Category Archives: Classic Gothic Novels

Book Review: Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man who Created Dracula

Something in the Blood by David Skal is one of the best literary biographies I have ever read. It is 583 pages of main text, plus notes, index, and bibliography, and all of it is interesting. While Skal likes to go off on tangents, all the tangential material is still relevant and fascinating. Besides giving us Bram Stoker’s entire life story, a lot of the book is devoted to Oscar Wilde and particularly his infamous trial. We also get a lot of information about Stoker’s best friend, Hal Caine, and about his employer, the great actor Henry Irving and the history of Victorian theatre. Finally, the last hundred pages of the book are about Dracula’s legacy after Stoker’s death. Skal does not discuss every film or play version of Dracula, but he hits most of the highlights, so that this book might really be seen as an exploration of the creation and evolution of Dracula from influences in Stoker’s childhood to the present.

It’s impossible for me to discuss everything contained in this book, but I’ll just point out a few highlights. At the center of the book is Bram Stoker. Skal is very interested in Stoker’s sexuality and the possibility—very likely—that he was homosexual or bisexual. Surprising and fascinating to me was that Stoker was a great admirer of Walt Whitman, and Skal reprints letters Stoker wrote in admiration to Whitman. Eventually, they developed a close friendship and Stoker met him when he visited the United States on tour with Henry Irving’s company. Skal implies Stoker’s interest in Whitman may have been because of the homosexual references in his poetry, but it’s not clear whether that was his primary interest or just the life-affirming voice of his poetry.

Stoker was very involved in both the theatre and literary world so he knew many of the celebrities of his time. He was friends with Mark Twain, although Skal brushes over this; I would have liked to know more about their friendship. Hal Caine was clearly Stoker’s greatest friend—he dedicated Dracula to him—and he was also the bestselling novelist of his time. Stoker often did editing and other literary work for him on the side when not busy with the theatre. I doubt either could foresee that one day Stoker’s creation Dracula would be a household name and live eternally while Caine’s books are basically forgotten.

Also fascinating was Stoker’s relationship with Henry Irving. Irving has often been discussed as the source for the character of Dracula, and Skal explores this possibility. Here we get to the heart of Stoker’s sexuality and psychology. He was never Irving’s lover, but he was his worshiper. Bram Stoker was a big strong, athletic man, over six feet tall, and yet, likely because he was gay or bisexual, he felt the need to hero worship another powerful man. Irving was talented, which led to Stoker admiring his performances before he began working for him. But Irving was also a taskmaster, and Stoker was clearly a workaholic given his doing work on the side when not busy with the theatre and also pursuing his interests in writing his own novels. How Irving treated Stoker doesn’t seem to be really clear, but it is known that Irving could be difficult and Skal states that he even at times got angry enough to hit his fellow actors. Skal goes on to say that the idea that the depiction of Dracula as a sort of revenge on Irving is false because Stoker actually worshiped Irving. Irving treated Stoker like a slave and Stoker, being a masochist, felt validation and gratification as a result of this treatment (p.442).

As for Oscar Wilde, he and Stoker never really had any sort of relationship, but Skal discusses how Wilde was always sort of an absent presence in Stoker’s life. Stoker likely met Wilde on numerous occasions. Stoker attended Wilde’s mother’s salons in Dublin. Wilde was interested in marrying Florence Balcombe, who later became Bram Stoker’s wife. As a result, Stoker must have been aware that Wilde was the ex-boyfriend. And Skal hints that Florence must have frequently considered what her life would have been like had she married Wilde instead—both the pain she would have felt over his trial and imprisonment, and later in life, how she might have benefited from the royalties of his plays whereas Bram Stoker was not a very successful author, and after Irving’s death, she was not left with any real source of income other than from his writing. Skal also suggests that Florence likely knew and was disgusted by her husband’s homosexual proclivities and hated the book Dracula as a result. That said, after his death, she had to work strenuously to protect her rights to the book, even taking the creators of the film Nosferatu to court for making an unauthorized film based on the novel. Wilde’s disgrace must have hurt her deeply. However, there is no record of either of the Stokers’ thoughts on Wilde during the worst times of his life. Skal also believes Stoker kept diaries that he destroyed that mentioned Wilde. Unfortunately, the details of the relationship between Wilde and the Stokers, if there was any, have been lost.

Finally, Skal drops information throughout the book about the creation of Dracula and what may have helped inspire it. He discusses the Irish and fairy tale influences on the novel, and early Gothic works’ influences on the novel, including the works of Wilkie Collins, and of course, vampire fiction prior to Stoker. Stoker’s novel basically set in stone basic elements of the vampire legend. At the same time, Skal discusses details from films that have become part of the myth or popular imagination about Dracula that were never in Stoker’s book. Foremost of these is the idea that Bram Stoker equated Dracula with Vlad Tepes. Stoker probably had no knowledge of Tepes and it wasn’t until McNally and Florescu’s book In Search of Dracula that this idea became popular, and then films like Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the more recent Dracula Untold have caused Vlad and Dracula to be equated by most Dracula fans.

Skal also notes that the equation of vampires with bats was Stoker’s creation. I disagree with him on this point because Paul Feval’s French vampire novel, Vampire City, bring bats into the vampire mythos (see my blog Paul Feval and the Vampire Gothic: The Path from Radcliffe to Stoker. Skal also offers a couple of possible sources for the name Mina in Dracula—Amina from Bellini’s opera La Sonnambula and Minna in Prest and Rymer’s The String of Pearls (p. 110). However, Skal never mentions that in Feval’s Vampire City there is a dog named Mina. I believe Stoker must have had access to Feval’s novels, although I have never seen any scholar make a connection. Stoker certainly traveled in France and could have purchased them (Feval wanted nothing to do with having his books translated into English), and I would assume Stoker could speak French at least moderately. Whether he could read French, however, I am not sure, but it would not have been unlikely.

Many filmmakers and others would take liberties with Dracula in the years after its publication. The actor Hamilton Deane was the first to wear a high-collared black cape in a theatre production in 1924, which made the cape become standard for Dracula. The cape is only mentioned once in the novel when Dracula is crawling up the castle wall (p. 512-3). Skal also mentions the recent discovery that the Icelandic translation of Dracula was not a true translation but may have been based on an earlier manuscript of the novel. The translation was just published in English as Powers of Darkness in February 2017, about three months after Skal’s book appeared, so he did not have access to the translation and could only go on reports of what it contained. (I’ll be blogging about Powers of Darkness in the future.) Skal suggests, based on information from scholar Hans Roos who produced this new translation into English), that the Icelandic translator, Valdimar Ásmundsson, may not only have worked from an earlier draft of the novel but taken liberties in altering or completing the story. If that is the case, it was the first time someone decided to expand or change Stoker’s text.

I will admit Something in the Blood has a few shortcomings. There are several typos where it’s clear dates are wrong and at one point he mixes up which Bronte sister wrote Jane Eyre and which Wuthering Heights. More importantly, I wish that Skal went into more detail about some of Stoker’s novels like The Snake’s Pass and Miss Betty which he only mentions briefly. I would have liked the book to contain more literary criticism altogether. Some of the tangential information throughout the book was also a bit much, and it seemed like Skal was at times reaching/guessing what might have been true about Stoker where evidence did not exist—in terms of whether he was gay or not and what if any relationship he had with Wilde. But I didn’t mind these stretches—it’s fun to guess and wonder what the real Bram Stoker was like, and not surprising that these secrets went with him to the grave.

Overall, anyone interested in Bram Stoker, Dracula, Gothic literature, Victorian gay culture, Victorian history, or vampire film history will find Something in the Blood a treasure trove of interesting information. I’m sure I will be consulting it many times in the future. It is hard to imagine anyone writing a better biography of Bram Stoker unless a bunch of lost manuscripts and letters are discovered to fill in the gaps, which seems unlikely at this point.

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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, which is a study of the Gothic tradition from 1794 to the present. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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After Ninety Years: A Newly Translated 1880 Serbian Vampire Novella

After Ninety Years: The Story of Serbian Vampire Sava Savanovic is a Serbian novella by Milovan Glisic, first published in 1880. Glisic was a Serbian translator, author, and dramaturg; he translated many authors into Serbian, including Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe, who both wrote about Gothic themes themselves. It’s noteworthy that this novel was published seventeen years before Dracula, not because it influenced Stoker, since it wasn’t translated into English until 2015, but because it depicts vampire elements that are not the conventional ones Stoker popularized; rather, Glisic’s novella draws on folklore and is more true to the original vampire tradition as a result. After Ninety Years has now been translated into English for the first time by James Lyon, himself the author of the vampire novel Kiss of the Butterfly, which is set in the Balkans and explores Vlad Tepes’ time there.

afterninetyyearsThe book contains both a note from the translator that talks about the translation and Serbian vampire literature and an introduction by Andrew Boylan that discusses the novella, how it differs from Dracula, and also how it compares to the film based on it—Leptirica by Đorđe Kadijević, made in 1973.

Spoiler alert: I will describe the full plot because it’s necessary to understand the vampire elements used in the work. (I will not attempt to reproduce Serbian accents and other marks.)

The story is not long and fairly simple. There is a village in Serbia in which a wealthy man, Zivan, who is the kmet (mayor or leader) of the village has a beautiful daughter named Radojka. A young man, Strahinja, is in love with Radojka, but Zivan refuses to let Strahinja marry her. Zivan’s anger causes Strahinja to leave the village. He ends up going to the neighboring town where the villagers are having a serious problem. They have no miller and whenever they get one, he is found dead in the mill the next day, usually with a red mark around his throat as if he had been hung. (At this point, the villagers do not realize they are up against a vampire. It’s significant that there is no mention of bite marks on the victim’s neck. Instead, the vampire seems to suck out his victims’ blood simply by touching them; unfortunately, the novel is not gruesome enough to show us the vampire preying on his victim, so it’s left somewhat unclear how he satisfies his bloodthirst). Strahinja decides he will play miller to solve this mystery. He hides up on the mill’s loft with two pistols to see what might threaten him.

Enter the vampire. He comes into the mill and Strahinja can see he is a tall man with a face as red as blood and over his shoulder he carries a shroud which stretches down to his heels. (A footnote here explains that in Serbian tradition, the vampire lies in his death shroud and if he loses it, he loses his power. One wonders whether this is why vampires are often depicted with capes in English literature—perhaps a misunderstanding of the death shroud.) The vampire then says out loud to himself, “Oh, Sava Savanović! For 90 years you’ve been a vampire, and you’ve never gone without supper as you have this evening!” This statement explains the novel’s title. Strahinja needs no more information than to know his enemy is a vampire before he decides to shoot him. When the smoke from the pistols clears, the vampire is gone.

Strahinja goes to the other villagers, who are amazed he is alive, and tells them his story. They have never heard of anyone named Sava Savanovic, but they decide an old woman in the village, Mirjana, might know of him because she is older than ninety. (A footnote here reminds us that this novella is based on folklore and that Mirjana was a real person said to have lived to be 110-120 years old. I should note here also that the translator went to Serbia to visit all the places associated with this vampire legend and found that how Glisic relates the story has some variation in the folklore, so it’s not known what he changed or embellished or if he wrote down an accurate version of what he heard.) Mirjana says she remembers Sava from her youth and that he was an evil man. She then tells the villagers where he was buried.

Of course, the villagers are now determined to find Sava’s grave and destroy him. To do so, they need three items: a black and ungelded horse who will be able to locate the grave, holy water, and hawthorn stakes. (The footnotes clarify that hawthorn was symbolic because it is what Christ’s crown of thorns was said to be made from. More relevant to vampires, it lets out trimethylene which is attractive to butterflies so they will often cluster on hawthorn branches. Butterflies are important here because corpses also release trimethylene, which causes butterflies to be attracted to decaying bodies. As a result, butterflies are often seen in cemeteries. The other important thing here is that butterflies were associated with the soul, and it was believed a butterfly (the soul) would fly out of the mouth when a person dies.)

The villagers, with the help of the horse, find the grave. The horse seems to sense where the vampire lies and starts digging in the appropriate place. Once the grave is dug up, the villagers open the coffin and find Sava lying there, his corpse undecayed and looking bloated from drinking blood. They plan to pour holy water down his throat, but they spill it, which awakens him. They have warned each other not to let a butterfly escape from his throat—apparently they would have drowned it with the holy water, but the butterfly does escape. Regardless, they stab the body with the hawthorn stakes to kill the vampire, and they tell themselves it’s no matter that the butterfly escaped because it can’t hurt “grown people.”

The villagers then decide that because of Strahinja’s bravery, he deserves to marry Radojka. They make a plan to kidnap her, which Strahinja argues against but finely gives into, and so Radojka is abducted. Her father comes after them and tries to shoot the abductors, but in the end, he comes to his senses and Radojka and Strahinja are married.

As for the butterfly, it’s said that it killed several children before finally disappearing from the region. (Apparently only “grown people” matter to the villagers.)

I admit I was a bit disappointed by the simplicity of the story—though, it is well told and has a marriage plot and happy ending with its Gothic tale at the center. It is more like a fairy tale, however, than a Gothic story—in the tradition of the young man who must do a fabulous deed to be worthy of the king’s daughter, kind of story, although the royal trappings are gone.

That said, it is worth reading. The translator’s note and introduction make several good points about the significance of the story. They explain how vampires were part of the pagan Slavic people’s mythology, but most of it was erased by Christianity so we can’t really understand the vampires’ place in that mythology today. There was a long history, however, of vampire stories in this culture. The concept of the vampire dates to ancient times, but the word vampire itself first appeared in Serbian in 1725 and then was translated into English and other languages in 1732. Because the vampire is based in folklore, it comes from a long oral tradition and is not the invention of fiction writers. While After Ninety Years could not have influenced Bram Stoker, the vampire folklore tradition from this period may have. Boylan notes that The Pobratim: A Slav Novel contained numerous Slavic folktales in it, including mention of vampires, and it was translated into English in 1895 by Professor P. Jones. I wonder whether Stoker read The Pobratim and it influenced his creation of Dracula. (I’m sure I’ll be reading and blogging about The Pobratim in the near future.)

Glisic’s novel, although not a direct influence on the vampire of Western literature and film today, regardless is an interesting part of the history of the vampire’s development. While not a major work, it is an entertaining and very readable story with plenty of humor and an overall theme of good, or at least love, overcoming prejudice and evil.

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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, which is a study of the Gothic tradition from 1794 to the present. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Charlotte and Emily Brontë’s Conversations on Colonial Britain: A Study of the Angrian legends, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Villette

Charlotte and Emily Brontë were both concerned with what they believed to be the negative influences of the colonies on England. The colonies had made England a wealthy nation by increasing its trade prospects and providing a place for many Englishmen to make their fortunes outside their mother country; while the Brontë sisters appreciated the benefits England received from the colonies, they also feared the colonies would destroy England’s national identity and cause a moral decline among its people.

Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Villette, along with Charlotte and brother Branwell’s juvenile stories of Angria, all reflect the Brontës’ concern over England’s contact with the Other in the colonies. By establishing colonies, the English were oppressing other races, which the Brontës feared would result in rebellion against the conquerors and the eventual destruction of Britain. Also by oppressing other races, the English were becoming hardened to the point where they were now oppressing their own people, particularly their women. The Brontës feared Britain’s continued association with the colonies would eventually result in England turning savage like the foreign lands it sought to civilize. Charlotte and Emily Brontë both had their own ideas about how to deal with this situation; by chronologically looking at their works on the subject, it becomes apparent that each work responds to and builds on the work before it as if the two sisters were having a conversation about how to solve Britain’s colonial problems.

Bronte, Patrick Branwell; John Brown (1804-1855); Bronte Parsonage Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/john-brown-18041855-20981

Bronte, Patrick Branwell; John Brown (1804-1855); Bronte Parsonage Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/john-brown-18041855-20981

The Brontës’ interest in the colonies began when they were children and first beginning to write. In the late 1820s, Charlotte and Branwell Brontë began writing the legends of Angria, an imaginary kingdom founded by English colonizers on the West Coast of Africa. Angria may have derived its name from Kanhoji Angria, a man who established a pirate kingdom on India’s coast in the late seventeenth century. This kingdom resisted submission to the British government and its colonizers until 1756 when it was conquered by General Clive for the British Indian Empire (Gordon 29). That Charlotte and Branwell did not make up the name of Angria shows the Brontës’ knowledge of events in the colonies prior to and during their childhood. Their knowledge of the subject came from contemporary newspapers and Reverend J. Goldsmith’s A Grammar of General Geography, which Charlotte and Branwell used as a source for their stories in Africa (Ratchford 11). Possibly Charlotte and Branwell even decided to locate their Angrian colony near Fernando Po because in the 1820s, a writer for Blackwood Magazine had advocated it as a good place for British colonization (Meyer 247).

The legends of Angria also illustrate Charlotte Brontë’s familiarity with the British treatment of the natives. Charlotte probably named her main black character, Quashia Quamina, after a slave with a similar name who led a slave uprising in 1823 in British Guiana. Furthermore, the first name Quashia is derived from the racial epithet “Quashee” (Meyer 247). In the Angrian tales, Quashia resembles his namesake by also leading slave revolts against the English colonizers.

The Brontë children’s interest in Britain’s colonies was probably due to the excitement and dangers they imagined to exist in faraway lands. Azim remarks that for the Brontë children, the legends of Angria express “on one level, a feeling of anxiety and fear of the unknown and, on another, a feeling of triumph, based on a conquest of the Other” (112). However, conquest is not always easy. Charlotte, especially, seems to have been aware of the tension in establishing a colony, and she did not always side with Britain in its colonial problems. Although the Angrian stories always allow the English to conquer the natives, the natives often rebel under Quashia’s leadership. These continual uprisings represent the continual tension of colonial establishment, a tension mixing imperial triumph and the belief in Western superiority with a fear of the Other who at any time may rebel and destroy their conquerors.

Quashia Quamina is the pivotal character in understanding how fear of the Other works in the Angrian legends. Quashia is a child when his people’s land is invaded and conquered by the English. Most of his people, including his family, are murdered, while the rest are enslaved. However, the Duke of Wellington, leader of the new colony, decides to adopt the orphaned Quashia. Although by adopting the boy, Wellington may seem kind, his action displays a patriarchal attitude toward the natives, showing how the white race must take care of the black (Azim 131). For Quashia, adoption results in a traumatic displacement from his own people and cultural identity; when the English adopt him, they attempt to Anglicize him, which only causes future trouble for the colony (Azim 131).

legendsofangriaAs Quashia grows up, he realizes he is different from his adoptive family, which in turn leads to his realization that his adoptive family murdered his real family. Because of his native blood, Quashia can never be accepted as a white man; nor can he return to his own people since they are either deceased or living in subjection to their conquerors. His inability to determine his place in this new social order causes him frustration, and he begins to envy the power and culture of his conquerors, which he cannot possess (Azim 126-7). The natural result of his feelings is to rebel so he can end his and his people’s displacement, and gain his conqueror’s power to prevent such displacement from occurring again in the future (Azim 131-2).

Quashia leads several revolts in the Angrian tales, which reflect Charlotte Brontë’s concern for the mistreatment of the colonized natives. However, Charlotte could not bear the thought of English culture being utterly destroyed. In the Angrian stories, she always allows the English colonists to suppress rebellion. Charlotte’s youthful mind seeks an easy solution to the colonial problem, but in adulthood, the complexities of the issue would make her rethink the colonial situation.

The first Brontë novel to express a concern for Britain’s contact with the colonies is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Little is known of Emily’s juvenilia, but it does not seem to be interested in the issue of the colonies or Britain’s contact with other cultures. However, Wuthering Heights is obviously dealing with the colonial issue, and the similarities between Heathcliff and Quashia in the Angrian tales are striking. Azim says of these similarities:

Thematic resemblances between Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia and her sister’s only published novel do not necessarily signify a secret or undiscovered collaboration (as in the mysterious bed plays), but do suggest a fluidity of authorial collaboration which contradicts the static pairing according to contiguity in age upheld by most Brontë biographers (230).

Charlotte and Emily did not collaborate on the Angrian tales, but we know that in writing their novels, the Brontë sisters would discuss their ideas, so there is no reason to believe Emily would not have read her sister’s Angrian stories and have been directly influenced by them while writing her novel. Wuthering Heights is the beginning of Charlotte and Emily’s discussion together of how to solve Britain’s colonial problems.

Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights would be her only novel before her untimely death at age 30.

Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights would be her only novel before her untimely death at age 30.

The role Heathcliff plays in Wuthering Heights is almost the same role Quashia held in the Angrian tales. Heathcliff is the Other in the novel because he is not an Earnshaw or a Linton but an outsider. Nothing is known about Heathcliff’s origins except that Mr. Earnshaw finds him abandoned on the streets of Liverpool; the lack of knowledge about Heathcliff’s background leaves his racial origins open to possibility. Heathcliff’s first appearance in the novel portrays him as the Other by the savage terms the other characters use to describe him. Mr. Earnshaw says of him, “it’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil” (32), and Nelly remarks that Heathcliff is a “dirty, ragged, black-haired child” (32). Such statements have made some critics believe Heathcliff is possibly African (Azim 230, Heywood 194). If Heathcliff is of African origin, it would explain why Mr. Earnshaw uses “it” rather than “he” to refer to Heathcliff. Gender specific pronouns are usually used for humans while “it” is applied to animals. During the Victorian and colonial period, the English, to show their own racial superiority, often looked upon non-European races as being closer to animals than humans (Meyer 249). Charlotte Brontë will later use similar racial stereotypes in Jane Eyre.

If Heathcliff is African, then like Quashia, he has been adopted by the conquerors of his race; in fact, Emily Brontë probably based the Earnshaw family on the Sill family of Dent, whom she knew to have connections to the slave trade (Heywood 192). Again like Quashia, Heathcliff experiences displacement not only by being removed from his original home, but also because the Earnshaws try to make him one of them; they name him Heathcliff because it is the name of another Earnshaw child who has died (33); Heathcliff is expected by the Earnshaws to take on the identity of an English person rather than be himself.

However, as happened with Quashia, adopting and Anglicizing the Other into the conqueror’s culture results in failure. Mr. Earnshaw treats Heathcliff well, almost better than his own children, but upon Mr. Earnshaw’s death, Hindley demotes Heathcliff to a position resembling slavery. Heathcliff loves Catherine, but she will not marry him because he is not a gentleman; like Quashia, Heathcliff has been raised to be someone else, yet as an adult, he is not accepted by the culture he has been adopted into. Also like Quashia, Heathcliff now becomes envious of his conquerors and is determined to have revenge. He destroys the small community he is a part of by first coveting and then acquiring the property, daughter, and financial power of his adoptive home (Azim 230). The Earnshaws, by adopting Heathcliff, have only caused their own internal destruction.

Timothy Dalton's portrayal of Heathcliff in the 1970 film of Wuthering Heights makes him look a bit like a vampire in this scene - interestingly, Dracula has also been read as a novel about immigration of foreigners into England.

Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of Heathcliff in the 1970 film of Wuthering Heights makes him look a bit like a vampire in this scene – interestingly, Dracula has also been read as a novel about immigration of foreigners into England.

Emily Brontë seems to have borrowed from Charlotte both a character and ideas and then used them to create her own novel. Charlotte’s juvenilia sees the solution to colonial problems as the conquest of the Other, even if such a conquest is cruel, because the continuation of British culture is more important. Emily Brontë’s solution in Wuthering Heights is similar, though not as simple. No one destroys Heathcliff in the novel; Heathcliff’s plans instead fail with the death of his son, Linton, and shortly after, Heathcliff also dies. Because Heathcliff leaves no living descendants, he cannot extend his revenge and power beyond the time of his death. The properties of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange now pass on to Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine Linton, descendants of the original landowning families, who also have pure English blood. The conclusion of Wuthering Heights appears to be a rejoicing that the Other no longer exists among these pure English people, and without the Other, the status quo is reestablished.

Emily Brontë’s decision to conclude Wuthering Heights by reestablishing the status quo and leaving no trace of Heathcliff’s influence is vital to understanding her solution to the colonial problem. Emily Brontë could have allowed Heathcliff to be accepted by the other characters as one of them, and consequently, he might have wed Catherine Earnshaw. However, an interracial marriage is something Emily knew her readers would not accept because it would mean Heathcliff and Catherine’s descendants would be racially impure. Although Heathcliff does marry Isabella Linton, his son nevertheless dies without issue to prevent the continuance of racial mixing. Since Britain would not accept the Other, Emily felt that Britain’s continued contact with the colonies would lead to Britain’s destruction. By Heathcliff’s death and the reestablishment of the status quo at the end of Wuthering Heights, Emily is showing the English that they must break off contact with the colonies. If they do not end contact, they will only be destroying themselves.

Emily Brontë’s solution appears to be a promotion of British isolation. Considering Emily’s own shy character and dislike of society, such a solution seems to reflect her personality. The solution may also reflect Emily’s own fear of the Other. She may well have never met an African person in her life, so consequently, the Other’s unfamiliarity would have made it fearful to her.

Charlotte Brontë was more outgoing than her sister; she also knew Emily’s solution was unrealistic; England could not cut itself off from the colonies because the British economy was now dependent on them. Although Jane Eyre was published before Wuthering Heights, it was not written until after Wuthering Heights was already completed; therefore, Jane Eyre may be read as Charlotte’s response to Emily’s solutions. Jane Eyre would be more detailed in discussing the specific aspects of English life that were suffering from the colonies’ negative influences, and by this closer exploration, Charlotte would arrive at a more complex understanding of the situation.

Sir Laurence Olivier is perhaps the most famous portrayal of Heathcliff which makes him much the romantic hero. Here he is with Merle Oberon, playing Cathy.

Sir Laurence Olivier is perhaps the most famous portrayal of Heathcliff which makes him much the romantic hero. Here he is with Merle Oberon, playing Cathy.

Charlotte’s juvenile works express the displacement of both the conquered and the conqueror when a colony is established. The conquerors are as displaced as the conquered because they are in a foreign land. Despite trying to recreate England in the colonies, the English never completely exterminated native cultures, and often, foreign cultures had influences on the English. Such influences caused many colonists to bring foreign ideas home with them to England. Unlike in Wuthering Heights where a foreigner destroys the local status quo, Jane Eyre reflects the belief that the English, from being influenced by the Other, could destroy England themselves. Charlotte portrays this idea in Jane Eyre by using images of blackness to show the breakdown of pure English culture; Charlotte believes the aspect of English life most affected by negative colonial influences is the relationship between English men and women.

Men went to the colonies more frequently than women, and men were the ones placed in positions of power over the natives. Such complete power is easily abused, especially when dealing with another race that might rebel. One way for the English to control the Other was by possessing their women. The lack of English women caused many Englishmen to seek another outlet for their sexual desires, and native women were the easiest solution. In fact, sexuality for the Englishman was probably enhanced by the mystery of being with a foreign woman (Azim 123). Throughout the colonies, it became an accepted practice for white planters to take female slaves as concubines; however, this resulted in a growing mulatto population that caused displacement for whites, natives, and mulattoes, making everyone’s place in the social structure uncertain; to ensure their own position, the whites rejected the mulattoes, and the natives, out of hatred for their conquerors, equally rejected those who were of half English blood (Meyer 252-3).

Charlotte Brontë believed this situation resulted in Englishmen going to the colonies because they could have more dominance over foreign women. Louis Moore contemplates going to the colonies for such a reason in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley (570-71). Englishmen who oppressed foreign women then returned from the colonies believing they could also oppress Englishwomen (Meyer 260). In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë depicts the oppression of Englishmen over their women by using foreign images, and particularly, the metaphor of the harem (Zonana 605-6).

Every household in Jane Eyre has colonial connections. These connections are not obvious with the Reed and Brocklehurst families, yet the two families are based on Yorkshire families whom the Brontës knew to have interests in the slave trade (Heywood 184). As a result of colonial influences, each English household in Jane Eyre resembles a harem (Zonana 605-6). Charlotte further illustrates the colonies’ negative influences by applying images of blackness to individual family members.

Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte

At Gateshead, John Reed, the only male in the house, is master over all the women. Because the Reed men have oppressed other races, it is in John’s blood to oppress, and he places his mother, sisters, and the servants in a position where they resemble his harem. The family’s colonial encounters are reflected in the blackness used to describe John and Mrs. Reed. John’s “thick lips” (83) are a metaphor for the way he is beginning to resemble a Negro because of his family’s contact with the African race (Meyer 260). Jane notices that John Reed reviled his mother “for her dark skin, similar to his own” (9). Later, when Jane visits her dying aunt, she sees Mrs. Reed’s “imperious, despotic eyebrow” (218), a sign of Mrs. Reed’s oppressive nature. Yet, Mrs. Reed is only despotic toward Jane. To John Reed, she is subservient, and she supports his detrimental behavior until he has destroyed his family’s fortune.

Jane is the only female in the Reed household who rebels against John’s sultanic tyranny. She tells him, “you are like a slave driver” (5) and says of herself, “like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths” (6). When Jane defies Mrs. Reed, it is because by submitting to her son’s authority, her “chosen vassalage” (9), Mrs. Reed is contributing to the oppression of her fellow female. Mrs. Reed again submits to a man’s authority when Mr. Brocklehurst visits Gateshead. Brocklehurst expects and desires to hear negative stories of Jane, so Mrs. Reed tells degrading lies about Jane in an attempt to please him. Mrs. Reed does not even understand she is being unfair to Jane; instead, she feels she is doing her duty by obeying men. When Jane bursts out against her, Mrs. Reed thinks of Jane as of a different race (Meyer 249). She tells Jane, “you don’t understand these things: children must be corrected for their faults” (30) and “I assure you, I desire to be your friend” (30). In her own way, perhaps Mrs. Reed does have concern for Jane’s well-being; Mrs. Reed is much older than Jane, so she better understands the difficulties a woman experiences in a man’s world. She is warning Jane that rebellion against men will only cause Jane grief. However, Jane refuses to accept such a lifestyle, nor can she respect Mrs. Reed for submitting to it.

Jane goes away to school, thinking it will be an improvement over her life at Gateshead; however, Lowood school is also set up like a harem with Mr. Brocklehurst as its sultan. The Brocklehursts, like the Reeds, were also based on a slave trading Yorkshire family (Heywood 184); critics have not discussed the descriptions of blackness applied to Mr. Brocklehurst, yet I find they exist in the same way they were applied to the Reeds. When Brocklehurst appears at Gateshead, Jane describes him as a “black pillar” (24), having a “grim face at the top like a carved mask” (25) and “gray eyes” (25). Later when he whispers into Miss Temple’s ear, Jane fears to see the “dark orb” of Miss Temple’s eye turn toward her (54). Jane’s fear is that Mr. Brocklehurst will spread his blackness to Miss Temple, making her his slave, as he did to Mrs. Reed. Zonana argues that Brocklehurst’s sultanic quality is best reflected in his order that the girls at Lowood cut their hair to prevent vanity. Zonana sees vanity as the excuse Brocklehurst uses to strip the girls of their beauty and sexuality because if he cannot possess them, he wishes for no other men to find them attractive (608). Brocklehurst uses the Christian argument that vanity is a sin. Charlotte Brontë was well aware of how Christianity was often used as an excuse for British imperialism. Later in the novel, St. John will also use Christianity to further his own sultanic desires. Jane is as much a slave as the other women at Lowood; when Brocklehurst defames Jane before the school, she feels like a “slave or victim” (60). The only difference between Gateshead and Lowood is that the head woman in the harem, here Miss Temple rather than Mrs. Reed, although she tolerates the sultan, does not act as his tool to oppress her fellow women.

Thornfield also contains harem images because Mr. Rochester is connected to the colonies by his marriage to Bertha. Thornfield is the first harem type household where Jane is an adult, and consequently, more able to fight against the slave-like treatment of women. Thornfield is also the place where the harem image is most powerful, and Rochester is the man to whom the largest number of sultanic images are applied.

Rochester’s first appearance is when he falls from his horse and sprains his foot. Jane is unable to bring him his horse, so he remarks, “the mountain will never be brought to Mahomet, so all you can do is to aid Mahomet to go to the mountain” (106). Zonana argues that when Rochester compares himself to the Prophet Mahomet, he is displaying himself as “a polygamous, blasphemous despot—a sultan” (608). Rochester’s remark may appear as something anyone would say under such circumstances; however, Charlotte Brontë could simply have had him say, “Since the horse won’t come to me, can you help me to the horse.” Instead, she purposely used a phrase that conjures up the image of a sultan to foreshadow the later discovery of his marriage to Bertha. Furthermore, one hopes Charlotte would not let her characters speak clichés without a purpose.

Rochester is the Sultan of Thornfield by being master over a household of women. Even the female guests he invites to Thornfield appear submissive to him by Brontë’s use of Eastern images. Lady Ingram is described as having “inflated and darkened” features and a hard eye that reminds Jane of Mrs. Reed, and “A crimson velvet robe, and a shawl turban of some gold-wrought Indian fabric, invested her (I suppose she thought) with a truly imperial dignity” (161). The more important visitor to Thornfield is Blanche Ingram, Rochester’s intended future wife. Rochester remarks to Jane that Blanche is “A strapper—a real strapper, Jane: big, brown, and buxom; with hair just such as the ladies of Carthage must have had” (207). Jane also notices Blanche’s “dark and imperious eye” (174) and low brow, which liken Blanche to an inferior race in need of English male dominance (Meyer 260). The blackness attributed to the Ingram women might also suggest the family’s basis on a historical English family connected to the slave trade.

After Jane and Rochester fall in love, Rochester continues to be portrayed in ways depicting him as a master over women. Indeed, Jane is almost willing to be his slave as seen by her continually calling him “my master”. But there are moments when she revolts against his thinking of her as a member of his harem. At one point, Rochester comments of Jane, “I would not exchange this one little English girl for the Grand Turk’s whole seraglio—gazelle-eyes, houri forms, and all!” (255). Jane is annoyed with the Eastern allusion and says that neither she nor any woman should be treated like a slave. If Rochester goes to the bazaars looking for harem women, she says:

I’ll be preparing myself to go out as a missionary to preach liberty to them that are enslaved—your harem inmates among the rest. I’ll get admitted there, and I’ll stir up mutiny; and you, three-tailed bashaw as you are, sir, shall in a trice find yourself fettered amongst our hands: nor will I, for one, consent to cut your bonds till you have signed a charter, the most liberal that despot ever yet conferred (256).

During their next meeting, Rochester sings a song to Jane about an Indian woman dying with her husband. Jane responds, “he had talked of his future wife dying with him. What did he mean by such a pagan idea? I had no intention of dying with him—he might depend on that” (259).

However, Jane will soon realize how like a Sultan with multiple wives Rochester is. When he plans to marry her, he sets about having Thornfield cleaned although Jane remarks that she thinks the house is already clean enough. Jane does not realize that Rochester is trying to wipe out the blackness he has contracted from the colonies. However, what he actually needs to wipe out is his past marriage. Especially poignant to this scene is Grace Poole coming downstairs to supervise the cleaning. Grace, as the keeper of Bertha, knows just how filthy the house is, so she is best able to clean it (Meyer 264). However, no matter how clean the house is made, as long as Bertha is alive, she is Rochester’s lawful wife and cannot be wiped out.

Rochester, in marrying Jane, is willing to commit bigamy (or rather, polygamy like a sultan would do), but Mr. Mason stops the wedding by revealing the existence of Bertha. Rochester then brings Jane to see Bertha. It is a striking scene which Jane describes:

In the deep shade, at the farther end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell; it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal; but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face (278).

Claudia Colteras as Bertha Mason Rochester in the 2006 BBC series of Jane Eyre. Note her dark skin suggests she is a mulatto - a threat to England's whiteness.

Claudia Colteras as Bertha Mason Rochester in the 2006 BBC series of Jane Eyre. Note her dark skin suggests she is a mulatto – a threat to England’s whiteness.

Bertha is depicted as an animal on all fours, scarcely human, much as the English saw the natives of the lands they colonized as savage, scarcely human creatures. Women in harems were similarly treated as animals. Earlier, Jane had used the word seraglio to refer to a harem, yet Zonana points out that until the seventeenth century, a seraglio was also a place to keep wild beasts (600). Women who are kept in a seraglio or harem suffer enforced confinement, are undereducated, and kept inactive just like animals in cages (Zonana 602).

Bertha is doubly degraded by being depicted as a harem woman and an animal. Unlike the English women in the novel, Bertha is part animal because she is a Creole. Critics have argued that Brontë uses the term Creole to mean anyone born in the West Indies, not necessarily a mulatto (Meyer 253); however, Rochester says of Bertha’s mother, “Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard” (277). He then describes Bertha as having “red balls” for eyes (279). These red eyes are a sign of drunkenness, which presumably with her insanity, Bertha inherited from her mother. Insanity and drunkenness are both common racist stereotypes that the English associated with Africans to promote their belief in English superiority (Meyer 253-4). Therefore, Brontë appears to have intended that Bertha was a mulatto by the African blood she received from her mother.

Another racist belief of the time was that Africans were more closely related to apes than human beings; Charlotte Brontë’s unfinished novel Emma reflects this belief in the main character’s name, Matilda Fitzgibbon (Meyer 249). Fitz was often used as a prefix to show illegitimacy. A gibbon is a small tailless ape, resembling a monkey, meaning Matilda is the illegitimate offspring of a monkey (Meyer 249). In Jane Eyre, because Bertha is a Creole, she is half-human and half-animal (Meyer 250). As we saw in the above discussion of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff being referred to as “it” may also suggest that his possible African origins liken him to an animal.

Rochester claims that Bertha’s insanity is inherited from her mother, but he may be trying to place blame, so he will not appear guilty for his wife’s mental instability. Bertha’s insanity could be the result of her displacement. Not only has she been displaced by having to leave her native country and come to England, but like Quashia, she is displaced from her family. Bertha’s case may even be more severe than Quashia’s, for although Quashia’s family was murdered, Bertha’s family directly helped cause her displacement by trying to change her identity so that Rochester would find her attractive. Bertha’s situation is a trap where she is betrayed by both her family and husband.

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester assists in displacing Bertha by trying to make her Otherness familiar to him. In the novel, Bertha’s real name is Antoinette, but Rochester decides to call her Bertha because he says it is a name he has a fondness for (135). In response, Antoinette exclaims, “Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name” (147). By giving Antoinette an English name, Rochester is trying to Anglicize her so he can accept her. This is the same type of situation that occurs in Wuthering Heights when the Earnshaws give Heathcliff the name, and consequently, the identity of one of their deceased children. Spivak argues that such examples of name changes being applied to the Other by the conqueror represent how easily one’s identity can be determined by imperialism (250).

For Jane, the meeting with Bertha is startling because it is a type of colonial encounter with “the Other” (Azim 178). Since Rochester and Jane cannot marry, Rochester suggests they travel to another land where they can be together. Jane refuses because she fears becoming like Bertha, the Other. Without a legal marriage to Rochester, she may be treated as a harem woman or a mistress who can easily be cast off when he tires of her. By becoming Rochester’s mistress, Jane, like Bertha, would experience displacement from what she is accustomed to. Even if she could legally marry Rochester, Jane does not want to become Rochester’s slave by being financially dependent on him. Unlike in Wuthering Heights, eliminating the character representative of the Other will not provide a complete solution to the problem.

A poster for the 1939 film -- Heathcliff looks more like the Frankenstein monster here than a romantic hero.

A poster for the 1939 film — Heathcliff looks more like the Frankenstein monster here than a romantic hero.

Jane leaves Thornfield to prevent her own transformation into the Other, yet after leaving, she almost succumbs to becoming like Bertha. Without a home, Jane suffers from hunger and at one point crawls on her hands and knees, just as Bertha does, until she is taken in by the Rivers family (Azim 179). The Rivers’ household is again set up like a harem, with St. John as the only man. Consequently, Jane again risks becoming a slave in a harem. When St. John proposes to Jane, he is asking that she become his wife and obey him. He also wants her to join him as a missionary in India. St. John uses Christianity to try to control Jane. Being a Christian, Jane finds his arguments difficult to resist, but she knows that going to India will cause her death. Despite St. John’s Christianity, Jane sees the despotic tendencies in his personality. By marrying St. John, not only will Jane become his slave, but she will be contributing to the oppression of others by preaching Christianity to the Indians so that they will submit to British imperialism. Since Jane fears displacement for herself, she realizes she cannot travel to India and displace or oppress others. Because Jane despised Mrs. Reed for trying to make her submissive to men when Mrs. Reed herself was already oppressed by them, Jane cannot now be a hypocrite; she wisely refuses St. John’s proposal.

Jane now returns to Thornfield and discovers Bertha has burnt down the house in her madness. However, Bertha may not be as mad as readers have long believed. Her burning of Thornfield may instead reflect the novel’s historical context. Slave revolts in the West Indies usually took place at night when plantation owners slept. Bertha’s escapes from her room are always at night. Night was the easiest time to rebel and catch the slave owners unprepared. Slaves would use fire to signal for an uprising among the other slaves, then destroy their masters’ property, and hopefully, kill their masters (Meyer 254-5). Bertha, as a Creole, is reenacting situations she may have experienced as a child in the West Indies. She is not only a madwoman, but a slave in revolt against the white man who oppresses her. Like Quashia in the juvenilia, Bertha is angry that her freedom, identity, and possessions have been taken from her. When Bertha burns Thornfield, Charlotte Brontë is not only speaking out against the oppression of the colonized, but she is also warning the English that they are bringing misfortune on themselves by colonizing and suppressing other races, just as the Duke of Wellington tried to make Quashia like him, and the Earnshaws tried to Anglicize Heathcliff. Colonization and suppression will only result in rebellion and destruction.

Meyer argues that Bertha does the great act of cleaning in the novel by burning down Thornfield. Rochester’s estate represents the wealth Rochester gained by his marriage to Bertha; by burning Thornfield, Bertha is making Rochester pay for his sins (Meyer 266), but at the same time, the destruction of his house and wife wipes away Rochester’s connection to the colonies. Rochester’s colonial background had caused his moral decline. After Thornfield burns, Rochester is left blind and lame, but Jane’s return to him brings light to destroy the blackness of his encounter with the Other, and Rochester regains his eyesight (Heywood 189).

With Jane and Rochester reunited, the novel seems like it should end happily. The loss of Rochester’s wealth is replaced by Jane’s inheritance from her uncle. Yet it is this inheritance that makes the conclusion of Jane Eyre so ambiguous. St. John learns that Jane is the heir to her uncle’s fortune when she writes her name in Indian ink (364). From a morocco pocketbook, St. John pulls out the letter stating Jane’s uncle has died and she has inherited his fortune (361). Both the Indian ink and the morocco pocketbook suggest a connection to the colonies (Meyer 267-8). Jane’s uncle was also in Madeira off the coast of Morocco, suggesting like the ink and pocketbook, that Mr. Eyre had a connection to the slave trade (Meyer 267). Therefore, even with Bertha’s death, Jane and Rochester are not free from a connection to the colonies. Instead, their financial stability is the result of slave trading. The complexity of this situation suggests Charlotte’s awareness that the British economy was now dependent upon its colonies. Emily’s solution that Britain separate itself from its colonies was not possible in Charlotte’s opinion.

At the time Charlotte was writing Jane Eyre, the British colonies in the West Indies had already begun to fail. Attention was now being turned toward India as a place of colonization, and this is reflected in St. John going to India as a missionary. Charlotte feared the same difficulties the British faced in the West Indies were now going to be experienced in India (Meyer 257). Jane’s refusal to go to India with St. John shows her refusal to support British imperialism by helping oppress other races. St. John does go to India with the intention to spread Christianity to the natives, but Christianity is also a way for England to oppress and Anglicize the Other (Azim 181). If St. John is helping the Indian natives, it is only how he wishes to help them. It is questionable just how St. John is helping the Indians by imposing Western religion on them. Perhaps he is more concerned with doing what he sees as his Christian duty rather than being truly Christian toward his Indian brothers.

The moment Jane and Rochester's marriage is stopped and Bertha's existence revealed to Jane Eyre.

The moment Jane and Rochester’s marriage is stopped and Bertha’s existence revealed to Jane Eyre.

Zonana reads the conclusion of Jane Eyre as Charlotte’s promotion of Christianity as a way to reform English men and prevent polygamy. Once England is redeemed from foreign influences, it can go forth and redeem other races (612). Zonana adds that Brontë is purposely overlooking the patriarchal oppression that is also part of Christianity to provide a solution (612). However, I believe Charlotte saw Christianity as part of the problem rather than the complete answer. By establishing colonies, Britain was responsible for beginning colonial problems. The British pretended to be doing their Christian duty by bringing the Other to the true religion, but Christian duty was merely being used as an excuse for the British to legitimize stealing land.

At the end of the novel, Jane says of St. John, “he labours for his race…he hews down like a giant the prejudices of creed and cast that encumber it” (433). But the race St. John labors for is not that of the Christians but of the English. The creed and cast that encumber it are not necessarily England’s prejudices against India, but very possibly India’s prejudices against England. With the breakdown of these, the English believe India will be more accepting of English ways. St. John is merely adding to the problem by trying to make the East resemble the West. Nor is this a successful labor. Being in India has made St. John ill, and Jane knows his death is fast approaching. His connection to the colonies, as has been the case for so many other Brontë characters, only causes his own downfall (Pell 405).

As St. John’s death approaches, Jane writes that he will go to “the joy of his Lord” (430). Why did Charlotte Brontë not write “the Lord”? Did she realize that the Christian God is not necessarily the God for India? Charlotte most likely felt Christianity was the true religion, but Jane Eyre’s argument is that the West should not try to control the East. By continually trying to make the Orient like the Occident before the Occident can be polluted by the Orient, England will be foolishly applying the problem as a solution. As a result, the problem will only increase. The closing words of the novel are St. John praying, “come, Lord Jesus” (433). These are Charlotte’s words as much as St. John’s. Charlotte is leaving the problem in the hands of God. She has pointed out the problem to the English. If England cannot see the wrongs of oppressing other races, perhaps they will stop the oppression for England’s own survival.

When Jane is bullied by John Reed, she exclaims to him, “you are like the Roman Emperors” (5). The comparison is significant because Britain was now an oppressive empire much like Rome had been. Charlotte knew that all great empires must eventually fall. In writing “come, Lord Jesus!”, Charlotte Brontë is asking God to awaken the English people to their situation before they bring destruction down upon themselves.

Emily Brontë died the year following the publication of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. To my knowledge, there is no extant record of Emily’s reactions to Jane Eyre. Emily would never write another novel, so it would seem that Charlotte and Emily’s ongoing discussion of the subject came to an end with Emily’s death. However, six years later, Charlotte Brontë’s last novel, Villette, was published and the colonial theme was reintroduced. The theme is much weaker in Villette than in Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, yet the novel reflects Charlotte’s continuing interest in Britain’s colonial problems. Villette is a more mature Charlotte’s response to both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and she incorporates ideas from both novels to arrive at yet another solution to the colonial situation.

Meyer is the first critic to notice the colonial theme in Villette, yet she only discusses it in regards to the conclusion of the novel. Meyer suggests that the storm which kills M. Paul is caused by the West Indians’ rage and desire for revenge over M. Paul who has been a slave master while in the West Indies (248). While Villette does state that M. Paul goes to the West Indies to take care of business there for a friend, the actual position M. Paul holds in the West Indies is never stated and M. Paul’s decease is extremely obscure. As Schaeffer points out, “The death of M. Paul at sea is not even mentioned, yet we know it occurred” (xiv). M. Paul’s death has been accepted by most critics as the interpretation of the novel’s conclusion. Neither does the text state where the storm occurred; it may have happened closer to English shores than near the West Indies. Meyer’s theory that the storm reflects the anger of the slaves whom M. Paul has been master over appears to have little textual basis.

However, by examining the entire novel rather than just the conclusion, I found that Charlotte does use several of the same colonial images that appeared in Jane Eyre. If M. Paul does have some connection to slavery, it might account for the black descriptions Charlotte uses to describe him. The first description of M. Paul is that he has a “black head” and “broad, sallow brow” (121). Later, his head has a “velvet blackness” (128), and there is a “blackness” of his cranium (297). These are just a few of several similar passages that suggest Charlotte was using the same black imagery she used in Jane Eyre. However, this argument is weakened by M. Paul being based on Charlotte’s own Belgian professor, M. Heger. Charlotte once described M. Heger as “a little black ugly being” (Gordon 94). M. Heger’s own dark complexion was the result of his Spanish origins, so the black descriptions applied to M. Paul may be the result of his basis on M. Heger rather than any connection to slavery.

A Penguin edition of Villette

A Penguin edition of Villette

Villette is also similar to Jane Eyre because the novel’s opening scene presents a harem type household. Graham is the only man, while his mother, Lucy, and Polly are all present to serve him. However, none of the other households in the novel appears to fit the harem pattern. Later in the novel, Graham wins a turban in a lottery at the opera. One day while he is sleeping, his mother jokingly places it on his head, claiming it makes him look Eastern, and she calls him “my lord” (261). The situations Graham is placed in may portray him as having a sultan’s position, yet his character does not suggest that he holds sultanic attitudes. Furthermore, it is strange that Graham would have sultanic qualities applied to him if M. Paul is the one intended to have the blackened connections to the colonies.

The concept of the Other also appears in the novel, only this time, it is the main character, Lucy, who is the Other because she is in a foreign land; M. Paul continually complains to her about the English who are the Other for him. Because Lucy is of a different race, M. Paul sees her as inferior to him, and at one point, he even calls her a “sauvage” (305). Meyer argues that because of the way M. Paul treats Lucy, it is best that he die because had he returned to marry Lucy, he would have treated her as his slave just as the men in Jane Eyre oppress their English women (248). However, it is questionable that Lucy would have submitted to such treatment. Jane Eyre admired St. John for his Christianity, but she did not let him use Christianity to control her. Lucy similarly admires M. Paul’s kind heart, at one point calling him “my Christian hero” (382), and later when he sets up the school for her, he is “my king; royal for me had been that hand’s bounty; to offer homage was both a joy and a duty” (467). However, like Jane Eyre, Lucy does not always willingly submit to a man; M. Paul tries to convert Lucy to Catholicism, but she refuses to give up her own identity. In trying to convert Lucy, M. Paul is trying to make the Other familiar to him, much as applying English names to Heathcliff and Bertha were used in Wuthering Heights and Wide Sargasso Sea. Like Jane who refuses to become the Other, Lucy refuses to change her identity. But even with this concept of the Other applied to Lucy, there is no connection to the colonies in these scenes.

Meyer’s theory for Villette’s containing the colonial theme rests on the death of M. Paul occurring because of his connections to slavery in the colonies. I do not find these arguments convincing, but if Meyer is correct, perhaps Villette could be seen as Charlotte agreeing with Emily. Emily’s solution was to end contact with the Other, represented by the death of Heathcliff and the return to the original status quo. Perhaps Charlotte now saw Jane’s ability to reform Rochester from his sultanic qualities as unrealistic. Instead, Charlotte may now be agreeing with Emily that contact with the Other must end. But Charlotte goes a step further than Emily. Rather than destroying the Other, Villette suggests that once men have been defiled by their contact with the colonies, they cannot be reformed, so women must resist having relationships with them. Such resistance on the part of women would also save England by preventing the regeneration of oppressive men in future generations just as the regeneration of oppressors is prevented in Wuthering Heights by the death of Heathcliff. As Jane Eyre showed, a total breach with the colonies was not economically possible, so Villette offers a solution that allows each woman to solve the problem for herself. Lucy may end up alone at the novel’s conclusion, but to be alone is preferable to being oppressed by a despotic man. I am hesitant to believe that M. Paul is connected to the slave trade as Meyer argues, yet the concept of the Other in Villette might still suggest that Charlotte had a further solution to the problem of Britain’s colonies.

The issue of the colonies appears in Charlotte’s juvenilia as well as her novels, Jane Eyre and Villette, and in Emily’s novel, Wuthering Heights. Although the theme appears in Charlotte’s work more than in that of Emily, by looking at the order in which the texts were written, it is possible to see Charlotte and Emily using their writings as a way to discuss England’s colonial problems between themselves. By reacting to each other’s ideas, Charlotte and Emily Brontë together explored their fear that England’s colonies would destroy its national identity and bring moral ruin to the English people. Each Brontë work seeks a solution to the problem and builds on the text prior to it. Although it is questionable which Brontë text provides the best solution, looking at the chronological order of the texts and the way they build upon each other helps us better understand how the Brontë sisters collaborated to form some of the finest novels in British literature.

 

Works Cited

Azim, Firdous. The Colonial Rise of the Novel. London: Routledge, 1993.

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1847. New York: Bantam, 1986.

Brontë, Charlotte. Shirley. 1849. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Brontë, Charlotte. Villette. 1853. New York: Bantam, 1986.

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. 1847. Bantam, 1983.

Heywood, Christopher. “Yorkshire Slavery in Wuthering Heights.” Review of English Studies 38 (1987): 184-98.

Gordon, Lyndall. Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995.

Meyer, Susan L. “Colonialism and the Figurative Strategy of Jane Eyre.” Victorian Studies 33 (1990): 247-68.

Pell, Nancy. “Resistance, Rebellion, and Marriage: The Economics of Jane Eyre.” Nineteenth Century Fiction 31 (1977): 397-420.

Ratchford, Fannie Elizabeth. The Brontës’ Web of Childhood. New York: Russell and       Russell, 1964.

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. 1966. New York: W.W. Norton, 1982.

Schaeffer, Susan Fromberg. “‘The Sharp Lesson of Experience’: Charlotte Brontë’s Villette.Villette. 1853. By Charlotte Brontë. New York: Bantam, 1986.

Spivak, Gaytri C. “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism.” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985): 243-61.

Zonana, Joyce. “The Sultan and the Slave: Feminist Orientalism and the Structure of Jane Eyre.” Signs 18 (1993): 592-617.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An 1862 caricature of Paul Feval by Etienne Carjat.

An 1862 caricature of Paul Feval by Etienne Carjat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Der Vampyr (1801) by Ignatz Ferdinand Arnold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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