Vlad Tepes and even exaggerate them to make them more grotesque, ignoring Romanian sources that report how much Tepes’ opponents slandered him. Worst of all, they fail in their annotations to distinguish between what is fiction/fantasy and what is reality in Dracula when it comes to depictions of Romania. As I previously stated in my review of Artenie’s Dracula Invades England, her revelation about these issues that reflect a preconceived if unintentional racism toward the Romanian people in the novel and by its editors is groundbreaking in Dracula scholarship because it increases our understanding of the novel and its cultural influence, which has included making Dracula the first thing that comes to mind when Romania is mentioned. For more on this topic, see also my blog post about my own recent visit to Romania. I admit to being guilty of exactly what Artenie is complaining about—going to Romania to search for Dracula connections as if Romania were some sort of Gothic Disneyland. It is not, and frankly, I came away disappointed by the lack of Dracula atmosphere in the country, despite efforts by the tourism industry, but I found so much that is wonderful about Romania that I hope to return some day. I left Romania feeling what an injustice has been done to it by Stoker’s novel, and then I discovered Artenie’s work and was thrilled to know at least one Romanian is fighting to dispel these myths and the rampant racism that has resulted.

Gothic and Racism is well worth reading, and I highly recommend it to all interested in Gothic studies. I hope the contributors all continue to make their voices heard in revealing the role racism has played in Gothic fiction, and by extension, helping to heal much of our Gothic historical past.

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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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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula, Gothic Places, Gothic/Horror Films, Literary Criticism, The Wandering Jew

The Husband as Horror: Charlotte Smith’s Montalbert

Charlotte Smith’s 1795 novel Montalbert, although not strictly a Gothic novel, uses many Gothic themes and elements to create a somewhat uneven but still powerful story. Smith (1749-1806) was the author of several late eighteenth century novels that use Gothic elements. She was a contemporary of Fanny Burney and Mrs. Radcliffe and wrote largely in the same vein as them. She was also a precursor to Jane Austen, and her poetry had an influence on the Romantics. Previously, I blogged about her novel Ethelinde (1789).

The most affordable edition of Montalbert, although a poor edition without page numbers and many typos. Good editions of her novels are hard to find.

At the center of Montalbert is young Rosalie Lessington. She is the youngest daughter in her family, but experiences a sort of coldness from her parents, a situation that is exasperated when her father dies and omits her from his will. Soon after, Rosalie learns she is really the daughter of Mrs. Lessington’s friend, Mrs. Vyvian. Mrs. Vyvian, before she married her current husband, had loved an Irishman named Ormsby, but her father, named Montalbert, opposed the marriage and forcefully had them separated. Mrs. Vyvian was then coerced into marrying her current husband, whom she has always had a bad relationship with. When she gave birth to Ormsby’s illegitimate daughter, Rosalie, she asked Mrs. Lessington to raise the child as if she were her own. Rosalie eventually learns the truth of her birth, and Mrs. Vyvian tells her a detailed story of love and separation from Ormsby, including the horrible belief that her father had Ormsby killed. Mrs. Vyvian’s story is one of the most Gothic sections of the novel.

In Mrs. Vyvian’s illicit romance, Smith seems to be drawing upon Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison (1753-1754). Richardson’s novel focuses on Englishman Sir Charles’ love for the Italian Clementina. Because he is Anglican and she Catholic, and because of familial opposition, they cannot be married. In Montalbert, both Mr. and Mrs. Vyvian are Catholic, although he later leaves the church while she remains Catholic. Her lover, Ormsby, being Irish, is also likely Catholic, so it is not religion but social and financial status that cause Mrs. Vyvian’s father’s opposition to the marriage. Regardless, the family’s Catholicism will affect Rosalie’s own future marriage.

Rosalie’s illegitimacy plays on Gothic and Sensibility novel themes as well. In Burney’s Evelina (1778), the title character is illegitimate and seeking her father’s recognition. Later, in Burney’s The Wanderer (1814), the main character is assumed illegitimate. In other novels like Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest (1791), the main character’s father remains unknown and, consequently, an incestuous relationship almost results for her.

Smith uses illegitimacy and incest as themes in Montalbert. Before Rosalie learns the truth about her identity, Mrs. Vyvian’s son returns to England with his cousin, Montalbert (for whom the novel is named). Rosalie and Montalbert become smitten with each other, but everyone else assumes Rosalie and the young Vyvian are attached and both the Lessingtons and Mrs. Vyvian oppose the match. Mrs. Vyvian finally tells Rosalie that young Vyvian is her half-brother. Fortunately, Rosalie is instead involved with her cousin Montalbert, and marriages between cousins are permissible.

Rosalie was raised Protestant and Montalbert Catholic, but she agrees to marry him regardless. However, the marriage must be secret because while he had an English father, his mother is a wealthy Italian of noble birth who would not approve because she has already picked another young woman to be his bride. Montalbert assures Rosalie they can be married by a priest and later he’ll make peace with his mother. Rosalie agrees to the secret marriage. This section of the novel is one of the weakest. Smith does not develop Rosalie and Montalbert’s relationship enough to convince us of their love, but before we know it, not only are they married but Rosalie is pregnant.

Smith is less interested in romance than in putting her heroine in a precarious situation so the rest of the novel’s plot will work. However, it should be noted that Montalbert is typical of other men in Gothic novels by women. Like Valancourt in Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Montalbert is charming but ultimately impotent in his ability to act like a real man. Valancourt fails to rescue Emily St. Aubert when she is imprisoned in Udolpho—he doesn’t even go after her but instead becomes mixed up in gambling and ends up in prison. Montalbert is far from being a manly man, being under the thumb of his rich mother. He brings Rosalie to Italy in secret, then leaves her at Messina with his friend while he goes to wait on his mother. Rosalie is now separated from Montalbert for nearly half the novel, constantly awaiting his return. Like Valancourt, Montalbert becomes an absent presence as the reader keeps wondering where he is and when he will finally come to Rosalie’s aid.

While at Messina, Rosalie’s troubles begin. Smith, unlike other Gothic novelists, does not set her novel in the distant past but in more recent times. Later, she even reveals it’s the year 1784. Rosalie experiences one of the real earthquakes that occurred at Messina in February and March 1783 (1784 actually but the old calendar was used in Italy at this time when the new year began on March 25). During the earthquake, Montalbert’s friend, Count Alozzi, has his villa destroyed, as is the building where Rosalie resides. Fortunately, she and her child survive, as does the count. The count then takes her to his home in Naples, although she does not want to go but would rather wait for Montalbert to return. Later, we learn Montalbert thinks she died in the earthquake, and only after he learns she lives, does he begin to follow her.

The most Gothic scenes of the novel follow when the count takes Rosalie and her child to Calabria to a fortress, the Castle of Formiscusa. Not surprisingly, the castle is haunted by a murdered knight. But Smith shies away from introducing the supernatural. Instead, we are reminded of confinement scenes in other Gothic novels like Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) as well as Mrs. Radcliffe’s works. Rosalie is served by a rather unfriendly nun and confined to the castle and its grounds, basically the count’s prisoner, unable to leave or send word to Montalbert of her whereabouts.

Outside the castle, Rosalie meets Walsingham, an Englishman who befriends her and helps her escape to Marseilles. From there, they book passage to England. Rosalie understands the impropriety of traveling with a man who is not her relative, but she feels she has no choice and Walsingham appears to be honorable. Most people who see them together assume they are married. Walsingham quickly falls in love with Rosalie, but being a gentleman, he represses his feelings and promises to help her reunite with her husband. Walsingham has his own past, having loved a lady named Leonora, who has died. Consequently, he lives the melancholy life of a wanderer and even tells Rosalie that once he helps her reunite with Montalbert, he will return to the life of a “dissipated wanderer,” seeking a way to replace the happiness she has given him.

Charlotte Turner Smith. Her bad marriage forced her to write for money and she used her marriage as source material.

Eventually, Montalbert catches up with Rosalie and Walsingham in England, but by the time he does, he’s heard rumors that Rosalie is with Walsingham and believes she has been unfaithful to him. In a moment of true horror for Rosalie, Montalbert sees her on the beach and calls out her name, but when she tries to approach him, he runs from her, saying she is lost to him forever. Rosalie is shocked and beside herself; soon after, she becomes completely immobilized when Montalbert sends men to remove her son from her. Montalbert’s temper and assumption she is unfaithful make him a sorry excuse for a husband and father, and his rejection of her becomes the greatest cause of horror for Rosalie in the novel.

Rosalie now becomes very ill. During this time, her half-brother, Vyvian, and her adopted brother, Lessington, find her and bring her father Ormsby to her. Ormsby was not killed by Mrs. Vyvian’s father but has been in India all these years, becoming filthy rich.

Montalbert now shows himself at Rosalie’s residence to state he has killed Walsingham. In truth, he has confused Walsingham with a cousin of the same name whom he killed in a duel. When the correct Walsingham now arrives, Montalbert shoots him. Walsingham, in great pain, pleads his innocence and forgives Montalbert for killing him, wishing Rosalie and Montalbert only happiness.

Fortunately, Walsingham recovers from his wound. Montalbert is now reunited with Rosalie and allows her to see her child. However, being estranged from his mother, he is financially cut off from his inheritance. Ormsby is willing to support his daughter and her family, but Montalbert and Ormsby don’t get along, resulting in Ormsby hoping Montalbert will go abroad as a fugitive after the murder he committed, so he can have his daughter and her son to himself.

However, Walsingham saves the day. He goes to Montalbert’s mother and manages to work out a reconciliation between her and her son so that Montalbert will have an income and she will leave her wealth to her grandchildren. Everyone is now happy except Walsingham, who decides he will wander to Spain, Portugal, and the East Indies, seeking science and knowledge; the only thing that softens the sadness of his destiny is knowing Rosalie is happy.

Talk about unrequited love. Smith’s novel is full of coincidences and plot twists that feel rather unrealistic, but where she excels is in creating in Walsingham a true Gothic wanderer figure. While most Gothic wanderers commit transgressions, he is innocent yet his grief over Leonora and now his inability to be with Rosalie make him an outcast from the human race. In his altruistic behavior, Walsingham is an early version of Dickens’ Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities (1859) who gives his life to save the husband of the woman he loves. Similarly, Walsingham acts always for Rosalie’s happiness even when her husband behaves like a maniac. Rosalie is, frankly, a fool to have married Montalbert in the first place, and one cannot help but think her married life will be miserable with such a man. This is a weak man who cannot stand up to his own mother, who has a violent temper, and who easily jumps to assumptions and accuses his wife of infidelity. Even though Smith resolves Rosalie’s current marriage problems, we can only imagine the horror and perhaps terror of living with such a man for life.

Like many of Smith’s other novels, Montalbert was influenced by her own unhappy marriage. Her father forced her into a marriage that she said made her a “legal prostitute.” Her husband was a violent, immoral man. Montalbert does not seem immoral in his activities, but he certainly has a temper. I’m actually surprised Smith allows Rosalie to stay with Montalbert in the end, but to have Rosalie run off with Walsingham or in some way kill off Montalbert might have been too indecorous or unrealistic an ending, even if it’s the ending the reader would prefer.

After finishing the book, Walsingham is the character the reader remembers. Although not a transgressor, his going off to seek knowledge and science finally links him to transgressive Gothic wanderers who seek forbidden knowledge like the title character of William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799). I wish Smith were more specific in what Walsingham seeks—he is not the type to delve into the supernatural, but rather, he is likely seeking the meaning of life—while his sadness makes his life appear pointless and existential. Smith’s use of religion in the novel only causes problems for her characters. The novel is devoid of any sense of Christian redemption, which is at odds with many of the more religious Gothic novels of the time. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) is often cited as perhaps the first existential novel. However, Montalbert predates it by thirty-one years, and while Smith does not wax philosophical in it, much can be read between the lines.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, PhD, 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. He also writes history and historical fiction about Upper Michigan. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Mary Shelley

The End of Human History: Mary Shelley’s Pandemic Novel “The Last Man”

The following blog post is an excerpt from my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, written in 1826 and set in the future 2081-2100 has never been more relevant than it is now during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The Last Man: The Rejection of Romanticism

The Last Man is a more mature expression of the existentialism Shelley developed in Frankenstein, yet it has received less critical attention, largely because the critics condemned it upon its publication in 1826. After the 1833 second edition, the novel was out of print until 1965. One of the major criticisms against the novel was that it merely mouthed the Romantic theories of Percy Shelley, a charge also made against Frankenstein. A close reading of the novel, however, reveals that Mary Shelley did not use the novel to express her husband’s theories, but rather, she created her own uniquely existential and anti-Romantic vision of the future. Written shortly after the deaths of John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron, The Last Man mourns the passing of the great Romantic poets and their ideas, but simultaneously, it exposes the severe flaws of Romanticism and its natural supernaturalism. The novel’s negative and apocalyptic vision of the twenty-first century is a repudiation of Romantic millennialism. Shelley further rejects the possibility of God, Nature, or some divine and benevolent force that orders the universe and directs it toward some glorious goal. Even more so than Frankenstein, The Last Man emphasizes that even if God exists, He is not concerned in human affairs and has no plan for human salvation. Shelley’s rejection of a possible hopeful future for humanity is best evidenced in her inversion of the Romantic myth of consciousness. All the Romantic poets had their own versions of this myth which purports that people pass from a stage of innocence in childhood into experience as adults; once in the stage of experience, people long to return to the stage of innocence, but this return is impossible. Most people remain in the stage of experience, while a few progress into wise innocence where they can acquire what Wordsworth termed the “philosophic mind” (“Intimations” 184) to reconcile themselves with the past and use experience for their benefit. Shelley inverts this Romantic belief system in the stages of the main character’s life. Lionel Verney’s childhood begins in the stage of experience where he is an orphaned outcast and wanderer. Lionel passes into a happy stage of innocence as an adult when he marries and has friends; however, he returns to experience when a plague wipes out the human race, leaving him the sole survivor. He is then unable to find innocence again because of the misery he has known and the lack of other humans to console him. Shelley’s inversion of the Romantic myth of consciousness displays her rejection of Romanticism and her existential belief that there is no future happiness for people because there is no divine plan or order to the universe. This perspective, distinct from Shelley’s Romantic contemporaries, reveals that she had her own intellectual abilities and literary talents rather than merely being the mouthpiece of her husband and friends’ Romantic beliefs. Shelley also adapts the Gothic wanderer figure, as in Frankenstein, by creating a main character who is innocent yet suffers from others’ transgressions. Lionel Verney becomes the ultimate example of the existential Gothic wanderer who is isolated in a world without meaning.

 

The Sibyl: Immortality and Prophecy

The charge that Shelley was her husband’s mouthpiece stems from critical overemphasis upon the extent to which Percy Shelley assisted his wife in editing Frankenstein. While her husband was dead by the time Shelley wrote The Last Man, critics have pointed to the “Author’s Introduction” as proof of Percy Shelley’s influence upon the novel. In the introduction, Mary Shelley creates a fictional source for the novel by using the Gothic mode of discovering a fragmented manuscript which she has merely edited (Mishra 162). Shelley claims that she and her companion (Percy Shelley) came upon this manuscript while visiting the Sibyl’s cave near Naples. The manuscript was a collection of unorganized narrative fragments written on leaves that Mary Shelley had to arrange and decipher. The writing was in numerous languages including “ancient Chaldee, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, old as the Pyramids. Stranger still, some were in modern dialects, English and Italian” (3). The leaves contain prophecies, names of famous people, exultations of victory or woes of defeat (3). From the leaves, Shelley collects all those that detail Lionel Verney’s eyewitness account of how the human race became extinct because of a plague during the last years of the twenty-first century. These leaves are assembled to form the novel’s text.

Shelley uses the Sibyl’s cave as the tale’s source because the Sibyl’s immortality makes her symbolic of a Gothic wanderer. Traditionally, the Sibyl was punished for rejecting Apollo’s sexual advances by being condemned to eternal life without eternal youth and constantly being forced to prophesy the future (Smith 48). As with the Gothic wanderer who achieves life-extension, the Sibyl finds that her extended life is only extended misery. The Sibyl becomes the novel’s doppelganger of Lionel Verney who remains alive while the rest of the human race dies from a plague. While Lionel does not prophesy like the Sibyl, his story of the future is inexplicably found in the Sibyl’s cave three centuries before the occurrence of the events described. Steven Goldsmith has argued that the Sibyl represents Mary Shelley because the Sibyl had Apollo’s prophesies breathed into her as Apollo’s medium. Similarly, Shelley was the medium for her husband’s Romantic vision, which she was attempting to prolong by writing The Last Man (275-7). I believe Shelley did not intend such a symbolic comparison, but instead, she merely compared herself to the Sibyl because she had outlived her Romantic friends. In addition, like the Sibyl, Shelley felt she was prophetic because she was writing about the future. Shelley’s pessimistic prophecy rejects the Romantic belief that the human race will eventually evolve into a state of millennial happiness. Instead, Shelley believed in a form of existentialism in which life is without meaning so no future state of happiness will be likely or lasting. Shelley’s existential ideas are best reflected in her depiction of Lionel Verney’s life as an inversion of the Romantic myth of consciousness.

 

Lionel Verney as Gothic Wanderer

The Last Man begins with Lionel Verney’s childhood in the stage of experience as opposed to the Romantic belief that childhood is the stage of innocence. Shelley draws on the Gothic tradition by depicting Lionel as a wanderer and social outcast because his father committed the social transgression of gambling. Shelley possibly drew upon her father’s St. Leon to depict Lionel’s father as a gambler who impoverishes his family because of his vice. Lionel’s father was not born a noble, but he worked his way up in society until he became the King of England’s closest friend; however, Mr. Verney became addicted to gambling and fell into debt. Mr. Verney’s adversities were relieved by the king in exchange for promises that he would mend his ways. Mr. Verney failed to keep these promises because “his social disposition, his craving for the usual diet of admiration, and more than all, the fiend of gambling, which fully possessed him, made his good resolutions transient, his promises vain” (6). The king remained indulgent toward his friend, but the queen disapproved of her husband’s friendship. Eventually, the king grew tired of his wife’s complaints and made one last attempt to reform Lionel’s father by paying off his debts. Mr. Verney ruined this final chance for his salvation, as Lionel explains:

“as a pledge of continued favour, he received from his royal master a sum of money to defray pressing debts, and enable him to enter under good auspices his new career. That very night, while yet full of gratitude and good resolves, this whole sum, and its amount doubled, was lost at the gaming-table. In his desire to repair his first losses, my father risked double stakes, and thus incurred a debt of honour he was wholly unable to pay. Ashamed to apply again to the king, he turned his back upon London, its false delights and clinging miseries; and, with poverty for his sole companion, buried himself in solitude among the hills and lakes of Cumberland.” (6-7)

During this exile, Lionel’s father married a lowly cottage-girl and became the father of Lionel and his sister, Perdita. Soon after his children’s births, Mr. Verney died of debt, leaving his children as “outcasts, paupers, unfriended beings” (8).

Lionel grows up in this wilderness exile, himself becoming practically a wild man. He feels victimized by his father’s gambling which has resulted in his being denied his rightful social position. Lionel also hates the royal family for not having further assisted his father. Lionel’s youth is spent as an outcast.

“Thus untaught in refined philosophy, and pursued by a restless feeling of degradation from my true station in society, I wandered among the hills of civilized England as uncouth a savage as the wolf-bred founder of old Rome. I owned but one law, it was that of the strongest, and my greatest deed of virtue was never to submit.” (9)

Lionel’s sister grows up in a similar fashion, indulging in “self-created wanderings” inspired by her fancy as a means to escape from her dull common life (10).

Lionel’s existence in this stage of experience ends when he seeks revenge by poaching on royal land. When he is caught for his crime, Lionel is brought before Adrian for punishment. Adrian, who is based on Percy Shelley, is the son of the late king, who abdicated his throne and agreed to the monarchy’s abolishment; however, Adrian retains social prominence with the title Earl of Windsor, and the royal family remains much respected in England. Consequently, while both Adrian and Lionel have been disinherited from their birthrights, Adrian does not feel the same extreme displacement as Lionel. Upon their introduction, Adrian immediately greets Lionel as the son of his father’s friend, thus acknowledging a bond between them. When Adrian asks Lionel, “will you not acknowledge the hereditary bond of friendship which I trust will hereafter unite us?” (17), Lionel feels an instant restoration to his rightful, hereditary position at court, remarking “I trod my native soil” (18). Lionel and Adrian’s friendship thus reestablishes a sort of lost Eden experienced by their fathers. Lionel now enters the stage of innocence, remarking, “I now began to be human. I was admitted within that sacred boundary which divides the intellectual and moral nature of man from that which characterizes animals” (20). Lionel’s happiness culminates in his marriage to Adrian’s sister and his sense of belonging to a family.

 

The Existential Plague

Lionel remains in the stage of innocence for several years until he is thrust back into experience when a worldwide plague begins to eliminate the human race. As the plague sweeps across the globe, the novel’s main characters watch the world’s population rapidly diminishing. Realizing their own chances of survival are slim, they gamble with the plague by attempting to escape from it. Adrian decides to lead the few remaining English people to Switzerland where the healthy climate may best protect them from the plague’s power. While the journey will have enormous risks and hardships, and the odds are completely against them, the English people agree to make the exodus.

The plague serves as the novel’s vehicle for expressing its existential philosophy. Shelley displays the lack of meaning in human existence by repeatedly showing the impossibility of defining or interpreting the plague. There is no order or reason to the plague’s choice of victims as it kills young and old, rich and poor, wicked and innocent. At the same time, the earth undergoes tumultuous weather suggestive of an apocalypse, but natural events continually resist all attempts to interpret them. An example of the impossibility of interpreting events occurs when the English people are about to cross the English channel. The exodus of the English severely differs from the biblical exodus of the Israelites because the English do not have God to guide them, although they wish to believe God is controlling events. When the English arrive at the channel, rather than the water splitting apart for them to walk across on dry land, the sea is in a furious tumult and burning globes fall from the sky. The people try to interpret these globes as a sign of God’s intention to destroy humanity (270-1). While the people succeed in crossing the channel into France, they remain severely frightened of the supernatural events occurring, and their fears only increase with their inability to read meaning in these events. If God does intend to destroy humanity, He is being inconsistent with Christian belief for He destroys both the evil and the good, thus differing from biblical accounts of the apocalypse.

The plague becomes the ultimate Gothic villain in the novel because the inability to understand it makes it all the more frightening. Continually, characters find that their interpretations are incorrect; what are believed to be supernatural occurrences are rationally explained in the manner of Mrs. Radcliffe (Birkhead 167). For example, a Black Spectre is sighted by the party travelling to Switzerland. The people think they are witnessing a supernatural warning of their approaching deaths, but the Spectre is later revealed to be merely a French nobleman on a horse (299). The explanation for these minor supernatural occurrences only increases the Gothic horror of the plague whose meaning continues to be indeterminable. Most characters continue to interpret the plague as the instrument of God’s wrath to destroy humanity, but the text continually rejects any Christian interpretation of events. The voice of religion in the novel turns out to be that of a fanatic who preaches that the plague will end if humanity repents for its sins. This man gains many followers who protect themselves by hiding in a compound in Paris. The plague enters the compound and kills everyone except the religious leader. The leader then commits suicide after confessing that he knows of no divine plan associated with the plague, and he was merely trying to manipulate people to gain power.

While such scenes demonstrate the plague’s resistance against all attempts to define it, critics have nevertheless insisted upon attaching symbolism to the plague, thus overlooking Shelley’s existential purpose. Barbara Johnson has interpreted the plague in relation to democracy and the French Revolution by calling it “a nightmarish version of the desire…to spread equality and fraternity throughout the world” (264). Johnson cites a minor scene in the novel where a high born girl, Juliet, loves a man from the lower class. Juliet’s father separates the couple, but the plague then kills Juliet’s family, allowing her to be with her lover, and symbolically breaking down class lines. Johnson’s reading is unconvincing because eventually the plague kills Juliet, her beloved, and their child. Johnson argues further that the plague is “lethal universality” and that it “deconstructs” boundaries between countries and people (264). While the plague appears to spread equality, ironically, when it ceases, the three people left alive are members of the English nobility. Steven Goldsmith and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have tried to depict the plague as a feminist protagonist who wishes to wipe out human history because men have denied women a voice (Goldsmith 313, Gilbert and Gubar 247). This argument weakly rests upon the novel’s female authorship. The text fails to support this feminist interpretation because not only is human history not erased, but it is a man, Lionel Verney, who writes down the end of human history to preserve it.

John Martin’s 1849 painting of The Last Man.

Shelley’s use of the plague is best described as a symbol of existentialism that allows for the elimination of the entire human race except for Lionel Verney. Mary Shelley felt total isolation after the death of her husband and friends, so she felt she could best express her feelings by depicting one man alone in the world as she felt herself to be alone; consequently, she needed a way to eliminate all but one human, and the plague was a logical means for human extinction. Shelley may have derived the idea of the Last Man from contemporary poems that had used the theme, including Byron’s “Darkness” (1816), Thomas Campbell’s “The Last Man” (1823), and Thomas Hood’s “The Last Man” (1826). Anne Mellor remarks that all these works “invoke a Judaeo-Christian framework and the possibility of a finer life elsewhere, either on earth or in heaven. Mary Shelley explicitly denies such theological or millennial interpretations of her plague” (Introduction xvi). Paley in agreement, adds, that death and the plague both exist in The Last Man “somewhere between personification and myth in a borderland where causality seems nonexistent” (120). Mary Shelley intends the only meaning of the plague to be its meaninglessness, so that its destruction of humanity will reflect life’s futility.

The plague’s mode of operation is as inexplicable as its meaning. The only people who survive the plague are Adrian, Clara, and Lionel—all English, noble, and related by marriage or blood. Of these three, Lionel is the only one to catch the plague and recover, while Adrian and Clara remain immune. Surprisingly, Lionel catches the plague from a black man, although he is in England and could easily receive it from a multitude of English people. The event occurs during a scene of Gothic horror as Lionel returns home to his family after a long journey. As he enters the house, he hears a groan and,

“without reflection I threw open the door of the first room that presented itself. It was quite dark; but, as I stept within, a pernicious scent assailed my senses, producing sickening qualms, which made their way to my very heart, while I felt my leg clasped, and a groan repeated by the person that held me. I lowered my lamp and saw a negro half clad, writhing under the agony of disease, while he held me with a convulsive grasp. With mixed horror and impatience, I strove to disengage myself, and fell on the sufferer; he wound his naked festering arms round me, his face was close to mine, and his breath, death-laden, entered my vitals. For a moment I was overcome, my head was bowed by aching nausea; till, reflection returning, I sprung up, threw the wretch from me, and darting up the staircase, entered the chamber usually inhabited by my family.” (245)

Why Shelley chooses to have Lionel receive and then become immune to the plague is hard enough to explain, since no one else who acquires it gains immunity. Even less comprehensible is why Lionel receives the plague from a negro. Perhaps being plague-stricken and black makes the negro a double outcast who foreshadows the intense isolation Lionel will later know. Of the few critics who have written upon the novel, none have succeeded in providing convincing interpretations of this scene. Vijay Mishra suggests it is Lionel’s compassion that causes him to receive the plague and his recovery is a symbol of Christ’s passion and resurrection (177-8). However, because Shelley rejects the Christian myth, and Lionel is never able to redeem anyone, he is an unlikely character to associate with Christ. Furthermore, Lionel’s treatment of the negro is completely lacking in compassion. Anne Mellor argues that “From this unwilling but powerful embrace of the racial other (significantly, this is the only time that a ‘negro’ is specifically mentioned in the novel), Verney both contracts and, recovering, becomes immune to the plague” (Introduction xxiv). Mellor’s statement attempts to find a racial purpose in the scene, but she fails to elaborate upon her statement that the scene is significant, suggestive that she is unsure of its significance. The negro is never mentioned again, but on the same page, Lionel’s son dies, so the negro’s black skin may equate him with the blackness of Death that has entered Lionel’s home. Lionel’s lack of compassion in the scene should not be read as bigotry but rather as fear of catching the plague. He is so frightened after inhaling the negro’s breath that he may automatically assume he caught the plague when in reality, he merely suffers from exhaustion. Lionel is only ill for a few days, so he may have merely needed rest and not contracted the plague after all. Whether Lionel ever actually contracts the plague, the scene further emphasizes the inexplicable purpose of the plague and the existential world in which it operates.

 

The Gamble with Death

After the plague completes its rampage, leaving only Clara, Adrian, and Lionel alive, the novel again uses the gambling motif to depict Lionel as a Gothic wanderer victimized by others’ transgressions. The remaining three characters realize they have outlived the plague by the time they reach Venice. Because Adrian and Clara are not blood relatives, they are the only two people who are capable of repopulating the earth. Shelley’s interest in rewriting Paradise Lost is reflected, therefore, in her placing Adrian and Clara in the potential position of a new Adam and Eve. Shelley then revises the Eden story by making Adrian and Clara feel no responsibility or desire to create a new human race. Rather than a God or an angel to warn them against sin, Adrian and Clara are warned by Lionel against foolhardiness when Clara wishes to travel to Greece where her parents are buried. The easiest way to make the journey from Venice would be by boat, but Lionel objects to the dangers of travelling by sea rather than land. His companions nevertheless persuade him to make the journey with them. They are willing to gamble with their lives, and consequently, the future of the human race, for the mere whim of visiting Greece, and subconsciously perhaps, from a desire to die. At the same time, they believe their survival of the plague may mean that Fate has preserved them for some future purpose, so their lives are charmed against potential harm. Even when a storm arises while they are at sea, Clara, like a typical gambler, denies the possibility of losing her life by refusing to consider the seriousness of the danger. She remarks, “Why should I fear? neither sea nor storm can harm us, if mighty destiny or the ruler of destiny does not permit. And then the stinging fear of surviving either of you, is not here—one death will clasp us undivided” (321). Despite the continual failure of attempts to find meaning in events, Clara retains a belief in destiny and the order of the universe. Similarly, a gambler convinces himself of his chance to win despite the odds being that he will lose. Lionel is aware that Clara and Adrian’s past success in surviving the plague has transformed them into gamblers who are unwilling to believe they can tempt Fate and lose. Lionel himself experiences the gambler’s numbness at moments of great risk when he is surrounded by the dangers of the storm at sea.

“resignation had conquered every fear. We have a power given us in any worst extremity, which props the else feeble mind of man, and enables us to endure the most savage tortures with a stillness of soul which in hours of happiness we could not have imagined. A calm, more dreadful in truth than the tempest, allayed the wild beatings of my heart—a calm like that of the gamester, the suicide, and the murderer, when the last die is on the point of being cast—while the poisoned cup is at the lips,—as the death-blow is about to be given.” (322-3)

Lionel applies the gambling metaphor to the many choices and risks in life. Clara and Adrian allow the gambler’s resignation to descend upon them because they feel that it can hardly matter if they die since the plague has so drastically changed the world. If there is meaning to life or some intended destiny for them, then they believe they have nothing to fear. As with most gambles, they lose when the ship sinks, and they both drown. Lionel manages to swim to shore, realizing he is now the Last Man upon earth.

This conclusion brings the novel full circle by its repetition of the gambling motif. Earlier Lionel had been exiled from his birthright because of his father’s gambling; now he has become exiled from all humanity because others were willing to gamble with their lives, never considering his own happiness. In both cases, gambling has destroyed the family unit. Clara and Adrian, as a new Adam and Eve, bring about a second fall of humanity, but this time the fall is more serious, for while Adam and Eve’s transgression introduced death for humanity, Clara and Adrian’s transgression results in human extinction.

Lionel’s solitary position marks his return into a stage of experience that completes Shelley’s inverse of the Romantic myth of consciousness. Lionel acknowledges that he has returned to the earlier stage of his life by comparing the present to his youth and feeling his burden will be easier to bear because he long ago learned to survive without depending upon others (338). Nevertheless, Lionel mourns the loss of the human race. To assuage his loneliness, he writes the history of the end of humanity, which becomes the novel. When the novel is completed, he decides he will wander the earth on the small chance of finding another human who has also survived the worldwide plague. Clara and Adrian’s gambling transgression has resulted in Lionel’s return to his childhood role of Gothic wanderer as he recognizes, “A solitary being is by instinct a wanderer, and that I would become” (341). Lionel differs from earlier Gothic wanderer characters, however, because he wanders as the result of others’ transgressions rather than his own.

Lionel’s final isolation reflects Mary Shelley’s personal grief over the deaths of her husband and Lord Byron. Adrian’s drowning is a direct parallel to the drowning of Percy Shelley (Mishra 185), and earlier in the novel, Lionel’s sister, Perdita, had drowned herself because her husband, Lord Raymond, was dead, a scene reflecting Shelley’s own wish for death so she might join her husband (Mellor, Introduction xi). Shelley might also have chosen for Clara and Adrian to die together as a way to rewrite her own life, herself taking on Clara’s role so she could die with her husband. Shelley, however, identified most fully with the main character, Lionel Verney, as evident from her journal entry of May 14, 1824: “The last man! Yes I may well describe that solitary being’s feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me” (Paley 109). The grief Shelley feels for her former companions inspired her to write The Last Man, as Lionel Verney, to solace the grief of his solitary existence, records the events that resulted in his complete isolation.

 

The End of Human History: Deconstructing Lionel’s Manuscript and Shelley’s Novel

Lionel Verney’s manuscript is the history of his life and an eyewitness account of how the plague destroyed humanity. He writes without an audience to read his work, yet his act of writing assumes he will have readers since the purpose of writing is to communicate (Paley 121; Mellor, Introduction xiv). Lionel realizes no one will ever read his work, yet he attempts to remain positive by stating that he will write on the chance that the world will be re-populated by people of whose existence he may not know, and someday, they will want to learn how earlier humanity had become extinct (339). In writing the final chapter of human history, Lionel seeks to make history’s end memorable and meaningful to the reader even if in essence, his task is pointless because his work will not be read. Lionel attempts to enforce meaning upon his experience, but the more he writes and tries to explain what has happened, the more unclear the meaning of the plague becomes. He questions why he should live and considers suicide, but then rejects it, choosing instead to believe that there is some reason for why he is the only human survivor.

But this [suicide] I would not do. I had, from the moment I had reasoned on the subject, instituted myself the subject to fate, and the servant of necessity, the visible laws of the invisible God—I believed that my obedience was the result of sound reasoning, pure feeling, and an exalted sense of the true excellence and nobility of my nature. Could I have seen in this empty earth, in the seasons and their change, the hand of a blind power only, most willingly would I have placed my head on the sod, and closed my eyes on its loveliness for ever. But fate had administered life to me, when the plague had already seized on its prey—she had dragged me by the hair from out the strangling waves—By such miracles she had bought me for her own; I admitted her authority, and bowed to her decrees. (337-8)

Against all hope, Lionel continues to insist that there is a reason why he has not been destroyed by the plague, and since Fate has saved him, he must obey her. When Lionel finishes his history and decides to write no more, but rather to search for other survivors, it marks the defeat of language and meaning because he has told his story to himself and is now left without anyone else to communicate. Lionel remains hopeful that there are other survivors who will read his manuscript, but in this hope, he is seeking to delude himself rather than to be realistic. Even if his writing is meaningful because it consoles Lionel, without other readers, the work will be worthless when he dies. The end of Lionel’s writing demonstrates that meaning only exists in communication and human relationships (Paley 121; Mellor, Introduction, xiv, xxii). Mellor interprets the novel as a reflection of Derrida’s theory that human history is dependent upon language. While Lionel continues to live, human history has not ended, but there is no reason to record it because without Lionel being able to communicate his story to others, it can have no meaning (Introduction xii). Mellor suggests that the futility of Lionel’s writing makes The Last Man the first example of a work that is fully conscious of how its language can be deconstructed as it continually attempts to place meaning upon what is meaningless (Introduction vii). Mellor concludes that the novel suggests “all conceptions of human history, all ideologies, are grounded on metaphors or tropes which have no referent or authority outside of language” (Mary 164). The novel becomes Shelley’s rejection of the Romantic belief in imagination’s ability to create lasting meaning.

Lionel’s return to the stage of experience is the final step in Shelley’s rejection of Romanticism. While the novel is partially written to mourn the loss of the great Romantic poets, it also clearly reveals the flaws in Romantic theories. Shelley rejects the belief of her father, William Godwin, that human life could be extended by the evolution of reason, as he expressed in St. Leon. Shelley’s novel reveals the inability of reason to fend off accidents and disease which cannot be prevented or explained logically. Shelley also rejects Godwin and Percy Shelley’s belief in millennialism, which argues that the human race slowly evolves and progresses. Mary Shelley completely erases this possibility by causing the human race to become extinct. Shelley most harshly criticizes Romanticism’s exaltation of Nature as having salvific value for people. Wordsworth believed that with Imagination, one could interpret Nature as benevolent. Early in The Last Man, Lionel uses his imagination to see Nature as benevolent, but he is already aware that it is his imagination that so defines Nature. “So true it is, that man’s mind alone was the creator of all that was good or great to man, and that Nature herself was only his first minister” (5). By the novel’s conclusion, however, Lionel realizes the danger of the human imagination’s distortion of Nature. Mellor notes that here Shelley’s criticizes the two main points of Romanticism: “that nature can be the source of moral authority and that the human mind can create meanings of permanent value” (Mary 164). Lionel experiences Nature’s sadistic personality when the plague destroys all but one member of the human race, yet allows other creatures to survive in multitudes upon the earth. In despair, Lionel exclaims, “Shall I not bestow a malediction on every other of nature’s offspring, which dares live and enjoy, while I live and suffer?” (334). Yet Lionel still attempts to believe in a Romantic Nature that is benevolent. In words reminiscent of the Ancient Mariner’s blessing of the sea serpents, and Wordsworth’s blessing upon the creatures in the “Intimations Ode,” Lionel declares his love for the earth’s remaining creatures.

“Ah, no! I will discipline my sorrowing heart to sympathy in your joys; I will be happy, because ye are so. Live on, ye innocents, nature’s selected darlings; I am not much unlike to you. Nerves, pulse, brain, joint, and flesh, of such am I composed, and ye are organized by the same laws. I have something beyond this, but I will call it a defect, not an endowment, if it leads me to misery, while ye are happy.” (334)

However, Lionel’s moment of Romantic sensibility is immediately destroyed.

“Just then, there emerged from a near copse two goats and a little kid, by the mother’s side; they began to browze the herbage of the hill. I approached near to them, without their perceiving me; I gathered a handful of fresh grass, and held it out; the little one nestled close to its mother, while she timidly withdrew. The male stepped forward, fixing his eyes on me: I drew near, still holding out my lure, while he, depressing his head, rushed at me with his horns. I was a very fool; I knew it, yet I yielded to my rage. I snatched up a huge fragment of rock; it would have crushed my rash foe. I poized it—aimed it—then my heart failed me. I hurled it wide of the mark; it rolled clattering among the bushes into dell. My little visitants, all aghast, galloped back into the covert of the wood; while I, my very heart bleeding and torn, rushed down the hill, and by the violence of bodily exertion, sought to escape from my miserable self.” (334)

Lionel’s intense emotions reflect that even the Romantic belief in Nature is contrary to Lionel’s experiences of reality. Nature cannot be a solace to him, so he decides, “I will not live among the wild scenes of nature, the enemy of all that lives. I will seek the towns” (335). By declaring that Nature is the enemy of all that lives, Lionel has completely rejected Romanticism’s value of Nature, in favor of the value of human relationships, although he cannot benefit from them. Lionel leaves the country and travels to Rome where the buildings still proclaim the one time existence of humanity; it is the only environment where Lionel can retain any sense of meaning because it retains the memories of those with whom he once communicated.

Despite all he has suffered, Lionel continues to long for an explanation of his situation. He still wonders whether other human beings live or whether a God exists. In the novel’s final paragraph, Lionel sets off in his boat, alone save for a dog he has befriended, describing his future as “Thus around the shores of deserted earth, while the sun is high, and the moon waxes or wanes, angels, the spirits of the dead, and the ever-open eye of the Supreme, will behold the tiny bark, freighted with Verney—the LAST MAN” (342). Paley suggests that Lionel’s solitary journey is a reference to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner (121). Shelley cruelly parodies the Ancient Mariner’s continuous need to tell his story, by placing Lionel in a position where he writes from a desire to communicate, although there is no one to read or hear his tale. Consequently, unlike the Ancient Mariner, Lionel will never even know momentary relief of telling his story. Lionel’s reference to the Supreme as existing and even having an “ever-open eye” suggests his hope that he will still someday understand the miseries he has endured. His desire to continue hoping is a refusal to acknowledge what he fears, that there is no meaning and there is no God. The novel’s opening epigraph from Paradise Lost foreshadows this conclusion: “Let no man seek / Henceforth to be foretold what shall befall / Him or his children” (XI, 770-2). These words are spoken by Adam after the Fall when Michael, showing Adam the future, reveals to him the flood that will destroy humanity. Shelley focuses upon this moment in Paradise Lost because it foretells the future, but fails to foresee God’s divine plan of salvation for humanity by Christ’s death and resurrection. By using this reference to the Flood, Shelley is suggesting that human extinction is the eventual future of humanity. Lionel realizes humanity is fated for extinction, yet to the end he continues to hope, only to be tortured with memories of the happiness he once knew but now has lost forever (Paley 114-5). Lionel’s final quest marks his role as a Gothic wanderer alienated from the world. His determination against all hope to find other humans represents the continual human need to search for meaning and to have someone with whom that meaning can be communicated.

 

Of additional interest is a previous blog post I wrote on a French novel on the Last Man theme that may have influenced Shelley’s novel: https://thegothicwanderer.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/the-last-man-cousin-de-grainvilles-dernier-le-homme-and-mary-shelley/

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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.comwww.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

 

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Mary Shelley

Anne of Geierstein: Sir Walter Scott’s Most Gothic Novel

Anne of Geierstein (1829) is Sir Walter Scott’s most Gothic novel and probably the last true masterpiece that he wrote. It was well-received in its time and holds up remarkably well still today. Despite Scott’s typical slow-pacing, the reader is moved on from one dramatic scene to the next so that the novel makes an overall powerful impression.

An illustration of Arthur Philipson trying to cross over the ravine. Illustrator and source unknown.

The story begins with a merchant named Phillipson and his son Arthur who are English but traveling through Switzerland in the 1470s. When the son takes a path that results in his nearly falling off a cliff, he finds himself perched in a tree with a ravine below him that he dare not try to cross. Enter Anne, our heroine, who, as nimble as a mountain goat, jumps across to the tree and convinces him he can jump back, which makes him feel a bit silly considering we will soon find out he is a brave knight and that he and his father are traveling in disguise.

The Philipsons continue their journey with the party of Anne’s uncle, whom they learn was the rightful heir to Geierstein, a nearby castle, but he had given up his title to his brother, Albert of Arnheim, who is rather a villain. Anne is under her uncle’s protection. Of course, young Arthur soon falls in love with Anne.

But Arthur and his father have other concerns. Arthur’s father is the Earl of Oxford and they are traveling to the Duke of Burgundy to enlist his aid in the Lancastrian cause. This eventually leads them also to Anjou where lives Margaret of Anjou in exile now that her husband Henry VI and her son Edward have both died. She lives at her father’s court in misery while her father tries to distract her with frivolous entertainments.

Enough about the plot. Let’s get to the Gothic moments. The moment Arthur finds himself facing jumping from the tree across a gulf might be termed the first Gothic moment, for it is a moment of fear for Arthur, even though there is nothing supernatural about it. Switzerland with its mountains and sublime landscape had already been a popular setting for other Gothic novels, notably Frankenstein (1818), so it is an appropriate Gothic setting in which the landscape creates fear and awe.

Next, Arthur’s interest in Anne results in his hearing the history of her family. Her grandfather, Herman, Baron of Arnheim, took a stranger into his castle who needed his protection. Although the stranger, a Persian named Dannischemend, says he could only live for a year and a day, he begs the Baron to protect him during that time. The baron agrees in exchange that Dannischemend teach him his secrets since he’s a member of the Sacred Fire. The Persian agrees to this, but when the year comes to an end, he asks for his daughter to have shelter in the castle, and in exchange, she will then also teach the baron. However, the Persian warns the baron not to fall in love with her. Despite this warning, they do fall in love and are eventually wed. The legend then says that they had a daughter, and at the christening, the baron allowed a drop or two of holy water to fall on his bride, who then turned to ash. The story recalls that of the French medieval fairy Melusine, and many other fairy-type characters who were pagan and unable to be baptized or to live as Christians. Although later Arthur hears the truth of what happened to Anne’s grandmother and knows he should dismiss this story as a false legend, his next encounter with Anne makes him wonder whether there may be some truth to Anne having a supernatural parentage.

Several illustrations from the Collier Books edition of The Waverley novels. These illustrations for Anne of Geierstein depict scenes of Switzerland and Arthur being visited in the dungeon by Anne.

More specifically Gothic is the moment when Arthur finds himself imprisoned in a castle, only to have Anne and another woman appear to him through means inexplicable at first, making her appear like an elemental spirit. He cannot explain how these women entered the prison, and being under a vow, Anne cannot speak to him, which adds to the mystery. Of course, Anne leads Arthur out of the prison. Eventually, Anne explains how she was able to appear in Arthur’s prison, and any hint at the supernatural is resolved, just as it would be in one of Radcliffe’s novels.

Perhaps the most stunning Gothic moment in the novel is when Arthur’s father rents a room in an inn. As he is lying in the bed, he finds himself suddenly strapped to the bed as a prisoner. The bed is then lowered through the floor into a mysterious subterranean chamber where he becomes the prisoner of the Holy Vehme, a secret organization that has taken upon itself to judge men for their crimes. It is also known as the Initiated, the Wise Men, and the Secret Tribunal. Dressed as monks, the members of the Holy Vehme interrogate Philipson in a manner that recalls scenes of the Inquisition in Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797) and Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). Although accused of slandering the Holy Vehme, Philipson is finally set free.

Scott now begins to cast aside the love story and focus on Arthur and his father’s mission. They travel to Anjou to meet Margaret and her father. These scenes are some of the most powerful in the novel as we are introduced to a King Rene who engages in merriment and a Queen Margaret who is grieving her losses. Margaret, unable to enjoy her father’s frolicsome ways, does not live in his castle but at the nearby monastery. In a dramatic scene, Arthur meets with Margaret at the monastery to tell her what luck they’ve had negotiating with the King of Burgundy to aid the Lancastrian cause. Margaret is willing to make sure Burgundy gets Provence from her father in exchange for his aid, though her father is less willing to agree to it. Margaret and Arthur meet on a parapet where Arthur finds her seated with her disheveled hair tossing about in the wind. She is described as noble and beautiful, yet having ghastly and wasted features. Arthur feels terror because a storm is approaching, and he beseeches her to go inside, but she refuses because monks and walls have ears.

Margaret tells Arthur that there is a cavern beneath the monastery where in pagan days people went to consult an oracle whose voice comes up from the cavern and is known as Lou Garagoule. Roman generals once consulted it, but this oracle is deaf to Margaret’s inquiries. This scene shows the desperation the queen feels in seeking supernatural aid. It reminds one of Gothic wanderer figures willing to sell their soul to the devil to achieve what they desire, including forbidden knowledge of the future. Margaret, in her desperate and bereaved state, certainly wins the prize as the most Gothic wanderer type character in the novel. Soon after Arthur’s meeting with her, Margaret dies.

The central illustration depicts Arthur and Margaret on the parapet.

The novel seems to lose its impact once Margaret dies. Anne is absent from the novel for about a third of it during this time. Toward the end there are some battles that then lead to a happy ending with Arthur and Anne being married. For a while the couple live in Switzerland until Henry VII gains the throne of England, and then they travel there to live and Anne becomes an ornament at the English court.

Sir Walter Scott, though we might consider him the father of the historical novel, takes many liberties with history in Anne of Geierstein, so we might term this book more akin to a Gothic romance in keeping with Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels than just historical fiction, despite the introduction of many historical characters. I consider it romance because of the broad use Scott makes of history to serve his narrative purposes rather than letting history create the outline for his narrative. No self-respecting present-day historical novelist would play fast and loose with history to the extent Scott does. He allows Margaret to die in 1476 when she did not actually die until 1482, and he allows King Rene to outlive her when he actually died in 1480. Worse, while the Earl of Oxford did support the Lancastrian cause, he never even had a son named Arthur so our main hero and our heroine are completely fictional.

Regardless, Scott’s portraits of his characters are remarkable, and I think his depiction of Margaret of Anjou easily rivals that of Shakespeare in the Henry VI plays. Also fascinating is Scott’s use of the Holy Vehme in the novel which surely must have inspired George W. M. Reynolds’ Faust, or The Secret of the Tribunals (1847), which also features the Holy Vehme in its plot. Scott also knows how to take a fascinating moment in history and make it come alive in complex ways as reflected in his depictions of the court of Burgundy, the court of King Rene, and the various political implications involved. Scott may not always be historically accurate, but he makes history come alive, and he inspires the reader to want to learn more about the history behind his novels. At the same time, his characters reflect the true pathos and the broken hearts that result from some of history’s most tragic moments in a way few reliable historians can accomplish.

A volume of the 9 volume set of Waverley novels published by Collier in New York. No date is printed in the book but a former owner wrote a date of 1887 in one volume. I have owned them since 1993.

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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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The Woman in White’s Influence on Dracula

Similarities between Wilkie Collins’ 1860 novel The Woman in White and Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula have long been noted by critics and readers. Recently, I reread The Woman in White with fellow members of the Trollope and His Contemporaries group online that I have long belonged to. During this read, several similarities between the two novels stood out to me and some of the other members, particularly Ellen Moody, which I will discuss here. Personally, I believe Stoker was influenced in numerous ways by The Woman in White, many of which he may not have realized himself.

An 1880 portrait of Wilkie Collins by Rudolph Lehmann

The biggest and most often noted similarity between the two novels is their structure. The Woman in White is written as a compilation of various documents and eyewitness testimonies by various people involved in the strange events depicted in the novel. Stoker adopted this same technique for Dracula. While previous novels had claimed to be collections of documents—for example, Samuel Richardson’s novels and all the epistolary fiction that followed—Collins was the first to have multiple characters compile documents for the purpose of sharing them with the public and documenting events to provide evidence of what happened. By comparison, Richardson’s characters’ letters are simply “discovered” by the author who claims to be their editor. Stoker goes a step farther than Collins in Dracula by even employing new technology, such as phonographs, to compile the record, but the results are the same—numerous pieces by different eyewitnesses that are put together to create a complete narrative.

Several similarities also exist between Collins and Stoker’s characters beginning with the villains. Our primary villain in both novels is a count and a foreigner. Count Dracula is from Transylvania while Count Fosco is from Italy. Several scholars have written about how Dracula may be a commentary on the concern of Eastern European immigrants coming into England and the need to hold back that threat. (For more details on this theory, see my book The Gothic Wanderer.) Such prejudice or racism directed at foreigners is also apparent in The Woman in White when Laura Fairlie’s aunt marries Count Fosco, thus resulting in her being disinherited and only able to collect her inheritance should her niece Laura die. Of course, Count Fosco is not a desirable husband, but that the foreigner is made into a villain still suggests a note of racism in the text. Another foreigner in The Woman in White is Mr. Fairlie’s servant Louie, whom Mr. Gilmore describes as “miserable”; Louie, far from being a villain, is subservient and mistreated by Mr. Fairlie, but disliked regardless.

The primary female character in Dracula is Mina Harker. In The Woman in White, it is Marian Halcombe. Notably, the women have the same initials. Marian is similar to Mina in several ways I will discuss below, but as Ellen Moody noted, Marian also takes on the role of Mina’s husband, Jonathan Harker, when she is seen crawling on the rooftops so that she can overhear conversations in other rooms to learn her enemies’ secrets. Similarly, Jonathan Harker makes explorations of Dracula’s castle, including going out on the ramparts to try to find a means of escape.

Hints of homosexuality and fear of it also exist in both novels. In The Woman in White, Mr. Fairlie is a weak and effeminate male who is constantly whining and acting like a hypochondriac. Notably, he is also much impressed by Walter Hartright, complimenting him on how strong he is when he first arrives at Limmeridge House, suggesting a sexual attraction or at least an admiration for men who are stronger and, thus, manlier, than he is. By comparison Marian is very mannish and dresses in mannish ways.

Bram Stoker may have had homosexual feelings himself. He liked to play with gender themes in many of his novels, including The Lair of the White Worm and The Man.

While there is no overt homosexuality in either novel, there is a definite fear of it in the novels’ subtexts. Most notably, in Dracula, the men all fear the count as the alpha male figure who has the power to defeat and, thus, emasculate them, including by taking their women from them. Dracula succeeds in taking Lucy from the men who love her, and then he attempts to do the same with Mina. The most horrifying moment in the novel is when the men discover the count with Mina. Dracula has broken into Mina and Jonathan’s bedroom and apparently overpowered Jonathan, who lies there unconscious while Dracula forces Mina to drink blood from his breast. While Dracula does not drain Jonathan, that he takes Jonathan’s woman is sufficient to show he has unmanned Jonathan. This fear of a more powerful male draining another male of their manhood is a subtext for homosexuality and specifically fellatio.

A similar, though less explicit, event happens in The Woman in White after Walter Hartright falls in love with Laura Fairlie. However, Laura is engaged to Sir Percival, who also is depicted in alpha male terms. Walter leaves Limmeridge House just before Sir Percival arrives. He apparently feels unmanned that the woman he loves could prefer Sir Percival. Consequently, the next time we hear of Walter, he is described by Mr. Gilmore as having been seen walking about London looking “pale and haggard.” In other words, by taking his woman, Sir Percival has drained the manhood out of Walter Hartright.

Stoker takes this image of Walter walking about London and reverses it in Dracula. When Jonathan Harker first sees Dracula at his castle, the count is pale. Later, Jonathan sees him walking about in London and notes how he has grown young, which he has done by drinking blood. Jonathan is also weak and pale by the time he leaves Dracula’s castle, having undergone a great shock. The female vampires wish to feed on him, but Dracula tells them “This man belongs to me.” Stoker gives no indication that Dracula has sucked Jonathan’s blood, but perhaps we are to read between the lines. Again, the sense is that one man can drain the life and manhood from another. Later, Dracula warns all the men, “Your girls that you all love are mine already. And through them you and others shall yet be mine, my creatures, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed.” In other words, if Dracula comes to control the men, they will be his inferiors and thus be unmanned. They will become beta males whose job is to assist the alpha male in fulfilling his needs—both food-wise and sexually.

I will not go so far as to say there is lesbianism in Dracula between Mina and Lucy, although some critics have speculated upon this and Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula shows the two women kissing. However, hints at lesbianism definitely exist in The Woman in White. Marian, as previously stated, is very mannish in her behavior and how she dresses. She is also very protective of Laura, like a man would protect a woman—this is understandable given that they are sisters, yet the subtext is still there. It’s also noticeable that in the end, Marian does not marry. Collins could have easily married her off to one of the lawyers or doctors who are minor characters in the novel if he wanted to end the novel with neatly tied up marriage knots. Instead, that Walter ends up living with two women, Marian and Laura, may be reflective of the fact that Collins himself had two simultaneous mistresses, although they never all lived together. It also suggests that Marian wants to remain close to Laura and also that perhaps she feels some attraction to Walter. Certainly, Marian is more Walter’s equal than Laura. That Marian is mannish suggests a male homosexual bond between Marian and Walter while also suggesting a lesbian connection between Marian and Laura.

If Marian is a pseudo-man, it is telling that she admits at one point she would also fold Count Fosco’s cigarettes for him like his wife does—a sign not that she is attracted to him so much as that she would be submissive to him, just as men fear being submissive to a more alpha male.

Connections to Dracula also exist in Marian and Count Fosco’s relationship. Although the count has no supernatural powers, he insinuates himself into Marian’s mind so much that she states she can recall his conversation and hear it in her head later as if he’s in the room. Similarly, Dracula and Mina are able to communicate telepathically. Later when Marian is sick, Dr. Dawson accuses Count Fosco of using mesmerism on her.

Dracula, of course, does have supernatural powers, including the power of mesmerism through his hypnotic eyes. Dracula also has power over other, weaker animals, including rats and wolves. Fosco has power over, or at least an affinity for, his mice and birds, and he is even capable of taming a great violent dog by telling it that it is a coward.

Secret societies also come into play in both novels. Toward the end of The Woman in White, it is revealed that Count Fosco has belonged to a secret society, The Brotherhood, and he has a mark upon him showing that he has been denounced by them—a mark reminiscent of the Mark of Cain that made the biblical Cain an outcast. While Dracula is not a member of a secret society, per se, the vampires are a sort of secret society in themselves. Similarly, the men are part of a “band” in their efforts to defeat Dracula. While it remains questionable whether Stoker was inspired by Vlad Tepes in creating Dracula, we know Vlad belonged to the Order of the Dragon, from which the name Dracula is derived. Vampires are also outcasts, unable to receive heaven’s salvation. At one point, Jonathan strikes Dracula on the forehead, resulting in a mark remaining there, again recalling the mark of Cain. Later, Van Helsing presses a Eucharistic host to Mina’s forehead and it also leaves a mark there, showing she is an outcast now that she has become Dracula’s minion.

The latest film of The Woman in White, which aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre in 2018.

It’s notable also, although Collins only drops the name, that we learn Fosco has belonged to several secret societies, including the Rosicrucians. The Rosicrucians claimed to have two major secrets: the elixir of life, which provided them with life extension and also the philosopher’s stone which gave them the alchemist skill of turning lead into gold. Fosco does not claim to have either of these secrets, but he does have chemical (if not alchemical) knowledge that allows him to administer drugs to Marian. As a side note, numerous critics have commented upon how Laura ending up in an insane asylum may have been based on Edward Bulwer-Lytton locking up his own wife in such an institution. Notably, Edward Bulwer-Lytton belonged to a Rosicrucian society himself, and the title character of his novel Zanoni (1842) is a Rosicrucian.

Finally, early in The Woman in White, Walter meets “the woman in white”—Anne Catherick. Dracula also has its woman in white—Lucy, who as a vampiress preys upon many children before she is put to rest.

I don’t think Stoker plagiarized from The Woman in White, but I think too many similarities exist between the novels not to believe he was heavily influenced by Collins’ novel. I am sure Stoker was aware of how he adopted from Collins’ novel a similar narrative structure for Dracula, but I think the way he took Collins’ themes and characters and developed them on a more supernatural level must have been done largely subconsciously. Clearly, The Woman in White had a profound influence upon Stoker beyond his own awareness.

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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 numerous other books. For more information about Tyler and his books, visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com, www.GothicWanderer.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula