“his trousers here, his towels there, and his French novels everywhere.”
— Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
The above quote from Wilkie Collins’ 1868 masterpiece[i] testifies that young gentlemen in England at the time were reading French novels, and yet the influence of French literature has been all but ignored by most scholars of British Gothic literature. This omission is surprising given that French novels were read in England by a wide audience in the nineteenth century as British literature of the period itself testifies. Besides the reference in Collins’ The Moonstone, in Anthony Trollope’s The Small House at Allington (1864), we are told of the Earl de Courcy that “He always breakfasted alone, and after breakfast found in a French novel and a cigar what solace those innocent recreations were still able to afford him.”[ii] In the last chapter of Barchester Towers (1857), Trollope references three contemporary French authors as he attempts to complete his story, “What novelist, what Fielding, what Scott, what George Sand, or Sue, or Dumas can impart an interest to the last chapter of his fictitious history?”[iii] Mary E. Braddon, best remembered for Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), writes in her short story “Good Lady Ducayne” (1896) of a young companion paid to read to the title character, but because the companion’s French is not good, the French maid instead reads French works to Lady Ducayne: “When she is tired of my reading she orders Francine, her maid, to read a French novel to her, and I hear her chuckle and groan now and then, as if she were more interested in those books than in Dickens or Scott.”[iv] Furthermore, in Lady Audley’s Secret, the lawyer Robert Audley is emphatically associated with reading French novels to the point of neglecting his work, and in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Pendennis (1848-50), a student’s quarters are described as, “While there was quite an infantine law library clad in skins of fresh new born calf, there was a tolerably large collection of classical books which he could not read, and of English and French works of poetry and fiction which he read a great deal too much.”[v]
Countless books have been written on nineteenth-century British Gothic literature, including my previous book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. Possibly, books have also been written on nineteenth-century French Gothic literature that are not accessible to an English-speaking audience since they were written in French, although the study of the Gothic does not yet seem to have become popular among academics in France.[vi] Even some significant nineteenth-century French Gothic novels have not been translated into English, and some of those that have been translated have suffered from being abridged. As a result, many students of the Gothic, myself included until recently, have been unfamiliar with the incredible influence that French and British Gothic novelists of this period had upon one another.
In scholarly works, if influence between French and British literature is mentioned, it is usually done so in passing and rarely detailed. To the best of my knowledge, no one to date has written a full study of how British and French Gothic texts influenced each other. The most thorough study I have found of English literature’s influence on French novels has been Eric Partridge’s The French Romantics’ Knowledge of English Literature, which was published in 1924, and as thorough as it is, it only briefly mentions a few Gothic novels and quotes extensively in French, which makes it inaccessible to many readers. M. G. Devonshire’s The English Novel in France (1929) similarly extensively discusses how English literature influenced French literature from 1830-70, but also makes little mention of Gothic fiction beyond Radcliffe and Lewis. Neither Partridge nor Devonshire mention Polidori or vampire fiction at all. Many other critics have discussed the specific influence of an individual work upon an author or work, but none have broadly discussed such influences upon the Gothic novel throughout the nineteenth century.
A misconception also appears to exist that British Victorians did not read French literature, thinking it too risqué. The above examples prove that is largely untrue. While some Victorians did hold that viewpoint, the extent of it has been heavily exaggerated. In his Preface to The Modern Literature of France (1839), George W. M. Reynolds, one of the most prolific British Victorian Gothic novelists, addressed this issue by stating that the journals of the day expressed as much dislike for anything French as they did during the Napoleonic Wars. He also disputed an article written three years earlier in the Quarterly Review that suggested the 1830 insurrection in France resulted from “the depraved taste of the nation with regard to literature, a proposition no less ridiculous than unfounded.”[vii] He goes on to argue that the divorce, licentiousness, and murders that take place in France cannot be attributed to its literature and that the British are just as guilty if not more so of such behaviors. Then he argues that the sense of freedom that resulted from the 1830 revolution is precisely what has led to an increase of high quality literature in France. Consequently, his study reviews only French literature written after 1830. Most remarkably, with every author Reynolds discusses, he translates passages from works not yet known in England as examples of the French authors’ writing styles.
Despite Reynolds’ arguments and efforts, it is hard to know how many people listened to him. While some prejudice toward French literature doubtless remained, Juliette Atkinson has revealed in her 2013 article “The London Library and the Circulation of French Fiction in the 1840s” that circulation records from the London Library and other British libraries prove early British Victorians were reading French literature. Furthermore, Alexander Hugh Jordan, in an article discussing the influence of Carlyle upon Eugène Sue, remarks:
As Juliette Atkinson has recently noted, the assumption that the Victorians rejected contemporary French literature as “immoral” has proven stubbornly persistent, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (391-93). In fact, the productions of leading French novelists met with a wide-ranging and enthusiastic response in Britain, not least through the medium of English translations. For instance, between 1842 and 1847, no less than seven of George Sand’s novels made their way to Britain (Bensimon 200-01). Moreover, thanks to the endeavours of Berry Palmer Chevasco [in Mysterymania], we now possess a near-exhaustive study of the British reception of Eugène Sue, and particularly of his Mystères de Paris. As Chevasco points out, in 1844 and 1845 alone, thirteen separate editions of Sue’s novels appeared in Britain (80).[viii]
Consequently, a convincing argument can be made not only that the British read French literature, but that British authors were influenced by their French contemporaries and vice versa. In fact, the influence of British authors on French authors is better documented, at least among studies written in English. Literary historian Maurice Lévy has documented more than one hundred English Gothic novels translated into French by the 1820s.[ix] Regardless, much work remains to be done to understand the influences that extended in both directions among British and French Gothic novelists from the time of the French Revolution through the nineteenth century.
Vampire Grooms and Spectre Brides: The Marriage of French and British Gothic Literature seeks to help fill the void of documenting the influence that both nations’ Gothic literature had upon one another. While no study can fully display the depth of influence individual works had upon each other, I hope this book will inspire a revision of Gothic studies with the understanding that there is no isolated British or French Gothic tradition, but rather a tradition that crosses national boundaries. I am also fully aware that the French and British novels I will discuss influenced other nations’ literatures and were influenced by them. For example, it is well known that German Gothic works had a significant influence upon British and French Gothic works, especially in the days of the Gothic’s infancy. However, to create a manageable survey, I will focus, with a few exceptions, on British and French texts.
The title of this book reflects the frequent attempts by male vampire characters, usually based upon John Polidori’s vampire Lord Ruthven, to force a woman to marry him so she can become his victim. William H. Ainsworth’s short story “The Spectre Bride” is also referenced in the title. It refers to a bride who, surprisingly, is not supernatural but forced to marry a supernatural being. The word “marriage” in this book’s subtitle is perfect to describe the relationship between French and British Gothic because it goes beyond the idea of simple influence to a partnership. I believe in many cases the French and British Gothic writers were conscious that they were writing within the same Gothic tradition and being influenced by one another’s work. Proof of that influence will be provided in every chapter of this book and, hopefully, readers will be convinced by the book’s conclusion of my argument for this incredible shared influence that crossed national and language barriers.
Before diving further into our subject, it is best to define a few terms. By French Gothic, I am referring specifically to novels, plays, and short stories written within the boundaries of France. Similarly, by British, I mean works produced within Great Britain. I have chosen not to use the term English because it is less encompassing and could refer solely to England, while British would include works produced in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. I have also opted to use British rather than English so it is not confused with works written in English by people outside of Great Britain, such as in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia. Only works produced within the national boundaries of Great Britain and France between 1789 and 1897 will be discussed in detail, with the exception of two American vampire works and the Swedish translation of Dracula.
Secondly, by using the term Gothic, I am referring to texts that include supernatural beings and occurrences, also known as the masculine Gothic, which includes works by Matthew Lewis, Alexandre Dumas, Bram Stoker, and others. I am also referring to texts where supernatural beings or events are believed to be occurring, even though they turn out to have rational explanations; this school is known as the feminine Gothic and is represented primarily by the novels of Mrs. Radcliffe, although male authors like Pierre-Alexis Ponson du Terrail and Jules Verne also fit into this category. By Gothic, I am also referring to works that are devoid of anything supernatural but still have a Gothic atmosphere, specifically crime-related novels, which arose out of the “mystery” aspect of earlier Gothic literature. Such works include the city mysteries novels of Eugène Sue, Paul Féval, and George W. M. Reynolds.
The bulk of the works discussed in this book belong to what I consider the Second Golden Age of the Gothic. As is well known, the Gothic novel began with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764, but its Golden Age really began in the 1790s when the terrors of the French Revolution resulted in a flood of Gothic novels that reflected people’s fears played out in a fictional form and set in the past because the present horrors were too terrifying to contemplate. This period ranges roughly from 1789-1820 and includes the works of Mrs. Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). The Second Gothic Golden Age began about a dozen years later. The year 1818 is a key year for the Gothic because two Gothic parody novels, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey, were published that year, announcing if not causing the Gothic’s death knell for the next decade. Parodies are always a sign that genres are popular but have also begun to decline in quality or influence.
The Gothic craze fell off in the 1820s with few notable works. Not until Victor Hugo published Notre-Dame de Paris in 1831 (translated into English in 1833 by Frederic Shoberl as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) and William Harrison Ainsworth published Rookwood in 1834 did the Gothic regain its popularity. This Second Gothic Golden Age would run through the 1850s, at which time crime fiction, the child of the Gothic, superseded it in popularity along with sensational Victorian novels. However, the Gothic would remain popular throughout the nineteenth century, and following the 1897 publication of Dracula, and the subsequent film versions of that novel that made horror a staple of modern cinema, the Gothic has become immortal in a way many of its characters who sought the elixir of life never could have foreseen.
This Second Gothic Golden Age is when the influences of French and British Gothic literature were strongest upon each other, and it is that mutual influence I wish to highlight in this book. The nineteenth century was a period when authors in France and Great Britain largely spoke each other’s language and read each other’s books, often in their original language, but also in translation. Today, I suspect people are less bilingual than they were then. As an American, I studied French in school, but I cannot speak it fluently or even read it without it being a somewhat painstaking task. I suspect many literary scholars (despite most PhD programs requiring one or two foreign languages) and most general readers would say the same. Consequently, we must rely upon translations and the decisions of publishers and translators about which works will be translated. I hope Vampire Grooms and Spectre Brides will bring attention to the incredible influence that British and French authors of this period had upon each other. This literary marriage has long been overlooked largely because of translation barriers, so I wish my work to inspire further scholarship and interest.
I also hope this book will bring more attention to many significant writers of nineteenth-century Gothic literature who have largely been ignored until recent years. While Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Alexandre Dumas are, if not household names, known by most lovers of books, authors like George W. M. Reynolds, William Harrison Ainsworth, Eugène Sue, and Paul Féval are unknown to most readers. These authors were in many ways just as remarkable as their better-known contemporaries. In fact, Reynolds and Ainsworth’s novels are said to have outsold those of Dickens, and as much as I love Dickens, both Reynolds and Ainsworth, in my opinion, surpassed Dickens in their plotting and pacing skills, if not in their character development or overall philosophical outlook. Similarly, the imaginations of the French authors of this period knew no bounds and their fantastic works deserve to be read today. Reading Sue’s The Wandering Jew or Féval’s Vampire City are incredible treats more readers should experience.
Nineteenth-century French and British Gothic is as capable today of teaching and entertaining us as it was for its original readers, for the twenty-first century is for us just as traumatic and terrorizing, if in different ways, as the nineteenth century was for our ancestors. By exploring such fears and the works they inspired, not only do we better understand Gothic literature, but we better understand the tastes, concerns, hopes, and dreams of our nineteenth-century ancestors, and in understanding them, we can understand more about ourselves because we are living their legacy.
Tyler R. Tichelaar
 One of the giants of French Romanticism, Charles Nodier, would agree with him on this point. In his essay “Du fantastique en littérature” in the Revue de Paris in 1830, Nodier argued that: “the fantastique requires a virginal imagination and beliefs that secondary literatures lack, and which are only reproduced therein following revolutions whose passage renews everything.” (Quoted in Stableford, “Introduction,” Weird Fiction in France, p. 6.)
 The terms masculine and feminine Gothic were first coined by Kate Ellis in The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology (1989).
[i] Collins, Wilkie p. 359.
[ii] Trollope, The Small House, p. 281.
[iii] Trollope, Barchester Towers, p. 424.
[iv] Braddon p. 324.
[v] Quoted in Atkinson p. 21-2.
[vi] Horner, “Introduction,” p. 1.
[vii] Reynolds, Modern Literature, Vol 1. p. iv.
[ix] Hale p. 31.