Category Archives: Literary Criticism

Did Jules Verne influence “Dracula”?

Despite all the research I did on Dracula while writing my book The Gothic Wanderer, I never came across mention of Jules Verne’s 1893 novel Carpathian Castle, originally published in French as Le Château des Carpathes.

Consequently, when I recently came across mention of this novel and the assertion that it may have been a source for Stoker’s novel, I was eager to read it and see whether the theory was plausible, especially since I found no further statements to back up the assertion that The Carpathian Castle may have been a source.

An early cover of Jules Verne's Carpathian Castle.

An early cover of Jules Verne’s Carpathian Castle.

My final assessment is that Stoker probably never read the book or was familiar with it before writing Dracula. I admit I haven’t been able to locate when the book was translated into English, or whether Stoker could read French, but regardless, there are no passages in the novel that remotely appear to be similar to anything in Dracula. The only possibility is that Stoker could have decided to set his own novel in the Carpathian mountains after reading this book, but there is no other similarity. Yes, the book makes some references to supernatural creatures whom the locals fear, including vampires, fairies, and family ghosts, but there are no supernatural characters in the entire book; nor does the castle in any way resemble the castle in Dracula, and there is a total lack of pacing or narrative similarity between the two works. There are no multiple narrators as in Dracula—a technique that Stoker most likely took from Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White actually, a book Stoker greatly admired—and in short, The Carpathian Castle is downright boring.

The premise of The Carpathian Castle is fine enough, but I’ve found that Verne is often hit or miss in his books, at least for today’s reader. The only two of his books I actually enjoyed reading were A Journey to the Center of the Earth and Michael Strogoff. Other books I have found to be extremely slow-moving, including Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island, and Robur the Conqueror, but The Carpathian Castle has to be the slowest since almost nothing happens throughout the entire book. The climax is also disappointing, although of course, it would have been more thrilling to Verne’s contemporaries, but we have seen the kind of thing Verne pulls off here so many times today that it seems old hat, although with all respect, Verne was a pioneer of his genre.

The plot of The Carpathian Castle, what little plot there is, is as follows:

The castle near the village of Werst is believed to be abandoned until a Jewish peddler sells a telescope to a local farmer, who then is able to view smoke rising from the castle. This discovery results in two people trying to reach the castle, only to have calamity befall them, which is easily explained but makes them think it is supernatural. Then Count Franz de Télek passes through the town and hears the stories, including that the castle belongs to Baron Rodolphe de Gortz, who disappeared years ago and is believed dead. However, the count has seen the baron since his disappearance, and together, they were rivals for the affections of the beautiful Italian prima donna La Stilla. Ultimately, La Stilla died and the baron blamed the count for her death. The count decides to investigate, only to discover he can hear La Stilla singing in the castle, and then he sees her image. The end is predictable when it’s discovered her voice is a recording and he is viewing a holographic image.

Since the novel takes place in the late nineteenth century, these new inventions would have been surprising to Verne’s readers, but after we have seen plenty of illusions, notably the wizard’s various appearances in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (and I doubt L. Frank Baum read The Carpathian Castle either), such discoveries are no longer surprising to modern readers.

Verne’s story follows the Gothic subgenre of rational explanations for supernatural events that goes back to Ann Radcliffe’s novels a century earlier. However, he does seem to draw on some supernatural elements of Gothic novels, notably the Wandering Jew theme. It is notable that it is a Jewish peddler (a Wandering Jew figure) who sells the telescope through which the castle is discovered to be inhabited. This Jew is also describes as selling time and the weather (barometers and thermometers, and the footnote states “temps” in French is an untranslatable pun to mean “time and weather”). While these items are physical objects, they are in line with the Wandering Jew’s alleged ability to control the elements—Dracula himself, a literary descendant of the Wandering Jew, also has power over the elements in his ability to create a storm or mists when he arrives in England. That said, this character disappears from the book after the first incident so Stoker does not take the metaphor further.

The local innkeeper is also Jewish, but we are told he is not usurious like most Jews who are buying up Transylvania so that someday perhaps it will end up being the Promised Land for them (of course, Verne is writing decades before the state of Israel was established). There really is no point in this character being Jewish at all.

There’s really nothing else of interest in The Carpathian Castle. My copy (Ace Books, 1963) is 190 pages and it takes forever in it for the characters just to get to the castle. The story could have been half as long with what little plot there is.

If Stoker read The Carpathian Castle, perhaps the only influence it had was that he figured he could write a better novel; he wouldn’t be the first author to read a poor novel and be inspired to write a better one as a result, but unless some evidence appears, I think it’s safe to say that Dracula owes no debt to Verne’s novel.

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The Wandering Jew: A Staple of the Gothic Wanderer Tradition

The following article is taken from the introduction of my chapter on The Wandering Jew in my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption:

The Wandering Jew by Gustave Dore

The Wandering Jew by Gustave Dore

The Wandering Jew was originally a symbol of the Jewish people who were themselves wanderers and outcasts among the world’s settled nations. In 70 A.D., the Jews rebelled against Rome, only to have their rebellion defeated. The Romans punished the Jews by dispersing them from their homeland and selling thousands of them into slavery. This dispersion resulted in the Jewish people migrating all over the known world and becoming residents in every European country. Because Christians blamed the Jews for the crucifixion of Christ, wherever the Jewish people settled, they were mistreated and often forbidden to reside in certain countries. Consequently, even when they settled somewhere, prejudice against them would frequently result in their migration elsewhere after a short time; the Jewish people were continually forced to wander about Europe seeking a place where they could live unmolested. During the Middle Ages, one of the harshest penalties frequently imposed upon the Jewish people was a prohibition against their owning property, which added to their wandering status and inability to remain in one place for extended periods. Because they needed a source of income that they could not achieve by living off the land, many Jews took advantage of Christianity’s prohibition to its followers of being usurers. The Jewish people filled the needed position of moneylenders, and they frequently became wealthy as a result. Consequently, the Jewish people had two primary stereotypes attached to them: they were wanderers, and they were greedy people who were constantly grasping for money.

Europeans who were jealous of the Jews’ wealth spread fabulous derogatory tales about them: Jews possessed hidden and heavily guarded treasures; Jews possessed the evil eye by which they could curse and destroy people; Jews had horns or tales, and they emitted foul odors of brimstone and sulphur which suggested their alliance with Satan because they were responsible for Christ’s crucifixion. Jews were even accused of draining blood from Christians to use for sorcery practices (Zatlin 135n). Particularly in times of social upheaval or economic crisis, such stories were circulated to encourage anti-Semitism and to validate removal of Jews by forced emigration or even extermination.

From all this anti-Semitism arose the medieval legend of the Wandering Jew. In most versions of the legend, the Wandering Jew was a shoemaker named Ahasuerus who refused to allow Christ to rest on His way to the cross. Christ punished Ahasuerus by forcing him to wander the earth without death or any form of rest until Christ’s return on the final Judgment Day. Usually, this cursed condition is interpreted to mean that Christ will eventually redeem Ahasuerus who will have atoned for his sins by his prolonged wandering (Hurwitz 222, Tennyson 201). As he wanders the globe, the Wandering Jew remarkably appears without explanation at the sites of great historical events such as the sack of Rome, the crusades, and decisive Napoleonic battles; these appearances at great events suggest that the Jew may have supernatural powers that allow him to appear wherever he chooses (Tennyson 212). The Jew’s constant wandering is enhanced by his fear that Christians will learn his true identity, so he must continually move from place to place so he is not identified and thus mistreated.

Because Christ is usually depicted as loving and forgiving, it is odd that a story would have circulated of his uttering such a terrible curse against the Wandering Jew for such a minor unkindness. Isaac-Edersheim offers the explanation that the Wandering Jew should not be understood as merely an individual sinner, but as a force in opposition to Christ, a type of superhuman figure who must be defeated (190, 198). While numerous psychological and historical explanations have been offered for the Wandering Jew legend, the Gothic novelists chose to represent him as a transgressor, and therefore, a force in opposition to Christ. The Wandering Jew is appealing to readers because everyone has a bit of wanderlust in him or her, and the Jew represented the common human fear of becoming an outcast (Isaac-Edersheim 197).

The Gothic uses wandering as a metaphor for guilt and despair, and the Wandering Jew became the perfect vehicle for depicting such emotions. The Wandering Jew feels great guilt over his transgression, a guilt that becomes nearly unbearable because of his extended life. The Wandering Jew frequently yearns to escape from his punishment by committing suicide, yet he is unable to accomplish such a deed because he cannot die until Christ’s return: if the Jew tries to drown himself, the water pulls away refusing him entrance; if he tries to jump into a volcano, he is spit out alive, and in battle, no man is able to harm him, so his prolonged life becomes only prolonged misery. Isaac-Edersheim remarks that the Jew’s prolonged life symbolizes the human repressed desire not to die (196), but ultimately, this desire is rejected when life-extension is fully considered. Marie Roberts observes that the legend becomes a lesson upon man’s moral responsibility to reconcile himself to death, for not only is death inevitable, but the reverse would be far worse (Gothic 208).

The Wandering Jew was only a minor figure in British literature before his adaptation by Gothic novelists. The first recorded reference in England of the Wandering Jew was in 1228 in the chronicle of the monastery of St. Alban’s, entitled Flowers of History by Roger of Wendover (Roberts, Gothic 74). Among the other medieval depictions of him, the most notable appears in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale” where an old man must wander the earth until he can find someone willing to exchange youth for his old age. The Wandering Jew’s popularity in literature increased during the seventeenth century. He is given the name of Ahasuerus in an anonymous German pamphlet of 1602 entitled Kurtze Beschreibung und Erzehlung von einem juden mit Namen Ahasverus (Roberts, Gothic 75); Ahasuerus would become the favored name for the Jew, although Matthew Paris also wrote a story in the seventeenth century, naming the Jew Cartaphilus (Tennyson 202). During the seventeenth century, the Wandering Jew also becomes credited with healing powers attributed to the Rosicrucians, as stated in Peck’s History of Stamford and Aubrey’s Miscellanies (Roberts, Gothic 74). Later, the legend of the Wandering Jew and the Rosicrucians would become blended together in Gothic literature. Other notable treatments of the Wandering Jew prior to the Gothic novel occur in late eighteenth century German literature. Goethe wrote a fragmented tale either simultaneously with or directly after his famous The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), but it was not published until 1836 (George Anderson 168-73). Christian Schubart also wrote a fragment published in 1783 called Der Ewige Jude (Roberts, Gothic 78). Finally, Reichard’s Der Ewige Jude (1785) ambitiously chronicled the Jew’s entire wanderings throughout history (Roberts, Gothic 75). None of these early treatments, however, popularized the Jew or were of significant influence to the Gothic tradition. Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796) is primarily responsible for the Wandering Jew becoming an important Gothic figure.

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The Gothic Wanderer by Tyler R. Tichelaar

The Gothic Wanderer by Tyler R. Tichelaar

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of numerous books including The Gothic Wanderer. For more information, visit him at http://www.GothicWanderer.com

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Book Offers Revolutionary Look at Anthony Trollope and Why We Read Him

Trollope on the Net

Ellen Moody

The Hambledon Press (1999)

ISBN: 1852851902

 

Ellen Moody’s Trollope on the Net is a true pioneer work on the ways the Internet has changed how we read and talk about books, using Anthony Trollope as her subject. While anyone who loves Trollope’s novels will enjoy this book for its extensive commentary on his novels, Moody’s focus is also on how book discussions are held and how they inform our reading. Moody discusses the establishment of the Trollope and His Contemporaries list-serv discussion group in the late 1990s and how the group came to read together and discuss Trollope’s novels. She describes in detail the demographics of the readers involved in the list, the housekeeping of how participants voted and decided on which books to read, and the discussions of the books, along with what disagreements ensued, when participation was slow or active and why, and what was to be gained in terms of better understanding Trollope through reading as an online group.

TrollopeontheNetMoody is a longtime professor of English, and while she could have written a very academic book about Trollope, and there is plenty of thoughtful discussion here, she gives equal weight and interpretation not only to the professors and graduate students who participated, but to a wide variety of people, many of whom simply love Trollope and wanted to read his novels together. Setting aside academic theories that often interest no one outside of academia, Moody explores why people read and what has made Trollope, often ignored in academia, a favorite author among so many readers who have discovered him by chance or word-of-mouth and become devoted to his novels.

Individual chapters focus on various works by Trollope that were read over a two-year period, including Trollope’s Irish novels, Can You Forgive Her?, Lady Anna, The Claverings, and He Knew He Was Right, and Trollope’s autobiography. Two especially thoughtful and powerful chapters are included, one on the Victorian illustrations created for Trollope’s novels and how they informed a reading of the text, and the other on why Trollope’s shorter novels deserve reassessment so they can be seen as equally of value as his longer ones.

I will admit up-front that I am a bit prejudiced in this book’s favor because I joined the Trollope list-serv in late 1998 just after the period of group reads that Moody discusses in the book. At the end of Trollope on the Net, Moody mentions that the group plans next to read the Barchester novels, which is when I joined in. These group reads were my first real introduction to Trollope. Since then I have read over a dozen Trollope novels with the group, as well as works by Sir Walter Scott, Margaret Oliphant, George Moore, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, John Galsworthy, Ann Radcliffe, Victor Hugo, and Charles Dickens. For me, participating in the list has led to friendships and an enhanced understanding of Trollope and nineteenth century literature. It has been exciting to me to read Moody’s book and learn more about our group’s infancy.

What I most admire about Trollope on the Net is the even-handedness and courage Moody provides in her discussion. For numerous reasons—all of them insufficient—Trollope has been ignored or looked down upon as a writer. I find this amazing since as a novelist myself, I have come to consider him one of my favorite authors and one of my greatest influences.

As Moody reveals, giving examples from literary critics reaching back to just after Trollope’s death, most of the lack of appreciation and loss of favor for Trollope seems to stem from how he describes his writing process in An Autobiography. Rather than let people think there was some mystique to how an author creates, Trollope, as Moody states, “refused to participate in any cult of the artist.” Trollope reveals in An Autobiography how he would force himself to write in the morning before he allowed himself out of bed and how he set length requirements for himself each day. This mechanical and perhaps not glamorous view of writing badly hurt his reputation, but quite undeservingly, since as a novelist myself, I know what hard work it is to create a book and the dedication required; if you wait for inspiration to strike, you will hardly ever write a word.

Despite his hard work, Trollope clearly was a man whose imaginative world was the most important aspect of his life, a man who dedicated himself to his work and consequently was able to produce a greater number of novels than any of his contemporaries who are held perhaps in higher esteem, but who also perhaps did not have any greater degree of talent, and many of them, notably George Eliot, acknowledged their debts to Trollope in their own creations. While An Autobiography may have hurt Trollope’s reputation, it is in some ways his greatest work because it is one of the first documentations of how a writer creates fiction. As Moody states, “His imaginative life was the one that counted most strongly for Trollope, the one which produced the books for which we value him. He left us a book in which he tried to explain how this part of his life grew and what it felt like. It was a generous gift.” Generous indeed. It is a light shining in the darkness for anyone, myself included, who has aspired to writing fiction.

Moody provides plenty of discussion of the prejudices and misunderstandings of Trollope’s work, giving the reasons and arguments, followed by rational and thoughtful rebuking of these viewpoints. Her enthusiasm for Trollope is never out of place and while she is honest about Trollope’s weaknesses, she also makes convincing arguments for why he deserves the popularity he retains among readers. Overall, Moody has written a fascinating book about not only why Trollope deserves to be read, but why people read and how the Internet has changed how we read. Beyond being a highlight in Trollope studies, Trollope on the Net is a book that should be read by anyone documenting how the Internet has changed how people communicate with one another.

For more information about Ellen Moody, Trollope on the Net, and the list-serv “Trollope and His Contemporaries,” visit http://www.jimandellen.org/ellen/ and http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/trollope.list.html

To order a copy of Trollope on the Net, email Moody at (ellen.moody@gmail.com) or visit her webpage for the book at http://www.jimandellen.org/totn.html

— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. and author of The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, Gothic Literature from 1794—present

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