Category Archives: Classic Gothic Novels

New Dracula Prequel Builds on Stoker’s Unpublished Manuscripts

Dracul, the recently published prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written by his great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker, is a treat for both Dracula enthusiasts and Dracula scholars. The novel tells a fictional story about Bram Stoker’s childhood and early life from the 1850s through 1868, including his encounters with Dracula. Although the story is obviously fictional, the authors drew upon Stoker’s early versions of Dracula, including his handwritten notes, to create this spellbinding tale.

Dracul, a prequel to Dracula, allows Bram Stoker to meet Dracula face to face.

When the novel opens, Bram is a sickly child growing up in Ireland during the potato famine. He nearly dies at birth, but his nurse Ellen Crone saves him, although no one is quite sure how. She continues to care for him during his illnesses and the family notices that afterwards, as he grows stronger, she becomes weaker. Over time, Bram and his sister Matilda continue to notice strange things about Ellen. At one point, Bram sees her naked limbs, which have the appearance of those of a wrinkled old woman, although she seems fairly young. They investigate her room and find the floor dirty and dusty with no sign of footprints. Ellen realizes they are curious about her, so she taunts Bram for going out at night to investigate her wanderings, all the while climbing the walls and ceiling like a spider. Many other strange incidents occur that make it obvious Ellen is not human, but then she disappears from the children’s lives for many years.

I don’t want to give away the whole plot beyond that, but it’s sufficient to say that Ellen has had dealings with Dracula, and as a result, Bram also encounters the great vampire. I found the book entertaining, although some readers might find the novel far-fetched and not like it’s lack of being accurate to Stoker’s biography—I am not aware that Stoker ever had a nurse named Ellen and could not find evidence of her in the recent Stoker biography by David J. Skal, Something in the Blood, or that he ever traveled to Munich to fight vampires. Regardless, the authors raise some interesting questions about Stoker’s writing of Dracula and the possibility that it was based on real events. Consequently, the novel’s afterword alone makes Dracul worth reading.

I won’t go into full details about the afterword, but here are a few points worth mentioning. At the end of Dracul, Dracula warns Stoker that he will be back to claim him when he dies. Of course, this is supposition on the authors’ part, but in the afterword they note that Stoker had himself cremated, which was unusual in 1912. The suggestion is that Stoker may have feared becoming a vampire like the corpse of Lucy Westenra in Dracula. More significantly, in the original manuscript of Dracula, which was titled The Un-Dead, Stoker wrote a preface in which he states that the novel’s events really took place. Of course, this literary trick—the claim that the book was based on true events to make fiction feel real—was around long before Stoker. Such claims were an effort to validate fiction and make it more reputable, as well as more interesting to readers. For example, in the early days of the novel, Daniel Defoe claimed Robinson Crusoe (1719) was a true story and Samuel Richardson claimed Pamela (1740) was a compilation of real letters. Neither claim was true, so there is no reason to believe Stoker’s tale had any truth to it either. Regardless, it’s fun—in a scary way—to think it might be.

For me, the most fascinating thing about Dracul’s afterword is how it builds on the recent scholarship that revealed the version of Dracula published in Iceland, known there as Makt Myrkranna and recently translated into English as Powers of Darkness, with a preface by Dacre Stoker, is not the same version of Dracula we have in English. According to Dracul’s afterword, Stoker’s publisher made him do serious revisions to the novel, including cutting the first 101 pages and changing the title, plus toning down the idea that it was based on true events. The publisher feared the Whitechapel murders of 1888-1891, blamed on Jack the Ripper, were still fresh enough in people’s minds that claims of vampires in England might cause a panic. (This fear may seem far-fetched to us, but let’s not forget the panic stirred up by Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of A War of the Worlds in 1938.)

The most recent biography of Bram Stoker.

Stoker, to get his novel published, went along with his publisher’s desire for changes for his English reading audience, but he did not make the changes to copies of the novel he personally sent to publishers worldwide. As a result, Powers of Darkness is a very different novel from Dracula in many ways, and in the afterword to Dracul, Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker suggest more foreign editions of Dracula need to be translated to see what other changes were made.

Also of importance is that the original manuscript of The Un-Dead still exists, minus its first 101 pages. The authors of Dracul state that it is now owned by Paul Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft. He allowed them to view the manuscript after signing a disclosure agreement not to reveal what was in it. They can only disclose that the short story “Dracula’s Guest” is from the original manuscript and also that the manuscript begins on page 102, the page number of which has been crossed out and renumbered as 1. Stoker apparently cut the first 101 pages of the novel and they have been long missing, which is one reason Powers of Darkness is so interesting since Jonathan Harker’s time in Dracula’s castle is extended in that version.

Of course, the discovery of Powers of Darkness was a field day for Dracula scholars. Hopefully, more foreign editions of Dracula will be translated and published, but more importantly, we can hope that The Un-Dead will eventually be published. Unfortunately, Paul Allen died on October 15, 2018, so the fate of The Un-Dead will remain to be seen.

Powers of Darkness is the new 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.

Finally, what fascinates me most is that anyone who has read Stoker’s other novels will admit that despite a few stirring passages, they largely fall flat beside Dracula. Certainly, as fascinating as Powers of Darkness is from a scholarly perspective, the writing is far from first-rate, and that can be said of most of Stoker’s other novels. I think this difference lies largely in the revision process Stoker went through to get Dracula published in England. According to Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker, Stoker’s editor, Otto Kyllman, worked with him for several months to reshape the novel, the two butting heads over what to cut and what to save. I had never heard of Kyllman before, but he seems to have been very astute as an editor. Surprisingly, he did not die until 1958, which means he must have been extraordinarily young when he was Stoker’s editor at Archibald Constable & Company. Unfortunately, I could find little online about Kyllman. His Wikipedia entry does not even give his birthdate, but it says he was the senior director at Constable & Co. from 1909 to 1950. This is a man whose editing career spanned more than half a century and who worked closely with such authors as George Bernard Shaw and May Sinclair. Surprisingly, Kyllman is not even mentioned in Skal’s biography of Stoker. While I don’t want to downplay Stoker’s genius in creating Dracula, one has to wonder how much credit Kyllman deserves for the Dracula we have today. It is definitely a topic that deserves more exploration.

Dracul is a fun read for those who like novelizations about famous authors, but it’s more than that—in a roundabout way, it helps to add another piece to the mystery of Dracula and how it came to be the incredible novel it is, one that has captivated our imaginations for 121 years and counting.

Thank you to Robert Burke for bringing Dracul to my attention.

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

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The Lady of the Shroud: Bram Stoker’s Failed Return to Dracula’s Roots

Few people realize that Bram Stoker wrote a total of thirteen novels. Dracula (1897) has eclipsed all the others in popular culture, although The Jewel of the Seven Stars (1907) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911) have both had film versions and both return to the supernatural themes that made Dracula such a success. In The Lady of the Shroud (1909), Stoker again used supernatural themes, but this time, the supernatural is not real but simply a figment of the main character’s imagination. These seemingly supernatural moments in the novel are uncanny and enticing, but ultimately unconvincing, and the reader finds it far-fetched that anything supernatural is happening long before the main character realizes it. Consequently, the novel falls short as intriguing fiction or even coming close to the power of Dracula.

One of the many dramatic covers of The Lady of the Shroud.

The Lady of the Shroud is built around an entrancing idea: a mysterious woman wearing a shroud appears only at night in an Eastern European land that makes the main character extremely curious about her. And, of course, attracted to her. The concept is attractive, but Stoker cannot maintain the interest once it is revealed that she is not a ghost or vampire but a mere mortal woman. Furthermore, Stoker fails to create a plot with enough action to maintain the pace or interest of the book. A short summary of the plot reveals there really is little plot at all.

The novel is written as a series of documents, a style hearkening back to Dracula, which itself was inspired by the style of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. It opens with the death of Roger Melton and several letters and journal entries, primarily of his great-nephew Ernest Melton, who expects to inherit since his father is the head of the family and he will succeed him. Ernest is obnoxious and insulting in his remarks about all other members of the family whom he thinks himself better than, especially his cousin Rupert Saint Leger. Unfortunately, Ernest is the most interesting character in the novel, completely oblivious to what a prick he is. When Rupert inherits the estate, Ernest is not happy.

We then follow Rupert for the remainder of the novel. Rupert’s inheritance of more than a million pounds is conditional upon his living for a year in his uncle’s castle in the Land of the Blue Mountains on the Dalmatian coast. This is a completely fictional and oddly named country. It is a small country striving to maintain independence against the Turks and basically recalls Romania or Transylvania in Dracula. Soon, Rupert befriends the locals and helps them acquire weapons to fight the Turks.

The title character of the novel now enters the story. On a dark, wet night, she seeks shelter in Rupert’s room, mysteriously appearing there, and asking for permission to warm herself by the fire. He agrees, and although she is dressed in a white shroud, he does not ask questions of her. She flees in the morning, but expresses her gratitude to him and promises to return. Her repeated visits only at night and her wearing of the shroud eventually make him consider she may be a vampire. The suspense about her identity continues because he never asks her questions. She here recalls images of Lucy Westenra after she has become a vampire in Dracula and also the “woman in white” in Collins’ novel. Regardless, Rupert falls in love with her. Then he visits the local church and finds her lying in a glass-topped coffin in the crypt, a sign she is dead, or rather, the undead. However, that she visits him but never seeks to seduce or bite him makes the reader quickly realize she can hardly be a vampire.

Here the lady is floating in coffin in the ocean – the crypt does flood but the coffin never becomes a boat.

Before we know it, without learning his female visitor’s identity, Rupert has promised to marry her, no matter what that marriage will mean—even apparently losing his soul. This decision very much recalls the dark marriage that occurs in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) between the accursed Melmoth and the innocent Immalee, except for the gender reversal of who is innocent here. Even after the nighttime marriage, which turns out to be an Eastern Orthodox ceremony conducted in the church, and not some sort of Black Mass, she tells him while she loves him, she must continue to live in the crypt.

The truth about Rupert’s new wife is revealed when she is kidnapped from the church by Turks. The locals then tell Rupert she is not dead but alive, named Teuta, and daughter of the local Voivode, who has been traveling in America. She had fallen into a trance and been declared dead, but when she woke, the local clergy and political leaders spread a story that she was a vampire. She chose to live up to this story, apparently to protect herself and trick the Turks, by lying in the crypt, but when it had flooded, she had sought the warmth of Rupert’s castle. Of course, once kidnapped, the Turks realize she is not dead.

Rupert now leads a rescue party. However, he has barely saved Teuta before it’s learned that her father has returned and also been kidnapped by the Turks. What follows is the most dramatic moment in the book when Rupert uses his airplane to save the Voivode. He does so by lowering Teuta down from the airplane to where the Voivode is imprisoned in the castle, and then he raises the two back up. At this point we are told Rupert is a giant man and incredibly strong since he can pull up two people into his airplane. Prior to this, no mention is made of Rupert’s great size and strength so the moment is a surprise to the reader. Soon after the Turks are defeated and then the happy ending is prolonged for about two hours’ worth of dull reading.

There is no real plot after this. The Voivode is happy to have Rupert as a son-in-law. The people want to proclaim the Voivode their king but he says he is old and that Rupert should be king. Rupert feels Teuta should instead rule since she is the Voivode’s rightful heir, but she declares she is not like modern women “in an age when self-seeking women of other nations seek to forget their womanhood in the struggle to vie in equality with men!” In other words, men, not women, should rule. Stoker’s sexism is obvious here. Worse is Teuta’s statement, “I speak for our women when I say that we hold of greatest price the glory of our men. To be their companions is our happiness; to be their wives is the completion of our lives; to be the mother of their children is our share of the glory that is theirs.” (Oh, Teuta, I liked you far better when I thought you were a vampire and not a submissive women ready to surrender your identity and crown to your husband. Unfortunately, your creator was a product of his time.) Following Rupert’s coronation is a visit by the obnoxious cousin Ernest, who is soon made to leave the country for how rude he is, and then comes the birth of Rupert and Teuta’s child. The novel drags on and on during these scenes before finally ending.

Yet another floating coffin.

With The Lady of the Shroud, Stoker has made a novel out of a simple concept that would have made a nice short story. The atmosphere is powerful in the middle of the novel, but once the truth about the lady is revealed, it falls into a male fantasy adventure in which an Englishman becomes king over the inferior locals and saves the day. Here we have Western supremacy over the East much like in Dracula where the count, being from the East, is ultimately a degenerate and may represent the Eastern European immigrants who were coming into England at the time. One also has to wonder whether Stoker, in creating Rupert, had Lord Byron in mind with his efforts to liberate the Greeks.

Ultimately, The Lady of the Shroud has little story and provides little interest. Even returning to the Eastern European setting of Dracula fails to rekindle the count’s magic. The Lady of the Shroud is only interesting to Stoker scholars and fans as a curiosity. It’s as if the leftover pieces of Dracula were sewn together to create something that resembles a complete novel.

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

 

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Dracula’s Rival: The Beetle by Richard Marsh

Richard Marsh’s Gothic novel The Beetle first appeared in 1897, the same year as Dracula. Originally published in serialization as The Peril of Paul Lessingham: The Story of a Haunted Man in the magazine Answers from March 13 to June 15, that autumn it was published in book form with a new title, The Beetle: A Mystery. The title change is apt since it is more concise and focuses on the chief horror of the story. However, the original title is significant because it identifies Paul Lessingham as the main character. Lessingham does not occupy a major chunk of the narrative, yet he is in some sense responsible for the horrible events that unfold.

The Beetle is about an androgynous human-like creature who shape-shifts into a beetle and may have sources in Ancient Egypt, scarabs, and the cult of Isis.

Before discussing the plot and the novel’s Gothic elements, it’s worth noting that few literary critics have given The Beetle much attention, even though the novel outsold Dracula upon its initial publication. It was immensely popular and was never out of print until 1960. It even inspired a 1919 silent film and a 1928 stage play. As late as 1997, a radio play of it was produced. However, only in recent years have literary critics started to take notice of it.

This article will explore The Beetle’s Gothic elements, suggest why it fails beside greater Gothic novels like Dracula, and why it deserves a place of significance in the history of its genre, although it more draws upon its Gothic predecessors than inspired later Gothic works.

The novel is divided into four books, each told by a different character. Each section is a document or report compiled by Champnell, the inspector in the case. These different narrative voices and the idea of documents compiling a novel suggest an influence of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Notably, Stoker would use a similar format in Dracula.

In Book 1, Robert Holt, an unemployed and homeless clerk, seeks shelter by entering through an open window into a house. Inside the house, he sees glowing eyes from which he is unable to draw his gaze. Even when he realizes the creature he sees is not human, he finds himself unable to flee. Eventually, the creature approaches him and “mounts” him, crawling up him. The description of this encounter is very sexual, the creature even coming to his “loins.” Given the book’s title, the reader assumes this creature is the beetle. It is described in sticky, wet terms that make it sound female, and yet also male. Later, a light comes on and the creature disappears. Holt finds himself in a room with a man in a bed. This man throughout the novel will also be described as an Oriental and an Arab. Like the mysterious creature, the man also has hypnotic eyes, and he orders Holt to undress. Unable to resist, Holt is left standing naked before the man. The man, with female features, ultimately kisses Holt, which seems to be a way of feeding upon him. Toward the end of the novel, Holt is found with scratches on his neck and he appears to have been drained of life, reminiscent of vampire behavior, although the beetle is clearly not a vampire. The scenes with Holt are the most disturbing and intriguing of the entire novel. I won’t go into further detail about them but they are filled with sexuality and homoeroticism.

Eventually, Holt is ordered by the strange man to go to the home of Paul Lessingham, a member of Parliament, and rob him. He is told if Lessingham catches him, to utter the words “the beetle” to scare him off. Holt, unable to disobey, does exactly what the strange man says. Lessingham catches Holt in the act of robbery, but he shrinks back in horror when the words “the beetle” are uttered. Holt then flees.

The second book is told by Sydney Atherton, who sees Holt fleeing from Lessingham’s home and goes to warn Lessingham. Atherton is in love with Marjorie Lindon, who is in love with Lessingham.

The third book is told by Marjorie, presenting her view of her love affair. Her father is opposed to the marriage, not liking Lessingham’s politics. Because of Lessingham’s political speeches, the delivery of which might be termed preaching, and because of his first name, Lessingham is called “The Apostle” and “St. Paul” by Atherton. What Marjorie doesn’t know is the story of Lessingham’s past. Lessingham had once traveled to Egypt and there had been walking down a street when he heard a woman singing. He went into the building and found it was a type of nightclub. The woman he heard singing eventually drugged him, and before he knew it, he had lost about two months of time being her sex slave while in a drugged up state. He refers to this woman as the Woman of the Song. This woman has many literary predecessors, notably La Belle Dame Sans Merci, whom Keats wrote about and many of the Pre-Raphaelites painted—a woman who takes men to her fairyland as lovers and when they return to the real world, they find a significant amount of time has passed in what seems just hours. The woman’s ability to take control of a man also recalls H. Ryder Haggard’s novel She. Lessingham only has dim memories of what happened in the den where he was held captive, although he believes human sacrifice is among the crimes committed there. Finally, in a rare moment where his captor forgets to drug him, he is able to escape.

As the novel progresses, it’s realized that the Woman of the Songs, a member of the cult of Isis and perhaps not human but some sort of creature forgotten by history, has traveled to England. It turns out she is the Beetle and also the strange man in the bed whom Holt first met. She is apparently androgynous or able to shift her appearance. Her hypnotic eyes, of course, have predecessors in the hypnotic eyes of the Wandering Jew as featured in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, and vampires, including Stoker’s Dracula, although earlier vampire novels like Polidori’s The Vampyre and Rymer’s Varney the Vampire are more likely influences. A more contemporary source may have been George Du Maurier’s Trilby, in which Svengali hypnotizes and controls the female title character. Prior to The Beetle, hypnotic eyes were attributed to male Gothic figures and they usually controlled men, but Trilby is, to my knowledge, the first novel in which a woman is controlled by hypnotism, and The Beetle is the first novel in which a female character is able to mesmerize another with her eyes.

The novel concludes when Marjorie is kidnapped by the Beetle/Woman of the Song. In fact, Marjorie is forced to dress in Robert Holt’s clothes (who by now is lying close to death) and then make her way to a train station to be smuggled out of England. The implication is that she will become the Woman of the Song’s next human sacrifice. Fortunately, Champnell, the police inspector, who narrates the fourth and final book, along with the help of Atherton, is able to rescue Marjorie in time.

The novel is fascinating for its use of hypnotism, its use of an ancient creature—the Beetle appears to be thousands of years old—its homosexual and homoerotic renderings that are very similar to but surpass the homoeroticism in Dracula, and its treatment of a threat from the East upon England, just as Dracula has been read as a novel about the threat of Eastern European immigrants upon England.

However, the novel ultimately fails to succeed because it never fully explains the mystery. We never understand what the creature is or how it metamorphoses; unlike Dracula, whose role as a vampire is illuminated by Van Helsing’s knowledge, the Beetle is never understood. We do not know how or why the creature becomes a beetle; is the creature cursed like someone who turns into a werewolf is, or is it is some strange creature who was overlooked by zoologists and got written out of evolution theories? At the end of the novel, we are told that Champnell has read a report of a discovery of a hole in the ground in the East where several strange creatures are found dead after an explosion, and we are to assume the Beetle was one of these non-human creatures, but while this makes us feel assured that the threat is over, it does not explain what the Beetle is. Equally unsatisfactory is why the creature comes to England. Paul Lessingham’s past experiences in Egypt allow us to understand that it is the same creature he experienced that has now comes to England. The creature says it wants revenge, but what Paul did, other than escape, is not clear. The creature apparently kidnaps Marjorie as revenge since Paul is engaged to Marjorie, but none of the creature’s motives are really ever made fully clear.

Ultimately, however, what causes the novel to falter, in my opinion, is that Paul Lessingham is not a Gothic wanderer figure—although tormented by memories of the Beetle while in the East, Lessingham is not a transgressor—he did nothing to deserve his torment, and he has no guilt over his past—just simply a horror of an event that occurred in his past. While he apparently brings the creature to England in the sense that it follows him there, he does not intentionally unleash such evil. Of course, in Dracula, no one is at fault for Dracula coming to England either, but Dracula himself is the Gothic wanderer. We learn enough about his past in the novel to know he has committed a transgression—made a pact with the devil by studying in the Scholomance and in the mountains, and thus he is damned, and we know when Dracula is destroyed at the end that an expression of relief comes across his face, a sense that he is glad to be released from the vampirism that fills him. The Beetle’s ending is less satisfactory. It is apparently destroyed, but all that is left is a sticky mess and a lot of unanswered questions. We never learn what the creature was, how it came to be what it was, or why it commits human sacrifice, if that is even what it was doing.

I will not say this is the final word on The Beetle or Richard Marsh. Marsh (1857-1915) actually wrote about eighty novels and stories, none of which have received much critical attention. Several others deserve to be explored, including The Goddess: A Demon (1900) about an Indian sacrificial idol that comes to life with murderous intent, The Joss: a Reversion (1901) about an Englishman who transforms into a hideous idol, A Spoiler of Men (1905), in which a gentleman-criminal renders people slaves to his will through chemical injection, and A Second Coming (1900) which imagines Christ’s return in twentieth century London—another case of the ancient and the modern coming together. I have not read any of these novels, just seen short descriptions of them, but because their themes are similar to those in The Beetle, they may hold further answers into Marsh’s thinking about these themes that will further illuminate a reading of his best-known work.

The Beetle’s popularity definitely struck a chord among its readers, and though eclipsed by Dracula, and understandably, it remains fascinating in many ways. Marsh’s popularity in his day makes further study of him and his works a worthy pursuit for a fuller understanding of Gothic literature at the dawn of the twentieth century.

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

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Male Imprisonment and Female Wanderers: Sir Charles Grandison’s Influence on the Gothic Novel

Samuel Richardson’s final novel Sir Charles Grandison (1753-1754) is his least known and least read today, but its significance in literary history should not be underestimated. It is particularly important as a source for Gothic literature. While Richardson’s earlier novels Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1748) may at first seem more likely predecessors of Gothic literature because of their depictions of abducted women—a theme that recurs in Sir Charles Grandison when Harriet Byron is abducted by Sir Hargrave Pollexfen, and subsequently rescued by Sir Charles, thus bringing about the two lovers’ introduction—Sir Charles Grandison has many additional elements that influenced the Gothic tradition a generation or two after its publication.

Sir Charles Grandison – the Oxford University Press edition runs about 1600 pages. The novel was originally published in seven volumes.

The most obvious influence of Sir Charles Grandison is that it was the first major English novel to have scenes set in Italy. In the novel, Sir Charles travels the continent and ends up in Italy where he has a romantic relationship with Clementina della Porretta after he befriends her brother Jeronymo. A large chunk of the novel concerns whether or not he will marry her while Harriet Byron waits, admiring Clementina but secretly hoping in the end she will be Sir Charles Grandison’s wife. Clementina’s family is against the marriage and sends Clementina off to her cousin Laurana, who ends up locking her up and mistreating her. Clementina consequently suffers from mental problems for the remainder of the novel. Clementina eventually decides she cannot convert from Catholicism to marry Sir Charles and he refuses to convert to Catholicism. Clementina then desires to become a nun, but her family is against this decision, for which she suffers more bouts of mental illness. In the end, the novel is left unresolved whether she will marry the Count of Belvedere as her family wishes, although she does agree not to enter the convent.

These issues all were sources for Gothic literature. Italy would soon be depicted in the novels of Ann Radcliffe—specifically The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797)—as a place of intrigue and horror. Catholicism would also be negatively portrayed in Gothic novels. Radcliffe’s The Italian and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796) are among the countless Gothic novels filled with corrupt and even sex-crazed priests and nuns. Other novels like Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) would depict the injustices of Catholicism, specifically through the Spanish Inquisition and scenes of men and women being held as prisoners and specifically men being tortured by the Church.

Themes of female abduction were more common in Gothic novels, but scenes of men being tortured were not uncommon, and Sir Charles Grandison early on brings such an idea to the forefront. In Volume V, Letter XL, Sir Charles fears that the Italian Lady Olivia, who is in love with him, will kill him or abduct him and hold him as a prisoner in her castle. (The Oxford University Press edition of the novel edited by Jocelyn Harris notes of this scene that Grandison may be remembering a scene from Handel’s opera Rinaldo in which the hero is abducted by Armida. Handel’s opera, in turn, was based upon Jerusalem Delivered by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso. In the poem, the Saracen sorceress Armida abducts the crusader Rinaldo, planning to kill him, but then she falls in love with him and takes him to an island where her love for him makes him forget about the crusade.) Of course, there are sorceresses and seductresses throughout medieval and classical literature. Lancelot is captured by Morgan le Fay and kept as a prisoner in her castle. Odysseus is held captive by Calypso. Regardless, Grandison’s fears provided a more modern setting for such an abduction that might have influenced Gothic novelists.

Samuel Richardson reading Sir Charles Grandison aloud to friends

Although Clementina might be seen as an early version of the female Gothic wanderer for how she is mistreated by Laurana and falls into madness (madness is a common theme in later Gothic novels such as The Woman in White (1859) and Dracula (1897), Lady Olivia is perhaps the truest Gothic wanderer figure in the novel. Olivia is already jealous that Grandison is in love with Clementina. She wants him for herself, but while he continues to be polite to her, he refuses her love. Not only does she attempt to abduct him in Italy, but twice, once in Italy and once when she travels to England, does she attempt to stab him with a poniard. She is unable to handle her passion and the unrequited love and rejection that result. At another point in the novel, Sir Charles learns that she is threatening to have the Holy Tribunal (inquisition) arrest him—imagine Sir Charles, a Protestant Englishman, held captive by the Catholic Church as a heretic. As Fox’s Book of Martyrs shows, such situations did happen when Protestants from abroad entered foreign countries. Fortunately, Olivia’s threats and even murderous actions never amount to any real danger for Sir Charles, who continues to be kind and act like a gentleman toward her. (Today, he could and should get a restraining order against her.) In the end, she gives her consent (not that he needs it) to Sir Charles to marry Harriet, but she continues to hate Clementina, wishing they could both enter into a nunnery where she could exult over Clementina for the heartbreak she has caused her. The Gothic possibilities of her tormenting Clementina only add to Olivia’s Gothic wanderer aspects. She is a character lost and unable to prevent herself from acting irrationally and cruelly, to her own detriment. She is also a wanderer to some degree in that in the novel’s finale (an appendix featuring letters to readers discussing what became of the characters), she is one of the characters of whose futures Richardson does not bother to give us an account.

Dueling and crossdressing are featured in Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, one of Sir Charles Grandison’s literary descendants

Lady Olivia is not a major character in Sir Charles Grandison, and readers are likely to forget about her over time, but she may have set a precedent for several other women in literature who were also unable to deal with their passions. In Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1801), the title character is in love with Sir Clarence Hervey, who in many ways resembles Sir Charles Grandison. He is a perfect gentleman but torn between loving two women. While he ultimately marries Belinda, he has been raising his ward Virginia to be the perfect wife. Notably, Sir Charles Grandison has a ward, Emily Jervois, who is in love with him. Edgeworth’s plot is obviously influenced by Richardson’s. Lady Olivia has a literary sister in the character of Harriet Freke, who although not the victim of unrequited love, nevertheless is violent and aggressive like Olivia. Her outlandish and unfeminine behaviors extend to crossdressing and encouraging Belinda’s friend Lady Delacour to dress as a man and engage in a duel. Harriet lives up to her surname of being a “freak” because of her far from ladylike behavior. The reader is left haunted by Harriet Freke, a villain in the novel, and yet a modern reading can be more sensitive to her. She is an early feminist character in a world not ready for her; as a result, she is a Gothic wanderer of the first degree.

The influence of Sir Charles Grandison upon Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina (1778) has been noted by many critics since Evelina largely follows Sir Charles Grandison’s pattern of being a conduct book disguised as a novel. Evelina finds herself pursued by the obnoxious Sir Clement Willoughby, a literary descendant of Sir Hargrave Pollexfen, while secretly being in love with the Grandison-like Lord Ormond. Personally, however, I believe the influence of Sir Charles Grandison upon Burney is most apparent in her last novel, The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties (1814). In that novel, the title character is Juliet, who flees from France to England after being forced into marriage to a French officer. Similarly, Clementina flees Italy, crossing in secret to England when her parents try to force her to marry the Count of Belvedere. Later, Clementina’s family follows her to England and her brother Jeronymo makes a point of saying they travel “incognito.” In The Wanderer, Juliet also travels incognito and the narrator even refers to her as “the incognito.” Juliet falls in love with Harleigh, another seemingly perfect male and literary descendant of Sir Charles Grandison. Harleigh has his own Lady Olivia in Elinor Jodrell, a young woman madly in love with him, although he does not return her affections. Once rejected, Elinor goes a bit crazy. She dresses up like a man and also threatens to commit suicide. While in the end she renounces her suicidal attempts, the reader is left haunted by her passion and her pain over her unrequited love. (For more on the Gothic elements of The Wanderer, see my book The Gothic Wanderer.)

Burney’s The Wanderer examines the plight of women trying to survive through work in a hostile male world.

Finally, in Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809) there is Joanna, Countess of Mar, madly in love with Sir William Wallace. She is a true female Gothic wanderer who resorts to treachery as well as crossdressing to try to win the man she loves, even though he repeatedly rejects her. I have previously written at this blog about The Scottish Chiefs.

One final element of Sir Charles Grandison that may have inspired the Gothic is Sir Charles’ cousin Everard Grandison. Although a minor character, he is a male Gothic wanderer in his own dissolute behavior. Not only does he get a woman into trouble, resulting in having to marry her, but he develops a gambling addiction. Gambling is a major form of transgression in Gothic novels. Characters like Valancourt in The Mysteries of Udolpho fall into debt through gambling. (For more on gambling in Gothic literature, see my book The Gothic Wanderer).

Many critics both in Richardson’s time and since have argued that Sir Charles Grandison was too perfect a character as a model of male conduct. Among his literary descendants is Valancourt, a man so seemingly perfect that in 1860, William Makepeace Thackeray wrote “‘Valancourt? And who was he?’ cry the young people. Valancourt, my dears, was the hero of one of the most famous romances which ever was published in this country. The beauty and elegance of Valancourt made your young grandmammas’ gentle hearts to beat with respectful sympathy. He and his glory have passed away.” When Emily St. Aubert first meets Valancourt, he does indeed seem like the perfect young man. Later, when she accompanies her aunt and her aunt’s new husband, Montoni, to the castle of Udolpho, Emily imagines Valancourt following her and then later thinks he must be a prisoner in the castle (just as Sir Charles imagined being Olivia’s prisoner). Valancourt never got to Udolpho, though. Instead, he gets caught up in gambling debts and ends up in debtor’s prison. As Sir Charles’ literary descendant, Valancourt ends up a disappointment, but not so much that Emily doesn’t marry him regardless.

The Gothic, indeed, was not interested in perfect men like Sir Charles. Rather, the flawed men like Sir Hargrave Pollexfen become the notorious villains of the Gothic, although a Sir Charles Grandison-like character would often step in to save the heroine, but even then, they sometimes proved ineffective, just as Valancourt does, and even Harleigh, in The Wanderer does not resolve Juliet’s problems, though he does end up marrying her.

Samuel Richardson, regarded by some literary critics, as author of the first true novel, Pamela, or Vertue Rewarded.

In conclusion, I don’t think one can minimize the influence of Sir Charles Grandison on Gothic literature. It was likely read by all the major Gothic novelists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was a book read repeatedly as a source of morals and good conduct and, therefore, likely instilled into its readers’ brains until its repetition had the influence that Stars Wars or Star Trek in their repeated reimaginings have upon movie-goers today. It is hard to imagine the Gothic would be what it was if Sir Charles Grandison had not been written.

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

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Pickwick and Literary Piracy: Dickens vs. Reynolds

George W. M. Reynolds was reputedly the bestselling novelist of Victorian England although today he is largely forgotten. Instead, Charles Dickens is usually thought of as the best known and perhaps the greatest of the Victorian novelists, although Reynolds books outsold his. I’ve blogged previously on Reynolds’ bestselling novel The Mysteries of London, as well as his Gothic novels Faust: The Secret of the Tribunals, Wagner the Werewolf, and The Necromancer, but while these are perhaps Reynolds’ best-known works today—among the few literary critics and historians who read him—Reynolds’ career began in a way that made him the target of Charles Dickens’ spite right from the beginning.

Following the success of Sketches by Boz (1836), Dickens had embarked on his first full-length novel, The Pickwick Papers (1837), although its lack of a plot and its picaresque elements make it only loosely able to be classified as a novel. Dickens’ first true novel would be Oliver Twist (1838). Regardless, The Pickwick Papers were an overnight success as readers clamored for each installment of the adventures of Mr. Pickwick and his fellow members of the Pickwick Club as they journeyed about the country getting into various mishaps, falling in love, and meeting shady characters.

Before Pickwick’s installments had completed, according to Edgar Johnson in Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph, the book had become a mania:

“Nothing like it had ever happened before. There were Pickwick chintzes, Pickwick cigars, Pickwick hats, Pickwick canes with tassels, Pickwick coats of a peculiar cut and color; and there were Weller corduroys and Boz cabs. There was a Pickwick Comic Almanac, a Pickwick Treasury of Wit, a Sam Weller’s Pickwick Jest Book, and a Pickwickian Songster. There were innumerable plagiarisms, parodies, and sequels—a Pickwick Abroad, by G. W. M. Reynolds; a Posthumous Papers of the Cadger Club; a Posthumous Notes of the Pickwickian Club, by a hack who impudently called himself Bos; and a Penny Pickwick—not to mention all the stage piracies and adaptations.”

Mr. Pickwick’s Arrival at Calais – the first illustration and opening scene of Reynolds’ Pickwick Abroad

Despite The Pickwick Papers’ success, modern readers are apt to find it a bit dull. Upon just rereading it, I only found myself laughing out loud at two passages. The lack of plot and the somewhat forced humor make parts of the novel tedious to read, especially the first few hundred pages before Mr. Pickwick’s landlady sues him for breach of affections, mistakenly thinking he was romantically interested in her, a situation that results in Pickwick refusing to pay the court costs and judgment rendered against him, and thereby, ending up in debtor’s prison. Here is really the only semblance of a plot, along with the occasional recurrences of the crooked Mr. Jingle and his servant Job Trotter, who continually try to put one over on Pickwick and friends.

The novel is also interspersed with long, rather dull, dark stories irrelevant to the plot but randomly told by various characters that Pickwick and friends meet. These stories slow down the plot and add nothing to the narrative, although the dark atmosphere of them, as at least one critic (Steven Marcus in the Afterword to the Signet Classic edition of 1964) has pointed out, contrasts with the general good of the world that Pickwick feels despite the difficulties he encounters. Marcus also concludes his discussion of the novel by saying “No novel could move further than Pickwick Papers toward asserting not only that the Kingdom of God is within each man but also that it is possible to establish something that resembles the Kingdom of God on Earth.” This interpretation is based upon Mr. Pickwick’s general kindness, even toward those who do him wrong, and overall generosity of character—points that are legitimate, although Marcus’ statement feels exaggerated since Dickens does not preach in this novel or make such a worldview clear as his theme. Rather, he wanders about with his story, slowly carving it into a novel and developing a worldview. The Pickwick Papers, then, is a trial run in which Dickens learned how to write a novel, but it is far from a great novel and rather dull, at least for the modern reader. Personally, I think it would have been quickly forgotten if Dickens had not gone on to write his many other and far greater novels.

But regardless, The Pickwick Papers was the runaway hit of its day, and so it did inspire sequels, as Johnson notes. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to determine who else wrote sequels to it, but Reynolds’ Pickwick Abroad was clearly one of them, and it is a remarkable book because like The Pickwick Papers itself, Pickwick Abroad; or, the Tour in France, is its author’s second published book (Reynolds’ first was The Youthful Impostor of 1835) and the beginning of an illustrious career for him. Interestingly, Reynolds first published before Dickens.

Of course, Dickens must get full credit for creating the “immortal Mr. Pickwick,” but Reynolds, who tended to steal other authors’ ideas and make them his own, most notably his successful The Mysteries of London (1844) that he was inspired to create from Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-3), deserves credit for creating a very readable—even more readable—version of Pickwick than Dickens. As if stealing his characters wasn’t enough reason for Dickens to hate Reynolds, there may have been some jealousy involved in that the book is quite well-written. None of Dickens’ faults are here—the book is not overly stylized, and neither are there any long unrelated stories inserted into it to slow down the main plot, and best of all, there is more of a plot. Reynolds creates Adolphus Crashem, a confidence man who, along with his accomplice Anastasie de Volage, repeatedly inserts himself into the lives of the individual members of the Pickwick Club and hoodwinks them. Anastasie manages to get the men repeatedly to fall in love with her, letting them think she is of a higher station than she is. In the end, both villains are brought to justice, but their constant presence throughout the novel gives it a continuity Dickens’ novel lacks.

Tupman in Pursuit of a Wife. Even Mr. Pickwick pursues a wife in Pickwick Abroad.

Reynolds’ versions of Pickwick’s characters are fair and accurate depictions of Dickens’ characters. The only place where Reynolds slightly goes astray is in Mr. Pickwick losing his cool a bit with Mr. Tupman who reprimands him twice for his pursuit of the opposite sex. The only other major deviation from Dickens is that the book exists at all when Dickens made the point at the end of his novel to have Pickwick say that his traveling days were over, yet in Reynolds, Pickwick travels to France.

I will leave readers to discover the other joys of Reynolds’ Pickwick for themselves, just adding that I am sad the only copy available is published by Forgotten Books, a reprint of an American edition, and actually a photocopy of it, so that the print is excruciatingly small to read.

But one final comment before I close. If Dickens didn’t already have enough reason to hate Reynolds, if he perused the book or his friends did, he would have been infuriated by Reynolds pointing out errors in the original novel. Reynolds does so by having Mr. Pickwick review the original novel as edited by Boz. The following is from the November 11, 1834 passage from Mr. Pickwick’s journal in Chapter VI of Reynolds’ novel:

Was a quarter of an hour too early for my breakfast, so took up the biography of myself and friends, and glanced cursorily over the notes which I have prepared for my editor, “Boz.” Found that in 1827 I had made Mr. Jingle declare himself to have written a poem on the French Revolution, which only took place in 1830. Could not mean the first Revolution, as Mr. Jingle was present (according to my notes) at the one of which he wrote; and he was not born when the first began. Must think of this: there is a grievous error somewhere.

Discovered another error. In the memoranda of a speech which I made on the night before my first sally-forth in search of adventures in 1827, I am represented to have said that “philanthropy was my Swing!” Now the incendiary Swing—the fabled illuminator of all the hay-stacks in the kingdom—had not then acquired his name, nor was he known. Must correct this error also.*

* We are sorry to find that Mr. Pickwick omitted these necessary corrections; and that his Editor, “Boz,” has also unaccountably suffered them to remain.

This first error occurs in the second chapter of Dickens’ novel. However, the novel contains a footnote that states: “A remarkable instance of the prophetic force of Mr. Jingle’s imagination; this dialogue occurring in the year 1827, and the Revolution in 1830.” I have consulted multiple versions of the novel and they all contain this footnote, so I am not certain whether it was in Dickens’ original book or the original installment and he was poking fun at himself and Mr. Jingle by the anachronism of describing something still in the future, or if the footnote was placed into the book in later editions to apologize for an error in original installments of the book. Did Reynolds’ pointing out the error in Pickwick Abroad lead to Dickens inserting a footnote to excuse the point? It seems more likely, given that he often made little revisions to his books when new editions came out, that Dickens would have rewritten the sentence to remove the error, so Reynolds’ humor here is really in line with Dickens’ own mocking of his character in this scene and not true fault-finding.

The second error occurs in the first chapter of The Pickwick Papers; however, Reynolds’ misquotes the line. The actually passage is, “The praise of mankind was his swing; philanthropy was his insurance office.” The use of “swing” here seems equal to saying today, “Music was his life,” meaning it is the person’s great activity or favorite hobby. I suspect Reynolds is just playing with words here since I was unable to find any reference to a person named Swing who was an illustrator or artist of the time period.

Did Dickens read and take offense at Reynolds pointing out these errors? Who’s to say? He was probably already infuriated enough to have his first book’s characters stolen for an unauthorized sequel. Did Dickens express his anger to Reynolds? If he did, it didn’t stop Reynolds from continuing to steal Dickens’ ideas. In 1841, Dickens published Master Humphrey’s Clock, a series that would ultimately include his novels Barnaby Rudge and The Old Curiosity Shop. Reynolds capitalized upon it by publishing Master Timothy’s Bookcase in 1841-42.

Whatever Reynolds’ faults, he knew how to tell a good story, and he did so in Pickwick Abroad, and even more so in The Mysteries of London and his three Gothic novels. Reynolds is well worth exploring, and ultimately, more readable than much of Dickens even if he never reached the heights of Dickens’ style or the meatiness of his themes.

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

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1816 French Gothic Novel Claims to Be By Mrs. Radcliffe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Mary Shelley