The Mysteries of Paris: Criminal Redemption and Non-Gothic Wanderers

Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris should need no introduction, and yet, while it remains well-known in France, few English or American readers will have heard of it. The novel was serialized in France in 150 installments from 1842-1843. As Peter Brooks says in the 2015 Penguin Books translation of the novel, it was “the runaway bestseller of nineteenth-century France, possibly the greatest bestseller of all time.” It was so popular that it led to many authors imitating it, including Paul Feval, who wrote The Mysteries of London in French and George W.M. Reynolds who wrote his own The Mysteries of London in English.

The 2015 Penguin translation of The Mysteries of Paris – the first translation into English in more than 100 years.

But for our purposes with this blog dedicated predominantly to the Gothic, the novel is of interest for two reasons: 1) as the most popular work of an author who would go on to write the almost-as-popular novel The Wandering Jew (1846) which uses the popular Gothic figure of the Wandering Jew as its key character, and more importantly, 2) as a novel about guilt and redemption.

The Mysteries of Paris is famous for being one of the first novels about urban crime, but I admit it was not what I expected. I imagined dens of thieves, something more akin to Oliver Twist (which predates it 1838). Instead, while the novel has numerous criminals in it, most importantly, it is about redemption.

The novel’s main character is Rodolphe. We first meet him on the streets of Paris when a criminal man, known as Slasher, hits a young prostitute named Songbird. Although the novel is not overly explicit about Songbird’s past, she is clearly a prostitute at only seventeen. Rodolphe stops the attack and gives Slasher a good thrashing. The result is that Slasher, who claims to be the second strongest man in Paris, is amazed to have been beaten by Rodolphe. In admiration, he immediately makes friends with him and then the three go to a tavern to dine.

To summarize the novel’s plot would be tedious and complicated, but to make a long story short, Rodolphe helps Slasher to become a decent citizen and lead a moral life. He also helps Songbird, sending her off to a farm where she can live a virtuous life.

As the story continues, the reader begins to pick up on hints that Rodolphe is not the common man he seems. He turns out to be the Prince of Gerolstein, a fictional principality in Germany. More importantly, he is someone set on doing good deeds. He also has a sidekick, Murph, an English knight, who aids him in his efforts. Several scholars have previously compared Rodolphe to Batman (and Murph seems like Alfred, the butler, to me). However, I think the comparison is a bit of a stretch, although the seeds are there, since Rodolphe doesn’t go out and actively fight crime, but he does help people when necessary. Batman may have more fancy gadgets and a costume, but truthfully, I think Rodolphe a more interesting character because he is more human, and more Gothic. Most versions of the Batman story show Bruce Wayne witnessing his parents’ murder by a criminal, which inspires him to fight crime, but Rodolphe has a different motive. He is filled with guilt and believes he must redeem himself. He once raised his sword to his father in anger, and consequently, he feels he deserves punishment. Batman is not a conflicted soul to the extent that Rodolphe is, and that makes him more human and more endearing, at least to this reader.

Poster announcing the 1843 publication of the novel.

The reason for Rodolphe and his father’s argument is at the heart of the novel. It is because of a marriage his father disapproved of. Rodolphe had married the Countess MacGregor; he had actually been tricked into marrying her when she became pregnant, and then she later told him their daughter had died, when in truth, she had given the child into the care of crooked people who told her it had died when they had really sold the child. After their child’s alleged death, Rodolphe divorced the countess, who never loved him but only had the goal to wear a crown on her head. Throughout the novel, she searches for and tries to regain him. In her determination to win back Rodolphe’s affections, she begins to suspect he is in love with Songbird and arranges to have the girl murdered, only to learn at the last minute that Songbird is her lost daughter. The countess then plans to reveal this to Rodolphe so he will marry her finally, but it is too late—by this point she is dying, and in the end, when they do remarry, it is only to legitimize their daughter.

Rodolphe aids many other characters throughout the novel against wicked men and women. He continually rewards the virtuous and metes out punishment or justice (depending on how you want to view justice) to various characters. At one point, he blinds a criminal rather than kill him, believing it will cause the criminal to become self-reflective and repent for his crimes. This punishment is extreme and doesn’t really work out to save the criminal’s soul, but most of Rodolphe’s other good deeds end up benefiting their recipients. In all these cases, he is a vigilante, also like Batman, but also like many characters who preceded him, such as Robin Hood.

However, despite all Rodolphe’s efforts to redeem himself by helping others, he ends up being punished for his crime, not directly, but through his daughter.

While largely unknown to English readers, The Mysteries of Paris remains popular in France and has been made into many film versions, including a 1943 film that this poster represents.

For a short time, Songbird and Rodolphe enjoy happiness in knowing they are reunited. However, once Songbird returns with Rodolphe to Gerolstein, where she is a princess, she finds she hates keeping up the charade that she is a virtuous, innocent girl who has lived always with her mother until now. She even receives a marriage proposal from an eligible young prince, but in the end, she refuses him. She feels she cannot be cleansed of her sin—the prostitution which was more inflicted upon her than her own fault. Ultimately, she turns down her suitor and decides to become a nun. Because of how others view her as virtuous and because she is now the Princess Amelie, it is decided that she will take her cousin’s position as abbess on the day she becomes a nun. She does not feel she is worthy of this honor either. Soon after, she dies, needing to free herself from her sin. Rodolphe is grief-stricken by her death but feels it is just punishment for his own crimes and that now his sins have been expiated. As for Songbird, one cannot help comparing her death to that of Richardson’s Clarissa. Clarissa has to die because she has been raped and death was the only way she could prove her virtue. Songbird dies to atone for her past as a prostitute, a past for which she is really not at fault. Her death washes away her sin.

Although The Mysteries of Paris is not a Gothic novel—even the crime-ridden streets of Paris lack the Gothic atmosphere that Dickens might have created—the Gothic theme of guilt and redemption is strong in Sue’s story. So also is the Gothic family plot that includes long-kept secrets that are ultimately revealed. Several of the other characters also undergo spiritual transformations and redemption as they struggle to become better. Slasher ultimately dies trying to save Rodolphe from an assassination attempt, which he also sees as expiation for his sins. He killed, so he must be killed. (He gained his nickname when he worked as a butcher and in a moment of madness slashed a man.)

Eugene Sue, who became a socialist after writing The Mysteries of Paris.

While Sue was writing the novel, he constantly received feedback from readers, and ultimately, by the time the novel was finished, his constant speeches about how social structures need to be put in place to prevent crime by relieving poverty led him to meeting and speaking with many people and ultimately led to his becoming a socialist. That said, I think this is far less a socialist than a very Christian novel. Sue’s intention is to help the poor, to see them as his brothers and sisters, and to persuade his readers to do something to help them. That is not socialism. That is Christianity pure and simple, and it is beautiful, if dark, in the way Sue treats it. Unfortunately, his Christian characters do not get their rewards or only enjoy them briefly in this life. But no matter; they cannot completely wash away their sins or forget their pain in this lifetime. Only God can wash away their sins, so they die and enter eternal life.

The novel is very powerful—perhaps not quite as much of a tearjerker as Les Miserables, but it certainly was inspiration for Hugo’s novel in its depiction of criminals who were largely forced by society into the crimes they participate in; for example, Jean Valjean stealing to feed his family and Fantine becoming a prostitute to feed her child. I was surprised to learn from the novel’s footnotes that prostitution was not only legal in France during this period but parents could even register their daughters as prostitutes to earn extra income to support the family. That Sue spoke out against such behavior, as I said, is not socialism but Christianity.

The novel’s influence was huge, not just inspiring other city mystery novels but Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, the latter of whom’s publisher wanted him to write a similar novel which later became The Count of Monte Cristo. The Mysteries of Paris would also be a grandfather to the superhero genre. Rodolphe has extreme if not superhuman strength. Jean Valjean will later also be marvelously physically strong. The influence of French literature on English literature was significant and has never been accurately analyzed, but no doubt many of the great British and American authors read this novel and its influence, overtly or not, continued on until heroes like Batman resulted.

Best of all, the novel remains highly readable today. It deserves to be one of the most read classics of French literature by readers worldwide.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include 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 and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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The Last Man: Cousin de Grainville’s Dernier Le Homme and Mary Shelley

In my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, I devoted an entire chapter to Mary Shelley and her place within the Gothic tradition, discussing not just Frankenstein but her third novel The Last Man (1826). The Last Man has become of great interest to critics in the last few decades for its apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. While Shelley had some predecessors in writing about the theme of the end of the world and there being one lone survivor, most of those works were poems, notably, Lord Byron’s “Darkness” (1816), Thomas Campbell’s “The Last Man” (1823), and Thomas Hood’s “The Last Man” (1826). However, one work was a novel, and it was not one I had read previously.

Published in 1805, Grainville’s novel was pirated and published without an author in England in 1806. Mary Shelley may have been inspired by it to write her own novel titled The Last Man

Recently, I reread Shelley’s The Last Man with an online group and became curious about this other novel that may have influenced her. The novel was Jean-Baptiste Francois Xavier Cousin de Grainville’s 1805 French novel Le Dernier Homme. I found a copy published in 2002 by Wesleyan University Press that states it is the “New English Translation.” It is translated by I. F. Clarke and M. Clarke, and it includes an introduction and critical materials by I. F. Clarke.

I purchased this copy on Amazon but did not realize it was a new translation of the novel until I received it. I admit I was disappointed by this because I wanted to read the version Mary Shelley would likely have read, if she did read it. However, after reading the introduction, I was not disappointed because it clarified that what Mary Shelley may have read was not really what Cousin de Grainville wrote, much less what he initially planned to write.

Grainville was born in 1746 of lesser nobility and became a priest in 1766. According to I. F. Clarke, he began writing Le Dernier Homme at age sixteen. Meanwhile, the French Revolution broke out. In 1790, he took an oath to the French Republic, and during the Reign of Terror, he left the priesthood. He would later marry, but his life was not happy; he and his wife were relatively poor, and in 1805, he committed suicide by throwing himself in the Somme Canal at Amiens at 2 a.m. If Grainville had no influence on Mary Shelley, it is clear that both of them had difficult lives and may have written their novels out of despair and grief. Shelley wrote her novel in the years immediately after her husband Percy Shelley drowned in 1823 and her friend Lord Byron died in 1824, making her feel like “The Last Man.”

Grainville’s manuscript was published after his death, but it was still not complete. While the text is a complete long piece of fiction, Grainville divided the book not into chapters but ten cantos. His intention was to use the prose he had written as a rough draft to be the structure for an epic poem, the first canto of which he had begun to turn into verse. Instead, the book was published as a novel in France in 1805. It caused no stir, and according to the preface to the second edition of 1811, it did not sell well. Clarke says it sold forty copies. However, it gained the interest of someone who wanted to translate it into English. In 1806, Grainville’s novel was published as The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, a Romance in Futurity in England. No author’s name appeared on the title page. According to Clarke, the translation shows that it was translated into English by someone whose first language was not English. Who the translator was remains unknown. Even if not English, the translator did know enough about English readers that they would not like certain passages in the novel that glorified France and belittled England. Remember, the novel was written during the time of the Napoleonic Wars. In one passage, we are told that in the future world Grainville depicts, England has sunk into the ocean. In another passage, the main character, Omegarus, is said to be descended from Napoleon and he is also of French royal lineage—a sign of the French thinking themselves superior since Omegarus is believed to be a messiah figure in the novel. These passages were removed from the English translation, and many other similar changes were made. The result was what appeared to English readers as an anonymous novel written by an Englishman.

So what Mary Shelley may have read had no taint of French to it. Le Dernier Homme is a very religious novel and one written by a Catholic priest, but Shelley, who would have been more attune to Protestant thinking and was perhaps an atheist, and whose own novel is often described as existential, would not have known any of these details, though doubtless she could not ignore the novel’s biblical and religious elements.

Mary Shelley’s The Last Man was inspired by her grief over the deaths of her husband Percy and close friend Lord Byron

What is religious about Le Dernier Homme is obviously influenced by the Bible, specifically the book of Revelation, but as Clarke points out, Paradise Lost must have also been an influence, especially Milton’s scene of Adam seeing the future of mankind since in Le Dernier Homme, Adam is a character who gets to visit his descendants Omegarus and Syderia, the last of the human race. Omegarus also at one point gets to see the future of the human race if he and Syderia should have children. Shelley no doubt would have picked up on these parallels to Paradise Lost since she herself was influenced by Milton’s masterpiece in writing Frankenstein.

Although I wish I had read the original pirated English edition of the novel because it would have been a more accurate way to determine any influence of Grainville’s book on Shelley, I think it’s fair to say that if the novel had any influence on Shelley, it was simply the theme of the end of the world and the Last Man that influenced her and nothing more specific. Clarke, in his introduction, says the novel did not influence Shelley’s work and that the similarities are coincidences. The only real similarities are, as Clarke notes, that both novels begin with a cave where an unnamed narrator enters and information is given about the future. Shelley’s narrator and her companion enter the Sibyl’s cave and find sibylline leaves scattered about the cave with writing on them—they piece together these fragments to create the narrative of her novel. Grainville’s narrator instead meets a Celestial Spirit in a cave who then shows him the story through an enchanted mirror. There isn’t anything else in the two novels that is similar other than a few passages where people see what appear to be multiple suns in the sky—Shelley doesn’t explain this phenomenon while Grainville explains that a volcano has erupted on the moon, causing it to look like another red sun from the lava.

Are those similarities or coincidences? Did Shelley read Grainville or not? We can’t say for sure. I think it likely, but if she used the novel as inspiration, it did not in any way limit her imagination from creating her own world. They are very different novels, Shelley’s novel shies away from religion except in the case of depicting one religious fanatic, while Grainville’s novel is filled with biblical imagery. The two novels are so different it is hard to say which is superior. For those interested in more information on Shelley’s novel, I invite them to read the novel and my chapter on it in my book The Gothic Wanderer. For those who want a plot summary of Grainville’s novel, I provide it below but also invite people to read it for themselves. Both novels have been discussed as early forms of science fiction, but there is nothing in terms of technology used in them—the authors could not foresee the technological world or even the advances to items like trains just decades away. The characters travel in balloons, although Grainville calls them “airships.” What makes the novels early forms of science fiction are simply their depiction of the future.

More importantly, both novels, though two centuries old, are still relevant to us today. Shelley’s world is destroyed through plague, which critics have likened to AIDS and other health crises we have faced in recent years. Grainville’s novel has more of an environmental message where the people have gone to live in cities and forsaken cultivating the earth so that plants no longer grow or are able to sustain people, and people themselves have become infertile. (Infertility is, notably, also a theme in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel written in 1985 and now a Hulu Original Series in 2017.) Both novels depict a pessimistic future, one that was not really imagined until the aftermath of World War II when it became apparent that mankind can destroy itself through nuclear weapons—a threat that has only become scarier as the years have passed. As we live today amid fears of overpopulation, global warming, and increased violence, we can look back and see just how insightful and prophetic both Shelley and Grainville were. In fact, just recently, Stephen Hawking has come out to say the earth can only sustain us for 100 more years. It is not far-fetched to think that one day one of our grandchildren’s grandchildren could be the last man or last woman.

In their day, Shelley and Grainville’s novels might have been dismissed as the works of people filled with depression, grief, perhaps even madness to the point where both were likely suicidal and one did commit suicide. But perhaps we can also see both authors as realists in their view of the future, even if not all of us would subscribe to Grainville’s Christian viewpoint or Shelley’s more atheistic one.

Today’s apocalyptic, end-of-the-world stories tend to be far less religious, and human fate tends to remain in human hands rather than in God’s. For example, in Robert O’Brien’s novel Z Is for Zachariah (1974), made into a film in 2015, the human race also gets wiped out save for a young woman and a man. When the man tries to rape the woman, she chooses to abandon him. In this case, it is not God who decides the human race cannot continue, but the modern-day Eve figure. She refuses to let a man have power over her. In a sense, this is coming full circle with ancient traditions and the tale of Lilith, believed in Jewish tradition to be Adam’s first wife who was rejected because she refused to let him be dominant over her.

In any case, Grainville and Shelley’s apocalyptic visions still resonate with us today. Perhaps they are prophets of a future we have yet to face.

 

Plot Summary with Some Commentary on Le Dernier Homme

Book I: Canto I

The story begins with a cave near the ruins of Palmyra (in Syria). This reminds me of Shelley’s Sibyl’s cave. However, what is in the cave is not fragments of a story (Sibylline leaves) but much more. An unnamed narrator visits the cave and is summoned in by an old man who says this is a cave of death that cannot be disturbed. Those who disturb it are punished, but the unnamed narrator won’t be because he was summoned into it. The old man is able to communicate with the narrator by thought. He explains he is the Celestial Spirit. In the cave, the narrator also sees Time personified and bound. The Celestial Spirit tells the narrator that he knows all the future and the past and it’s his purpose to share with him the story of the end of the world and the Last Man. The narrator then watches the events of the end of the world through an enchanted mirror (the only real element of sci-fi technology in the novel, though Grainville would have likely called it magic). This unnamed narrator is similar to St. John, who witnesses the end of the world in the Book of Revelation. Grainville also draws upon “Dies Irae,” a hymn in Latin meaning “Day of Wrath” that was once sung at all Masses for the dead. The translation that Clarke provides of Dies Irae is by Macaulay and includes “This vain world shall pass away/Thus the sibyl sang of old.” This line is not in the novel, but the sibyl reference reminds one of Mary Shelley’s sibyl’s cave.

In the enchanted mirror, the narrator sees Adam, the first man, who has been banished to an island where he is punished and suffering until the end of the world—this depiction is odd because this book is being written by a Catholic priest, and the medieval Catholic tradition is that when Christ died, he descended into hell and freed all the dead from sin—in medieval art, Christ is frequently portrayed as taking Adam by the hand and leading him out of hell with the rest of the human race following. However, Grainville decides to ignore this tradition. Instead, he subscribes to the idea that when people die, they remain dead until the Day of Judgment when they will come back to life (as is depicted at the end of the novel). Adam is an exception—rather than dying (although the Bible says he died), he has been kept alive until the end of the world.

The Harrowing of Hell was a popular medieval theme. Here it is depicted by Fra Angelico. The premise is that when Christ died, he descended into hell and freed the human race. He takes Adam by the hand and behind Adam the rest of the human race follows so they can be freed from sin and enter heaven. Grainville’s novel, however, believes all humans remained dead and in the grave until judgment day.

The angel Ithuriel appears to Adam and tells him he must go to the last humans, without revealing his identity, and in time, his purpose in doing so will become known. The success of Adam’s mission will determine whether his suffering will come to an end. Adam is then transported to where he is found by Omegarus and Syderia, the last couple likely to produce a child. (A few other humans are still alive, but Omegarus and Syderia are the only fertile ones—this is Grainville’s reversing of Paradise Lost, focusing on the last rather than the first couple.) Omegarus and Syderia have spent the night in fear, having seen various spirits and feeling the end of the world is approaching. Adam tells them he is there to comfort them and asks to hear their story.

 

Book I: Canto II

Omegarus begins to tell Adam his life story. He is descended from royalty, kings who once ruled both hemispheres—later it is clear he is descended from French royalty. (This detail is similar to Shelley’s Adrian being the last of English royalty.) Omegarus is something of a wonder child because most people on earth are now sterile and he is the first child born in Europe in many years. Omegarus grows up being the only child in Europe, and eventually, his parents die while he is yet a teenager. As a young man, Omegarus meets a man consumed by flame who tells him not to try to help him, but that the flame is his natural element. This man tells him the world is going to come to an end soon. This man is the Guardian or Spirit of the Earth, appointed by God, so he has knowledge that the day of destruction is near. The spirit tells him he must go to the city where the maid was burnt in France (Rouen and St. Joan of Arc) and there meet Idamas who will help him so he can go to Brazil to find the only woman still fertile who can help him repopulate the earth.

As Omegarus travels to Rouen, he is greeted by other humans who witnessed his birth; they now proclaim him as a prophesied messiah figure who will restore the earth to health and allow mankind to breed and multiply again. Once Omegarus meets Idamas, he is told they will travel to Brazil in an airship (a hot air balloon).

 

Book I: Canto III

Omegarus, Idamas, and a few others take off in the airship. They fly past England, which is sunk into the sea. (The endnote in the Clarke edition suggests this was to please the French readers since England was the enemy and it was the time of the Napoleonic wars.) As they travel, Idamas tells Omegarus the recent history of the world. Not long ago, mankind had reached the peak of evolution and had been experiencing its golden age. Then one man discovered the secret to life extension. He was going to gift it to humanity but then he realized it would result in overpopulation if people did not die, so he captured it in a flame/vial and placed it in a temple on the Fortunate Isles. The flame was then only to be gifted to the very talented who dedicated their lives to humanity. The entire world population would have to vote to allow someone to receive it.

Then a horrible event happened—a second red sun appeared in the sky, which turned out to be the moon rising. A volcano had erupted on the moon, making it red, and soon the moon was completely destroyed and fell from the sky. This destruction affected vegetation on earth, causing scarcity of food, and made people become violent and warlike. This even led to airship wars—people fighting each other in hot air balloons with knives.

The earth was now overpopulated. However, a scientist named Ormus solved this problem by suggesting the land beneath the rivers was fertile so they should divert the rivers and farm in the riverbeds. This worked, so Ormus suggested they do the same thing with the oceans, but it was decided to be unnecessary because people were becoming sterile, which made the overpopulation and food scarcity issues less severe.

Next, the sun began to die. The northern climates became too cold to live in so people fled to warmer lands, resulting in Brazil becoming a major population center. Idamas concludes his history at this point as the airship lands in Brazil.

 

Book I: Canto IV

Upon arrival in Brazil, Omegarus and his companions are told they have to leave or die because there is not enough food there for them. However, after they explain their mission to the king, including that Omegarus brings hope because he has been prophesied to restore the human race, they are welcomed. A sort of beauty contest is then held to find the right maid for Omegarus. There are many signs during the time leading up to the contest of whom the right maiden will be. Nature personified appears and shows Omegarus what his bride will look like. Meanwhile, Syderia, who will be chosen, is having visions of a man whom she later realizes is Omegarus. Eventually, it’s determined that Syderia is to be the bride for Omegarus. We learn that Omegarus’ father is the king or chief of a native tribe in Brazil—they are the last people to have quit living an agrarian and natural food lifestyle, and hence, Syderia is still fertile. To celebrate the fertility, the humans dig and plant seeds into the earth, something that their civilized recent ancestors scorned to do, which caused the earth to cease to be fertile.

 

Book I: Canto V

Idamas now wants Ormus, the river converter, to come and bless Omegarus and Syderia’s marriage. Ormus is found, but he is resistant. He also has the gift of prophecy and says God is not in favor of the marriage so if it happens, it will only be a way to try to stop the prophecy of the earth’s destruction, which will actually further it because mankind cannot be saved. Nevertheless, Ormus comes to the ceremony. During it, he claims to speak to God and prophesies destruction (though no one else hears God’s voice). Ormus says that as proof of the prophecy he’s hearing, he will die, which he then does.

The fifth canto ends with the Brazilians demanding that Omegarus and his French companions depart before more doom is brought upon them.

 

Book II: Canto 6

Omegarus and the French prepare to leave Brazil, but they decide to bring Syderia with them. She loves Omegarus so she departs to France with him, but at the same time, she is worried that she is defying God by being with him so she won’t consummate the marriage. After they leave Brazil, Syderia’s father appears to her in a dream, saying he died of grief after she left, but he now knows as a spirit that God is in favor of their union. As a result, Syderia gives in to Omegarus’ advances, they have sex, and she becomes pregnant.

 

Book II: Canto 7

Adam, who is listening to Omegarus recite his tale, now has God appear to him and tell him that he is against the union of Omegarus and Syderia. Adam then explains to Omegarus that God is indeed against the union and, furthermore, the child conceived, if born, will murder its parents, and that will be the least of its acts. It will father an evil race as well. (I was struck by this because it made me wonder whether Shelley was inspired by this novel in writing Frankenstein as well—after all, the monster is Victor Frankenstein’s son, and it seeks to murder him and does murder Victor’s wife.) Omegarus is defiant, refusing to believe what Adam says and refusing to obey God until Adam finally reveals to Omegarus that he is Adam, the father of mankind. He then explains to Omegarus that all the prophecies in favor of his and Syderia’s union have been the deceitful work of the Spirit of the Earth who first sent Omegarus on his journey and told him he was to father a new race of men. As the earth’s guardian, the Spirit will cease to exist if mankind dies out and the earth is destroyed, so he is lying to preserve his own life. In this sense, the Spirit is like Satan, a deceitful transgressor against God’s will.

Omegarus still refuses to separate from Syderia, but Adam continues to try to convince him. Adam says that if he can prevent the birth of this evil race that will spring from Omegarus and Syderia’s union, then he will be able to wipe away his sin. (In other words, Adam has as much of an agenda as the Spirit of the Earth.) At first, in reading this section, I thought Adam was advocating that Omegarus and Syderia commit suicide, but instead, it turns out that if Omegarus will just separate from Syderia, that will be enough for God to realize they are obeying him, and then he will destroy the earth and the human race so that all the humans of the past can rise from the dead to have eternal life.

Omegarus finally agrees to separate from Syderia, though he feels great guilt. He almost returns to her, then instead writes on a stone, “Omegarus is not guilty” hoping Syderia will see it and understand.

This canto is disturbing in its Christian message. Even Omegarus wonders how a beneficent God can be so cruel. However, Adam says that once Omegarus dies, the souls of men will praise him for they will have eternal life.

 

Book II: Canto 8

Now that Omegarus has separated himself from Syderia, God is ready to fulfill his plan to destroy the earth. Comets strike. The earth begins to erupt. The bones and ashes of the dead rise up from the earth, which causes mountains to fall and the earth’s landscape to alter. Omegarus finds shelter in a house where he finds the bodies of an old couple, Tibes and his wife. He sees the aged bodies become youthful. God has restored them to life but their shades have not yet returned to them. Omegarus feels grateful that their souls and those of all humanity will now be freed.

 

The Last Man, a 1849 painting by John Martin. The painting does not depict a scene from either Shelley or Grainville’s novels but just the popular theme. That said, notice the red sun/moon in the darkness.

Book II: Canto 9

Syderia wonders why Omegarus hasn’t returned. She finds the stone on which he wrote “Omegarus is not guilty” and realizes he has deserted her. She feels, however, that he is guilty; then she feels bad to think he is guilty. She is in misery and then in shock as she sees the earth throwing up stones as the dead are raised from the earth. She becomes wounded and miserable. She finally sees Omegarus again and he looks radiant and tells her it’s a happy day, but she is then separated again from him.

 

Book II: Canto 10

The Spirit of Earth, determined still to live, makes a bargain with Death not to kill Syderia because then both will be able to live if the human race continues. Death promises not to kill her so long as the flame of love is in her heart. Of course, Syderia’s love eventually dies and Death does kill her. He then kills the Spirit of the Earth. Eternity then dawns. Meanwhile, the human race enters eternal life, praising Omegarus as its savior.

The End

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Mary Shelley, The Gothic and the Bible

The Northanger Novels—They Give a New Meaning to the Word “Horrid”

Jane Austen, whose love for the Gothic, even by parodying it, has helped to keep the Gothic tradition alive, even inspiring new Gothic works like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in recent years.

In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818), the heroine Catherine Morland and her friend Isabella Thorpe delight over reading the popular Gothic novels of the 1790s. While they are busy reading Mrs. Radcliffe’s well-known The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and plan to go on then to her novel The Italian (1797)—two of the best-known and best-written of the Gothic novels of the period—Isabella creates a list of seven other “horrid” novels that she suggests they read. This list includes two novels by Eliza Parsons, Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) and The Mysterious Warning (1796), Clermont (1798) by Regina Maria Roche, The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest (1794) by Ludwig Flammenberg (pseudonym of Carl Friedrich Kahlert), The Midnight Bell (1798) by Francis Lathom, The Orphan of the Rhine (1798) by Eleanor Sleath, and Horrid Mysteries (1796) by the Marquis de Grosse. Two of the novels, The Necromancer and Horrid Mysteries were translated into English from German. The others are by English authors.

Northanger Abbey is responsible for keeping the seven horrid “Northanger” novels’ memory alive.

I will not discuss here all the novels but simply make a few comments. I have been reading them as they have been reprinted by Valancourt Press (which has done us a great service by reproducing them and so many other obscure but significant literary works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). Unfortunately, I read all of them other than Horrid Mysteries, which I just finished, before I had a blog so I did not write about them as I read them.

The truth is the plots of these novels are largely forgettable so I can’t comment on them other than to recall that the two novels by Parsons and Clermont by Roche were very readable. (Plot summaries of all seven novels, some brief, some extensive, can be found on Wikipedia at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northanger_Abbey#Allusions_to_other_works by clicking on links to the individual works).The finest of the novels was, in my opinion, The Orphan of the Rhine. It is the only one I can remember any of the plot to. The title orphan is a young woman in hiding. There is also a dastardly marchese who commits several crimes but repents on his death bed—a surprisingly early form of the Gothic wanderer villain redeemed. That said, I read this novel along with my friend, Jane Austen scholar Ellen Moody, who ended up writing the introduction to the Valancourt edition, and she pointed out that the marchese is not punished for his crimes but gets off easily by dying in the end; furthermore, while he repents, the marchese is forced into his confession. As for the other novels, the plots were convoluted and not memorable and would be difficult to summarize.

But one of these novels stands out as being truly “horrid” and not because of its ability to shock but because of its horrid plotting and writing. That novel is aptly titled Horrid Mysteries, and in the introduction to the Valancourt edition, Allen Grove makes this same point, that the writing may be considered horrid. He also points out that the disparity between the novels of Radcliffe and a novel like this one shows how undiscerning the reading public was in its desire for Gothic thrills.

Horrid Mysteries is the most convoluted if not the overall most horridly written of the Northanger novels.

Horrid Mysteries has a ridiculous, convoluted, and often hard-to-follow plot about a young man named Carlos who gains the attention of a secret society, the Illuminators in Bavaria. He is initiated into their rites but while they claim to be on his side, they continually seem to be working against him. He is often pursued or harassed as well by a creature named Amanuel (his name is always italicized), who seems to be some sort of spirit or “genius”—an evil spirit apparently, although at times Amanuel seems to act to save Carlos’ life when he is in favor with the secret society. (Amanuel ends up killed in the end so just how supernatural he is isn’t clear.) Carlos goes through no end of adventures, including loving Elmira, who ends up dying and being buried, only to show up later alive—the secret society allegedly faked her death. Later, Elmira is shot and again dies before Carlos’ eyes, only to return yet again. Finally, she dies and stays dead. Carlos ends up with another wife later, Adelheid, who gets him back into the secret society’s good graces—or is working for the secret society against him since she ends up having an affair with a baron associated with the society whom Carlos kills when he catches them together. Carlos then sends Adelheid to a convent to repent for her sins until she is worthy of him again. Eventually, she returns to him and Carlos is finally told he is safe from the society because the police investigated the baron’s murder, which caused the society to disband. Through four volumes, we follow these and Carlos’ other escapades across Europe, watching him often have romances with various women or spend time with male friends who are romancing women or have attractive wives who want to romance Carlos.

While there are secret societies in the novel, there’s only one really haunted castle scene, and overall, Horrid Mysteries is more of a picaresque novel of a young man’s adventures in the style of Tom Jones than a Gothic one. Indeed, it’s a wonder anyone could suffer through all four volumes of it—I did, but I found myself confused much of the time even though I took notes as I read to try to keep the multitude of largely undeveloped characters straight. There are plenty of sexual trysts and adulterous relationships to make Catherine Morland or any young female reader blush—in fact, I doubt any Gothic novel is so sexual except perhaps the much better written The Monk (1796) by Matthew Lewis.

The Orphan of the Rhine, a definition imitation of Mrs. Radcliffe’s Gothic novels, is probably the best of the Northanger novels.

For many years, scholars thought the seven Northanger novels were titles invented by Jane Austen, but research has now restored all of them to us. I would recommend readers curious about Gothic fiction and these novels in particular to start out by reading Northanger Abbey, then Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, and maybe The Italian, though I’m not a big fan of it and prefer her other novel The Romance of the Forest (1791). Once you understand the superb Gothic of Radcliffe, you can appreciate the works of her imitators, and all seven of these Northanger novels are in imitation of her except perhaps Parson’s Castle Wolfenbach which was published the year before Udolpho but not before The Romance of the Forest. I’d suggest you start with Orphan of the Rhine and then try Parsons’ novels, and then if you have the stomach for it, go on to the other ones, including the two German translations, which fall under the category of masculine rather than feminine Gothic (a complicated designation but a basic terminology would be that the feminine Gothic focuses on female heroines. I discuss these terms in more detail in my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption.)

These Gothic novels are but a footnote in literary history and would have been forgotten completely if not for Jane Austen, but while I did not care for all of them, the better ones still have the ability to give us the kinds of thrills and chills our ancestors experienced more than two centuries ago, and in truth, we would not have our superhero and vampire stories today if these books had not been written.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include 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 and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Book Review: Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man who Created Dracula

Something in the Blood by David Skal is one of the best literary biographies I have ever read. It is 583 pages of main text, plus notes, index, and bibliography, and all of it is interesting. While Skal likes to go off on tangents, all the tangential material is still relevant and fascinating. Besides giving us Bram Stoker’s entire life story, a lot of the book is devoted to Oscar Wilde and particularly his infamous trial. We also get a lot of information about Stoker’s best friend, Hal Caine, and about his employer, the great actor Henry Irving and the history of Victorian theatre. Finally, the last hundred pages of the book are about Dracula’s legacy after Stoker’s death. Skal does not discuss every film or play version of Dracula, but he hits most of the highlights, so that this book might really be seen as an exploration of the creation and evolution of Dracula from influences in Stoker’s childhood to the present.

It’s impossible for me to discuss everything contained in this book, but I’ll just point out a few highlights. At the center of the book is Bram Stoker. Skal is very interested in Stoker’s sexuality and the possibility—very likely—that he was homosexual or bisexual. Surprising and fascinating to me was that Stoker was a great admirer of Walt Whitman, and Skal reprints letters Stoker wrote in admiration to Whitman. Eventually, they developed a close friendship and Stoker met him when he visited the United States on tour with Henry Irving’s company. Skal implies Stoker’s interest in Whitman may have been because of the homosexual references in his poetry, but it’s not clear whether that was his primary interest or just the life-affirming voice of his poetry.

Stoker was very involved in both the theatre and literary world so he knew many of the celebrities of his time. He was friends with Mark Twain, although Skal brushes over this; I would have liked to know more about their friendship. Hal Caine was clearly Stoker’s greatest friend—he dedicated Dracula to him—and he was also the bestselling novelist of his time. Stoker often did editing and other literary work for him on the side when not busy with the theatre. I doubt either could foresee that one day Stoker’s creation Dracula would be a household name and live eternally while Caine’s books are basically forgotten.

Also fascinating was Stoker’s relationship with Henry Irving. Irving has often been discussed as the source for the character of Dracula, and Skal explores this possibility. Here we get to the heart of Stoker’s sexuality and psychology. He was never Irving’s lover, but he was his worshiper. Bram Stoker was a big strong, athletic man, over six feet tall, and yet, likely because he was gay or bisexual, he felt the need to hero worship another powerful man. Irving was talented, which led to Stoker admiring his performances before he began working for him. But Irving was also a taskmaster, and Stoker was clearly a workaholic given his doing work on the side when not busy with the theatre and also pursuing his interests in writing his own novels. How Irving treated Stoker doesn’t seem to be really clear, but it is known that Irving could be difficult and Skal states that he even at times got angry enough to hit his fellow actors. Skal goes on to say that the idea that the depiction of Dracula as a sort of revenge on Irving is false because Stoker actually worshiped Irving. Irving treated Stoker like a slave and Stoker, being a masochist, felt validation and gratification as a result of this treatment (p.442).

As for Oscar Wilde, he and Stoker never really had any sort of relationship, but Skal discusses how Wilde was always sort of an absent presence in Stoker’s life. Stoker likely met Wilde on numerous occasions. Stoker attended Wilde’s mother’s salons in Dublin. Wilde was interested in marrying Florence Balcombe, who later became Bram Stoker’s wife. As a result, Stoker must have been aware that Wilde was the ex-boyfriend. And Skal hints that Florence must have frequently considered what her life would have been like had she married Wilde instead—both the pain she would have felt over his trial and imprisonment, and later in life, how she might have benefited from the royalties of his plays whereas Bram Stoker was not a very successful author, and after Irving’s death, she was not left with any real source of income other than from his writing. Skal also suggests that Florence likely knew and was disgusted by her husband’s homosexual proclivities and hated the book Dracula as a result. That said, after his death, she had to work strenuously to protect her rights to the book, even taking the creators of the film Nosferatu to court for making an unauthorized film based on the novel. Wilde’s disgrace must have hurt her deeply. However, there is no record of either of the Stokers’ thoughts on Wilde during the worst times of his life. Skal also believes Stoker kept diaries that he destroyed that mentioned Wilde. Unfortunately, the details of the relationship between Wilde and the Stokers, if there was any, have been lost.

Finally, Skal drops information throughout the book about the creation of Dracula and what may have helped inspire it. He discusses the Irish and fairy tale influences on the novel, and early Gothic works’ influences on the novel, including the works of Wilkie Collins, and of course, vampire fiction prior to Stoker. Stoker’s novel basically set in stone basic elements of the vampire legend. At the same time, Skal discusses details from films that have become part of the myth or popular imagination about Dracula that were never in Stoker’s book. Foremost of these is the idea that Bram Stoker equated Dracula with Vlad Tepes. Stoker probably had no knowledge of Tepes and it wasn’t until McNally and Florescu’s book In Search of Dracula that this idea became popular, and then films like Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the more recent Dracula Untold have caused Vlad and Dracula to be equated by most Dracula fans.

Skal also notes that the equation of vampires with bats was Stoker’s creation. I disagree with him on this point because Paul Feval’s French vampire novel, Vampire City, bring bats into the vampire mythos (see my blog Paul Feval and the Vampire Gothic: The Path from Radcliffe to Stoker. Skal also offers a couple of possible sources for the name Mina in Dracula—Amina from Bellini’s opera La Sonnambula and Minna in Prest and Rymer’s The String of Pearls (p. 110). However, Skal never mentions that in Feval’s Vampire City there is a dog named Mina. I believe Stoker must have had access to Feval’s novels, although I have never seen any scholar make a connection. Stoker certainly traveled in France and could have purchased them (Feval wanted nothing to do with having his books translated into English), and I would assume Stoker could speak French at least moderately. Whether he could read French, however, I am not sure, but it would not have been unlikely.

Many filmmakers and others would take liberties with Dracula in the years after its publication. The actor Hamilton Deane was the first to wear a high-collared black cape in a theatre production in 1924, which made the cape become standard for Dracula. The cape is only mentioned once in the novel when Dracula is crawling up the castle wall (p. 512-3). Skal also mentions the recent discovery that the Icelandic translation of Dracula was not a true translation but may have been based on an earlier manuscript of the novel. The translation was just published in English as Powers of Darkness in February 2017, about three months after Skal’s book appeared, so he did not have access to the translation and could only go on reports of what it contained. (I’ll be blogging about Powers of Darkness in the future.) Skal suggests, based on information from scholar Hans Roos who produced this new translation into English), that the Icelandic translator, Valdimar Ásmundsson, may not only have worked from an earlier draft of the novel but taken liberties in altering or completing the story. If that is the case, it was the first time someone decided to expand or change Stoker’s text.

I will admit Something in the Blood has a few shortcomings. There are several typos where it’s clear dates are wrong and at one point he mixes up which Bronte sister wrote Jane Eyre and which Wuthering Heights. More importantly, I wish that Skal went into more detail about some of Stoker’s novels like The Snake’s Pass and Miss Betty which he only mentions briefly. I would have liked the book to contain more literary criticism altogether. Some of the tangential information throughout the book was also a bit much, and it seemed like Skal was at times reaching/guessing what might have been true about Stoker where evidence did not exist—in terms of whether he was gay or not and what if any relationship he had with Wilde. But I didn’t mind these stretches—it’s fun to guess and wonder what the real Bram Stoker was like, and not surprising that these secrets went with him to the grave.

Overall, anyone interested in Bram Stoker, Dracula, Gothic literature, Victorian gay culture, Victorian history, or vampire film history will find Something in the Blood a treasure trove of interesting information. I’m sure I will be consulting it many times in the future. It is hard to imagine anyone writing a better biography of Bram Stoker unless a bunch of lost manuscripts and letters are discovered to fill in the gaps, which seems unlikely at this point.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, which is a study of the Gothic tradition from 1794 to the present. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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After Ninety Years: A Newly Translated 1880 Serbian Vampire Novella

After Ninety Years: The Story of Serbian Vampire Sava Savanovic is a Serbian novella by Milovan Glisic, first published in 1880. Glisic was a Serbian translator, author, and dramaturg; he translated many authors into Serbian, including Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe, who both wrote about Gothic themes themselves. It’s noteworthy that this novel was published seventeen years before Dracula, not because it influenced Stoker, since it wasn’t translated into English until 2015, but because it depicts vampire elements that are not the conventional ones Stoker popularized; rather, Glisic’s novella draws on folklore and is more true to the original vampire tradition as a result. After Ninety Years has now been translated into English for the first time by James Lyon, himself the author of the vampire novel Kiss of the Butterfly, which is set in the Balkans and explores Vlad Tepes’ time there.

afterninetyyearsThe book contains both a note from the translator that talks about the translation and Serbian vampire literature and an introduction by Andrew Boylan that discusses the novella, how it differs from Dracula, and also how it compares to the film based on it—Leptirica by Đorđe Kadijević, made in 1973.

Spoiler alert: I will describe the full plot because it’s necessary to understand the vampire elements used in the work. (I will not attempt to reproduce Serbian accents and other marks.)

The story is not long and fairly simple. There is a village in Serbia in which a wealthy man, Zivan, who is the kmet (mayor or leader) of the village has a beautiful daughter named Radojka. A young man, Strahinja, is in love with Radojka, but Zivan refuses to let Strahinja marry her. Zivan’s anger causes Strahinja to leave the village. He ends up going to the neighboring town where the villagers are having a serious problem. They have no miller and whenever they get one, he is found dead in the mill the next day, usually with a red mark around his throat as if he had been hung. (At this point, the villagers do not realize they are up against a vampire. It’s significant that there is no mention of bite marks on the victim’s neck. Instead, the vampire seems to suck out his victims’ blood simply by touching them; unfortunately, the novel is not gruesome enough to show us the vampire preying on his victim, so it’s left somewhat unclear how he satisfies his bloodthirst). Strahinja decides he will play miller to solve this mystery. He hides up on the mill’s loft with two pistols to see what might threaten him.

Enter the vampire. He comes into the mill and Strahinja can see he is a tall man with a face as red as blood and over his shoulder he carries a shroud which stretches down to his heels. (A footnote here explains that in Serbian tradition, the vampire lies in his death shroud and if he loses it, he loses his power. One wonders whether this is why vampires are often depicted with capes in English literature—perhaps a misunderstanding of the death shroud.) The vampire then says out loud to himself, “Oh, Sava Savanović! For 90 years you’ve been a vampire, and you’ve never gone without supper as you have this evening!” This statement explains the novel’s title. Strahinja needs no more information than to know his enemy is a vampire before he decides to shoot him. When the smoke from the pistols clears, the vampire is gone.

Strahinja goes to the other villagers, who are amazed he is alive, and tells them his story. They have never heard of anyone named Sava Savanovic, but they decide an old woman in the village, Mirjana, might know of him because she is older than ninety. (A footnote here reminds us that this novella is based on folklore and that Mirjana was a real person said to have lived to be 110-120 years old. I should note here also that the translator went to Serbia to visit all the places associated with this vampire legend and found that how Glisic relates the story has some variation in the folklore, so it’s not known what he changed or embellished or if he wrote down an accurate version of what he heard.) Mirjana says she remembers Sava from her youth and that he was an evil man. She then tells the villagers where he was buried.

Of course, the villagers are now determined to find Sava’s grave and destroy him. To do so, they need three items: a black and ungelded horse who will be able to locate the grave, holy water, and hawthorn stakes. (The footnotes clarify that hawthorn was symbolic because it is what Christ’s crown of thorns was said to be made from. More relevant to vampires, it lets out trimethylene which is attractive to butterflies so they will often cluster on hawthorn branches. Butterflies are important here because corpses also release trimethylene, which causes butterflies to be attracted to decaying bodies. As a result, butterflies are often seen in cemeteries. The other important thing here is that butterflies were associated with the soul, and it was believed a butterfly (the soul) would fly out of the mouth when a person dies.)

The villagers, with the help of the horse, find the grave. The horse seems to sense where the vampire lies and starts digging in the appropriate place. Once the grave is dug up, the villagers open the coffin and find Sava lying there, his corpse undecayed and looking bloated from drinking blood. They plan to pour holy water down his throat, but they spill it, which awakens him. They have warned each other not to let a butterfly escape from his throat—apparently they would have drowned it with the holy water, but the butterfly does escape. Regardless, they stab the body with the hawthorn stakes to kill the vampire, and they tell themselves it’s no matter that the butterfly escaped because it can’t hurt “grown people.”

The villagers then decide that because of Strahinja’s bravery, he deserves to marry Radojka. They make a plan to kidnap her, which Strahinja argues against but finely gives into, and so Radojka is abducted. Her father comes after them and tries to shoot the abductors, but in the end, he comes to his senses and Radojka and Strahinja are married.

As for the butterfly, it’s said that it killed several children before finally disappearing from the region. (Apparently only “grown people” matter to the villagers.)

I admit I was a bit disappointed by the simplicity of the story—though, it is well told and has a marriage plot and happy ending with its Gothic tale at the center. It is more like a fairy tale, however, than a Gothic story—in the tradition of the young man who must do a fabulous deed to be worthy of the king’s daughter, kind of story, although the royal trappings are gone.

That said, it is worth reading. The translator’s note and introduction make several good points about the significance of the story. They explain how vampires were part of the pagan Slavic people’s mythology, but most of it was erased by Christianity so we can’t really understand the vampires’ place in that mythology today. There was a long history, however, of vampire stories in this culture. The concept of the vampire dates to ancient times, but the word vampire itself first appeared in Serbian in 1725 and then was translated into English and other languages in 1732. Because the vampire is based in folklore, it comes from a long oral tradition and is not the invention of fiction writers. While After Ninety Years could not have influenced Bram Stoker, the vampire folklore tradition from this period may have. Boylan notes that The Pobratim: A Slav Novel contained numerous Slavic folktales in it, including mention of vampires, and it was translated into English in 1895 by Professor P. Jones. I wonder whether Stoker read The Pobratim and it influenced his creation of Dracula. (I’m sure I’ll be reading and blogging about The Pobratim in the near future.)

Glisic’s novel, although not a direct influence on the vampire of Western literature and film today, regardless is an interesting part of the history of the vampire’s development. While not a major work, it is an entertaining and very readable story with plenty of humor and an overall theme of good, or at least love, overcoming prejudice and evil.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, which is a study of the Gothic tradition from 1794 to the present. You can learn more about Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Anne Rice’s New Novel More Science-Fiction Than Gothic

With Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, Anne Rice has made her vampire novel comeback a firm success. While this novel, like most of the novels that preceded it, is not as engrossing and magical as the first three vampire novels, Rice continues to explore her vampire world and discover new sources of meaning and new secrets in it that make it worth continuing to read.

princelestatandtherealmsofatlantisIn the last novel, Prince Lestat, Rice allowed Amel, who seems to be the source of the vampires’ existence and powers, to take up new residence in Lestat. Lestat was then hailed as the prince of the vampires and a court was designed for all the vampires, a court that meant organization and laws and civilization for the vampires. This novel shows how that court is now being maintained, and more importantly, it delves into Amel’s origin story.

The rest of this blog will give away key points of the plot so be forewarned if you have not yet read the novel. I’ll also add here that Rice’s series has become so complex over the course of her fourteen vampire novels that readers who have not read them all (and even readers like myself who have been following her for years but tend to forget things when a few years separate the publication of each book) may be a bit lost and confused. To help readers, there is a summary of all the novels in the back of the book as well as a glossary of all the characters to remind people who is who in the vampire world.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis begins with a sort of wandering about and wordiness typical of Rice’s more recent vampire books and the reader may ask, “What is the point?” for a while, only the magic of “Atlantis” in the title keeps the reader reading, and while I wish the vampires did not talk so much or at least for such long paragraphs, part of their charm is their eloquence. There is a strong story in this book once you get a hundred or so pages into it, and the middle is the very heart of the novel with the promised tale of Atlantis.

I consider this novel more science fiction than horror because it plays on the recent popularity of ancient alien theories—the idea that aliens created or at least intervened in the development of the earth and the human race. What is most striking about the fact that Rice uses this idea is that it brushes aside any Judeo-Christian concept of God as creator as being the historical truth for mankind.

I won’t go into details of the plot, but ultimately, the vampires discover that there are four creatures on the earth known as Replimoids, and that Amel, now a spirit, was also once one of them. The heart of the novel lies in the tale of Kapetria, the only female Replimoid, who tells Lestat their story and that of Atlantis, which she says was actually called Atalantaya. Her story runs just over eighty pages, nearly 20 percent of the novel. Kapetria reveals how she and the Replimoids were created on the planet Bravenna by the Parents, powerful winged beings who apparently created the earth. However, the earth was damaged (she uses different terms but it sounds like it was hit by a meteor) which killed much of the reptilean life (dinosaurs) and allowed the mammals to become dominant on the planet, which was never intended. The Parents abducted Amel from the earth and genetically manipulated him to make him an enhanced human. He was then sent to earth to try to stem the human overpopulation, but instead he created the city of Atalantaya and a dome over it that meant the Parents, who have hidden some sort of cameras all over the planet, could not see what he was doing. To remedy this situation, the Parents then created Kapetria and three other Replimoids. They spent years educating the Replimoids about humans by showing them videos that largely focused on human suffering. The Replimoids were then sent to earth to destroy Amel and Atalantaya and, ultimately, the human race because of its evils that cause all the suffering. When the Replimoids arrive, however, they find that humans are also very capable of loving and caring for one another and when they enter Atalantaya, they are stunned by the beauty and ingenuity of humans, so ultimately, they decide not to destroy the city but rather disobey the parents. Then in a fluke, the planet Bravenna blows up and parts of it fall to earth and destroy Atalantaya. The Replimoids drown in the disaster that follows, although they are not human so they cannot die; they become frozen in the earth and then eventually reawaken thousands of years later. They do not know what became of Amel, but eventually they realize he is now residing inside Lestat. They wish to free him so he can have his own body again, but the vampires fear that to do so will kill Lestat and likely all of them since Amel has always resided in a vampire since the vampires were given power. The vampires now feel the Replimoids are their enemies, but eventually a compromise is reached and Amel is removed from Lestat without any issues. The result is that the vampires are now not dependent upon anything and Amel has his own body.

Rice’s novels, and indeed all of Gothic literature, have always been very tied to the Judeo-Christian religion/myth of good and evil, God the creator, sin and redemption, but this novel boldly reveals that none of this is the truth, at least in Rice’s vampire world. In her story, Kapetria reveals that the Parents were the ones obsessed with suffering and who made it such an important part of human life. It was repulsive to the Replimoids when they reawoke after centuries to find that an oppressive religion (Rice does not say Christianity, but I have no doubt it is what she means if not all of the Abrahamic religions) full of ideas of sin and sacrifice should have such power over so much of the human race. This novel shows that whole concept of the world and how it operates to be false.

One can’t help speculating how the philosophy or theology of this novel stems from Rice’s own experiences. Surely, her conversion back to Catholicism that was so highly celebrated, and then her rejection of it a few years later, was pivotal to her coming to a new understanding of how she viewed the world so she could write this novel. She seems to have freed herself now from the Christian belief in sin, suffering, and redemption, and so she has freed her characters from it as well.

The novel concludes with Lestat meeting with Amel, now in his new body, and their desire to remain friends despite their physical separation. Some of the final paragraphs of the novel are worth quoting. Here Lestat is speaking, beginning with his thoughts on Amel:

“He walks the earth with the power to destroy it. But then so does the human race. And so do we.

“But what endures is what has always mattered: love—that we love one another as surely as we are alive. And if there is any hope for us to ever really be good—that hope will be realized through love….

“To love any one person or thing truly is the beginning of the wisdom to love all things. This has to be so. It has to be. I believe it and I don’t really believe anything else.”

These final paragraphs show that even in the novel’s rejection of the Christian belief system, the greatest tenet of Christianity—love—remains the most powerful, and when you strip away all the trappings of Christianity and get to its essence, the truth it holds is about love, and that’s the same truth Rice ends on.

For me, this novel makes me feel as if the vampire series is complete, and if this is the last novel Rice writes about them, I will be content with it, but then again, Rice is full of surprises, so she may well have more vampire tricks yet up her sleeve.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include 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 and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Charlotte and Emily Brontë’s Conversations on Colonial Britain: A Study of the Angrian legends, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Villette

Charlotte and Emily Brontë were both concerned with what they believed to be the negative influences of the colonies on England. The colonies had made England a wealthy nation by increasing its trade prospects and providing a place for many Englishmen to make their fortunes outside their mother country; while the Brontë sisters appreciated the benefits England received from the colonies, they also feared the colonies would destroy England’s national identity and cause a moral decline among its people.

Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Villette, along with Charlotte and brother Branwell’s juvenile stories of Angria, all reflect the Brontës’ concern over England’s contact with the Other in the colonies. By establishing colonies, the English were oppressing other races, which the Brontës feared would result in rebellion against the conquerors and the eventual destruction of Britain. Also by oppressing other races, the English were becoming hardened to the point where they were now oppressing their own people, particularly their women. The Brontës feared Britain’s continued association with the colonies would eventually result in England turning savage like the foreign lands it sought to civilize. Charlotte and Emily Brontë both had their own ideas about how to deal with this situation; by chronologically looking at their works on the subject, it becomes apparent that each work responds to and builds on the work before it as if the two sisters were having a conversation about how to solve Britain’s colonial problems.

Bronte, Patrick Branwell; John Brown (1804-1855); Bronte Parsonage Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/john-brown-18041855-20981

Bronte, Patrick Branwell; John Brown (1804-1855); Bronte Parsonage Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/john-brown-18041855-20981

The Brontës’ interest in the colonies began when they were children and first beginning to write. In the late 1820s, Charlotte and Branwell Brontë began writing the legends of Angria, an imaginary kingdom founded by English colonizers on the West Coast of Africa. Angria may have derived its name from Kanhoji Angria, a man who established a pirate kingdom on India’s coast in the late seventeenth century. This kingdom resisted submission to the British government and its colonizers until 1756 when it was conquered by General Clive for the British Indian Empire (Gordon 29). That Charlotte and Branwell did not make up the name of Angria shows the Brontës’ knowledge of events in the colonies prior to and during their childhood. Their knowledge of the subject came from contemporary newspapers and Reverend J. Goldsmith’s A Grammar of General Geography, which Charlotte and Branwell used as a source for their stories in Africa (Ratchford 11). Possibly Charlotte and Branwell even decided to locate their Angrian colony near Fernando Po because in the 1820s, a writer for Blackwood Magazine had advocated it as a good place for British colonization (Meyer 247).

The legends of Angria also illustrate Charlotte Brontë’s familiarity with the British treatment of the natives. Charlotte probably named her main black character, Quashia Quamina, after a slave with a similar name who led a slave uprising in 1823 in British Guiana. Furthermore, the first name Quashia is derived from the racial epithet “Quashee” (Meyer 247). In the Angrian tales, Quashia resembles his namesake by also leading slave revolts against the English colonizers.

The Brontë children’s interest in Britain’s colonies was probably due to the excitement and dangers they imagined to exist in faraway lands. Azim remarks that for the Brontë children, the legends of Angria express “on one level, a feeling of anxiety and fear of the unknown and, on another, a feeling of triumph, based on a conquest of the Other” (112). However, conquest is not always easy. Charlotte, especially, seems to have been aware of the tension in establishing a colony, and she did not always side with Britain in its colonial problems. Although the Angrian stories always allow the English to conquer the natives, the natives often rebel under Quashia’s leadership. These continual uprisings represent the continual tension of colonial establishment, a tension mixing imperial triumph and the belief in Western superiority with a fear of the Other who at any time may rebel and destroy their conquerors.

Quashia Quamina is the pivotal character in understanding how fear of the Other works in the Angrian legends. Quashia is a child when his people’s land is invaded and conquered by the English. Most of his people, including his family, are murdered, while the rest are enslaved. However, the Duke of Wellington, leader of the new colony, decides to adopt the orphaned Quashia. Although by adopting the boy, Wellington may seem kind, his action displays a patriarchal attitude toward the natives, showing how the white race must take care of the black (Azim 131). For Quashia, adoption results in a traumatic displacement from his own people and cultural identity; when the English adopt him, they attempt to Anglicize him, which only causes future trouble for the colony (Azim 131).

legendsofangriaAs Quashia grows up, he realizes he is different from his adoptive family, which in turn leads to his realization that his adoptive family murdered his real family. Because of his native blood, Quashia can never be accepted as a white man; nor can he return to his own people since they are either deceased or living in subjection to their conquerors. His inability to determine his place in this new social order causes him frustration, and he begins to envy the power and culture of his conquerors, which he cannot possess (Azim 126-7). The natural result of his feelings is to rebel so he can end his and his people’s displacement, and gain his conqueror’s power to prevent such displacement from occurring again in the future (Azim 131-2).

Quashia leads several revolts in the Angrian tales, which reflect Charlotte Brontë’s concern for the mistreatment of the colonized natives. However, Charlotte could not bear the thought of English culture being utterly destroyed. In the Angrian stories, she always allows the English colonists to suppress rebellion. Charlotte’s youthful mind seeks an easy solution to the colonial problem, but in adulthood, the complexities of the issue would make her rethink the colonial situation.

The first Brontë novel to express a concern for Britain’s contact with the colonies is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Little is known of Emily’s juvenilia, but it does not seem to be interested in the issue of the colonies or Britain’s contact with other cultures. However, Wuthering Heights is obviously dealing with the colonial issue, and the similarities between Heathcliff and Quashia in the Angrian tales are striking. Azim says of these similarities:

Thematic resemblances between Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia and her sister’s only published novel do not necessarily signify a secret or undiscovered collaboration (as in the mysterious bed plays), but do suggest a fluidity of authorial collaboration which contradicts the static pairing according to contiguity in age upheld by most Brontë biographers (230).

Charlotte and Emily did not collaborate on the Angrian tales, but we know that in writing their novels, the Brontë sisters would discuss their ideas, so there is no reason to believe Emily would not have read her sister’s Angrian stories and have been directly influenced by them while writing her novel. Wuthering Heights is the beginning of Charlotte and Emily’s discussion together of how to solve Britain’s colonial problems.

Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights would be her only novel before her untimely death at age 30.

Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights would be her only novel before her untimely death at age 30.

The role Heathcliff plays in Wuthering Heights is almost the same role Quashia held in the Angrian tales. Heathcliff is the Other in the novel because he is not an Earnshaw or a Linton but an outsider. Nothing is known about Heathcliff’s origins except that Mr. Earnshaw finds him abandoned on the streets of Liverpool; the lack of knowledge about Heathcliff’s background leaves his racial origins open to possibility. Heathcliff’s first appearance in the novel portrays him as the Other by the savage terms the other characters use to describe him. Mr. Earnshaw says of him, “it’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil” (32), and Nelly remarks that Heathcliff is a “dirty, ragged, black-haired child” (32). Such statements have made some critics believe Heathcliff is possibly African (Azim 230, Heywood 194). If Heathcliff is of African origin, it would explain why Mr. Earnshaw uses “it” rather than “he” to refer to Heathcliff. Gender specific pronouns are usually used for humans while “it” is applied to animals. During the Victorian and colonial period, the English, to show their own racial superiority, often looked upon non-European races as being closer to animals than humans (Meyer 249). Charlotte Brontë will later use similar racial stereotypes in Jane Eyre.

If Heathcliff is African, then like Quashia, he has been adopted by the conquerors of his race; in fact, Emily Brontë probably based the Earnshaw family on the Sill family of Dent, whom she knew to have connections to the slave trade (Heywood 192). Again like Quashia, Heathcliff experiences displacement not only by being removed from his original home, but also because the Earnshaws try to make him one of them; they name him Heathcliff because it is the name of another Earnshaw child who has died (33); Heathcliff is expected by the Earnshaws to take on the identity of an English person rather than be himself.

However, as happened with Quashia, adopting and Anglicizing the Other into the conqueror’s culture results in failure. Mr. Earnshaw treats Heathcliff well, almost better than his own children, but upon Mr. Earnshaw’s death, Hindley demotes Heathcliff to a position resembling slavery. Heathcliff loves Catherine, but she will not marry him because he is not a gentleman; like Quashia, Heathcliff has been raised to be someone else, yet as an adult, he is not accepted by the culture he has been adopted into. Also like Quashia, Heathcliff now becomes envious of his conquerors and is determined to have revenge. He destroys the small community he is a part of by first coveting and then acquiring the property, daughter, and financial power of his adoptive home (Azim 230). The Earnshaws, by adopting Heathcliff, have only caused their own internal destruction.

Timothy Dalton's portrayal of Heathcliff in the 1970 film of Wuthering Heights makes him look a bit like a vampire in this scene - interestingly, Dracula has also been read as a novel about immigration of foreigners into England.

Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of Heathcliff in the 1970 film of Wuthering Heights makes him look a bit like a vampire in this scene – interestingly, Dracula has also been read as a novel about immigration of foreigners into England.

Emily Brontë seems to have borrowed from Charlotte both a character and ideas and then used them to create her own novel. Charlotte’s juvenilia sees the solution to colonial problems as the conquest of the Other, even if such a conquest is cruel, because the continuation of British culture is more important. Emily Brontë’s solution in Wuthering Heights is similar, though not as simple. No one destroys Heathcliff in the novel; Heathcliff’s plans instead fail with the death of his son, Linton, and shortly after, Heathcliff also dies. Because Heathcliff leaves no living descendants, he cannot extend his revenge and power beyond the time of his death. The properties of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange now pass on to Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine Linton, descendants of the original landowning families, who also have pure English blood. The conclusion of Wuthering Heights appears to be a rejoicing that the Other no longer exists among these pure English people, and without the Other, the status quo is reestablished.

Emily Brontë’s decision to conclude Wuthering Heights by reestablishing the status quo and leaving no trace of Heathcliff’s influence is vital to understanding her solution to the colonial problem. Emily Brontë could have allowed Heathcliff to be accepted by the other characters as one of them, and consequently, he might have wed Catherine Earnshaw. However, an interracial marriage is something Emily knew her readers would not accept because it would mean Heathcliff and Catherine’s descendants would be racially impure. Although Heathcliff does marry Isabella Linton, his son nevertheless dies without issue to prevent the continuance of racial mixing. Since Britain would not accept the Other, Emily felt that Britain’s continued contact with the colonies would lead to Britain’s destruction. By Heathcliff’s death and the reestablishment of the status quo at the end of Wuthering Heights, Emily is showing the English that they must break off contact with the colonies. If they do not end contact, they will only be destroying themselves.

Emily Brontë’s solution appears to be a promotion of British isolation. Considering Emily’s own shy character and dislike of society, such a solution seems to reflect her personality. The solution may also reflect Emily’s own fear of the Other. She may well have never met an African person in her life, so consequently, the Other’s unfamiliarity would have made it fearful to her.

Charlotte Brontë was more outgoing than her sister; she also knew Emily’s solution was unrealistic; England could not cut itself off from the colonies because the British economy was now dependent on them. Although Jane Eyre was published before Wuthering Heights, it was not written until after Wuthering Heights was already completed; therefore, Jane Eyre may be read as Charlotte’s response to Emily’s solutions. Jane Eyre would be more detailed in discussing the specific aspects of English life that were suffering from the colonies’ negative influences, and by this closer exploration, Charlotte would arrive at a more complex understanding of the situation.

Sir Laurence Olivier is perhaps the most famous portrayal of Heathcliff which makes him much the romantic hero. Here he is with Merle Oberon, playing Cathy.

Sir Laurence Olivier is perhaps the most famous portrayal of Heathcliff which makes him much the romantic hero. Here he is with Merle Oberon, playing Cathy.

Charlotte’s juvenile works express the displacement of both the conquered and the conqueror when a colony is established. The conquerors are as displaced as the conquered because they are in a foreign land. Despite trying to recreate England in the colonies, the English never completely exterminated native cultures, and often, foreign cultures had influences on the English. Such influences caused many colonists to bring foreign ideas home with them to England. Unlike in Wuthering Heights where a foreigner destroys the local status quo, Jane Eyre reflects the belief that the English, from being influenced by the Other, could destroy England themselves. Charlotte portrays this idea in Jane Eyre by using images of blackness to show the breakdown of pure English culture; Charlotte believes the aspect of English life most affected by negative colonial influences is the relationship between English men and women.

Men went to the colonies more frequently than women, and men were the ones placed in positions of power over the natives. Such complete power is easily abused, especially when dealing with another race that might rebel. One way for the English to control the Other was by possessing their women. The lack of English women caused many Englishmen to seek another outlet for their sexual desires, and native women were the easiest solution. In fact, sexuality for the Englishman was probably enhanced by the mystery of being with a foreign woman (Azim 123). Throughout the colonies, it became an accepted practice for white planters to take female slaves as concubines; however, this resulted in a growing mulatto population that caused displacement for whites, natives, and mulattoes, making everyone’s place in the social structure uncertain; to ensure their own position, the whites rejected the mulattoes, and the natives, out of hatred for their conquerors, equally rejected those who were of half English blood (Meyer 252-3).

Charlotte Brontë believed this situation resulted in Englishmen going to the colonies because they could have more dominance over foreign women. Louis Moore contemplates going to the colonies for such a reason in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley (570-71). Englishmen who oppressed foreign women then returned from the colonies believing they could also oppress Englishwomen (Meyer 260). In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë depicts the oppression of Englishmen over their women by using foreign images, and particularly, the metaphor of the harem (Zonana 605-6).

Every household in Jane Eyre has colonial connections. These connections are not obvious with the Reed and Brocklehurst families, yet the two families are based on Yorkshire families whom the Brontës knew to have interests in the slave trade (Heywood 184). As a result of colonial influences, each English household in Jane Eyre resembles a harem (Zonana 605-6). Charlotte further illustrates the colonies’ negative influences by applying images of blackness to individual family members.

Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte

At Gateshead, John Reed, the only male in the house, is master over all the women. Because the Reed men have oppressed other races, it is in John’s blood to oppress, and he places his mother, sisters, and the servants in a position where they resemble his harem. The family’s colonial encounters are reflected in the blackness used to describe John and Mrs. Reed. John’s “thick lips” (83) are a metaphor for the way he is beginning to resemble a Negro because of his family’s contact with the African race (Meyer 260). Jane notices that John Reed reviled his mother “for her dark skin, similar to his own” (9). Later, when Jane visits her dying aunt, she sees Mrs. Reed’s “imperious, despotic eyebrow” (218), a sign of Mrs. Reed’s oppressive nature. Yet, Mrs. Reed is only despotic toward Jane. To John Reed, she is subservient, and she supports his detrimental behavior until he has destroyed his family’s fortune.

Jane is the only female in the Reed household who rebels against John’s sultanic tyranny. She tells him, “you are like a slave driver” (5) and says of herself, “like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths” (6). When Jane defies Mrs. Reed, it is because by submitting to her son’s authority, her “chosen vassalage” (9), Mrs. Reed is contributing to the oppression of her fellow female. Mrs. Reed again submits to a man’s authority when Mr. Brocklehurst visits Gateshead. Brocklehurst expects and desires to hear negative stories of Jane, so Mrs. Reed tells degrading lies about Jane in an attempt to please him. Mrs. Reed does not even understand she is being unfair to Jane; instead, she feels she is doing her duty by obeying men. When Jane bursts out against her, Mrs. Reed thinks of Jane as of a different race (Meyer 249). She tells Jane, “you don’t understand these things: children must be corrected for their faults” (30) and “I assure you, I desire to be your friend” (30). In her own way, perhaps Mrs. Reed does have concern for Jane’s well-being; Mrs. Reed is much older than Jane, so she better understands the difficulties a woman experiences in a man’s world. She is warning Jane that rebellion against men will only cause Jane grief. However, Jane refuses to accept such a lifestyle, nor can she respect Mrs. Reed for submitting to it.

Jane goes away to school, thinking it will be an improvement over her life at Gateshead; however, Lowood school is also set up like a harem with Mr. Brocklehurst as its sultan. The Brocklehursts, like the Reeds, were also based on a slave trading Yorkshire family (Heywood 184); critics have not discussed the descriptions of blackness applied to Mr. Brocklehurst, yet I find they exist in the same way they were applied to the Reeds. When Brocklehurst appears at Gateshead, Jane describes him as a “black pillar” (24), having a “grim face at the top like a carved mask” (25) and “gray eyes” (25). Later when he whispers into Miss Temple’s ear, Jane fears to see the “dark orb” of Miss Temple’s eye turn toward her (54). Jane’s fear is that Mr. Brocklehurst will spread his blackness to Miss Temple, making her his slave, as he did to Mrs. Reed. Zonana argues that Brocklehurst’s sultanic quality is best reflected in his order that the girls at Lowood cut their hair to prevent vanity. Zonana sees vanity as the excuse Brocklehurst uses to strip the girls of their beauty and sexuality because if he cannot possess them, he wishes for no other men to find them attractive (608). Brocklehurst uses the Christian argument that vanity is a sin. Charlotte Brontë was well aware of how Christianity was often used as an excuse for British imperialism. Later in the novel, St. John will also use Christianity to further his own sultanic desires. Jane is as much a slave as the other women at Lowood; when Brocklehurst defames Jane before the school, she feels like a “slave or victim” (60). The only difference between Gateshead and Lowood is that the head woman in the harem, here Miss Temple rather than Mrs. Reed, although she tolerates the sultan, does not act as his tool to oppress her fellow women.

Thornfield also contains harem images because Mr. Rochester is connected to the colonies by his marriage to Bertha. Thornfield is the first harem type household where Jane is an adult, and consequently, more able to fight against the slave-like treatment of women. Thornfield is also the place where the harem image is most powerful, and Rochester is the man to whom the largest number of sultanic images are applied.

Rochester’s first appearance is when he falls from his horse and sprains his foot. Jane is unable to bring him his horse, so he remarks, “the mountain will never be brought to Mahomet, so all you can do is to aid Mahomet to go to the mountain” (106). Zonana argues that when Rochester compares himself to the Prophet Mahomet, he is displaying himself as “a polygamous, blasphemous despot—a sultan” (608). Rochester’s remark may appear as something anyone would say under such circumstances; however, Charlotte Brontë could simply have had him say, “Since the horse won’t come to me, can you help me to the horse.” Instead, she purposely used a phrase that conjures up the image of a sultan to foreshadow the later discovery of his marriage to Bertha. Furthermore, one hopes Charlotte would not let her characters speak clichés without a purpose.

Rochester is the Sultan of Thornfield by being master over a household of women. Even the female guests he invites to Thornfield appear submissive to him by Brontë’s use of Eastern images. Lady Ingram is described as having “inflated and darkened” features and a hard eye that reminds Jane of Mrs. Reed, and “A crimson velvet robe, and a shawl turban of some gold-wrought Indian fabric, invested her (I suppose she thought) with a truly imperial dignity” (161). The more important visitor to Thornfield is Blanche Ingram, Rochester’s intended future wife. Rochester remarks to Jane that Blanche is “A strapper—a real strapper, Jane: big, brown, and buxom; with hair just such as the ladies of Carthage must have had” (207). Jane also notices Blanche’s “dark and imperious eye” (174) and low brow, which liken Blanche to an inferior race in need of English male dominance (Meyer 260). The blackness attributed to the Ingram women might also suggest the family’s basis on a historical English family connected to the slave trade.

After Jane and Rochester fall in love, Rochester continues to be portrayed in ways depicting him as a master over women. Indeed, Jane is almost willing to be his slave as seen by her continually calling him “my master”. But there are moments when she revolts against his thinking of her as a member of his harem. At one point, Rochester comments of Jane, “I would not exchange this one little English girl for the Grand Turk’s whole seraglio—gazelle-eyes, houri forms, and all!” (255). Jane is annoyed with the Eastern allusion and says that neither she nor any woman should be treated like a slave. If Rochester goes to the bazaars looking for harem women, she says:

I’ll be preparing myself to go out as a missionary to preach liberty to them that are enslaved—your harem inmates among the rest. I’ll get admitted there, and I’ll stir up mutiny; and you, three-tailed bashaw as you are, sir, shall in a trice find yourself fettered amongst our hands: nor will I, for one, consent to cut your bonds till you have signed a charter, the most liberal that despot ever yet conferred (256).

During their next meeting, Rochester sings a song to Jane about an Indian woman dying with her husband. Jane responds, “he had talked of his future wife dying with him. What did he mean by such a pagan idea? I had no intention of dying with him—he might depend on that” (259).

However, Jane will soon realize how like a Sultan with multiple wives Rochester is. When he plans to marry her, he sets about having Thornfield cleaned although Jane remarks that she thinks the house is already clean enough. Jane does not realize that Rochester is trying to wipe out the blackness he has contracted from the colonies. However, what he actually needs to wipe out is his past marriage. Especially poignant to this scene is Grace Poole coming downstairs to supervise the cleaning. Grace, as the keeper of Bertha, knows just how filthy the house is, so she is best able to clean it (Meyer 264). However, no matter how clean the house is made, as long as Bertha is alive, she is Rochester’s lawful wife and cannot be wiped out.

Rochester, in marrying Jane, is willing to commit bigamy (or rather, polygamy like a sultan would do), but Mr. Mason stops the wedding by revealing the existence of Bertha. Rochester then brings Jane to see Bertha. It is a striking scene which Jane describes:

In the deep shade, at the farther end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell; it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal; but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face (278).

Claudia Colteras as Bertha Mason Rochester in the 2006 BBC series of Jane Eyre. Note her dark skin suggests she is a mulatto - a threat to England's whiteness.

Claudia Colteras as Bertha Mason Rochester in the 2006 BBC series of Jane Eyre. Note her dark skin suggests she is a mulatto – a threat to England’s whiteness.

Bertha is depicted as an animal on all fours, scarcely human, much as the English saw the natives of the lands they colonized as savage, scarcely human creatures. Women in harems were similarly treated as animals. Earlier, Jane had used the word seraglio to refer to a harem, yet Zonana points out that until the seventeenth century, a seraglio was also a place to keep wild beasts (600). Women who are kept in a seraglio or harem suffer enforced confinement, are undereducated, and kept inactive just like animals in cages (Zonana 602).

Bertha is doubly degraded by being depicted as a harem woman and an animal. Unlike the English women in the novel, Bertha is part animal because she is a Creole. Critics have argued that Brontë uses the term Creole to mean anyone born in the West Indies, not necessarily a mulatto (Meyer 253); however, Rochester says of Bertha’s mother, “Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard” (277). He then describes Bertha as having “red balls” for eyes (279). These red eyes are a sign of drunkenness, which presumably with her insanity, Bertha inherited from her mother. Insanity and drunkenness are both common racist stereotypes that the English associated with Africans to promote their belief in English superiority (Meyer 253-4). Therefore, Brontë appears to have intended that Bertha was a mulatto by the African blood she received from her mother.

Another racist belief of the time was that Africans were more closely related to apes than human beings; Charlotte Brontë’s unfinished novel Emma reflects this belief in the main character’s name, Matilda Fitzgibbon (Meyer 249). Fitz was often used as a prefix to show illegitimacy. A gibbon is a small tailless ape, resembling a monkey, meaning Matilda is the illegitimate offspring of a monkey (Meyer 249). In Jane Eyre, because Bertha is a Creole, she is half-human and half-animal (Meyer 250). As we saw in the above discussion of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff being referred to as “it” may also suggest that his possible African origins liken him to an animal.

Rochester claims that Bertha’s insanity is inherited from her mother, but he may be trying to place blame, so he will not appear guilty for his wife’s mental instability. Bertha’s insanity could be the result of her displacement. Not only has she been displaced by having to leave her native country and come to England, but like Quashia, she is displaced from her family. Bertha’s case may even be more severe than Quashia’s, for although Quashia’s family was murdered, Bertha’s family directly helped cause her displacement by trying to change her identity so that Rochester would find her attractive. Bertha’s situation is a trap where she is betrayed by both her family and husband.

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester assists in displacing Bertha by trying to make her Otherness familiar to him. In the novel, Bertha’s real name is Antoinette, but Rochester decides to call her Bertha because he says it is a name he has a fondness for (135). In response, Antoinette exclaims, “Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name” (147). By giving Antoinette an English name, Rochester is trying to Anglicize her so he can accept her. This is the same type of situation that occurs in Wuthering Heights when the Earnshaws give Heathcliff the name, and consequently, the identity of one of their deceased children. Spivak argues that such examples of name changes being applied to the Other by the conqueror represent how easily one’s identity can be determined by imperialism (250).

For Jane, the meeting with Bertha is startling because it is a type of colonial encounter with “the Other” (Azim 178). Since Rochester and Jane cannot marry, Rochester suggests they travel to another land where they can be together. Jane refuses because she fears becoming like Bertha, the Other. Without a legal marriage to Rochester, she may be treated as a harem woman or a mistress who can easily be cast off when he tires of her. By becoming Rochester’s mistress, Jane, like Bertha, would experience displacement from what she is accustomed to. Even if she could legally marry Rochester, Jane does not want to become Rochester’s slave by being financially dependent on him. Unlike in Wuthering Heights, eliminating the character representative of the Other will not provide a complete solution to the problem.

A poster for the 1939 film -- Heathcliff looks more like the Frankenstein monster here than a romantic hero.

A poster for the 1939 film — Heathcliff looks more like the Frankenstein monster here than a romantic hero.

Jane leaves Thornfield to prevent her own transformation into the Other, yet after leaving, she almost succumbs to becoming like Bertha. Without a home, Jane suffers from hunger and at one point crawls on her hands and knees, just as Bertha does, until she is taken in by the Rivers family (Azim 179). The Rivers’ household is again set up like a harem, with St. John as the only man. Consequently, Jane again risks becoming a slave in a harem. When St. John proposes to Jane, he is asking that she become his wife and obey him. He also wants her to join him as a missionary in India. St. John uses Christianity to try to control Jane. Being a Christian, Jane finds his arguments difficult to resist, but she knows that going to India will cause her death. Despite St. John’s Christianity, Jane sees the despotic tendencies in his personality. By marrying St. John, not only will Jane become his slave, but she will be contributing to the oppression of others by preaching Christianity to the Indians so that they will submit to British imperialism. Since Jane fears displacement for herself, she realizes she cannot travel to India and displace or oppress others. Because Jane despised Mrs. Reed for trying to make her submissive to men when Mrs. Reed herself was already oppressed by them, Jane cannot now be a hypocrite; she wisely refuses St. John’s proposal.

Jane now returns to Thornfield and discovers Bertha has burnt down the house in her madness. However, Bertha may not be as mad as readers have long believed. Her burning of Thornfield may instead reflect the novel’s historical context. Slave revolts in the West Indies usually took place at night when plantation owners slept. Bertha’s escapes from her room are always at night. Night was the easiest time to rebel and catch the slave owners unprepared. Slaves would use fire to signal for an uprising among the other slaves, then destroy their masters’ property, and hopefully, kill their masters (Meyer 254-5). Bertha, as a Creole, is reenacting situations she may have experienced as a child in the West Indies. She is not only a madwoman, but a slave in revolt against the white man who oppresses her. Like Quashia in the juvenilia, Bertha is angry that her freedom, identity, and possessions have been taken from her. When Bertha burns Thornfield, Charlotte Brontë is not only speaking out against the oppression of the colonized, but she is also warning the English that they are bringing misfortune on themselves by colonizing and suppressing other races, just as the Duke of Wellington tried to make Quashia like him, and the Earnshaws tried to Anglicize Heathcliff. Colonization and suppression will only result in rebellion and destruction.

Meyer argues that Bertha does the great act of cleaning in the novel by burning down Thornfield. Rochester’s estate represents the wealth Rochester gained by his marriage to Bertha; by burning Thornfield, Bertha is making Rochester pay for his sins (Meyer 266), but at the same time, the destruction of his house and wife wipes away Rochester’s connection to the colonies. Rochester’s colonial background had caused his moral decline. After Thornfield burns, Rochester is left blind and lame, but Jane’s return to him brings light to destroy the blackness of his encounter with the Other, and Rochester regains his eyesight (Heywood 189).

With Jane and Rochester reunited, the novel seems like it should end happily. The loss of Rochester’s wealth is replaced by Jane’s inheritance from her uncle. Yet it is this inheritance that makes the conclusion of Jane Eyre so ambiguous. St. John learns that Jane is the heir to her uncle’s fortune when she writes her name in Indian ink (364). From a morocco pocketbook, St. John pulls out the letter stating Jane’s uncle has died and she has inherited his fortune (361). Both the Indian ink and the morocco pocketbook suggest a connection to the colonies (Meyer 267-8). Jane’s uncle was also in Madeira off the coast of Morocco, suggesting like the ink and pocketbook, that Mr. Eyre had a connection to the slave trade (Meyer 267). Therefore, even with Bertha’s death, Jane and Rochester are not free from a connection to the colonies. Instead, their financial stability is the result of slave trading. The complexity of this situation suggests Charlotte’s awareness that the British economy was now dependent upon its colonies. Emily’s solution that Britain separate itself from its colonies was not possible in Charlotte’s opinion.

At the time Charlotte was writing Jane Eyre, the British colonies in the West Indies had already begun to fail. Attention was now being turned toward India as a place of colonization, and this is reflected in St. John going to India as a missionary. Charlotte feared the same difficulties the British faced in the West Indies were now going to be experienced in India (Meyer 257). Jane’s refusal to go to India with St. John shows her refusal to support British imperialism by helping oppress other races. St. John does go to India with the intention to spread Christianity to the natives, but Christianity is also a way for England to oppress and Anglicize the Other (Azim 181). If St. John is helping the Indian natives, it is only how he wishes to help them. It is questionable just how St. John is helping the Indians by imposing Western religion on them. Perhaps he is more concerned with doing what he sees as his Christian duty rather than being truly Christian toward his Indian brothers.

The moment Jane and Rochester's marriage is stopped and Bertha's existence revealed to Jane Eyre.

The moment Jane and Rochester’s marriage is stopped and Bertha’s existence revealed to Jane Eyre.

Zonana reads the conclusion of Jane Eyre as Charlotte’s promotion of Christianity as a way to reform English men and prevent polygamy. Once England is redeemed from foreign influences, it can go forth and redeem other races (612). Zonana adds that Brontë is purposely overlooking the patriarchal oppression that is also part of Christianity to provide a solution (612). However, I believe Charlotte saw Christianity as part of the problem rather than the complete answer. By establishing colonies, Britain was responsible for beginning colonial problems. The British pretended to be doing their Christian duty by bringing the Other to the true religion, but Christian duty was merely being used as an excuse for the British to legitimize stealing land.

At the end of the novel, Jane says of St. John, “he labours for his race…he hews down like a giant the prejudices of creed and cast that encumber it” (433). But the race St. John labors for is not that of the Christians but of the English. The creed and cast that encumber it are not necessarily England’s prejudices against India, but very possibly India’s prejudices against England. With the breakdown of these, the English believe India will be more accepting of English ways. St. John is merely adding to the problem by trying to make the East resemble the West. Nor is this a successful labor. Being in India has made St. John ill, and Jane knows his death is fast approaching. His connection to the colonies, as has been the case for so many other Brontë characters, only causes his own downfall (Pell 405).

As St. John’s death approaches, Jane writes that he will go to “the joy of his Lord” (430). Why did Charlotte Brontë not write “the Lord”? Did she realize that the Christian God is not necessarily the God for India? Charlotte most likely felt Christianity was the true religion, but Jane Eyre’s argument is that the West should not try to control the East. By continually trying to make the Orient like the Occident before the Occident can be polluted by the Orient, England will be foolishly applying the problem as a solution. As a result, the problem will only increase. The closing words of the novel are St. John praying, “come, Lord Jesus” (433). These are Charlotte’s words as much as St. John’s. Charlotte is leaving the problem in the hands of God. She has pointed out the problem to the English. If England cannot see the wrongs of oppressing other races, perhaps they will stop the oppression for England’s own survival.

When Jane is bullied by John Reed, she exclaims to him, “you are like the Roman Emperors” (5). The comparison is significant because Britain was now an oppressive empire much like Rome had been. Charlotte knew that all great empires must eventually fall. In writing “come, Lord Jesus!”, Charlotte Brontë is asking God to awaken the English people to their situation before they bring destruction down upon themselves.

Emily Brontë died the year following the publication of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. To my knowledge, there is no extant record of Emily’s reactions to Jane Eyre. Emily would never write another novel, so it would seem that Charlotte and Emily’s ongoing discussion of the subject came to an end with Emily’s death. However, six years later, Charlotte Brontë’s last novel, Villette, was published and the colonial theme was reintroduced. The theme is much weaker in Villette than in Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, yet the novel reflects Charlotte’s continuing interest in Britain’s colonial problems. Villette is a more mature Charlotte’s response to both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and she incorporates ideas from both novels to arrive at yet another solution to the colonial situation.

Meyer is the first critic to notice the colonial theme in Villette, yet she only discusses it in regards to the conclusion of the novel. Meyer suggests that the storm which kills M. Paul is caused by the West Indians’ rage and desire for revenge over M. Paul who has been a slave master while in the West Indies (248). While Villette does state that M. Paul goes to the West Indies to take care of business there for a friend, the actual position M. Paul holds in the West Indies is never stated and M. Paul’s decease is extremely obscure. As Schaeffer points out, “The death of M. Paul at sea is not even mentioned, yet we know it occurred” (xiv). M. Paul’s death has been accepted by most critics as the interpretation of the novel’s conclusion. Neither does the text state where the storm occurred; it may have happened closer to English shores than near the West Indies. Meyer’s theory that the storm reflects the anger of the slaves whom M. Paul has been master over appears to have little textual basis.

However, by examining the entire novel rather than just the conclusion, I found that Charlotte does use several of the same colonial images that appeared in Jane Eyre. If M. Paul does have some connection to slavery, it might account for the black descriptions Charlotte uses to describe him. The first description of M. Paul is that he has a “black head” and “broad, sallow brow” (121). Later, his head has a “velvet blackness” (128), and there is a “blackness” of his cranium (297). These are just a few of several similar passages that suggest Charlotte was using the same black imagery she used in Jane Eyre. However, this argument is weakened by M. Paul being based on Charlotte’s own Belgian professor, M. Heger. Charlotte once described M. Heger as “a little black ugly being” (Gordon 94). M. Heger’s own dark complexion was the result of his Spanish origins, so the black descriptions applied to M. Paul may be the result of his basis on M. Heger rather than any connection to slavery.

A Penguin edition of Villette

A Penguin edition of Villette

Villette is also similar to Jane Eyre because the novel’s opening scene presents a harem type household. Graham is the only man, while his mother, Lucy, and Polly are all present to serve him. However, none of the other households in the novel appears to fit the harem pattern. Later in the novel, Graham wins a turban in a lottery at the opera. One day while he is sleeping, his mother jokingly places it on his head, claiming it makes him look Eastern, and she calls him “my lord” (261). The situations Graham is placed in may portray him as having a sultan’s position, yet his character does not suggest that he holds sultanic attitudes. Furthermore, it is strange that Graham would have sultanic qualities applied to him if M. Paul is the one intended to have the blackened connections to the colonies.

The concept of the Other also appears in the novel, only this time, it is the main character, Lucy, who is the Other because she is in a foreign land; M. Paul continually complains to her about the English who are the Other for him. Because Lucy is of a different race, M. Paul sees her as inferior to him, and at one point, he even calls her a “sauvage” (305). Meyer argues that because of the way M. Paul treats Lucy, it is best that he die because had he returned to marry Lucy, he would have treated her as his slave just as the men in Jane Eyre oppress their English women (248). However, it is questionable that Lucy would have submitted to such treatment. Jane Eyre admired St. John for his Christianity, but she did not let him use Christianity to control her. Lucy similarly admires M. Paul’s kind heart, at one point calling him “my Christian hero” (382), and later when he sets up the school for her, he is “my king; royal for me had been that hand’s bounty; to offer homage was both a joy and a duty” (467). However, like Jane Eyre, Lucy does not always willingly submit to a man; M. Paul tries to convert Lucy to Catholicism, but she refuses to give up her own identity. In trying to convert Lucy, M. Paul is trying to make the Other familiar to him, much as applying English names to Heathcliff and Bertha were used in Wuthering Heights and Wide Sargasso Sea. Like Jane who refuses to become the Other, Lucy refuses to change her identity. But even with this concept of the Other applied to Lucy, there is no connection to the colonies in these scenes.

Meyer’s theory for Villette’s containing the colonial theme rests on the death of M. Paul occurring because of his connections to slavery in the colonies. I do not find these arguments convincing, but if Meyer is correct, perhaps Villette could be seen as Charlotte agreeing with Emily. Emily’s solution was to end contact with the Other, represented by the death of Heathcliff and the return to the original status quo. Perhaps Charlotte now saw Jane’s ability to reform Rochester from his sultanic qualities as unrealistic. Instead, Charlotte may now be agreeing with Emily that contact with the Other must end. But Charlotte goes a step further than Emily. Rather than destroying the Other, Villette suggests that once men have been defiled by their contact with the colonies, they cannot be reformed, so women must resist having relationships with them. Such resistance on the part of women would also save England by preventing the regeneration of oppressive men in future generations just as the regeneration of oppressors is prevented in Wuthering Heights by the death of Heathcliff. As Jane Eyre showed, a total breach with the colonies was not economically possible, so Villette offers a solution that allows each woman to solve the problem for herself. Lucy may end up alone at the novel’s conclusion, but to be alone is preferable to being oppressed by a despotic man. I am hesitant to believe that M. Paul is connected to the slave trade as Meyer argues, yet the concept of the Other in Villette might still suggest that Charlotte had a further solution to the problem of Britain’s colonies.

The issue of the colonies appears in Charlotte’s juvenilia as well as her novels, Jane Eyre and Villette, and in Emily’s novel, Wuthering Heights. Although the theme appears in Charlotte’s work more than in that of Emily, by looking at the order in which the texts were written, it is possible to see Charlotte and Emily using their writings as a way to discuss England’s colonial problems between themselves. By reacting to each other’s ideas, Charlotte and Emily Brontë together explored their fear that England’s colonies would destroy its national identity and bring moral ruin to the English people. Each Brontë work seeks a solution to the problem and builds on the text prior to it. Although it is questionable which Brontë text provides the best solution, looking at the chronological order of the texts and the way they build upon each other helps us better understand how the Brontë sisters collaborated to form some of the finest novels in British literature.

 

Works Cited

Azim, Firdous. The Colonial Rise of the Novel. London: Routledge, 1993.

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1847. New York: Bantam, 1986.

Brontë, Charlotte. Shirley. 1849. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Brontë, Charlotte. Villette. 1853. New York: Bantam, 1986.

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. 1847. Bantam, 1983.

Heywood, Christopher. “Yorkshire Slavery in Wuthering Heights.” Review of English Studies 38 (1987): 184-98.

Gordon, Lyndall. Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995.

Meyer, Susan L. “Colonialism and the Figurative Strategy of Jane Eyre.” Victorian Studies 33 (1990): 247-68.

Pell, Nancy. “Resistance, Rebellion, and Marriage: The Economics of Jane Eyre.” Nineteenth Century Fiction 31 (1977): 397-420.

Ratchford, Fannie Elizabeth. The Brontës’ Web of Childhood. New York: Russell and       Russell, 1964.

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. 1966. New York: W.W. Norton, 1982.

Schaeffer, Susan Fromberg. “‘The Sharp Lesson of Experience’: Charlotte Brontë’s Villette.Villette. 1853. By Charlotte Brontë. New York: Bantam, 1986.

Spivak, Gaytri C. “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism.” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985): 243-61.

Zonana, Joyce. “The Sultan and the Slave: Feminist Orientalism and the Structure of Jane Eyre.” Signs 18 (1993): 592-617.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include 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 and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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