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Interview with Tantra Bensko, Author of “Encore: A Contemporary Love Story of Hypnotic Abduction”

Today, I’m pleased to welcome Tantra Bensko to the Gothic Wanderer blog. She will enlighten us about her latest work, the standalone book, Encore, which is Book III in The Agents of the Nevermind series of Psychological Suspense novels about the heroism of exposing social engineering. The US Review of Books says about Encore: “From the description of Miriam’s post-abduction ride to her captivity in the castle, one is reminded of such Gothic treasures as Rebecca and Wuthering Heights.”

Tantra Bensko, author of ENCORE

Tantra, who has an MA from Florida State and an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, has given her life over to writing and helping others create their stories. She has hundreds of publications in magazines, has taught writing for fourteen years with universities such as UCLA Extension Writing Program, and edits manuscripts with Book Butchers.

Tyler: Welcome, Tantra. Can you give us some background to the series and your approach to writing about social engineering?

Tantra: Thank you, I’m honored to connect with you, Tyler, as you’re one of my heroes that I’ve learned a lot from.

Well, you’ve probably noticed that rarely in a novel is our own president of the United States the president in the book, as that would be quite awkward, particularly in fiction with a strong political awareness. So, in that sense, these kinds of books are always Alternate Reality. In this series, the timeline of reality shifted slightly when President Planda gained office in conjunction with the new intelligence agency, the Nevermind, which took over certain propaganda functions from the CIA, etc. and networked strongly with the UK.

This shift allows me to dramatize methods of media theater, blackmail, movies, and other traditional widespread means of prompting the public to believe in the military agendas that governments are promoting, such as coups and proxy wars to steal resources, run drugs, and keep control of the petrodollar. I’m fascinated by such gaslighting of the public and the brainwashing of key individuals who have the capacity to influence the masses. That topic is a perfect fit for Psychological Suspense and the Gothic, which engendered that genre.

The Nevermind Agents, who are the antagonists of the series, are masters of hypnosis and dubious occult practices, so in Encore, for example, I delve into the history of how our mystical beliefs have been induced and used against us. We see the fallout from Enochian magick, mind control, Theosophy, Thelema, and other intersections of famous intelligence assets with metaphysical secret societies.

While the first two books in the series take place in the United States with focus on other countries which are being targeted militarily, this third book is set in England, which was great fun. I got to study all about portcullises! (Brilliant weapons built into castle entryways.) The book does have a strong international scope, as it references the time around the World Wars when the major powers were trying to manipulate public opinion through appropriating the competing legends of Shambhalla and Atlantis. The East favored Shambhalla and the West favored Atlantis, because each could claim divine heritage from those locations and, thus, the right to rule. The Nevermind keeps the interest in such mythologies alive as much as it was back in the New Age heyday, to continue that kind of political manipulation.

I’ve been gratified by how well readers see the parallels to today’s actual social engineering when they respond to my Agents of the Nevermind novels. I’m passionate about revealing the methods of influencing the minds of the masses through bypassing logic and critical thinking and that’s ideal for Psychological Suspense. When people want to bond with their peers or a significant other, they can be easily led into shared beliefs and they won’t let go of those ideas unless the reality shoots them in the face.

Tyler: Without giving away too much, will you tell us a little about the opening or premise of Encore?

Tantra: Encore begins with a troupe in England performing the history of a gem which features in legends of Shambhalla and Atlantis. The troupe’s hypnotist, Dune, has made them famous, especially his wife Susan, who is the star.

After the star’s disappearance before the show, her standby, Miriam, takes Susan’s place. Dune always hypnotizes the standbys to believe they are the actors they replace: the post-hypnotic suggestion ends when the final curtain lands, and they remember their identity. Before the curtain lands, Dune whisks Miriam to a castle.

Meanwhile, Miriam’s friend, Colin, who just kissed her for the first time, seeks to rescue her.

Tyler: You label Encore: A Hypnotic Abduction as a Contemporary Gothic novel. In what ways does it follow and expand the rich tradition of that genre in a way that is relevant today?

Encore is a modern Gothic novel using elements from classic Gothic literature

Tantra: I appreciate the education you provide on the subject on your website and in your book The Gothic Wanderer—and as you describe in those, the fall of the monarchy with the French Revolution made people worry about the stability and corresponding hierarchy of the family unit. Some of the characters in this novel are British Republicans who would like to see the monarchy abolished. The Agents fund their dubious practices through precarious illicit methods to keep the networked countries of England and the U.S. afloat.

Delving deeply into family history embedded in ancient architecture generally takes Gothic heroines into shocking-secret territory, often related to hidden relatives, improper sex acts, the return of the oppressed to gain vengeance, and strange alliances with unexpected consequences. There is a sense of decay of tradition at the same time and a desperate attempt to hold onto it—for the Agents, for nefarious purposes, and for the hecklers at the Bennu performance at the theater, because their cultural identities are attached to those traditions.

Encore gleefully celebrates all the tropes, such as first person POV of an isolated heroine, ambiguity and dissolution of identity, having to choose between the dark and light hero without knowing which is which, oubliettes, tunnels, cemeteries, grotesque caricatures, incest, paintings that follow the heroines, doppelgangers, curses, the quest for elixirs of immortality, secret societies and cults influencing the world through rituals, and a powerful, charismatic man controlling the mind of a woman. It takes place in present-time with current issues such as insider trading, the kind of “alchemical homeopathic mixtures” that are available for sale now, claims for the rare gem, Moldavite that one can easily find online, the Free Tibet movement.

Since reviews of Encore align it with the core Gothic conventions, I may move ahead in the future with publishing the book I drafted when preparing to write this and my other novels with Gothic elements: How to Write a Gothic Novel. I certainly will cite you in that.

Tyler: Wow. You went all out with inserting Gothic elements into the book. So, tell me, what about the Gothic appeals to you so much, and why do you think readers still want to read about these Gothic themes?

Tantra: Gothic Romance on Amazon is one of the very strongest, most lucrative, and promising genres to publish in these days, with sales continually rising higher, and yet there’s not too much competition. Many books listed there aren’t what I would label Gothic, but I’m a stickler for being literal about genres. They are often really Paranormal Romance, instead, and that’s a fetish for many people. And, of course, Gothic Horror lends itself to being campy, which is a handy quality for books written with an eye toward being adapted to low budget Horror movies.

I think Gothic is extremely relevant today. We’re still worried about the crumbling of the family, still experiencing fearful guilt resulting from living under an improperly behaving government that destroys other countries for profit, creating immigrants who flood in. And for the government to act like destroying those countries is humanitarian and moral, they have to get intelligence agents to create propaganda that gets the public on board with foreign policy. They portray a war hawk like John McCain as the hero to emulate. They create false flags, making it look like the leader of a foreign country gassed his own people, so we should support terrorists to kill more of his people. And the intelligence agents in the news stations create hysteria and peer pressure to rile people up enough that they bypass logic in order to accept such easily disproven claims. That kind of gaslighting seems like the epitome of the Gothic to me.

And Gothic is fun. Who doesn’t like dungeons, tunnels, spooky cemeteries, foggy forests, exaggerated emotions, dangerous secrets? Reading a Gothic story, we vicariously travel further and further toward the dark truth as we travel down into the snaky underground in the primitive darkness, carrying a torch. People are surrounded by deception and when we’re bewildered, catching on that something is not what it seems, we can be gratified by the heroes facing the dreamlike symbolic horrors underneath the surface. We can feel like we’re strong enough to do so to and we may be able to figure everything out and expose the lies.

Will humanity ever move past the typical Gothic relationship of a person being inexorably drawn to a man who is immensely compelling yet secretive and dangerous? Is he dangerous to others enough that he will protect us? Or will he kill us instead? How can we be satisfied with a nice, sweet, open, and honest man like we should be when we’re on fire for the charismatic, powerful man instead? Sometimes we have to move through the process, trying out the intense man and being burned before we can see the charms of the simply kind man.

Tyler: What do you hope readers will feel or think after reading your book?

Tantra: I hope the liberation at the end of the novel makes them feel exhilarated after vicariously living Miriam’s claustrophobic experience of being trapped at the castle and in her own belief that she needs to be someone else to be acceptable.

That belief sounds irrational, but when you look at how people create false personae through social media, for example, it’s obviously common. Narcissists are at the extreme end of the spectrum, presenting themselves as more successful, confident, and charming than they feel inside. But according to statistics, most people lie multiple times every day. Unless they’ve plucked their eyebrows and painted new ones in, many women can be afraid to leave the house to walk among random strangers on the street. And some musicians create fan pages on Facebook, invite all their friends to “like” the pages, then unfriend them so they have room in their allotted 5,000 to make more friends and get them to like their pages. . . I think most people could benefit by learning how to drop some of that desperate need for being put on a pedestal.

I also hope the book improves people’s sense of a pattern: how intelligence agents put one over on unsuspecting people. And I hope readers will feel thoroughly entertained, their hearts full, their stride empowered, and their minds lit up by flickering images of the gorgeous English landscape.

Tyler: What do you hope readers will most appreciate about your writing?

Tantra: I hope they get value from my extensive research into history, such as the famous intelligence assets who went undercover as occultists like John Dee, Madame Blavatsky, Nicholas Roerich and Aleister Crowley, and some sinister elements of Tantric tradition as well as some applicable methods of circulating life force energy with a lover.

I also hope they enjoy the suspense of hope versus the creeping sense of dread. The cinematic, dramatic romance with the highly fetishized friend-to-lover trope should have its appeal, as Colin goes all out for Miriam while living like a wild man on the castle grounds. I have to say, writing the portion of the novel in which Miriam believes she is Susan was no easy task.

Tyler: Thanks for the opportunity to interview you, Tantra. Will you let our readers know about your website and what information they can find there about your books and how to buy them?

Tantra: People who are interested in staying in the loop can sign up for the newsletter at any of my sites and they’ll receive many gifts. All the books can be found at Amazon and Kobo.

Encore website

Insubordinate Books website for the Nevermind novels and others, such as the forthcoming Psychological Suspense book, Floating on Secrets. The links to buy should be easy to navigate from there.

Thank you very much for posting this interview on your excellent site, and very best wishes to you.

___________________________________________________

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 Contemporary Gothic Novels, Uncategorized

A Working Class Lover: Class and Homosexuality in E.M. Forster’s Maurice

The following article I wrote as a graduate student in 1995. I am posting it here because the Trollope and His Contemporaries online group I belong to is currently reading Forster’s Howards End and have been discussing Forster’s homosexuality and how he depicts homosexuality in his novels. I should note that when this article was published, not much had yet been written about Forster’s gay novel Maurice. The sources about homosexuality also reflect their time and psychological arguments about homosexuality that are no longer in line with more political views on homosexuality and do not necessarily reflect my own views. By why post this article at the Gothic Wanderer’s blog? Of course, while Forster did not use Gothic elements in his novel, homosexuals are often depicted as Gothic wanderers in literature, even if their homosexuality is only hinted at. Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and many other Gothic novels have homosexual overtones to them. For more information on homosexuality and the Gothic, see my post on the Stoker biography Something in the Blood.

A Working Class Lover: Class and Homosexuality in E.M. Forster’s Maurice

E. M. Forster

Because of its posthumous publication in 1971, Maurice is usually criticized as being inferior to E.M. Forster’s other novels. However, it is Forster’s only novel that fully develops his concept of the connection between homosexuality and class structure. If Maurice is not satisfactory in its resolution, this is because Forster found society’s treatment of homosexuals as unsatisfactory; if Forster depicted homosexuals’ lives in any other way, it would have been unrealistic.

E.M. Forster chose the domestic comedy as the form to express his opinions on homosexuality and class relations. Like his predecessor Jane Austen, Forster was concerned with the business of marriage, but while Austen’s novels always end in a happy marriage knot, there are no happy marriages or even successful heterosexual relationships in Forster’s novels (Trilling 115-6). Forster saw marriage as an exclusively economic state rather than the result of love. This theme exists in Forster’s earlier novels and would come to fruition in Maurice. Critics have argued that in Howards End Margaret’s true purpose is to achieve economic stability; because her house is being torn down, Margaret marries Henry Wilcox, not for love, but to have a new home (Born 152-4). Marriage also means economic stability rather than a spiritual union for Jackie Bast. She mistakenly thinks Leonard Bast will marry her and make her life easier (Finkelstein, “Howards End,” 96).

The main theme of Howards End is to connect with others. Forster’s favorite medium for connection is love, but he did not believe that spiritual love could be achieved through marriage (Stone 392). The only true connections in Howards End are between people of the same gender; Margaret connects with both Mrs. Wilcox and with Helen, but no one connects with his or her spouse.

In The Longest Journey, the character Ansell even speaks out against marriage. Ansell and Rickie have a friendship with homosexual overtones. Because Ansell prefers male friendship, he feels Rickie should not get married. Ansell argues that “men and women desire different things. Man wants to love mankind; woman wants to love one man” (Forster 88). Ansell tells Rickie not to marry because, “You are also unfitted in soul: you want and you need to like many people, and a man of that sort ought not to marry” (Forster 87). Of course, Rickie’s marriage is disastrous.

True love between men and women was deemed impossible by E.M. Forster. Instead of heterosexual marriage, Forster believed homosexual love was the highest, most spiritual relationship. Heterosexual love’s purpose is to procreate, and this detracts from its ability to create a spiritual union between two people. In contrast, Forster believed homosexuality’s only purpose is love, so it can result in a spiritual union between two people (Page, “Maurice,” 82).

Although Forster saw male friendship/homosexuality as the highest, most platonic relationship, the homosexual ideal was still difficult to achieve because society disapproved of it (Colmer, “Marriage,” 122). Critics have argued that if Forster believed homosexuality was the highest spiritual ideal, Maurice’s final relationship should be platonic, not sexual. Stone argues that Maurice and Clive’s platonic love is the only normal relationship in Forster’s novels, but it does not last (393). Instead, Maurice ends up with Alec in what critics have considered a lust-based relationship. In the “Terminal Note” to Maurice, Forster remarks that Lytton Strachey was the first to hold this opinion. “He wrote me a delightful and disquieting letter and said that the relationship of the two rested upon curiousity and lust and would only last six weeks” (Forster, Maurice, 252). Stone, in agreement with Strachey, says Forster could not find the “fictional alchemy for transmuting lust into love” (398).

However, Forster felt he must depict a realistic homosexual relationship. To understand why Forster felt it was more likely for Maurice to end up with Alec than Clive, Forster’s own homosexual background and Edwardian England’s views of homosexuality need to be understood.

Although Forster said he tried to create characters unlike himself in Maurice, studies have shown that many homosexuals have similar childhood environments as do Forster and his characters. Often, homosexuals have dominant and over-protective mothers. E.M. Forster’s own mother was controlling as are Forster’s depictions of Clive and Maurice’s mothers (Beauman 94). Freud stated that homosexuals:

“pass through a phase of very intense but short-lived fixation to a woman/(usually their mother), and that, after leaving this behind, they identify themselves with a woman and take themselves as their sexual object. That is to say, they proceed from a narcissistic basis, and look for a young man who resembles themselves and whom they may love as their mother loved them” (Beauman 120-21).

Maurice and Alec in the 1987 Merchant Ivory film. Maurice is played by James Wilby and Alex by Rupert Graves.

Homosexuality is also often a search for the missing father figure, whether the father has died, is absent, or is not accepting of his son. E.M. Forster’s own father died when Forster was twenty-two months old; similarly, Maurice and Clive both have deceased fathers from the time they are children. Beauman writes in her biography of Forster, “It would not be for merely sexual reasons that Morgan’s lovers would be younger than himself, the traditional love of the older man for the younger” (183). Forster’s homosexual relationships were largely a recreation of his own father’s homosexuality (Beauman 183). To make up for the absence of his father during his childhood, Forster tried to copy his father’s past through his homosexuality. Bieber and Bieber, in their study Homosexuality, state that the return of the homosexual’s love by a man acts as a replacement for the missing love of the father. Often in adulthood, the homosexual will be attracted to a man who in some way resembles his father. Acceptance by this other male then allows the homosexual to adjust to the psychological problems that originated in his childhood (Bieber 11).

Although the background of Clive and Maurice’s lives are largely based on Forster’s own background, when Forster wrote the first draft of Maurice between 1913 and 1914, he had not yet experienced a homosexual relationship. His knowledge of homosexual coupling was primarily through his acquaintance with the homosexual couple Edward Carpenter and George Merrill. In the “Terminal Note” to Maurice, Forster states that he first met Carpenter “as one approaches a saviour” (Forster 249). Carpenter and Merrill eventually taught E.M. Forster to accept his homosexuality and consider the possibility of homosexual relationships in his own life. Forster’s first meeting with the couple also inspired him to write Maurice.

Why Forster did not accept his homosexuality sooner lies in the attitudes toward sex in late Victorian and Edwardian England. Young men and women rarely even thought about sex before marriage. Even those who were knowledgeable about sex were often hesitant to engage in it. In the 1860s, Dr. William Acton wrote:

“The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled with sexual feelings of any kind…. No nervous or feeble young man need, therefore, be deterred from marriage by an exaggerated notion of the duties required from him” (Pool 186).

Forster was also fairly naive about sex, and stated, “not till I was 30 did I know exactly how male and female joined” (Beauman 119). Until adulthood, Forster was not always aware that the stirrings in his body were sexual, much less homosexual (Page “Maurice” 91).

This naivety about sex is expressed in Forster’s novels. Forster admitted the scene in Where Angels Fear to Tread when Gino tortures Philip had “stirred him,” but he “neither knew nor wondered why’” (Page, “Novel: Maurice,” 91). After Gino’s baby dies, Philip claims to feel guilt, but since Philip knows Gino will resort to anger and violence, why does he say, “You are to do what you like with me, Gino” (Forster, Angels, 95) unless he secretly wishes to be physically punished by Gino because he finds Gino sexually attractive? In Maurice, Forster writes of Clive and Anne that, “When he arrived in her room after marriage, she did not know what he wanted. Despite an elaborate education, no one had told her about sex” (164).

Neither does Maurice always understand his homosexual desires. At school, he continually experiences sexual bewilderment. Finkelstein argues that this bewilderment is not a sign of Maurice’s future homosexual behavior, but the lack of girls at school for Maurice to have boyhood crushes on (“Maurice” 143). However, when people are with only members of their own sex, as in ancient Greek society or in modern day prisons, it is not uncommon for an otherwise heterosexual man to engage in homosexual acts. After years at a boys’ school, Maurice has almost no knowledge of women other than those in his family; therefore, it is almost natural for him to find his own sex attractive.

As a child, Maurice does not understand his feelings for the gardener boy, and even after his homosexual relationship with Clive, he still does not fully comprehend his nature. When Maurice finally realizes he has uncontrollable lust for men, then “certain obscurities of the last six months became clear” (Forster, Maurice, 151). Such examples support Norman Page’s statement that “the varieties of sexual impulse and behavior, so prominent in the public and private discourse of our time, would simply not occupy a readily accessible region of the Edwardian bourgeois mind” (“Novel: Maurice” 91).

For a homosexual in Edwardian times, sexual thoughts were also probably repressed. After Oscar Wilde’s trial in 1895, homosexuality became a crime with a penalty of up to two years in prison (Pool 190). Stone sees Maurice as the work of a homosexual who felt like an underground criminal; Forster, like other homosexuals, felt ashamed of himself because society told him he should be ashamed (387-8).

Since homosexuals were criminals, they lived in guilt and fear of exposure. Blackmail was a common occurrence in the lives of homosexuals from the 1760s through Forster’s time (Nadel 183-4). Maurice, however, fears blackmail not only because of his homosexuality but because his fear is a “conditioned, middle-class reflex” (Nadel 184).

Maurice believes that both the discovery of his homosexuality and his sexual relations with one of the lower class would be equally shameful (Finkelstein, “Maurice,” 166). Edwardian society believed a relationship with one’s social equal, even if unsatisfactory, was preferable to a relationship with one of the lower class (Nadel 184). Clive echoes this belief when he warns Maurice that members of the lower class cannot be trusted to be loyal or honest (Forster, “Maurice,” 205). Forster, however, was against the class structure in England. He personally preferred the lower classes, so he felt it necessary for Maurice to end up with Alec who is of the lower class.

Because Forster was from the upper middle class, he could accurately portray it in his fiction, but it is usually not a glowing representation. Forster was greatly disgusted by the false values of his class, values like those of Henry Wilcox in Howards End. Henry is forgiven by his wife Margaret for committing adultery, but he cannot forgive Margaret’s sister Helen when she makes the same mistake. Maurice also feels he is superior to others. He says of the poor, “They haven’t our feelings. They don’t suffer as we should in their place” (168). Only after he becomes involved with Alec does Maurice consider that “servants might be flesh and blood like ourselves” (Finkelstein, “Maurice,” 167).

Forster detested snobbery from childhood. As a boy, he preferred playing with hired garden boys over his own cousin (Olson 390). Neither did he like his fellow schoolmates, of whom he said, “if they were not the sons of gentlemen they would not be so unkind” (Olson 390). For Forster, being upper class meant being materialistic; in contrast, he felt the lower classes were less snobbish and more spiritual.

In his novels, Forster depicts his lower class characters as being wiser and more spiritual because of their association with the land. Jean Olson refers to these characters as “noble peasants.” They have instinctive wisdom because they or their ancestors have used their hands to do physical labor that connects them to the land. This connection to the earth makes the noble peasant morally and spiritually superior (Olson 389). However, when the noble peasant is uprooted from the land to the city and made to serve the rich, he loses touch with the land and begins losing his spirituality (Olson 394).

In Howards End, Leonard Bast is on a quest to regain this spirituality, but his separation from the land makes this difficult for him (395). Similarly, Mrs. Wilcox is a noble peasant; she is descended from the yeoman class and attached to her country home, yet she is forced to live in the city with her family (Olson 393). In Maurice, Alec Scudder is first viewed by Maurice as a type of “noble peasant” because he is a gamekeeper, but later we learn his family are merchants.

Forster’s belief in the spirituality of the “noble peasant” or the lower class connects with his belief that male friendship is a higher spiritual ideal than heterosexual marriage. John Addington Symonds, an early proponent for the homosexual movement, also saw homosexuality as superior to heterosexuality because homosexuals were less bound by material considerations (Summers 147). His contemporary Edward Carpenter, and other homosexual proponents, did not agree with him, yet Symonds’ theory is logical. Marriage can be entered into for romantic or financial reasons. Homosexuality, however, was a crime in Forster’s day. People in homosexual relationships were putting their lives in danger. Therefore, it is more likely that a homosexual would only enter into a relationship if he were in love.

However, Forster has been accused of basing Maurice and Alec’s relationship on lust rather than love. Considering the restraints society placed on the homosexual, Forster may have felt this was the most realistic way to depict homosexuality in his time. Because homosexuality was a crime, many homosexuals probably stayed in the closet. This made it more difficult for homosexuals to find suitable partners. The homosexual may have settled for the first partner willing to stay with him, rather than search for one’s soulmate, meaning many homosexual relationships would have been based on lust and security. Alec, unlike Clive, is willing to stay with Maurice. While Maurice is between relationships, he suffers from great feelings of loneliness and an inability to control his lustful thoughts. Although there are indications that he does love Alec, Maurice seems to be looking for security in a relationship. Forster should not be criticized for concluding the novel with a lust-based homosexual relationship; this was probably the only option for many homosexuals because of the restraints society placed upon them.

Maurice and Clive from the 1987 Merchant-Ivory film. Clive is played by Hugh Grant.

Forster preferred the working class because, as Ackerley said, working class boys were “more unreserved and understanding” (Nadel 187). The working class’s lack of financial power left them without reason to be snobbish. Unreserved could mean more honest, easier to talk with, or less pretentious. Forster’s guilt about sex might have been easier for him to work off on social inferiors simply because they were more understanding (Nadel 187). Probably the direct opposite is true when Maurice says of the poor, “They haven’t our feelings. They don’t suffer as we should in their place” (Forster 168). Servants probably suffered more than their masters because they not only had to care for their masters but also for themselves. Nor did they have the financial power to alleviate their suffering.

Maurice realizes the compassion that one of the working class can have after his second night with Alec. Alec is extremely gentle and soft-spoken with Maurice. After their second night together, Alec says to Maurice, “You comfortable? Rest your head on me more, the way you like more . . . that’s it more, and Don’t You Worry. You’re With Me. Don’t Worry” (228). Then Maurice sees in Alec all the qualities he has sought in a companion. “Scudder had proved honest and kind. He was lovely to be with, a treasure, a charmer, a find in a thousand, the longed-for-dream” (Forster 229).

When Maurice realizes he loves Alec after the first night, he asks Alec, until now simply known as Scudder, what his first name is. This begins the breakdown of class between the lovers. Maurice then tells Alec his own name, but Alec continues to address him as Mr. Hall (195). The distance created by class is also noticeable in the letter Alec sends to Maurice. Alec addresses it to “Mr. Maurice. Dear Sir” and signs it “A. Scudder (gamekeeper to C. Durham Esq.)” (207). However, Alec’s feelings for Maurice are displayed in the postscript when out of concern over the news of Maurice’s illness, Alec addresses Maurice by his first name.

Later when Alec and Maurice meet at the British Museum, and Alec confesses that he does not wish to blackmail Maurice, he again uses Maurice’s first name. Maurice responds, “Maurice am I?” (224) and Alec says, “You called me Alec. . . . I’m as good as you.” (225). Alec has earlier, in his third letter to Maurice, insisted on equality by writing, “I will not be treated as your servant” (216). Nadel argues that this equality can only happen outside of class (Nadel 186); he must now choose between his social position and the man he loves. When Maurice suggests they spend their lives together by escaping into the greenwood, he has finally broken the class barrier between Alec and himself. As earlier stated, Forster’s favorite way to “connect” was through love (Stone 392), and it is Maurice and Alec’s love that allows class boundaries to be overcome so they can connect.

Forster suggests through Maurice and Alec’s love that a good homosexual relationship cannot exist between two members of the same class (Page, “Minor Fiction,” 121); Stone argues that a normal love relationship does exist between Maurice and Clive (393). It is not their membership in the same class that eventually separates Maurice and Clive, but rather Clive’s change to heterosexuality which is brought on by his illness. The relationship is not totally broken down, however, because Maurice still loves Clive. Only when Clive disapproves of Alec does Maurice realize how false are the values of his own class; he then decides one of the lower class would be a preferable lover. By allowing Maurice to end up with Alec, Forster was making an attack against the false values of his class. Disgusted by class snobbery, Forster found it easier to free himself from the bonds of his own class through a relationship with a lower class man; furthermore, because Forster only had homosexual relationships with working class men, he may have felt it safest to write about what he knew.

Yet Forster’s disbelief in the superiority of one class over another is tied, strangely enough, to his belief in the need for one homosexual’s dominance over the other in a mixed class relationship. A working class lover could help boost the middle class homosexual’s self-esteem. Having a working class lover could improve one’s sense of self-worth by placing the upper or middle class homosexual in a dominant position over the working class homosexual. In Forster’s time, men were the heads of heterosexual households, but if two men were lovers, there was the question of who would take on the dominant role. If the lovers were of two separate classes, the working class lover could then be “dominated financially, socially and intellectually” (Nadel 188).

Despite this logic, we still cannot overlook the existence of lust in a homosexual relationship. Forster’s own words prove that he had intense feelings of lust for other men. He may have found working class lovers more desirable simply because they were more sexually attractive. Forster found himself sexually stimulated by violence and expressed this through his characters in Maurice. When Maurice wrestles with him, Clive realizes that “he liked being thrown about by a powerful and handsome boy” (Forster 71). Later, Alec also likes to roughhouse with Maurice. Sexual stimulation from violence is also hinted at in Where Angels Fear to Tread when Philip allows himself to be beaten by Gino. Writing scenes of roughhousing between men may have been Forster’s way of experiencing his own sexual fantasies. In 1935, Forster wrote, “I want to have a strong man of the lower classes and be loved by him and even hurt by him” (Nadel 187). Forster clearly felt that violence was inseparable from a homosexual relationship (Stone 390).

It is no more strange for a homosexual than for a woman to desire a working class man. Nadel states that the working class lover had a physical beauty that made him attractive to the middle class male (188). Working class men usually have jobs that are stereotyped as more masculine such as construction, carpentry, farming, or other physical labors. In most cases, men who do physical labor are more muscularly developed than others; therefore, an upper or middle class man may simply find a working class man more sexually attractive than one of his own class.

For a homosexual, this desire for a masculine man may also have a basis in most homosexuals’ negative relationships with their fathers. Children are always dominated by their fathers if only because fathers are physically more powerful than their children. The desire for a physically powerful male lover may be the homosexual’s desire to submit to a father figure who will accept and love him unlike how his own father treated him. This concept has been backed up by case studies (Bieber 100).

Homosexuality is often a psychological quest by the homosexual to repair the relationship between the father and son. This can be achieved symbolically by the homosexual’s submission to a masculine authority figure. For the middle or upper class man, then, submission to a man of the working class means being dominated. At the same time, the working class lover finds satisfaction in being “dominated financially, socially and intellectually” (Nadel 188). Therefore, both lovers can be dominated in some way by the other, as if they were submitting to their fathers, and this allows mutual satisfaction and psychological recovery from their negative childhood experiences. For two lovers of the same class, there could be no satisfaction because their equality did not permit either to exert power over the other. In this way, E.M. Forster was probably correct in his belief that only lovers of two different classes could achieve a spiritual union, and this spiritual union was based on the ability to overcome their psychological problems and become emotionally whole.

Howards End continually stresses the idea that people must connect. Jeane Olson, in her article “The ‘Noble Peasant’ in E.M. Forster’s Fiction,” states that there is no perfect noble peasant. Instead, there are pairs of characters who are able to achieve something close to the ideal when they connect (400-1). Howards End is an example of this. Mrs. Wilcox, Margaret, and Leonard Bast all have qualities that make them “noble peasants”; however, none of them achieve the ideal. Only the combination of their characters gives hope for the future. Mrs. Wilcox gives the house to Margaret, Leonard provides the child through his union with Helen, and Margaret intends to leave Howards End to Helen and Leonard’s illegitimate child. Lionel Trilling sees this child as the symbol of the future classless England, and as the only true symbol of the connect theme throughout Howards End (Trilling 135).

In Maurice, Forster again stresses the need for a classless England. Although there is no symbol as powerful as the child at the end of Howards End, Alec and Maurice’s union also represents the future of England. The homosexual relationship achieves the highest spiritual union in Forster’s opinion, and it also creates a union between England’s different classes. Colmer, probably borrowing from Trilling’s ideas, sees Maurice and Alec’s union as the promise of a redeemed classless England (“Maurice” 124). Maurice and Alec’s love may even be Forster’s best symbol of the future classless England because it contains a successful romantic relationship unlike in Howards End. The child in Howards End is not born out of love but rather Helen’s experimental ideas about class (Martin 124). Maurice and Alec’s relationship is based on love so it is more spiritual and may have the power to break down class structure.

However, most critics have been disappointed by the end of Maurice. Cynthia Ozick condemned it as “an infantile book that pretends to be about social justice but is really about wishing” (Grant, “Maurice as Fantasy” 191). E.M. Forster knew that an escape into the Greenwood was not realistic, but he wished it could happen. In the “Terminal Note” to Maurice, Forster himself admitted it was not realistic, especially since the book takes place in approximately 1912, and Maurice and Alec’s life in the Greenwood would have undoubtedly been interrupted by World War I (254). However, some critics have found the end satisfying. Colmer said that Maurice is beautiful because it gives hope to those controlled by laws (“Maurice” 127). This hope is hope for homosexuals, but also for everyone unjustly discriminated against, and in a class structured society there is always prejudice, so the novel may be foretelling a “redeemed, classless England.”

Despite Forster’s marvelous efforts, none of his novels completely succeed in making the union of classes convincing. There is hope in the child of Howards End, but this child is not born of love. In Maurice, there is love, but no child is born. If there was a child of hope born out of love, then the image of England’s classless future would have been stronger. However, because Forster believed no true happiness could exist in a heterosexual marriage, and obviously children are not born of homosexual relationships, he could not produce the image of a child born out of love. Maurice best portrays Forster’s idea that homosexuality is the strongest spiritual union, but the homosexuality in the novel is also what mars Forster’s powerful theme.

Forster wrote one more novel, A Passage to India (1924), a decade later. This novel again deals with connection, though between people of different race as well as class. The novel also contains homosexual overtones in the friendship between the British Cyril Fielding and the Indian Aziz Banerjee. However, Cyril and Aziz’s friendship is affected by the tyranny of the British Empire over India. Cyril, because he is British, is a member of the upper class; Aziz’s Indian blood makes him a lesser class citizen. At the end of A Passage to India, Aziz exclaims to Cyril that the British must clear out of India:

“and then,” he concluded, half kissing him, “you and I shall be friends.”

“Why can’t we be friends now?” said the other, holding him affectionately. “It’s what I want. It’s what you want.” (361-2).

However, the narrator states that the earth and nature do not want it. “They didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices, ‘No, not yet,’ and the sky said, ‘No, not there’.” (Forster 362).

These are the last lines to Forster’s last novel. It was his final statement about mankind’s ability to connect, and through the friendship of Aziz and Cyril, it is also his final statement about homosexuality; no matter how beneficial Forster sees homosexuality, the world, and especially society, continually say “not yet.” Maurice and Alec will not be accepted by society, so if they want to be together, they must hide their true feelings. This is the meaning of their disappearance into the greenwood. Forster knew a happy homosexual relationship would always be marred by society’s disapproval.

In writing Maurice, Forster was only wishing for homosexuality’s acceptance. Yet, Colmer is wise to say the novel gives hope for the future and those controlled by the laws (“Posthumous Fiction”127). In this hope, Forster saw the future. Fortunately, he lived to see the repeal of the laws against homosexuality, although he was eighty-one when it finally occurred in 1960. Since then, England has also become more classless. Therefore, in its prophesying of things to come, perhaps Maurice is far more superior than most critics have claimed.

 

Works Cited

Beauman, Nicola. E.M. Forster: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Bieber, Irving et al. Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study. Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, 1988.

Born, Daniel. “Private Gardens, Public Swamps: Howards End and the Revaluation of Liberal Guilt.” Novel 25 (1992): 141-59.

Colmer, John. “Marriage and Personal Relations in Forster’s Fiction.” E.M. Forster: Centenary Revaluations. Eds. Judith Scherer Herz and Robert K. Martin. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1982. 113-123.

Colmer, John. “Posthumous Fiction.” E.M. Forster: The Personal Voice. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975. 109-136.

Finkelstein, Bonnie Blumenthal. “Howards End.” Forster’s Women: Eternal Differences. New York: Columbia U P, 1975. 89-116.

———. “Maurice.” Forster’s Women: Eternal Differences. New York: Columbia U P, 1975. 137-72.

Forster, E.M. Howards End. 1910. In E.M. Forster: Three Complete Novels. New York: Gramercy Books, 1993.

———. The Longest Journey. 1907. New York: Random House, 1993.

———. Maurice. 1971. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1987.

———. A Passage to India. 1924. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.

———. Where Angels Fear to Tread. 1905. In E.M. Forster: Three Complete Novels. New York: Gramercy Books, 1993.

Grant, Kathleen. “Maurice as Fantasy.” E.M. Forster: Centenary Revaluations. Eds. Judith Scherer Herz and Robert K. Martin. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1982. 177-89.

Nadel, Ira Bruce. “Moments in the Greenwood: Maurice in Context.” E.M. Forster: Centenary Revaluations. Eds. Judith Scherer Herz and Robert K. Martin. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1982. 113-123.

Olson, Jeane N. “The ‘Noble Peasant’ in E.M. Forster’s Fiction.” Studies in the Novel 20.4 (1988): 389-403.

Page, Norman. “Minor Fiction: Maurice and the Short Stories.” E.M. Forster. New York: St. Martin’s, 1988. 117-26.

———. “Novel: Maurice.” E.M. Forster’s Posthumous Fiction. British Columbia: U of Victoria, 1977. 67-102.

Stone, Wilfred. “Overleaping Class: Forster’s Problem in Connection.” Modern Language Quarterly 39.12 (1978): 386-404.

Summers, Claude J. “The Flesh Educating the Spirit: Maurice.” E.M. Forster. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. 141-180.

Trilling, Lionel. “Howards End.” E.M. Forster. 1943. Binghamton, NY: Vail-Ballou, 1964. 113-35.

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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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New Fairytale-Type Story Blends Vampire Lore with Arthurian Legend

Picus the Thief, translated by Robin Bennett, is an original book that takes several traditional storytelling motifs and gives them new life through multiple reimaginings of legends and traditions.

Think of it as fairyland meets Camelot meets Dracula. It’s a little of all of those, and yet not strictly tied to any of them.

PicustheThiefThe title character, Picus, is a vampire, but he’s not your typical vampire—although there is a reference to Dracula as a sort of vampire ancestor—but that’s rather anachronistic—in fact a lot of things about this book are anachronistic. In any case, Picus is not only a vampire but he has fairy-like or, more properly, dragonfly-like wings. He is about the size of your forefinger, and as one of the human characters says when he meets Picus, to Picus’ displeasure, he’s kind of like a mosquito—he can fly and he sucks blood.

Picus is far from a scary vampire. One of his bites probably doesn’t hurt much more than that of a mosquito, so he’s not a bad guy. That said, vampires do think well of themselves; there’s plenty of vampire superiority in this book—a tone that vampires are better than humans—although I’m not sure that that isn’t all vampire propaganda.

To understand why it might be termed propaganda, we have to look at the book’s authorship. It is actually the first book in the Small Vampires series, which will provide a history of the vampires. The book was allegedly discovered in manuscript form in a curious way by Robin Bennett, who explains in the introduction how the strange book in an unfamiliar language eventually came into his hands. After some difficulty he managed to translate it. In short, he learned it was written by vampires, so obviously they will portray themselves in the best light. He also learned that there were people in the world who might be willing to harm him to get their hands on the book, and so he decided to publish it so there would be no one copy that could be stolen from him. All of this is explained in a very engaging way that made me realize that here was the typical eighteenth century Gothic novel technique of the mysterious discovered manuscript, but at the same time, it was written in a fun way that made me feel more like I was entering a playful and mysterious world akin to Narnia or Neverland.

And then the story starts and we are introduced to Picus. It is the year 266 A.D. we are told, which is rather odd and why I say the book is anachronistic since Dracula (if he was first the historical Vlad Tepes) lived in the fifteenth century, and eventually, Picus goes to Angleland at the time soon after the Romans have left—they wouldn’t leave in reality until about 410 A.D. and there were certainly no Angles in England at that time (but this is Angleland not really England). In short, Bennett, whom I suspect is the author despite his claims to being the translator, is writing pseudo-history and consequently everything in this book is “pseudo”—pseudo-vampires and pseudo-Arthurian legend especially.

Despite the vampires’ belief that they are superior to their cousins the Faies (fairies) and to the humans (who may have some distant relationship to both of these more supernatural beings, though the humans are magic-less), the vampires have some issues of their own. At least Picus does. He grew up in a dysfunctional home in which he was asked to murder his Sanguine—a wingless being the vampires have bred as servants and to feed upon. Picus’ refusal to kill his Sanguine led to his flight from home and his mother’s anger. Talk about dysfunction. Before the book ends, this mixed up family turns out to be more like Hamlet’s family than that from any happy fairy tale—come to think of it, most fairy tales do feature dysfunctional families—think of all those evil stepmothers.

Anyway, Picus makes his living as a thief, and we follow him from one theft to another until he finds himself being commissioned to enter the human world and steal the sword Exkylipr, which was forged in the belly of the Chalice and is one of the seven treasures. (Think Excalibur and Merlin collecting the Thirteen Treasures of Britain.) The humans were given the sword many years before, but now the vampires want it back, so Picus is sent to retrieve it. He ends up going to Camelon Castle, but he doesn’t meet any Arthur there. (There is an Art in the book, but he’s a vampire and runs a pawn shop—nothing kingly about him.) Instead, Picus meets an Ambrosias (no uncle to King Arthur but an old lady and the court physician). She is wise enough to know his purpose and eventually befriends him.

I won’t say more because I don’t want to give away the whole plot, but don’t look for an Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle in this book, and don’t look for your typical vampires, even though these vampires do have roots in Transylvania and the Carpathians.

Rather, expect a highly original take on old legends that is playful yet not lacking in adventure or even violence. There’s a feel of almost Irish leprechaun trickery here, a dash of Shakespearean revenge tragedy, and some beautiful prose worthy of Hans Christian Andersen. There’s plenty of whimsical creatures, complete with a glossary of them, an essay explaining magic in the vampires’ world, and even plenty of humor. For example, one of the funniest passages for me was “Gargoyles were also generally accepted to be the most nosey, pernickety, prissy and prying species on the planet after cleaning ladies….”

This is not a book for the die-hard Arthurian fan who likes depictions of the historical King Arthur. It’s more for fans who enjoyed the BBC’s Merlin. It’s also not for lovers of dark Gothic lore with all its angst or even the Twilight crowd—I think you’d be more likely a fan of The Addams Family or Young Frankenstein if you like this book—or maybe The Princess Bride. If you love fairies, I also think you’ll love these vampires, but perhaps not the fairies in the book—Queen Mab is about as awful as they come with her necklace made out of male vampire teeth, which has led to her nickname “The Tooth Fairy.” Actually, I loved hating her.

So it’s a little of everything—a little grotesque, a little funny, a little magical, and a little traditional. Plus, it’s a beautifully-designed book—the cover looks like a true lost manuscript or the kinds of books produced at the turn of the last century, and there are illustrations for each chapter, not of the characters, but of flowers and dragonflies that give it the feel of Victorian fairy tale books. I imagine many young adult readers will enjoy it, but adults may also feel here is some of the magic of childhood they knew that hasn’t been lost but only needs to be found again.

You can find out more about the “translator” Robin Bennett and the future books in this series at www.SmallVampires.com

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, and the upcoming Lilith’s Love and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com.

 

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Author of New Book “The Third Mary” Channels Mary Magdalene’s Mother

Roslyn Elena McGrath, author of "The Third Mary"

Roslyn Elena McGrath, author of “The Third Mary”

Today I’ve invited Roslyn McGrath, author of The Third Mary, to be my guest to discuss her book with her. I think this book will interest readers of my Arthurian and Gothic blog posts because of how it reimagines or rewrites (or perhaps more accurately tells the true version) of the gospel stories, which themselves influence Arthurian and Gothic literature, besides the fact that Christianity has influenced all of Western culture and literature for the last two centuries.

Roslyn is an intuitive, artist, healer and workshop facilitator living in Marquette, Michigan. She is the author and illustrator of Creative Wisdom Cards for Personal Growth, the creator and narrator of Creative Wisdom Meditations and meditation CD A New Radiance: Chakra Blessings from the Divine Feminine, and the publisher of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine.

Her focus is on self-actualization—continuing to unfold her own, and inspiring and supporting that of others.

Tyler: Welcome, Roslyn. I have to admit I was blown away by your book so I’m sure my readers will be interested in what you have to say. To begin, will you tell us just who was “the Third Mary”?

Roslyn: “The Third Mary” is the mother of Mary Magdalene, a spiritual teacher from biblical times who continues to remain available to support humanity.

Tyler: How did you come across the information for her?

Roslyn: From the time I read I Remember Union, a retelling of Mary Magdalene’s role as an integral partner in the fulfillment of Jesus’s mission, I felt a very strong, deep connection with her mother, although very little is actually written about her in the book. The connection felt overwhelming to me, so I didn’t explore it. Eventually, a friend in whom I confided this strongly suggested I dialogue with her spirit. Although I had great resistance to the idea, as soon as I heard it I also began to hear Mary Magdalene’s mother speak to me internally. About a week later, I committed to writing down the messages she wished to share, and did so nearly every day for a little over two months, until the 55 messages were complete.

Tyler: Why do you think you were the one able to channel this information? Why you and not someone else?

Roslyn: I’m sure others will in time, or perhaps someone unknown to me already has. I feel such a deep resonance with her, and channeling comes quite naturally to me. I have the gift of having received very little formal religious training, so I have no installed belief system working against my ability to neutrally receive these messages. And the Third Mary tells me we agreed long ago that I would do this as part of my life’s work.

Tyler: Of course, many people will be skeptical from the start about someone who channels a message from someone long dead. How would you answer those critics?

Roslyn: Again, for me channeling is simple and natural, but I realize there are others who see it differently. Ultimately, there is no death, as energy can take different forms, but its essence is eternal. So potentially, all of us can connect with anything from any time. I understand that from the human perspective, it may not appear this way. What really matters to me is whether the messages have value, are helpful to, connect with the readers, more than whether all readers agree with where they came from. And of course, I’d prefer that people understand I share these words from integrity with who I am. Although I’m honored to be able to share this information, my life would actually be simpler without writing and publishing this book.

Tyler: Well said, Roslyn, and having known you for many years, I can vouch for your integrity. Naysayers aside, I think most readers will be interested in the book because of how it depicts Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ relationship. That said, so many theories exist that they were married, a theory especially popularized in The Da Vinci Code in recent years, but a theory that goes back into antiquity. Therefore, some readers might suspect you have simply adapted such theories and made them your own, so tell us why you think the information about their relationship in this book is important and how it differs from standard views of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, or even these more “unorthodox theories” of their being married?

The Third Mary 55 Messages for Empowering Truth, Peace & Grace from the Mother of Mary Magdalene available at http://www.TheThirdMary.com

The Third Mary
55 Messages for Empowering Truth, Peace & Grace from the Mother of Mary Magdalene
available at http://www.TheThirdMary.com

Roslyn: I think it’s coded into all of us who are influenced by Judeo-Christian religions, and maybe even those who aren’t as well, to care about the nature of this relationship, to be deeply affected by it. Maybe this is because Mary Magdalene and Jesus took on such larger-than-life roles. I don’t know; it’s just my personal theory.

Be that as it may, I made a point of not reading or listening to anything on this topic, to lessen the potential for conflict between ideas in my mind and what I heard from Mary Magdalene’s mother. Though certainly I had already heard some of the basic concepts you mention, I did my best at each moment to take down this dictation as clearly as I could, word by word, and was often surprised by the direction the Third Mary would take, or particular words she would use that I hadn’t anticipated.

She describes Jesus and Mary Magdalene as having a spiritual marriage, rather than a traditional one, though formal vows were taken with those closest to them present. Information about biblical, as well as present and future times, unfolds gradually throughout the book quite deliberately, so I think it’s important that readers discover for themselves the specifics of what she means by this.

Tyler: What about the Third Mary delighted you, by which I mean what about her personality do you think is unique and special, or the words she chooses to use?

Roslyn: Wow, I guess I would say it’s the fact that she’s so clear and specific, so grounded and to-the-point, yet so loving at the same time. How much she cares about each one of us is huge, and in channeling her, I get to feel that, as well as the depth of her love, appreciation and admiration for Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and Mother Mary. And there’s a certain kind of rhythm and way of using words that she has; I don’t know how to describe it, but it has particular way about it.

Tyler: I’m trying to remember now whether Joseph of Arimathea was mentioned in the book. I believe he was at least briefly. As a scholar and lover of Arthurian legend, I know Joseph of Arimathea plays a key role in the legends. He is often claimed to be Jesus’ uncle, to have brought Jesus to England during the lost years of his childhood, perhaps so he could study or teach the druids, and later, Joseph returned, bringing the Holy Grail to England with him. I don’t think you in any way referred to these legends, but can you tell us anything more about Joseph of Arimathea and what the Third Mary said of him?

Roslyn: I also sense Joseph of Arimathea played a key role in biblical times, and I look forward to learning more about it myself. The Third Mary mentions him as one of the five who witnessed Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s wedding, so he must have been very close to them.

Tyler: The other aspect of the book that fascinated me was what the Third Mary said about Judas. Judas has had his own legends grow up around him, especially legends that influence Gothic literature. Despite the biblical account that he hung himself, he is sometimes surmised to be the Wandering Jew, cursed to wander the earth until Jesus’ Second Coming. More recently in the film Dracula 2000, it was suggested that Judas actually became Dracula. Yet you offer a very surprising and far less negative view of Judas in your book and one that I think really makes eminent sense to me. Will you tell us a little of what the Third Mary says about Judas and what his role really was in Christ’s story?

Roslyn: The Third Mary says when great spiritual energies/teachers looked for a relatively gentle way to help humanity evolve, the first being to speak up and choose a very challenging role in this process was the one who would become Judas. The Third Mary describes some rather unusual forms this took, as well as a particular perspective on the better known parts of his story. I will say that she had a very high regard for him.

I believe in time there are those who’ll come forward to share more specifics about his experience, and I look forward to this. He was a very strong and courageous soul.

Tyler: I was really blown away by what you say about him in the book and I appreciate you not giving it all away. I would really encourage any reader interested in Judas to read the book because of how surprising it is, but what for you was the most surprising information for you that you received in channeling this book?

Roslyn: I would say it’sthe lineage of Mary Magdalene’s children, which is revealed toward the end of the book.

Tyler: Ultimately, what do you feel is the reason why the Third Mary wanted to share this message and what do you hope readers will come away with from it?

Roslyn: More than anything, the Third Mary wants people to knowthat despite appearances to the contrary,timesare changing for the better, that much is going on beyond our conscious knowing to assist with this, and that each one of us has an important role to play in this shift. And that we are each so very, very loved, honored and cherished.

I hope readers will come away feeling more connected with their own truth and essence, and more capable of living in a way that honors and fulfills their souls.

Tyler: At the end of the book, I was left with the impression that you would receive future messages from The Third Mary. Have you, and will there be a follow-up book?

Roslyn: You’re the third person within a week who’s mentioned the idea to me, so perhaps it’s a sign! I do continue to communicate with the Third Mary, in making decisions about the book, and in group and individual channeled guidance sessions. And I’ll be sharing brief messages from her on my new website, www.TheThirdMary.com. So it’s possible there will be another book of her messages down the road, but I have no plans for this as yet. And I do have a few other books I’d like to publish.

Tyler: I understand you’ve recently written another book. Will you briefly tell us about it?

Goddess Heart Rising by Roslyn Elena McGrath

Goddess Heart Rising by Roslyn Elena McGrath

Roslyn: Yes, it’s called Goddess Heart Rising: Paintings, Poems & Meditations for Activating Your Divine Potential. It shares fifteen of my Goddess paintings, along with brief messages, poems, guided meditations, my personal commentary, and questions for reflection. It comes out of a ten-year process of art-making, workshops and private sessions. And it includes the full image of the Third Mary’s color portrait, a detail of which is on the cover of The Third Mary.

Tyler: I know you describe yourself as an intuitive and you help others. Can you explain a little about the types of coaching services you offer? And can you help others learn to channel if they so desire?

Roslyn: I’ve learned a number of ways to help people deeply relax, see things from a new, more constructive and clear perspective, and express their natural gifts more fully. Some of these take the form of intuitive counseling, energetic healing, channeled readings and life purpose drawings. Although so far I don’t teach people specifically how to channel, I can help people get to the place where they can better recognize and use their natural guidance system, which may include channeling.

In some cases, I’ve been able to assist clients to channel their own Higher Selves, which is very empowering for them!

Tyler: Thank you again for the opportunity to interview you today, Roslyn. Before we go, will you tell our readers where they can go to find more information about The Third Mary or to purchase a copy?

Roslyn: Yes, there’s more information at www.TheThirdMary.com. You can purchase a copy through there or starting May 23rd, on Amazon.com.

Tyler: Thank you again, Roslyn. I wish you much success with The Third Mary.

Roslyn: Thanks so much, Tyler! I really appreciate the opportunity to discuss the book with you and your readers.

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“The Master of Ballantrae”—RLS’ Great Gothic Novel

Years ago after my grandfather died, I discovered a complete set of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson in his garage, published in 1911. They were beautiful red books with gold engravings, and although I had previously read Kidnapped and Treasure Island as a boy and found them dull, I decided I would keep this set of books and maybe I would find I liked them because I was now older. And so I committed to read one of the twenty-six volumes every year until I finished. That was twenty years ago, but I have only made my way through nine of the volumes because I still find them fairly boring.

The Master of Ballantrae - published 1889

The Master of Ballantrae – published 1889

But this week that changed when I read The Master of Ballantrae. I knew there had to be a reason why people liked Robert Louis Stevenson and this fascinating novel makes up for all the others I had previously read, and I am writing about it because its wonderful Gothic tone and storyline totally captivated my attention.

The novel is set in the eighteenth century and tells of a father and his two sons, James “the Master” and Henry, and a young heiress, Alison, who is to wed the oldest son, but this is the time when Bonnie Prince Charlie is seeking to reclaim his throne and the Master decides to join him. What happens after to the Master is never completely clear. The family believes he has died, and in time the young lady weds the younger brother, Henry. And then the Master returns, a fugitive from the law since Prince Charlie’s campaign has failed. He has been wandering about the world and now come home, mostly because he wants money. The family cannot acknowledge him so he resides with them under an assumed name, and he soon sets about making all their lives miserable, constantly taunting his brother, bleeding the family of its wealth, and ultimately, insulting Alison by saying she is still in love with him.

What I find so fascinating about the storyline at this point is the tone of it and how much it resembles Wuthering Heights in that respect, including being told from the viewpoint of the steward, MacKellar, as Wuthering Heights was told from the servant Ellen Dean’s viewpoint. The Master of Ballantrae is not heavy in Gothic atmosphere and descriptions, but the tension among the family members reminds me of how Heathcliff leaves and returns after traveling in foreign parts, intent on his revenge.

In my constant quest to identify Gothic Wanderers, the Master fits the category nicely. Not only is he a villain, but Stevenson likens him to Milton’s Satan; he enjoys reading Richardson’s Clarissa, an implication that he is similar to that book’s villain Lovelace, who has frequently been compared to Satan as an attractive villain, and at one point, Stevenson tells us the Master is like a “magician who controlled the elements”—a reference to power that is typical of supernatural Gothic wanderers, especially the vampire, although The Master of Ballantrae, published in 1889, predates Dracula, published in 1897. Dracula is really the first vampire figure to have control over the elements, while earlier vampires and Wandering Jew figures are usually at odds with the elements, seeking to have Nature destroy them only to have it refuse to let them end their extended, miserable lives.

The Master is nothing if not a wanderer. Although he returns to Scotland to torment the family, he also goes off to foreign lands, including North America and India. In India, he finds a friend and companion, Secundra Dass, a native who travels with him, a man who will teach him the secret of rising from the dead, so to speak. And in New York, the Master supposedly buries a treasure in the wilderness. These two connections lead to the novel’s stunning end.

Of course, this is a novel of realism so there is no supernatural rising from the dead, yet the Master is depicted as if he almost has supernatural powers. After taunting his brother to an extreme, the Master and Henry fight a duel and it is believed the Master is slain, yet when Henry and MacKellar leave him to see to Henry’s welfare, when they return, the Master’s body has disappeared. He has managed to escape death and be rescued by smugglers off the coast of Scotland.

And finally (spoiler alert), at the end of the book, the Master journeys through the wilderness of New York to find his treasure but does not return. His brother, Henry, determined to have proof of his brother’s death so he can be sure his tormentor is finally dead, is led to the Master’s grave. Secundra Dass then digs up the Master, saying once before in India the Master faked death and was buried and regained life. For a moment, it appears that in New York he will also rise from the dead. The moment is gripping and sends the younger brother, Henry, to his death. MacKellar recounts the moment as follows:

“Secundra uttered a small cry of satisfaction; and, leaning swiftly forth, I thought I could myself perceive a change upon that icy countenance of the unburied. The next moment I beheld his eyelids flutter; the next they rose entirely, and the week-old corpse looked me for a moment in the face.

“So much display of life I can myself swear to. I have heard from others that he visibly strove to speak, that his teeth showed in his beard, and that his brow was contorted as with an agony of pain and effort. And this may have been; I know not, I was otherwise engaged. For at that first disclosure of the dead man’s eyes, my Lord Durrisdeer fell to the ground, and when I raised him up, he was a corpse.”

It is as if the Master has enacted a curse from the grave to kill his younger brother. But then the Master is unable to bring life back into his body, and Secundra Dass admits that while the trick worked in India, the ground is too cold in New York. And so the Master is also dead.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

These scenes of nearly rising from the dead recall tales of Resurrection Men, body snatchers who dig the dead from the grave. Dickens uses the term Resurrection Man in A Tale of Two Cities, and Stevenson himself had written a tale “The Body Snatcher” in 1884. I cannot doubt the idea remained of bodies being resurrected, and so he elaborated upon it in The Master of Ballantrae.

Altogether I found the novel fascinating. The first time I was convinced the Master had died, and yet he kept coming back and surprising me, so that I did not want to put the book down until I found out how it all would end. I was in fact disappointed that the story did not go on.

Stevenson’s reputation has declined since his lifetime, and there is good reason, for even his best known works, including Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, have been unable to retain my interest, but The Master of Ballantrae is an exception. It deserves a place among the great Gothic novels of the period, perhaps just a shelf below Wuthering Heights.

_________________________________________

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

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Lady Caroline Lamb’s “Glenarvon” and the Byronic Vampire

The following article is an excerpt from my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption:

Lady Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon (1816) is the first novel to make notable use of the vampire figure. The novel contains no actual vampire characters but suggests that its title character has vampiric characteristics. Glenarvon is usually passingly referred to as a source for Polidori’s The Vampyre, considered to be the first vampire tale in English prose fiction, but its own rich use of the vampire metaphor and the novel’s overall position within the Gothic wanderer tradition make Glenarvon a work that deserves more attention than it has hitherto received. While the work is poorly written and the plot is confusing, Lamb provides a remarkable treatment of the Gothic by blending the supernatural with the realistic. The novel never explicitly creates supernatural events until the final dramatic chapter, but it continually suggests how the supernatural is born of the psychological terror an individual experiences as the result of transgression and guilt. The novel focuses upon two distinctive Gothic wanderers: Glenarvon, who is based on Lord Byron, and the female heroine, Calantha, based upon Caroline Lamb. Glenarvon and Calantha’s romantic relationship is consequently Lamb’s rewriting of her tumultuous affair with Lord Byron. Lamb wrote the novel to avenge herself against Lord Byron for abandoning her. She depicts Glenarvon as a type of vampire damned beyond hope while Calantha is redeemed and forgiven her transgressions. Calantha’s redemption is surprising in a pre-Victorian novel, making the novel a notable exception in the early Gothic wanderer tradition; Calantha’s redemption results from Lamb’s identification with the heroine and a desire to vindicate herself from any wrong. Consequently, Lamb creates a remarkable double standard for the Gothic wanderer by allowing the female wanderer to be redeemed while the male wanderer must face damnation. The use of the vampire metaphor for Glenarvon furthers the legitimacy of his damnation while preparing the way for the vampire’s popularity throughout nineteenth century Gothic fiction.

Lady Caroline Lamb, author of Glenarvon

Lady Caroline Lamb, author of Glenarvon

From his first appearance in the novel, Glenarvon is considered a dangerous man and is described in terms suggestive of supernatural Gothic wanderers, particularly that of Satan, the Wandering Jew, and the vampire. Calantha first sees Glenarvon in the moonlight, making her feel she is in the presence of a “fallen angel” (121). She is told of Glenarvon’s melancholy and depressed state and that “it would surprise you how he howls and barks, whenever the moon shines bright” (122). The howling at the moon is suggestive of a werewolf to modern readers, but more specifically it relates Glenarvon to the vampire who is traditionally restrengthened by moonlight, only implied here in Glenarvon but expanded upon in later vampire tales. Calantha also learns that Glenarvon’s ancestor, John de Ruthven “drank hot blood from the skull of his enemy” (123), suggestive that Glenarvon’s vampiric characteristics are inherited. Lamb bases this anecdote on the actual occurrence of Lord Byron drinking wine from a skull in Newstead Abbey (Wilson, “Notes” 371). Glenarvon’s vampirism is also implied in rumors of his death, and in the novel’s description of how he keeps nocturnal hours.

“Glenarvon wandered forth every evening by the pale moon, and no one knew whither he went….And when the rain fell heavy and chill, he would bare his forehead to the storm; and faint and weary wander forth, and often he smiled on others and appeared calm, whilst the burning fever of his blood continued to rage within.” (178)

Like the vampire, Glenarvon is a nocturnal wanderer, and like Milton’s Satan, who feels Hell within, Glenarvon feels the “burning fever of his blood…rage within” (178). Glenarvon’s preference for the fiercest of nature’s elements is self-destructive and recalls the Wandering Jew who seeks death but is unable to achieve it. Furthermore, like the Jew, Glenarvon appears to realize that he is cursed so neither man nor Nature can harm him.

“That which was disgusting or terrific to man’s nature, had no power over Glenarvon. He had looked upon the dying and the dead; had seen the tear of agony without emotion; had heard the shriek of despair, and felt the hot blood as it flowed from the heart of a murdered enemy, nor turned from the sickening sight—Even storms of nature could not move Glenarvon. In the dark night, when the tempest raged around and the stormy ocean beat against the high impending cliffs, he would venture forth, would listen to the roaring thunder without fear, and watch the forked lightning as it flashed along the sky.” (141-2)

While Glenarvon is not actually supernatural, such descriptions suggest that he, and by extension, Lord Byron, are unnatural in their actions.

An edition of Glenarvon with a portrait of Lord Byron on the cover

An edition of Glenarvon with a portrait of Lord Byron on the cover

The most supernatural aspect of Glenarvon’s nature is his metaphorical vampiric ability to drain life from his female victims. While he does not literally drink his victims’ blood, he nevertheless drains energy from them, as Byron drained the women he loved and then abandoned them. As Glenarvon and Calantha’s relationship progresses, he becomes stronger and more dominant, while she becomes physically and emotionally weak and subservient. Frances Wilson remarks that Glenarvon seems to be draining “the living daylights out of her in order to maintain his own nocturnal existence” (Introduction xx). Glenarvon is not completely monstrous, however, for he warns Calantha of the dangers of loving him, saying “My love is death” (229). He states he is concerned about her fate, while he is “indifferent” (229) regarding his own. Calantha remains constant in her love for Glenarvon, although his warning makes her fear the future. Her friend, Gondimar, warns her to “look to his [Glenarvon’s] hand, there is blood on it!” (203), suggesting that, like the Wandering Jew, Glenarvon is marked with a curse. Following this warning, Calantha dreams of a monk, who like an Inquisitor, questions and warns her about Glenarvon. The monk tells her she must ask to see Glenarvon’s right hand because “there is a stain of blood on it” but “he [Glenarvon] will not give it you; there is a mark upon it: he dare not give it you” (204). When Calantha relates this dream to Glenarvon, he gives her a “demoniac smile” (204), and holds forth an unblemished hand. Nevertheless, Calantha feels frightened for, “His eyes glared upon her with fierce malignity; his livid cheeks became pale; and over his forehead, an air of deep distress struggled with the violence of passion, till all again was calm, cold, and solemn as before” (204). Glenarvon’s metaphorically marked hand and the fierce glare of his eyes are both trademarks of the Wandering Jew, while his paleness again suggests his vampiric nature. Calantha is stunned by his emotional behavior, but she is also irresistibly fascinated by him. In another of Calantha’s dreams, Glenarvon appears “pale, deadly, and cold: his hand was ice, and as he placed it upon hers, she shrunk from the grasp of death, and awoke oppressed with terror” (172). Nevertheless, she allows him to manipulate her, feeling sympathy for him when he tells her there is a “horrid secret, which weighed upon his mind” (175). Calantha’s concern for Glenarvon makes her think the guilt from this secret has driven him mad.

“He would start at times, and gaze on vacancy; then turn to Calantha, and ask her what she had heard and seen. His gestures, his menaces were terrific. He would talk to the air; then laugh with convulsive horror; and gazing wildly around, enquire of her, if there were not blood upon the earth, and if the ghosts of departed men had not been seen by some.” (175-6)

Despite Glenarvon’s strange behavior, Calantha continues to love and befriend him even when she feels her love places her on the border of sin. Like Melmoth the Wanderer, Glenarvon seeks a mate to lighten his curse, yet he regrets the afflictions she will receive by sharing his fate. He warns Calantha that he is the Hell she should shun because her association with him will forbid her entering Heaven, but she replies that the hopes and promises of religion and virtue are nothing to her without him (202).

Although Calantha is married, Glenarvon then convinces her to swear an oath of love to him, an oath that will bind their souls together as Christians are bound by their marriage vows. At first, Calantha’s inner soul revolts, but then she agrees, feeling one hour with Glenarvon is worth all calamities. She tells Glenarvon she will take the oath because his “words are like the joys of Heaven: Thy presence is the light of life” (218). Calantha has spoken blasphemy, making Glenarvon the light of life, thus comparing him to Lucifer before the fall, and setting him up as a type of Antichrist. She has committed a transgression against God by taking a sacrilegious oath that violates her marriage vow. She has also transgressed against the family by committing adultery. Now she has committed further sin by declaring Glenarvon is “the light of life” as if he were God, thus making her an idolater. Although she feels the impiety of her words, Calantha tells Glenarvon that their souls are now linked and he is her only master (220-1).

The impious marriage ceremony occurs during the moon’s half crescent, suggestive of Satan’s horns. The moon is also commonly depicted in vampire fiction as providing a source of life for vampires. During the ceremony, the moon casts fearful shadows (219-20), providing an ill omen for the couple’s future. Glenarvon gives Calantha a ring, saying that if there is a God, He will be the witness to the marriage vows. Calantha’s forehead begins to burn, suggestive of the guilt she feels, as if by the marriage ceremony she has a cursed mark on her forehead like that of the Wandering Jew. This burning suggests her connection now to Glenarvon, because on “his pale forehead…the light of the moonbeam fell” (220), suggesting he is himself cursed.

Once Calantha is damned with Glenarvon, the Narrator explains the moral of the tale, foreshadowing the novel’s denouement.

“When man, reposing upon himself, disdains the humility of acknowledging his offences and his weakness before his Creator, on the sudden that angry God sees fit to punish him in his wrath, and he who has appeared invulnerable till that hour, falls prostrate at once before the blow: perhaps then, for the first time, he relents; and, whilst he sinks himself, feels for the sinner whom, in the pride and presumption of his happier day, he had mocked at and despised. There are trials, which human frailty cannot resist—there are passions implanted in the heart’s core, which reason cannot subdue; and God himself compassionates, when a fellow-creature refuses to extend to us his mercy or forgiveness.” (253)

The moral is that no one is beyond salvation if he or she asks for forgiveness, for God is merciful even when humanity is not. This philosophy, however, Lamb only applies to Calantha while Glenarvon is condemned to damnation because Lamb chooses to depict him as unwilling to repent.

Soon after the sacrilegious marriage ceremony, Glenarvon abandons Calantha, leaving her heartbroken. Similarly, Lamb felt destitute when Byron deserted her, so she depicts Byron metaphorically as a vampire who leaves women feeling lifeless and longing for death after he deserts them (Wilson, Introduction xx). Calantha now repents for her transgressions committed with Glenarvon. She becomes ill and dies, but first she gains her husband’s forgiveness, and she feels that God has forgiven her for her sins.

After Calantha’s death, Glenarvon has a vision of her as an angel surrounded by celestial light. She tells him to live and be his nation’s pride, but when he asks whether she is happy or she still loves him, she becomes pale and ghastly and fades from sight (362-3). Glenarvon’s dream occurs on the eve of a battle for Irish freedom, equating it with typical dreams of ill omen that legendary heroes experience before their defeat and death in battle.

Glenarvon distinguishes himself in the following battle, but becomes ill immediately after. He now has a horrendous vision, which provides the climactic and powerful supernatural ending of the novel.

“‘Visions of death and horror persecute me,’ cried Glenarvon. ‘What now do I behold—a ship astern!….Is it that famed Dutch merchantman, condemned through all eternity to sail before the wind, which seamen view with terror, whose existence until this hour I discredited?’” (364-5)

The legendary Flying Dutchman

The legendary Flying Dutchman

Glenarvon has seen the legendary Flying Dutchman, a ship composed of murderous sailors, who are forced for all eternity to sail the seas, much as the Wandering Jew is continually forced to wander the earth until Judgment Day. The scene is also suggestive of the Ancient Mariner who travels aimlessly about the sea as punishment for his transgression of killing the albatross. Glenarvon sees spectral images on the vessel, including a friar who drowns a woman who loves him. Following this deed,

“the monk drew slowly from his bosom the black covering that enshrouded his form. Horrible to behold!—that bosom was gored with deadly wounds, and the black spouting streams of blood, fresh from the heart, uncoloured by the air, gushed into the wave. ‘Cursed be the murderer in his last hour!—Hell waits its victim.’….Well was it understood by Glenarvon.” (365)

Glenarvon orders his men to follow the phantom ship and they travel from coast to coast after it until Glenarvon, now mad, jumps into the sea. He feels himself sinking into darkness, even when his companions rescue him. Oblivious to those around him, Glenarvon hears a voice condemn him, “you did not bow the knee for mercy whilst time was given you: now mercy shall not be shown” (366) and Glenarvon is condemned to the lowest pits. The novel concludes with the statement, “God is just; and the spirit of evil infatuates before he destroys” (366). This stunning conclusion declares there is no redemption for the Gothic wanderer who shows no mercy to his victims and who does not repent until the last hour. Unlike Calantha, Glenarvon completely fails to gain the reader’s sympathy. His failure to repent makes him more typical of the Byronic hero who celebrates his rebellion and transgression than was Byron’s own depiction of a vampire in The Giaour.

Glenarvon’s condemnation is dramatic and stunning even beside the many other Gothic novels of the period. Lamb felt the novel tended to be too intense, so she made several major revisions in the second edition. Despite her obvious disgust with Lord Byron, Lamb toned down the characterization of Glenarvon as satanic (Clubbe 210), and she made Calantha and Glenarvon’s relationship intimate, but not suggestively sexual as in the first edition (Clubbe 211). Most strikingly, the second edition is more respectful of religion, all references to “God” being either omitted or replaced by “Father” (Clubbe 212). Lamb also surprisingly predates other Gothic novelists in her use of Catholicism, when its adherents were still politically oppressed and the Gothic continually depicted the Catholic Church as corrupt. In the second edition, Calantha converts to Catholicism before her death, which Lamb felt was explainable by the novel’s being set in Catholic Ireland (Wilson, Introduction xxiv). Lamb also adds a paragraph full of pious morality to describe how God forgives Calantha upon her death (Clubbe 212).

Glenarvon’s importance in the Gothic tradition and its influence upon the vampire figure cannot be overestimated. While Glenarvon is not a vampire, his vampiric characteristics would influence John Polidori, whose famous story would make the vampire a popular figure in English fiction. Glenarvon was also the first novel to redeem a transgressive Gothic wanderer figure, two decades before the Victorian period when such redemptions became common. Notably, the redeemed wanderer is a female, thus linking Calantha to the feminine Gothic tradition that seeks to vindicate Eve, and by extension all women, from being transgressors. Lamb’s use of Catholicism in the second edition as a means to redemption may have influenced Dracula’s use of Catholic religious objects to destroy Dracula, thus vindicating Catholicism from its derogatory image in earlier Gothic novels. Lamb’s depiction of a Gothic wanderer as redeemable would allow the vampire to become the most popular Gothic wanderer figure used by novelists to explore the psychological transformation of a person who passes from transgression to redemption as best demonstrated in the later works, Varney the Vampyre and Dracula.

Glenarvon was largely condemned by the critics, but notably, two Gothic novelists appreciated it. The painter, Northcote, recommended the novel to William Godwin as being a work of great talent. Because Godwin later became good friends with Lamb, he must have agreed (Wilson, “Lamb” 377). Edward Bulwer-Lytton remarked that when he was a schoolboy, Glenarvon:

“made a deeper impression than any romance I remember, and, had its literary execution equalled the intense imagination which conceived it, I believe it would have ranked among the few fictions which produce a permanent effect upon youth in every period of the world” (Wilson, “Caroline” 377).

The novel made such an intense impression upon Bulwer-Lytton because he admired Byron and in youth wished to model his life after him. Later when Bulwer-Lytton met Lamb in 1824, the novel contributed to his infatuation with her, and he hoped he could replace Lord Byron in her affections, although she was clearly not interested in such a relationship (Campbell 5-6). Lord Byron’s reaction is perhaps the most interesting though predictable. In a verse he wrote, he stated, “I read Glenarvon, too, by Caro Lamb— / God damn!” (Maurois 353). He further remarked that if Lamb had written the truth, the book would have been far better, and “As for the likeness, the picture can’t be good—I did not sit long enough” (Maurois 353).

Brocket Hall, said to be haunted today by Lady Caroline Lamb

Brocket Hall, said to be haunted today by Lady Caroline Lamb

While Glenarvon was the first novel to redeem the Gothic wanderer, the redemption of Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb is more questionable. The novel ironically foreshadows in Glenarvon’s death while fighting for Irish independence, Byron’s own death in 1824, during which time he was assisting in the Greek cause for independence, and died in Greece from an illness. Lamb’s own dramatic and often immoral life appears to have prevented her soul from achieving rest. Today, Lamb’s former home of Brocket Hall is said to be haunted by her ghost, which walks the halls and can be heard playing the piano (Bextor). Perhaps Lamb’s decision to damn Glenarvon/Byron resulted in her own soul’s damnation and eternal wandering.

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“American Ghoul” Full of Gothic Twists and Teenage Angst

ImageHoward Pickman is a lot like most teenage boys—a little nerdy, not exactly popular, very smart and just trying to make his way through high school—with one added problem. His family has a secret, and when that secret is discovered when the book opens, it results in Howard’s parents being torched to death and Howard fleeing in search of a safe place to begin his life over.

Howard’s secret is that he comes from a family of ghouls—not ghosts—for the Pickmans are flesh and blood people and not unlike anyone else except that they must eat human flesh to survive. They don’t even need to eat it frequently—Howard’s grandmother goes for years without it—but it results in her becoming weak and sickly. The Pickmans are not evil—they do no harm to humans. They simply rob graves and consume the newly dead to provide themselves with their needed sustenance—and that is how Howard’s parents were caught.

Being a ghoul is tough. Even after Howard escapes death and makes his way to his grandmother’s home in New Jersey, where he starts life and high school over, trying to fit in, he still has to rob graves for himself and his grandmother so they can live. He’s pretty good at grave robbing, but there’s always a risk.

What I most appreciated about “American Ghoul” was not necessarily its ghoulish context but how effortlessly Walt Morton works the Gothic elements into the story of what would otherwise be that of a typical teenage boy. I say Gothic because the novel is not really horror. The ghoul is the main character and the reader cheers for him—there is no supernatural force or creature for the reader or main characters to fear. The most evil things in the book are humans and a society that doesn’t understand ghouls, and especially a group of teenage boys who like to bully Howard and his nerdy friends who are starting up a punk band—it’s the early 1970s when punk was still taking off. The book’s real moments of horror all derive from being in high school and dealing with the bullies.

I also appreciated Morton’s use in the novel of the Gothic manuscript tradition. Howard’s grandmother gives him his grandfather’s letters from World War II, which reveal some interesting information about being a ghoul; Howard ponders this information and later it adds to the novel’s dramatic conclusion. Morton knows his Gothic tradition, using family secrets discovered in manuscripts to bring about a form of salvation—literal salvation in this case.

Finally, “American Ghoul” has plenty of humor enclosed in Howard’s interesting ghoulish perspective. He loves to watch old monster movies, but he feels sorry for the monsters, especially Godzilla, whom humans first waken and then decide to destroy when all Godzilla wants are answers for why they’re exploding an atomic bomb in his ocean lair. Howard also has interesting perspectives on writing—not being able to make much sense or find much value in William Faulkner’s inability to tell a story—and on religion, wondering whether Jesus might have been a ghoul also, considering he encouraged cannibalism among his disciples in the Eucharist, a ceremony Howard doesn’t really understand and which he mentally inverts in ways not too unlike Bram Stoker’s treatment of the Eucharist in “Dracula.”

Anyone wanting a refreshing story with a young voice full of humor and teenage angst, yet with all the Gothic trappings that have kept the genre popular for over two centuries would do well to give “American Ghoul” a try. It’s Morton’s first in an intended sextet of books in the supernatural horror genre, so don’t miss out and get left behind.

For more information on Walt Morton and “American Ghoul,” visit www.WaltMorton.com

— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. and author of “The Gothic Wanderer”

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