Category Archives: Classic Gothic Novels

1816 French Gothic Novel Claims to Be By Mrs. Radcliffe

The French Gothic novel The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb (1816) is a fascinating piece of literary history if not a great piece of Gothic literature.

The novel, which claims to be by Mrs. Radcliffe and translated from English into French by the Baron de Langon, was actually written by Langon, who was not a baron at all. Etienne-Leon de Lamotte-Langon (1786-1864) loved to write forged books, books he claimed were by famous people, the most famous being the Countess DuBarry, for whom he wrote a popular set of fake memoirs.

The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb’s cover art by Mike Hoffman looks like it belongs on the front of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel and does not reflect any scene accurately in the novel.

I will not go into detail about Langon, but I recommend interested readers peruse the introduction to the new edition of this novel published by Black Coats Press and written by Brian Stableford. Stableford is the translator/adaptor of the novel and his introductions are always worth the price of the book alone—I wish he would write an entire history of French Gothic literature. (Note that this edition of the novel refers to the author as “Lamotte-Langon,” but his Wikipedia page, only in French, says his name was “Lamothe-Langon.” See translated Wikipedia page here.)

Langon appears to be an overlooked author in the exploration of how English and French literature influenced each other, and a key figure in the leading up to the revival of the Gothic novel in the 1840s and 1850s. The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb is a testament to the popularity of Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels in the 1790s and their translation into French. In fact, in 1799, another novel, The Tomb, was published that also claimed to be a fake translation of one of her books, although its true author is not known.

The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb begins with an introduction in which Langon claims to have received a manuscript of the novel from a relative of Mrs. Radcliffe. More than once he also makes comments that suggest Mrs. Radcliffe is dead—something many may have believed at the time, although she did not die until 1823, but illness had caused her to withdraw from the literary world and public life, which she had never participated much in anyway. Her last novel, The Italian, had been published in 1797 so her lack of further publication helped spread the rumor of her death. Of course, Mrs. Radcliffe had no recourse to people using her name in France, and many authors in the nineteenth century suffered from other authors stealing their books or concepts and even using their names. George W. M. Reynolds is one of the more famous examples, having written The Mysteries of London (1844-48) as a follow up to Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1846), and also Pickwick Abroad (1837-38) as an unauthorized sequel to Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers (1837-38), although he published them under his own name.

The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb starts out in such a manner that one could almost believe Mrs. Radcliffe did write it. We are introduced to Arembert, a lord who feels haunted by his past crimes. Then we meet a mysterious hermit whom the reader quickly realizes is Arembert’s older brother who allegedly went off to the Crusades and disappeared, but who we ascertain has a secret and is actually haunting Arembert by finding hidden passages into his castle and uttering doom and gloom statements like a disembodied voice. Soon after, we are introduced to Ademar, a young knight who knows nothing of his parentage, but the hermit tells Ademar he knows the truth of his birth and it will eventually be made known. Of course, Ademar turns out to be the hermit’s son and will eventually learn how Adembert committed crimes against the rest of the family.

This is all well-done—a good Gothic plot of revenge and guilt—but it’s not enough to carry off three volumes, so Langon introduces a love story for Ademar, and he sets it all against the Albigensian crusade of the thirteenth century. What results is a mix of Gothic novel, courtly and chivalric romance, and historical fiction, although Langon has no real concept of being historically accurate. One has to wonder whether he read any of Sir Walter Scott or Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809). Both Scott and Porter made more effort to be historically accurate in their books, which only predate Langon’s novel by seven or less years. This was the time period of the birth of historical fiction and Langon isn’t quite writing it, but he’s a pioneer in its development. In fact, the hermit himself—the rightful heir to a barony and a father in disguise—reminds one of how King Richard is in disguise in Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819) and Rymer’s The Black Monk (1844-45). You have to wonder, then, whether Scott read Langon.

Before the novel is over, we have a series of adventures in which princesses are kidnapped and rescued, Adembert admits his past crimes and dies a death deserving of a villain, and all is revealed regarding the hermit’s past. Unfortunately, Langon has a bad sense of how to end a novel dramatically. The secrets are revealed fifty pages before the novel is over and then we are subjected to several concluding pages to wrap up the plot, followed by the hermit telling his story at length, and rather unnecessarily since we’ve already figured out he is Arembert’s brother—this disordered ending destroys the novel’s pacing and dramatic conclusion and shows that Langon really wasn’t quite up to what he was trying to pull off.

Regardless, there are things to admire about the The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb. It does keep the reader engaged for the first seventy or so pages before it falls into the chivalric plot and loses its Gothic suspense. I do not want to fault Brian Stableford as translator because he has done a wonderful service through Black Coats Press in bringing numerous fascinating French Gothic novels into English, but I think even he must have found this book trying as evidenced by the numerous typos throughout the book that make it difficult to read, and the tense often shifts from past to present, though that may be the fault of the author rather than the translator.

Langon does not seem to hold a high place in French or even French Gothic literature, but he did write several novels along those lines, including The Virgin Vampire in 1825 (also available through Black Coats Press). He also wrote novels of manners, and most significantly The Police Spy (1826) which is one of the first pieces of crime fiction, and although it does not seem to have had a major influence on the genre, Stableford in his introduction suggests it may have inspired Eugene Vidocq’s book Memoires (1828), a fake autobiography by Vidocq, a French criminal and criminalist. Vidocq’s book is considered the godfather of crime fiction and is known to have influenced later authors including Poe, Balzac, and Feval. Furthermore, although Langon quit writing before the age of the feuilleton—the novels serialized in newspapers that brought about the revival of the Gothic in France and indirectly in England in the form of penny dreadfuls, including such French works as Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-43) and The Wandering Jew (1846), and in England, James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire (1846-47) and George W. M. Reynolds’ Wagner the Wehr-Wolf (1846-47)—he certainly was a forerunner and likely an influence upon the movement.

I am left wondering whether English writers read Langon in French—I don’t know that he was translated into English prior to Stableford’s translation—and how his works may have affected the development of the British Gothic novel. Certainly, they had minor influence on the French Gothic novels of the early nineteenth century, which in turn had influences on the British Gothic.

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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.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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The First Mummy Novel—A Gothic, Sci-Fi, Political Mix

The Mummy!: A Tale of the Twenty Second Century by Jane Webb, later Jane Loudon, was published in 1827. Loudon was twenty upon its publication but said she wrote it at seventeen. Written in typical three-volume format for the period, it is a remarkable book to have been written by one so young. Nor is it the kind of horror novel we would expect from watching Universal horror films or even the more recent Brendan Fraser and Tom Cruise mummy films.

The novel was clearly inspired by Frankenstein (1818), but its similarities to Mary Shelley’s later novel The Last Man (1826) cannot go unnoticed even though Loudon may not have read The Last Man since she said she had written it by 1824 (although The Last Man was published in 1826, the year before The Mummy!’s publication). In the novel, a young noble, Edric Montague, and his tutor, Dr. Entwerfen, debate whether a corpse can be brought back to life through galvanism (use of electricity). They come to the conclusion it is possible and decide to travel to Egypt to find a body that is not decayed to experiment upon; consequently, a mummy is the perfect specimen. I’ll get to what happens next in a minute, but clearly Loudon read Frankenstein and was inspired by it to come up with a new way to bring a body back to life. The similarities to Frankenstein end there.

This edition of The Mummy!, published by Two Penny Books, seeks to appeal to a modern audience by making the mummy look frightening but he is actually fully preserved and looks human other than his piercing eyes in the novel.

While it is questionable that Loudon read The Last Man, The Mummy! has far more similarities to The Last Man than Frankenstein. Mary Shelley begins The Last Man in the Sibyl’s cave where the narrator collects leaves and combines them together to create the novel’s text. It is a strange history of the future set at the end of the twenty-first century. In The Mummy!, the narrator claims that when in a state of being half-asleep, a spirit appeared and gave her a scroll upon which was chronicled a future age. In both cases, a supernatural being provides a tale of the future. Loudon sets her novel a bit later than Shelley, opening in the year 2126. Shelley’s novel spans the 2070s-2100 when Lionel Verney, the last man alive after a plague has destroyed the human race, writes his history. Loudon doesn’t let a plague destroy mankind, although she does allow the Mummy to wreak havoc upon people as if he were a type of plague. Shelley was not too far-seeing in her use of technological innovations in her novels—her characters travel in hot air balloons, but that is hardly far-seeing. Characters already did so in an early French novel of the same name by Cousin de Grainville, published in 1804. (See my previous blog on Grainville’s The Last Man.)

Loudon is far more technologically advanced. Not only do her characters travel in hot air balloons, but they also have built an underwater tunnel between England and Ireland (think chunnel) and women wear hairpieces that have flames in them. Perhaps more importantly, political situations have evolved, although regressed might be a better word. In Shelley’s novel, the King of England has abdicated and the country become more democratic. In Loudon’s novel, revolutions of the masses overthrowing their masters led to anarchy and a return to absolute monarchy. However, now only women may rule. A queen is elected by the people and she is forbidden to marry. When she dies, another young woman, between the ages of 20-25 in the royal family, takes her place. Also of significance is that the country has returned to Catholicism—this last point is fascinating because while Loudon sets her novel 300 years into the future, she is recreating the England of the past in an absolute monarchy and Catholic nation. This is really backward rather than forward, and I believe Loudon does it to make her future as Gothic as her Gothic novel predecessors made their pasts, typically setting novels in the medieval or Renaissance period. Both Shelley’s The Last Man and Loudon’s novel are then largely concerned with political issues within England. In The Last Man, the plague causes Adrian, the rightful heir to the throne, to become the leader of the English people as they travel to warmer climates trying to survive. In The Mummy, the Mummy will manipulate events that will affect who rules England.

In one of the few scholarly articles written on the novel, “Jane C. Loudon’s The Mummy!: Mary Shelley Meets George Orwell, and They Go in a Balloon to Egypt,” scholar Lisa Hopkins notes several other similarities to The Last Man, including that both novels include a plague in Constantinople and a niece named Clara and seem to refer to the death of the Princess Charlotte in 1817. I did not initially catch these similarities, but they make me think that Loudon wrote the novel at seventeen in 1824 as she claimed, but then perhaps revised it after reading The Last Man since it was published the year prior to her novel. It is not unlikely she did read it since she was clearly influenced by Frankenstein, so she would have likely sought out Shelley’s later novel.

The similarities with Shelley’s novels end there. Loudon is, in many ways, very original in her work. The Mummy (most of the characters call him this, as if it’s his proper name, though his real name is Cheops) is a former pharaoh of Egypt. When he is brought to life by Edric, he is shocked and does not know what he is doing. He runs out of the pyramid and jumps into Edric and Dr. Entwerfen’s hot air balloon, and before he knows it—the balloon apparently has some sort of GPS system to return it home—he finds himself back in England. I can’t help seeing Cheops as somehow symbolic here of some sort of Eastern plague invading the country, not too far removed from how Dracula has been interpreted by some critics as a symbol of Eastern European immigrants who were flooding into England in the late nineteenth century. Dracula is set on destruction, and so is the Mummy, apparently. Like Dracula, the Mummy also has his roots in the attributes of the Wandering Jew. We are told that when he first wakes, Edric cannot tear himself away from the mummy’s “withering glance” and his eyes have a “ghastly brightness.” Similarly, the Wandering Jew, and later Dracula, has hypnotic eyes that make others succumb to his will. Once the Mummy arrives in England, we find numerous characters fearful of him and agreeing to be his slaves. The only one who seems strong-willed enough not to agree to his demands is Edric’s brother, Edmund, a great general and the hero of his country who is in love with Elvira, the recently crowned queen, although he knows he can’t marry her. (Edmund seems like one of the good guys but later his ambition will get the best of him, and the Mummy will tell him his pride and refusal to submit to him has caused his downfall.)

The political plot of the novel is a bit too complicated to try to summarize in full. Basically, the queen, Claudia, has died and Elvira has been elected queen, although her cousin, Rosabella, also campaigns for the position. Once the Mummy arrives in England, he constantly seems to play the two contending parties against each other. The chief villain in the novel is actually Father Morris, a monk, who wants to place Rosabella on the throne. The Mummy seems to be aiding Father Morris throughout the novel, yet he forbids Father Morris to poison or harm Elvira. Through a turn of events, Elvira is overthrown and Rosabella becomes queen, but the people come to detest Rosabella, and eventually, Elvira again retains the throne, largely with the help of Roderick, King of Ireland, who ends up marrying her once the law against queens marrying is overturned.

In the end, Father Morris’ crimes are revealed. Throughout the novel, Rosabella has been an orphan, raised by her uncle, the Duke of Cornwall, who is cousin to Queen Claudia and the father of Elvira. A mystery has existed about Rosabella’s father, the duke’s brother, who apparently committed some evil deed and is believed deceased. Rosabella never suspects that Father Morris is actually her father, or that he is working for her preferment to become queen. He is actually living as confessor in his brother’s household and so Rosabella has been with her father since childhood, never knowing it. In the end, it’s revealed that Father Morris had previously been married, but he cheated on his wife with a woman named Marianne. Later, in revenge when he wouldn’t marry her, Marianne took their child and sold it to a Swiss nobleman, claiming it was orphaned—then she switched the child’s place with her own child by a servant and let Father Morris think it was his child. Consequently, the evil Rosabella is really not Father Morris’s child, although he believes she is, and more importantly, she is not royal at all.

What makes Father Morris’s crimes significant in terms of the novel’s Gothic elements is that he is a monk, although he committed his sexual sin not while a man of the cloth but while married. Here, one can’t help thinking of Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, who is tempted by Satan in the form of a woman. Father Morris also makes a compact with Cheops, which is rather like the Faustian pact made by so many other Gothic characters, including Lewis’ Monk and characters in later novels like those by George W. M. Reynolds.

But what of the Mummy? In the end, Father Morris accuses him of causing all the problems that led to Rosabella’s overthrow, but the Mummy reveals that he did not cause the problems; he may have put ideas into their heads to commit crimes, but they are the ones who carried them out, spurred on by their ambition and passions. In truth, the Mummy does not seem to have any real supernatural powers other than to be alive when he should be dead. He also appears human, dressed normally and not wearing mummy bandages, once he gets settled in England. He does seem to have a knack for appearing wherever he wants whenever he wants, though how he can do this is never explained. But beyond that, he does not have magic powers of any sort.

Everything ultimately comes to a happy end for all the good characters while the evil characters are punished. When everything is over and done with, the Mummy seems to disappear. Edric is left wondering where Cheops has gone until he hears a voice tell him to return to the pyramid, which he does. When Edric enters the pyramid, he finds Cheops standing there, once again in his mummy wrappings. Cheops tells Edric that if he wants forbidden knowledge, he will give it to him, but it will only bring him misery, so it would be better if he did not pry into forbidden knowledge again. Here is the primary lesson in all Gothic fiction—people must not seek forbidden knowledge or seek power that should only belong to God. It is the same transgression Adam and Eve committed in eating the forbidden fruit. Edric says he has learned his lesson now, but he asks Cheops to tell him his own story. Cheops then reveals that during his lifetime, he committed sin by loving his own sister, and when his father opposed their love, he murdered his father. Of course, murder is a terrible sin, but the Gothic typically also frowns on incest, so I assume that is also why Cheops is cursed, although Egyptian royalty frequently allowed marriages between siblings. (I’m not sure whether Loudon was aware of that since studies of ancient Egypt and the pyramids were in their infancy when Loudon wrote her novel.) Cheops then says that he has used his power to assist the good and punish the malevolent, even though at times it seemed like he was just being evil and causing trouble.

It is now time for Cheops to return to death. As his body begins to stiffen, Edric asks him one last question: Was it really he who brought Cheops to life? Cheops replies that only he who first gave him life could bring him back to life. In other words, God brought him to life and God used him as his instrument throughout the novel. We are then to assume perhaps that Cheops has in some way worked out his redemption through being allowed to return to life—and we can’t help but think of the Christ parallel here—that Christ rose from the tomb through the power of God.

In the end, The Mummy! is a remarkable novel in many ways for how it allows us to assume its primary Gothic horror, Cheops, is a villain, when he turns out to be the instrument of God. Cheops is also a quintessential Gothic wanderer—he is supernatural, he has sinned, he seeks redemption, he has a powerful gaze, he has a story to tell. The novel is innovative for using Gothic themes but placing its horrors in the future rather than the past. It also notably is lacking in Gothic atmosphere other than the tomb scenes and the occasional moments of horror when Cheops appears. (And frankly, Cheops only makes cameo appearances throughout. The edition I read was 386 pages. Cheops is not brought to life until about page 100. He then disappears from about pages 200-286 before he reenters the scene so he really is only focused upon in less than half the novel.) One can’t help feel The Mummy! is an anti-Catholic novel like so many Gothic novels since Father Morris turns out to be the true villain, but there is also a Father Murphy who is a good character. We have an Irish King who is the greatest hero in the novel, whereas most Irish were treated in a derogatory way in English novels to this point, especially because they were predominantly Catholic.

The novel has received almost no critical attention. I have spent twenty years reading and studying Gothic fiction and yet I only learned of the novel’s existence in the last year. It is time for it to be studied more. One wishes to know more about Loudon’s life and inspiration in writing it, including whether she might have revised the novel after reading The Last Man before it was published even though she claimed to have written it previously, and what, if any, political and religious commentary she was offering upon her own 1820s England. (Did she foresee a Catholic England eventually resulting if Catholic Emancipation occurred, which did happen in 1829?) Certainly, Mary Shelley is remarkable for having written Frankenstein at eighteen, but then how much more remarkable, in my opinion, is Loudon for having written The Mummy! at seventeen, which is also stylistically superior to either of Shelley’s novels. Today, Loudon and her husband (she married Loudon after the Mummy was published and he wrote a favorable review of it) are known as preeminent horticulturalists of Victorian England, and they were even part of Charles Dickens’ circle, but certainly, Jane Webb Loudon and The Mummy! deserves far more critical attention.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, a study of nineteenth-century British Gothic literature from 1794 (The Mysteries of Udolpho) to 1897 (Dracula) with a look at twenty and twenty-first century texts like Tarzan of the Apes, Anne Rice’s vampire novels, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Tyler has also written Haunted Marquette, a history of hauntings in his native city of Marquette, Michigan, Spirit of the North: A Paranormal Romance, and the historical fantasy series The Children of Arthur, which details the story of King Arthur and his descendants, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Bram Stoker’s ‘The Man’ and His Gothic Literary Ghosts

Bram Stoker’s The Man (1905) has received little attention from readers or literary scholars. However, it is actually a very fascinating work that shows how enmeshed Stoker was in Victorian literary traditions. It also reflects the possibility that he was trying to work out his own feelings about women, or possibly himself as a homosexual man. Some critics have considered the novel sexist, but to some degree, it more likely is subversive, a typical method used by the Gothic to push against society’s boundaries, while ending conservatively to be acceptable to the general reading public. And while not a Gothic novel in itself, The Man draws on many Gothic elements.

A cover for a recent edition of The Man – the image fails to portray the novel’s theme and misrepresents the novel.

The Man, to some degree, might be seen as a revision of a minor scene in Dracula and its results, and the question of its sexism revolves around this revision. In Dracula, Lucy suggests that a woman might propose to a man—critics like David J. Skal in Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, argue that Stoker punishes Lucy for this belief with living death when she becomes a vampiress. In The Man, the main female also makes this proposition, but to understand why she suggests it and how Stoker treats her for it, first we need a little background on the novel’s characters.

The primary female character in The Man is Stephen Norman. She is the daughter of a squire who always wanted a son to succeed him, but his wife dies giving birth to their one child, a girl, whom he promises he will love as much as if she were his son. As a result, he raises up Stephen like a boy, giving her a male name and raising her to run the estate. Note that Stephen also has no mother to soften her nature, although she has an aunt who comes to live with them.

The novel begins with a prologue where Stephen and Harold are in a churchyard together. Harold is the son of Stephen’s father’s friend, a minister. They are sitting on tombstones and arguing about whether women can be just. Stephen wants to attend court sessions so she is prepared to be just in her role when she is the master of the estate.

Harold and Stephen have grown up together and are like brother and sister. When Harold’s parents die, he comes to live with Stephen and her father. At one point, the two of them go to explore a crypt and she wants to enter it, but he tells her not to because he knows her mother is in it and he fears it will upset her. Later, she returns and enters the crypt, which causes her to faint. Harold finds her and carries her out, but Stephen is under the impression a neighbor boy, Leonard Everard, carried her out. Harold does not correct her misbelief, and consequently, Stephen begins to think she can admire and possibly love Leonard.

Soon after, Stephen’s father is in an accident and dies. On his deathbed, he asks Harold always to look after Stephen and love her and stand by her if she loves another. Harold agrees to all this, not yet realizing Stephen loves Leonard, and by now, Harold loves Stephen.

Meanwhile, Stephen wants to go to the court sessions. Her aunt tells her that some things women should not know and refers to the tree of knowledge. This is the Gothic theme of forbidden knowledge, and a reference to Eve’s transgression in eating the forbidden true of the tree of knowledge. Stoker here seems to suggest that women who step out of their traditional roles are committing transgressions. The aunt goes on to discuss fallen women, but Stephen says that if women sin in these cases, so do men. Stephen then goes on to tell her aunt that women have just as much right as men to propose when they are in love. Stoker is setting Stephen up for disaster here. She believes women are the equals of men, and now that she has feelings for Leonard, she decides she will propose to him to put her theory into practice. The narrator then tells us her preparations were like those of the devil when tempting Jesus. Like the devil who takes Jesus to a cliff, Stephen asks Leonard to meet her on a hill where he can see all her property and then realize the wealth he would have should he marry her. Stephen, like Satan, is tempting another with riches and power.

Leonard, however, is shocked by Stephen’s proposal. He finds it abnormal for a woman to propose and quickly refuses her. Stephen then asks him to forget about it. However, Leonard has debts and Stephen is rich, so he begins to reconsider. Soon after, he gets drunk and brags in a tavern to Harold that he is going to marry Stephen. Angered, Harold goes to Stephen and proposes to her before Leonard can get to her. She, however, comes to realize he knows about her proposal to Leonard and that Leonard said no. She suspects Harold pities her or that he thinks she’ll say yes to any man, so she refuses him and tells him she never wants to see him again. Harold then decides to leave England.

Leonard now tries to get Stephen to marry him, but she refuses, although she agrees to pay off his debts. I cannot help being reminded in these scenes of Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), in which Emily St. Aubert falls for Valancourt, whom she thinks is perfect, yet we later find out he has made a mess of his life through gambling and getting into debt. Leonard has turned out to be far from Stephen’s equal and she now has a hard time getting rid of him.

Meanwhile, Harold is heartbroken. On the journey to America, he feels tormented. Then a little girl, Pearl, is washed off the ship and he jumps into the sea to rescue her. After that, the little girl is besotted with him and begins referring to him as “The Man.” Her grateful father, Mr. Stonehouse, realizes Harold is tormented and befriends him, suggesting that if Harold is a criminal, he will help him, even offering to adopt him as his son. Harold assures Mr. Stonehouse he is not a criminal, but the idea of changing his identity appeals to him.

Eventually, Harold ends up in Alaska. The author makes it clear he is in the wilderness—this is a time of wandering and being lost, like the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land. Harold is undergoing the dark night of his soul and being much the Gothic Wanderer in his torment. However, he ends up becoming wealthy in the mines and adopts for himself the name Robinson, taken from the mine. He now decides to return to England after an absence of a few years.

Meanwhile, Stephen has inherited a castle from a distant relative and become a countess. She also longs for Harold, gradually realizing she wronged him. In her new home, she is gracious and kind to everyone, seeking to redeem herself. She also meets Sister Ruth, a Quaker woman, who dresses in white and gray, causing her be known as the Silver Lady. To Ruth, Stephen confesses she once killed a man—not physically, but she says she killed his soul. It’s important to note also that Stephen decides to be incognito when she meets Sister Ruth, not telling her at first that she’s the countess. She prefers, like Haroun al-Rashid, we are told, to visit incognito those socially beneath her.

Ironically, Harold’s ship now sinks off the shore of England near the castle Stephen inherited. Stephen sees a man (she doesn’t know it’s Harold) valiantly trying to save lives. Eventually, he swims toward shore, and she has a fire lit (by actually setting a house on fire) to warn him of the rocks that he will be dashed upon. At one point, he looks up at her, dressed all in scarlet, and recognizes her before he is rescued. However, during the rescue efforts, he also goes blind. (One wonders whether the sight of Stephen caused his blindness and whether Stoker is implying she’s a scarlet woman.) At the same time, Stephen is far from a scarlet woman—rather she is praying to God for Harold’s rescue, feeling guilt over how she hurt Harold and asking God to let her atone for the man whose soul she killed by letting her save this man, never suspecting the two men are the same. At times, she thinks how she wishes she had the power of God to rescue, which sounds like pride and a longing to be like God (Satan’s crime), but instead, God hears her prayer and allows Harold to be saved.

Harold is brought to the castle to be cared for. Because he has a beard and his eyes are bandaged, Stephen does not recognize him. Harold, however, realizes Stephen is there and he does not want her to pity him so he tries to get away. When Harold questions the doctor about how high up in the castle he is, the doctor thinks he plans to commit suicide by jumping out the window as a way to end his misery over being blind. Harold then confesses to the doctor that he loves Stephen but wishes to keep his identity secret from her, which is why he wishes to escape. The doctor agrees to keep Harold’s secret and tells Stephen that Mr. Robinson doesn’t like visitors. The doctor doesn’t want Harold to leave because he hopes to cure him of his blindness. I can’t help being reminded of Jane Eyre here, where Mr. Rochester is blind and weakened when the now wealthy Jane Eyre finds him. Stoker has put his male hero in an equally weakened state, even though Harold’s bravery has caused him to be referred to as a “giant” more than once in the novel.

Bram Stoker, who was over six feet tall, and might be considered a giant and “a man” in his own right, seemed to prefer being submissive to other males.

These scenes of Harold, his identity unknown, living in Stephen’s house, also remind me of Ellen Wood’s East Lynne (1861), where the adulterous wife returns in disguise as a governess to care for her children, only in this case, it is the future husband, not the wife who is in disguise. Since the wife in East Lynne was adulterous, here we can almost think Stephen was adulterous in propositioning Leonard when Stephen, at least in Harold’s heart, already belonged to Harold. Perhaps a stretch, and Stoker isn’t drawing straight analogies, but the influence seems likely to East Lynne or similar hidden identity cases in Victorian fiction, which are countless.

Of course, Stephen will eventually learn the truth about the blind man’s identity. It comes about when the Stonehouses, hearing of Harold’s bravery when the ship sank, come to visit Stephen, suspecting he is “The Man.” As they tell Stephen about their previous meeting with Mr. Robinson, Stephen realizes that “The Man,” “Mr. Robinson,” and Harold are all one. Eventually, she takes the Stonehouses to him. Once he removes his bandage, all is revealed except the love beating in Stephen and Harold’s hearts. At this point, Pearl tells Stephen that she always wanted to marry “The Man,” but that Stephen should actually do it because while he saved her, Stephen saved him when she lit the fire to rescue him.

Stephen is now older and wiser, but while she realizes now that she loves Harold, she does not dare to propose to him but waits for him to propose to her. When the proposal doesn’t happen, she goes to Sister Ruth, who then arranges for Harold to come to her. Of course, Sister Ruth arranges it so the two can be together. And we learn here that Sister Ruth is a recluse from the world because of a tragedy in her past that she wishes to prevent happening again for Stephen and Harold. (Sister Ruth then might be considered a Gothic wanderer herself, though her redemption is not through love but through helping others.)

The end of the novel may be considered very sexist. We are told that now Stephen knows her “Master” and that when she knows Harold loves her and will come to her, “She was all woman now; all-patient, and all-submissive. She waited the man; and the man was coming.” Of course, submissiveness seems sexist to modern readers, but it was conservative for Stoker’s time, perhaps overly conservative in an age when women had become fighting for their rights.

I am left thinking we can read this novel in various ways. First, as Stoker’s concern that women were getting too much power and stepping out of their bounds, or second, we can read it as his being supportive of women and showing the difficult situations they are in, showing us how Stephen is rejected by her society for her mannish ways and so, ultimately, she has no choice but to submit to a man. And while the novel’s title refers to Harold, it isn’t until nearly two-thirds of the way into the novel when Pearl starts referring to Harold as “The Man” that we even know who the title refers to. Given that Stephen acts like a man and has a man’s name, one might think she is “The Man” for the first part of the novel. So is Stoker being subversive, or sexist and conservative?

And then there is the issue of Stoker’s closeted homosexuality. Countless critics have talked about his working relationship with actor Henry Irving and how Irving was a dominant male who treated Stoker like a toady and how Stoker may well have relished it, having a masochistic side. Stoker was himself a giant of a man like Harold, and yet he acknowledged Irving as his master (boss) and was submissive to him. We are left then wondering whether Stoker was comparing himself to Harold, ultimately submitting to a woman who acted like a man (Stoker may have physically been Irving’s superior yet submitted to a physically weaker man) or does Stoker see himself as like Stephen, feminine in truth despite a masculine appearance and, therefore, ready to submit to his “Master.”

There are no easy answers to these questions. I think much more analysis needs to be done on The Man. It is definitely a fascinating novel of identity issues, gender issues, and Gothic themes that is firmly enmeshed in a Victorian literary tradition.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, a study of nineteenth-century British Gothic literature from 1794 (The Mysteries of Udolpho) to 1897 (Dracula) with a look at twenty and twenty-first century texts like Tarzan of the Apes, Anne Rice’s vampire novels, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Tyler has also written Haunted Marquette, a history of hauntings in his native city of Marquette, Michigan, Spirit of the North: A Paranormal Romance, and the historical fantasy series The Children of Arthur, which details the story of King Arthur and his descendants, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. 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, Dracula

Clarimonde: An Early Psychological Vampire Tale

In 1836, French author Théophile Gautier published a short story titled “Le Morte Amoreuse” in Le Chronique de Paris. While the title translates into English as “The Dead in Love,” it was published in English as “Clarimonde” after its primary female character.

Clarimonde – this cover focuses on theme of death in the novel, although most depictions focus on the female vampire herself.

The work was likely influenced by the popularity of Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819), the first vampire story in England, which was soon translated into French and became more popular through stage productions. Gautier no doubt was influenced by Polidori’s work, but Gautier’s story was also translated into English and likely influenced the vampire novels that succeeded it. One reason “Clarimonde” stand out is it was the first prose work about a female vampire. (Previously, female vampires appeared in English poetry, notably Coleridge’s “Christabel” (1816)—although Coleridge never finished the poem so it is unknown whether he truly considered the character of Geraldine to be a vampire—and Keats’ “Lamia” (1820). However, Clarimonde is a far more detailed work than either poem, and it clearly points toward later works like J. S. LeFanu’s Carmilla (1872) and Stoker’s Dracula (1897), which it must have influenced directly or indirectly.

But “Clarimonde” deserves recognition for far more than just what it influenced. In fact, it is a work far ahead of its time for its use of Gothic themes and its psychological innovation.

The story begins when a young priest, Romuald, is about to be ordained. At his ordination, he sees the beautiful Clarimonde and is immediately smitten with her. He develops strong erotic desires for her that threaten to make him reject becoming a priest. He also hears a voice promising him love that will be greater than anything he could experience in Paradise. Despite the temptation, Romuald finishes the ceremony. Afterwards, he receives a letter with just Clarimonde’s name upon it.

Romuald is soon after stationed at a parish in the country where he feels trapped as a priest. One night, a man comes to him saying that a woman is dying and wishes to see a priest. The woman turns out to be Clarimonde, but she is already dead when Romuald arrives. Unable to restrain himself, he leans over and kisses her, and he is surprised when she returns the kiss. For a brief moment, she seems to return to life and tells him they will be reunited. Romuald then faints as he sees the breath leave Clarimonde’s body.

Days later, Romuald awakes, thinking he has dreamt the experience, but then Clarimonde appears to him. This time, she does not look dead but alive, and she convinces him to go on a journey with her. They travel to Venice where they live together. At times, Romuald wakes and realizes he is dreaming, but soon the dreams begin to feel more real to him than his real life, and sometimes, he feels like he is a grandee who is having nightmares about a life as a priest.

Eventually, Clarimonde becomes ill and Romuald fears for her life. One day, however, he accidentally cuts his finger and Clarimonde sucks the blood from it, restoring her to health. Romuald now realizes she is a vampire, but in his dream state, he is unable to resist her.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the Abbe Serapion warns Romuald that his desires for Clarimonde are born of sin and that the devil is trying to lead him astray. To prove to Romuald the truth, Serapion takes him to Clarimonde’s tomb where they find a spot of blood at the corner of her mouth. Calling her a demon, Serapion sprinkles holy water on her corpse. She then crumbles to dust.

That night, Clarimonde appears to Romuald in a dream for the last time, admonishing him for how he has treated her and asking him what harm she truly did him.

The story concludes with Romuald regretting Clarimonde’s loss, although he knows that her destruction has saved his soul. He then warns his reader never to look at a woman because even just one glance can cause one to lose his soul.

While “Clarimonde” is not a long story, it contains several points worth noting that seem like harbingers of later Gothic works.

Auguste de Chatillon. Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), was a poet, playwright, and novelist, who counted Victor Hugo among his many literary friends and acquaintances.

For me, the story’s most remarkable aspect is the extent to which Romuald enters into a dream world so that each night he is living happily with Clarimonde to the point where the real world seems like a dream to him. I don’t know of any other nineteenth century author who used dreams to such a powerful extent until George DuMaurier in Peter Ibbetson (1891) where the characters are able to perform what we would today call lucid dreaming and even communicate with one another through their dreams.

Clarimonde’s eyes also cannot go without notice. There’s a long tradition of vampires having a mesmeric gaze, an attribute they inherited in literature from the Wandering Jew. When Romuald first sees Clarimonde, he describes her eyes as:

“sea-green eyes of unsustainable vivacity and brilliancy. What eyes! With a single flash they could have decided a man’s destiny. They had a life, a limpidity, an ardour, a humid light which I have never seen in human eyes; they shot forth rays like arrows, which I could distinctly see enter my heart. I know not if the fire which illumined them came from heaven or from hell, but assuredly it came from one or the other. That woman was either an angel or a demon, perhaps both. Assuredly she never sprang from the flank of Eve, our common mother.”

The reference to Eve is also interesting since Eve is usually the transgressor of Eden who brought sin to mankind, but Clarimonde is distanced here from her, to clarify she is not even human.

That Romuald feels like he has two identities is also significant. It is as if he is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, living two separate existences, and while he never becomes a monster, he certainly feels he is powerless to break the control that one of those identities has over him. He states:

“From that night my nature seemed in some sort to have become halved, and there were two men within me, neither of whom knew the other. At one moment I believed myself a priest who dreamed nightly that he was a gentleman, at another that I was a gentleman who dreamed he was a priest. I could no longer distinguish the dream from the reality, nor could I discover where the reality began or where ended the dream. The exquisite young lord and libertine railed at the priest, the priest loathed the dissolute habits of the young lord. Two spirals entangled and confounded the one with the other, yet never touching….” He eventually realizes he must kill one or the other of the men or kill both because so terrible an existence cannot be otherwise endured.

Clarimonde’s death is also interesting because of how it is described. When she dies her human death, after Romuald kisses her, we are told of the flower she holds: “The last remaining leaf of the white rose for a moment palpitated at the extremity of the stalk like a butterfly’s wing, then it detached itself and flew forth through the open casement, bearing with it the soul of Clarimonde.” This detail is fascinating because it suggests Gautier may have had some knowledge of the Eastern European tradition that butterflies are connected to the soul. The dead, and vampires particularly, were said to have a butterfly fly out of their mouths when they died, thus releasing their souls. (See my previous blogs on the1880 Serbian novel After Ninety Years and also James Lyons’ 2013 novel Kiss of the Butterfly.)

Finally, the novel was significant as a translation into English because not only does it feature a Catholic priest (he isn’t, however, the first Catholic priest to fall into sexual morality; Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795) has a main character who has sex with a nun, who turns out to be Satan in disguise), but the vampire is destroyed through the use of holy water, a Catholic tool. Most of the Gothic novels of the 1790s to 1820s were very anti-Catholic. That lessened to some extent after Catholic Emancipation in England in 1829, but because “Clarimonde” is by a French writer, Gautier had no qualms about using Catholicism to defeat his vampire. That said, I believe it may be the first use of holy water to defeat a vampire in literature. Of course, Catholic implements like the crucifix and Eucharistic would be more famously used by Bram Stoker in Dracula.

Clarimonde would go on to influence French works like Paul Feval’s The Vampire Countess and directly or indirectly British works like Carmilla and Dracula. Today, Clarimonde is far from a household name—Dracula gets all the press—but the significance of Gautier’s story to vampire fiction and its innovations that do not appear again for many decades in literature make “Clarimonde” a piece deserving of far more attention.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, a study of nineteenth-century British Gothic literature from 1794 (The Mysteries of Udolpho) to 1897 (Dracula) with a look at twenty and twenty-first century texts like Tarzan of the Apes, Anne Rice’s vampire novels, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Tyler has also written Haunted Marquette, a history of hauntings in his native city of Marquette, Michigan, Spirit of the North: A Paranormal Romance, and the historical fantasy series The Children of Arthur, which details the story of King Arthur and his descendants, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. 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, Dracula, Literary Criticism, The Wandering Jew

The Mysteries of London: The Forgotten Gothic Victorian Classic

How does one even begin to write about George W. M. Reynold’s mammoth classic The Mysteries of London (1844)? The new Valancourt press edition that I recently read is two volumes and runs around 2,300 pages. It may be the longest novel in the English language after Richardson’s Clarissa (1748). It may also be one of the most important, yet most overlooked novels in Victorian and Gothic fiction. The novel is hard to define, and yet it must have influenced the genres that followed it. It is not by any means the first crime novel, nor is it properly the first mystery novel—there is no detective solving crimes, but there is plenty of crime and not a little mystery. In this case, mystery refers more properly to secrets and criminal plots than any effort to solve mysteries. Its title is more in keeping with Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842) which I have previously blogged on. Radcliffe is paid homage to in the use of a place name Montoni in the novel. Montoni is the villain of Radcliffe’s masterpiece. Sue is largely ignored other than one passing reference to Paris, but that is because Reynolds was basically stealing Sue’s idea and popularizing it for himself.

The Mysteries of London has been reprinted in a wonderful new two volume edition by Valancourt Press, with all the original illustrations.

Part of the novel’s obscurity is due to Reynolds’ piracy and the sense that a penny dreadful type story cannot be great literature. Reynolds was not a plagiarist in the sense that he stole passages from other authors, but he certainly stole their ideas and capitalized on them. Not only did he capitalize on Sue’s novel, but Paul Feval in the same year began writing a French novel, Les Mystères de Londres, so he claimed Reynolds had stolen his idea. (Feval didn’t seem to care that he himself had stolen Sue’s idea.) But even before Reynolds began The Mysteries of London, he had already likely infuriated Charles Dickens by publishing Pickwick Abroad, or the Tour in France (1837-1838), an unauthorized sequel or offshoot to The Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), which ran simultaneously with Dickens’ novel. Dickens is said to have despised Reynolds, and one cannot blame him, but one also has to wonder whether Reynolds influenced Dickens. Critics today claim the novel belongs on the shelf beside other great social novels like Dickens’ Bleak House (1853) and Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875). And while we cannot know whether Dickens read The Mysteries of London, he must have been very aware of it and read pieces, if not all, of it, or at least have known of its characters. After all, Reynolds far outsold Dickens. The Mysteries of London is said to have sold 50,000 copies a week in its serial format and over a million copies the first year it was published in book form. Those numbers would have been far beyond any Victorian authors’ dreams.

To summarize the novel in full would be impossible, but I will just mention a few of the main plot highlights. The novel opens with a young man in a bad neighborhood who ducks into an old building when he fears for his safety. Inside, he overhears criminals plotting to rob the Markham house; then he is captured by the criminals and thrown into a trap door, which they don’t realize has an outlet. The young man warns the Markhams without revealing his identity. Later, we learn this young man is really a woman, Eliza Sydney, who is passing herself off as her brother to gain the inheritance that was supposed to be left to him, but which she will not acquire because he is deceased. Poor Eliza is being tricked into this crime by another who hopes to profit by it. Eventually, when it’s time to collect the inheritance, her identity is revealed and she’s sent to prison for her deceit. After she is released from prison, she makes some good acquaintances, which allows her to be introduced into high society in Italy, where she emigrates. There the Grand Duke of Castelcicala falls in love with and marries her.

The other major plot concerns the Markhams, whom Eliza had warned of an impending robbery. When the father dies, his two sons, Eugene and Richard, make a pact that they will each make their own way in the world and then meet again after twelve years on a given date in 1843. The novel then follows Richard Markham through his ups and downs. All the while, Richard wonders how his brother is faring in the world. Richard befriends some gentlemen who turn out to be swindlers and get him tossed in prison, although he is innocent of the forgery he’s accused of. Numerous plots surround Richard, but in the end, he falls in love with the beautiful Isabella, and eventually, he learns that her father is a count and the nephew of the Grand Duke of Castelcicala, who has married Eliza. When the Grand Duke refuses to allow his land to become a republic, he is overthrown and Richard is part of the effort to overthrow him and then establish the count—who by then is his father-in-law—on the throne. As a result, Richard becomes a prince and a hero. But despite his triumph, he is continually pursued by the criminal Anthony Tidkins, also known as the Resurrection Man, because he digs up the dead and sells their corpses to scientists. Tidkins hates Richard and is continually trying to kill him. And then, in the final scene, after Tidkins has been murdered by another criminal, Crankey Jem, Richard reunites with Eugene.

Eugene has, meanwhile, been living under two different identities, first as Montague and then as Greenwood. Throughout the years separated from his brother, he has been committing numerous white collar crimes of embezzling, forgery, counterfeiting, and cheating people through fake stock speculations. He has also debauched several women, including Ellen Monroe, who is the daughter of Richard’s legal guardian during his youth. Eugene’s rise to wealth happens as Richard finds himself cast into poverty and prison, but then everything changes; while Richard becomes a hero and prince, Eugene becomes impoverished. Finally, Eugene keeps the appointment and the brothers meet again, but a man Eugene has cheated assails him just as he is heading to the meeting, and as a result, he dies soon after meeting his brother. Richard and all those he has wronged assure him he is forgiven so he dies in peace—a true redeemed Gothic wanderer.

The Resurrection Man is the other great Gothic Wanderer of the novel, although he is a hardened criminal who never in the end feels remorse for his crimes. However, we are given his backstory of how he tried to be honest, but between a miserable childhood and all society being against him because of his past, he finally quits trying to be good and becomes so angry at society that he strives to be a true criminal always. It should be noted that Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities (1859) has a Resurrection Man character in Jerry Cruncher, and later, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Body Snatcher (1884). Of course, that does not mean Reynolds influenced them since there were real resurrection men at the time, but that Reynolds created one of the greatest criminals in literature means one can’t help wondering whether Tidkins did influence other resurrection men counterparts.

One of the Resurrection Man’s cronies is “the old hag” whose name is never given but who continually helps to lead women into ruin. When Ellen Monroe is desperate for money, she goes to the hag, who leads her to a painter, then a sculpture, then a theatre manager, and, eventually, to Greenwood. Each one is a step closer to debauchery—Ellen agreeing to disrobe to be painted or sculpted nude, and finally, she sells her body to Greenwood. In the end, the hag, however, does feel some guilt over the women she has wronged, especially Harriet Wilmot, who turns out to have had a child with Richard and Eugene’s father—Katherine Wilmot—their long-lost sister whom Richard plays first benefactor to before he meets her as his sister. In the end, the hag is robbed and beaten to death by the Resurrection Man. As she is dying, Ellen Monroe forgives her. Here is another case of a Gothic wanderer figure—one who ends up feeling remorse for her crime.

The Resurrection Man threatening Adeline.

Numerous crimes occur throughout the novel, but for me, perhaps the most fascinating criminal plot concerns Lydia Hutchinson. Lydia finds a teaching position in a boarding school for young ladies, where she befriends one of the ladies, Adeline. Adeline gets Lydia to act as chaperone to her, but eventually, she leads Lydia into disgrace when they both start having sexual relations with a couple of young men. Adeline ends up pregnant and gives birth to a stillborn child in the school, which Lydia passes off as her own to protect Adeline. Lydia, as a result, is dismissed and sinks further and further into degradation. She continually asks Adeline for help but Adeline ends their acquaintance. Through a series of twists and turns, however, Lydia gets a position as a lady’s maid to Adeline and starts to blackmail her after Adeline has married and become Lady Ravenswood. Lydia has gone from virtue to vice and becomes a truly horrible taskmaster to Adeline until Adeline can take no more and hires the Resurrection Man to murder Lydia. After that, Adeline is haunted by the crime, rather like Lady Macbeth; eventually, she tries to redeem herself through being charitable. The Resurrection Man, however, has no remorse. He has buried Lydia’s body, but when it suits him, he digs it up and threatens to blackmail Adeline with it. When he shows her Lydia’s corpse, she is so overcome with horror and guilt that she faints, bursts a blood vessel, and dies.

Overall, The Mysteries of London, while it contains no supernatural elements, other than a claim that Ravensworth Hall is haunted, has plenty of Gothic guilt and redemption, plenty of villains, and plenty of mysterious and horrid haunts in London and its surroundings. This is urban Gothic, and Reynolds helped to develop it, drawing upon Sue’s novel and setting the stage for the Gothic atmosphere Dickens and other writers would also create in their depictions of London.

Of course, the string of Newgate novels, focusing on criminals, were already being published several years before The Mysteries of London was published. Oliver Twist (1838) had already depicted the darker side of London life, but never to the extreme Reynolds’ does. There is also plenty of sensationalism in the text long before what are considered the first sensational novels appeared—works like Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860) and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). There is cross-dressing to hide identities, although cross-dressing had been in fiction and on the stage long before. (See my blog on Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809) as an example.) Murder, however, is more abundant in The Mysteries of London than in any novel prior to it. So is gambling and the cheating of others. Gambling is a huge theme in the novel which is often overlooked as a major theme in Gothic fiction (see my book The Gothic Wanderer for a detailed discussion of gambling as a transgression in nineteenth century Gothic fiction.) Reynolds also fills his pages with family secrets, including those concerning illegitimate children and mysterious parentages (a theme that goes back to Radcliffe), and there are very contemporary themes such as Richard Markham’s campaign in Castelcicala to reclaim the throne for his father-in-law and establish a republic, a theme relevant to the Italian effort for unification—the Bandieri brothers made a failed effort/raid in 1844 in Calabria for this purpose which Reynolds no doubt followed and was inspired by. And most interesting for lovers of the Gothic, beyond the mysteries, the horror, and the dead bodies, is the recurring themes of guilt, forgiveness, and redemption.

The redemption theme is at the heart of understanding criminal psychology in the novel. While Reynolds creates some truly despicable and horrible villains—the Resurrection Man, the old hag, Lady Ravenswood—in each case, we see the villains feeling remorse for their crimes, even when they find themselves unable to stop from continuing them, either through an addiction to their criminal behavior or under threat of having past misdeeds revealed, so they must commit new crimes. We also have several stories within the story (an Arabian Nights plot device frequently used in Gothic fiction) where the criminals tell their histories and we come to understand the miserable childhoods and experiences they had and how even when they tried to walk the straight and narrow path, their poverty and a judgmental society pushed them into lives of crime.

Reynolds is nothing if not charitable toward his criminals. Here he is following Eugene Sue’s model, and while I don’t think he is as effective in his arguments for reform—after all, I think his first purpose was to sensationalize his storyline so it would sell—I believe his heart was in the right place. Eugene Sue’s main character, Rodolphe, who turns out to be a prince in disguise, makes a concerted effort to walk the streets of Paris, meet the poor and criminals, and help them through charity and a good example to reform. Reynolds’ Richard Markham is cast in Rodolphe’s mold with some differences. He is not a prince but eventually he rises to that status through marriage and his campaigns in Italy. He does not seek out the poor or try to help them, but when he comes across those in need, he does help. He is benefactor to several characters, mostly women, before the novel ends, but he also gets at least one criminal—Talbot—to reform.

Eugene Markham, Richard’s brother, whose alias is Montague and Greenwood, and who is known as the worst of the upper class criminals in London, is allowed a long and moving death scene of reconciliation with his brother and the chance to receive forgiveness from those he has wronged before he passes away into a state of peace, a scene that surely had at least an indirect influence upon Dracula’s death scene a half century later.

Eugene’s death

One final point concerning reform to make is that one of the minor characters, Henry Holford, a young criminal, breaks into Buckingham Palace, planning to help the Resurrection Man rob it. He ends up hiding under a sofa and witnessing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s courtship. Reynolds makes the point in these scenes that Queen Victoria is a young, innocent queen who is completely ignorant of the poverty and desperate situations of so many of her people. Holford becomes enamored with the palace and the queen and continually sneaks into the palace to spy on them until Prince Albert spots him. Holford manages to escape but does not dare try to return to Buckingham Palace after that. However, he decides he wants to become famous and will do so by assassinating Prince Albert. He ends up shooting at the prince while he and Victoria are in their carriage. (Four of eight assassination attempts against Queen Victoria had already been attempted at this point when she and Albert were in their carriage.) Holford’s murder attempt fails and results in Holford spending the rest of his life in an insane asylum. These are very daring chapters because while most Gothic novels previously had been set in the past, Reynolds is not only setting his in the present but depicting the royal family as characters in it and criticizing them. We are left with a Queen Victoria who is a type of Marie Antoinette, clueless about the poor, and the sense that perhaps revolution will occur in England as it did in France. That we also have a revolutionary plot in Italy in the novel suggests Reynolds may have been thinking revolution in England not so unlikely either.

Reynolds’ Epilogue states that now that the novel is finished, virtue has been rewarded and vice punished, and then Reynolds argues that his work has always had a moral purpose, concluding his tome by saying:

Kind Reader, who have borne with me so long—one word to thee.

If amongst the circle of thy friends, there be any who express an aversion to peruse this work,—fearful from its title or from fugitive report that the mind will be shocked more than it can be improved, or the blush of shame excited on the cheek oftener than the tear of sympathy will be drawn from the eye;—if, in a word, a false fastidiousness should prejudge, from its own suppositions or from misrepresentations made to it by others, a book by means of which we have sought to convey many an useful moral and lash many a flagrant abuse,—do you, kind reader, oppose that prejudice, and exclaim—“Peruse ere you condemn!”

For if, on the one side, we have raked amidst the filth and loathsomeness of society,—have we not, on the other, devoted adequate attention to its bright and glorious phases?

In exposing the hideous deformity of vice, have we not studied to develope the witching beauty of virtue?

Have we not taught, in fine, how the example and the philanthropy of one good man can “save more souls and redeem more sinners than all the Bishops that ever wore lawn-sleeves?”

If, then, the preceding pages be calculated to engender one useful thought—awaken one beneficial sentiment,—the work is not without its value.

If there be any merit in honesty of purpose and integrity of aim,—then is that merit ours.

And if, in addition to considerations of this nature, we may presume that so long as we are enabled to afford entertainment, our labours will be rewarded by the approval of the immense audience to whom we address ourselves,—we may with confidence invite attention to a SECOND SERIES of “THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON.”

The Mysteries of London, Vol 2. Reynolds would go on to write The Mysteries of the Court of London because of the popularity of the series.

Little scholarship has appeared on The Mysteries of London to date. The only volume to my knowledge on the author is G. W. M. Reynolds: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Politics, and the Press edited by Anne Humpherys and Louis James. It is a collection of essays on Reynolds. Published in 2008, this volume is priced so that hardly anyone can afford it. At Amazon, the hardcover sells for about $100 and even the ebook is priced at $54.95. This is not the way to get more people interested in Reynolds, who deserves far more attention than he has received.

Is Reynolds as great as Dickens or Trollope? No, I have to admit both are far better authors. Both are better stylists, and both do more to develop their characters. Reynolds characters are constantly active, but there is little in the way of interior monologues so we will feel we really know them as real people. Even the guilt-ridden characters are not depicted in ways to make us truly feel their guilt like a great novelist would do. But Reynolds was not writing for a literary but a lower and middle-class audience that wanted cheap thrills and a soap-opera type plotline. That he tried to infuse some morality into his storyline shows that he knew his audience and also knew the power of the pen to reform as well as entertain. That he doubtless influenced countless of his contemporaries and literary successors cannot be denied although the full extent of that influence needs more research. I hope in the years to come more affordable and readable editions of Reynolds’ novels will be produced (currently, most that can be bought are poor quality editions that are scanned and reprinted versions, unlike the fine edition that Valancourt Press has produced of The Mysteries of London) and more scholarship will be devoted to him. It is long past time that Reynolds’ place in Victorian fiction receive the recognition it deserves.

If you have not read any of Reynolds’ other novels, I highly recommend, besides The Mysteries of London, his three supernatural works, all of which I’ve previously blogged about:

Wagner the Wehr-Wolf

The Necromancer

Faust: Or the Secret of the Tribunals

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, a study of nineteenth-century British Gothic literature from 1794 (The Mysteries of Udolpho) to 1897 (Dracula) with a look at twenty and twenty-first century texts like Tarzan of the Apes, Anne Rice’s vampire novels, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Tyler has also written Haunted Marquette, a history of hauntings in his native city of Marquette, Michigan, Spirit of the North: A Paranormal Romance, and the historical fantasy The Children of Arthur series, which details the story of King Arthur and his descendants, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

 

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Sin, Sexism, and Gothic Wanderers: Haggard and Lang’s The World’s Desire

The World’s Desire (1890) is one of the most interesting, strange, possibly sexist, and only partially satisfying novels I have ever read. This collaboration between H. Rider Haggard and Andrew Lang deserves to be far better known simply because it is a collaboration between two of the great Victorian writers of adventure novels, or male romance, but more so, because of its fascinating Gothic wanderer figures—Odysseus, Helen, and Meriamun.

The 1890 first edition of The World’s Desire

The World’s Desire will not appeal to all readers—it’s definitely a novel written for men rather than women, but it is also a book deserving of attention. Written as a sequel to Homer’s Odyssey, literary critics have praised Lang for his ability to recreate Homer’s style and diction. That said, I feel the hand of Haggard more firmly in it. The novel is in his style and tone largely and reads like a strange sort of dream that reminds me especially of one of my favorite of his works, The Ghost Kings, as well as the Conan stories of Robert Howard. The atmosphere is very Gothic, and the theme is Gothic, without the typical Gothic trappings of castles. The supernatural is prevalent throughout the novel, though more in the form of Greek goddesses and biblical plagues than typical ghosts.

The story begins with Odysseus returning home from a second voyage he made after his initial return to Ithaca at the end of The Odyssey. He reaches Ithaca only to find that plague has killed everyone there, including his wife. He goes to the temple of Aphrodite to pray and ask for direction and she tells him he has always followed Athena, not her, but now it is time for him to follow her and truly have a great love. He is to seek Helen of Troy, to learn what became of her, and with her he shall know true passion. Unsure how to find her, Odysseus prepares for the search by putting on the armor of Paris that he received as a gift from Menelaus. Then the island is invaded by slavers who kidnap him. They take him to Egypt, where he manages to escape from them by slaughtering them.

Once in Egypt, Odysseus (who throughout most of the novel is referred to as “the Wanderer”) hears stories of terrible plagues that are happening. (These are the Biblical plagues of Exodus.) He is told that some blame the plagues on the Apiru (Hebrews) who wish to be set free from being Pharaoh’s slaves, but others blame the goddess Hathor or the one who poses as her. The most beautiful woman in the world is living in Hathor’s temple, claiming to be her, and some believe the true goddess is punishing Egypt in anger over the impostor.

Eventually, Odysseus makes his way to the Pharaoh’s presence. All this while he wears Paris’ armor and does not give his true name to anyone. Pharaoh is married to his half-sister, Meriamun. She only agreed to marry him in exchange for equal power with him. She is also a sorceress, and she comes to recognize Odysseus’ true identity and love him. Odysseus, however, is not interested in Meriamun and instead believes Hathor may be Helen, so he goes to the temple to see her, even though he is warned that all the men who have dared look upon her have died, struck down by some ghostly spirits that guard her. Of course, Odysseus survives. Helen is surprised to see him, fearing he is Paris’ ghost at first. Once he reveals his true identity to her, they swear their love for each other.

However, Meriamun is furious. She hates Helen for being the only woman in the world more beautiful than her, and now, she hates her for having Odysseus’ love. Through sorcery, she makes a Faustian pact with the Snake, also known as Sin (the biblical Garden of Eden snake clearly); she must always carry him about her like a girdle, and in exchange, she is able to change her image to be that of Helen. Of course, she seduces Odysseus, and while they sleep, the Snake curls itself about them.

When Odysseus learns he has been tricked, he is devastated, and it doesn’t help that Meriamun accuses him of raping her and has him throne in prison. Her goal now is to kill both Odysseus and Helen. Meanwhile, Pharaoh has been off pursuing the Apiru at the Red Sea and has lost his army. He returns and has a terrible dream (created by Meriamun’s sorcery) that convinces him, since his army is gone, he must send Odysseus to fight his other enemies coming from over the sea to attack Egypt, so off Odysseus goes to serve Pharaoh. Aphrodite tells Odysseus the only way he can be purged of his sin from being with Meriamun is to do so.

Meriamun now poisons Pharaoh and places the blames for his death on Hathor, who is still blamed even though the plagues have ended with the Apiru’s departure because so many men have died from looking at her. Meriamun gets the Egyptian women to attack the temple where Helen lives but Helen escapes.

H. Rider Haggard is today best known for King Solomon’s Mines, but his bestselling novel She introduced a powerful Gothic supernatural woman that would fascinate readers for centuries. Meriamun of The World’s Desire is very much written in her shadow.

Odysseus is now fighting the men from over the sea, including “Wolf, the Son of Signy, Son of the were-wolf” who is a “wanderer from an evil race that of old had smitten his [Odysseus’s] ships and devoured his men.” He is a giant man so one assumes he might be kin to the Cyclops. But Odysseus manages to kill him. Helen now arrives at the battle to come to Odysseus’ aid, but it is too late. Telegonus, the son of Circe and Odysseus, thinking Odysseus is Paris, shoots him with an arrow that kills him. Odysseus does not die, however, before revealing his identity to his son. Telegonus says he has been seeking his father all this time but now he has slain him. Odysseus dies on Helen’s breast with the promise that they have been together in past lives and will be together in future ones. They will meet again and then “our sin be purged and peace be won, and the veil be drawn from the face of Truth.”

Meriamun is present at the funeral when Odysseus is burnt on a pyre. In her agony over Odysseus’ death, she tears from her the snake she must wear as a girdle according to her Faustian pact. She casts it into the fire, but the priest Rei (the narrator of the book) tells her that because of her vow, she must go where the snake goes. She is then drawn to the fire and casts herself onto Odysseus’s body. The snake then wraps itself around both of them and laughs. (The reader is left with the impression that Sin rather than Love has conquered.)

The novel ends with Helen wandering into the night and into the desert, and we are told she will wander until the Wanderer comes again.

A strange novel. Critics have suggested that Odysseus is an imperial Gothic hero, one not a part of empire but one who fights for empire. Clearly, he is supposed to be the hero of the novel and the one the male reader is to admire, but this reader personally thinks all the characters are rather flat and not fully fleshed out. It is a romance and not a realistic novel, of course, but only Meriamun feels like a fully developed character. Many critics have discussed the sexism of the novel. Critics claim Lang and Haggard did not like women, did not like having a female queen, and were seeking to create lands where men could have control again. Meriamun is a version of Eve with her Snake who brings about destruction, but what a wonderful villainess she is. The depictions of her making her pact with the Snake are fabulous. I’ll just quote the scene when she first awakes the Snake before he tells her his terms:

For awhile she gazed upon it, shuddering, as one in doubt.

“Minded I am to let thee sleep, thou Horror,” she murmured. “Twice have I looked on thee, and I would look no more. Nay, I will dare it, thou gift of the old wisdom, thou frozen fire, thou sleeping Sin, thou living Death of the ancient city, for thou alone hast wisdom.” Thereon she unclasped the bosom of her robe and laid the gleaming toy, that seemed a snake of stone, upon her ivory breast, though she trembled at its icy touch, for it was more cold than death. With both her hands she clasped a pillar of the chamber, and so stood, and she was shaken with throes like the pangs of childbirth. Thus she endured awhile till that which was a-cold grew warm, watching its brightness that shone through her silken dress as the flame of a lamp shines through an alabaster vase. So she stood for an hour, then swiftly put off all her robes and ornaments of gold, and loosing the dark masses of her hair let it fall round her like a veil. Now she bent her head down to her breast, and breathed on that which lay upon her breast, for the Ancient Evil can live only in the breath of human kind. Thrice she breathed upon it, thrice she whispered, “Awake! Awake! Awake!”

And the first time that she breathed the Thing stirred and sparkled. The second time that she breathed it undid its shining folds and reared its head to hers. The third time that she breathed it slid from her bosom to the floor, then coiled itself about her feet and slowly grew as grows the magician’s magic tree.

Greater it grew and greater yet, and as it grew it shone like a torch in a tomb, and wound itself about the body of Meriamun, wrapping her in its fiery folds till it reached her middle. Then it reared its head on high, and from its eyes there flowed a light like the light of a flame, and lo! its face was the face of a fair woman—it was the face of Meriamun!

Now face looked on face, and eyes glared into eyes. Still as a white statue of the Gods stood Meriamun the Queen, and all about her form and in and out of her dark hair twined the flaming snake.

At length the Evil spoke—spoke with a human voice, with the voice of Meriamun, but in the dead speech of a dead people:

“Tell me my name,” it said.

“Sin is thy name,” answered Meriamun the Queen.

“Tell me whence I come,” it said again.

“From the evil that is in me,” answered Meriamun.

“Tell me whither I go.”

“Where I go there thou goest, for I have warmed thee in my breast and thou art twined about my heart.”

Then the Snake lifted up its human head and laughed horribly.

Today Andrew Lang is best known for writing the fairy books, each named for a different color, but he was also fascinated with curses, as is clear in The World’s Desire and his writing another novel, The Mark of Cain.

“Well art thou instructed,” it said. “So I love thee as thou lovest me,” and it bent itself and kissed her on the lips. “I am that Ancient Evil, that Life which endures out of the first death; I am that Death which abides in the living life. I am that which brought on thee the woe that is in division from the Heart’s Desire, and the name thereof is Hell. From Life to Life thou hast found me at thy hand, now in this shape, now in that. I taught thee the magic which thou knowest; I showed thee how to win the Throne! Now, what wilt thou of me, Meriamun, my Mother, my Sister, and my Child? From Life to Life I have been with thee: ever thou mightest have put me from thee, ever thou fliest to the wisdom which I have, and ever from thee I draw my strength, for though without me thou mightest live, without thee I must die. Say now, what is it?—tell me, and I will name my price. No more will I ask than must be, for—ah!—I am glad to wake and live again; glad to grip thy soul within these shining folds, to be fair with thy beauty!—to be foul with thy sin!” “Lay thy lips against my ear and thine ear against my lips,” said Meriamun the Queen, “and I will say what it is that I will of thee, thou Ancient Evil.” So the human-headed Evil laid its ear against the lips of Meriamun, and Meriamun laid her lips against its ear, and they whispered each to each. There in the darkness they whispered, while the witch-light glittered down the grey snake’s shining folds, beamed in its eyes, and shone through the Queen’s dark hair and on her snowy breast.

At length the tale was told, and the Snake lifted its woman’s head high in the air and again it laughed.

No doubt, a female villain in a male-written novel may well be sexist. That said, it is Meriamun who is remembered when the novel is closed. I am left not caring if Odysseus or Helen ever unite in a future life. I care only to see if Meriamun will return and continue her reign of sin. Some critics have argued that Meriamun is an embodiment of the New Woman that the authors are reacting against, and yet it is clear that they are most fascinated by her. Many a Gothic novel has been read as subversive to female gender roles, offering alternatives and pushing against accepted social boundaries while in the end having a conservative ending. However, here we have a subversive female villain who ultimately gets the upper hand by winning over, through fascination, the authors who seek to condemn her. Meriamun has managed to step outside the book and work her witchcraft on her creators and their readers. That in the end, she feels, if not guilt, despair over Odysseus’ death transforms her from a mere villain to a female Gothic wanderer—and she is one of the most memorable.

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

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Romantic Wanderers and Cross-Dressing in Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs

The Scribner’s 1991 reprint of The Scottish Chiefs

The Scottish Chiefs (1809) by Jane Porter (1776-1850) is one of the earliest historical novels and some scholars claim it to be the very first. It tells the story of Sir William Wallace and his efforts to restore Scotland’s freedom after King Edward I of England invaded the country and tried to suppress it to his rule. Porter grew up first in Durham and then in Edinburgh and from early childhood heard tales of Sir William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and other Scottish heroes from a family nurse and many others in her neighborhood. The result was that in 1809, she penned her most famous novel The Scottish Chiefs. The novel would go on to be translated into numerous foreign languages and become a bestseller in Europe. It was so popular that Napoleon had it banned because of its message of revolt against an oppressive tyrant. It is said that US President Andrew Jackson was inspired by it when fighting the British in the War of 1812. It remained popular into the twentieth century, so popular that a comic book version was made of it: http://comicbooksonline.blogspot.com/2007/08/classics-illustrated-067-scottish.html and in 1921 Charles Scribner’s and Sons decided to produce a special illustrated edition of it, complete with a foreword by Kate Douglas Wiggin (author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) and illustrations by N. C. Wyeth, one of the greatest illustrators of the time. A 1991 reprint of that edition is the copy I own and have read.

I first heard of The Scottish Chiefs in 1992 when I found the Scribner’s illustrated edition in a bookstore. I loved the illustrations and loved British literature so I bought and read it. I admit I found it rather dull, and as the years passed, I remembered little of it, but it did make me know the name of Sir William Wallace for the first time, before I traveled to Scotland in 1993 and before the film Braveheart made his name once again famous to a wider audience in 1995.

I recently decided to reread the novel after rewatching Braveheart. I knew the film was grossly historically inaccurate in many ways, and more so, it was a very different story from that which Jane Porter told. I also wanted to reread the novel because of my interest in Gothic and historical fiction and my having recently learned that Sir Walter Scott had known Porter. Scott is, of course, arguably the father of the modern historical novel, so I wondered whether Porter had influenced him. I was also interested in rereading the novel because I had a few years before read Porter’s other well-known novel Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803) and thought it quite interesting.

While Porter does not use Gothic elements in either of her two best-known works, she does rely upon the wanderer theme. Thaddeus of Warsaw is less a historical than contemporary novel since its events take place just over a decade before its publication. Its main character is a Polish refugee. The novel tells the story of how Poland was invaded and divided up between Russia and Prussia. Thaddeus befriends a British officer and also learns he is part-British. He then travels to England where, eventually, he meets his long-lost father. He also falls in love. Once Thaddeus is in England, the novel becomes largely a novel of manners. What is interesting to me as a student of the Gothic wanderer figure is that Porter repeatedly refers to Thaddeus as a wanderer in the novel because he is an exile from his native land.

Sir William Wallace and his wife Marion,, illustrated by N. C. Wyeth.

Porter does not use the term wanderer in The Scottish Chiefs very often, but the novel is not without interest, and her prefaces do play on the wanderer theme. Unfortunately, Porter’s prefaces are hard to come by since they are not always reprinted in copies of the novel. The Scribner’s edition I own does not contain them, and the Wiggin introduction is more focused on how much Kate Douglas Wiggin and her sister enjoyed the novel as children (this edition was, after all, being marketed to children so to have a famous children’s author introduce the novel was, apparently, a better marketing strategy than to have Jane Porter herself introduce it.) I did find the prefaces online at the University of Pennsylvania’s website: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/porter/chiefs/chiefs.html. In fact, it might be said that the prefaces are more interesting than the novel itself.

The 1831 preface contains a lot of insight into Porter’s interest in writing about Sir William Wallace. Porter describes her childhood hearing tales of Wallace from various people she knew, particularly an elderly neighbor named Luckie Forbes. Equally important, she heard from her sister’s nurse, Bel Johnston, about Bonnie Prince Charlie and how his cause was lost at the Battle of Culloden. Porter personally knew many of the widows of men who fought at Culloden. They were venerable old ladies in her childhood.

But the most striking point made in the introduction is when Porter relates how, as a child, she and her siblings were playing outside when a poor gentleman came to their home. The children begged him to come inside and rest, but he refused. He was an elderly man who explained that he had suffered from fighting with Prince Charles. Porter’s mother convinced him to come inside and let her give him something to eat once she explained that war had also made her a widow. He informs her then that he “received a wound worse than death: I shall never recover from it!” and then goes on to say, “I cannot go back…. I ought never to have come back anywhere. Sin should always be an outcast!” Porter’s mother tries to comfort him by saying Prince Charles’ followers were unfortunate, but “their fidelity could not be a sin!” What we have here is a Gothic wanderer figure—someone haunted by the past and past wrongs who has consequently become an outcast. All these widows and those who supported Prince Charles were outcasts in Porter’s childhood, some forty years after the Battle of Culloden, so Porter was very familiar with the outcast theme. Her desire later to write of Scottish history reminds me of Margaret Mitchell’s childhood being raised on stories of the Old South that eventually led to her writing Gone With the Wind (1936)—the Confederate cause was a lost one just like that of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Later, this old soldier leaves the Porter family and is referred to as “wandering along the fields towards the town.”

But what makes this particular soldier even more fascinating is that eventually it is revealed that he is really a she. Porter relates how later the soldier had an accident. Upon a doctor examining him, it’s revealed that not only is a limb fractured but also two ribs broken, and that the soldier is a woman. Knowing she’ll die from her wound, the woman says that if her relatives are contacted, they will “come to lay in a decent grave the last remains of an unhappy wanderer….” Eventually, the woman dies but her relatives reveal her identity as that of Jeannie Cameron, a woman who fought with Prince Charles as if she were a man. Many people considered Jeannie Cameron as possibly Prince Charles’ lover, and in Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones (1749), she is referenced as such. Readers can easily find out more about Jeannie Cameron, although the truth about her age and her role in Prince Charles’ service are somewhat confused. Visit Wikipedia for more information on her, including the fact that she was likely possibly a mix of several women whose identities were confused and melded together: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanie_(Jenny)_Cameron

If Jeannie Cameron is not a historical person, or not the person legend claims she was, it is surprising that Porter mentions her as if she were a real person whom Porter knew personally. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Porter to say whether she is being honest here, or just using what would become a standard device in historical fiction—the revelation of a stranger’s identity as being that of someone famous. (See my blog on James Malcolm Rymer’s The Black Monk, in which King Richard I keeps his identity secret; King Richard does the same thing in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819), posing as the Black Knight.) What I do know is that cross-dressing happens twice in The Scottish Chiefs where women put on men’s clothing, and I suspect these instances were inspired by Jeannie Cameron’s story, whether or not Porter ever really met her.

A comic book version of The Scottish Chiefs

Sadly, a full-length biography of Porter has never been written, nor do there seem to be many scholarly articles about her. Thomas McLean, a scholar in New Zealand, has written a few articles about her and is working on a project about her and her sister and brother. Her sister Anna Marie Porter was also an author and her brother Sir Robert Ker Porter was a noted painter. Porter’s relationship with Sir Walter Scott especially needs more discussion. We know Sir Walter Scott was a regular visitor to the Porters’ home when they lived in Edinburgh. Scott, however, never acknowledged Porter as a source of influence upon his writing historical fiction, but instead said he was influenced by Maria Edgeworth, whose Castle Rackrent (1800) is also a contender for the first historical novel. In her article “Transporting Genres: Jane Porter Delivers the Historical Novel to the Victorians,” (published in Victorian Traffic: Identity, Exchange, Performance, edited by Sue Thomas), Peta Beasley discusses how Scott never acknowledged Porter’s influence on him and even wrote a scathing comment about her portrayal of Wallace in a letter to his friend James Hogg. Beasley also discusses the possible date for the commencement of Scott’s first historical novel, Waverley (1814). Scott said he began it in 1805 but then mislaid the manuscript so he did not appear to resume it until 1810 or later (by which time he had no doubt read The Scottish Chiefs). In any case, it is a shame that more isn’t known about Porter and I believe it’s time for a full-length biography of her, including a more thorough discussion of her relationship with Scott.

It’s also time for a critical edition of The Scottish Chiefs. In her prefaces, Porter insists that she has sources for almost all the incidents in the novel and only a few characters are fictional. (She never says who those fictional characters are). She does have a few notes in her novel but they are meager and just simply tell us what she is writing is true. For example, the most interesting woman in the novel is Joanna, the Countess of Mar. After Wallace rescues her and her husband, she falls madly in love with Wallace and becomes extremely jealous of her stepdaughter Helen, whom she suspects Wallace loves. Joanna professes her love to Wallace, who instantly rejects her, knowing it isn’t honorable since she is a married woman and also he is obviously not attracted to her. Regardless, Joanna persists in believing he can love her, and she dreams and manipulates behind the scenes so that Wallace, rather than Bruce, will be offered the crown and then she can marry him and become a queen. However, even after her husband, Donald, Earl of Mar, dies, Joanna is rejected by Wallace. At one point, she even dresses in men’s clothing so that she can get close to Wallace, but when he rejects her again, she threatens him. At the end of the novel, partially through her treachery, Wallace is captured by the English. When Joanna learns he has been killed, she blames herself and goes mad. Joanna is a true Gothic wanderer figure in the moment she goes mad, finally feeling guilt for her sinful actions.

Once Wallace is in prison in London and sentenced to death, Joanna’s stepdaughter, Helen Mar, travels to be with him. She disguises herself as a man so she can get inside the prison. There she and Wallace are married just before he dies.

Perhaps the most interesting character in the novel, however, is Edwin Ruthven. He is a young boy of fifteen and a relative to Helen. He is completely enamored with Wallace and hero-worships him. Wallace treats him like a little brother, taking him under his wing. Edwin is no coward and repeatedly does brave things to the point where the English he is fighting are amazed that a boy is so strong and brave. All that said, modern readers cannot help but think Edwin is homosexual in the way he is portrayed, constantly professing his devotion to Wallace. At one point, Wallace and he are sleeping and Edwin is resting his head on Wallace’s bosom. In this scene, they are attacked and Wallace is taken prisoner, but not before Edwin tries to protect him by taking an arrow through the heart for him.

Of course, there is a fine line between a boy who worships his hero and being gay, and since Jane Porter, a female author, is writing the novel, she may have oversentimentalized the relationship between two men. Certainly, also, homophobia was not as rampant in 1809 as it has been in more recent years and the definitions of masculinity have changed since Porter’s time. Still, I suspect Porter was doing some literary crossdressing herself, projecting herself into the character of Edwin a bit too much in his speaking his admiration for Wallace. She likely projected herself into Helen as well, but in a more acceptable way because Helen’s romantic feelings for Wallace are heterosexual.

Helen descends the Glen of Stones, a scene that recalls for me the sisters in The Last of the Mohicans being taken along cliffs and forest trails as captives. Helen has just been rescued by a mysterious man in this scene.

I have been unable to find information online about most of these characters in the novel. While obviously Wallace and Robert the Bruce are historical, as is Donald, Earl of Mar, I could not find anything about Joanna Mar or Helen Mar. Helen’s sister Isabella Mar would marry Robert the Bruce so she is historical as well. Joanna’s mother was reputedly a princess of Norway so she must be historical and Porter says she was. As for Edwin, I could find nothing about him either. It is for these reasons that I think a critical edition of The Scottish Chiefs is long overdue so we can get a better sense of where Porter romanticized and where she drew from historical facts or at least from the ballads and stories she heard growing up about Sir William Wallace. Certainly, the Wallace depicted in this novel is a far cry from the one portrayed in Braveheart.

I will admit, despite my interest in the novel, that it is rather dull reading at times. I continually found my thoughts drifting away. I think the primary reason is because the characters are never fully fleshed out. They are more shadows than real people. Porter never really lets us into their minds but stands back and presents them through her sentimental and hero-worship lens. The only ones who really seem to live are Joanna, Helen, and Edwin. The rest show no real emotion. Wallace himself is one of the less memorable characters in the novel. His best scene is when he travels to England and visits Edward’s court disguised as a minstrel. At one point, Queen Margaret is rumored to have had an affair with him, but Wallace writes a letter to King Edward declaring she is virtuous, for which he is later thanked by her brother, the King of France when Wallace goes to France for support in Scotland’s cause. Wallace’s death scene is quickly brushed over—there are no explicit and gruesome details as there are in Braveheart.

The comic book version of Sir William Wallace’s death at a scaffold – no ripping out of entrails like in Braveheart.

One final interesting part of the novel is that the action begins with a box containing a secret that comes into Wallace’s possession and that he protects throughout the novel. In the end, it’s revealed that the regalia of Scotland is contained in the box. One wonders whether this mystery in the novel had any influence on Sir Walter Scott’s desire to find the regalia of Scotland, which he later located hidden away in Edinburgh Castle.

Ultimately, I have read a lot of Sir Walter Scott and I can well believe The Scottish Chiefs inspired him, but it is often as dull as James Fenimore Cooper’s novels and it reminded me a great deal of The Last of the Mohicans—especially in the scene where Helen is abducted and later rescued and led through the forest, including a dangerous journey over a bridge. One has to wonder how our ancestors could have been so taken by this novel, or even those of Scott and Cooper, but historical fiction was new then, and they had no movies to watch and no better historical novelists to read. These authors were pioneers of their time, and while I doubt anyone but literary historians are interested in them now (supposedly The Scottish Chiefs remains popular among Scottish children, but I doubt it’s any more popular than other books like Ivanhoe and The Last of the Mohicans which are also often published in children’s classics editions, but remain largely unread and not enjoyed if read. I read them as a child and found them dull and still do.) Nevertheless, Porter deserves a higher place in the history of historical fiction than she has so far been granted.

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

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