Category Archives: Classic Gothic Novels

William Harrison Ainsworth: Father of the Second Gothic Golden Age

Stephen Carver’s new biography of William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882), The Man Who Outsold Dickens: The Life & Work of W. H. Ainsworth, is an eye-opening look at the man who helped to start what I consider the Second Gothic Golden Age. The first Gothic Golden Age I would define as from 1789-1820, beginning with the publication of Mrs. Radcliffe’s first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and ending with the publication of Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer. With the publication of Ainsworth’s Rookwood in 1834, the Gothic was heavily revived and a new Gothic age began that would extend into the 1850s, ending roughly with the publication of George W. M. Reynolds’ last Gothic novel The Necromancer (1852). That is not to say the Gothic did not remain popular during the interim—Scott himself used Gothic elements in his novels, most notably in Anne of Geierstein—but Rookwood created a new form of Gothic that combined historical detail with Gothic elements on a level not done previously. In its wake would be many more Gothic novels by Ainsworth, as well as Gothic works by George W. M. Reynolds, and other English novels that used Gothic elements, including the works of Bulwer-Lytton, Dickens, and the Brontës, as well as several French Gothic novels.

A front page of “Reynolds sMiscellany” depicts England’s three bestselling authors of the day, Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, and Ainsworth. It is interesting that George W. M. Reynolds would pay such homage to these authors since Dickens particularly hated him for writing unauthorized sequels and spin-offs of his books.

Carver’s book is a straightforward biography that details the entire life of Ainsworth, while also taking time to give plot descriptions, literary criticism, and the reception history of the various books Ainsworth wrote. I will discuss here just some of the more interesting points Carver discusses, especially in relation to Ainsworth’s Gothic works.

Ainsworth’s life and career spanned most of the nineteenth century and the Romantic and Victorian periods. Ainsworth’s interest in the Gothic began early. In 1819, at age fourteen, he wrote the story “The Specter Bridegroom.” His early horror stories were influenced by Scott’s ballads, but this story also inverted Washington Irving’s “The Spectre Bride” by having the bridegroom not only be the specter but the Wandering Jew, showing Ainsworth was familiar with the Wandering Jew fiction of the period. (For more about the Wandering Jew in Gothic fiction, see my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption.) Carver says this story’s violent climax recalls those of William Beckford’s Vathek (1786) and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795). (Notably, the Wandering Jew made his first appearance in Gothic fiction in The Monk.)

Another early Gothic work was December Tales (1823), Ainsworth’s second published work when he was only eighteen. Among the Gothic stories is a wandering immortal who sells his soul for eternal life so he can revenge himself on his enemies; then he has eternity to repent. He experiences such agonies as drowning without dying, which predates the similar situation in Varney the Vampire (1846), whose title character continually tries to destroy himself, only to have nature continually thwart him—the volcano he jumps in spits him back out; the sea he tries to drown in casts him ashore.

As early as Ainsworth’s first novel, Sir John Chiverton (1826), Ainsworth was being compared to Scott and Radcliffe and blending the Gothic with historical romance. Carver refers to Sir John Chiverton as possibly the first example of nineteenth century literature struggling to establish a new form of English Gothic since it is set in England (39).

In the preface to later editions of Rookwood, Ainsworth talks about writing the novel with the trappings of Radcliffe, but with an English setting. He discusses the design of romance and his intent to start a Gothic revival, so the preface is really like a Gothic manifesto for a Gothic revival. I have written extensively about Rookwood elsewhere at this blog, so I won’t discuss it further here, but it is the seminal work of this Gothic revival. I will note that according to Carver, Scott’s St. Ronan’s Well (1823) appears to have been an influence on the novel, but Scott’s work is a comedy of manners, while Ainsworth uses the Cain and Abel motif, the Gothic, and revenge tragedy to create a Gothic extravaganza.

Rookwood’s success led Ainsworth to be the darling of literary circles. He was befriended by Bulwer-Lytton, invited to Lady Blessington’s literary evenings, and hailed as the English Victor Hugo and successor to Sir Walter Scott.

Carver goes on to discuss Jack Sheppard (1839) and its role in the Newgate novels controversy, which I will skip over discussing here.

The opening of Windsor Castle

Other novels of Gothic interest include Guy Fawkes (1841), which is a Gothic tragedy with a Catholic hero. The novel’s family is named Radcliffe, which may be a homage to Mrs. Radcliffe. According to Carver, Ainsworth transforms Guy Fawkes from a terrorist into a revolutionary leader and hero in the novel (119).

The Tower of London (1840) is interesting also because it turns an English monument into a setting of Gothic horror. It also shows the influence of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris (1831). In that novel, Hugo was treating the cathedral as if it were itself a book, “a book of stone.” Similarly, in Ainsworth’s novel, the history of England is written in the edifice of the Tower of London. (128). Like Notre Dame Cathedral, which was in disrepair when Hugo wrote his novel, the Tower of London was abandoned and neglected when the novel was published. Ainsworth’s novel resulted in the Tower becoming popular and being restored as a Victorian museum. The novel would be so popular that it would be referenced at length in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), nearly half a century later. Carver goes on to discuss how in successive novels Ainsworth turned national landmarks into Gothic castles, an epic and ongoing process of “psycho-geography” (130).

Significantly, while Ainsworth wrote Gothic novels, he continued to blend historical details into them. The Tower of London is about Lady Jane Grey, and Windsor Castle (1843) and Old Saint Paul’s (1841) also have historical backgrounds. Ainsworth always did a lot of research for his novels and he even includes indexes in some of them (149). In Windsor Castle, Henry VIII sells his soul to marry Jane Seymour, and the mythical Herne the Hunter helps the characters to save their souls. While Herne goes back to Shakespeare, Ainsworth creates his own version of Herne. He did the same with other legends and historical personages in a way that made them sink into the national consciousness so that what people thought they knew about their own English history and myth was really stuff they had learned from Ainsworth (151-2).

Other Gothic works include Auriol, or: The Elixir of Life (1850) and The Lancashire Witches (1849), both of which I’ve discussed at length in separate blog posts.

Worth mentioning, however, is that Ainsworth draws on Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and the depiction of Eve for his female witches. Carver argues that Ainsworth was in the feminist camp. In Jack Sheppard, his powerful sexual women are the ones left standing. In The Lancashire Witches, the witches are trail-blazing female characters because they self-emancipate. Eve in Paradise Lost dreams of flying, while Ainsworth’s witches do fly. Furthermore, the witches have a matriarchal dynasty, rather than one based in patriarchal authority. They are women of self-realization and determinism (163-66). Carver suggests that Alice, who has a mark on her forehead, may have inspired Stoker, in Dracula (1897), to give Mina the mark on her forehead (166). I think that a bit of a stretch given that the Mark of Cain was common in Gothic literature, but I will admit that usually it is on the forehead of a male and Ainsworth was the first to place it on a female’s forehead.

The Lancashire Witches was Ainsworth’s last major success and his last truly Gothic work, but he went on to write many more novels, most with Lancashire settings and about Lancashire history. Most notably, The Manchester Rebels of the Fatal ’45 (1873) discusses how Manchester raised a regiment to help support Bonnie Prince Charlie and is comparable to Scott’s Waverley (1814).

Ainsworth’s novels were popular enough in his time to be translated into German, Dutch, French, and Russian, and to sell well in America. In fact, Jesse and Frank James read or knew of them because they signed their letters to the newspapers as “Jack Sheppard” (212).

The Tower of London’s opening pages.

No doubt, Ainsworth deserves more recognition for his contributions to literature and his role in influencing many of his contemporary authors as well as those who came after him. An additional treat in reading this biography is how in-depth Carver is about the early Victorian publishing industry, particularly novel serialization, and we are given insight into Ainsworth’s relationships with Dickens, Thackeray, George W. Reynolds, his illustrator Cruikshank, and several other authors.

In the “L’Envoi” section that concludes the book, Carver provides an excellent summary of Ainsworth’s role in literature:

“In Ainsworth’s long life, we can see not only the struggle and commitment that necessarily comes of laying down one’s life for literature, but in his professional and personal relationships with friends and foes alike, the entire literary and cultural milieu of his age. And beyond this, there is the evolution of the English novel itself, from Romanticism to Realism, from Scott to Dickens. Writers like Ainsworth and his forgotten friends represent the transition, a dynamic period of literary production that was neither Regency nor Victorian but something in between, in which genres were born, merged and abandoned with dizzying speed.” (213)

Consequently, I feel Ainsworth is the link between the older Gothic novels of Radcliffe and a newer form of Gothic, which in Ainsworth’s novels meant a more historical Gothic, one also set in England, one valuable in itself, but that also paved the way for later works like Varney the Vampire and Dracula.

Ainsworth’s role in the evolution of the Gothic novel definitely deserves further exploration. I applaud Stephen Carver for this new biography that will raise new appreciation of Ainsworth, the author who not only rivaled his friend Dickens but inspired so many other great writers.

Stephen Carver also has a blog titled Ainsworth & Friends that is worth visiting.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, George W.M. Reynolds, Gothic Places, Sir Walter Scott, The Wandering Jew

Lady Athlyne or Lady Ninny? Bram Stoker’s Sexist Novel

Given how fascinating I find Dracula, it may be surprising to some that I have not devoured everything else by Bram Stoker. I have been very slowly working my way through several of his other novels, but the truth is that Stoker was not a great writer, and while some of his novels are interesting, especially the ones with supernatural plots, his writing style could be loose, wordy, and weak. After Dracula, I think the best novel he wrote was The Jewel of the Seven Stars, although the realistic The Man is also interesting. Even a relatively bad novel like The Snake’s Pass has its moments of great atmosphere, and The Lady of the Shroud and The Lair of the White Worm keep readers interested, despite their weaknesses. I admit to not having read the other six novels by Stoker (The Primrose Path, The Watter’s Mou’, The Shoulder of Shasta, Miss Betty, The Mystery of the Sea, and Seven Golden Buttons). Truth be told, if not for Dracula (I have written too many blog posts about it to link to them all here but they can be easily searched for), it is unlikely anyone would remember Stoker or any of his other novels. In this blog post, I will discuss Lady Athlyne (1908), which I have to say it is one of the silliest Victorian novels imaginable.

Lady Athlyne

Lady Athlyne’s biggest weakness is the overall concept of its plot. Joy Ogilvie, on a trip from New York to Italy, meets a woman who fostered the Earl of Athlyne. The woman raves about him so much that Joy and her aunt start to joke about her marrying him and referring to Joy as Lady Athlyne. Eventually, this leads to rumors that get back to the earl that someone is impersonating his wife. He goes to America to investigate, calling himself Hardy. At a horse race, he happens to save Joy’s life, not knowing she’s the one calling herself Lady Athlyne. Wanting to keep his identity secret, he continues to call himself Mr. Hardy. Of course, he and Joy fall in love. Eventually, Athlyne/Hardy returns to England. The Ogilvies then visit, but Joy’s father cannot understand why Mr. Hardy doesn’t correspond with them, not knowing his sister-in-law and daughter are carrying on a correspondence with him. Eventually, Joy sees Hardy again and they go joyriding in his car. A string of circumstances results in a compromising situation that is resolved by their marriage.

The whole plot is highly strained, and Stoker, while trying to write something like a drawing room comedy novel in the style of Oscar Wilde’s comic plays, fails to pull it off. The novel’s denouement goes on for chapters until the reader wishes he’d just get it over with.

There is nothing Gothic about this book. Wikipedia has a very poor entry on it that tries to draw comparisons between Lady Athlyne and Dracula and also find references in it to the historical events of the time, but it fails abominably. The novel is not Gothic. Stoker is not trying to build Gothic atmosphere, and there is no real social commentary in the novel other than Stoker’s sexist comments (more on that in a minute).

For Dracula fans, the only thing about the novel of interest is that among the earl’s string of names is that of Westerna. This name is very close to Westenra, the surname of Lucy in Dracula, which critics have made a lot over to argue it reflects the superiority of the West over the East. That Stoker uses the same name with the placement of the “r” in it changed, suggests maybe he wanted to make some link between Dracula and Lady Athylyne’s characters, but then he changed his mind. The similarity is interesting but not significant. Stoker can’t even get his main character’s full name right, the first time presenting it in Chapter 1 as “Calinus Patrick Richard Westerna Hardy Mowbray FitzGerald 2nd Earl of Athlyne” and then in Chapter 23 as “Calinus Patrick Richard Westerna Mowbray Hardy Fitzgerald, Earl of Athlyne” lowercasing the g in Fitzgerald and reversing the position of Mowbray and Hardy.

Other critics have talked about Lady Athlyne in relation to the New Woman, showing how Joy’s aunt is more modern in her willingness to correspond with the earl and how as an old maid of forty-five, she reflects the New Woman who doesn’t settle for marriage. However, Stoker suggests she’s unhappy to be an old maid, and in the end he marries her off. If anything, as in Dracula, Stoker is showing concern about the New Woman and any efforts by women to better their position in society and be equal to men.

The sexism of the novel is apparent in the ridiculous statements Stoker makes about the sexes. In Chapter 7 is this surprising statement:

“Joy was a woman in whom the sex-instinct was very strong. She was woman all over; type of woman who seems to draw man to her as the magnet draws the steel. Athlyne was a very masculine person and therefore peculiarly sensitive to the influence. That deep thinking young madman who committed suicide at twenty-three, Otto Weininger, was probably right in that wonderful guess of his as to the probable solution of the problem of sex. All men and all women, according to him, have in themselves the cells of both sexes; and the accredited masculinity or femininity of the individual is determined by the multiplication and development of these cells. Thus the ideal man is entirely or almost entirely masculine, and the ideal woman is entirely or almost entirely feminine. Each individual must have a preponderance, be it ever so little, of the cells of its own sex; and the attraction of each individual to the other sex depends upon its place in the scale between the highest and the lowest grade of sex. The most masculine man draws the most feminine woman, and vice versa; and so down the scale till close to the border line is the great mass of persons who, having only development of a few of the qualities of sex, are easily satisfied to mate with any one. This is the true principle of selection which is one of the most important of Nature’s laws; one which holds in the lower as well as in the higher orders of life, zoological and botanical as well as human. It accounts for the way in which such a vast number of persons are content to make marriages and even liaisons, which others, higher strung, are actually unable to understand.”

Interestingly, Otto Weininger, cited in the quote, wrote a book titled Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character) which became popular after his death. The book influenced the Nazis, and according to Wikipedia: “Weininger’s views are considered an important step in attempts to exclude women and Jews from society based on methodical philosophy, in an era declaring human equality and scientific thought.” Just one stupid thing Weininger wrote was “In the Jew and the woman, good and evil are not distinct from one another.” Seriously, Bram. This man was not someone to draw your philosophy about women from. Why would anyone listen to a twenty-three-year-old who killed himself? Stoker was thirty-three years older than Weininger and should have known better.

In Chapter 8, Joy’s aunt, Judy, spouts more sexism to her, saying:

“A woman wants a man to be master, and specially to be her master. She wants to feel that when it comes to a struggle she hasn’t got a chance with him, either to fight or to run away. That’s why we like to make a man follow when in truth we are dying to run after him—and to catch him up!”

In Chapter 10, we are told of Joy’s relationship to the earl:

“In that moment she had accepted him as her Master; and that acceptance on a woman’s part remains as a sacred duty of obedience so long as love lasts. This is one of the mysteries of love. Like all other mysteries, easy of acceptance to those who believe; an acceptance which needs no doubting investigation, no proof, no consideration of any kind whatever. She had faith in him, and where Faith reigns Patience ceases to be a virtue.”

Finally, Stoker makes several references to Eden and how God established marriage there. Toward the end of the novel, in Chapter 22, as Joy and Athlyne admit their love, Stoker tells us, “Instinctively the woman recognised the tone and obeyed, as women have obeyed the commands of the men they loved, and were proud to do so, from Eden garden down the ages.” What Bible was Stoker reading? I don’t remember Eve being very obedient to Adam about anything.

The novel might have actually worked as a fun comedy of errors over mistaken identity if the speeches didn’t go on for so long and include such inane sexist ideas. Instead, Stoker wrote an atrociously bad novel with characters none of us can remotely care about. As far as I am concerned, Joy is a complete ninny and any self-respecting twenty-first century woman would find her completely unsupportable.

I am left wondering how the author of Dracula could have written one of the greatest novels ever written and then followed it up with so much drivel. Stoker apparently worked harder on Dracula than on any other book and it’s also possible he had help from a good editor—a matter that still needs more investigation and was suggested first by H.P. Lovecraft, who stated that he once met a woman who had told him she had offered to revise Dracula for Stoker and that the manuscript she saw was in a terrible state. This suggests Stoker may have been seeking help with the novel. It also seems to me that a lot of Dracula’s strength comes from its first-Ottperson narration while many of his works, including Lady Athlyne, are in third person, allowing the narrator to intrude with his silly philosophical and sexist remarks, thus weakening the novel’s flow and the character development. That said, both The Snake’s Pass and The Lady of the Shroud are in first-person and fail to be great, though still readable, novels. Lady Athlyne, however, is an embarrassment to the author of the masterpiece Dracula.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula

A Pre-Dracula Vampire Novel—The Pobratim: A Slav Novel

The Pobratim: A Slav Novel was published in 1895. When I first heard of it, I thought it was a translation of an original Slav novel, but it was actually written by “Prof. P. Jones,” which makes me think he was British, Jones being a Welsh name. I have been unable to learn anything about Professor P. Jones beyond the few clues the book offers. The novel was published by H.S. Nichols, a printer in Soho Square in London, and dedicated to Prince Nicholas of Montenegro. This would be Nicholas I of Montenegro (1841-1921), who was prince of that land from 1860-1910 and king from 1910-1918. The date and place given in the dedication is Trieste and June 17, 1895, which suggests the author lived abroad at the time. Clearly, Professor Jones knew a great deal about the Balkans and traveled through them. After all, Trieste is in modern Italy near Slovenia. In this article, I will provide a plot summary of the novel since almost nothing about it can be found online. I hope this article will create greater interest in it among readers and scholars.

Of course, the only reason most people would be interested in The Pobratim is that it contains a vampire and was published two years before Dracula. I only discovered it myself because it was mentioned by Andrew Boylan in his introduction to James Lyons’ translation of After Ninety Years, a Serbian vampire novella from 1880. Although The Pobratim is a pre-Dracula novel, I do not believe it influenced Stoker. I still think it interesting, though I would not regard it as a vampire novel but a novel about the Slavs that has a vampire in it.

“Pobratim” is the Slavic word for “blood brothers.” The novel’s focus is on the friendship of two young Slavic men, Milenko and Uros. Set in the nineteenth century, it appears to be written primarily to depict Slavic folklore and customs. One custom, common to the Balkans, is that of blood brothers. The novel begins with the two friends becoming blood brothers. In the United States, we might equate this with slitting the wrists of two friends and comingling their blood, but in the Balkans, it is a more formal ceremony. The two men actually swear to be lifelong blood brothers in a church ceremony. This ceremony includes a “best man” for each brother and is described as being like a “marriage.” It is a lifelong bond that is created that must never be rent asunder, and during the ceremony, the two friends even hold hands and kiss each other. Twenty-first century readers would raise their eyes at all this and think of same-sex wedding ceremonies, but our two heroes are strictly heterosexual here.

Prior to the pobratim ceremony, Uros and Milenko have been friends from childhood, but an old woman predicts that tragedy will part them. That tragedy is set in motion when Uros falls in love with Milena, a married woman. Uros and Milenko decide to become sailors and leave their home, which seems largely to be to get Uros away from Milena. Milena is married to Radonic, a violent and unlikeable man. Radonic is friends with Vranic, who has the second sight and is rather disliked in the community. Uros and Vranic are both aware that the other is interested in Milena, although Radonic is not yet suspicious of either.

The pobratim now sail off. Eventually they are involved in rescuing a shipwrecked family, including a young woman named Ivanka. They learn Ivanka’s father was good friends with Uros’ father many years before. The two fathers had once sworn that Uros and Ivanka would marry. However, Ivanka’s father confuses Milenko with Uros, and Milenko has fallen in love with Ivanka. Uros, as a result, acts obnoxious to get Ivanka’s father to dislike him and agree to marry Ivanka to Milenko instead. Besides, Uros is not interested in marrying anyone except Milena, whom he cannot have.

When the pobratim return home, Uros again begins seeing Milena. One day, when Radonic goes on a journey, Milena goes to visit Uros’ mother. Vranic, thinking he will catch Milena home alone and have his way with her, goes to Radonic’s house. However, Radonic, suspecting his wife of adultery, returns home and finds Vranic there. He claims he is there to protect Milena from Uros, but Radonic knows Vranic is after his wife and murders him.

Radonic now goes into hiding. The novel, in its interest in depicting Slavic life, goes into detail about what happens next. A “Karvarina” ensues—this is rather like the weregild of Anglo-Saxon culture—where a murderer is forgiven after paying a price for the dead man’s life. Radonic’s friends go to Vranic’s two brothers and manage finally to convince them to forgive Radonic in exchange for payment. The scene is one of the best in the novel as they go through the formalities of this process, the brothers claiming their brother is worth a great deal, even though the narrator tells us they hated him, and in the end, because everyone hated Vranic, the brothers receive very little.

Vranic’s spirit, however, is not happy. He returns in the form of a vampire and begins to torment one of his brothers—the novel gets confusing here since the brother is also referred to as Vranic (I’ll call him Vranic 2). The townspeople come to realize Vranic has become a vampire so they go through a ceremony where they dig up the corpse, say prayers over it, and then require Vranic 2 to stab his brother. However, it is dark and the clouds make it hard to see. He is supposed to stab his brother’s corpse in the neck, but he bungles it and only gets his cheek. As a result, the villagers are angry with him and he’s told his brother will now have eternal life as a vampire.

Vranic continues to torment Vranic 2, telling him he will soon be a vampire too and enjoy it. Vranic 2 is now urged on by Vranic to kill Bellenic, Uros’ father, which results in Vranic 2, in the scuffle, stabbing Uros, who tries to defend his father. Vranic flees the scene, horrified that he has committed murder. He finds it even more scary because he didn’t want to kill anyone but found that the vampire forced him to act against his will.

Meanwhile, Milenko comes to Uros’ aid, carrying his friend to a nearby convent to be nursed. Believing Uros is dying, his parents visit him and they manage to sneak Milena into the convent, disguised as a boy. By this point, Milena has learned that Radonic has died, and she has also given birth to his dead child. Uros’ dying request is that he and Milena may be married, which the monks finally agree to. Uros then dies, and Milenko returns to sea.

Vranic 2 has also fled to sea and now works on various ships. Eventually, Vranic 2 and Milenko’s paths cross again when Milenko’s ship comes to the aid of Vranic 2’s ship during a storm. Vranic 2 is in the water about to drown when he realizes Milenko is rescuing him. He then cuts the rope he has tied around himself in an attempt to rescue him because he fears Milenko’s retribution. He is never seen again, presumably drowning.

Milenko now receives a letter from Uros that he has not died. He fell into a state of unconsciousness and was about to be buried when he was able to waken and be restored to life.

The novel ends with joy as the characters celebrate Milenko and Ivanka’s novel.

The author, unfortunately, seems to forget that Vranic, the vampire, is still on the loose. However, in Slavic culture, vampires tend to torment their relatives, and so with Vranic 2’s death—nothing is ever said of what became of the other brother—apparently Vranic is no longer a threat to the community.

I have summarized the main plot here, but the novel is filled with interrupting stories and poems of Slavic folklore and myth that the characters are continually telling to one another. In some cases, these stories appear to be commentary upon the main plot or the novel’s themes. At other times, the stories seem to be included simply to delay the action or provide a break from the emotion and suspense. One such story is a narrative poem about St. George. The other stories would not be recognizable to English readers, but they are all entertaining. I do not know if P. Jones drew upon actual Slavic stories or made up the stories he included. Since the tale of St. George is included, I suspect many, if not all, of the other stories have some origins in Slavic folklore. Most contain supernatural elements, including a bargain with the devil, and some are love stories.

Oddly, the book ends with a list of “transcriber” corrections, which mostly are things like missing periods the “transcriber” added.

While Vranic is far from as effective a vampire as Dracula, or even earlier vampires in British literature like James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire or John Polidori’s Lord Ruthven, the novel itself is very interesting because it reflects an interest in the Balkans in Britain that predates Stoker, although is after LeFanu’s Carmilla (1872) which is also set in the Balkans. Overall, The Pobratim is very readable and interesting, which makes me surprised it is not more generally known, especially among Dracula scholars and vampire enthusiasts. I hope someone will do further work to reveal more about who P. Jones was and his reasons for writing the novel.

The Pobratim can be purchased in paperback and ebook formats at Amazon.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula

Postcolonial Edition of Dracula Fills in Gaps and Dispels Myths About Eastern Europe

Universitas Press’ publication of Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition, edited by Cristina Artenie and Dragos Moraru, is one of the most significant editions of Dracula ever produced.

I have previously discussed on this blog three of Artenie’s other books, most notably Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices, which discusses the shortcomings of various past editors and editions of Dracula. Artenie, consequently, along with Moraru, created her own postcolonial edition of the novel.

The term “postcolonial” might seem surprising in relation to Dracula, but it is based on the fact that Romania, although never technically a colony, was usually treated like one by the British and other European powers. The British saw the Balkans as the breadbasket of Europe, and their interests in it resulted in some questionable politics ranging from the Crimean War to power plays with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, and Russia. Consequently, Romania was treated as if it were a colony, and arguments have been made by scholars that the novel reflects a fear of reverse colonialism if too many people from the Balkans come to England. Dracula’s vampirism is, thus, like a plague from Eastern Europe that must be prevented by the characters.

The entire text of Dracula is presented in the postcolonial edition. The book contains 528 footnotes illuminating the text. Many of the notes shed light on details of Victorian England, as well as technology, and the novel’s continual efforts to show Western civilization as technologically advanced and, therefore, superior to Eastern Europe and the Eastern or “Oriental” countries.

The book also points out and corrects several errors in earlier editions of Dracula that have often unknowingly been perpetuated as well as false information that other editors have provided. Overall, the main purpose has been to “avoid any justification or enhancement of Stoker’s ‘Othering’ of Romania and Transylvania” (Introduction, p. xxvii).

To me, the greatest strength of this edition is the simple history lesson it provides into Romania and what it really was like in the 1890s. Photographs are provided showing hotels in Romania at the time that were up to par with other fine European hotels. Much of the technology in the novel is treated as if it solely belongs to the West, ranging from shorthand to photography, yet the editors of this edition show that photography in Romania had been prominent and advanced decades earlier and shorthand was regularly used.

The editors also reveal that Stoker intentionally has Harker travel through the countryside during the day and only arrive at cities at night, thus he is unable to describe the cities, thereby removing any sign of their being just as civilized as the West. Harker stays in Bistritz where the innkeeper warns him not to go on to Dracula’s castle. The innkeeper is depicted as a superstitious peasant, yet Bistritz was a modern, flourishing town at the time. Because Harker travels through cities mostly at night, he would never get to see pleasant daytime scenes like the café scene depicted on the front cover of this edition of Bistritz at the turn of the century.

Another stereotype exposed in this edition, as part of the “othering” of Romanians that Stoker creates, is the superstition of the local people. The Romanian and Transylvanian characters are continually depicted as superstitious compared to the English main characters. However, the novel can easily be deconstructed to show perhaps that the peasants are wiser than the English characters. After all, in Stoker’s world, vampires are real and the peasants have had dealings with them, so they are intelligent enough to be cautious of vampires. As the editors point out later in the novel when the characters are pursuing Dracula—and particularly when Mina is herself becoming a vampire—Mina thinks nothing of commenting on how superstitious the people are. As the editors state in note 515, “Few sentences in the novel are as ridiculous as ‘They are very, very superstitious’ coming from someone turning into a vampire.”

The novel can be deconstructed around this dismissal of superstition since the vampires are real in the novel; consequently, the West is not wise but foolish to dismiss such beliefs. Furthermore, for all the focus on science and technology in the novel, it is only superstitious practices—using Catholic crosses, holy water, Eucharistic wafers—that are able to defeat Dracula along with old-fashioned violence. Quincey Morris, who commits the final murder of Dracula, is himself a hero of the Wild West, and thus, he goes to Romania like it is an exotic, uncivilized land where violence is necessary like in the Wild West to maintain law and order.

Another interesting aspect of this edition is that it reveals how Stoker not only argues for Western and especially British superiority but also the superiority of the upper classes. The editors point out that the English lower class characters are just as superstitious as the Romanians. Furthermore, the lower classes, like the Romanians, and even a Jewish character, continually must be bribed so the main characters can make progress in discovering Dracula’s whereabouts. By comparison, an English gentleman, the consulate clerk, whom the main characters encounter at Galatz, willingly helps them.

Altogether, I think anyone interested in Romania and what Stoker actually knew about it, as well as how he used his research to create fiction, will find this an extremely valuable edition. Stoker’s reading and sources are continually referenced and discussed. Information is provided on everything from Romanian and Transylvanian recipes and hotels to train schedules. The notes are especially thorough and fascinating in the opening chapter of Harker’s journey.

My only criticism of this edition is a lack of maps to show us Jonathan Harker’s journey and later the characters’ pursuit of Dracula across the Balkans. Such maps can be found online, one of the better ones being: https://infocult.typepad.com/dracula/2009/05/harker-travels-east-via-google-maps.html. However, people not familiar with Romania’s geography could have benefited from one in the front of the book so they could have easily followed along with the characters.

Overall, Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition is a long-overdue book that dispels many myths about the Romanian people and the levels of technology that existed in Eastern Europe at the time Stoker published the novel. I know I will return to it time and time again for illumination about the text. It will not only bring new understanding to Stoker’s novel and his writing process but is a vindication for the Romanian people and will hopefully encourage readers to discover the beauty and culture of Romania as it exists outside the pages of Dracula. Having visited Romania myself, I can testify that there is much more there worth seeing and experiencing than just a vampire legend that is not even native to the land. The difference between Stoker’s fictional world and the real Romania is like night and day as anyone will discover who visits that beautiful land.

Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition, as well as other works by Cristina Artenie and Dragos Moraru, is available at www.UniversitasPress.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Dracula’s Icelandic and Swedish Versions: Translation, Plagiarism, or Fan Fiction?

In 2017, the literary world and especially Dracula fans were stirred by the publication of Powers of Darkness, believed to be a lost version of Dracula. For years, scholars have known of the Icelandic version of Dracula, but they had assumed it was just a translation of Bram Stoker’s novel. The curious thing was that it included a preface signed by Stoker. However, then Dutch literary researcher Hans Corneel de Roos discovered the Icelandic edition was a very different version of the story. Theories floated around that somehow someone in Iceland got a copy of an early version of Stoker’s novel and published it. The reason to think the novel represented an earlier manuscript of Dracula was that the scenes in Dracula’s castle were longer, but the scenes in London shorter. The book itself was only about half the length of Dracula (Berghorn 3) and many of the characters not as developed.

Powers of Darkness is the 2017 translation into English of the Icelandic translation of Dracula. It reveals many surprising changes between the Dracula we know and the Dracula read in Iceland for over a century.

However, since the publication of Powers of Darkness in English, further research has revealed that the book was not based on one of Stoker’s earlier drafts of Dracula, but rather upon the Swedish “translation” of Dracula. Whoever rewrote/translated Powers of Darkness borrowed from the Swedish translation and the strange differences can then be traced to that translation. Surprisingly, the Swedish translation is also quite bizarre. It turns out to be almost twice as long as Stoker’s Dracula (Berghorn 3). Furthermore, the preface to the Icelandic version that was believed to have been written by Bram Stoker is a forgery. Not only did Stoker not write it, but large portions of it are plagiarized from a Swedish priest. It is highly unlikely a priest would write or edit this preface. Instead, pieces of it were lifted from the memoirs of the priest Bernhard Wadström (Roos 12), who in his memoirs had written an essay about ghost apparitions.

This fascinating discovery leaves us with the question: Where did the Swedish version of Dracula come from? Further exploration has made it clear that the novel is not simply an earlier version of Dracula that Stoker wrote. The author of the Swedish version embellished Stoker’s work, given that Stoker published Dracula in 1897 and references in the Swedish version to the Orlean conspiracy of 1898-9 post-date Dracula (Berghorn 15).

I will not detail how these discoveries were made, but rather, I recommend people read my sources listed at the end of this article.

Of more interest to me is why would someone choose to rewrite Dracula? The answers to that are difficult to know. Since Powers of Darkness (Makt Myrkranna, the Icelandic version) has been published in English, I can only hope that a translation of the Swedish version (Mörkrets makter) will also be soon published in English so more scholars can compare the Swedish version to Stoker’s text. It is possible that an earlier version of Dracula was the source for the Swedish rewrite, and scholars have already determined that if it was based on a draft, it had to be a draft that post-dates 1892. That said, it seems unlikely the Swedish author, whose version was serialized in June 1899 to Feb 1900, thought he or she was solely working from an unpublished manuscript and would not have known that Stoker had already published Dracula. While Dracula had not yet acquired the great fame it enjoys today, it was known internationally, so I would think word of its publication would have reached the Swedish translator/author. Plus, it seems unlikely the author would have let a version of the manuscript just sit around. If the author had acquired it in 1892 or shortly thereafter, why wouldn’t he or she have published it sooner, even before 1897? Therefore, it seems unlikely to me that the Swedish author was working from an earlier version of Dracula. Instead, I believe the Swedish author was working from Stoker’s published version and embellishing the story as he went, although the case remains open.

David J. Skal, in his recent biography of Stoker, Something in the Blood, suggests the Icelandic version might be considered as “unauthorized fan fiction” (Brundan, Jones, and Mier-Cruz 303). I don’t think it’s as simple as that, although it may be.

First, it is certainly possible that the Swedish author simply enjoyed Dracula and wanted to fill in parts of the story by expanding it. But why then did the Icelandic author shorten it? That is complicated. According to Wikipedia, ten days after the Icelandic Powers of Darkness was published in 2017:

“De Roos and Stoker [Dacre, Bram Stoker’s great-nephew] were contacted by Swedish fantasy fiction specialist Rickard Berghorn, who claimed that Makt myrkranna must be based on an earlier serialization in the Swedish newspaper Dagen (The Day) under the title Mörkrets makter (equally meaning Powers of Darkness), from 10 June 1899 to 7 February 1900. In his interview with De Roos, Berghorn stated that Mörkrets makter was much longer than the ca. 160,000 words of Stoker’s English Dracula, and—unlike Makt myrkranna—upheld the epistolary style known from Dracula throughout the novel. Checking these claims against scans he obtained directly from Stockholm, De Roos established that there must have existed two different Swedish variants. It soon turned out that the second serialization of Mörkrets makter, in the tabloid Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga (Evening Paper’s Half-Weekly), from 16 August 1899–31 March 1900, as first obtained by De Roos, had been shortened to ca. 107,000 words, while dropping the diary style after Part I. Dagen, the sister paper Aftonbladet, and the Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga were owned by the same publishing company with the same editor, Harald Sohlman; Dagen was a daily Stockholm newspaper while Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga was a tabloid published twice a week for rural areas.

Did Bram Stoker play any role in the publication and translation of his novel in Sweden and Iceland?

“As the structure of the Icelandic version corresponded to that of the abridged Halfvecko-Upplaga variant (same chapter titles, no epistolary format in Part II), De Roos concluded that Ásmundsson must have used the latter as his source text, replacing various cultural references with hints to Icelandic sagas, while shortening the text even further, to ca. 47,000 words.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness#M%C3%B6rkrets_makter)

Since the Icelandic author also made changes to the manuscript as he abridged it, both the Icelandic and Swedish authors/editors might be considered as writers of fan fiction. However, there are other possibilities beyond just writing fan fiction.

Second, given that both the Icelandic and Swedish versions were serialized, a very real and practical explanation is that the authors expanded or abridged the text to meet the demand of the newspapers, which in turn were trying to meet the demand of the reading public. This, in turn, raises questions about whether the authors thought they were improving Dracula in some way to make it more attractive, palpable, or acceptable to their readers. An April 23, 2017 article by Mark Branagan in Express (online edition) described the Swedish version as a “‘SEX and violence’ version of Dracula deemed too shocking for Victorian Britain.” Was the Swedish author trying to make the story more sensational so it would help to sell the newspaper in Sweden, which may not have been as sexually repressive as England at the time? Perhaps the Icelandic author had similar reasons.

Third, we are left wondering what if any role Stoker had in the production of either of these versions of his novel. Theories were presented of how a manuscript of Dracula got to Iceland before the discovery of the Swedish version, but those we can probably now cast aside. Theories about how a manuscript got to Sweden have also been put forth (Berghorn17-19). However, at this point, we do not know enough to do more than guess.

Currently, many questions remain. I am hopeful a translation in English of the Swedish version will be published so we can learn more. Recently, on December 22, 2019, on his Weird Webzine Facebook page, Berghorn announced an English translation of the (longer) Dagen serialization is upcoming and has been accepted by a well-known publishing house. According to information supplied by Swedish literature scholar Martin Andersson, Berghorn will address anglicisms in passages that did not appear in Stoker’s Dracula, thus suggesting that an (other) English text must have been the basis of the Swedish version  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness_(Sweden)).

Dracula fans and scholars and, indeed, all of the literary world eagerly wait for more answers.

Update: The Swedish version of The Powers of Darkness is due to have an English translation published in January 2021. My thanks to Ryan McPeak for bringing this to my attention and the following links:

https://www.vampires.com/another-icelandic-dracula/

https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/monsterkidclassichorrorforum/powers-of-darkness-dracula-by-bram-stoker-centiped-t77798.html

https://www.librarything.com/topic/321696#:~:text=Powers%20of%20Darkness%20is%20an,preface%20written%20by%20Stoker%20himself

Sources:

Berghorn, Rickard. “Dracula’s Way to Sweden: A Unique Version of Stoker’s Novel.” Weird Webzine: Fantasy and Surreality.  Was available August 19, 2020 at: http://weirdwebzine.com/draculitz.html. Site no longer active.

Brundan, Katy, Melanie Jones, and Benjamin Mier-Cruz. “Dracula or Draculitz?” Translation Forgery and Bram Stoker’s ‘Lost Version’ of Dracula.” Victorian Review. 45.2 (Fall 2019): 293-306. Available at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/757842

de Roos, Hans Corneel. “Was the Preface to the Swedish Dracula Written by a Priest?: Bernhard Wadström and the ‘White Lady.’” Available at: https://www.vamped.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/HansDeRoos-WadstroemCase-v17-25May2018-for-W-D-Day.pdf

Wikipedia. Powers of Darkness. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness

Wikipedia. Powers of Darkness (Sweden). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness_(Sweden)

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Bram Stoker’s Carpathian Sources for Dracula

Until recently, it has largely been believed that Stoker was most influenced by J. S. Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) to set Dracula in the Balkan region. It appears he originally intended to set the novel in Styria (in southeast Austria), where Carmilla is set; then he came across references to Vlad Tepes that may have inspired the character of Dracula, so Stoker changed the novel’s location to Transylvania.

However, Stoker was not the first author to set a vampire story in the Carpathians. It is worth noting here, that Transylvania, and Romania, has no vampire tradition, but rather has had one imposed upon it by Europeans, and most intensely so by Stoker in writing Dracula. See my past post Racism in Dracula: The Romanian Perspective, largely based on the work of Romanian scholar Cristina Artenie.

Bram Stoker, whose sources for Dracula are still debated by scholars 123 years after the novel’s publication.

Previously, I have blogged about Jules Verne’s novel The Carpathian Castle (1893) as a possible source for Dracula. According to scholar Raj Shah, there are striking similarities between the description of Dracula’s castle and that of Jules Verne (Shah, Raj. “Counterfeit Castles: The Age of Mechanical Reproduction in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Jules Verne’s Le Château des Carpathes.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 56.4 (2014): 428–71. p. 432-33). However, while similarities exist, Verne’s story is intensely dull and fails beside Dracula itself, so I cannot imagine it was much of an influence. If Stoker did read it, it could only have inspired him to write a better story.

More recently, it has been suggested that Stoker may have borrowed from an even earlier vampire story set in the Carpathian Mountains. This story, “The Mysterious Stranger,” was first published in Chambers Repository of Instructive and Amusing Tracts. Vol. 8, no. 62, 1854, pp. 1–32. I came across mention of this story in an essay by Katy Brundan, Melanie Jones, and Benjamin Mier-Cruz titled “Dracula or Draculitz?” Translation Forgery and Bram Stoker’s ‘Lost Version’ of Dracula” (Victorian Review, Vol 45, No. 2, Fall 2019, p. 293-306). The authors suggest that the reason Stoker chose the Carpathians was the result of his coming across this short story, and they argue as follows for it being a source for Dracula:

“But he [Stoker] stumbled instead upon an anonymous vampire tale set in Transylvania, which helped redirect the novel’s setting toward eastern Europe. Like Dracula, “The Mysterious Stranger” (1854) features an older, aristocratic vampire with “piercing” grey eyes and a sallow complexion who lives in a castle in the wolf-infested Carpathians (14). The very anonymity of ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ seems to have invited borrowing, which Stoker promptly did. The tale’s exact origins eluded researchers for decades, but we now know it is an unauthorized translation of Karl von Wachsmann’s Der Fremde (The Stranger), first published in his collection Erzählungen und Novellen (1844).

“In closely modelling the early portion of Dracula on an anonymous, pirated translation of a German story, Stoker created new textual life from a translated text whose ties to the original author had been severed. This example demonstrates how nineteenth-century mass culture’s parasitic consumption—a mirror of the vampire’s own insatiable appetite—depended in part on translational practices. Stoker’s unauthorized reproduction makes him complicit in the archive’s suppression of the German author responsible for many details of Dracula’s character, from the vampire’s “repulsive” but magnetic manner to his waving the wolf pack away with a hand (“Mysterious Stranger” 14).” (297).

While I was intrigued about the possibility that Stoker was inspired by “The Mysterious Stranger,” I thought the argument here of the work as an influence rather weak. Two characters having “piercing” eyes is not enough. As I’ve shown in my book The Gothic Wanderer, eyes that are piercing or more likely hypnotic are a frequent attribute of vampires and go back to depictions of the Wandering Jew. A sallow or pale complexion is common to most vampires in literature also—Stoker would have found such details in earlier British vampire stories like Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire (1846), and so that leads us to just the Carpathian setting and the wolves for similarities. That said, I do think the story’s influence possible; I just don’t feel enough evidence exists to make a strong argument for it.

Readers can draw their own conclusions by reading “The Mysterious Stranger” themselves; the full text can be found online at: https://souo.fandom.com/wiki/Full_Text:_Mysterious_Stranger. However, I will summarize the story here to draw a few conclusions of my own.

The story begins when Count Fahnenberg, an Austrian nobleman, is traveling to an estate he recently acquired in the Carpathians. Accompanying him are his nephew Franz, his daughter Franziska, and her friend Bertha. Franz appears romantically interested in Franziska, but she confides to Bertha that he is too effeminate for her. By contrast, Bertha is engaged to Woislaw, a military man, who is heroic and admirable in Franziska’s eyes. Woislaw is away fighting in the Turkish war, while Franz refused to go.

On their way to the count’s new estate, they fear being attacked by wolves whom they can hear crying in the distance, so they take shelter in some ruins said to be haunted. As the wolves grow closer, a stranger appears and, by a gesture, sends them off. The rescued do not learn the stranger’s name.

When they arrive at the count’s mansion, the party learns from the locals that the ruins they took shelter in are those of Klatka Castle, whose last lord was Azzo von Klatka, a despotic tyrant who was hanged by the peasants he had oppressed.

When the count’s party returns to visit the ruins, they again meet the stranger who saved them. They thank him for his help and the count invites him to visit them. Although he seems like a hermit and is rather sullen, the stranger agrees to do so at a later date.

Eventually, the stranger becomes a regular visitor and shows interest in Franziska. She likes the stranger, who reveals his name as Azzo (a hint he is the nobleman who was hung). Franz, however, sees the stranger as a rival. After the visits begin, Franziska falls ill and begins having a strange dream in which Azzo comes in a mist, kisses her throat, then vanishes in a mist. The next morning, her neck is red with blood. No one can explain her illness or the dream.

Then Bertha’s fiancé, Woislaw, arrives from the war with the Turks. He has lost a hand in the war and has a new one made of gold, which is very strong. He recognizes Franziska’s symptoms and attributes them to the stranger. When the stranger next visits, Franz challenges him to a duel. In a tense scene, Azzo picks up Franz like he was a baby, but Woislaw intervenes and makes him drop Franz through the great physical strength of his golden hand. Azzo, thinking Woislaw’s strength is supernatural, calls him “blood-brother,” apparently believing Woislaw a vampire like himself.

Woislaw now visits the ruins and finds Azzo sleeping in his tomb. Woislaw nails Azzo’s coffin shut and leaves a packet of nails on top of it. Then he brings Franziska there and tells her she must drive the three nails (stakes) through it. After she does so, he says liquid will flow from the coffin. She must dip her fingers in the blood and besmear it on the scratch at her throat.

Only after Franziska does all this and begins to heal does Woislaw reveal that Azzo was a vampire, which he knew from his own past experience with one. He says a vampire must be destroyed by the one who has been afflicted by him, which is why Franziska had to kill Azzo.

The story ends happily with a double wedding between Franziska and Franz and Woislaw and Bertha.

While “The Mysterious Stranger” does have similarities to Dracula, especially in the vampire having control over wolves, the story being set in the Carpathians, and the vampire appearing in a mist and disappearing, as well as it seeming to be like a dream, there is also much that is strange about it—primarily the insistence that the victim is the one who must kill the vampire. Perhaps if Stoker was influenced by the story, he decided to change this element of vampire lore since that would require both Lucy and Mina to kill the vampire. Why he would make such a change could be an entire article in itself, disputing whether it was to increase the action of the plot not to have Lucy kill Dracula, or whether it was considered too unfeminine for a woman to commit such an act of violence.

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

One also has to wonder about the origins of “The Mysterious Stranger” itself. While Stoker thought the story was written by an anonymous person, the version he read was really an unauthorized translation of Karl Von Wachsmann’s story “The Stranger” first published in 1844, more than half a century before Dracula, and only a quarter of a century after the publication of Polidori’s The Vampyre, considered the first real European and definitely English vampire story. Polidori’s story was tremendously popular in Europe, being translated and adapted into plays and eventually inspiring countless vampire works. More research needs to be done on whether Von Wachsmann knew Polidori’s story or was inspired by other works that were themselves inspired by Polidori’s story, or whether he had independent vampire sources to draw upon. Little appears to be known in the English-speaking world about Wachsmann, who lived from 1787 to 1862 and appears to have been part of the German literary Romantic Movement. Only the French and German versions of Wikipedia have entries for him (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Adolf_von_Wachsmann) and the translations of the pages reveal little that tells us much about his literary works. Unfortunately, most of his works appear not to have been translated into English. “The Mysterious Stranger” appears to have been a rare translation.

Certainly, the path to the creation of Dracula remains as mysterious as Dracula himself.

Poster for the Italian version of the The Curse of the Karnsteins starring Christopher Lee. It is doubtful this film was in any way influenced by “The Mysterious Stranger.”

As a side note, according to Wikipedia, the Italian film La cripta e l’incubo (The Curse of the Karnsteins) (1962), starring Christopher Lee as Count Ludwig von Karnstein, may have been influenced by “The Mysterious Stranger,” although Wikipedia admits that the film is more closely based on Le Fanu’s Carmilla. I watched the film recently (available on Amazon prime) and will say that I see absolutely no resemblance between the film and “The Mysterious Stranger,” but the Carmilla influence is obvious. “The Mysterious Stranger,” however, might make a very good film in its own right.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Rookwood: The Gothic Family Plot Taken to the Extreme

William Harrison Ainsworth’s 1834 novel Rookwood took the literary world by storm in its day, and although it is largely forgotten now, its influence lingers on in much better known works of literature.

William Harrison Ainsworth, painted by Daniel Maclise

In Rookwood, Ainsworth wanted to write a Gothic novel in the style of Walpole and Radcliffe, but at the same time, he was heavily influenced by the rise of the historical novel, particularly by Sir Walter Scott, and so he set the novel in England in the reign of George II in 1737. This decision was also partly made because of his long-time interest in the famous highwayman Dick Turpin, who figures as a main character in the novel, and reflects the influence of the Newgate novels of the time, novels which focused upon criminals.

Anne Williams, in her book Art of Darkness: The Poetics of Gothic, has said “Gothic plots are family plots; Gothic romance is family” (22-3). Nothing could be truer of Rookwood, which has one of the most complex family inheritance storylines of any novel ever written.

The novel opens at the manor of Rookwood Place. The owner Sir Piers Rookwood has recently died after a bough of an ancient tree is found on the ground. Family legend says a death always follows the dropping of a branch from the tree. Sir Piers’ son Ranulph is believed to be the true heir to Rookwood Place, but Peter Bradley, the estate’s keeper, reveals to his grandson Luke Bradley that he is really Sir Piers’ legitimate and oldest son. Sir Piers had married Peter Bradley’s daughter, and Peter brings Luke into the family vault to show him his mother’s body and even the hand bearing the wedding ring. In a grotesque moment, Luke takes his mother’s hand and ring as proof of his legitimate birth. Not surprisingly, we also learn Luke’s parents were married by a Jesuit priest, Father Checkley. The Gothic loved to pick on Catholics, and the Jesuits were frequently manipulative plotters in Gothic storylines, especially in Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew (1846). Rookwood, however, may be the first use of Jesuits in a Gothic plot.

Peter Bradley now plots to marry Luke to his cousin Eleanor Mowbray, the daughter of Sir Piers’ sister. However, Ranulph is also in love with Eleanor. Luke is not interested in Eleanor at first. Rather, he has been raised by gypsies and is in love with a young gypsy named Sybil Lovel. At his grandfather’s insistence on the marriage to Eleanor, however, Luke finally gives way.

Eleanor Mowbray comes to Rookwood Place with her mother for Sir Piers’ funeral and under the belief she will marry Ranulph. However, their carriage is waylaid and they find themselves among the gypsies. Dick Turpin, at this point, intercedes to help Luke marry Eleanor. However, at the ceremony performed among the gypsies, Luke is fooled into marrying Sybil. Sybil, realizing Luke does not love her, kills herself. Sybil’s grandmother then takes revenge by poisoning a lock of Sybil’s hair and giving it to Luke, which eventually results in his death.

Rookwood’s cover page

After Luke’s death, Peter Bradley reveals that he is really Alan Rookwood, the brother of Reginald Rookwood, the father of Piers. (This makes the family tree extremely complicated since Luke’s parents were first cousins and he also has attempted to marry his first cousin.) Ranulph’s mother, Maud, who has been scheming for her son, now manages to find herself accidentally locked inside the family tomb with Peter Bradley, in one of the most terrifying moments in the novel as they realize they will die before they are ever found. In the end, Ranulph and Eleanor, the only surviving members of the family, marry.

The plot is more complicated than my summary, and it includes a long chase of Dick Turpin by the law, which goes on for many chapters and was said to thrill readers, although the modern reader wonders why Dick is really in the novel at all and wants to get back to the dysfunctional family plot.

The novel would win no awards for subtlety or even style, but it is a rousing good story for the most part. It is sensational and at times gory—who would want to carry around their long-dead mother’s hand? It is also amoral. The reader is not clear whom to cheer for. At times, it seems like Ainsworth is on Luke’s side as the rightful heir, but critic Stephen Carver in his article “The Design of Romance: Rookwood, Scott, and the Gothic,” argues that Luke’s fatal flaw is his lust for power, property, and revenge for his mother, which is why he fails in the end. Furthermore, Luke is driven on by his grandfather’s own desire for revenge upon the family—his own family.

As stated earlier, Ainsworth’s goal was to write a novel like Radcliffe. In the novel’s 1849 preface, he states, “I resolved to attempt a story in the bygone style of Mrs. Radcliffe,—which had always inexpressible charms for me,—substituting an old English squire, an old English manorial residence, and an old English highwayman, for the Italian marchese, the castle, and the brigand of the great mistress of Romance.” He succeeded in doing so, and notably, like Mrs. Radcliffe, he shies away from any actual supernatural events, although at times the characters think supernatural things are happening, and there are both family curses and legends and contradicting curses and legends. Like Mrs. Radcliffe, Ainsworth also sprinkles poetry throughout the novel, most of it in the form of songs, many of them about highwaymen and of questionable merit—Mrs. Radcliffe was no great poet herself. The songs tend to delay the action for the modern reader, but they have some charm.

The Bridal scene by George Cruikshank who did several illustrations for the novel.

Sir Walter Scott’s influence is prevalent in the novel’s historical setting in England—one of the first Gothic novels to be set in England rather than abroad. Ainsworth is less interested, however, in the historical drama of the period that Scott tried to depict in his own works. Stephen Carver, in the article referenced above, argues that Scott’s poetry was a greater influence on Ainsworth than his fiction.

Having just reread Notre-Dame de Paris, which was the subject of my last blog post, Victor Hugo’s novel was strongly in my mind as I read Rookwood, and consequently, I felt the influence of Hugo throughout. Given that Notre-Dame de Paris was published in French in 1831 and in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1833, it is very likely Ainsworth read the novel before or while writing Rookwood. Furthermore, Ainsworth references Hugo in his preface along with several other authors, stating:

“The chief object I had in view in making the present essay was to see how far the infusion of a warmer and more genial current into the veins of old Romance would succeed in reviving her fluttering and feeble pulses. The attempt has succeeded beyond my most sanguine expectation. Romance, if I am not mistaken, is destined shortly to undergo an important change. Modified by the German and French writers—by Hoffman, Tieck, Hugo, Dumas, Balzac, and Paul Lecroix (le Bibliophile Jacob)—the structure commenced in our own land by Horace Walpole, Monk Lewis, Mrs. Radcliffe, and Maturin, but left imperfect and inharmonious, requires, now that the rubbish which choked up its approach is removed, only the hand of the skilful architect to its entire renovation and perfection.”

It is noteworthy here that Ainsworth does not list Scott among the English writers of romance. Of course, that is not to say all these writers were influences upon Ainsworth since he wrote the preface in 1849, fifteen years after the novel was first published, and Dumas, for example, did not begin publishing until a few years after the novel’s publication. However, Hugo’s influence seems highly likely, especially since after the novel was published, Ainsworth was praised as “The English Victor Hugo” (Carver p. 4).

Turpin’s Flight Through Edmonton, also by Cruikshank

While the comparison to Hugo may be general because Ainsworth had written a popular Gothic and historical novel like Hugo, the influence seems more apparent in the sort of lack of a moral to the work, just as Hugo’s novel, as I argued in my previous blog post, presents an existential or amoral viewpoint. Certainly, Ranulph seems no more moral than Luke, and Luke has more reason to behave in dastardly ways because of his being cheated from his inheritance. None of the characters are overly moral, but the theme of revenge does suggest Luke fails due to his lust for property, as Carver suggests. In any case, as with Notre-Dame de Paris, we are left with bodies littering the novel’s pages and most of the characters dead because of their inability to control their passions. As scholar Heather Glen states, Dick Turpin, Luke, and other Newgate heroes seem driven to break the law to right the injustices of society (Glen xxii), and Luke here believes himself wronged and trying to right that wrong. This position of the hero also makes him an outcast in society, a type of Gothic wanderer, who is not a transgressor, but rather feels society has transgressed against him, and consequently, he must transgress against society to right the first transgression.

As for Rookwood’s influence, one has to wonder if the revenge theme played into the creation of Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Dumas’ Edmond Dantes also seeks revenge after being wronged. He just carries it out far more intelligently than Luke does.

More definitely, the novel influenced the works of Charlotte and Emily Brontë. In her introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Charlotte Brontë’s Tales of Angria, Heather Glen discusses Rookwood’s influence on the Angria stories. She says the character of Henry Hastings in the stories is an ironic treatment of Rookwood (Glen xxiii). In my opinion, Jane Eyre also well may have been influenced by Rookwood. The gypsies who are primary characters in Rookwood may have inspired Mr. Rochester dressing up as a gypsy in Jane Eyre. Notably, Brontë has Jane call this supposed gypsy a “Sybil,” which is the name of the primary gypsy character in Rookwood. Of course, the name is also appropriate since a Sybil can foresee the future and Brontë’s fake gypsy claims to be a fortune teller. Furthermore, while Sybil in Rookwood does not appear to be prophetic, the novel has several prophecies, one of which Sybil helps to fulfill.

Even more so, in reading Rookwood, one cannot help thinking of Wuthering Heights. The complicated family relationships of Rookwood all relate to a family fight over who will inherit the property. It is interesting that Luke has to prove himself the legitimate heir. Critics have often speculated that in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff may be Mr. Earnshaw’s bastard child. Heathcliff is also referred to as a gypsy in the novel since his origins are unknown. Luke was himself raised by the gypsies. Like Luke, Heathcliff tries to gain control of the family property. However, Heathcliff succeeds where Luke fails. Regardless, in the end, Heathcliff dies and the property returns to the only two remaining descendants of the Earnshaws and Lintons. Similarly, in Rookwood, the only remaining family members inherit the property. Emily Brontë must have had Rookwood in the back of her mind and simplified the family plot while also whitewashing the taint of illegitimacy from the novel enough just to hint at it for Heathcliff rather than make it blatant.

The Vault by Sir John Gilbert

Finally, I can’t help wondering if the creators of the Gothic TV soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971) were influenced by Rookwood. The house in the series is named Collinwood—is the similar name a coincidence? There is no plot of fighting over the inheritance of the property, but the series chronicles the Collins family over two centuries. Most notably, in the episodes set in 1897, there are gypsy characters, a dismembered hand of great power (which recalls Luke’s mother’s hand), and a family curse. The very complicated family tree of the series also reflects the complicated, multigenerational family tree of Rookwood.

Rookwood has been almost forgotten today, but it is a notable link in the chain of Gothic literature between Radcliffe and Scott and later writers like Dickens, George W. M. Reynolds, and the Brontës. I hope this article helps to create renewed interest in Rookwood and all of Ainsworth’s works.

(For other reviews at The Gothic Wanderer of Ainsworth’s work, visit Auriol, or the Elixir of Life and The Lancashire Witches.)

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Sir Walter Scott

Gothic Existentialism in Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris

Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), better known to English readers as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, due to the title chosen by Frederic Shoberl for his 1833 translation of the novel into English, is a curious book that can’t quite decide if it’s a novel, an exposé on fifteenth-century Paris, or a treatise on medieval architecture. For the modern reader, the result is impatience, some boredom, and a surprise because the story is not at all what one expects as a result of all the extratextual materials available. But most importantly for our purposes here, it is a key text in Gothic literature.

Frollo and Quasimodo in the 1996 Disney film

Let me clarify that by extratextual, I mean all of the extra materials inspired by the book, including the films, comic books, and cameo appearances of the Hunchback (his name is Quasimodo, though it is generally forgotten) in a variety of horror-related films and TV series. For example, in the 1996 TV film The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas, the Hunchback shows up to the Christmas party as part of The Munsters’ extended family. However, most of us probably know the Hunchback best from one of the many film productions, including the 1923 silent film with Lon Chaney, the 1939 film with Charles Laughton, the 1982 TV film with Anthony Hopkins, and the 1996 Disney animated film, which later was adapted into a more Gothic musical in Germany, and whose English cast album was released in 2015. All of these many versions cause people to believe they know the story, but Hugo’s original tale has been bastardized, romanticized, and deeply changed in most of these versions, including a frequently happy ending where Esmeralda rides off with Phoebus into the sunset. Hugo’s version is far darker, and perhaps less to our taste today, but it is still worth reading for its Gothic elements and its philosophy about life.

The story behind the novel is that Hugo was hired in November 1828 to write a two volume novel in the style of Sir Walter Scott. In 1823, he had favorably reviewed Scott’s Quentin Durward (according to A. J. Krailshemer’s “Introduction” to the Oxford World Classics’ edition). Scott’s influence is obvious in the historical elements of Notre-Dame de Paris, and yet, at the end of his life, Hugo denied ever writing a historical novel. That is not to say he disowned the book, but that he did not see it as historical. This is surprising given the novel’s many historical elements and Hugo’s great efforts to create an accurate depiction of the book’s physical and historical setting, but he obviously saw the novel’s Gothic and Romantic elements as more important than the historical ones. According to Krailshemer, while generally appreciative of Scott’s work, as his review of Quentin Durward shows, “Hugo regretted the absence of a truly epic dimension, a broadly sweeping view which would give the narrative some deeper meaning.”

The novel’s most overwhelming Gothic element is the cathedral itself. It is the equivalent of the discovered manuscript in most Gothic novels. Hugo wrote the novel largely to create interest in the cathedral and to help restore it. Throughout the novel, he talks about the importance of preserving architecture, and he even discusses how the printing press has killed architecture (in Book V, Chapter 2, “This Will Kill That”). Hugo argues that the great buildings of the past, especially cathedrals, were the books of their day, because they told stories, made statements, and generally educated the population in religion, politics, and history. The novel begins with Hugo claiming to have discovered an inscription in the cathedral, a Greek word, which he later claims was removed. I suspect the inscription is completely fictional and Hugo is here using a fictional technique to give authenticity to his tale. In fact, we learn Claude Frollo incised the word on the wall with a pair of compasses (Book 7, Chapter 4). This word is ’ANÁΓKH, and in the novel’s context, it appears to mean fate, compulsion, or determinism. While Christianity teaches that humans have free will, the novel ultimately shows that all the characters play out what are their natural propensities, unable to resist their natural passions or desires that ultimately lead to their destruction. We see this in how Frollo’s obsession with Esmeralda undoes his reason; we see it in how despite Frollo’s efforts to raise Jehan in a moral way, Jehan becomes a wastrel; we see it in how Esmeralda’s passion for Phoebus causes her to stupidly reveal her hiding place to the soldiers, thus leading to her execution, and we see it in Quasimodo, whose love for Esmeralda causes him to kill Frollo, the only one who loves him, and then to end his own life by burying himself in the tomb with Esmeralda, even though his love for her has been unrequited, as is the case with all the love in the novel. Indeed, not one character in the novel has his or her love returned, although most of the characters do feel love for someone. Ultimately, while the novel can be described as Gothic, historical, or Romantic, in many ways it feels like a precursor to the Naturalist movement of writers like Emile Zola.

Victor Hugo claimed he never wrote a historical novel.

But Notre-Dame de Paris’ role as Gothic literature is what most interests us here. A look at the three main characters, Claude Frollo, Esmeralda, and Quasimodo, will highlight the way Hugo effectively uses Gothic elements to create his dramatic and somewhat existential tale. Existential because, in the end, one has to wonder if the novel has any meaning other than to show the inability of the characters to create any sort of meaning and to show that the world is ultimately devoid of any supernatural forces, benevolent or sinister, to aid or even sympathize with humans, despite their religious beliefs.

 

Claude Frollo

Although later editions of the novel were named for Quasimodo, The Archdeacon of Notre Dame would perhaps be a more accurate title for the book because everything that happens in the novel begins with actions set into motion by Claude Frollo, Notre Dame’s Archdeacon.

Claude has many of the aspects of the Gothic Wanderer figure. Indeed, all three of the best known characters, Claude, Esmeralda the gypsy, and Quasimodo the hunchback, are Gothic Wanderer figures. Because Claude is our villain, however, he is the truest Gothic wanderer. He is strict in his religious beliefs, and yet incapable of overcoming his baser nature. Hugo develops his character early on by telling us what the people of Paris say about him, expressing their beliefs that he is a sorcerer. In time, we learn he is not, but he is obsessed with alchemy, which was aligned with sorcery in the medieval mind. Among Hugo’s inspirations for the novel was Henri Sauval’s Histoire et recherches des antiquités de la ville de Paris (1724). Among other things, Sauval mentions the statues and figures in Notre Dame and other buildings that alchemists associate with the mystery of finding the philosopher’s stone. Frollo is obsessed with learning the secret of the philosopher’s stone, which could allegedly turn lead into gold. In Gothic fiction, this secret is believed to be known to the Rosicrucians, and while Hugo does not mention the Rosicrucians, he may have been influenced by this aspect of the Gothic novel. Further research would be needed to learn if he had read such Rosicrucian novels as William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799), whose main character acquires the philosopher’s stone. However, it has been speculated that Hugo was himself a Rosicrucian or a member of some other similar secret order. This would not be surprising since his contemporary, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, was a Rosicrucian and the author of the Rosicrucian novel Zanoni (1842).

Frollo is an alchemist determined to discover how to create gold. He is obsessed with the gold of sunbeams and believes that in them lies the secret. However, the act of creating gold was itself considered a transgression against God. It was seeking to overturn the laws of nature and considered forbidden knowledge. The possession of such a stone would allow the owner to introduce gold into circulation, which would upset nations’ economies and also enrich the owner, giving him power to become a world leader. Such is the situation St. Leon experiences in Godwin’s novel (I discuss St. Leon in depth in my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption). Consequently, Frollo is committing a transgression through his alchemy efforts.

Frollo is so gung ho in these efforts that he goes to the house of Nicolas Flamel, who has died decades earlier, but was reputedly an alchemist himself. There Frollo occupies himself in:

Frollo and Quasimodo in the 1923 film.

“turning over the earth in the two cellars whose buttresses had been daubed with countless verses and hieroglyphs by Nicolas Flamel himself. Flamel was supposed to have buried the philosophers’ stone in these cellars and the alchemists for two hundred years, from Magistri to Father Pacifique, did not cease from tossing the soil about until the house, so roughly excavated and ransacked, finally turned to dust beneath their feet.” (Book 4, Chapter 5)

Frollo’s quest for forbidden knowledge eventually draws the attention of King Louis XI, who comes to him in secret, and together, they debate on astrology, medicine, and alchemy. The king thinks Frollo mad, but he needs money, so he wants to find the philosopher’s stone and they frequently talk after that. Frollo tells King Louis “to make gold is to be god. That is the only science.” (Book 5, Chapter 1) That Frollo wishes to be God is itself a transgression—the ultimate transgression of pride, which caused Lucifer’s fall from heaven.

Frollo’s quest for forbidden knowledge takes a new turn when he begins to lust over Esmeralda, who represents another type of forbidden knowledge because as a member of the clergy, Frollo has taken a vow of chastity, so the knowledge of sex is also forbidden to him.

I will pass over the details of Frollo’s attempts to deride and also seduce Esmeralda, but his interest in her transforms him metaphorically into a type of supernatural being. As he realizes the lust he has for her, a woman and a gypsy whom he should otherwise abhor, he realizes the relationship between love and hate, and how his position in society has caused him to turn love into hate.

“As he thus delved into his soul, when he saw what spacious provision nature had made in it for passions, he laughed all the more bitterly. He stirred up all the hatred, all the malice in his innermost heart, and recognized, with the cool eye of a physician examining a patient, that this hatred and malice was nothing but vitiated love; that love, source of every human virtue, could, in a priest’s heart, turn into something horrible, and that a man constituted like him, by becoming a priest became a devil. Then he gave a dreadful laugh, and suddenly paled again as he contemplated the most sinister aspect of his fatal passion, of that corrosive, poisonous, hateful, implacable love whose only outcome had been the gallows for one of them, hell for the other: she condemned, he damned.” (Book 9, Chapter 1)

We can almost feel sorry for Frollo here. Had he not had to take his unnatural vow of chastity, he could have married and had release from his lust. Had he sought after good things rather than the philosopher’s stone, he might not have isolated himself from mankind. Now his love for Esmeralda has made him into a devil, a type of supernatural being. Esmeralda recognizes this when he visits her in her cell, calling him a “monster.” In response, he begs for mercy:

“‘Mercy! mercy!’ murmured the priest, pressing his lips to her shoulders.

“She seized his bald head in both hands by his remaining hair, and strove to ward off his kisses as if they had been bites.

“‘Mercy!’ the wretched man repeated. ‘If you knew what my love for you is like! It’s fire, molten lead, thousands of knives in my heart!’

“And he held her arms still with superhuman strength. Distraught, she said: ‘Let me go, or I’ll spit in your face!’

“He let her go: ‘Degrade me, hit me, be vicious! Do whatever you like! But mercy! love me!’”

(Book 9, Chapter 6)

Here we see how Esmeralda has Frollo under her spell as if she is the one with the supernatural power, and he must beg mercy from her, yet she calls him a monster and she avoids his kisses as if they are bites, and just a few lines later, she does call him a “vampire.” He meanwhile holds her with superhuman strength—an attribute Quasimodo also shares.

Later, in one of the novel’s most vividly Gothic scenes, Pierre Gringoire (Esmeralda’s playwright husband) and Frollo try to rescue her and escape with her on a boat. Frollo is disguised by a hood and long robe, so that Esmeralda does not know him. As he rows the boat, he fills her with fear:

“He could be dimly seen in the bows of the boat, like a spectre in the dark. His hood, still lowered, had the effect of a kind of mask, and each time he opened his arms as he rowed, with the wide black sleeves hanging down, they looked like two huge batwings.” (Book 11, Chapter 1). Readers of classical literature here might liken him to Charon, who ferries the dead to hell, but more modern readers will think of the Phantom of the Opera, ferrying Christine to his underground cavern. The bat wings also again stir up the idea of a vampire here.

Finally, Frollo carries another mark of the Gothic wanderer: The Mark of Cain. In the Bible, God curses Cain by placing a mark on his forehead after he murders his brother. In Gothic literature, the Wandering Jew also frequently has a mark on his forehead for his transgression in refusing to let Chris rest on the way to Calvary. However, Frollo’s Mark of Cain is largely undeserved. Krailshemer says, “Frollo, now raving mad and made more so by the news of Jehan’s death, indirectly caused by his rejection of his brother, has to bear the mark of Cain to add to all his other crimes.” (However, Jehan is a drunkard and Frollo has simply refused to give him more money and support his bad habits—we would call it tough love today.) Later, Jehan joins the attack on the cathedral to rescue Esmeralda, which Quasimodo mistakes as an attempt to capture and kill her, so he ends up killing Jehan during the attack. Frollo learns of his brother’s death but does not seem to know Quasimodo killed Jehan.

Frollo himself plants the mark upon his forehead, talking to himself in horror after he learns of his brother’s death:

“He fell silent for a moment, then went on, as though talking to himself, in a loud voice: ‘Cain, what have you done with your brother?’ There was another silence, then he continued: ‘What have I done with him, Lord? I took him in, I brought him up, I fed him, I loved him, I idolized him, and I killed him! Yes, Lord, they have just now dashed his head before my eyes against the stones of your house, and it is because of me, because of this woman, because of her….’” (Book 11, Chapter 1).

After Frollo dies, and Quasimodo has been seen sending him to his death, we are told:

Many rumours went round concerning this incident. There was no doubt in people’s minds that the day had come when, in accordance with their pact, Quasimodo, that is the devil, was to carry off Claude Frollo, that is the sorcerer. It was supposed that he had shattered the body as he took the soul, as monkeys break the shell to eat the nut.

That is why the archdeacon was not interred in consecrated ground. (Book 11, Chapter 3)

This is the final suggestion of Frollo’s supernatural nature and again links him to vampires because he cannot rest in consecrated ground.

 

Esmeralda

Esmeralda is herself a type of Gothic wanderer, as are gypsies for being outcasts of society. The Parisians even go so far as to make Esmeralda nonhuman, believing she is a “supernatural” creature, and comparing her to a salamander, a nymph, and a goddess (Book 2, Chapter 3). Of course, all these words are translations from the French, but the supernatural element is still there. However, little does Esmeralda realize she is even an outcast among the outcasts, for she is not even a gypsy but a French child stolen from its mother.

Quasimodo and Esmeralda played by Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara in the 1939 film.

In Book VIII, Chapter 3, Esmeralda is even referred to as a “vampire” because she is a gypsy and consequently must be a child-stealer. Krailshemer translates the French as “vampire” but the word is actually “stryga,” which can also mean witch. In Albanian folklore, the styrga is a vampiric witch that sucks the blood of children. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shtriga)

Ironically, Esmeralda is cursed by her own mother, who calls her a child-stealer because she is a gypsy and because her own child was stolen by gypsies, only to learn later that Esmeralda is the child who was stolen. Esmeralda’s mother then tries to hide her when she is being pursued so she can be hanged. Esmeralda, however, believes she hears the voice of Phoebus, the man she loves, calls out his name, and thereby reveals her whereabouts, thus leading to her capture and eventual death. Her inability to overcome her passion for Phoebus, who is anything but a hero, and nothing more than a womanizer, brings about her downfall. While her love for Phoebus is not described as lust in the way Frollo’s love for Esmeralda is, it amounts to the same thing—both characters bring about their own downfall because of their inability to control their human desires.

 

Quasimodo

Quasimodo, like Esmeralda, is also an outcast, not because of his race but because of his deformity. Later, however, we will learn he is a gypsy child, traded like a halfing child, for a French child, which also implies a supernatural element, since halfings were the children of fairies traded for human children. His name itself means “half-made” suggesting like halflings he is only half-human. At the same time, Quasimodo is described as the child of a “sow” and a “Jew” (Book 4, Chapter 1), making him half-animal as well as half-human, though being part-Jewish would make him even less than half-human since in the Middle Ages, Jews were believed to have horns and be akin to the devil.

Later, Quasimodo displays superhuman, though not supernatural powers. Besides his incredible strength, he is very nimble and able to climb up the façade of the cathedral (Book 4, Chapter 3), which the modern reader will see as resembling the skills of Spiderman and which also is a precursor to Count Dracula. In fact, we have here the seeds of the future superhero character embedded in the Gothic.

That Quasimodo was adopted by Frollo, believed to be a sorcerer, adds to his supernatural nature. The people of Paris claim Quasimodo must serve Frollo for a set number of years, and then he will be given a soul, in a sort of reverse Faustian pact.

In an extended passage, Hugo describes Frollo and Quasimodo’s relationship:

“We must say, however, that the sciences of Egypt, necromancy, magic, even of the whitest and most innocent kind, had no enemy more relentless, no one who denounced them more inexorably to the officiality of Notre-Dame. Whether this was from genuine horror or the play-acting of the thief shouting: ‘Stop thief!’, it did not prevent the archdeacon being regarded by the learned heads in the chapter as a soul who had ventured into the antechamber of hell, lost in the caverns of the Kabbala, groping in the darkness of the occult sciences. The people made no mistake about it either; for anyone with a little sense Quasimodo was the demon, Claude Frollo the sorcerer. It was obvious that the bell-ringer had to serve the archdeacon for a given time, at the end of which he would carry off his soul by way of payment.” (Book 4, Chapter 5)

In short, Frollo is Faust to Quasimodo’s Mephistopheles.

While their bond is not supernatural in truth, Quasimodo does reverence Frollo for how the man saved him. However, both Frollo and Quasimodo have a love for Esmeralda that supersedes their love for each other. Indeed, there seems to be something Oedipal or Freudian here. Quasimodo seeks to kill his father-figure to be with the woman his father desires, although calling Esmeralda a mother figure might be going too far. In any case, after Quasimodo sends Frollo to his death, Quasimodo cries out, “Oh! all I have loved!” (Book 11, Chapter 2) in the realization that everyone he has loved is dead.

In the end, Quasimodo makes his way to the sepulcher where Esmeralda is buried, and there he wraps his fingers around hers and gives up his life so he can spend eternity with her, although she is dead and unable to know he is there with her.

The death of Claude Frollo, an early illustration.

 

Existential Ending

In the end, love is unrequited for all the characters, and all the characters have let their love or lust lead to their committing actions that have brought about their deaths.

Hugo has created a fatalistic world. There is no free will in it, for the characters are unable to stop themselves from acting as they do. Instead, we might call Hugo’s novel an early example of naturalism, and in the end, it is a very existential novel as well.

While earlier Gothic novels, even while often deriding Catholicism, worked within a Christian structure where the good are rewarded and the bad punished, it is too simplistic to describe anyone in this novel as good or bad. Even Frollo, who is the villain if there is one, had kind intentions in raising his brother after his parents had died and in caring for Quasimodo when no one else would. Yet in the end, any good in his nature is overcome by his uncontrollable lust. Despite the setting in Notre Dame, there is little about God in this novel. As Krailshemer says, “The most notable omission from the book is Christianity.” Consequently, what makes the novel most Gothic of all is the horror that life is meaningless and no matter what we do, death is the end. None of the characters go to their graves repenting their sins or having hope in redemption.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Superheroes and the Gothic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophia Lee

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

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

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

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

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

This edition has an excellent introduction by April Alliston

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

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

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

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

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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

The Forgotten Gothic: The Count of Monte Cristo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandre Dumas

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

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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