Category Archives: The Wandering Jew

Escaping the “Strange Disease of Modern Life”: Matthew Arnold’s Two Wanderers in “The Scholar-Gipsy”

The Gothic Wanderer figure is closely related to the Romantic wanderer and the Byronic hero. While the Gothic is associated with the supernatural, at its heart is a deeper spiritual search for the meaning of life. While Matthew Arnold’s poetry is not Gothic, it is filled with attempts to understand what Wordsworth described as “the burden of the mystery” (Brown 86). This burden is living without knowing the meaning of life. Arnold continually questioned what life’s meaning might be and asked how it might be found. In this respect, he is at one with his Gothic predecessors and contemporaries, on a quest for the meaning of life, which is truthfully forbidden knowledge to mankind. He declares he is on this quest in “The Buried Life” (1852):

There rises an unspeakable desire

After the knowledge of our buried life;

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force

In tracing out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire

Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us—to know

Whence our lives come and where they go. (47-54)

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), perhaps best known for his poem “Dover Beach”

Arnold was so concerned about what was the meaning of life and how he could find out its meaning that in “Self-Dependence” (1852), he declared he was “Weary of myself, and sick of asking/What I am, and what I ought to be” (1-2). Yet however weary this topic made Arnold, it also fascinated him so that he could not resist continually exploring it in numerous poems.

“The Scholar-Gipsy” (1853) is perhaps Arnold’s most thorough exploration of how one might find out the meaning of life. Although the Scholar-Gipsy is the title character, the poem’s primary concentration is upon the speaker’s reaction to the Scholar-Gipsy; therefore, the speaker is the poem’s protagonist whose actions form the plot, while the Scholar-Gipsy merely provokes the speaker into thought (Buckler, Matthew Arnold, 170). Arnold chooses the Scholar-Gipsy to provoke the speaker’s thoughts because the Gipsy is a wanderer, and wandering is synonymous with the actions of people upon earth as we wander both physically and mentally in our attempts to find meaning in life. The Scholar-Gipsy wanders while waiting for the spark from Heaven to fall, and the speaker wanders in his thoughts while trying to keep faith in the story of the Scholar-Gipsy, which symbolizes the speaker’s own search for an understanding of life. In the poem, Arnold uses these two wanderers to recreate the stages of innocence and experience in the Romantic myth of consciousness. By recreating the Romantic myth of consciousness, Arnold is also rejecting Carlyle’s own recreation of this myth in Teufelsdrockh, the wanderer of Sartor Resartus (1838). To understand how Arnold rejects Carlyle by recreating this myth, I will first treat Arnold’s depiction of the Scholar-Gipsy as a wanderer, and then I will discuss the speaker’s reaction to the Scholar-Gipsy.

The Scholar-Gipsy as Wanderer

Besides the poem’s short introduction and conclusion, “The Scholar-Gipsy” may be broken into two main sections, one focusing on the Scholar-Gipsy (31-130), and the second focusing on the speaker’s reactions to the Scholar-Gipsy (131-230). After the brief introduction to the pastoral setting and the speaker, the poem focuses on the Scholar-Gipsy, beginning with the speaker saying he will read from Glanvil’s book “the oft-read tale” (32) of the Scholar-Gipsy, which he then summarizes for us. During this summary, the speaker refers to the Gipsy as a wanderer (63, 180) or as wandering (134) and roaming (38), which reflects the speaker’s own wandering state of mind. The speaker begins summarizing by saying how in the seventeenth century, a scholar left Oxford to roam with the gipsies and learn their lore. Later, when two of the Scholar-Gipsy’s former classmates at Oxford met him, he told them that the gipsies “had arts to rule as they desired/The workings of men’s brains,/And they can bind them to what thoughts they will” (45-7). The Scholar-Gipsy said he intended to learn this art from the gipsies, and once he knew it, he would impart this knowledge to the world.

Most literary critics are in agreement that when the Scholar-Gipsy abandons Oxford to follow the gipsy lore, he is really abandoning the intellectual world of Oxford to search for a knowledge that cannot be gained by intellectual means. Arnold uses the story of the Scholar-Gipsy fleeing Oxford as a commentary upon his own contemporary Victorian society. Dyson remarks, “The Victorian predicament, in so far as Arnold represents it, was a tragic one—to desire with the heart what was rejected by the head, to need for the spirit what was excluded by the mind” (262). Lionel Trilling declares that the poem “is a passionate indictment of the new dictatorship of the never-resting intellect over the soul of modern man” (112). For Arnold, the nineteenth century’s processes of rationalization and intellectualization could not completely satisfy mankind’s inner desires; all of science’s arguments could still not explain to him the meaning of life; because man cannot understand life’s mystery by the use of intellect, Arnold suggests that we must search elsewhere for the answer. Brown remarks that the Scholar-Gipsy, while a student at seventeenth century Oxford, already feels the headache caused by the development of modern intellectual debate; already his head feels overtaxed and he fears the loss of his mystical, spiritual side if he does not leave the university (45). Similarly, the speaker makes the same complaint about the present time, describing it as “this strange disease of modern life,/With its sick hurry, its divided aims,/Its heads oertax’d its palsied hearts” (203-5). Arnold also speaks out against the intellectual trends of the day, “For strong the infection of our mental strife,/Which, though it gives no bliss, yet spoils for rest” (222-3). In joining the gipsies, the Scholar-Gipsy has rejected the instruments of the intellect and seeks to find the answers in intuition, but intuition will only work at chance moments rather than by purposely trying to find the answers (Brown 45). The Scholar-Gipsy tells his fellow scholars that he will impart the gipsies’ secret to the world, “But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill” (50). The Scholar-Gipsy himself comes to embody the idea that not by intellectual searching, but only at chance moments can insight and knowledge be arrived at. The Scholar-Gipsy becomes himself a rare sight, not seen by searching intellectuals, but only by simple or innocent people like children, maidens, and shepherds, who are closer to nature and live simpler lives; nor do these people see the Scholar-Gipsy while they work, but rather during their idle moments, when they are swimming, dancing, or roaming the countryside, they may catch a glimpse of him.

That the spark cannot be discovered by intellectual processes makes the spark just as mysterious as the Scholar-Gipsy himself. Arnold never tells us specifically what this spark is. The Scholar-Gipsy says it is the arts of the gipsies which “rule as they desired/The workings of men’s brains,/And they can bind them to what thoughts they will” (45-7). Several scholars have discussed how this spark is a type of mesmerism, or what today we call hypnotism, which we know Arnold was interested in (and is a frequent element in Gothic literature), for two of the poem’s working titles were “The first mesmerist” and “The wandering Mesmerist” (Culler 179). But since the poem’s final title and text contain no mention of mesmerism, Arnold apparently decided mesmerism was not adequate to describe what he wanted the spark to be, although he did retain from Glanvil the idea of the Scholar-Gipsy hearing and controlling his friends’ conversation.

An early edition of “The Scholar-Gipsy”

Whatever Arnold intended the spark to be, it is not easily defined. Madden states that the spark from heaven is a spiritual insight into life and an artistic skill (68) while Jump says the closest answer is that it is a form of mysterious wisdom (97). Culler may be closest to Arnold’s meaning when he says the spark represents lost knowledge from some ancient culture (192). This interpretation is based on the poem’s conclusion (231-50) where the Scholar-Gipsy is likened to a Tyrian trader who flees from the Greeks. The Greeks represent intellectualism, just as Oxford is an intellectual world from which the Scholar-Gipsy flees. The Tyrian leaves the Greeks to go to the “Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians” (249) for whom he undoes “his corded bales” (250). This passage suggests that life’s answers cannot be found in the knowledge of Western civilization. Because Greek culture came to dominate the ancient world, and thus influence Western culture, Greek philosophy and wisdom is the basis for much Western learning. In placing such a value upon Greek culture, Western civilization forgot the possible values of other cultures such as those of the Tyrians and Iberians, whose ancient wisdom and knowledge have now been largely lost (Knight 54). Arnold’s Tyrian trader refuses to impart his knowledge to the Greek intellectuals, but rather it is to the “shy” Iberians that he gives his knowledge. It is important that the Iberians are shy, for so also is the Scholar-Gipsy (Knight 54). The Scholar-Gipsy continually seeks his “solitude” (210), haunting “shy retreats” (70), and loving “retired ground” (71) and “shy fields” (79). The shy Iberians might be likened to the idle children, maidens, and shepherds who, like the Scholar-Gipsy, are outside the world of the intellect, and therefore, they have the occasional fortune to catch a glimpse of the Gipsy.

Culler interprets the final line of the poem where the Tyrian trader undoes his corded bales to mean that the Scholar-Gipsy is imparting his knowledge to the world (192). However, in the poem, the Gipsy himself never receives the spark from Heaven, so it is unlikely he can impart this knowledge to humanity. Instead, the Gipsy’s life becomes a continual searching for the spark, which makes him immortal because he has only “one aim, one business, one desire” (152). The speaker describes the Gipsy’s constant, unchanging life as,

–No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours!

For what wears out the life of mortal men?

’Tis that from change to change their being rolls:

’Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,

Exhaust the energy of strongest souls

And numb the elastic powers.

Till having used our nerves with bliss and teen,

And tired upon a thousand schemes our wit,

To the just-pausing Genius we remit

Our worn-out life, and are—what we have been.

 

Thou hast not lived, why should’st thou perish, so?

Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire;

Else wert thou long since number’d with the dead!

Else hadst thou spent, like other men, thy fire! (141-54)

The world’s troubles and changes make men age and grow old, but the Scholar-Gipsy’s one goal and his isolation from civilization grant him perpetual youth. Because the Scholar-Gipsy never does find the spark, his life and his quest are both perpetual (Madden 68).

Perpetual youth and a never-ending quest are what most equate the Scholar-Gipsy with the traditional image of the wanderer. Honan remarks that the continual wanderings of the Gipsy and the mythical mantle that he takes on might suggest the reappearances of some type of deity (276). If not a deity, the Gipsy is certainly immortal, and this immortality and continual wandering seem reminiscent of the Wandering Jew, a popular theme and character among the Romantics and Gothic novelists. The Wandering Jew was also the inspiration for Carlyle’s creation of Diogenes Teufelsdrockh in Sartor Resartus (1838), a work that heavily influenced Arnold’s poem. (For a full discussion of the Romantic period’s treatment of the Wandering Jew, and how Carlyle transformed the Wandering Jew from a Romantic into a Victorian figure, see my chapter on Sartor Resartus in my book The Gothic Wander.)

Traditionally, the Wandering Jew’s life is one of unhappiness and eternal wandering as he yearns for death and rest; however, the Scholar-Gipsy appears contented, if not happy. Carlyle, in the character of Teufelsdrockh, transformed the image of the Wandering Jew from a forlorn character into a Christ-figure who passes from being an aimless wanderer into becoming a prophet and guide to humanity, reminding us of our heavenly home and the eternal life awaiting us. Arnold, like Carlyle, also transforms the wanderer figure; however, while Carlyle’s wanderer becomes a prophet who reminds mankind of the eternal life awaiting them in Heaven, Arnold’s wandering Gipsy achieves eternal life upon earth. Arnold’s wanderer is also different from Carlyle’s because the Scholar-Gipsy’s wandering is not aimless, but rather, he has “one aim” (152). To understand why Arnold chose to differ from Carlyle, we must now look at the psychological effect of the Scholar-Gipsy as a myth and symbol upon the speaker.

The Speaker’s Reaction

The speaker, the poem’s true protagonist, is similar to the Scholar-Gipsy for he also fears the modern, intellectual world of Oxford. The speaker states that he is well aware of the “strange disease of modern life, / With its sick hurry, its divided aims, / Its heads o’ertax’d its palsied hearts” (203-5). Compared to the unhappy modern world, the Scholar-Gipsy’s seventeenth century was a much simpler time. However, even in those distant days, the Gipsy felt the encroaching threats of intellectualism and the modern world, so he fled from Oxford. In Blakean terms, the Scholar-Gipsy fled to preserve his innocence; in contrast, the speaker already feels a personal loss of innocence, for he is experienced enough to realize the pains and disease of modern life. The speaker longs to escape the modern world and return to the state of innocence, which the Scholar-Gipsy has preserved for himself. The speaker begins this search to regain his innocence by calling upon the shepherd to come and “again begin the quest!” (10). To regain his innocence, the speaker seeks to make his life similar to that of the Scholar-Gipsy. The speaker is already aware of his similarities to the Gipsy, for like him, the speaker has fled from Oxford into a secluded, pastoral scene: “Screen’d in this nook o’er the high, half-reap’d field,/And here till sun-down, shepherd! will I be” (21-2). From this secluded spot, the speaker can only catch a glimpse of Oxford’s towers in the distance (30). Once segregated from the modern world, the speaker says he will read again “the oft-read tale” (32) of the Scholar-Gipsy. After summarizing this tale for the reader, the speaker comments upon how rare it is to see the Gipsy, and the necessity of being an innocent and idle person to catch a glimpse of him. The speaker concludes these remarks by mentioning his own chance encounter with the Gipsy.

And once, in winter, on the causeway chill

Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,

Have I not pass’d thee on the wooden bridge,

Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,

Thy face tow’rd Hinksey and its wintry ridge? (121-125)

That the speaker has seen the Gipsy shows that he once also had the childlike innocence the Gipsy retains. Now the speaker hopes to regain this innocence or reassure himself that it still exists within him. He feels he can be reassured of his innocence if he can once again catch a glimpse of the Gipsy. Yet the speaker knows he cannot see the Scholar-Gipsy when purposely looking for him, so he tries to see the Gipsy mentally by reading Glanvil’s tale and transporting himself back to the simpler world of the seventeenth century which represents for him the simpler stage of his own now lost innocence (Madden 67). The speaker is suffering from displacement, realizing he is no longer capable of innocence because he is conscious of unhappiness, yet he is also unable to participate in the modern world because his longing for a return to innocence alienates him from modern life (Madden 51). Johnson states that the Scholar-Gipsy, and later the Tyrian trader, have become “images for the speaker’s lost self,” which he mourns and wishes to regain (60).

After the speaker recalls the story and his own encounter with the Scholar-Gipsy, he suddenly feels he cannot regain the past nor again feel a connection to the Scholar-Gipsy. He exclaims:

But what—I dream! Two hundred years are flown

Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls,

And the grave Glanvil did the tale inscribe

That thou wert wander’d from the studious walls

To learn strange arts, and join a gipsy-tribe;

And thou from earth art gone

Long since, and in some quiet churchyard laid— (131-7)

Here, the speaker has woken from his dreams of hope that innocence can be restored or that he can see or be like the Scholar-Gipsy. Numerous critics have marked the similarity between this passage and Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” and the dream vision poems of Coleridge (Bush 78, Culler 183). Like Arnold’s speaker, the speaker in Keats’s poem is tired of the world, remarking how the nightingale has never known, “The weariness, the fever, and the fret/Here, where men sit and hear each other groan” (23-4). As Arnold’s speaker wants to lose himself in the dream of being like the Scholar-Gipsy, so Keats’s speaker wishes to abandon himself to the beauty of the nightingale’s song; he is even willing to die listening to this song. However, Keats’s speaker awakes from his revery to ask, “Was it a vision, or a waking dream?/Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?” (79-80). Arnold’s speaker also awakes from his daydream, believing his desire to see the Scholar-Gipsy can never become real, for the Gipsy lived two hundred years ago and must now be dead. Culler remarks that at this point, if Keats, Shelley, or Coleridge had been the poet, “The Scholar-Gipsy” would have ended, as does Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.” However, Arnold allows his poem to continue exploring the Romantic myth of consciousness (184).

For this one stanza, Arnold’s speaker is almost in despair, feeling it impossible that the Scholar-Gipsy still lives, and so symbolically, it is impossible for the speaker to regain that state of innocence. But he quickly recovers from this despair by realizing the Scholar-Gipsy cannot be dead; death is caused by the weariness of life, but the Gipsy has not been wearied by life’s troubles because he flees from intimacy with mankind, thereby escaping the change and modern life that cause men to grow old and die (141-150). Next the speaker makes a connection between the past and the present by realizing that like the Scholar-Gipsy, modern people also wait for something, although they are less aware of what they wait for, so they have a tendency to despair. The speaker, imagining that he addresses the Gipsy, states that all people “wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope” (170), because we are “Light half-believers of our casual creeds,/Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d” (172-3). “For whom each year we see/Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new” (176-7). Yet, in all our misery, “Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?” (180). Like the Scholar-Gipsy, Arnold’s speaker says all people wait for a spark from Heaven to fall, and this spark will reveal to us the meaning of life, which, until we understand it, remains a burdensome mystery.

Among all those who suffer from the modern disease of life, the speaker focuses on one person who has had more success than others in dealing with suffering:

And then we suffer!  and amongst us one,

Who most has suffer’d, takes dejectedly

His seat upon the intellectual throne;

And all his store of sad experience he

Lays bare of wretched days;

Tells us his misery’s birth and growth and signs,

And how the dying spark of hope was fed,

And how the breast was soothed, and how the head,

And all his hourly varied anodynes. (182-90)

The poem does not state the identity of this person. Arnold later said he had Goethe in mind as the one on the intellectual throne (Honan 277); however, some critics have suggested that this reference is to Carlyle (Buckler, “Scholar-Gipsy”, 683). It may be a mixture of both, for Goethe heavily influenced Carlyle, who then influenced Arnold, so it is difficult to make a clear-cut distinction. Arnold knew Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, which was itself influenced by Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Both works have heroes who wander about in despair seeking some meaning in life that will help them escape their depression. However, Goethe’s Werther ultimately commits suicide, while Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh emerges from his despair into a state of enlightenment. This enlightenment consists of realizing that questing after knowledge will not explain life’s mysteries, and instead, people should work to make the world a better place. Certainly, Sartor Resartus was in Arnold’s mind while writing “The Scholar-Gipsy,” for like Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh, both the Scholar-Gipsy and the speaker are also searching for ways to stay in or return to a state of innocence and escape from despair. We know Arnold had a great admiration for Carlyle’s writing that eventually changed into an equally great dislike. In 1848, the year Arnold began working upon “The Scholar-Gipsy,” he referred to Carlyle’s writing as “the style and feeling by which the beloved man appears,” but eleven and a half years later, he remarked upon “that regular Carlylean strain which we all know by heart and which the clear-headed among us have so utter a contempt for” (Honan 22-3). Perhaps Arnold was so tired of Carlyle’s writing and intellectualization of man’s state that he later refused to admit that Carlyle was the one he intended to be upon the intellectual throne, so he instead named Goethe.

Arnold felt he could not accept Carlyle’s philosophy that it is work, not happiness, that is man’s purpose in life. For Arnold, happiness depended upon understanding life’s mystery, which Carlyle said man was not meant to understand. Arnold tried to make Carlyle’s philosophy his own in his poem “Self-Dependence” (1852), where he suggests that by working, we may arrive at understanding. The speaker of “Self-Dependence” looks up at the stars and sees them performing their functions without worrying about the greater universe, which leads them to greatness:

‘Bounded by themselves and unregardful

In what state God’s other works may be,

In their own tasks all their powers pouring,

These attain the mighty life you see.’ (25-8)

Yet in the next year, when Arnold wrote “The Scholar-Gipsy,” he felt this solution was not sufficient. Therefore, just as Carlyle transformed the Romantic image of the wanderer into a prophet who preaches what became the Victorian Gospel of Work, so Arnold transformed the wanderer image by rejecting Carlyle’s depiction to create his own. While Carlyle says we are selfish to worry about our own happiness and should instead work selflessly to make the universe better because we can never know the meaning of life, Arnold says there may be some people who can learn life’s mystery. However, these people are not those who search intellectually, but people who have found another means for arriving at this knowledge. Unfortunately, Arnold’s speaker feels he can never be one of these fortunate people.

As the “Scholar-Gipsy” ends, the speaker imagines himself telling the Scholar-Gipsy to “But fly our paths, our feverish contact fly!” (221), and “Then fly our greetings, fly our speech and smiles!” (231). The speaker no longer wishes to see the Scholar-Gipsy because he knows the Gipsy will die if he has contact with the speaker who is no longer innocent. The speaker would prefer that the Gipsy continue his search so someday, someone may understand life’s mystery and find happiness, even if it cannot be himself. In forsaking his chance to regain his innocence by seeing the Scholar-Gipsy, the speaker has performed a selfless act, as does Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh, but unlike Teufelsdrockh, the speaker does not find a task to replace his search. The poem ends on a note of false resolution, for while the speaker may be resolved that he can never see the Scholar-Gipsy, regain his innocence, or understand life’s meaning, Arnold could not resign himself to such a possibility. He would continue to search for an answer to life’s mystery in later poems, including “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse” (1855), and in “Thyrsis” (1866), he would once more try to find the Scholar-Gipsy.

 

Works Cited

Arnold, Matthew. “The Buried Life.” 1852. Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 575-77.

Arnold, Matthew. “The Scholar-Gipsy.” 1853. Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 580-6.

Arnold, Matthew. “Self-Dependence”. 1852. Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 577-8.

Brown, E. K. Matthew Arnold: A Study in Conflict. 1948. n.p.: Archon Books, 1966.

Buckler, William E. On the Poetry of Matthew Arnold: Essays in Critical Reconstruction. New York: New York UP, 1982.

Buckler, William E. “The Scholar-Gipsy and Thrysis.” Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 681-3.

Bush, Douglas. Matthew Arnold: A Survey of His Poetry and Prose. New York: Macmillan, 1971.

Carlyle, Thomas. Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdrockh. 1838. New York: Odyssey Press, 1937.

Culler, A. Dwight. Imaginative Reason: The Poetry of Matthew Arnold. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1966.

Dyson, A.E. “The Last Enchantments.” Review of English Studies. 8 (1957): 256-65.

Goethe, Johann. The Sorrows of Young Werther. Ed. David E. Welbery. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1995. Vol. 11 of Goethe: The Collected Works. 12 Vols.

Honan, Park. Matthew Arnold: A Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.

Johnson, W. Stacy. The Voices of Matthew Arnold: An Essay in Criticism. New Haven, CT.: Yale UP, 1961.

Jump, J. D. Matthew Arnold. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1965.

Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967. 1184-5.

Knight, G. Wilson. “The Scholar Gipsy: An Interpretation.” Review of English Studies. 6 (1955): 53-62.

Madden, William A. Matthew Arnold: A Study of the Aesthetic Temperament in Victorian England. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1967.

Trilling, Lionel. Matthew Arnold. New York: W.W. Norton, 1939.

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

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Filed under Literary Criticism, The Wandering Jew

One of the Most Fun Vampire Novels Ever Written

Richard Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show (2000) is one of the most entertaining vampire novels I’ve ever read. Unlike most of the earlier Gothic novels I review, this more modern story is full of humor along with some teenage angst that just adds to the laughs.

The original 2000 cover

I find this novel hard to classify. I hesitate to call it Gothic—it would more properly be called horror, especially because of the goriness that marks the novel’s climax, which is said to make ti belong to the splatterpunk subgenre. It might also be called a buddy story or coming-of-age novel, and it rather reminded me of the film Stand By Me for its setting in the 1960s and its focus on three teenagers who want to go see the Traveling Vampire Show.

Our narrator is Dwight, a sixteen-year-old boy whose father is the police chief of the small town where the novel is set. The other main characters are Rusty, his best friend, who tends to be a bit annoying at times, and Slim, a female friend who frequently changes her name depending on which book she’s currently reading—she used to be Dagny. Dwight has feelings for Slim, and consequently, we get a lot of information about teenage boys’ sexual urges in this novel.

The story opens when fliers appear all over town advertising the Traveling Vampire Show that will be held in a field outside town that night. The three friends decide to go to the field the morning of the show to see the show be set up and try to get a glimpse of Valeria, the advertised beautiful vampire, who will be the star of the show. Since the show says only those eighteen years of age and older will be allowed in, they think watching the show be set up is the best chance they will have.

I won’t go into detail on the plot because that would spoil all the fun, but the kids do eventually make it to the show. The novel follows the three friends’ misadventures throughout the day as they become convinced that the show’s workers are following them and may be planning to do them mischief. I would have felt impatient with the novel, waiting for the vampire to show up, if the dialogue and antics of the characters were not so funny and entertaining throughout, and there are plenty of twists to keep you wondering what will happen.

When Valeria finally does show up on stage, we discover Laymon has done his research into Gothic literature. She is described as being like the Wandering Jew and having mesmeric powers—all part of the Gothic vampire tradition.

What then follows is a climax you have to read to appreciate. What I loved best was I was left guessing until the very end whether the vampire was real or not.

The most recent paperback edition, which shows the flier for the show, describing Valeria as gorgeous, beguiling, and lethal.

I guarantee that The Traveling Vampire Show will not disappoint. It’s one of the most entertaining novels I have read in recent years. It’s also not as heavy as most Gothic novels, even by modern Gothic and horror standards. The teenagers have sexual angst but not the depressive angst of Stephenie Meyers’ or Anne Rice’s vampires.

If you like humor mixed with a little ’60s nostalgia and a vampire thrown in for good measure, you will love The Traveling Vampire Show.

I wish to thank Robert Burke for bringing The Traveling Vampire Show 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.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, The Wandering Jew

The Forgotten Gothic: The Count of Monte Cristo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandre Dumas

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

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

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

A Review of the Essay Collection “Gothic and Racism” Edited by Cristina Artenie

Gothic and Racism is a collection of essays about how Gothic literature reflects racist ideas and uses ideas about race to create the horror central to it as a genre. This collection, published in 2015 by Universitas Press, is edited by Cristina Artenie. I have previously reviewed Artenie’s book Dracula Invades England (2015) at this blog. When Artenie saw my blog post, she was kind enough to contact me and send me copies of her three other books. This blog post is about the first of those books. Future blog posts will be made about her other two books Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices (2016) and Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition (2016).

Gothic and Racism is composed of a very diverse group of essays about the Gothic. While my interest in the Gothic is primarily eighteenth and nineteenth century novels, the collection includes essays on modern novels, films, a television series, and a Gothic memorial in India. While some of these essays interested me more than others, I found them all informative and insightful. My only real criticism is that some are written in too academic a language for my taste. Not wishing to write in that style is one of the reasons I left academia. I have never understood why someone would utilize a large word when they could use a small one. Consequently, some were easier to read than others, but the patient reader will find all of them of value.

Since I will not discuss all the essays here in detail, it is fair to provide a complete list of them so topics that may not interest me as much but would interest others can be brought to people’s attention. Besides Artenie’s introduction, there are ten essays altogether:

  1. “Gothic Horror and Racial Infection in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” by Avishek Parui
  2. “Abramovitch’s The Mare: Russian Imperialism and the Yiddish Gothic Novel” by Meital Orr
  3. “Strange Gods, Monstrous Aliens, and the Ignoble Savage: Revealing and Obscuring Xenophobia in H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu’” by Joanna Wilson
  4. “The Appropriation of the Gothic in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries” by Jessica Birch
  5. “Bigger Faustus: The Purpose of Diabolism in Richard Wright’s Native Son” by Mark Henderson
  6. “Women of Colour in Queer(ed) Space: Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees” by Monalesia Earle
  7. “Return of the Repressed Slaveholding Past in Three Horror Films: Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934), Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) and White Dog (1982)” by Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns, Mariana Zárate, and Patricia Vazquez
  8. “A House Divided: Porous Borders in American Horror Story: Murder House (Fox TV, 2011)” by Lance Hanson
  9. “Forever Beyond the Forest: Dracula and the Neo-Victorian Editors” by Cristina Artenie
  10. “Mutiny Memorial: Imperial Gothic in Victorian Delhi” by Ipshita Nath and Anubhav Pradhan

To discuss each essay would be tedious and ruin the experience for readers of reading the book for themselves, but I will point out some of the interesting highlights of some of the essays.

In the introduction, Artenie begins with a discussion of how the Gothic is racist in its treatment of people from other cultures and nations. It uses “othering” of people from other cultures as a way to turn them into monsters or at least objects of terror. She argues that while the tendency to “other” people is now acknowledged and fully explored in postcolonial literature, it has been largely overlooked in Gothic studies. For example, editors of Dracula have completely ignored how the novel turns the people of Transylvania, Romania, and Eastern Europe into the Other to create an atmosphere of horror in the novel.

I found Meital Orr’s essay on Abramovitch’s The Mare particularly interesting since I had never heard of the novel. Orr discusses how oppression of the Jews in Russia led to Abramovictch’s novel. The novel really turns Western European Gothic literature’s treatment of Jewish people on its head. In most Gothic novels, the Jews are racial stereotypes or symbolic of the Wandering Jew, as in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795). Orr discusses how Melmoth the Wanderer influenced Russian literature, particularly Doestoevski and Abramovitch. In The Mare, however, Abramovitch makes the anti-Semite the Gothic devil figure. Abramovitch thereby pioneered the Yiddish Gothic novel, using racism itself as the true source of Gothic horror. I am looking forward to reading The Mare at a future date to learn more about how Abramovitch used the Gothic’s own tropes to turn it against itself.

I have to admit I have never read any of H. P. Lovecraft, which seems like a serious void in my reading of the Gothic, but I did find Joanna Wilson’s essay on “The Call of Cthulha” very interesting. I was especially interested, however, in the theme of racial degeneration in some of Lovecraft’s other works, including “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (1921) in which the title character commits suicide upon discovering his great-great grandmother was a white ape. This interests me since Lovecraft was writing about the same time Edgar Rice Burroughs was writing his Tarzan novels and Caspak series—in the latter, characters evolve from ape to human within one lifetime. Of course, Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) is also relevant here.

Several of the essays analyzed how the African-American experience is treated in the Gothic. Mark Henderson’s essay on Richard Wright’s Native Son was interesting because he sees the novel as a continuation of the “negative Romanticism” of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. Wright plays on white people’s fear of black people by turning the main character Bigger into a type of Frankenstein monster who has been created by the whites—he becomes the monster they fear because they create him. Jessica Birch’s essay discussing Charlaine Harris’ Southern vampire mysteries points out that American Gothic is often perceived as specific to a particular region. Birch cites Toni Morrison’s statement that American Gothic is haunted by race. I found this viewpoint interesting because when I think of American Gothic, I think of Poe and Hawthorne primarily and do not feel that is true in them. Hawthorne’s Gothic comes out a Puritan mindset of guilt. Poe’s horror often has European settings and I don’t remember any characters of other races in it, though there may be. However, I also think of Charles Brockden Brown and James Fenimore Cooper who preceded Poe and Hawthorne. Brown’s Edgar Huntly and Cooper’s novels to a lesser extent rely on Native Americans to be the sources of horror for the main characters. However, today, American Gothic horror instead relies a great deal on the horrors and repercussions of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans. How the horrors of slavery continue to affect America is wonderfully explored in this book’s essay “Return of the Repressed Slaveholding Past in Three Horror Films: Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934), Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) and White Dog (1938). The first film is racist in itself while the other two films explore the legacy of slavery and racism. However, these legacies are not limited to the United States. Monalesia Earle’s essay in this book discusses Ann Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, a novel set in Nova Scotia that explores black, female, and queer issues.

Lance Hanson’s essay on American Horror Story: Murder House made me convinced I never want to watch the TV show as being too violent and over the top for me. However, his essay is interesting because of what it says about American Gothic. He quotes Teresa Goddu’s Gothic America: “the [American] gothic tells of the historical horrors that make national identity possible yet must be repressed in order to sustain it,” and then he shows how the TV show reflects this truth. He also quotes a review of the show by James Donaghy in The Guardian which reflects what for me is the problem with most horror films and TV shows today: “It fails miserably to differentiate between paying homage to horror and throwing every single horror trope into a blender and pouring the results over our heads.” I feel there is no true sincerity in horror film today, which makes many of them more disgusting or laughable than truly scary or worth watching. An example is Sleepy Hollow (1999), starring Johnny Depp, which begins with a powerful Gothic atmosphere but by the end of the movie becomes camp, which completely ruined the film for me.

I found Nath and Pradhan’s article on the Mutiny Memorial in New Delhi a rather surprising essay to include in a collection focused mostly on books and film. However, the authors make a good case for discussing why this memorial to British and Indian soldiers who died in an 1857 mutiny against British rule has a Gothic design. The authors discuss other Gothic buildings of the time period including the Palace of Westminster (the parliament building) and the Albert Memorial as examples of how Gothic architecture came to be equated with Englishness and the English national identity. Consequently, a Gothic monument in India was a way to express English dominance of India.

My primary interest in this book, of course, was the two essays on Dracula. Avishek Parui’s essay “Gothic Horror and Racial Infection in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” builds a lot on previous scholarship about race in Dracula and the concept that Count Dracula and his vampirism reflect a fear of Eastern European immigration to England. Parui expands on the idea by talking about how the British and French at the time had pseudo-scientific fears of degeneration and biological regression. Anthropologists of the time promoted racial inferiority beliefs in the possibility of evolutionary reversal to a lesser race, which they feared could occur through racial mixing. Of particular interest was how women with masculine features were seen as degenerate, excessively erotic, and lacking in maternal feeling. This for me explains a lot about the way more outspoken women in British literature and cross-dressing women are treated in eighteenth and nineteenth century novels. See my previous posts on this topic on Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1802), Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison (1754) and Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809). In Dracula, Lucy reflects this kind of mannish woman in her remark that she would like to marry all three of her suitors. This makes her a deviant, monopolistic woman, and consequently, degenerate and more likely to fall into Dracula’s power.

Finally, Cristina Artenie’s essay on editorial practices in Dracula was the one I really read the book for. This essay is likely an earlier or shorter version of the book that followed it, Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices, which I intend to review in full at this blog later, so I won’t go into great detail on it, but Artenie makes an incredible case for just how much foolishness has gone into Dracula studies. She references five major annotated editions of Dracula and a few minor ones. She notes that while the novel only has seven chapters in total set in Romania/Transylvania, they are the most heavily annotated. Unfortunately, the annotations often rely on quoting Stoker’s notes rather than his actual sources. They also rely on inaccurate sources that were written by people from outside Romania/Transylvania. Worst of all, they often rely on quoting one another rather than getting to the bottom of sources. The result is a continual repetition of misinformation. The editors also often reference their own travels through Romania on “Dracula tours” and their conversations with people they met in Romania, many of whom are not Romanian. Furthermore, they focus on looking for similarities in the Romanian landscape and historical places to affirm similarities with the novel rather than focusing on the differences from the text. They also love to rely on foreign sources about Vlad Tepes and even exaggerate them to make them more grotesque, ignoring Romanian sources that report how much Tepes’ opponents slandered him. Worst of all, they fail in their annotations to distinguish between what is fiction/fantasy and what is reality in Dracula when it comes to depictions of Romania. As I previously stated in my review of Artenie’s Dracula Invades England, her revelation about these issues that reflect a preconceived if unintentional racism toward the Romanian people in the novel and by its editors is groundbreaking in Dracula scholarship because it increases our understanding of the novel and its cultural influence, which has included making Dracula the first thing that comes to mind when Romania is mentioned. For more on this topic, see also my blog post about my own recent visit to Romania. I admit to being guilty of exactly what Artenie is complaining about—going to Romania to search for Dracula connections as if Romania were some sort of Gothic Disneyland. It is not, and frankly, I came away disappointed by the lack of Dracula atmosphere in the country, despite efforts by the tourism industry, but I found so much that is wonderful about Romania that I hope to return some day. I left Romania feeling what an injustice has been done to it by Stoker’s novel, and then I discovered Artenie’s work and was thrilled to know at least one Romanian is fighting to dispel these myths and the rampant racism that has resulted.

Gothic and Racism is well worth reading, and I highly recommend it to all interested in Gothic studies. I hope the contributors all continue to make their voices heard in revealing the role racism has played in Gothic fiction, and by extension, helping to heal much of our Gothic historical past.

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

 

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Dracula’s Origins: A Review and Summary of Barbara Belford’s Bram Stoker and the Man Who Was Dracula

Barbara Belford’s Bram Stoker and the Man Who Was Dracula (1996) is a biography of Stoker’s entire life, with some commentary on the history of Dracula’s influence after Stoker’s death and what happened to some of Stoker’s family and those close to him. More specifically, it gives a close look at Stoker’s relationship with Henry Irving, the famous actor whom Stoker worked for. The book’s premise is that Henry Irving was the inspiration for Dracula. Irving is depicted as a controlling man. Belford suggests Stoker was at his beck and call, and apparently enjoyed Irving’s power over him. This implies homeroticism in their relationship.

I do not doubt Irving was very demanding, but Belford’s argument feels weak or exaggerated to me. She has all the biographical facts here of Stoker and Irving’s lives, and I do not doubt Stoker idolized Irving, but she goes overboard in talking about how Bram Stoker considered Irving his master, much as Renfield calls Dracula master. She states that “The fascination and horror of Dracula, for males, was as a humiliator of men,” (9) focusing upon how Dracula is able to seduce all the women in the novel, taking them from the men, and especially how he is able to force Mina into drinking blood from his breast (symbolic of fellatio) while Harker lies there unconscious. I completely agree with this statement, but to suggest that Irving also was a humiliator of men and Stoker enjoyed this feels a bit of a stretch. I am not saying it isn’t very possible, but Belford is reading between the lines of their relationship without a lot of hard evidence. She makes other statements such as that Stoker, “even more than wanting to be admired, liked admiring” (28), and “Being anywhere with Irving was contentment for Stoker, who felt complete in his company, safe and protected” (121). I do not doubt Stoker admired Irving or he would not have gone to work for him, but that he worshipped Irving seems a stretch to me, and how can we know he felt safe and protected by him? Maybe he did in some financial sense since Irving gave him employment, but Stoker was a tall and strong man, who did not physically need Irving’s protection. Other such broad and sweeping statements include “As he approached middle age, Stoker’s infatuation with men of power continued, doubtless aided by his growing insecurity over Iriving’s affection” (189).

I am sure Stoker had affection for Irving as one would for a close friend, and there may well have been homerotic feelings between them, at least on Stoker’s end—but Belford’s statements seem overreaching and she does not always provide evidence to back up her claims. Of course, in Victorian England, neither Stoker nor Irving would have committed to paper any overt love felt for the other. This is made even more clear in the context of Dracula, in the sense that Stoker himself later advocated for censorship of overtly sexual and pornographic novels, yet Belford notes that Dracula is full of sexual imagery and overtones. That no one tried to censor the novel reflects that no Victorian was willing to admit they understood its overtones.

Henry Irving in the role of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. A Jewish character who would influence treatment of the Wandering Jew figure in literature and later characters like Svengali in Du Maurier’s Trilby, which in turn would influence Dracula.

Belford’s biography has many strong points beyond her questionable interpretation of Stoker and Irving’s relationship. It is an informative look into the Victorian theater, especially of Irving’s numerous and varied roles, many of which may have influenced Stoker’s creation of Dracula—performances such as Faust, for example. Other interesting plays are The Three Bells, a translation of The Polish Jew, about a mayor who kills a Jew and feels guilt over it. Eventually, a mesmerist causes him to confess his guilt. This play is a perfect example of the Victorian fascination with crime and guilt and Gothic wanderer figures. Belford also mentions many mesmerism novels of the Victorian period, including George Du Maurier’s Trilby, which sold more than 200,000 copies and was the first novel to really succeed by publicity efforts.

Of greatest interest to me were the many possible sources of inspiration for Dracula that Belford outlines. She notes that the heroine Trilby also has three rescuers/suitors like Lucy in Dracula, and that Trilby succumbs to the villain Svengali’s power through mesmerism much as the women succumb to Dracula’s hypnotic power. Both are also anti-Jewish novels since Svengali is a Jew and Dracula is often seen as a symbol of the Jewish or at least Eastern European immigrants into England. Belford notes that Shaw’s Pygmalion, which later became the musical My Fair Lady, may also have been inspired by Trilby. Belford goes a bit far, though, in suggesting that Irving himself was able to use hypnotic powers on his audiences and that Stoker was subject to this power, which made him subject to Irving. However, here Belford gives a source, saying that Gordon Craig actually believed this. Craig was the son of Ellen Terry, who was Irving’s leading lady (74). It is possible Irving studied and tried to use hypnotism on audiences to keep them mesmerized by his performance, but whether he deliberately used it on Stoker we can’t know.

The great threat of Dracula to other men, and the idea that he controls them, supposedly influenced by Irving and Stoker’s relationship, is definitely a powerful theme in Dracula, particularly when Dracula warns the female vampires “This man belongs to me.” Belford notes that this line is a constant throughout Stoker’s notes and various revisions of Dracula—and there were many. (Stoker typically wrote a book a year; The Lair of the White Worm he wrote in three months, and it shows. He was typically a wordy, second-rate writer, but to Dracula, he devoted seven years and it went through many revisions, a dedication that made it far superior to his other works.) However, Dracula does not sexually desire Harker like he does Mina and Lucy. Rather, he wants to keep Harker alive so he can accomplish his goal of invading England where he can find fresh blood. Dracula is not interested in Harker for sexual reasons or to dominate him in a sexual way but simply as a tool to get him to England.

A painting of Irving performing the role of Mephistopheles in Faust, a play about a man selling his soul to the devil, a theme that would influence the Gothic and reflects the very close fatal deal Mina finds herself in with Dracula.

Other sources for Dracula include Macbeth, which Irving often performed. Dr. Seward of Dracula may be based in Lord Siward, Earl of Northumberland, from the play. Belford notes that Macbeth and Dracula both end up trapped in their castles. (Dracula actually is trapped in his coffin just before reaching his castle.) And both contain the cathartic ancient Celtic ritual of severing a head to release evil. (Dracula doesn’t lose his head but Lucy does.) Tarot cards also had an influence—Van Helsing is equal to the Magician card, and the 1901 Constable edition had a tarot-inspired drawing on the cover that shows readers saw a tarot influence on the novel. Interestingly, there was also a Joseph Harker who worked for Irving’s company—he is the only person Stoker knew whose name got borrowed for the novel in the character of Jonathan Harker.

Stoker’s first encounter with the name Dracula happened as a result of visiting the Whitby library (where Dracula comes ashore and where Mina is visiting Lucy). At the library, he read William Wilkinson’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia.

Once Dracula was published, Stoker wanted to create a play version for Irving to star in, but Belford says Irving likely never read the novel nor expressed interest in a play version. What Irving actually said or didn’t say about the novel we don’t know, but Belford sees this as further reason to show Irving degraded Stoker, perhaps thinking he could not act in a play by someone who was his inferior as Bram, as his manager, apparently was.

I have sought elsewhere for sources for the name of the character Mina, which is a strange name not common in England. I have found the name in Paul Feval’s vampire novel Knightshade (1860), but as Belford notes, Stoker was also influenced by Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, primarily for the novel’s use of numerous voices. (The result of the characters collecting documentation of the chain of events in both novels, although I wonder whether Collins’ character Marian Halcombe may not have inspired Mina Harker since the characters’ initials are the same. Belford, however, notes that Stoker was fond of creating female names that started with M, perhaps as a tribute to his mother and his sisters Margaret and Matilda. That said, there’s no reason why he might not have chosen names for multiple reasons and layered them with meaning.)

Dracula’s publication coincided with the display of the painting The Vampire by Philip Burne-Jones. Burne-Jones painted it because he fell in love with a well-known actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell. She rejected him in favor of another; in revenge, he painted her as a vampire! People recognized her in the painting.

Beyond the Dracula origins information, Belford’s book is interesting for the insights it gives us about Stoker’s relationships with many other literary people of his time, including Wilde, Shaw, W.S. Gilbert, Mark Twain, and Walt Whitman. Anyone interested in late Victorian literature and Victorian theatre would find this book fascinating, whether or not they are convinced by Belford’s arguments about Stoker and Irving’s relationships.

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

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Ivanhoe: Sir Walter Scott’s Bridge from the Gothic to Realism

This year, Ivanhoe (1819), Sir Walter Scott’s most popular and perhaps greatest novel, celebrates its 200th anniversary. I first read Ivanhoe more than thirty years ago as a teenager. Since then, I have slowly been working my way through all his novels, but as my knowledge of literature has grown and especially my interest in the Gothic, I’ve always wanted to go back and reread Ivanhoe and recently did so. (I will not provide a summary of the novel here, but one can easily be found online; I am assuming readers are familiar with the novel.)

One of countless 19th century editions of Ivanhoe.

As a historical novelist myself, I revere Scott as the father of the historical novel—there were some historical fiction novelists before him, but he popularized the genre. As a lover of the Gothic, I also am well aware that Scott never wrote a truly Gothic novel, and yet, he sprinkles Gothic elements into many of them. I have long felt that he is the bridge between the Romantic or Gothic novel and realism in British literature. Of course, the novels of manners that preceded him—works by Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, and others—were largely realistic as well—but Scott does something special in Ivanhoe. He takes Gothic elements and removes the supernatural from them, making them real.

I do not know if Scott ever read Fanny Burney’s The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties (1814), although we know he met Burney, seeking out a meeting with her, so I suspect he did read it and was perhaps influenced by it in writing Ivanhoe. My reason for thinking so is that in the novel, Burney creates a character she refers to as “A Wandering Jewess.” The main character, Juliet, or Ellis as she is known throughout most of the novel, is not Jewish at all, but she wanders about England through a variety of difficult situations as she tries to earn a living, all the while unable to reveal her true identity. I won’t go into details about the novel, but an entire chapter of my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption is dedicated to Burney’s novel. It is sufficient here, I think, to say that Scott’s inspiration for creating his Jewess character, Rebecca, may have been inspired by Burney’s novel.

Scott was revolutionary in introducing a Jewish character into a novel in a sympathetic manner, although here again he was preempted by Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington (1817), written as a sympathetic portrait of Jews after a reader complained to Edgeworth about her anti-Semitic depictions of Jews in several of her previous novels. Scott was a fan and friend of Edgeworth and heavily influenced by her first regional novels, set in Ireland, in writing his own regional novels set in Scotland, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Harrington also influenced him in writing Ivanhoe. That said, Edgeworth’s novel is completely realistic. While Scott’s novel is also completely realistic, he sprinkles supernatural and Gothic images throughout it.

The Wandering Jew was a popular image in Gothic literature, as I discuss in depth in my book The Gothic Wanderer. Here, I will simply state that the Wandering Jew was cursed by Christ to wander the earth until His Second Coming. The Jew usually has hypnotizing eyes. He also has supernatural powers, such as being able to control the elements. He makes his first appearance in Gothic literature in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795). Later versions of his character include Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner (1798), the vampire figure, and Rosicrucian characters who have the elixir of life that gives them immortality and the philosopher’s stone that can turn lead into gold, as in William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799).

Ivanhoe makes use of the Wandering Jew theme from the beginning. Ivanhoe is disguised as a pilgrim from the Holy Land who is wandering through the countryside when he meets up with the Jew, Isaac of York. Through the combination of these two characters, we have a Wandering Jew reference early on. Other Gothic elements borrowed here are that Isaac, as a usurer, is accused of “sucking the blood” of his victims to become fat as a spider—a vampire image, and a surprising one since the first vampire novel, The Vampire by John Polidori (1819), was not published until the same year as Ivanhoe, although vampire-type characters feature in several earlier Romantic poems, notably Coleridge’s “Christabel” (1816). Ivanhoe, in disguise, also has a mysterious origin since his identity is not known—this is typical of heroes in literature and especially supernatural beings, but also of Juliet in Burney’s The Wanderer.

Later, Scott reverses the Wandering Jew imagery when Front-de-Boeuf holds Isaac as his prisoner. We are told that Front-de-Boeuf fixes his eye on Isaac as if to paralyze him with his glance. Isaac’s fear also makes him unable to move.

Rebecca and Ivanhoe by T. Lupton

Rebecca, Isaac’s daughter, has perhaps the most Wandering Jew characteristics. She is a healer, who has knowledge beyond most people. This knowledge makes people think she is a witch, ultimately leading to her nearly being burned at the stake, but she is more closely akin to the Rosicrucian Gothic Wanderer figures who have knowledge beyond most people. She says her secrets date back to the time of King Solomon, and when Ivanhoe is wounded, she says she can heal him in eight days when it would normally take thirty. Later, Rebecca also takes on the angst of a Gothic wanderer figure in the unrequited love she feels for Ivanhoe that cannot be restored. Many female characters of this period are also Gothic wanderers in their unrequited love, including Lady Olivia in Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison (1753-4), Elinor in Burney’s The Wanderer (1814), and Joanna, Countess of Mar in Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809). Finally, Rebecca ends up before an inquisition and almost ends up being burnt for witchcraft. This scene reflects many Inquisition scenes in other Gothic novels, including Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797) and the slightly later Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin.

Personally, I find Ulrica to be the most fascinating Gothic wanderer figure in the novel. She is a Saxon maiden who was forced to marry a Norman lord, and consequently, is filled with guilt and angst. She compares herself to the fiends in hell who may feel remorse but not repentance. When Ivanhoe’s father Cedric reminds her of what she was before her marriage and how the Normans have badly used her, she decides upon revenge via death. Ultimately, she burns down the castle and dies in the flames after mocking her husband. In fact, she mocks her husband by pretending to be supernatural. As he’s dying, Front-de-Boeuf hears an unearthly voice telling him to think on his sins, the worst of which was the murder of his father, a sin he thought hidden within his own breast.

Scott is also not above poking fun at the Gothic. Athelstane, heir to the Saxon kingdom that has been usurped by the Normans, ends up dying, only to be resurrected from the dead. This is a play both on Christ’s resurrection and the vampire figure. It is also a humorous moment in the novel. Other than being extremely strong, Athelstane has nothing heroic or supernatural about him but is a bit of an oaf more interested in filling his stomach than loving the Saxon heiress Rowena or regaining his ancestors’ crown.

Rebecca as portrayed in a 1913 silent film of Ivanhoe.

Frankly, I’ve always been a bit surprised that the novel is titled Ivanhoe since I don’t think Ivanhoe much of a hero, especially since for a good part of the novel, he is lying wounded. Ultimately, King Richard is the novel’s real hero. Like Ivanhoe, he is incognito in the beginning, disguised as the Black Knight, and he displays great physical strength. Ultimately, all the major acts of heroism fall to him. He frees the Saxon and Jewish characters, including Ivanhoe, when they are taken prisoner, and in the end, he saves England from the treachery of his brother, Prince John. Richard even heals the bad feelings of the Saxons toward the Normans, making Cedric and Athelstane relinquish their efforts to restore a Saxon king to the English throne. In my opinion, King Richard, as depicted in this novel, may be our first real superhero figure. A later novel, James Malcolm Rymer’s The Black Monk (1844-5), which is far more Gothic than Ivanhoe, would later also use him in a similar way where he returns to England incognito.

In the end, of course, Ivanhoe and Rowena marry, despite Rebecca’s love for him. Rebecca then visits Rowena to tell her she and her father are going to Granada where her father is in high favor with the king and where, presumably, as Jews, they will be safer. She says she cannot remain in England because it is a “land of war and blood” where Israel cannot “hope to rest during her wanderings.”

And so, in the end, Rebecca and her father embody the Wandering Jew figure, having to wander from England now to Granada, and who knows where they may wander again.

But ultimately, what is most remarkable about Scott’s novel is that the Wandering Jew figure in Gothic literature to this point did evoke some sympathy for the cursed man who must wander for eternity, and perhaps by extension, to the Jewish people. Scott, however, went a step further by creating realistic and sympathetic Jewish characters. For that reason, Ivanhoe is a bridge from the Gothic into realism, and beyond that, a step toward tolerance and humanity.

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

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Sarah Perry’s Melmoth: A Modern Spin-Off of Maturin’s Classic Gothic Novel Melmoth the Wanderer

Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin is one of the greatest of the Gothic novels of its time although it is largely forgotten today, so I was very surprised when I learned that someone had decided to use Maturin’s character to create a new Gothic novel.

Sarah Perry’s Melmoth is a reimagining of a female version of Maturin’s famous character.

I had never read anything by Sarah Perry before, although she has previously published two novels After Me Comes the Flood (2014) and The Essex Serpent (2017), the latter of which has received critical acclaim, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from her new novel Melmoth (2018). I found it a mix of classic Gothic elements without being either a rehashing or sequel to Maturin’s novel. Rather, Perry largely makes Melmoth her own, primarily by making her female. Maturin’s Melmoth lived in the seventeenth century and has a prolonged life of about 170 years before meeting his end at the end of the novel. Perry’s Melmoth has lived since the time of Christ. While Maturin obviously drew on the Wandering Jew theme, he did not as explicitly use it as Perry. Perry never refers to the Wandering Jew, but that legend typically concerns a shoemaker named Ahasuerus who refused to let Christ rest outside his shop on his way to Calvary. Christ then curses him to wander until the Second Coming. (There are numerous other versions of the story and other people, including Judas and Pontius Pilate, who are candidates for being the Wandering Jew, but Ahasuerus’s version is the best known.) Perry’s title character is one of the women who saw Christ rise from the dead at the tomb, but later she denied he had risen, a lie that has resulted in her being cursed to wander the earth.

Gothic wanderer figures like the Wandering Jew are often wracked with guilt over their sins and seeking to end their existence and free themselves from their curse. Because Perry’s Melmoth never really gets a voice and is usually off-stage, we do not know much about her existence over the centuries or whether she feels any guilt. All we know is that she is constantly lonely and therefore seeks to entice others to join her in her wandering, something she never succeeds at, although the novel is filled with documents from people who have seen her or whom she has tried to seduce. She watches those who are lonely or have committed crimes and therefore will be easy targets for her and she follows them, although she never succeeds in winning them over.

I have to admit I was disappointed in the overall story, although Maturin’s own storyline is not all that fabulous either. Like Maturin and other Gothic novelists, Perry uses the story-within-a-story technique, and she also uses various manuscripts and documents that the characters find to move the story along and shed light on Melmoth’s character and to serve as individual testimonials to her existence. Some of these documents and their stories are more effective than others, in my opinion, but they typically reveal truths about the people who saw Melmoth—people who committed crimes or transgressions for which they feel guilt.

One of the better stories is the document by Hoffman about his experiences during the Holocaust. Since the novel primarily takes place in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the inclusion of the Holocaust is not surprising since Maturin used the Inquisition which was equally horrifying to its contemporaries.

The main character in the novel is Helen, an Englishwoman living in Prague and translating works into English. She befriends Thea and her husband. Before long, Thea is dying and Helen is there to help her after her husband abandons her, although it’s believed maybe Melmoth got him. Helen becomes paranoid about Melmoth after she learns more about her. Helen also has a guilty secret of her own that makes her susceptible to Melmoth’s seduction.

The book is divided into three parts, and I have to admit by the third part I kind of wondered if it was really going anywhere. The second part is the most entertaining, ending with an interesting scene where the main characters go to see the opera Rusulka, the story of a water sprite who asks a sea witch for help so she can become human and love a prince. In exchange, she gives up her voice. The storyline is very similar to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” although it uses slavic folklore as its origin. Thea comments in the novel that her husband always thought the opera’s main character a fool to give up immortality for love. After this scene is a rather drawn out and tedious new story to begin Part 3 before the novel gets wrapped up.

Despite the Rusulka comment that implies immortality is something to treasure, none of the characters embraces immortality in the end, so Melmoth is left to wander on, ultimately trying to seduce the reader to join her in the final pages.

Overall, Melmoth is an interesting take on its title character. I appreciated Perry’s tie-in to Wandering Jew figures, her mention of Maturin’s novel, which Helen remarks that no one reads, and also how she provides different spellings for Melmoth’s name, including Melmotte (likely a reference to Anthony Trollope’s character in The Way We Live Now (1875) who is believed to have been inspired by Maturin’s Melmoth). However, there are several sections that are just boring or documents that while referring to Melmoth do not really connect to the other parts of the novel or the characters. The story-within-a-story pattern is not as tightly woven as in Maturin’s novel. That said, Melmoth is only about a third as long as Melmoth the Wanderer, which itself is probably twice as long as it needs to be because of its overall wordiness and overly long paragraphs.

I also would have preferred a more guilt-ridden Melmoth. Instead, Perry’s character is less of a true Gothic wanderer character than a needy, codependent creature who is repulsive because of her neediness. There is nothing attractive about this Melmoth, who is unable to seduce anyone, unlike Maturin’s more glamorous Melmoth who seduces the beautiful Immalee.

That Maturin’s novel is still being read and appreciated despite its faults and that it has inspired Perry’s reimagining shows it still has the power to capture our imaginations. I don’t think Perry’s novel will ultimately be remembered, however, any more than is Balzac’s sequel Melmoth Reconciled (1835). Nevertheless, fans of the Gothic will enjoy some of its allusions and plays on the Gothic tradition.

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

 

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Melmoth the Wanderer: Grandfather to Gothic and Irish Literature

Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer will be celebrating its two hundredth anniversary next year, and it deserves to be celebrated since it is one of the most important Gothic novels of all time, yet few people who are not students of the Gothic have ever heard of it. Published in 1820, the novel was the most popular of the several novels Maturin, an Anglo-Irish and Anglican clergyman, published. It is also one of the last works from the Golden Age of Gothic Literature, ranging from roughly 1790 to 1820 when Radcliffe, Lewis, Shelley, and many other writers published notable Gothic novels. Most importantly, it had a huge influence on many other Irish and Gothic novels that followed it.

Charles Maturin (1780-1824) wrote several novels including historical fiction that predated Sir Walter Scott, whom he was friends with, and a popular tragedy, “Bertram.”

In this article, I will discuss a little about why Melmoth the Wanderer is an important Gothic novel, especially for its title Gothic wanderer figure and its anti-Catholicism, and then I will look at some of the other works it influenced.

Contribution to the Gothic Wanderer Figure and Anti-Catholicism

A good summary of Melmoth the Wanderer can be found at Wikipedia for those not familiar with the novel although I would encourage you to read it. Its stories-within-a-story technique, a common element of the Gothic, makes the reader wonder how all the stories will come together, but in the tale of Immalee, the full extent of Melmoth’s Gothic wanderer role is apparent. Melmoth is a member of an Irish family who in the seventeenth century was cursed and now wanders about Europe causing terror and tempting the innocent. He is not immortal, but he does have an extended life of about 170 years before he meets his fate at the end of the novel. Although he does try to tempt people, at times Melmoth feels torn with guilt, especially when he attempts to convince the innocent Immalee to marry him. Immalee was lost in childhood and has grown up alone in nature, innocent and childlike, but eventually, she is found and returned to her family in Spain. However, before Immalee is found, Melmoth visits her on the island and educates her in religion and other problems and hypocrisies of human society—or rather he miseducates her. After Immalee returns to Spain, Melmoth convinces her to marry him in a dark ceremony, and then she conceives his child. When her brother accosts Melmoth, Melmoth slays him and Immalee nearly dies from grief. She is then taken to the prisons of the Inquisition where she gives birth to a daughter. Because of her sin for loving a minion of Satan, she is condemned to lifetime imprisonment in the Inquisition’s prison, and her child is to be taken from her and raised in a convent. However, the child dies before it can be taken from its mother and Immalee dies soon after.

Although the novel was written by an Irishman, it’s important to note that Maturin had a low opinion of Catholics and was himself Anglican. The novel is the most extreme example of anti-Catholicism of all the Gothic novels I have read. Much of the novel is the story of Moncada, who is forced by his family members—themselves manipulated by the clergy—to enter a seminary and become a priest. Because he resists, Moncada is beaten, tortured, and locked up in a cell without light. The depiction of the Inquisition is overall very derogatory. Not that the Inquisition was not a horrible institution, but Maturin has no problem with depicting it in the most derogatory way possible, likely without any real knowledge of the institution.

A Sequel by Honoré de Balzac

This edition of Melmoth the Wanderer includes Balzac’s sequel, and an introduction by Julian Hawthorne, the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who referenced Melmoth in his 1828 novel “Fanshawe.”

At the novel’s conclusion, Melmoth’s prolonged life appears to end. However, because no one witnesses Melmoth’s death and there is no final body, the possibility exists that he lives on. Melmoth may not have died since it is believed that Maturin intended a never-written sequel in which Melmoth would return. Honoré de Balzac did write a sequel, Melmoth Reconciled (1835), in which Melmoth is able to find someone to take his place and thereby rest from his wanderings. This short sequel is lacking in Gothic atmosphere and effectiveness, but Balzac does retain the concentration upon Melmoth’s eyes which create a “piercing glance that read men’s inmost thoughts.” The French work is also progressive compared to British Gothic in that it allows the Gothic wanderer to rest, which would be denied to Gothic wanderers in British fiction until the Victorian period.

Influence of Melmoth the Wanderer on J. S. Le Fanu and James Joyce

In rereading Melmoth the Wanderer, I noticed many aspects and possible influences it may have had on literature that I had failed to notice previously when I wrote about it in The Gothic Wanderer. First is the opening scenes where John Melmoth comes to his uncle’s deathbed. This scene is written in a tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted, and comical manner, despite the gravity of the situation. The manuscript John Melmoth reads that depicts life at the court of Charles II is also of this style. What surprised me was that these pages seem like they could have come straight out of J. S. Le Fanu’s The House by the Churchyard (1863). I’ve always thought that particular novel of Le Fanu’s to be almost unreadable, but the comical tone is very similar, suggesting that Le Fanu must have read Maturin. Notably, James Joyce is said to have been inspired by Le Fanu’s novel in writing Finnegan’s Wake (1939).

However, the influence of Maturin on Joyce is even more specific. In Chapter 14 of Ulysses (1922), titled “Oxen of the Sun,” Joyce uses a variety of literary styles that basically trace the history of the English language. One section of the chapter, lines 1010-1037, is written as a parody of Gothic novels, as scholars have long noted. Don Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated even notes that this parody owes a debt to Le Fanu’s The House by the Churchyard.

Note the similarity between this passage from “Oxen of the Sun” and the following one from Melmoth the Wanderer:

“The secret panel beside the chimney slid back and in the recess appeared…Haines! Which of us did not feel his flesh creep? He had a portfolio full of Celtic literature in one hand, in the other a phial marked Poison. Surprise, horror, loathing were depicted on all faces while he eyed them with a ghastly grin.”

In the penultimate paragraph of Chapter 1 of Melmoth the Wanderer, John Melmoth first sees Melmoth the Wanderer as follows:

“At this moment, John saw the door open, and a figure appear at it, who looked round the room, and then quietly and deliberately retired, but not before John had discovered in his face the living original of the portrait. His first impulse was to utter an exclamation of terror, but his breath felt stopped.”

John is shocked because he has already heard that Melmoth the Wanderer has lived well over a century and seen the portrait of this relative. The two passages are not obviously the same, but the entrance of a figure who causes shock occurs in both, and I suspect Joyce borrowed it from Maturin, whether consciously or not. Since Maturin was an Irish writer, Joyce was likely familiar with his work, though I am not aware of any scholars discussing Maturin’s influence on him, something that should be explored further.

Influence on George W. M. Reynolds

This painting by Eugene Delacroix is titled “Melmoth or Interior of a Dominican Convent.” It depicts Moncada being mistreated by the other monks for wanting to renounce his vows.

George W. M. Reynolds was the bestselling author of Victorian England and a key player in the Gothic renaissance that occurred in the 1840s and 1850s with the rise of the penny dreadful. One of Reynolds’ novels, The Necromancer (1851-2), tells the story of a man who has a bargain with the devil to marry seven women over the course of a couple of centuries so that they sell their souls to Satan; if he fails, his own soul will be lost. The plot of Reynolds’ novel recalls Melmoth’s effort to deceive Immalee into marrying him and agreeing to follow his God (Satan), although she never completely understands his purposes. That she ends up dead, and in the final scene of the novel, Melmoth is taken by the devil suggests that perhaps Melmoth had a similar pact with Satan. Maturin does not say this overtly, but Reynolds might well have read the novel, read between the lines, and expanded on the idea in his own book. Since so little is known about Reynolds, we do not know if he read Maturin’s novel or not, but it seems plausible given that he was obviously well-versed in the Gothic tradition.

Influence on Anthony Trollope

Scholars have not failed to note that the villain in one of Anthony Trollope’s greatest novels, The Way We Live Now (1875) is named Melmotte, a name that may owe a debt to Maturin’s Melmoth. Besides the name similarity, there is much confusion and many rumors about exactly who Melmotte is in Trollope’s novel. He is suspected of being Jewish because he is in finance, but beyond this, he is known for having lived in various locations—a type of wandering that makes him akin to the Wandering Jew, whose legend was a major influence on the creation of Melmoth the Wanderer. Among the possible backgrounds of Melmotte is also that he is Irish—his father believed to be an Irish coiner in New York named Melmody (Chapter 98), from whom Melmotte may have learned forgery. Melmotte, of course, claims he is English, wanting to rise in English society.

Since Trollope spent considerable time in Ireland, it is not surprising that he was likely familiar with this Irish novel, which would have been quite popular in his childhood. Coincidentally, Trollope worked for the Post Office in Ireland and Maturin’s father was a Post Office official.

Influence on Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Charles Dickens

Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Zanoni (1842) is noteworthy for how it reversed the Gothic tradition by creating positive depictions of Rosicrucian characters with extended lives. (For a full discussion of Zanoni and Rosicrucianism in the Gothic tradition see my book The Gothic Wanderer.) Notably, Rosicrucians were known for life-extension and so Melmoth the Wanderer may have been influenced by the Rosicrucian tradition, which had already influenced other earlier novels such as Percy Shelley’s St. Irvyne (1811). (Notably, George W. M. Reynolds’ novel Wagner the Wehr-Wolf (1846-7) features the Rosicrucian founder, Christian Rosencrux, as a character.) Bulwer-Lytton may have been influenced specifically by the end scenes of Melmoth the Wanderer when Immalee is imprisoned by the Inquisition and gives birth to a child who dies. In Zanoni, Bulwer-Lytton’s title character is a Rosicrucian who has lived a long life. He and his lover, Viola, are caught up in the chaos of the French Revolution, resulting in Viola giving birth to their child in prison. Melmoth dies long after Immalee when Satan comes to take him, but Zanoni ends up dying at the guillotine. However, hope remains in the image of the child born to Viola, who survives.

Notably, Zanoni was a major influence on Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859), particularly Sidney Carton’s sacrifice at the end of the novel, but also because of its many Rosicrucian elements, as discussed in my book The Gothic Wanderer. Therefore, Melmoth the Wanderer may be said to be the grandfather of Dickens’ novel.

Influence on Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was Charles Maturin’s great-nephew by marriage and adopted the name Sebastian Melmoth to protect his privacy and comment upon his state as an outcast following his famous trial and prison term.

It is well-known, but worth repeating, that Maturin was the uncle by marriage to Oscar Wilde’s mother. After Wilde was released from prison after serving a sentence for homosexuality, Oscar Wilde adopted the name of Sebastian Melmoth while he wandered about Europe. The name Melmoth implied he was cursed and a wanderer, and the name Sebastian referenced St. Sebastian, considered the first gay icon of the nineteenth century.

Numerous Other Influences

Melmoth the Wanderer influenced many other literary works in direct and indirect ways and has even influenced the creation of characters in movies and TV. The following list comes from Wikipedia, which includes a few of the works I have already mentioned:

  • In Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas (the basis for Roman Polanski’s film The Ninth Gate), Corso bumps into the mystery girl following him as she is reading Melmoth the Wanderer in the lobby of the hotel after seeing Fargas to review his copy of The Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows.
  • In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Fanshawe, one of the major characters is named “Doctor Melmoth.”
  • In Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Professor Humbert Humbert calls his automobile “Melmoth.”
  • In John Banville’s 1989 novel The Book of Evidence, the narrator steals an automobile from a garage called “Melmoth’s”; the make of the car is a Humber, an allusion to both Wilde and Nabokov.
  • “Melmoth” is mentioned in Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
  • In Dave Sim’s Cerebus comic book (issues 139–150), there’s a writer named Oscar (homage to Oscar Wilde), who’s registered under the name “Melmoth” at his hotel.
  • In Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers metaseries, Melmoth is an antagonist of Frankenstein.
  • In Leonie Swann’s Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story, the mysterious sheep who has wandered the world and comes home to teach the flock what he has learned is named Melmoth.
  • The mysterious financier Augustus Melmotte in Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now resembles Melmoth in more than name.
  • In an 1842 review of Stanley Thorn, Edgar Allan Poe refers to “the devil in Melmoth” as an ineffectual seducer of souls.
  • In letters P. Lovecraft addresses Donald Wandrei as Melmoth the Wandrei.
  • A British magazine about surrealism was named Melmoth after the book. Melmoth was published from 1979-1981 and its contributors included George Melly and Ithell Colquhoun.
  • In the British TV murder mystery series Midsomer Murders the episode “Murder By Magic” (2015) included a mysterious country manor called Melmouth House, the home of an infamous rake-hell and paganist, Sir Henry Melmouth, who died, apparently, in a ritual pagan fire, hoping to be reborn from the ashes like the mythical phoenix.
  • In Marty Feldman’s movie In God We Tru$t (1980), Peter Boyle plays a con man and crooked street preacher named Dr. Sebastian Melmoth.
  • Peter Garrison named the aircraft Garrison Melmoth after himself and Melmoth the Wanderer.
  • Sarah Perry’s third novel Melmoth (2018) centers on a female variation of Maturin’s character, damned (like Richard Wagner’s Kundry in Parsifal) for denying the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The reason I recently decided to reread Melmoth the Wanderer was because I had heard about Sarah Perry’s new novel Melmoth. I will be reviewing that novel in my next article.

Even though Melmoth the Wanderer’s life appears to end at the conclusion of Maturin’s novel, it is clear his influence wanders on and likely will continue to do so for many years to come.

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

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, George W.M. Reynolds, The Wandering Jew

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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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, The Wandering Jew

Clarimonde: An Early Psychological Vampire Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Literary Criticism, The Wandering Jew