Tag Archives: Eugene Sue

The Forgotten Gothic: The Count of Monte Cristo

In titling this post “The Forgotten Gothic,” of course, I know no one has forgotten Alexandre Dumas’ phenomenal bestseller, The Count of Monte Cristo, first published in serial form in 1844, but what I think people have forgotten or never fully realized is just how much Dumas’ novel plays with Gothic elements in its depiction of the count and the chain of events he sets in motion in his thirst for revenge.

An early illustration of Dantès after his escape from the Chateau d’If

When I first read The Count of Monte Cristo in 1992, I admit I found it deadly dull. I had expected a gripping adventure novel, but the translation I read—I am not sure who the translator was, but he heavily edited the novel to about half its actual length, he used stilted, formal English which loses the charm of Dumas’ original language, and he censored word choice and parts of the plot to make it more appealing to a British Victorian audience—made the novel lacking in vivacity. Many other early English translations abridged and censored Dumas’ original. For example, in several translations, the count’s enthusiasm for hashish was censored. However, when a member of the Trollope and His Contemporaries listserv I belong to mentioned that the Robin Buss translation revealed a new understanding of Edmond Dantès’ intense desire for revenge in the novel, I decided to revisit the book, having always been attracted by its Gothic atmosphere in film versions. Buss’ excellent translation really brought the story to life for me and made me realize not only what an incredible book it is, but what a significant link The Count of Monte Cristo is in the chain of Gothic literature.

The Count of Monte Cristo has never failed to be popular as evidenced by the numerous film, TV, and comic book adaptations of it as well as abridged versions for children. Most of these renderings of it, however, have done it a disservice. While perpetuating the novel’s popularity, they have led people who have not read the novel to think they know The Count of Monte Cristo. They do not. Even the 2002 film starring Jim Cavaziel as the count, which is probably the best film version, fails to do the novel true justice because it cuts so much to simplify the plot into a two-hour film. In truth, the novel runs to 464,234 words or about 1,000-1,300 pages depending on the edition. It is so long because it has several subplots all tied to the count’s desire for revenge. The 2002 film and most others seek a happy ending, usually by not letting the count’s love, Mércèdes, die, and they make numerous other changes, which leave the films as weak renditions of Dumas’ vision. The novel would be better served if adapted into a television miniseries so all its subplots could be treated fully as they deserve. Hopefully, someday that will happen. It has happened in France, but no English miniseries has been made in decades.

I invite readers to reread the novel for themselves in the Buss translation because I will not summarize the entire plot here. However, a very detailed summary of the novel’s plot can also be found at Wikipedia. Instead, here I will discuss the novel’s Gothic elements and some of its possible literary influences. I believe it is a remarkable novel in the Gothic tradition that serves as a transition piece between early and late nineteenth century Gothic novels as I will illustrate at the end of this essay.

Most readers know the basic story, even though it has been simplified in the cinematic versions they are familiar with. Edmond Dantès is wrongfully accused of plotting to help restore Napoleon. He has four primary foes who accuse him without his knowledge. These enemies are his shipmate Danglars; Fernand Mondego, who is in love with Dantès’ fiancée Mércèdes; Caderousse, an unscrupulous neighbor who dislikes Dantès; and Villefort, a magistrate who wants to protect his father, a Napoleon supporter, and more importantly his own career, which could be jeopardized by the paper Dantès has brought back from where Napoleon is in exile.

James Caviezel as The Count of Monte Cristo in the 2002 film.

Dantès remains in prison for fourteen years, which is where the Gothic elements begin. Dantès’ imprisonment recalls other Gothic novels filled with castles and prisons where characters are usually unjustly imprisoned. In prison, Dantès meets the Abbe Faria. Faria is particularly interesting because he meets Dantès while digging a tunnel that eventually leads to Dantès cell. Together, the men plan to escape. Faria is a Gothic character in the sense that, as Buss tells us in the novel’s excellent introduction, he is based on Portuguese cleric Jose Custodia de Faria, an eccentric figure in Paris in the early nineteenth century who was known for his experiments with hypnotism and magnetism. He was a student of Swedenborg and Mesmer and lectured on hypnotism. Hypnotism/magnetism are frequent themes in Gothic literature—the Wandering Jew, Svengali, and Dracula all have hypnotic eyes. Faria also draws geometric lines in his cell which cause his keepers to think him mad, but they reflect he has knowledge beyond most men and they do not understand he is planning his escape. He reflects in this knowledge the Gothic treatment of the Rosicrucian figure, who usually works for mankind’s wellbeing and has two great gifts, the secret of life extension and the philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold. Faria reflects the gift of life extension in that he has had several strokes but has a “life-giving draught,” a sort of elixir of life, that restores him to health. As for the philosopher’s stone, he doesn’t know how to turn lead to gold, but regardless he has knowledge of a great treasure, one he reveals to Dantès that Cesar Borgia hid on the isle of Monte Cristo. He gives Dantès a paper written in “Gothic characters” that reveals the hiding place of his treasure. This paper is equivalent to the found manuscript in many Gothic novels that reveals secrets of the past. Besides working with Dantès to escape, he also educates Dantès, including teaching him several languages, which allows Dantès to disguise his identity as needed once he does escape.

Before they can escape, Faria dies. Dantès then escapes by hiding in the body bag given to Faria. He is flung into the sea but manages to survive, is rescued by pirates, and eventually gets to Monte Cristo where he finds the treasure, sets himself up under the disguise of a wealthy nobleman, and sets about his revenge. Dantès imprisonment lasts for fourteen years, which recalls the length of time the biblical Jacob labored so he could wed his beloved Rachel, but Dantès, upon returning to Marseilles, learns that Mércèdes has married his enemy Fernand, who now masquerades as a nobleman himself. More notably, Dantès’ escape is equivalent to a rising from the dead since he disguises himself as Faria’s corpse and then returns to life. He has basically been buried alive, not literally but through his imprisonment, and now he has resurrected. In rising from the dead, he is both a vampire figure and a Christ figure, but as the novel progresses, he gradually transforms from the former to the latter role.

Other Gothic elements surrounding Dantès’ character include how he learns to communicate with the sailors and pirates who rescue him. They make signs to one another to communicate much like the freemasons. The freemasons were often associated with conspiracy theories and were claimed to have done everything from building the Tower of Babel to causing the French Revolution. That Dantès works with them shows he is himself a manipulator of politics and economies. Indeed, the Rosicrucians’ possession of the philosopher’s stone was seen as a transgression against God, as evidenced in novels like William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799), because it allowed them to manipulate national and world economies. Dantès has a similar power through his incredible wealth, although he only uses it to manipulate the downfall of his enemies. He is referenced by another character as being like Cagliostro and the Comte de Saint-Germain, saying he has the wit of one and the philosopher’s stone of the other. Cagliostro was an Italian adventurer with an interest in the occult, including alchemy. Saint-Germain was of unknown birth but became a nobleman and philosopher with an interest in alchemy who claimed to be 500 years old to deflect inquiries into his origins.

Dantès is equated with several other historical and mythic figures as well. Early in his return to civilization, he calls himself Sinbad the Sailor, drawing upon Arabian Nights metaphors. The Gothic frequently used the Arabian Nights technique of stories within stories, although Dumas does not use that framework, but the many subplots serve a similar purpose. The Sinbad metaphor applies to all the “wandering” Dantès does in his early years as he sets into motion the plans for his revenge—something that aligns him with other Gothic Wanderer figures who are usually transgressors, most notably the Wandering Jew. Dantès is also linked to the Arabian Nights by being called an Ali Baba because he finds the treasure in a secret cave.

Most in line with the Gothic tradition is how Dantès is likened to a Byronic vampire. When he arrives in Paris, he is described by other characters as being a type of Byronic hero, specifically Manfred, and like Byron, he is described as having the gift of spellbinding others—another reference to hypnotism. Later, he is described as having a hand as icy as a corpse, for which he is compared to Lord Ruthven, the hero of John Polidori’s The Vampire (1819), said to be based on Lord Byron. As noted earlier, Dantès has risen from the grave like a vampire. He is also described by other characters as “ageless”—suggesting he shares the Rosicrucian gift of life-extension or perhaps the long life of a vampire. One scene in the novel that may well have inspired Bram Stoker in writing Dracula (1897) occurs when the character Franz visits the Count of Monte Cristo and is served hashish. He falls asleep and dreams of making love to three female statues in the count’s residence of the courtesans Phryne, Cleopatra, and Messalina. This scene is erotic and brings to mind the incident of sexual dreams Jonathan Harker has in relation to the female vampires in Dracula’s castle.

The actual Chateau d’If where Dantès is imprisoned in the novel.

The novel’s resurrection theme continues when Dantès learns from Bertucci, a Corsican and his servant, about how he had once broken into a home of Villefort and discovered Villefort burying a treasure. Bertucci attacked Villefort to get the treasure, only to discover instead the box contained a child whose umbilical cord was wrapped around its neck; Bertucci believes Villefort thought the child dead and was burying it—trying to hide its existence since it is also illegitimate—but Bertucci realizes the child is alive and rescues it. The child has then literally risen from the grave. The child grows up to be named Benedetto. He is a malevolent being, and in time, Dantès hires him to help bring about his revenge against his enemies. Later, Dantès will reveal the secret of this child’s burial when he invites Villefort and his mistress, mother of the child, to the house, which he has purchased now for himself. He frightens them by saying the house is haunted by ghosts and then recounting the story of the child’s burial without revealing the players’ names.

As the novel continues, Dantès creates havoc in the lives of his enemies, while his true identity remains unknown to them. He enjoys promoting his mysteriousness, telling Villefort he’s one of the superior angelic beings and his kingdom is great because he’s cosmopolitan—no one can claim to know his birthplace and only God knows when he’ll die. Because he’s cosmopolitan, he has no national scruples. These references again make him akin to the Wandering Jew, cursed by God to wander the earth for who knows how long—but who often is depicted as working to reduce his curse by serving God’s purposes. Dantès’ cosmopolitan nature in the novel may well have inspired Lew Wallace’s depiction of The Wandering Jew in his novel The Prince of India (1893), in which the Jew, masquerading as an Indian prince, goes to Constantinople at the time of its fall in 1453. The Wandering Jew in the novel also has a great treasure that is hidden away. It is also likely that The Count of Monte Cristo, with its emphasis on revenge, inspired Wallace’s novel Ben Hur (1880), which also is about revenge and redemption. Further research needs to be done to see if Wallace was a reader of Dumas’ novel, but I think it very likely.

Faust is also part of Dantès’ characterization. Dantès claims, that like everyone else, he has been tempted by Satan; here he takes on the role of Christ, offered great wealth if he will worship Satan. This biblical scene is the original Faustian pact, a common theme in Gothic literature, though Christ refuses to make it, and so does Dantès. He claims he resisted this temptation by becoming an agent of Providence, punishing and rewarding according to God’s will. He is viewed as one of God’s angels by the Morel family in the novel, to whom he is a benefactor, Monsieur Morel having owned the ship Dantès had sailed upon and having been the only one who sought to help Dantès when he was unjustly accused.

In truth, Dantès in the guise of the Count of Monte Cristo is a master of disguise. He claims as his close associates Lord Wilmore of England, who hates him after some nasty business happened between them in India, and a friend, the Abbe Busani. Actually, they are not his associates but people he also masquerades as. He does so especially when Villefort makes inquiries of both to find out the truth about the count. Of course, in both roles, Dantès feeds Villefort incredible stories. One is that the count bought a house to open up a lunatic asylum—perhaps another suggestion that seeped into Bram Stoker’s brain in writing Dracula. After all, Dracula is also a count and buys a house near a lunatic asylum where he manipulates the lunatic Renfield.

The Wandering Jew theme in the novel may have been suggested to Dumas partly because of his source material. The novel is based on the true-life story of Francois Picaud, who was a shoemaker or cobbler. Dumas found the story in Jacques Peuchet’s Police dévoilée: Mémoires historiques tirés des archives de Paris… (1838), a collection of anecdotes from the Paris police archives. While Picaud’s story shares many similarities to that of Dantès in the novel, Dumas made some changes such as shifting Dantès’ origins to Marseilles rather than Paris. However, what interests me here is the shoemaker origins. The Wandering Jew was himself a shoemaker who refused to let Christ rest outside his door on the way to Calvary; as a result he was cursed to wander the earth until Christ’s return. The shoemaker theme relates to the wandering—shoes being needed for long journeys. Here also we may have an influence of the novel upon Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) since Dr. Manette, when imprisoned in the Bastille, takes up shoemaking. Manette wanders about his rooms ceaselessly at night. Manette’s imprisonment in the Bastille also recalls Dantès’ long imprisonment, including that he was wrongly accused. Dickens would also use the resurrection theme in his novel, Manette being reclaimed to life, and there is a resurrection man, Jerry Cruncher, in the novel whose initials are the same as those of Jesus Christ. (For more on the Gothic elements of A Tale of Two Cities, see my book The Gothic Wanderer.)

One other Gothic theme in the novel is that of gambling. Madame Danglars is a great gambler who gambles away much of her husband’s fortune. Gambling is not limited to gaming, however; the count purposely uses the telegram to create false rumors that affect the buying and selling of stocks, which leads to Danglars’ financial ruin. Gambling was seen as a transgression against God in Gothic literature because people tried to rise above their social and financial status by gambling to gain great wealth. This transgression was linked to the philosopher’s stone that could manipulate world economies by manufacturing wealth.

Buss, in his introduction, says that Dumas could not have written this novel without first being influenced by Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-4). That novel created urban crime fiction, and Paris is similarly the setting to the later parts of Dumas’ novel. Certainly, that Dumas took the frame of his story from Jacques Peuchet’s Police dévoilée: Mémoires historiques tirés des archives de Paris… suggests that he was trying to create an urban crime story to ride the coattails of Sue’s popular novel. Although only part of The Count of Monte Cristo is set in Paris, it is in the Paris scenes that the count enacts most of his revenge, creating many mysteries that those he would be revenged upon do not understand. At the same time, Dantès is benevolent much like Prince Rodolphe in Sue’s novel. Rodolphe disguises himself as a common worker to go out among the people, like Haroun al-Rashid—another tie to the Arabian Nights—to find people deserving of his benevolence. However, while in Sue’s novel, the prince aids convicts to help reform them, in Dumas’ novel, the count aids criminals only so they will help him achieve his revenge. These criminals in the end are also punished in various ways, despite their role in bringing about the count’s form of justice.

The Chateau de Monte Cristo, a home Alexandre Dumas built with money from the sales of his novels. Today, it is a museum.

Despite Dantès’ believing he is the hand of Providence, at the end of the novel, when he sees the full extent of the misery he has inflicted upon his enemies, he begins to question whether he has acted justly. After almost everyone in Villefort’s family has died, Villefort realizes he has been unjust toward his own wife, who has poisoned some of the family. He says she caught the disease of crime from him like it was the plague and he decides they will leave France together to wander the earth—another play on the Wandering Jew theme. However, Villefort arrives home to find it is too late—his wife has already killed herself. At this point, Dantès reveals who he is to Villefort, and having pity on him, tells him he has paid his debt and is satisfied. It’s too late, however; Villefort goes mad. Dantès then rushes from the house in horror, fearing he has gone too far.

Dantès is now filled with doubt and despair. He meets Mércèdes one last time—she long ago realized who he was and she begged him to spare her son when the two dueled—film versions often make the son Dantès’ son—but Dumas did not go that far. Dantès now parts from Mércèdes, knowing he has impoverished her and her son after her husband, Fernand, committed suicide, but he makes sure they are provided for.

Reexamining his life, Dantès next travels to the Chateau d’If, where he had been imprisoned, and there hears from the guard the history of the abbe and the escaped prisoner—the guard does not realize he is telling Dantès his own story. Dantès now asks God to take away his doubt that he has been acting as God’s agent in carrying out his revenge. When the guard gives Dantès the abbe’s manuscript of the history of the Italian monarchy as a gift, Dantès notices the book’s epitaph, “‘You will pull the dragon’s teeth and trample the lions underfoot,’ said the Lord,” and takes it as a sign that he has done the right thing in bringing about justice.

In the novel’s final chapter, Dantès completes his transformation from a resurrected vampire into a resurrected Christ figure. Throughout the novel, while he has wreaked revenge on his enemies, he has also spared the good, especially those of the second generation who were not responsible for their fathers’ sins. By not punishing sins to the third and fourth generation like the Old Testament God of the Hebrews, he also acts like a Christ figure who forgives sins. Among the second generation is Valentine, the daughter of Villefort. When Villefort’s wife was poisoning members of the family so that her son could become sole heir, Dantès manipulated events so that when Valentine’s life was in jeopardy, it would only appear she had also died. Dantès does not reveal his secret even to Valentine’s lover, Max Morel. Now in the novel’s final scene, he brings Max to the isle of Monte Cristo, where Max expects the count will help him carry out his suicide because he is so grief-stricken over Valentine’s death. Instead, Max finds Valentine there, alive and well, like Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead by Christ (a reference Dumas makes, thus equating the count with Christ). One also can’t help thinking of Romeo and Juliet in this scene where poison and suicide both figure in for the lovers, but instead of tragedy, life and happiness are restored.

In truth, while films and other adaptations of the novel have treated The Count of Monte Cristo as a great adventure novel, it is truly much more akin to Shakespearean and other Renaissance revenge tragedies. The novel may well have brought the revenge theme strongly back into literature in a way it had not known since the Renaissance. It is probably no accident that a slew of novels focused on revenge followed in the nineteenth century.

The first such novel that comes to mind is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Heathcliff, like The Count of Monte Cristo, is bent upon revenge. Heathcliff also has a great deal of mystery about both his origins and how he came by his wealth and what he did in the years he was absent from Wuthering Heights. I do not know if Emily Brontë read The Count of Monte Cristo, but I think it very likely since the novel’s publishing history in England, as detailed at Wikipedia, shows that several translations were available in England beginning in 1845, including serialization beginning in 1845 in W. Francis Ainsworth’s Ainsworth’s Magazine. Another abridged serialization appeared in The London Journal between 1846 and 1847, and the first single volume translation in English was an abridged version published by Geo Pierce in January 1846 as The Prisoner of If or The Revenge of Monte Christo. The novel also began appearing in April 1846 as part of the Parlour Novelist series of volumes, translated by Emma Hardy and in an anonymous translation by Chapman and Hall in 1846. One would have to learn more about the dating of the manuscript of Wuthering Heights to determine if an influence is possible in this short timeframe. (Some suggest she began the novel as early as 1837 but no later than October, 1845.) However, Brontë also read French—in fact, she lived in Belgium in 1842 to perfect her French so she could teach it. Given that the novel was published in France in 1844, that allows three years for Brontë to read it and be influenced by it in writing her own novel. I find I am not the first to suggest this possibility. Robert Stowell argued this point in “Brontë Borrowings: Charlotte Brontë and Ivanhoe, Emily Brontë and The Count of Monte Cristo,” Brontë Society Transactions, 21: 6 (1996), 249–251. However, while Stowell highlights similarities between the novels, there is no hard evidence to prove Brontë read Dumas. The text of Stowell’s article can be found at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/count-monte-cristo.

As mentioned earlier, revenge is a key theme also in Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur (1880) along with the title character’s ultimate redemption when he becomes a Christian and learns forgiveness. Wallace scholars are well aware of Dumas’ influence on Ben Hur and The Count of Monte Cristo also influenced Wallace’s later novel The Prince of India (1893). According to Wikipedia:

Ben-Hur was also inspired in part by Wallace’s love of romantic novels, including those written by Sir Walter Scott and Jane Porter, and The Count of Monte Cristo (1846) by Alexandre Dumas, père. The Dumas novel was based on the memoirs of an early 19th-century French shoemaker who was unjustly imprisoned and spent the rest of his life seeking revenge. Wallace could relate to the character’s isolation of imprisonment. He explained in his autobiography that, while he was writing Ben-Hur, ‘the Count of Monte Cristo in his dungeon of stone was not more lost to the world.’”

Also, as noted above, I suspect influence on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In addition, The Count of Monte Cristo brings to mind the wealthy and mysterious financier Melmotte in Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1872) and even Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) because of his equally enormous wealth and mysterious background. While more research should be done to confirm these possible influences, to me, the novel’s incredible influence on both Gothic and realistic fiction that followed it cannot be overstated.

Alexandre Dumas

Too often, The Count of Monte Cristo has been dismissed as an adventure novel and even reduced to a children’s classic. In truth, it is a masterpiece of Gothic fiction, drawing upon numerous Gothic themes to tell not only a story of revenge but the transformation of one man’s soul as he struggles between his human inclinations for revenge, a belief in God, and trying to find a happy medium of justice where evil is punished but the good rewarded while leaving room for benevolence and redemption. It is time that the novel receive the critical attention it deserves, including taking its place in the Gothic canon on the same shelf as Polidori’s The Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and firmly planted between Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

__________________________________

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.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

3 Comments

Filed under Alexandre Dumas, Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Gothic Places, revenge tragedies, The Wandering Jew

Ontario-Set Vampire Novel Draws on Gothic Traditions

Michael Rowe’s debut horror novel, Enter, Night (2011) is a pleasant (though scary) surprise in horror fiction, or Gothic literature—the term I prefer—because it is a novel that feels very modern but draws very intensely upon traditional Gothic elements.

It is impossible not to give away some of the plot to discuss the novel properly, so this is a warning if you haven’t read it yet.

The novel was recommended to me by a friend who follows this blog. Because I live in Marquette, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Superior and Enter, Night takes place on the Canadian side of the lake, only a few hours’ drive from me, he thought I would be interested in it. I was very interested because of the inclusion of Ojibwa themes and history as well as French-Canadian history. These interest me because I am a writer of Upper Michigan history, am descended from seventeenth-century French-Canadian voyageurs who traveled the Great Lakes with the Jesuits, and am writing a biography of Charles Kawbawgam, the local nineteenth-century Ojibwa chief in the Marquette area. Therefore, a book that takes my favorite historical area and combines it with my beloved Gothic is sure to win me over—provided it is done well, and Michael Rowe pulls it off very well.

The novel’s primary modern section takes place in a small town in Ontario in 1972 not far from Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario. I will not go into the plot of this section that covers about 340 pages. However, I did like that the young boy in this section is a fan of The Tomb of Dracula comic book series of the early 1970s and also watches the popular vampiric TV soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971), which shows Rowe is well aware that he is writing in a Gothic tradition. In the afterword, Rowe also mentions how his mother gave him his first copy of Dracula when he was ten. Beyond these references, I don’t know how familiar Rowe is with the rest of the Gothic tradition, but the last section of the novel suggests to me he is very familiar with it.

In the novel’s primary section, the town of Parr’s Landing is the victim of a vampire scourge. In the last section, we learn the origins of this scourge through a discovered manuscript written by a Jesuit priest in the seventeenth century.

Discovered manuscripts have been an element of Gothic literature since its beginning. Mrs. Radcliffe has her main character discover one in The Romance of the Forest (1791) and the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764) claims to be a discovered manuscript itself. In Enter, Night, the discovered manuscript reveals ancient shocking horrors. It tells the story of a Jesuit priest who travels to a mission where he has heard that terrible things have happened. The journey to this remote mission across the Great Lakes reminds me of the journey in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) to find Kurtz, who has basically become a madman and been set up like a god over the Natives. Like Conrad’s Marlow, Father Nyon, who narrates, will discover that the true horror is the person he has come to find.

While the seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries had the purpose of trying to convert the Native Americans to Christianity, Father Nyon discovers that rather than spreading Christianity, Father de Céligny is spreading terror because he is actually a vampire. Father Nyon has already heard rumors of a possible weetigo (wendigo) in the area—wendigo is an Ojibwa term for a man who becomes a man-eater or cannibal; however, he had no idea that he would find not a cannibal but a true vampire in one of his fellow Jesuits. Father Nyon eventually realizes that Father de Céligny purposely left France to come to the New World so he could practice his vampirism more effectively, thinking himself safer in the New World where he would also have a large, innocent population to feed upon.

Rowe’s decision to make his vampire be a French Jesuit priest is interesting for many reasons. First, Rowe is drawing upon the Gothic theme of secret societies that alter world politics. The Jesuits were one of many such secret societies that the Gothic used. Specifically, in Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew (1846), the Jesuits are the great villains. For more on Jesuits and conspiracy theories, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesuit_conspiracy_theories.

Rowe does not directly blame the Jesuits, but rather, he shows how this vampire has infiltrated the Society of Jesus to use it as a cover for him to carry out his evil. As the sole Jesuit at his mission, he has the ability to feed off the Native Americans he has come to convert. This is practically an Antichrist role, placing him in the position to do the opposite of what he is intended to do. One can’t help but also wonder whether Rowe has in the back of his mind how many Catholic priests have used their positions to hurt rather than help their flock by engaging in sexual abuse of minors.

The vampire tradition has always played off the tradition of Christ, turning it upside down. In Catholicism, the Eucharistic bread and wine, through the miracle of transubstantiation, are turned into Christ’s actual body and blood. Consequently, when Catholics take communion, they are engaging in what may be termed a form of cannibalism. The vampire tradition draws upon this concept by showing a supernatural being that feeds upon others’ blood, and many Gothic novels quote the Bible, referring to the blood as being the life.

The influence of Dracula on Enter, Night is also present in Father de Céligny being a French aristocrat—actually a count. Similarly, Dracula is a count. Furthermore, the early Gothic novels of the 1790s served as a veiled commentary on the French Revolution, and later, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) would use Gothic elements to openly depict the French Revolution. (See my book The Gothic Wanderer for more on Dickens’ novel and how the Gothic responded to the French Revolution.) Aristocrats were frequent villains in Gothic literature, including in Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest, Eleanor Sleath’s The Orphan on the Rhine (1798), and, of course, A Tale of Two Cities.

Another way Dracula influences Rowe’s novel is the spread of vampirism from one country to another. Dracula’s goal is to travel to England where there will be plenty of fresh victims for him. Many critics have discussed how Dracula is planning to invade and colonize England. Similarly, in Rowe’s book, a count plans to invade the New World to satiate his thirst and spread vampirism.

Vampirism has often been seen as a metaphor for the spread of disease, including venereal diseases and more recently AIDS. However, in Rowe’s novel, one can’t help thinking of smallpox and the other diseases Europeans brought to the Native Americans.

Of course, by the manuscript’s end, Father Nyon has managed to defeat Father de Céligny, imprisoning him in a cave, which he will eventually escape from in 1972 to terrorize the town of Parr’s Landing in the more modern part of the novel.

I think Michael Rowe has done a wonderful job of creating a true page-turner while clearly writing within the Gothic tradition and creating new twists on old Gothic themes. He is a modern-day James Fenimore Cooper in taking the Gothic from Europe and transporting it to the forests of North America. He also introduces homosexual characters in the modern section of the novel, another frequent though subtle and underlining theme in early Gothic fiction, especially in vampire novels. Consequently, it isn’t surprising that Rowe is the editor of two Queer Fear anthologies. He is also the author of several other horror novels I may just have to check out.

___________________________________________________

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.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula

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.

___________________________________________________

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.

4 Comments

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.

___________________________________________________

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.

5 Comments

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels

The Mysteries of London: The Forgotten Gothic Victorian Classic

How does one even begin to write about George W. M. Reynold’s mammoth classic The Mysteries of London (1844)? The new Valancourt press edition that I recently read is two volumes and runs around 2,300 pages. It may be the longest novel in the English language after Richardson’s Clarissa (1748). It may also be one of the most important, yet most overlooked novels in Victorian and Gothic fiction. The novel is hard to define, and yet it must have influenced the genres that followed it. It is not by any means the first crime novel, nor is it properly the first mystery novel—there is no detective solving crimes, but there is plenty of crime and not a little mystery. In this case, mystery refers more properly to secrets and criminal plots than any effort to solve mysteries. Its title is more in keeping with Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842) which I have previously blogged on. Radcliffe is paid homage to in the use of a place name Montoni in the novel. Montoni is the villain of Radcliffe’s masterpiece. Sue is largely ignored other than one passing reference to Paris, but that is because Reynolds was basically stealing Sue’s idea and popularizing it for himself.

The Mysteries of London has been reprinted in a wonderful new two volume edition by Valancourt Press, with all the original illustrations.

Part of the novel’s obscurity is due to Reynolds’ piracy and the sense that a penny dreadful type story cannot be great literature. Reynolds was not a plagiarist in the sense that he stole passages from other authors, but he certainly stole their ideas and capitalized on them. Not only did he capitalize on Sue’s novel, but Paul Feval in the same year began writing a French novel, Les Mystères de Londres, so he claimed Reynolds had stolen his idea. (Feval didn’t seem to care that he himself had stolen Sue’s idea.) But even before Reynolds began The Mysteries of London, he had already likely infuriated Charles Dickens by publishing Pickwick Abroad, or the Tour in France (1837-1838), an unauthorized sequel or offshoot to The Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), which ran simultaneously with Dickens’ novel. Dickens is said to have despised Reynolds, and one cannot blame him, but one also has to wonder whether Reynolds influenced Dickens. Critics today claim the novel belongs on the shelf beside other great social novels like Dickens’ Bleak House (1853) and Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875). And while we cannot know whether Dickens read The Mysteries of London, he must have been very aware of it and read pieces, if not all, of it, or at least have known of its characters. After all, Reynolds far outsold Dickens. The Mysteries of London is said to have sold 50,000 copies a week in its serial format and over a million copies the first year it was published in book form. Those numbers would have been far beyond any Victorian authors’ dreams.

To summarize the novel in full would be impossible, but I will just mention a few of the main plot highlights. The novel opens with a young man in a bad neighborhood who ducks into an old building when he fears for his safety. Inside, he overhears criminals plotting to rob the Markham house; then he is captured by the criminals and thrown into a trap door, which they don’t realize has an outlet. The young man warns the Markhams without revealing his identity. Later, we learn this young man is really a woman, Eliza Sydney, who is passing herself off as her brother to gain the inheritance that was supposed to be left to him, but which she will not acquire because he is deceased. Poor Eliza is being tricked into this crime by another who hopes to profit by it. Eventually, when it’s time to collect the inheritance, her identity is revealed and she’s sent to prison for her deceit. After she is released from prison, she makes some good acquaintances, which allows her to be introduced into high society in Italy, where she emigrates. There the Grand Duke of Castelcicala falls in love with and marries her.

The other major plot concerns the Markhams, whom Eliza had warned of an impending robbery. When the father dies, his two sons, Eugene and Richard, make a pact that they will each make their own way in the world and then meet again after twelve years on a given date in 1843. The novel then follows Richard Markham through his ups and downs. All the while, Richard wonders how his brother is faring in the world. Richard befriends some gentlemen who turn out to be swindlers and get him tossed in prison, although he is innocent of the forgery he’s accused of. Numerous plots surround Richard, but in the end, he falls in love with the beautiful Isabella, and eventually, he learns that her father is a count and the nephew of the Grand Duke of Castelcicala, who has married Eliza. When the Grand Duke refuses to allow his land to become a republic, he is overthrown and Richard is part of the effort to overthrow him and then establish the count—who by then is his father-in-law—on the throne. As a result, Richard becomes a prince and a hero. But despite his triumph, he is continually pursued by the criminal Anthony Tidkins, also known as the Resurrection Man, because he digs up the dead and sells their corpses to scientists. Tidkins hates Richard and is continually trying to kill him. And then, in the final scene, after Tidkins has been murdered by another criminal, Crankey Jem, Richard reunites with Eugene.

Eugene has, meanwhile, been living under two different identities, first as Montague and then as Greenwood. Throughout the years separated from his brother, he has been committing numerous white collar crimes of embezzling, forgery, counterfeiting, and cheating people through fake stock speculations. He has also debauched several women, including Ellen Monroe, who is the daughter of Richard’s legal guardian during his youth. Eugene’s rise to wealth happens as Richard finds himself cast into poverty and prison, but then everything changes; while Richard becomes a hero and prince, Eugene becomes impoverished. Finally, Eugene keeps the appointment and the brothers meet again, but a man Eugene has cheated assails him just as he is heading to the meeting, and as a result, he dies soon after meeting his brother. Richard and all those he has wronged assure him he is forgiven so he dies in peace—a true redeemed Gothic wanderer.

The Resurrection Man is the other great Gothic Wanderer of the novel, although he is a hardened criminal who never in the end feels remorse for his crimes. However, we are given his backstory of how he tried to be honest, but between a miserable childhood and all society being against him because of his past, he finally quits trying to be good and becomes so angry at society that he strives to be a true criminal always. It should be noted that Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities (1859) has a Resurrection Man character in Jerry Cruncher, and later, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Body Snatcher (1884). Of course, that does not mean Reynolds influenced them since there were real resurrection men at the time, but that Reynolds created one of the greatest criminals in literature means one can’t help wondering whether Tidkins did influence other resurrection men counterparts.

One of the Resurrection Man’s cronies is “the old hag” whose name is never given but who continually helps to lead women into ruin. When Ellen Monroe is desperate for money, she goes to the hag, who leads her to a painter, then a sculpture, then a theatre manager, and, eventually, to Greenwood. Each one is a step closer to debauchery—Ellen agreeing to disrobe to be painted or sculpted nude, and finally, she sells her body to Greenwood. In the end, the hag, however, does feel some guilt over the women she has wronged, especially Harriet Wilmot, who turns out to have had a child with Richard and Eugene’s father—Katherine Wilmot—their long-lost sister whom Richard plays first benefactor to before he meets her as his sister. In the end, the hag is robbed and beaten to death by the Resurrection Man. As she is dying, Ellen Monroe forgives her. Here is another case of a Gothic wanderer figure—one who ends up feeling remorse for her crime.

The Resurrection Man threatening Adeline.

Numerous crimes occur throughout the novel, but for me, perhaps the most fascinating criminal plot concerns Lydia Hutchinson. Lydia finds a teaching position in a boarding school for young ladies, where she befriends one of the ladies, Adeline. Adeline gets Lydia to act as chaperone to her, but eventually, she leads Lydia into disgrace when they both start having sexual relations with a couple of young men. Adeline ends up pregnant and gives birth to a stillborn child in the school, which Lydia passes off as her own to protect Adeline. Lydia, as a result, is dismissed and sinks further and further into degradation. She continually asks Adeline for help but Adeline ends their acquaintance. Through a series of twists and turns, however, Lydia gets a position as a lady’s maid to Adeline and starts to blackmail her after Adeline has married and become Lady Ravenswood. Lydia has gone from virtue to vice and becomes a truly horrible taskmaster to Adeline until Adeline can take no more and hires the Resurrection Man to murder Lydia. After that, Adeline is haunted by the crime, rather like Lady Macbeth; eventually, she tries to redeem herself through being charitable. The Resurrection Man, however, has no remorse. He has buried Lydia’s body, but when it suits him, he digs it up and threatens to blackmail Adeline with it. When he shows her Lydia’s corpse, she is so overcome with horror and guilt that she faints, bursts a blood vessel, and dies.

Overall, The Mysteries of London, while it contains no supernatural elements, other than a claim that Ravensworth Hall is haunted, has plenty of Gothic guilt and redemption, plenty of villains, and plenty of mysterious and horrid haunts in London and its surroundings. This is urban Gothic, and Reynolds helped to develop it, drawing upon Sue’s novel and setting the stage for the Gothic atmosphere Dickens and other writers would also create in their depictions of London.

Of course, the string of Newgate novels, focusing on criminals, were already being published several years before The Mysteries of London was published. Oliver Twist (1838) had already depicted the darker side of London life, but never to the extreme Reynolds’ does. There is also plenty of sensationalism in the text long before what are considered the first sensational novels appeared—works like Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860) and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). There is cross-dressing to hide identities, although cross-dressing had been in fiction and on the stage long before. (See my blog on Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809) as an example.) Murder, however, is more abundant in The Mysteries of London than in any novel prior to it. So is gambling and the cheating of others. Gambling is a huge theme in the novel which is often overlooked as a major theme in Gothic fiction (see my book The Gothic Wanderer for a detailed discussion of gambling as a transgression in nineteenth century Gothic fiction.) Reynolds also fills his pages with family secrets, including those concerning illegitimate children and mysterious parentages (a theme that goes back to Radcliffe), and there are very contemporary themes such as Richard Markham’s campaign in Castelcicala to reclaim the throne for his father-in-law and establish a republic, a theme relevant to the Italian effort for unification—the Bandieri brothers made a failed effort/raid in 1844 in Calabria for this purpose which Reynolds no doubt followed and was inspired by. And most interesting for lovers of the Gothic, beyond the mysteries, the horror, and the dead bodies, is the recurring themes of guilt, forgiveness, and redemption.

The redemption theme is at the heart of understanding criminal psychology in the novel. While Reynolds creates some truly despicable and horrible villains—the Resurrection Man, the old hag, Lady Ravenswood—in each case, we see the villains feeling remorse for their crimes, even when they find themselves unable to stop from continuing them, either through an addiction to their criminal behavior or under threat of having past misdeeds revealed, so they must commit new crimes. We also have several stories within the story (an Arabian Nights plot device frequently used in Gothic fiction) where the criminals tell their histories and we come to understand the miserable childhoods and experiences they had and how even when they tried to walk the straight and narrow path, their poverty and a judgmental society pushed them into lives of crime.

Reynolds is nothing if not charitable toward his criminals. Here he is following Eugene Sue’s model, and while I don’t think he is as effective in his arguments for reform—after all, I think his first purpose was to sensationalize his storyline so it would sell—I believe his heart was in the right place. Eugene Sue’s main character, Rodolphe, who turns out to be a prince in disguise, makes a concerted effort to walk the streets of Paris, meet the poor and criminals, and help them through charity and a good example to reform. Reynolds’ Richard Markham is cast in Rodolphe’s mold with some differences. He is not a prince but eventually he rises to that status through marriage and his campaigns in Italy. He does not seek out the poor or try to help them, but when he comes across those in need, he does help. He is benefactor to several characters, mostly women, before the novel ends, but he also gets at least one criminal—Talbot—to reform.

Eugene Markham, Richard’s brother, whose alias is Montague and Greenwood, and who is known as the worst of the upper class criminals in London, is allowed a long and moving death scene of reconciliation with his brother and the chance to receive forgiveness from those he has wronged before he passes away into a state of peace, a scene that surely had at least an indirect influence upon Dracula’s death scene a half century later.

Eugene’s death

One final point concerning reform to make is that one of the minor characters, Henry Holford, a young criminal, breaks into Buckingham Palace, planning to help the Resurrection Man rob it. He ends up hiding under a sofa and witnessing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s courtship. Reynolds makes the point in these scenes that Queen Victoria is a young, innocent queen who is completely ignorant of the poverty and desperate situations of so many of her people. Holford becomes enamored with the palace and the queen and continually sneaks into the palace to spy on them until Prince Albert spots him. Holford manages to escape but does not dare try to return to Buckingham Palace after that. However, he decides he wants to become famous and will do so by assassinating Prince Albert. He ends up shooting at the prince while he and Victoria are in their carriage. (Four of eight assassination attempts against Queen Victoria had already been attempted at this point when she and Albert were in their carriage.) Holford’s murder attempt fails and results in Holford spending the rest of his life in an insane asylum. These are very daring chapters because while most Gothic novels previously had been set in the past, Reynolds is not only setting his in the present but depicting the royal family as characters in it and criticizing them. We are left with a Queen Victoria who is a type of Marie Antoinette, clueless about the poor, and the sense that perhaps revolution will occur in England as it did in France. That we also have a revolutionary plot in Italy in the novel suggests Reynolds may have been thinking revolution in England not so unlikely either.

Reynolds’ Epilogue states that now that the novel is finished, virtue has been rewarded and vice punished, and then Reynolds argues that his work has always had a moral purpose, concluding his tome by saying:

Kind Reader, who have borne with me so long—one word to thee.

If amongst the circle of thy friends, there be any who express an aversion to peruse this work,—fearful from its title or from fugitive report that the mind will be shocked more than it can be improved, or the blush of shame excited on the cheek oftener than the tear of sympathy will be drawn from the eye;—if, in a word, a false fastidiousness should prejudge, from its own suppositions or from misrepresentations made to it by others, a book by means of which we have sought to convey many an useful moral and lash many a flagrant abuse,—do you, kind reader, oppose that prejudice, and exclaim—“Peruse ere you condemn!”

For if, on the one side, we have raked amidst the filth and loathsomeness of society,—have we not, on the other, devoted adequate attention to its bright and glorious phases?

In exposing the hideous deformity of vice, have we not studied to develope the witching beauty of virtue?

Have we not taught, in fine, how the example and the philanthropy of one good man can “save more souls and redeem more sinners than all the Bishops that ever wore lawn-sleeves?”

If, then, the preceding pages be calculated to engender one useful thought—awaken one beneficial sentiment,—the work is not without its value.

If there be any merit in honesty of purpose and integrity of aim,—then is that merit ours.

And if, in addition to considerations of this nature, we may presume that so long as we are enabled to afford entertainment, our labours will be rewarded by the approval of the immense audience to whom we address ourselves,—we may with confidence invite attention to a SECOND SERIES of “THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON.”

The Mysteries of London, Vol 2. Reynolds would go on to write The Mysteries of the Court of London because of the popularity of the series.

Little scholarship has appeared on The Mysteries of London to date. The only volume to my knowledge on the author is G. W. M. Reynolds: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Politics, and the Press edited by Anne Humpherys and Louis James. It is a collection of essays on Reynolds. Published in 2008, this volume is priced so that hardly anyone can afford it. At Amazon, the hardcover sells for about $100 and even the ebook is priced at $54.95. This is not the way to get more people interested in Reynolds, who deserves far more attention than he has received.

Is Reynolds as great as Dickens or Trollope? No, I have to admit both are far better authors. Both are better stylists, and both do more to develop their characters. Reynolds characters are constantly active, but there is little in the way of interior monologues so we will feel we really know them as real people. Even the guilt-ridden characters are not depicted in ways to make us truly feel their guilt like a great novelist would do. But Reynolds was not writing for a literary but a lower and middle-class audience that wanted cheap thrills and a soap-opera type plotline. That he tried to infuse some morality into his storyline shows that he knew his audience and also knew the power of the pen to reform as well as entertain. That he doubtless influenced countless of his contemporaries and literary successors cannot be denied although the full extent of that influence needs more research. I hope in the years to come more affordable and readable editions of Reynolds’ novels will be produced (currently, most that can be bought are poor quality editions that are scanned and reprinted versions, unlike the fine edition that Valancourt Press has produced of The Mysteries of London) and more scholarship will be devoted to him. It is long past time that Reynolds’ place in Victorian fiction receive the recognition it deserves.

If you have not read any of Reynolds’ other novels, I highly recommend, besides The Mysteries of London, his three supernatural works, all of which I’ve previously blogged about:

Wagner the Wehr-Wolf

The Necromancer

Faust: Or the Secret of the Tribunals

_________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., 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 The Children of Arthur series, 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.

 

16 Comments

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poster announcing the 1843 publication of the novel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________

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.

 

8 Comments

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Superheroes and the Gothic

The Wandering Jew’s Daughter: Paul Feval’s Mockery of a Gothic Tradition

I only recently discovered French author Paul Feval (1816-1887) thanks to a reader of my blog. I was thrilled to discover him because he was a contemporary of William Harrison Ainsworth and George W.M. Reynolds, and I wondered to what extent he might have influenced British Gothic literature and especially Bram Stoker’s Dracula, if Stoker was a reader of French. Feval wrote three vampire novels that pre-date Stoker, and I plan to read them in the near future, but I decided to introduce myself to Feval by first reading his novel The Wandering Jew’s Daughter since I’ve always been interested in the Wandering Jew as a Gothic Wanderer figure and because I believe the Wandering Jew actually was a precursor and influence on vampire depictions in the Gothic tradition.

The new edition of The Wandering Jew's Daughter by Black Coat Press

The new edition of The Wandering Jew’s Daughter by Black Coat Press

All that said, I was quite disappointed by this novel for several reasons, not the least of which was that Feval did not want to take his subject seriously. I also fault the publisher, Black Coat Press, for false representation of what the novel is about. This edition’s cover art makes it look like we will have a strong female character, and it is also selling sex and swordplay action. There is really none of either, at least not by a woman, in the novel, so shame on the publisher for false advertising. The back cover does not help matters, describing the novel by saying “Throughout the ages, immortals have battled fiercely, until the daughter of one of them falls in love with a young French nobleman.” The accompanying quote from Brian Stableford, the translator, also says that the novel “anticipates later developments in popular fiction, featuring an invulnerable but flawed hero who stops bullets and blades with his body and gives succor to the wounded.” While both of these statements are accurate, by mixing them with the cover art, I was expecting some fabulous tale of immortals battling to protect the human race, akin to the Highlander films. In a sense, the novel may be the great-grandfather of those films and character types, but I think most readers of popular modern fantasy would find this novel almost unreadable. Even the battle between immortals that ensues is disappointing and more a mockery than what we would expect from a good adventure novel.

That said, I have no issue with the translation by Stableford, since my French is rusty anyway, and I think Stableford provides an excellent introduction, afterword, and helpful end notes that are more interesting than the novel itself and make the book well worth the $20.95 price.

But what of the actual story? It is a hodgepodge of confusion. The novel opens with a young boy, Vicomte Paul, and his parents; with them lives Lotte, the Wandering Jew’s daughter, although how she came to live with them is never explained, and it is only surmised that she is the Wandering Jew’s daughter because the little girl does not seem to age. When Paul’s house catches fire, he is rescued but the girl disappears and his father suddenly changes in his demeanor.

I will not go into all the details, but as the novel progresses, we learn there is more than one Wandering Jew. There is Ahasuerus, the father of Lotte, who is the most like the traditional Wandering Jew, but there is also a whole household of immortals living in Paris at the House of Jews. Ironically, most of these immortal Wandering Jews are not even Jewish. They include a slew of biblical characters, including Holofernes, Lot’s daughters, Barabbas’ niece, the brothers Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Madam Potiphar, Caiphas’ valet, the Pharisee Nathan who let merchants into the Temple, and Ozer, the Roman soldier who gave Christ a sponge to drink from during the Crucifixion. All of these people have been cursed into extended lives in some way and some have various other gifts or supernatural powers. None of them are developed other than Ozer, who has the ability to possess people’s bodies so he can keep changing his appearance and retain his youth. At the novel’s end, we learn that Paul’s father was possessed by Ozer during the fire, which explains his change of behavior.

Years pass, during which time Paul grows up, and then as a young man, he sees a grown-up Lotte, which surprises him since he thought she was always a little girl. Of course, the two fall in love, but before they can be together, Ahasuerus must wreak his vengeance on Ozer. Ahasuerus has repented for his sins and so his curse is to be lifted, but the other immortals have not repented. Ahasuerus battles Ozer to prevent him from taking another soul and he ultimately kills him. He also kills as many of the other characters in the House of Jews as he can. Here’s a little taste of Feval’s mockery of this battle of the immortals: “All these murders passed unnoticed, by courtesy of the civil war. Besides, every one of these brave Israelites had already been broken on the wheel, hung, executed by firing-squad and guillotined several times over, at various times. All of them are in the best of health as we inscribe these lines.” I actually do find this statement humorous, but other parts of the novel are less humorous and fall a bit flat in their attempts to mock the Wandering Jew theme, so that the novel is more like watching Dracula, Dead and Loving It than Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Of course, humor has its place, but great Gothic and Romantic literature can move the soul in a way such parodying cannot, and the novels Feval is mocking are, in my opinion, superior to his own.

In the introduction, Stableford explains at great length and with excellent detail the history of the Wandering Jew in French literature and how Feval’s novel is largely a response to Eugene Sue’s phenomenally popular novel The Wandering Jew (1846) and Alexandre Dumas’ unfinished serialized novel Isaac Laquedem (1853). I have not read Dumas’ novel, though I hope to someday (unfortunately, I don’t believe it’s ever been translated into English), but I do think Eugene Sue’s novel is a magnificent masterpiece of intrigue, mystery, and plotting, although I found the end a bit anticlimactic. Sue’s novel was also a tremendous influence on the later Gothic novels, including the British Gothic tradition, which is my primary interest, and especially on Dracula—Stoker was stage manager to the great actor Sir Henry Irving and once suggested he perform a play of Sue’s Wandering Jew. Stoker also wrote a book called Famous Impostors, in which he included a chapter on the Wandering Jew. Several people during the nineteenth century apparently claimed to be the Wandering Jew, which added to Feval’s mockery of the figure.

Part of Feval’s response to his contemporaries was a political response, as Stableford points out. The novel is set against the 1830 revolution (as referenced in the quote above as a “civil war”), and the novel makes many historical and political references to the period, references that are explained in the very helpful notes, but provide little interest to the modern and non-French reader. Yes, a Royalist Feval may have been responding to depictions by a Socialist Sue and a Republican Dumas, neither of whom he agreed with, but to the twenty-first century reader seeking a strong and meaningful story, little if any of these issues is of interest. Not that I do not find history fascinating, but politics tend to date a novel. Sue’s politics do not show through in his novel to such an extent, but Feval’s are just so much meaninglessness for the reader to wade through, hoping some story will finally evolve.

French novelist Paul Feval wrote vampire novels that predated Dracula and mocked his contemporaries depictions of the Wandering Jew.

French novelist Paul Feval wrote vampire novels that predated Dracula and mocked his contemporaries depictions of the Wandering Jew.

That hope is only slightly fulfilled since the novel is written in a very slap-dash, fragmented format. The chapters are extremely short—82 chapters in just 170 pages—and choppy, and the scenes between chapters jump about without adequate transitions. Feval begins by focusing on Paul and Lottie, the children, as if writing a children’s book, which seems to have been his initial goal, according to Stableford, but no child could read this book today, and while Feval initially wrote the book as one of three novellas in a collection, he later rewrote and expanded it into the current novel, which was published in 1878. The novel does, however, end with Paul and Lotte together, and a strange and confusing image that Lotte has been split in two so she can both be with Paul and with her father—you’ll have to read the ending to understand—I confess I still don’t get it.

Stableford provides many more sources for the novel and the Wandering Jew’s place in French literature during the nineteenth century, all of which I found fascinating since I am more knowledgeable of the British tradition. Certainly, it is valuable to have this novel translated into English, and while it is not particularly to my taste, it did not turn me off from wanting to read Feval’s vampire novels. More importantly, the novel is a significant link between past and present depictions of immortals and especially of how the Wandering Jew, who has disappeared from our modern literature (largely, I am sure for politically correct reasons), influenced the characterizations of vampires and even superheroes that we so enjoy today.

________________________________________________

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 Children of Arthur series. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

21 Comments

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Superheroes and the Gothic, The Gothic and the Bible, The Wandering Jew