Tag Archives: Ann Radcliffe

Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde: A Missing Link to Romanticism and the Gothic

This blog might well be titled, “Charlotte Smith, where have you been all my life?” because Smith was a major influence on the development of the early novel, and yet I only just discovered Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806) about a year ago when my friend Ellen Moody began blogging about her. Then I began to wonder why I had never heard of her. She was a poet much respected by the Romantics—in fact, she was a distant relative by marriage of Wordsworth and gave him letters of introduction when he went to France. She also wrote ten novels that were very popular and influential in their day. She wrote them all between 1788 and 1798. The first, Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle, was a bit immature in style and structure, but it set the tone for much of her later work. The plot concerns an orphan, the believed illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, who, to make a long story short, discovers she is the legitimate daughter of her father and therefore the rightful heir to the castle, despite the manipulations of a rather sinister uncle. Emmeline also has a series of troublesome suitors before she marries the man she loves. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Radcliffe when I read it—the sinister uncle, the illegitimacy, all feel very Gothic, although it is not a Gothic novel.

Charlotte Smith's second novel, Ethelinde, has just been released by Valancourt Books as a critical edition with an introduction by Ellen Moody.

Charlotte Smith’s second novel, Ethelinde, has just been released by Valancourt Books as a critical edition with an introduction by Ellen Moody.

Then I read Smith’s second novel, Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake (1789). By her second novel, Smith had matured into an accomplished novelist. The novel has just been released for the first time in a critical edition by Valancourt Books, complete with an introduction and notes by Ellen Moody. Upon reading this book, I could well see why Moody feels such enthusiasm for Smith.

Moody had previously told me that Smith uses Gothic elements in her novels, although none of the novels can be rightly termed Gothic. I would certainly not consider Ethelinde to be Gothic, but there are some Gothic elements in it, and Moody says that it was an influential novel upon Ann Radcliffe and Jane Austen, which I can well believe. In her introduction, Moody draws parallels between the novel and Austen’s Mansfield Park specifically.

When I read Ethelinde, I really felt like it was a bridge between the earlier eighteenth century novelists and Radcliffe and Austen. There is much in the novel that owes a debt to earlier sentimental or sensibility novels and the novel of manners. At one point, Ethelinde is in danger of being raped, a clear nod to Richardson’s Clarissa (1748). Ethelinde is also subjected to a host of disagreeable relatives, which reminded me a great deal of Fanny Burney’s Evelina (1778). In Evelina, the title character is more or less persecuted by her middle class relatives who lack genteel manners. In this novel, Ethelinde has both middle class and wealthy relatives, none of whom are quite as comical as in Evelina, but who still have comical elements and some of them are far more cruel in their snobbery and putting on airs once Ethelinde finds herself largely without a protector and penniless.

But what most interested me about this novel was how it is a precursor to Romanticism and Radcliffean Gothic. The Romantic Movement is usually dated from 1798 when Wordsworth and Coleridge published The Lyrical Ballads, but there is much in Smith that shows Romanticism was already alive a decade earlier. Ethelinde opens at Grasmere Castle, a fictional castle in the Lake District. It was so popular with readers that many went to the Lake District and came away disappointed that it wasn’t real. It’s possible that the depiction of the castle inspired Wordsworth later to settle in Grasmere. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge were admirers of Smith’s poetry as well, which often focused on nature.

Ethelinde is at the castle with a pleasure party that includes her cousin, Lady Newenden, and her husband Sir Edward Newenden. The first volume of this five-volume novel takes place at the castle and concerns Ethelinde enjoying nature while also being courted by some disagreeable young, rich men who are friends of her relatives. Eventually, she meets a young man, Montgomery, who seems to be at one with nature and develops a connection with him, especially after he saves her from drowning while all the other men stand and watch or yell at the servants to save her. Montgomery is the character whom I believe is referred to in the subtitle as the recluse. He and his mother live humbly and isolated in Grasmere, but they are of genteel blood. Ethelinde is immediately taken with Montgomery, who at first seems like a character right out of Wordsworth.

The attention to nature in this first volume of the novel also predates Radcliffe’s focus on nature in her novels. In Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Emily St. Aubert is constantly admiring the beauty of nature and feeling how it calms the soul. By comparison, the villains in the novel, especially Montoni, do not notice nature or see it as a solace or inspiration to the soul. In Ethelinde, the title character enjoys nature, while her obnoxious cousin, Lady Newenden, can find no pleasure in it, constantly complaining she is cold or hot when she is outdoors and fretting over her health—often for attention. Lady Newenden quickly becomes one of the villains of the novel when it is revealed she is likely to or already cheating on her husband. Before the novel is over, Sir Edward will separate from his wife; he will also be accused by her parents of being the adulterer because it becomes obvious that he has feelings for Ethelinde. While in time Sir Edward admits to such feelings, Ethelinde remains true to her love for Montgomery.

Another significant theme in the novel is that of illegitimacy. Smith had already played with this theme in Emmeline, and it was a common theme in earlier novels such as Evelina. Smith, however, does not make illegitimacy so shocking or detrimental as does Burney. In Evelina, the heroine is concerned that her father will not recognize her as his legitimate daughter. In Ethelinde, while Ethelinde is clearly legitimate, many of the supporting cast of characters are not, including Mrs. Montgomery’s brothers and her niece. Nor is illegitimacy something that leads to Gothic situations of incest as in Radcliffe where it nearly leads to a marquis raping his niece in The Romance of the Forest (1791). In her book Art of Darkness, the critic Ann Williams remarks, “Gothic plots are family plots; Gothic romance is family.” The same is true in Ethelinde, minus the Gothic elements. There are twists and turns and surprises along the way for the relatives, most notably when Montgomery’s illegitimate cousin ends up being married to Ethelinde’s brother, Harry Chesterville.

Smith, although focusing on a female main character, and therefore writing what could be considered feminine Gothic, if the book were truly Gothic, also plants the seeds for the masculine Gothic in two of her characters, Harry Chesterville and Sir Edward Newenden. In masculine Gothic novels, such as Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795), William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799), and Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), the male characters are often tormented by guilt over their past crimes, by how their poor decisions destroy their families, and by longing for what they cannot obtain. In the novel, gambling, which will be a major transgression in Gothic literature (see Chapter 4 of my book The Gothic Wanderer), leads to the destruction of Ethelinde’s family’s wealth. Her father cannot control his gambling and thus loses most of the family fortune. Then her brother goes on spending sprees that ultimately bankrupt them. While Ethelinde’s father, Colonel Chesterville, feels great guilt over what he has done and fears for Ethelinde’s wellbeing as a result, it is her brother, Harry Chesterville, who becomes the true Gothic wanderer figure who commits transgression through his inability to curb his spending. He ends up in debtor’s prison, leading to his father’s worries turning into illness and his eventual demise. Harry is tormented, describing himself as the “murderer” of his own father. At one point, he becomes so consumed with guilt that he attempts suicide. Harry is like other men in Gothic fiction who seem unable to stop their addictions—fortunately, he is Ethelinde’s brother and not lover. Radcliffe would allow Emily St. Aubert, her Gothic heroine, to marry Valancourt, who also falls into the gambling transgression in The Mysteries of Udolpho, although Valancourt is, thankfully, not a villain and has all the attractions, initially, of Montgomery in his love for nature.

Charlotte Smith, whose own life with an abusive husband she had to leave, causing her to turn to her pen to support herself and her children, included many autobiographical elements into her novels.

Charlotte Smith, whose own life with an abusive husband she had to leave, causing her to turn to her pen to support herself and her children, included many autobiographical elements into her novels.

While Ethelinde will love and eventually marry Montgomery, his forest god appeal wears off as the novel continues and he is seen as a bit more one-dimensional. The really interesting male in the novel, who also is a forefather to the masculine Gothic wanderer figure, is Sir Edward Newenden. In her introduction to the novel, Moody compares Sir Edward to Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities (1859), who is tormented by love for the woman he cannot have. In the end, Sir Edward is in the same situation, loving Ethelinde, torn between his love for her and social proprieties that make him try to work things out with his wife. When Lady Newenden dies and Sir Edward is finally free to marry Ethelinde—she believes Montgomery has died at sea at this point—Montgomery dramatically reappears and Sir Edward is forced to step aside to see another man marry the woman he loves. Actually, even if Montgomery hadn’t reappeared, Ethelinde makes it clear that her love for Montgomery would make it impossible for her to marry Sir Edward.

Sir Edward is interesting because he is mentally tormented, but not quite a transgressor. I would argue that he did commit a transgression in marrying Lady Newenden for her money, but we are definitely intended to sympathize with him. He is also an early version of several other characters who haunt the pages of near-contemporary novels because they cannot have the love they desire. Interestingly, those characters are usually women. In Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1800), Harriet Freke cannot have the man she loves because she is too outspoken and even crossdresses—her last name is no accident—women who are not feminine are freaks. In Burney’s The Wanderer (1814), the outspoken Elinor, believed to be a portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, also fails to obtain the hero’s love. Both women are examples of transgressing against the patriarchal code while the true heroines of the novels are sufficiently feminine and well-bred enough to know their place in society. Sir Edward, by being a divorced man and having married for money, has also transgressed against society and morality, and therefore, is not worthy of winning the heroine’s hand.

Finally, I would add that the novel has many interesting references to the colonies. Many of the male characters go to the colonies to seek their fortunes. While Smith does not overtly speak out against the exploitation that occurs because of the colonies, they are, to some extent, depicted as dangerous or immoral places. It is in the West Indies that Mrs. Montgomery’s brother, Harcourt, ends up having an illegitimate daughter (not that that can’t happen in England, but it is a sign that morals are lessened in the colonies), and Montgomery nearly dies when returning to England from India. Later novelists would be more brutal in the threat the colonies pose to morality in England—especially the Bronte sisters in Jane Eyre (1847), Wuthering Heights (1847), and Villette (1853), H. Rider Haggard in She (1886), and Bram Stoker in Dracula (1897).

In short, Ethelinde and Charlotte Smith played a central role in the development of the novel of manners, the Gothic, and Romanticism. I would refer people to Moody’s introduction for more about Smith’s influence on Jane Austen. Certainly, Ethelinde has been neglected for far too long. It is a missing link between Richardson, Burney, and Radcliffe. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Romanticism, the Gothic, and the development of the novel.

You can purchase the new edition of Ethelinde from Valancourt Books at or at most online or local bookstores.

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

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Paul Féval and the Vampire Gothic: The Path from Radcliffe to Stoker

In my previous blog, I talked about Paul Féval’s first vampire novel, The Vampire Countess (serialized 1855, published 1865). In this blog, I will discuss his other two vampire novels Knightshade (1860) and Vampire City (1875). But first, let me explain my title.

Ann Radcliffe never wrote a vampire novel, but no one can deny her place at the forefront of Gothic novelists. She was really the first major influential Gothic novelist with the success of her books The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and The Italian (1797). While numerous other Gothic novelists were her contemporaries, they were all likely influenced by her. Her popularity caused even non-Gothic novelists like Fanny Burney and Jane Austen to include Gothic elements in their novels. Consequently, Radcliffe is not only the mother of the Gothic but the mother of the vampire novel.

She also had a tremendous influence upon French literature. In his introduction to the Black Coats press edition of Vampire City, Brian Stableford states that there were no less than forty editions of The Mysteries of Udolpho published in France in the early nineteenth century. Consequently, it is no wonder that Paul Féval chose to pay Radcliffe tribute in a mocking way in his novel Vampire City.

Paul Feval on the cover of a French edition of his works.

Paul Feval on the cover of a French edition of his works.

As for Stoker, my interest in Féval began when I first heard he had written three vampire novels decades before Stoker’s Dracula (1897), so I was naturally curious whether Stoker had read them. I discussed this possibility somewhat in my last blog. There isn’t much of an influence if any apparent between Féval’s novels and Stoker’s Dracula, but nevertheless, there may have been some influence, even if indirectly. I will note a few of the possible influences below.

First, let us look at Féval’s short novel Knightshade (its true French name is Le Chevalier Ténèbre. It was published in book form in 1860, but actually is a later work than The Vampire Countess which was published in 1865, but serialized in 1855. The novel is about two brothers named Ténèbre. One is a vampire and the other an oupire. Vampires, of course, drink blood, while oupires are eaters of human flesh.

The story begins at a party where Baron von Altheimer is entertaining the guests with a story about the brothers. The baron tells how the brothers impersonated gypsies to get inside Prince Jacobi’s home where they abducted his daughter, Lenore, for a ransom. The irony is that the baron is actually one of the brothers and also present is his brother, who is impersonating a clergyman. In fact, the brothers are masters of impersonation. The baron even claims his goal is to capture the brothers and bring them to justice, all part of his ruse.

I won’t spoil the story by telling it all, but eventually, a young marquis, who was at the party, discovers the secret and begins to hunt down the brothers. In the process, he also falls in love with Lenore, and with Prince Jacobi’s help, the brothers’ resting place is discovered. According to Féval, the brothers must return to their graves once a year. If their hearts are burned with a red-hot iron, then the world can be rid of them. (This is one of Féval’s vampire rules—that they die by a red-hot iron, unlike Stoker’s stake through the heart.)

The killing of the vampires is carried out, but at the end, we are told their criminal activities continue, suggesting they have somehow risen from the grave.

Knightshade is considered an early work of metafiction and introduces vampire brothers.

Knightshade is considered an early work of metafiction and introduces vampire brothers.

In the book’s introduction and afterword, Brian Stableford talks about how Féval never quite wanted to give full credit to the supernatural, and so he leaves the reader wondering whether the brothers really were vampires or they are just using vampirism as one of their disguises to confuse people and carry out their crimes. Stableford also notes that Féval is writing an early form of metafiction here where characters tell tales and include themselves in the tales. The novel itself references Galland, and Stableford refers to the novel as using the Galland’s formula. Galland was the translator of The Arabian Nights into French, which had a huge influence on French and indeed on Gothic literature with its stories within stories, but also in its cliffhangers.

But did the novel influence Stoker? There is only one small detail that I think might suggest that Stoker read the novel. Lenore has a small pet dog, and that dog is named Mina. I have at least seen one literary critic remark that the source for Stoker’s female protagonist in Dracula, Mina, is unknown. Mina is not an English name, so why did Stoker choose it? I wonder whether he took it from Féval.

While Knightshade is an interesting and entertaining novel, it suffers from what many of Féval’s other novels, including The Wandering Jew’s Daughter and The Vampire Countess suffer from—a confusing narrative that makes you almost feel like you’re reading a fragment or poor translation. This is largely due to the novels being serialized and Féval making them up as he writes each installment without a master plan or outline. Such, however, is not the case with Vampire City. It was still serialized and the plot wanders about in a nonsensical way at times, but there is a stronger narrative drive to it that makes it entertaining reading and carries the reader along fairly effortlessly.

The premise of Vampire City lies in Féval’s desire to mock Ann Radcliffe and her Gothic form. Stableford suggests it is the first real Gothic parody novel, although I would argue that Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey (1818) and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818) both are parodies of the form, and as Stableford points out, even what is considered the first Gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), can hardly be taken seriously.

However, Féval’s parody far surpasses anything prior to it. I agree with Stableford that it is a novel far ahead of its time and may be the first horror-comedy, which is what the Gothic has largely devolved to in our own time. I complained in my last blog about authors who lack sincerity in writing Gothic novels, and that was the case with Féval’s first two vampire stories, but here he is intentionally parodying, and so the lack of sincerity is not grating but amusing.

Like many Gothic novels, Vampire City has a narrative frame. Paul Féval writes himself into the novel, complaining about how the English are pirating his novels. He has a fictional female friend named Milady (perhaps a tribute to Dumas’ character in The Three Musketeers) who tells him she knows where he can get a wonderful story to write about. She takes him to England where he meets the ninety-seven-year-old cousin of Ann Radcliffe, who tells him a story about Radcliffe that explains her fascination with the Gothic and where she got the material for her novels.

Féval’s version of Radcliffe, who is called Anna or She throughout, has been compared to the character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and not without merit since Anna ends up pursuing and helping to destroy a vampire.

The story begins when Anna Ward is about to marry William Radcliffe (her husband in real life). Féval was aware that very little was known about the details of Ann Radcliffe’s life, and so he felt she was fair game to do with as he liked. In fact, he draws upon a short biography written by Sir Walter Scott for the few details about her life that were known at the time. In the novel, Anna leaves her home on the morning of her wedding, leaving her bridegroom behind, because she has received a letter from her cousin Cornelia’s prospective bridegroom, Ned, that Cornelia has been kidnapped.

Vampire City creates a fictional vampire hunter version of Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe in a way reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Vampire City creates a fictional vampire hunter version of Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe in a way reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The kidnapper turns out to be Monsieur Goetzi, who is a vampire. Anna and a servant then head to the continent and end up pursuing Monsieur Goetzi across Europe in an effort to kill him and rescue Cornelia. They first find Ned at an inn where he has been attacked by Goetzi and is lingering near death. They also meet Polly, who has become practically a vampire herself because Goetzi attacked her. She is his first victim, and consequently has a special connection to him. She says that only she can help kill him, which must be done by inserting a key in his breast at a specific hour when he is weak. (Féval is making up his own rules about vampires as he goes along and there are numerous instances of this throughout the novel. Prior to Dracula setting the standard for what vampires can and cannot due, vampire characteristics were fair game to make up, although some standards had already been set in books like Polidori’s The Vampire (1819) and Rymer’s Varney the Vampire (1847), and Féval is intentionally going overboard in his parody.) Meanwhile, Goetzi is able to elude the vampire hunters again and again—he does this partly because all of his victims become part of him in a sense and can even seem to double for him or at least serve his purposes. At one point, he escapes by crossing water and brings all his doubles or companions with him. They all actually enter inside of him and then he lays flat on the water and floats on his back, feet forward to his destination.

The humor is evident throughout the novel. Anna and her companions finally make it to Vampire City where all the vampires reside. They get inside the city and manage to cut out Goetzi’s heart, but then the other vampires awaken and pursue them. Eventually, the vampire hunters are saved by the sound of celestial music. It turns out their rescuer is not an angel, but the godlike Arthur, a young nobleman whose true identity Anna’s cousin says she cannot reveal, and the music is caused by him playing a lute as he drives by. He is completely oblivious to how he has saved Anna and her companions. (At the very end, it is revealed that the godlike Arthur was really the young Duke of Wellington.)

Other humor is often pointed at Radcliffe herself. Allow me to quote a few passages. This first one is taken from the scene where she is about to leave home to go to the continent on her rescue mission:

“Although she had not yet composed any of her admirable works, she already possessed the brilliant and noble style which Sir Walter Scott was to praise to the skies in his biography. Indeed, she could not help exclaiming: ‘Goodbye, dear refuge. Happy shelter of my adolescence, adieu! Verdant countryside, proud hills, woodlands full of trees and mystery, shall I ever see you again?’”

You cannot help laughing out loud if you’ve read Radcliffe because her heroines do talk in such affected style, although the style seems Romantic rather than absurd when reading Radcliffe because she draws the reader so fully into her fictional worlds.

In several places, Féval tries to use Radcliffe’s style of introducing supernatural events and then always providing a realistic explanation for them. In this passage, he explains how at the crucial moment, a supernatural event like the characters falling into a pit that suddenly opens in the ground is possible.

“The earth suddenly opened up to engulf them, thus confirming the presentments of our Anna. If you balk at believing in the instantaneous formation of a deep pit, I will freely confess that the personal opinion of our Anna was that a cave-in had already taken place, caused by the high tides of the new moon. The principal charm of a narrative like ours is its realism. And besides, in making further progress we shall encounter more than enough hyperphysical incidents. She was fond of that word—which could, I suppose, be rendered ‘supernatural.’”

In fact, the novel is supremely funny. I rarely laugh out loud when reading, but I did so several times while reading Vampire City.

One final example of how Féval tries to give rational explanations for the supernatural comes with the very end of the novel when Anna has gotten herself into a very sticky situation, then wakes up to find it was all a dream and that it is her wedding day. But Féval goes a step further, having Anna’s cousin, in telling the story, assure us it wasn’t all a dream because after she marries, Anna goes to the continent and discovers the places she visited and many other events that have happened that seem to have coincided with her dream, perhaps a sign that she has the second sight.

I think Vampire City was simply ahead of its time in its mocking of the Gothic and consequently was overlooked as a minor work, but any student of the Gothic will find it a treat to read.

But what of Féval’s influence on Stoker? In his Afterword, Stableford states without reservation “Stoker certainly never read Féval.” He also mentions the influence of LeFanu’s Carmilla (1871-2) upon Dracula and says that LeFanu probably never read Féval. However, Stableford says that Féval, LeFanu, and Stoker all read Dissertations sur les Apparitions des Esprits, et sur les Vampires (1746) by Dom Augustin Calmet, which clearly was a huge influence on vampire fiction so it is not surprising if there are coincidental similarities in their works.

D

Bram Stoker, whose novel Dracula would set the standard for vampire characteristics.

Bram Stoker, whose novel Dracula would set the standard for vampire characteristics.

Personally, however, I think there are some similarities that might suggest Stoker read Féval. As I mentioned earlier, the name Mina might have come from Féval. Not that it wasn’t an existing name, short for Wilhelmina, but it is not a common English name to my knowledge—perhaps the name similarity is a coincidence, perhaps not.

Perhaps the most striking similarity concerns Mina’s relationship with Dracula and Polly’s relationship with Goetzi. In Dracula, Mina Harker, because she is Dracula’s victim, is able to help lead the men to Dracula when he flees across the continent. In Vampire City, Polly is able to do the same, and throughout the process, she is both longing to destroy Goetzi to get revenge as well as sympathizing with him. Similarly, Mina is torn between the vampirism in her and her desire to destroy Dracula. Polly actually goes a bit further and becomes Goetzi once his actual body is destroyed. I don’t know of any cases where vampires have doubles in the form of their victims before Féval or again until Dracula, which makes me think there could be an influence here.

Another similarity is the use of animals. Neither Polidori’s vampire, nor Varney the Vampire, nor Carmilla, nor any of the other pre-Stoker vampires appear to have doubles or control over animals who serve them. In Vampire City, however, the vampires often have dogs, bats, and other creatures serving them. In Dracula, the vampire not only has control over such creatures but can turn into them.

Many critics have also written about homosexual elements in vampire literature and in Dracula particularly. Stoker never goes so far as to make it explicit, but in Féval when the vampires awaken in Vampire City, they are described as “The men of considerable stature, but for the most part effeminate; the females, by contrast, were both tall and bold.” These sound like typical stereotypes of effeminate gay men and butch lesbians to me.

Finally, is it a coincidence that Arthur is a hero and savior in Vampire City and that there is an Arthur Holmwood among the male heroes in Dracula? Holmwood is Lord Godalming while Féval’s Arthur turns out to be the future Duke of Wellington, who was himself “Honorable” as the third son of an earl in his youth, the age at which he appears in Vampire City.

We may never know whether Stoker read Féval, and to some extent it does not matter. To say Stoker drew from Féval may in some ways limit Stoker’s genius. To say Féval influenced Stoker may make it seem like Féval’s work is inferior to Stoker’s. It may be a detrimental argument for both their sakes. That said, one cannot help wondering, and I do not believe either author is more or less important if Stoker was influenced by Féval. Both made significant contributions to vampire literature and deserve to be read and acknowledged for it.

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

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The Necromancer: George W.M. Reynolds’ Final Supernatural Novel

Last year, I read and wrote a blog about George W.M. Reynolds’ fabulous Gothic novel, Wagner the Wehr-Wolf. I enjoyed the novel so much that I was not at all surprised that Reynolds was the bestselling author of his time, outselling even Dickens.

The Valancourt Books edition of The Necromancer.

The Valancourt Books edition of The Necromancer.

Consequently, this year for Halloween I decided to read The Necromancer (1851-2), the third and last supernatural novel Reynolds wrote. (The other being Faust (1847), which was actually a prequel to Wagner the Wehr-Wolf (1846-7). While I did not find The Necromancer quite as full of twists and turns and fascinating characters as Wagner, it was nevertheless a compelling story, and the recent edition by Valancourt books was also highly valuable for its lengthy introduction that provided biographical detail about Reynolds, who remains little known today, as well as an afterword by Dick Collins that traces the influences of other writers upon The Necromancer. Certainly, Reynolds should hold a place of esteem among Gothic writers if not a place in English literature.

The necromancer of the title is Lord Danvers, a man who has made a pact with Satan to obtain several incredible powers, including perpetual youth and the ability to change his appearance. In exchange, he must, over the course of 150 years, convince six women to elope and marry him, thus allowing Satan to take their souls. Danvers began his pact in 1390 and the novel opens in 1510 when he has acquired the soul of Clara Manners, his fifth victim. It then jumps ahead six years. We are not fully let into Danvers’ secret until toward the end of the novel, but it is clear from the beginning he has supernatural powers and is up to no good.

Each of Danvers’ victims has family members who have sworn to gain their revenge on him for what he did to the woman he abducted from their family. What these people do not know is that Danvers is one person and not several generations of men, due to his ability to change his age and appearance, and that he takes on numerous different first names.

The major plot concerns Musidora, a young woman with a secret she will not reveal that has made her more quiet and hard than in her youth. At this time, King Henry VIII is unhappy with his wife, Katherine of Aragon, and it is believed he will divorce her and find a new wife. Musidora’s relatives convince her father to have her visit them since they live near the palace of Greenwich. They are in disgrace with the king but believe that Musidora is so beautiful that King Henry will fall in love with her and then they will be restored to their former positions at court. Things go precisely as planned, and soon Musidora has agreed to marry Henry. A secret wedding is held in which he produces a document from the Pope testifying to the annulment of his previous marriage and his ability to marry again. A violent storm erupts as soon as the marriage is over, and before long, all is revealed, including that Danvers has been impersonating Henry.

As these events develop, the novel intersperses the tales of Danvers’ other five victims, as told by their relatives or descendants. I found these stories rather tedious since it’s clear Danvers will convince the maiden to elope with him each time, and they rather slowed down the action. But they do explain the reasons behind the revenge each family seeks.

In the end, Musidora escapes from Danvers’ clutches and marries her cousin and many more years go by. St. Louis, a relative of one of the other victims, and in the king’s favor, meanwhile, is visited by his ancestress in a dream and told to go to the Holy Land. There he meets the father of another victim who warns him that Danvers’ time to finish his contract with Satan is running out and he must stop him from capturing his last victim. The old man gives St. Louis a crucifix to aid him in his efforts.

St. Louis returns to England, and with Musidora’s help, goes to Danvers’ castle on the Isle of Wight where Danvers is about to abduct his last victim. Musidora prevents him by using the crucifix to open the castle doors so she can make her way to Danvers and Marian, the victim, who turns out to be Musidora and Danvers’ daughter (the long held secret of Musidora’s youth). Danvers is horrified that he has nearly destroyed his own child and repents. Musidora then prays for him as Satan comes to take him, but her prayers are fruitless. The other souls of the victimized women are released and sent to heaven, but Danvers goes to Hell with Satan.

I found the story rather long, but not without a great deal of excitement and wonderful Gothic trappings. The Afterword in the Valancourt edition by Dick Collins was full of interesting information about Reynolds and his literary predecessors, citing some works I could clearly see as sources for the novel, such as Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew (1846) and Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). Sue’s use of a family line of descendants is apparent as an influence in the generations bent on revenge in the novel, and Melmoth the Wanderer’s efforts to seduce young maidens is clearly an influence as well. Other typical Gothic trappings include the incest plot, where a father nearly abducts his daughter—a plot that hearkens back at least as far as Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest (1791), and the ghost that haunts the family—in this case, St. Louis’ ancestor appearing to him in a dream—a plot that goes back to at least Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1795) but also has origins in much earlier legends like that of the serpent-fairy Melusine, who cries whenever one of her descendants dies at the castle of Lusignan. However, Collins cites several other sources for the novel, most notably William Harrison Ainsworth’s Auriol, or The Elixir of Life, a work I will have to add to my reading list.

Perhaps most interesting of all to me was the role of the crucifix in the novel. I may be wrong, but I think this is the earliest use of a crucifix in Gothic fiction to fight evil, although rather than warding off evil, it contains powers to open doors. One has to wonder whether Bram Stoker read The Necromancer and was influenced to adapt the use of the crucifix in Dracula. Another possible influence on Dracula is how Danvers drives his coach allowing him to cover incredible distances in impossibly quick times—there is one particularly dramatic scene where he promises to take Clara Manners’ father to her at his castle and they arrive in just hours for a journey that should have taken much longer. It reminded me of Jonathan Harker’s coach ride to Dracula’s castle, although that journey does not defy the barriers of time, but still is full of mystical atmosphere.

Certainly, The Necromancer is a much overlooked Gothic novel that deserves a key place in the history of Gothic literature, both for its use of previous Gothic literature and its likely influence on Stoker and other Gothic successors. I would especially advocate that readers interested in the novel read the Valancourt edition because Dick Collins’ afterword alone is worth the price of the book for all its information about what has for the last century been a very obscure Gothic text from the early Victorian period but that was widely read and influential in its day.

Now that I have read two of Reynolds’ novels, I plan to go on and read his first supernatural one, Faust, as well as his most popular work, The Mysteries of London, so stay tuned for future blogs.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and the historical fantasy series, The Children of Arthur. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, The Wandering Jew