Male Imprisonment and Female Wanderers: Sir Charles Grandison’s Influence on the Gothic Novel

Samuel Richardson’s final novel Sir Charles Grandison (1753-1754) is his least known and least read today, but its significance in literary history should not be underestimated. It is particularly important as a source for Gothic literature. While Richardson’s earlier novels Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1748) may at first seem more likely predecessors of Gothic literature because of their depictions of abducted women—a theme that recurs in Sir Charles Grandison when Harriet Byron is abducted by Sir Hargrave Pollexfen, and subsequently rescued by Sir Charles, thus bringing about the two lovers’ introduction—Sir Charles Grandison has many additional elements that influenced the Gothic tradition a generation or two after its publication.

Sir Charles Grandison – the Oxford University Press edition runs about 1600 pages. The novel was originally published in seven volumes.

The most obvious influence of Sir Charles Grandison is that it was the first major English novel to have scenes set in Italy. In the novel, Sir Charles travels the continent and ends up in Italy where he has a romantic relationship with Clementina della Porretta after he befriends her brother Jeronymo. A large chunk of the novel concerns whether or not he will marry her while Harriet Byron waits, admiring Clementina but secretly hoping in the end she will be Sir Charles Grandison’s wife. Clementina’s family is against the marriage and sends Clementina off to her cousin Laurana, who ends up locking her up and mistreating her. Clementina consequently suffers from mental problems for the remainder of the novel. Clementina eventually decides she cannot convert from Catholicism to marry Sir Charles and he refuses to convert to Catholicism. Clementina then desires to become a nun, but her family is against this decision, for which she suffers more bouts of mental illness. In the end, the novel is left unresolved whether she will marry the Count of Belvedere as her family wishes, although she does agree not to enter the convent.

These issues all were sources for Gothic literature. Italy would soon be depicted in the novels of Ann Radcliffe—specifically The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797)—as a place of intrigue and horror. Catholicism would also be negatively portrayed in Gothic novels. Radcliffe’s The Italian and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796) are among the countless Gothic novels filled with corrupt and even sex-crazed priests and nuns. Other novels like Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) would depict the injustices of Catholicism, specifically through the Spanish Inquisition and scenes of men and women being held as prisoners and specifically men being tortured by the Church.

Themes of female abduction were more common in Gothic novels, but scenes of men being tortured were not uncommon, and Sir Charles Grandison early on brings such an idea to the forefront. In Volume V, Letter XL, Sir Charles fears that the Italian Lady Olivia, who is in love with him, will kill him or abduct him and hold him as a prisoner in her castle. (The Oxford University Press edition of the novel edited by Jocelyn Harris notes of this scene that Grandison may be remembering a scene from Handel’s opera Rinaldo in which the hero is abducted by Armida. Handel’s opera, in turn, was based upon Jerusalem Delivered by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso. In the poem, the Saracen sorceress Armida abducts the crusader Rinaldo, planning to kill him, but then she falls in love with him and takes him to an island where her love for him makes him forget about the crusade.) Of course, there are sorceresses and seductresses throughout medieval and classical literature. Lancelot is captured by Morgan le Fay and kept as a prisoner in her castle. Odysseus is held captive by Calypso. Regardless, Grandison’s fears provided a more modern setting for such an abduction that might have influenced Gothic novelists.

Samuel Richardson reading Sir Charles Grandison aloud to friends

Although Clementina might be seen as an early version of the female Gothic wanderer for how she is mistreated by Laurana and falls into madness (madness is a common theme in later Gothic novels such as The Woman in White (1859) and Dracula (1897), Lady Olivia is perhaps the truest Gothic wanderer figure in the novel. Olivia is already jealous that Grandison is in love with Clementina. She wants him for herself, but while he continues to be polite to her, he refuses her love. Not only does she attempt to abduct him in Italy, but twice, once in Italy and once when she travels to England, does she attempt to stab him with a poniard. She is unable to handle her passion and the unrequited love and rejection that result. At another point in the novel, Sir Charles learns that she is threatening to have the Holy Tribunal (inquisition) arrest him—imagine Sir Charles, a Protestant Englishman, held captive by the Catholic Church as a heretic. As Fox’s Book of Martyrs shows, such situations did happen when Protestants from abroad entered foreign countries. Fortunately, Olivia’s threats and even murderous actions never amount to any real danger for Sir Charles, who continues to be kind and act like a gentleman toward her. (Today, he could and should get a restraining order against her.) In the end, she gives her consent (not that he needs it) to Sir Charles to marry Harriet, but she continues to hate Clementina, wishing they could both enter into a nunnery where she could exult over Clementina for the heartbreak she has caused her. The Gothic possibilities of her tormenting Clementina only add to Olivia’s Gothic wanderer aspects. She is a character lost and unable to prevent herself from acting irrationally and cruelly, to her own detriment. She is also a wanderer to some degree in that in the novel’s finale (an appendix featuring letters to readers discussing what became of the characters), she is one of the characters of whose futures Richardson does not bother to give us an account.

Dueling and crossdressing are featured in Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, one of Sir Charles Grandison’s literary descendants

Lady Olivia is not a major character in Sir Charles Grandison, and readers are likely to forget about her over time, but she may have set a precedent for several other women in literature who were also unable to deal with their passions. In Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1801), the title character is in love with Sir Clarence Hervey, who in many ways resembles Sir Charles Grandison. He is a perfect gentleman but torn between loving two women. While he ultimately marries Belinda, he has been raising his ward Virginia to be the perfect wife. Notably, Sir Charles Grandison has a ward, Emily Jervois, who is in love with him. Edgeworth’s plot is obviously influenced by Richardson’s. Lady Olivia has a literary sister in the character of Harriet Freke, who although not the victim of unrequited love, nevertheless is violent and aggressive like Olivia. Her outlandish and unfeminine behaviors extend to crossdressing and encouraging Belinda’s friend Lady Delacour to dress as a man and engage in a duel. Harriet lives up to her surname of being a “freak” because of her far from ladylike behavior. The reader is left haunted by Harriet Freke, a villain in the novel, and yet a modern reading can be more sensitive to her. She is an early feminist character in a world not ready for her; as a result, she is a Gothic wanderer of the first degree.

The influence of Sir Charles Grandison upon Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina (1778) has been noted by many critics since Evelina largely follows Sir Charles Grandison’s pattern of being a conduct book disguised as a novel. Evelina finds herself pursued by the obnoxious Sir Clement Willoughby, a literary descendant of Sir Hargrave Pollexfen, while secretly being in love with the Grandison-like Lord Ormond. Personally, however, I believe the influence of Sir Charles Grandison upon Burney is most apparent in her last novel, The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties (1814). In that novel, the title character is Juliet, who flees from France to England after being forced into marriage to a French officer. Similarly, Clementina flees Italy, crossing in secret to England when her parents try to force her to marry the Count of Belvedere. Later, Clementina’s family follows her to England and her brother Jeronymo makes a point of saying they travel “incognito.” In The Wanderer, Juliet also travels incognito and the narrator even refers to her as “the incognito.” Juliet falls in love with Harleigh, another seemingly perfect male and literary descendant of Sir Charles Grandison. Harleigh has his own Lady Olivia in Elinor Jodrell, a young woman madly in love with him, although he does not return her affections. Once rejected, Elinor goes a bit crazy. She dresses up like a man and also threatens to commit suicide. While in the end she renounces her suicidal attempts, the reader is left haunted by her passion and her pain over her unrequited love. (For more on the Gothic elements of The Wanderer, see my book The Gothic Wanderer.)

Burney’s The Wanderer examines the plight of women trying to survive through work in a hostile male world.

Finally, in Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809) there is Joanna, Countess of Mar, madly in love with Sir William Wallace. She is a true female Gothic wanderer who resorts to treachery as well as crossdressing to try to win the man she loves, even though he repeatedly rejects her. I have previously written at this blog about The Scottish Chiefs.

One final element of Sir Charles Grandison that may have inspired the Gothic is Sir Charles’ cousin Everard Grandison. Although a minor character, he is a male Gothic wanderer in his own dissolute behavior. Not only does he get a woman into trouble, resulting in having to marry her, but he develops a gambling addiction. Gambling is a major form of transgression in Gothic novels. Characters like Valancourt in The Mysteries of Udolpho fall into debt through gambling. (For more on gambling in Gothic literature, see my book The Gothic Wanderer).

Many critics both in Richardson’s time and since have argued that Sir Charles Grandison was too perfect a character as a model of male conduct. Among his literary descendants is Valancourt, a man so seemingly perfect that in 1860, William Makepeace Thackeray wrote “‘Valancourt? And who was he?’ cry the young people. Valancourt, my dears, was the hero of one of the most famous romances which ever was published in this country. The beauty and elegance of Valancourt made your young grandmammas’ gentle hearts to beat with respectful sympathy. He and his glory have passed away.” When Emily St. Aubert first meets Valancourt, he does indeed seem like the perfect young man. Later, when she accompanies her aunt and her aunt’s new husband, Montoni, to the castle of Udolpho, Emily imagines Valancourt following her and then later thinks he must be a prisoner in the castle (just as Sir Charles imagined being Olivia’s prisoner). Valancourt never got to Udolpho, though. Instead, he gets caught up in gambling debts and ends up in debtor’s prison. As Sir Charles’ literary descendant, Valancourt ends up a disappointment, but not so much that Emily doesn’t marry him regardless.

The Gothic, indeed, was not interested in perfect men like Sir Charles. Rather, the flawed men like Sir Hargrave Pollexfen become the notorious villains of the Gothic, although a Sir Charles Grandison-like character would often step in to save the heroine, but even then, they sometimes proved ineffective, just as Valancourt does, and even Harleigh, in The Wanderer does not resolve Juliet’s problems, though he does end up marrying her.

Samuel Richardson, regarded by some literary critics, as author of the first true novel, Pamela, or Vertue Rewarded.

In conclusion, I don’t think one can minimize the influence of Sir Charles Grandison on Gothic literature. It was likely read by all the major Gothic novelists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was a book read repeatedly as a source of morals and good conduct and, therefore, likely instilled into its readers’ brains until its repetition had the influence that Stars Wars or Star Trek in their repeated reimaginings have upon movie-goers today. It is hard to imagine the Gothic would be what it was if Sir Charles Grandison had not been written.

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

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

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

Tantra Bensko, author of ENCORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encore website

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

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

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

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

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

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

E. M. Forster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pickwick and Literary Piracy: Dickens vs. Reynolds

George W. M. Reynolds was reputedly the bestselling novelist of Victorian England although today he is largely forgotten. Instead, Charles Dickens is usually thought of as the best known and perhaps the greatest of the Victorian novelists, although Reynolds books outsold his. I’ve blogged previously on Reynolds’ bestselling novel The Mysteries of London, as well as his Gothic novels Faust: The Secret of the Tribunals, Wagner the Werewolf, and The Necromancer, but while these are perhaps Reynolds’ best-known works today—among the few literary critics and historians who read him—Reynolds’ career began in a way that made him the target of Charles Dickens’ spite right from the beginning.

Following the success of Sketches by Boz (1836), Dickens had embarked on his first full-length novel, The Pickwick Papers (1837), although its lack of a plot and its picaresque elements make it only loosely able to be classified as a novel. Dickens’ first true novel would be Oliver Twist (1838). Regardless, The Pickwick Papers were an overnight success as readers clamored for each installment of the adventures of Mr. Pickwick and his fellow members of the Pickwick Club as they journeyed about the country getting into various mishaps, falling in love, and meeting shady characters.

Before Pickwick’s installments had completed, according to Edgar Johnson in Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph, the book had become a mania:

“Nothing like it had ever happened before. There were Pickwick chintzes, Pickwick cigars, Pickwick hats, Pickwick canes with tassels, Pickwick coats of a peculiar cut and color; and there were Weller corduroys and Boz cabs. There was a Pickwick Comic Almanac, a Pickwick Treasury of Wit, a Sam Weller’s Pickwick Jest Book, and a Pickwickian Songster. There were innumerable plagiarisms, parodies, and sequels—a Pickwick Abroad, by G. W. M. Reynolds; a Posthumous Papers of the Cadger Club; a Posthumous Notes of the Pickwickian Club, by a hack who impudently called himself Bos; and a Penny Pickwick—not to mention all the stage piracies and adaptations.”

Mr. Pickwick’s Arrival at Calais – the first illustration and opening scene of Reynolds’ Pickwick Abroad

Despite The Pickwick Papers’ success, modern readers are apt to find it a bit dull. Upon just rereading it, I only found myself laughing out loud at two passages. The lack of plot and the somewhat forced humor make parts of the novel tedious to read, especially the first few hundred pages before Mr. Pickwick’s landlady sues him for breach of affections, mistakenly thinking he was romantically interested in her, a situation that results in Pickwick refusing to pay the court costs and judgment rendered against him, and thereby, ending up in debtor’s prison. Here is really the only semblance of a plot, along with the occasional recurrences of the crooked Mr. Jingle and his servant Job Trotter, who continually try to put one over on Pickwick and friends.

The novel is also interspersed with long, rather dull, dark stories irrelevant to the plot but randomly told by various characters that Pickwick and friends meet. These stories slow down the plot and add nothing to the narrative, although the dark atmosphere of them, as at least one critic (Steven Marcus in the Afterword to the Signet Classic edition of 1964) has pointed out, contrasts with the general good of the world that Pickwick feels despite the difficulties he encounters. Marcus also concludes his discussion of the novel by saying “No novel could move further than Pickwick Papers toward asserting not only that the Kingdom of God is within each man but also that it is possible to establish something that resembles the Kingdom of God on Earth.” This interpretation is based upon Mr. Pickwick’s general kindness, even toward those who do him wrong, and overall generosity of character—points that are legitimate, although Marcus’ statement feels exaggerated since Dickens does not preach in this novel or make such a worldview clear as his theme. Rather, he wanders about with his story, slowly carving it into a novel and developing a worldview. The Pickwick Papers, then, is a trial run in which Dickens learned how to write a novel, but it is far from a great novel and rather dull, at least for the modern reader. Personally, I think it would have been quickly forgotten if Dickens had not gone on to write his many other and far greater novels.

But regardless, The Pickwick Papers was the runaway hit of its day, and so it did inspire sequels, as Johnson notes. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to determine who else wrote sequels to it, but Reynolds’ Pickwick Abroad was clearly one of them, and it is a remarkable book because like The Pickwick Papers itself, Pickwick Abroad; or, the Tour in France, is its author’s second published book (Reynolds’ first was The Youthful Impostor of 1835) and the beginning of an illustrious career for him. Interestingly, Reynolds first published before Dickens.

Of course, Dickens must get full credit for creating the “immortal Mr. Pickwick,” but Reynolds, who tended to steal other authors’ ideas and make them his own, most notably his successful The Mysteries of London (1844) that he was inspired to create from Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-3), deserves credit for creating a very readable—even more readable—version of Pickwick than Dickens. As if stealing his characters wasn’t enough reason for Dickens to hate Reynolds, there may have been some jealousy involved in that the book is quite well-written. None of Dickens’ faults are here—the book is not overly stylized, and neither are there any long unrelated stories inserted into it to slow down the main plot, and best of all, there is more of a plot. Reynolds creates Adolphus Crashem, a confidence man who, along with his accomplice Anastasie de Volage, repeatedly inserts himself into the lives of the individual members of the Pickwick Club and hoodwinks them. Anastasie manages to get the men repeatedly to fall in love with her, letting them think she is of a higher station than she is. In the end, both villains are brought to justice, but their constant presence throughout the novel gives it a continuity Dickens’ novel lacks.

Tupman in Pursuit of a Wife. Even Mr. Pickwick pursues a wife in Pickwick Abroad.

Reynolds’ versions of Pickwick’s characters are fair and accurate depictions of Dickens’ characters. The only place where Reynolds slightly goes astray is in Mr. Pickwick losing his cool a bit with Mr. Tupman who reprimands him twice for his pursuit of the opposite sex. The only other major deviation from Dickens is that the book exists at all when Dickens made the point at the end of his novel to have Pickwick say that his traveling days were over, yet in Reynolds, Pickwick travels to France.

I will leave readers to discover the other joys of Reynolds’ Pickwick for themselves, just adding that I am sad the only copy available is published by Forgotten Books, a reprint of an American edition, and actually a photocopy of it, so that the print is excruciatingly small to read.

But one final comment before I close. If Dickens didn’t already have enough reason to hate Reynolds, if he perused the book or his friends did, he would have been infuriated by Reynolds pointing out errors in the original novel. Reynolds does so by having Mr. Pickwick review the original novel as edited by Boz. The following is from the November 11, 1834 passage from Mr. Pickwick’s journal in Chapter VI of Reynolds’ novel:

Was a quarter of an hour too early for my breakfast, so took up the biography of myself and friends, and glanced cursorily over the notes which I have prepared for my editor, “Boz.” Found that in 1827 I had made Mr. Jingle declare himself to have written a poem on the French Revolution, which only took place in 1830. Could not mean the first Revolution, as Mr. Jingle was present (according to my notes) at the one of which he wrote; and he was not born when the first began. Must think of this: there is a grievous error somewhere.

Discovered another error. In the memoranda of a speech which I made on the night before my first sally-forth in search of adventures in 1827, I am represented to have said that “philanthropy was my Swing!” Now the incendiary Swing—the fabled illuminator of all the hay-stacks in the kingdom—had not then acquired his name, nor was he known. Must correct this error also.*

* We are sorry to find that Mr. Pickwick omitted these necessary corrections; and that his Editor, “Boz,” has also unaccountably suffered them to remain.

This first error occurs in the second chapter of Dickens’ novel. However, the novel contains a footnote that states: “A remarkable instance of the prophetic force of Mr. Jingle’s imagination; this dialogue occurring in the year 1827, and the Revolution in 1830.” I have consulted multiple versions of the novel and they all contain this footnote, so I am not certain whether it was in Dickens’ original book or the original installment and he was poking fun at himself and Mr. Jingle by the anachronism of describing something still in the future, or if the footnote was placed into the book in later editions to apologize for an error in original installments of the book. Did Reynolds’ pointing out the error in Pickwick Abroad lead to Dickens inserting a footnote to excuse the point? It seems more likely, given that he often made little revisions to his books when new editions came out, that Dickens would have rewritten the sentence to remove the error, so Reynolds’ humor here is really in line with Dickens’ own mocking of his character in this scene and not true fault-finding.

The second error occurs in the first chapter of The Pickwick Papers; however, Reynolds’ misquotes the line. The actually passage is, “The praise of mankind was his swing; philanthropy was his insurance office.” The use of “swing” here seems equal to saying today, “Music was his life,” meaning it is the person’s great activity or favorite hobby. I suspect Reynolds is just playing with words here since I was unable to find any reference to a person named Swing who was an illustrator or artist of the time period.

Did Dickens read and take offense at Reynolds pointing out these errors? Who’s to say? He was probably already infuriated enough to have his first book’s characters stolen for an unauthorized sequel. Did Dickens express his anger to Reynolds? If he did, it didn’t stop Reynolds from continuing to steal Dickens’ ideas. In 1841, Dickens published Master Humphrey’s Clock, a series that would ultimately include his novels Barnaby Rudge and The Old Curiosity Shop. Reynolds capitalized upon it by publishing Master Timothy’s Bookcase in 1841-42.

Whatever Reynolds’ faults, he knew how to tell a good story, and he did so in Pickwick Abroad, and even more so in The Mysteries of London and his three Gothic novels. Reynolds is well worth exploring, and ultimately, more readable than much of Dickens even if he never reached the heights of Dickens’ style or the meatiness of his themes.

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

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, George W.M. Reynolds

1816 French Gothic Novel Claims to Be By Mrs. Radcliffe

The French Gothic novel The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb (1816) is a fascinating piece of literary history if not a great piece of Gothic literature.

The novel, which claims to be by Mrs. Radcliffe and translated from English into French by the Baron de Langon, was actually written by Langon, who was not a baron at all. Etienne-Leon de Lamotte-Langon (1786-1864) loved to write forged books, books he claimed were by famous people, the most famous being the Countess DuBarry, for whom he wrote a popular set of fake memoirs.

The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb’s cover art by Mike Hoffman looks like it belongs on the front of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel and does not reflect any scene accurately in the novel.

I will not go into detail about Langon, but I recommend interested readers peruse the introduction to the new edition of this novel published by Black Coats Press and written by Brian Stableford. Stableford is the translator/adaptor of the novel and his introductions are always worth the price of the book alone—I wish he would write an entire history of French Gothic literature. (Note that this edition of the novel refers to the author as “Lamotte-Langon,” but his Wikipedia page, only in French, says his name was “Lamothe-Langon.” See translated Wikipedia page here.)

Langon appears to be an overlooked author in the exploration of how English and French literature influenced each other, and a key figure in the leading up to the revival of the Gothic novel in the 1840s and 1850s. The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb is a testament to the popularity of Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels in the 1790s and their translation into French. In fact, in 1799, another novel, The Tomb, was published that also claimed to be a fake translation of one of her books, although its true author is not known.

The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb begins with an introduction in which Langon claims to have received a manuscript of the novel from a relative of Mrs. Radcliffe. More than once he also makes comments that suggest Mrs. Radcliffe is dead—something many may have believed at the time, although she did not die until 1823, but illness had caused her to withdraw from the literary world and public life, which she had never participated much in anyway. Her last novel, The Italian, had been published in 1797 so her lack of further publication helped spread the rumor of her death. Of course, Mrs. Radcliffe had no recourse to people using her name in France, and many authors in the nineteenth century suffered from other authors stealing their books or concepts and even using their names. George W. M. Reynolds is one of the more famous examples, having written The Mysteries of London (1844-48) as a follow up to Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1846), and also Pickwick Abroad (1837-38) as an unauthorized sequel to Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers (1837-38), although he published them under his own name.

The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb starts out in such a manner that one could almost believe Mrs. Radcliffe did write it. We are introduced to Arembert, a lord who feels haunted by his past crimes. Then we meet a mysterious hermit whom the reader quickly realizes is Arembert’s older brother who allegedly went off to the Crusades and disappeared, but who we ascertain has a secret and is actually haunting Arembert by finding hidden passages into his castle and uttering doom and gloom statements like a disembodied voice. Soon after, we are introduced to Ademar, a young knight who knows nothing of his parentage, but the hermit tells Ademar he knows the truth of his birth and it will eventually be made known. Of course, Ademar turns out to be the hermit’s son and will eventually learn how Adembert committed crimes against the rest of the family.

This is all well-done—a good Gothic plot of revenge and guilt—but it’s not enough to carry off three volumes, so Langon introduces a love story for Ademar, and he sets it all against the Albigensian crusade of the thirteenth century. What results is a mix of Gothic novel, courtly and chivalric romance, and historical fiction, although Langon has no real concept of being historically accurate. One has to wonder whether he read any of Sir Walter Scott or Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809). Both Scott and Porter made more effort to be historically accurate in their books, which only predate Langon’s novel by seven or less years. This was the time period of the birth of historical fiction and Langon isn’t quite writing it, but he’s a pioneer in its development. In fact, the hermit himself—the rightful heir to a barony and a father in disguise—reminds one of how King Richard is in disguise in Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819) and Rymer’s The Black Monk (1844-45). You have to wonder, then, whether Scott read Langon.

Before the novel is over, we have a series of adventures in which princesses are kidnapped and rescued, Adembert admits his past crimes and dies a death deserving of a villain, and all is revealed regarding the hermit’s past. Unfortunately, Langon has a bad sense of how to end a novel dramatically. The secrets are revealed fifty pages before the novel is over and then we are subjected to several concluding pages to wrap up the plot, followed by the hermit telling his story at length, and rather unnecessarily since we’ve already figured out he is Arembert’s brother—this disordered ending destroys the novel’s pacing and dramatic conclusion and shows that Langon really wasn’t quite up to what he was trying to pull off.

Regardless, there are things to admire about the The Mysterious Hermit of the Tomb. It does keep the reader engaged for the first seventy or so pages before it falls into the chivalric plot and loses its Gothic suspense. I do not want to fault Brian Stableford as translator because he has done a wonderful service through Black Coats Press in bringing numerous fascinating French Gothic novels into English, but I think even he must have found this book trying as evidenced by the numerous typos throughout the book that make it difficult to read, and the tense often shifts from past to present, though that may be the fault of the author rather than the translator.

Langon does not seem to hold a high place in French or even French Gothic literature, but he did write several novels along those lines, including The Virgin Vampire in 1825 (also available through Black Coats Press). He also wrote novels of manners, and most significantly The Police Spy (1826) which is one of the first pieces of crime fiction, and although it does not seem to have had a major influence on the genre, Stableford in his introduction suggests it may have inspired Eugene Vidocq’s book Memoires (1828), a fake autobiography by Vidocq, a French criminal and criminalist. Vidocq’s book is considered the godfather of crime fiction and is known to have influenced later authors including Poe, Balzac, and Feval. Furthermore, although Langon quit writing before the age of the feuilleton—the novels serialized in newspapers that brought about the revival of the Gothic in France and indirectly in England in the form of penny dreadfuls, including such French works as Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-43) and The Wandering Jew (1846), and in England, James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire (1846-47) and George W. M. Reynolds’ Wagner the Wehr-Wolf (1846-47)—he certainly was a forerunner and likely an influence upon the movement.

I am left wondering whether English writers read Langon in French—I don’t know that he was translated into English prior to Stableford’s translation—and how his works may have affected the development of the British Gothic novel. Certainly, they had minor influence on the French Gothic novels of the early nineteenth century, which in turn had influences on the British Gothic.

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

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Anne Rice’s New Novel Plays Upon Classic Gothic Rosicrucian Themes

Anne Rice and her son Christopher Rice recently published their first collaboration: Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra (2017). This book is a sequel to Anne Rice’s The Mummy: Ramses the Damned (1989), although it can be read as a stand-alone novel. (I read The Mummy so many years ago I scarcely remember it, but I wasn’t lost at all in reading this book.)

Ramses the Damned, sequel to Anne Rice’s The Mummy

Warning that if you haven’t yet read Ramses the Damned, there may be some spoilers in my discussion.

In the previous novel, Ramses II was the mummy who came back to life. Actually, we find out that long ago he had obtained an elixir of immortality from a Hittite priestess and had never died but lived for approximately twelve centuries, from roughly 1200 BC to 1 A.D., spanning the time from his own reign to that of the celebrated Cleopatra. He and Cleopatra had been friends and he had been her advisor, but when she begged him to give the elixir to Marc Antony, Ramses refused, and then when Antony died, she killed herself. She had herself refused the elixir when Ramses had previously offered it to her. In despair over Cleopatra’s death, Ramses then went into a deep sleep for nineteen centuries, only to be woken by an Egyptologist just prior to World War I. Eventually, Ramses gave the gift of immortality to the Egyptologist’s daughter Julia and her father’s friend Elliott. Ramses also spotted an unknown mummy in a Cairo museum and realized it was Cleopatra, so he sprinkled some of the elixir on her, bringing her back to life, although because she had died, she appears to be a sort of monster, manic and only having partial memories of the past.

The plot of the second novel continues this storyline, although I won’t go into the plot’s full details. What is most interesting in the second novel is that Rice introduces Bektaten, an ancient queen who lived about 6000 B.C. Bektaten was the original owner of the elixir of immortality, although I don’t believe we are told exactly how she came into its possession. Bektaten has been wandering the earth for millennia, accompanied by two faithful servants—they are the last survivors of the ancient African land of Shaktanu. The only other survivor of this ancient civilization is Saqnos, who had once served Bektaten and had also become immortal from the elixir. However, he stole the elixir and sprinkled it on his warriors, thinking it would make them fearless in battle since they would be immortal. Saqnos wanted his warriors to overthrow Bektaten, but now that they are immortal, they have lost any desire or need to fight, and Bektaten makes her escape.

Later, Saqnos realizes he didn’t have the proper ingredients for the elixir; as a result, his warriors became “fractals,” only living two hundred years before they die. Over the centuries, Saqnos has given this diluted elixir to his many followers, only to suffer a great deal of grief when they die. During all this time, he has also sought Bektaten to get from her the full recipe for the elixir.

While the other characters—Ramses, Cleopatra, Julia, and Sybil, an American novelist who seems to be a reincarnation of Cleopatra, and consequently, seems to be stealing the resurrected Cleopatra’s memory—are more at the center of the plot, for me Bektaten and Saqnos are the most interesting characters in the novel, and the most sublime Gothic moment in the entire novel is when Bektaten displays that she has the power to take back the gift of immortality and takes it from Saqnos. Saqnos’ terror over this situation is the best in the novel, although it shows he has learned nothing through his long life. Most Gothic Wanderer figures in nineteenth century novels see their immortality ultimately as a curse when they continually must grieve the deaths of all those they love, and they often seek to end their lives unsuccessfully.

I won’t discuss more of the plot, but just briefly mention that Rice is drawing upon old Rosicrucian novel themes through her use of an elixir of immortality, a theme used in countless Gothic novels of the early nineteenth century from Percy Shelley’s St. Irvyne (1811) to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni (1842), probably the greatest of all Rosicrucian novels. The Rosicrucians were a medieval order supposedly founded by Christian Rosencreutz, who had himself discovered the secret of immortality. Although likely fictional himself, Rosencreutz reputedly founded the Rosicrucians, who claimed to be helpers of mankind and possess the secrets of extended life via the elixir and also the philosopher’s stone that can turn lead into gold. The Rosicrucians, in turn, supposedly had occult knowledge from ancient civilizations—civilizations like Rice’s ancient fictional Shaknatu, the kingdom Bektaten once ruled. For more about Rosicrucians in nineteenth century Gothic literature, see my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption.

That Ramses the Damned is a collaboration between mother and son is also worth noting. So how does it rate beside Anne Rice’s other works? I have to admit I thought Christopher Rice’s first two novels, A Density of Souls (2000) and The Snow Garden (2001), were pretty terrible and never would have been published if not for his being Anne Rice’s son. That said, his next novel, Light and Day (2005), was a vast improvement, and he has since come into his own as a novelist. His style is not as lush and decadent as Rice’s so I suspect he wrote more of the novel than she did. Several reviewers have complained about the lack of style. I also will say there is a definite lack of plot and more just simple focus on characterization. Plotwise, it is one of the weakest of Anne Rice’s novels, but stylistically, I found it rather a relief. Some of Rice’s later novels, especially those with Lestat, tend to be so stylistic in terms of the dialogue as to be largely unrealistic, and yet that is part of Lestat’s strange appeal. None of this decadent, flowery language is an issue here. Christopher Rice’s more straightforward style seems to dominate, although the themes are definitely Anne Rice’s. The only part of the novel really rich in Anne Rice’s atmosphere is the last fifty or so pages, where the more flowery language felt very appropriate.

Ultimately, I would not say this is Rice’s best novel, although I think I liked it even more than The Mummy. It is, whatever its flaws, a fascinating book for its treatment of immortal characters who are not vampires. I would welcome another sequel and also to see Bektaten work her way into Rice’s vampire novels farther down the road, just as the Mayfair Witches eventually did. I think any true lover of classic Gothic will find much of interest in these pages.

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

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The First Mummy Novel—A Gothic, Sci-Fi, Political Mix

The Mummy!: A Tale of the Twenty Second Century by Jane Webb, later Jane Loudon, was published in 1827. Loudon was twenty upon its publication but said she wrote it at seventeen. Written in typical three-volume format for the period, it is a remarkable book to have been written by one so young. Nor is it the kind of horror novel we would expect from watching Universal horror films or even the more recent Brendan Fraser and Tom Cruise mummy films.

The novel was clearly inspired by Frankenstein (1818), but its similarities to Mary Shelley’s later novel The Last Man (1826) cannot go unnoticed even though Loudon may not have read The Last Man since she said she had written it by 1824 (although The Last Man was published in 1826, the year before The Mummy!’s publication). In the novel, a young noble, Edric Montague, and his tutor, Dr. Entwerfen, debate whether a corpse can be brought back to life through galvanism (use of electricity). They come to the conclusion it is possible and decide to travel to Egypt to find a body that is not decayed to experiment upon; consequently, a mummy is the perfect specimen. I’ll get to what happens next in a minute, but clearly Loudon read Frankenstein and was inspired by it to come up with a new way to bring a body back to life. The similarities to Frankenstein end there.

This edition of The Mummy!, published by Two Penny Books, seeks to appeal to a modern audience by making the mummy look frightening but he is actually fully preserved and looks human other than his piercing eyes in the novel.

While it is questionable that Loudon read The Last Man, The Mummy! has far more similarities to The Last Man than Frankenstein. Mary Shelley begins The Last Man in the Sibyl’s cave where the narrator collects leaves and combines them together to create the novel’s text. It is a strange history of the future set at the end of the twenty-first century. In The Mummy!, the narrator claims that when in a state of being half-asleep, a spirit appeared and gave her a scroll upon which was chronicled a future age. In both cases, a supernatural being provides a tale of the future. Loudon sets her novel a bit later than Shelley, opening in the year 2126. Shelley’s novel spans the 2070s-2100 when Lionel Verney, the last man alive after a plague has destroyed the human race, writes his history. Loudon doesn’t let a plague destroy mankind, although she does allow the Mummy to wreak havoc upon people as if he were a type of plague. Shelley was not too far-seeing in her use of technological innovations in her novels—her characters travel in hot air balloons, but that is hardly far-seeing. Characters already did so in an early French novel of the same name by Cousin de Grainville, published in 1804. (See my previous blog on Grainville’s The Last Man.)

Loudon is far more technologically advanced. Not only do her characters travel in hot air balloons, but they also have built an underwater tunnel between England and Ireland (think chunnel) and women wear hairpieces that have flames in them. Perhaps more importantly, political situations have evolved, although regressed might be a better word. In Shelley’s novel, the King of England has abdicated and the country become more democratic. In Loudon’s novel, revolutions of the masses overthrowing their masters led to anarchy and a return to absolute monarchy. However, now only women may rule. A queen is elected by the people and she is forbidden to marry. When she dies, another young woman, between the ages of 20-25 in the royal family, takes her place. Also of significance is that the country has returned to Catholicism—this last point is fascinating because while Loudon sets her novel 300 years into the future, she is recreating the England of the past in an absolute monarchy and Catholic nation. This is really backward rather than forward, and I believe Loudon does it to make her future as Gothic as her Gothic novel predecessors made their pasts, typically setting novels in the medieval or Renaissance period. Both Shelley’s The Last Man and Loudon’s novel are then largely concerned with political issues within England. In The Last Man, the plague causes Adrian, the rightful heir to the throne, to become the leader of the English people as they travel to warmer climates trying to survive. In The Mummy, the Mummy will manipulate events that will affect who rules England.

In one of the few scholarly articles written on the novel, “Jane C. Loudon’s The Mummy!: Mary Shelley Meets George Orwell, and They Go in a Balloon to Egypt,” scholar Lisa Hopkins notes several other similarities to The Last Man, including that both novels include a plague in Constantinople and a niece named Clara and seem to refer to the death of the Princess Charlotte in 1817. I did not initially catch these similarities, but they make me think that Loudon wrote the novel at seventeen in 1824 as she claimed, but then perhaps revised it after reading The Last Man since it was published the year prior to her novel. It is not unlikely she did read it since she was clearly influenced by Frankenstein, so she would have likely sought out Shelley’s later novel.

The similarities with Shelley’s novels end there. Loudon is, in many ways, very original in her work. The Mummy (most of the characters call him this, as if it’s his proper name, though his real name is Cheops) is a former pharaoh of Egypt. When he is brought to life by Edric, he is shocked and does not know what he is doing. He runs out of the pyramid and jumps into Edric and Dr. Entwerfen’s hot air balloon, and before he knows it—the balloon apparently has some sort of GPS system to return it home—he finds himself back in England. I can’t help seeing Cheops as somehow symbolic here of some sort of Eastern plague invading the country, not too far removed from how Dracula has been interpreted by some critics as a symbol of Eastern European immigrants who were flooding into England in the late nineteenth century. Dracula is set on destruction, and so is the Mummy, apparently. Like Dracula, the Mummy also has his roots in the attributes of the Wandering Jew. We are told that when he first wakes, Edric cannot tear himself away from the mummy’s “withering glance” and his eyes have a “ghastly brightness.” Similarly, the Wandering Jew, and later Dracula, has hypnotic eyes that make others succumb to his will. Once the Mummy arrives in England, we find numerous characters fearful of him and agreeing to be his slaves. The only one who seems strong-willed enough not to agree to his demands is Edric’s brother, Edmund, a great general and the hero of his country who is in love with Elvira, the recently crowned queen, although he knows he can’t marry her. (Edmund seems like one of the good guys but later his ambition will get the best of him, and the Mummy will tell him his pride and refusal to submit to him has caused his downfall.)

The political plot of the novel is a bit too complicated to try to summarize in full. Basically, the queen, Claudia, has died and Elvira has been elected queen, although her cousin, Rosabella, also campaigns for the position. Once the Mummy arrives in England, he constantly seems to play the two contending parties against each other. The chief villain in the novel is actually Father Morris, a monk, who wants to place Rosabella on the throne. The Mummy seems to be aiding Father Morris throughout the novel, yet he forbids Father Morris to poison or harm Elvira. Through a turn of events, Elvira is overthrown and Rosabella becomes queen, but the people come to detest Rosabella, and eventually, Elvira again retains the throne, largely with the help of Roderick, King of Ireland, who ends up marrying her once the law against queens marrying is overturned.

In the end, Father Morris’ crimes are revealed. Throughout the novel, Rosabella has been an orphan, raised by her uncle, the Duke of Cornwall, who is cousin to Queen Claudia and the father of Elvira. A mystery has existed about Rosabella’s father, the duke’s brother, who apparently committed some evil deed and is believed deceased. Rosabella never suspects that Father Morris is actually her father, or that he is working for her preferment to become queen. He is actually living as confessor in his brother’s household and so Rosabella has been with her father since childhood, never knowing it. In the end, it’s revealed that Father Morris had previously been married, but he cheated on his wife with a woman named Marianne. Later, in revenge when he wouldn’t marry her, Marianne took their child and sold it to a Swiss nobleman, claiming it was orphaned—then she switched the child’s place with her own child by a servant and let Father Morris think it was his child. Consequently, the evil Rosabella is really not Father Morris’s child, although he believes she is, and more importantly, she is not royal at all.

What makes Father Morris’s crimes significant in terms of the novel’s Gothic elements is that he is a monk, although he committed his sexual sin not while a man of the cloth but while married. Here, one can’t help thinking of Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, who is tempted by Satan in the form of a woman. Father Morris also makes a compact with Cheops, which is rather like the Faustian pact made by so many other Gothic characters, including Lewis’ Monk and characters in later novels like those by George W. M. Reynolds.

But what of the Mummy? In the end, Father Morris accuses him of causing all the problems that led to Rosabella’s overthrow, but the Mummy reveals that he did not cause the problems; he may have put ideas into their heads to commit crimes, but they are the ones who carried them out, spurred on by their ambition and passions. In truth, the Mummy does not seem to have any real supernatural powers other than to be alive when he should be dead. He also appears human, dressed normally and not wearing mummy bandages, once he gets settled in England. He does seem to have a knack for appearing wherever he wants whenever he wants, though how he can do this is never explained. But beyond that, he does not have magic powers of any sort.

Everything ultimately comes to a happy end for all the good characters while the evil characters are punished. When everything is over and done with, the Mummy seems to disappear. Edric is left wondering where Cheops has gone until he hears a voice tell him to return to the pyramid, which he does. When Edric enters the pyramid, he finds Cheops standing there, once again in his mummy wrappings. Cheops tells Edric that if he wants forbidden knowledge, he will give it to him, but it will only bring him misery, so it would be better if he did not pry into forbidden knowledge again. Here is the primary lesson in all Gothic fiction—people must not seek forbidden knowledge or seek power that should only belong to God. It is the same transgression Adam and Eve committed in eating the forbidden fruit. Edric says he has learned his lesson now, but he asks Cheops to tell him his own story. Cheops then reveals that during his lifetime, he committed sin by loving his own sister, and when his father opposed their love, he murdered his father. Of course, murder is a terrible sin, but the Gothic typically also frowns on incest, so I assume that is also why Cheops is cursed, although Egyptian royalty frequently allowed marriages between siblings. (I’m not sure whether Loudon was aware of that since studies of ancient Egypt and the pyramids were in their infancy when Loudon wrote her novel.) Cheops then says that he has used his power to assist the good and punish the malevolent, even though at times it seemed like he was just being evil and causing trouble.

It is now time for Cheops to return to death. As his body begins to stiffen, Edric asks him one last question: Was it really he who brought Cheops to life? Cheops replies that only he who first gave him life could bring him back to life. In other words, God brought him to life and God used him as his instrument throughout the novel. We are then to assume perhaps that Cheops has in some way worked out his redemption through being allowed to return to life—and we can’t help but think of the Christ parallel here—that Christ rose from the tomb through the power of God.

In the end, The Mummy! is a remarkable novel in many ways for how it allows us to assume its primary Gothic horror, Cheops, is a villain, when he turns out to be the instrument of God. Cheops is also a quintessential Gothic wanderer—he is supernatural, he has sinned, he seeks redemption, he has a powerful gaze, he has a story to tell. The novel is innovative for using Gothic themes but placing its horrors in the future rather than the past. It also notably is lacking in Gothic atmosphere other than the tomb scenes and the occasional moments of horror when Cheops appears. (And frankly, Cheops only makes cameo appearances throughout. The edition I read was 386 pages. Cheops is not brought to life until about page 100. He then disappears from about pages 200-286 before he reenters the scene so he really is only focused upon in less than half the novel.) One can’t help feel The Mummy! is an anti-Catholic novel like so many Gothic novels since Father Morris turns out to be the true villain, but there is also a Father Murphy who is a good character. We have an Irish King who is the greatest hero in the novel, whereas most Irish were treated in a derogatory way in English novels to this point, especially because they were predominantly Catholic.

The novel has received almost no critical attention. I have spent twenty years reading and studying Gothic fiction and yet I only learned of the novel’s existence in the last year. It is time for it to be studied more. One wishes to know more about Loudon’s life and inspiration in writing it, including whether she might have revised the novel after reading The Last Man before it was published even though she claimed to have written it previously, and what, if any, political and religious commentary she was offering upon her own 1820s England. (Did she foresee a Catholic England eventually resulting if Catholic Emancipation occurred, which did happen in 1829?) Certainly, Mary Shelley is remarkable for having written Frankenstein at eighteen, but then how much more remarkable, in my opinion, is Loudon for having written The Mummy! at seventeen, which is also stylistically superior to either of Shelley’s novels. Today, Loudon and her husband (she married Loudon after the Mummy was published and he wrote a favorable review of it) are known as preeminent horticulturalists of Victorian England, and they were even part of Charles Dickens’ circle, but certainly, Jane Webb Loudon and The Mummy! deserves far more critical attention.

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

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Mary Shelley