Tag Archives: Catholicism in Gothic Novels

Clarimonde: An Early Psychological Vampire Tale

In 1836, French author Théophile Gautier published a short story titled “Le Morte Amoreuse” in Le Chronique de Paris. While the title translates into English as “The Dead in Love,” it was published in English as “Clarimonde” after its primary female character.

Clarimonde – this cover focuses on theme of death in the novel, although most depictions focus on the female vampire herself.

The work was likely influenced by the popularity of Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819), the first vampire story in England, which was soon translated into French and became more popular through stage productions. Gautier no doubt was influenced by Polidori’s work, but Gautier’s story was also translated into English and likely influenced the vampire novels that succeeded it. One reason “Clarimonde” stand out is it was the first prose work about a female vampire. (Previously, female vampires appeared in English poetry, notably Coleridge’s “Christabel” (1816)—although Coleridge never finished the poem so it is unknown whether he truly considered the character of Geraldine to be a vampire—and Keats’ “Lamia” (1820). However, Clarimonde is a far more detailed work than either poem, and it clearly points toward later works like J. S. LeFanu’s Carmilla (1872) and Stoker’s Dracula (1897), which it must have influenced directly or indirectly.

But “Clarimonde” deserves recognition for far more than just what it influenced. In fact, it is a work far ahead of its time for its use of Gothic themes and its psychological innovation.

The story begins when a young priest, Romuald, is about to be ordained. At his ordination, he sees the beautiful Clarimonde and is immediately smitten with her. He develops strong erotic desires for her that threaten to make him reject becoming a priest. He also hears a voice promising him love that will be greater than anything he could experience in Paradise. Despite the temptation, Romuald finishes the ceremony. Afterwards, he receives a letter with just Clarimonde’s name upon it.

Romuald is soon after stationed at a parish in the country where he feels trapped as a priest. One night, a man comes to him saying that a woman is dying and wishes to see a priest. The woman turns out to be Clarimonde, but she is already dead when Romuald arrives. Unable to restrain himself, he leans over and kisses her, and he is surprised when she returns the kiss. For a brief moment, she seems to return to life and tells him they will be reunited. Romuald then faints as he sees the breath leave Clarimonde’s body.

Days later, Romuald awakes, thinking he has dreamt the experience, but then Clarimonde appears to him. This time, she does not look dead but alive, and she convinces him to go on a journey with her. They travel to Venice where they live together. At times, Romuald wakes and realizes he is dreaming, but soon the dreams begin to feel more real to him than his real life, and sometimes, he feels like he is a grandee who is having nightmares about a life as a priest.

Eventually, Clarimonde becomes ill and Romuald fears for her life. One day, however, he accidentally cuts his finger and Clarimonde sucks the blood from it, restoring her to health. Romuald now realizes she is a vampire, but in his dream state, he is unable to resist her.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the Abbe Serapion warns Romuald that his desires for Clarimonde are born of sin and that the devil is trying to lead him astray. To prove to Romuald the truth, Serapion takes him to Clarimonde’s tomb where they find a spot of blood at the corner of her mouth. Calling her a demon, Serapion sprinkles holy water on her corpse. She then crumbles to dust.

That night, Clarimonde appears to Romuald in a dream for the last time, admonishing him for how he has treated her and asking him what harm she truly did him.

The story concludes with Romuald regretting Clarimonde’s loss, although he knows that her destruction has saved his soul. He then warns his reader never to look at a woman because even just one glance can cause one to lose his soul.

While “Clarimonde” is not a long story, it contains several points worth noting that seem like harbingers of later Gothic works.

Auguste de Chatillon. Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), was a poet, playwright, and novelist, who counted Victor Hugo among his many literary friends and acquaintances.

For me, the story’s most remarkable aspect is the extent to which Romuald enters into a dream world so that each night he is living happily with Clarimonde to the point where the real world seems like a dream to him. I don’t know of any other nineteenth century author who used dreams to such a powerful extent until George DuMaurier in Peter Ibbetson (1891) where the characters are able to perform what we would today call lucid dreaming and even communicate with one another through their dreams.

Clarimonde’s eyes also cannot go without notice. There’s a long tradition of vampires having a mesmeric gaze, an attribute they inherited in literature from the Wandering Jew. When Romuald first sees Clarimonde, he describes her eyes as:

“sea-green eyes of unsustainable vivacity and brilliancy. What eyes! With a single flash they could have decided a man’s destiny. They had a life, a limpidity, an ardour, a humid light which I have never seen in human eyes; they shot forth rays like arrows, which I could distinctly see enter my heart. I know not if the fire which illumined them came from heaven or from hell, but assuredly it came from one or the other. That woman was either an angel or a demon, perhaps both. Assuredly she never sprang from the flank of Eve, our common mother.”

The reference to Eve is also interesting since Eve is usually the transgressor of Eden who brought sin to mankind, but Clarimonde is distanced here from her, to clarify she is not even human.

That Romuald feels like he has two identities is also significant. It is as if he is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, living two separate existences, and while he never becomes a monster, he certainly feels he is powerless to break the control that one of those identities has over him. He states:

“From that night my nature seemed in some sort to have become halved, and there were two men within me, neither of whom knew the other. At one moment I believed myself a priest who dreamed nightly that he was a gentleman, at another that I was a gentleman who dreamed he was a priest. I could no longer distinguish the dream from the reality, nor could I discover where the reality began or where ended the dream. The exquisite young lord and libertine railed at the priest, the priest loathed the dissolute habits of the young lord. Two spirals entangled and confounded the one with the other, yet never touching….” He eventually realizes he must kill one or the other of the men or kill both because so terrible an existence cannot be otherwise endured.

Clarimonde’s death is also interesting because of how it is described. When she dies her human death, after Romuald kisses her, we are told of the flower she holds: “The last remaining leaf of the white rose for a moment palpitated at the extremity of the stalk like a butterfly’s wing, then it detached itself and flew forth through the open casement, bearing with it the soul of Clarimonde.” This detail is fascinating because it suggests Gautier may have had some knowledge of the Eastern European tradition that butterflies are connected to the soul. The dead, and vampires particularly, were said to have a butterfly fly out of their mouths when they died, thus releasing their souls. (See my previous blogs on the1880 Serbian novel After Ninety Years and also James Lyons’ 2013 novel Kiss of the Butterfly.)

Finally, the novel was significant as a translation into English because not only does it feature a Catholic priest (he isn’t, however, the first Catholic priest to fall into sexual morality; Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795) has a main character who has sex with a nun, who turns out to be Satan in disguise), but the vampire is destroyed through the use of holy water, a Catholic tool. Most of the Gothic novels of the 1790s to 1820s were very anti-Catholic. That lessened to some extent after Catholic Emancipation in England in 1829, but because “Clarimonde” is by a French writer, Gautier had no qualms about using Catholicism to defeat his vampire. That said, I believe it may be the first use of holy water to defeat a vampire in literature. Of course, Catholic implements like the crucifix and Eucharistic would be more famously used by Bram Stoker in Dracula.

Clarimonde would go on to influence French works like Paul Feval’s The Vampire Countess and directly or indirectly British works like Carmilla and Dracula. Today, Clarimonde is far from a household name—Dracula gets all the press—but the significance of Gautier’s story to vampire fiction and its innovations that do not appear again for many decades in literature make “Clarimonde” a piece deserving of far more 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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The Necromancers: A Pro-Catholic Gothic Novel

I stumbled upon Robert Hugh Benson’s novel The Necromancers (1909) quite by accident when I went to Amazon to find George W.M. Reynolds’ The Necromancer and Benson’s novel came up in the title search. I instantly was intrigued by the novel, looked up Benson, and wondered how it was possible I had never heard of him. In case my reader hasn’t either, a short biography is in order to understand why The Necromancers is such an unusual Gothic novel.

Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson

Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson

Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) was born an Anglican. Even more than that, he became an Anglican priest. And then he decided to convert to Catholicism in 1903 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1904. In fact, by the end of his life—he only lived to be forty-two—he was a monsignor. I don’t know enough details about Benson’s life to say whether he belongs to the High Church movement of the Victorian period that led to men like Cardinal Newman converting from Anglicanism to Catholicism, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Newman influenced him—in fact, Newman is referenced in The Necromancers.

But what is most remarkable about Benson is that despite being a Catholic priest, he was very interested in the supernatural in a rather eye-raising way. He wrote ghost and horror stories, a very popular dystopian novel, The Lord of the World (1907), about the coming of the Antichrist, and many other books, including The Necromancers, which takes on the matter of spiritualism.

I believe that most Gothic novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries tend to be subversive, promoting an agenda that goes against the conservative status quo, but then quickly returning to it at the end. The Necromancers follows this pattern, although it becomes even more conservative in the end than other works. The novel is also fascinating because, with only a few exceptions (Glenarvon and Dracula among them), most Gothic novels tend to deride Catholicism. Benson really makes Catholicism the champion of the novel to the point that other Christian denominations pale by comparison.

The Necromancers is set in a very modern, daylight England. The title references the Spiritualist movement, equating those who seek to speak to the dead at séance tables and the like with those who try to raise the dead—a sin that goes back to the Witch of Endor raising up the ghost of the Prophet Samuel in the Bible. While spiritualism claims to offer comfort to the grieving, Benson clearly does not buy this excuse for practicing it, as the novel illustrates.

The story opens with Laurie Baxter, a young man who has converted to Catholicism, but who recently lost the girl he loved, Amy Nugent, to death. Laurie lives with his mother, Mrs. Baxter, and a young woman who is her ward, Maggie. One day, Mrs. Stapleton calls on them because she is a type of clairvoyant who was attracted to their house because of the energy that resonates from it. She is invited in for tea, and her talk of spirits, including that she has conversations with the deceased Cardinal Newman, make Mrs. Baxter and Maggie think her full of foolishness, but Laurie’s grief causes him to seek her out.

Before long, Laurie has met the medium, Mr. Vincent, and is attending séances. For some time, he debates upon whether spiritualism is true. His behavior concerns a coworker who thinks spiritualism is all foolishness, but the coworker introduces him to Mr. Cathcart, another man like Laurie, who is a convert to Catholicism and who previously was also interested in spiritualism. Mr. Cathcart warns Laurie that a lot of spiritualism is fraud and foolishness, but not all of it is; some of it can put his soul in peril. Laurie refuses to listen, especially after he has seen the shape of Amy appear to him at a séance. After that event, however, he is also dramatically altered in his appearance, giving Maggie and Mr. Cathcart cause for concern.

Mr. Cathcart, concerned that an evil being is getting a hold over Laurie—Laurie seems “obsessed” but is not yet “possessed” Cathcart believes—warns Maggie that she must save him. What follows is one of the most dramatic and frightening Gothic moments I have ever read. On the night before Easter, Maggie stays up all night with Laurie. He is annoyed by her presence when she takes up praying. He refuses to pray, telling her it will do no good. He even says he cannot stand her praying and gets in her face, trying to frighten her, but she refuses to relent and let the evil being take possession of Laurie. As the night progresses, Maggie feels the presence of the evil in a long and harrowing scene. In the end, Maggie somehow manages through her prayer to free Laurie from the evil.

Benson’s viewpoint that Catholicism is the only true religion is held at bay until near the end of the novel. As Laurie explores spiritualism, Benson provides room for characters to express opposing viewpoints and provide a reasonable discussion of spiritualism and its possibilities. Benson tries not to thrust dogma down the reader’s throat. He also has his spiritualist advocates speak favorably of religion—any religion—except the Catholic Church as the one they do not like. One might see this as the typical prejudice against Catholics espoused in other Gothic novels, but instead, Benson’s point is that none of the other religions are true except for Catholicism, and therefore, it is the only one that the Spiritualists—and evil spirits—need fear.

While the Catholic Church teaches that it is a sin to try to communicate with the dead, at the end of the novel, Maggie confesses that she still doesn’t know what she believes. However, she saw a door open into another world and she did not like what she saw, so she is content not to look again but to have “common sense” and not to try to “find out things beyond us at the present.” In other words, Maggie is speaking out against searching for forbidden knowledge—the search that always leads to trouble in Gothic novels—usually it is in the form of searching for immortality or the philosopher’s stone, but it can also be in seeking contact with the dead—and ultimately, it goes back to the biblical fall of mankind in eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge.

I am not sure how to take the end of Benson’s novel, or rather, I should say I am not sure I like it. It is a very orthodox Catholic stance and one that leaves no room for argument or discussion. The argument and discussion is in the pages of the book, but at the end, Benson metaphorically shuts the door on it. If the supernatural world is as the Christian religion has always taught us, then certainly, we are better off not opening the door to things beyond human understanding or a human ability to control, but if the world is not quite how Christianity depicts it, is it true? More modern novels have made ghosts friendly and a source of comfort when they communicate with us, as in TV shows such as The Ghost Whisperer. But if the world is not the dualistic battle of good and evil, then what good is the Gothic novel which seeks to explore the evil part of that battle and in the end, reconfirm the good as the better choice? Despite these novels being fiction, they operate within a Christian framework that asserts there is a spiritual world of good and evil; without that Christian belief, the Gothic novel’s framework falls short, or does it just open it to new ways to explore spirituality and the supernatural?

I do not know the answers, even if Benson believed he did, but certainly, the Gothic novel wants to have it both ways: to give us a place to explore the question of the supernatural and good and evil, while in the end bringing us back to a safe place where we need fear the answers no more.

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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, the historical fantasy series, The Children of Arthur, and numerous historical novels set in Upper Michigan. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com and www.MarquetteFiction.com

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

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

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

Lady Caroline Lamb, author of Glenarvon

Lady Caroline Lamb, author of Glenarvon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The legendary Flying Dutchman

The legendary Flying Dutchman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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