Tag Archives: the Wandering Jew

Escaping the “Strange Disease of Modern Life”: Matthew Arnold’s Two Wanderers in “The Scholar-Gipsy”

The Gothic Wanderer figure is closely related to the Romantic wanderer and the Byronic hero. While the Gothic is associated with the supernatural, at its heart is a deeper spiritual search for the meaning of life. While Matthew Arnold’s poetry is not Gothic, it is filled with attempts to understand what Wordsworth described as “the burden of the mystery” (Brown 86). This burden is living without knowing the meaning of life. Arnold continually questioned what life’s meaning might be and asked how it might be found. In this respect, he is at one with his Gothic predecessors and contemporaries, on a quest for the meaning of life, which is truthfully forbidden knowledge to mankind. He declares he is on this quest in “The Buried Life” (1852):

There rises an unspeakable desire

After the knowledge of our buried life;

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force

In tracing out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire

Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us—to know

Whence our lives come and where they go. (47-54)

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), perhaps best known for his poem “Dover Beach”

Arnold was so concerned about what was the meaning of life and how he could find out its meaning that in “Self-Dependence” (1852), he declared he was “Weary of myself, and sick of asking/What I am, and what I ought to be” (1-2). Yet however weary this topic made Arnold, it also fascinated him so that he could not resist continually exploring it in numerous poems.

“The Scholar-Gipsy” (1853) is perhaps Arnold’s most thorough exploration of how one might find out the meaning of life. Although the Scholar-Gipsy is the title character, the poem’s primary concentration is upon the speaker’s reaction to the Scholar-Gipsy; therefore, the speaker is the poem’s protagonist whose actions form the plot, while the Scholar-Gipsy merely provokes the speaker into thought (Buckler, Matthew Arnold, 170). Arnold chooses the Scholar-Gipsy to provoke the speaker’s thoughts because the Gipsy is a wanderer, and wandering is synonymous with the actions of people upon earth as we wander both physically and mentally in our attempts to find meaning in life. The Scholar-Gipsy wanders while waiting for the spark from Heaven to fall, and the speaker wanders in his thoughts while trying to keep faith in the story of the Scholar-Gipsy, which symbolizes the speaker’s own search for an understanding of life. In the poem, Arnold uses these two wanderers to recreate the stages of innocence and experience in the Romantic myth of consciousness. By recreating the Romantic myth of consciousness, Arnold is also rejecting Carlyle’s own recreation of this myth in Teufelsdrockh, the wanderer of Sartor Resartus (1838). To understand how Arnold rejects Carlyle by recreating this myth, I will first treat Arnold’s depiction of the Scholar-Gipsy as a wanderer, and then I will discuss the speaker’s reaction to the Scholar-Gipsy.

The Scholar-Gipsy as Wanderer

Besides the poem’s short introduction and conclusion, “The Scholar-Gipsy” may be broken into two main sections, one focusing on the Scholar-Gipsy (31-130), and the second focusing on the speaker’s reactions to the Scholar-Gipsy (131-230). After the brief introduction to the pastoral setting and the speaker, the poem focuses on the Scholar-Gipsy, beginning with the speaker saying he will read from Glanvil’s book “the oft-read tale” (32) of the Scholar-Gipsy, which he then summarizes for us. During this summary, the speaker refers to the Gipsy as a wanderer (63, 180) or as wandering (134) and roaming (38), which reflects the speaker’s own wandering state of mind. The speaker begins summarizing by saying how in the seventeenth century, a scholar left Oxford to roam with the gipsies and learn their lore. Later, when two of the Scholar-Gipsy’s former classmates at Oxford met him, he told them that the gipsies “had arts to rule as they desired/The workings of men’s brains,/And they can bind them to what thoughts they will” (45-7). The Scholar-Gipsy said he intended to learn this art from the gipsies, and once he knew it, he would impart this knowledge to the world.

Most literary critics are in agreement that when the Scholar-Gipsy abandons Oxford to follow the gipsy lore, he is really abandoning the intellectual world of Oxford to search for a knowledge that cannot be gained by intellectual means. Arnold uses the story of the Scholar-Gipsy fleeing Oxford as a commentary upon his own contemporary Victorian society. Dyson remarks, “The Victorian predicament, in so far as Arnold represents it, was a tragic one—to desire with the heart what was rejected by the head, to need for the spirit what was excluded by the mind” (262). Lionel Trilling declares that the poem “is a passionate indictment of the new dictatorship of the never-resting intellect over the soul of modern man” (112). For Arnold, the nineteenth century’s processes of rationalization and intellectualization could not completely satisfy mankind’s inner desires; all of science’s arguments could still not explain to him the meaning of life; because man cannot understand life’s mystery by the use of intellect, Arnold suggests that we must search elsewhere for the answer. Brown remarks that the Scholar-Gipsy, while a student at seventeenth century Oxford, already feels the headache caused by the development of modern intellectual debate; already his head feels overtaxed and he fears the loss of his mystical, spiritual side if he does not leave the university (45). Similarly, the speaker makes the same complaint about the present time, describing it as “this strange disease of modern life,/With its sick hurry, its divided aims,/Its heads oertax’d its palsied hearts” (203-5). Arnold also speaks out against the intellectual trends of the day, “For strong the infection of our mental strife,/Which, though it gives no bliss, yet spoils for rest” (222-3). In joining the gipsies, the Scholar-Gipsy has rejected the instruments of the intellect and seeks to find the answers in intuition, but intuition will only work at chance moments rather than by purposely trying to find the answers (Brown 45). The Scholar-Gipsy tells his fellow scholars that he will impart the gipsies’ secret to the world, “But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill” (50). The Scholar-Gipsy himself comes to embody the idea that not by intellectual searching, but only at chance moments can insight and knowledge be arrived at. The Scholar-Gipsy becomes himself a rare sight, not seen by searching intellectuals, but only by simple or innocent people like children, maidens, and shepherds, who are closer to nature and live simpler lives; nor do these people see the Scholar-Gipsy while they work, but rather during their idle moments, when they are swimming, dancing, or roaming the countryside, they may catch a glimpse of him.

That the spark cannot be discovered by intellectual processes makes the spark just as mysterious as the Scholar-Gipsy himself. Arnold never tells us specifically what this spark is. The Scholar-Gipsy says it is the arts of the gipsies which “rule as they desired/The workings of men’s brains,/And they can bind them to what thoughts they will” (45-7). Several scholars have discussed how this spark is a type of mesmerism, or what today we call hypnotism, which we know Arnold was interested in (and is a frequent element in Gothic literature), for two of the poem’s working titles were “The first mesmerist” and “The wandering Mesmerist” (Culler 179). But since the poem’s final title and text contain no mention of mesmerism, Arnold apparently decided mesmerism was not adequate to describe what he wanted the spark to be, although he did retain from Glanvil the idea of the Scholar-Gipsy hearing and controlling his friends’ conversation.

An early edition of “The Scholar-Gipsy”

Whatever Arnold intended the spark to be, it is not easily defined. Madden states that the spark from heaven is a spiritual insight into life and an artistic skill (68) while Jump says the closest answer is that it is a form of mysterious wisdom (97). Culler may be closest to Arnold’s meaning when he says the spark represents lost knowledge from some ancient culture (192). This interpretation is based on the poem’s conclusion (231-50) where the Scholar-Gipsy is likened to a Tyrian trader who flees from the Greeks. The Greeks represent intellectualism, just as Oxford is an intellectual world from which the Scholar-Gipsy flees. The Tyrian leaves the Greeks to go to the “Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians” (249) for whom he undoes “his corded bales” (250). This passage suggests that life’s answers cannot be found in the knowledge of Western civilization. Because Greek culture came to dominate the ancient world, and thus influence Western culture, Greek philosophy and wisdom is the basis for much Western learning. In placing such a value upon Greek culture, Western civilization forgot the possible values of other cultures such as those of the Tyrians and Iberians, whose ancient wisdom and knowledge have now been largely lost (Knight 54). Arnold’s Tyrian trader refuses to impart his knowledge to the Greek intellectuals, but rather it is to the “shy” Iberians that he gives his knowledge. It is important that the Iberians are shy, for so also is the Scholar-Gipsy (Knight 54). The Scholar-Gipsy continually seeks his “solitude” (210), haunting “shy retreats” (70), and loving “retired ground” (71) and “shy fields” (79). The shy Iberians might be likened to the idle children, maidens, and shepherds who, like the Scholar-Gipsy, are outside the world of the intellect, and therefore, they have the occasional fortune to catch a glimpse of the Gipsy.

Culler interprets the final line of the poem where the Tyrian trader undoes his corded bales to mean that the Scholar-Gipsy is imparting his knowledge to the world (192). However, in the poem, the Gipsy himself never receives the spark from Heaven, so it is unlikely he can impart this knowledge to humanity. Instead, the Gipsy’s life becomes a continual searching for the spark, which makes him immortal because he has only “one aim, one business, one desire” (152). The speaker describes the Gipsy’s constant, unchanging life as,

–No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours!

For what wears out the life of mortal men?

’Tis that from change to change their being rolls:

’Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,

Exhaust the energy of strongest souls

And numb the elastic powers.

Till having used our nerves with bliss and teen,

And tired upon a thousand schemes our wit,

To the just-pausing Genius we remit

Our worn-out life, and are—what we have been.

 

Thou hast not lived, why should’st thou perish, so?

Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire;

Else wert thou long since number’d with the dead!

Else hadst thou spent, like other men, thy fire! (141-54)

The world’s troubles and changes make men age and grow old, but the Scholar-Gipsy’s one goal and his isolation from civilization grant him perpetual youth. Because the Scholar-Gipsy never does find the spark, his life and his quest are both perpetual (Madden 68).

Perpetual youth and a never-ending quest are what most equate the Scholar-Gipsy with the traditional image of the wanderer. Honan remarks that the continual wanderings of the Gipsy and the mythical mantle that he takes on might suggest the reappearances of some type of deity (276). If not a deity, the Gipsy is certainly immortal, and this immortality and continual wandering seem reminiscent of the Wandering Jew, a popular theme and character among the Romantics and Gothic novelists. The Wandering Jew was also the inspiration for Carlyle’s creation of Diogenes Teufelsdrockh in Sartor Resartus (1838), a work that heavily influenced Arnold’s poem. (For a full discussion of the Romantic period’s treatment of the Wandering Jew, and how Carlyle transformed the Wandering Jew from a Romantic into a Victorian figure, see my chapter on Sartor Resartus in my book The Gothic Wander.)

Traditionally, the Wandering Jew’s life is one of unhappiness and eternal wandering as he yearns for death and rest; however, the Scholar-Gipsy appears contented, if not happy. Carlyle, in the character of Teufelsdrockh, transformed the image of the Wandering Jew from a forlorn character into a Christ-figure who passes from being an aimless wanderer into becoming a prophet and guide to humanity, reminding us of our heavenly home and the eternal life awaiting us. Arnold, like Carlyle, also transforms the wanderer figure; however, while Carlyle’s wanderer becomes a prophet who reminds mankind of the eternal life awaiting them in Heaven, Arnold’s wandering Gipsy achieves eternal life upon earth. Arnold’s wanderer is also different from Carlyle’s because the Scholar-Gipsy’s wandering is not aimless, but rather, he has “one aim” (152). To understand why Arnold chose to differ from Carlyle, we must now look at the psychological effect of the Scholar-Gipsy as a myth and symbol upon the speaker.

The Speaker’s Reaction

The speaker, the poem’s true protagonist, is similar to the Scholar-Gipsy for he also fears the modern, intellectual world of Oxford. The speaker states that he is well aware of the “strange disease of modern life, / With its sick hurry, its divided aims, / Its heads o’ertax’d its palsied hearts” (203-5). Compared to the unhappy modern world, the Scholar-Gipsy’s seventeenth century was a much simpler time. However, even in those distant days, the Gipsy felt the encroaching threats of intellectualism and the modern world, so he fled from Oxford. In Blakean terms, the Scholar-Gipsy fled to preserve his innocence; in contrast, the speaker already feels a personal loss of innocence, for he is experienced enough to realize the pains and disease of modern life. The speaker longs to escape the modern world and return to the state of innocence, which the Scholar-Gipsy has preserved for himself. The speaker begins this search to regain his innocence by calling upon the shepherd to come and “again begin the quest!” (10). To regain his innocence, the speaker seeks to make his life similar to that of the Scholar-Gipsy. The speaker is already aware of his similarities to the Gipsy, for like him, the speaker has fled from Oxford into a secluded, pastoral scene: “Screen’d in this nook o’er the high, half-reap’d field,/And here till sun-down, shepherd! will I be” (21-2). From this secluded spot, the speaker can only catch a glimpse of Oxford’s towers in the distance (30). Once segregated from the modern world, the speaker says he will read again “the oft-read tale” (32) of the Scholar-Gipsy. After summarizing this tale for the reader, the speaker comments upon how rare it is to see the Gipsy, and the necessity of being an innocent and idle person to catch a glimpse of him. The speaker concludes these remarks by mentioning his own chance encounter with the Gipsy.

And once, in winter, on the causeway chill

Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,

Have I not pass’d thee on the wooden bridge,

Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,

Thy face tow’rd Hinksey and its wintry ridge? (121-125)

That the speaker has seen the Gipsy shows that he once also had the childlike innocence the Gipsy retains. Now the speaker hopes to regain this innocence or reassure himself that it still exists within him. He feels he can be reassured of his innocence if he can once again catch a glimpse of the Gipsy. Yet the speaker knows he cannot see the Scholar-Gipsy when purposely looking for him, so he tries to see the Gipsy mentally by reading Glanvil’s tale and transporting himself back to the simpler world of the seventeenth century which represents for him the simpler stage of his own now lost innocence (Madden 67). The speaker is suffering from displacement, realizing he is no longer capable of innocence because he is conscious of unhappiness, yet he is also unable to participate in the modern world because his longing for a return to innocence alienates him from modern life (Madden 51). Johnson states that the Scholar-Gipsy, and later the Tyrian trader, have become “images for the speaker’s lost self,” which he mourns and wishes to regain (60).

After the speaker recalls the story and his own encounter with the Scholar-Gipsy, he suddenly feels he cannot regain the past nor again feel a connection to the Scholar-Gipsy. He exclaims:

But what—I dream! Two hundred years are flown

Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls,

And the grave Glanvil did the tale inscribe

That thou wert wander’d from the studious walls

To learn strange arts, and join a gipsy-tribe;

And thou from earth art gone

Long since, and in some quiet churchyard laid— (131-7)

Here, the speaker has woken from his dreams of hope that innocence can be restored or that he can see or be like the Scholar-Gipsy. Numerous critics have marked the similarity between this passage and Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” and the dream vision poems of Coleridge (Bush 78, Culler 183). Like Arnold’s speaker, the speaker in Keats’s poem is tired of the world, remarking how the nightingale has never known, “The weariness, the fever, and the fret/Here, where men sit and hear each other groan” (23-4). As Arnold’s speaker wants to lose himself in the dream of being like the Scholar-Gipsy, so Keats’s speaker wishes to abandon himself to the beauty of the nightingale’s song; he is even willing to die listening to this song. However, Keats’s speaker awakes from his revery to ask, “Was it a vision, or a waking dream?/Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?” (79-80). Arnold’s speaker also awakes from his daydream, believing his desire to see the Scholar-Gipsy can never become real, for the Gipsy lived two hundred years ago and must now be dead. Culler remarks that at this point, if Keats, Shelley, or Coleridge had been the poet, “The Scholar-Gipsy” would have ended, as does Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.” However, Arnold allows his poem to continue exploring the Romantic myth of consciousness (184).

For this one stanza, Arnold’s speaker is almost in despair, feeling it impossible that the Scholar-Gipsy still lives, and so symbolically, it is impossible for the speaker to regain that state of innocence. But he quickly recovers from this despair by realizing the Scholar-Gipsy cannot be dead; death is caused by the weariness of life, but the Gipsy has not been wearied by life’s troubles because he flees from intimacy with mankind, thereby escaping the change and modern life that cause men to grow old and die (141-150). Next the speaker makes a connection between the past and the present by realizing that like the Scholar-Gipsy, modern people also wait for something, although they are less aware of what they wait for, so they have a tendency to despair. The speaker, imagining that he addresses the Gipsy, states that all people “wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope” (170), because we are “Light half-believers of our casual creeds,/Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d” (172-3). “For whom each year we see/Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new” (176-7). Yet, in all our misery, “Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?” (180). Like the Scholar-Gipsy, Arnold’s speaker says all people wait for a spark from Heaven to fall, and this spark will reveal to us the meaning of life, which, until we understand it, remains a burdensome mystery.

Among all those who suffer from the modern disease of life, the speaker focuses on one person who has had more success than others in dealing with suffering:

And then we suffer!  and amongst us one,

Who most has suffer’d, takes dejectedly

His seat upon the intellectual throne;

And all his store of sad experience he

Lays bare of wretched days;

Tells us his misery’s birth and growth and signs,

And how the dying spark of hope was fed,

And how the breast was soothed, and how the head,

And all his hourly varied anodynes. (182-90)

The poem does not state the identity of this person. Arnold later said he had Goethe in mind as the one on the intellectual throne (Honan 277); however, some critics have suggested that this reference is to Carlyle (Buckler, “Scholar-Gipsy”, 683). It may be a mixture of both, for Goethe heavily influenced Carlyle, who then influenced Arnold, so it is difficult to make a clear-cut distinction. Arnold knew Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, which was itself influenced by Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Both works have heroes who wander about in despair seeking some meaning in life that will help them escape their depression. However, Goethe’s Werther ultimately commits suicide, while Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh emerges from his despair into a state of enlightenment. This enlightenment consists of realizing that questing after knowledge will not explain life’s mysteries, and instead, people should work to make the world a better place. Certainly, Sartor Resartus was in Arnold’s mind while writing “The Scholar-Gipsy,” for like Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh, both the Scholar-Gipsy and the speaker are also searching for ways to stay in or return to a state of innocence and escape from despair. We know Arnold had a great admiration for Carlyle’s writing that eventually changed into an equally great dislike. In 1848, the year Arnold began working upon “The Scholar-Gipsy,” he referred to Carlyle’s writing as “the style and feeling by which the beloved man appears,” but eleven and a half years later, he remarked upon “that regular Carlylean strain which we all know by heart and which the clear-headed among us have so utter a contempt for” (Honan 22-3). Perhaps Arnold was so tired of Carlyle’s writing and intellectualization of man’s state that he later refused to admit that Carlyle was the one he intended to be upon the intellectual throne, so he instead named Goethe.

Arnold felt he could not accept Carlyle’s philosophy that it is work, not happiness, that is man’s purpose in life. For Arnold, happiness depended upon understanding life’s mystery, which Carlyle said man was not meant to understand. Arnold tried to make Carlyle’s philosophy his own in his poem “Self-Dependence” (1852), where he suggests that by working, we may arrive at understanding. The speaker of “Self-Dependence” looks up at the stars and sees them performing their functions without worrying about the greater universe, which leads them to greatness:

‘Bounded by themselves and unregardful

In what state God’s other works may be,

In their own tasks all their powers pouring,

These attain the mighty life you see.’ (25-8)

Yet in the next year, when Arnold wrote “The Scholar-Gipsy,” he felt this solution was not sufficient. Therefore, just as Carlyle transformed the Romantic image of the wanderer into a prophet who preaches what became the Victorian Gospel of Work, so Arnold transformed the wanderer image by rejecting Carlyle’s depiction to create his own. While Carlyle says we are selfish to worry about our own happiness and should instead work selflessly to make the universe better because we can never know the meaning of life, Arnold says there may be some people who can learn life’s mystery. However, these people are not those who search intellectually, but people who have found another means for arriving at this knowledge. Unfortunately, Arnold’s speaker feels he can never be one of these fortunate people.

As the “Scholar-Gipsy” ends, the speaker imagines himself telling the Scholar-Gipsy to “But fly our paths, our feverish contact fly!” (221), and “Then fly our greetings, fly our speech and smiles!” (231). The speaker no longer wishes to see the Scholar-Gipsy because he knows the Gipsy will die if he has contact with the speaker who is no longer innocent. The speaker would prefer that the Gipsy continue his search so someday, someone may understand life’s mystery and find happiness, even if it cannot be himself. In forsaking his chance to regain his innocence by seeing the Scholar-Gipsy, the speaker has performed a selfless act, as does Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh, but unlike Teufelsdrockh, the speaker does not find a task to replace his search. The poem ends on a note of false resolution, for while the speaker may be resolved that he can never see the Scholar-Gipsy, regain his innocence, or understand life’s meaning, Arnold could not resign himself to such a possibility. He would continue to search for an answer to life’s mystery in later poems, including “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse” (1855), and in “Thyrsis” (1866), he would once more try to find the Scholar-Gipsy.

 

Works Cited

Arnold, Matthew. “The Buried Life.” 1852. Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 575-77.

Arnold, Matthew. “The Scholar-Gipsy.” 1853. Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 580-6.

Arnold, Matthew. “Self-Dependence”. 1852. Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 577-8.

Brown, E. K. Matthew Arnold: A Study in Conflict. 1948. n.p.: Archon Books, 1966.

Buckler, William E. On the Poetry of Matthew Arnold: Essays in Critical Reconstruction. New York: New York UP, 1982.

Buckler, William E. “The Scholar-Gipsy and Thrysis.” Ed. William E. Buckler. The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 681-3.

Bush, Douglas. Matthew Arnold: A Survey of His Poetry and Prose. New York: Macmillan, 1971.

Carlyle, Thomas. Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdrockh. 1838. New York: Odyssey Press, 1937.

Culler, A. Dwight. Imaginative Reason: The Poetry of Matthew Arnold. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1966.

Dyson, A.E. “The Last Enchantments.” Review of English Studies. 8 (1957): 256-65.

Goethe, Johann. The Sorrows of Young Werther. Ed. David E. Welbery. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1995. Vol. 11 of Goethe: The Collected Works. 12 Vols.

Honan, Park. Matthew Arnold: A Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.

Johnson, W. Stacy. The Voices of Matthew Arnold: An Essay in Criticism. New Haven, CT.: Yale UP, 1961.

Jump, J. D. Matthew Arnold. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1965.

Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967. 1184-5.

Knight, G. Wilson. “The Scholar Gipsy: An Interpretation.” Review of English Studies. 6 (1955): 53-62.

Madden, William A. Matthew Arnold: A Study of the Aesthetic Temperament in Victorian England. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1967.

Trilling, Lionel. Matthew Arnold. New York: W.W. Norton, 1939.

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

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Filed under Literary Criticism, The Wandering Jew

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.

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

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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.

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

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Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula

Ivanhoe: Sir Walter Scott’s Bridge from the Gothic to Realism

This year, Ivanhoe (1819), Sir Walter Scott’s most popular and perhaps greatest novel, celebrates its 200th anniversary. I first read Ivanhoe more than thirty years ago as a teenager. Since then, I have slowly been working my way through all his novels, but as my knowledge of literature has grown and especially my interest in the Gothic, I’ve always wanted to go back and reread Ivanhoe and recently did so. (I will not provide a summary of the novel here, but one can easily be found online; I am assuming readers are familiar with the novel.)

One of countless 19th century editions of Ivanhoe.

As a historical novelist myself, I revere Scott as the father of the historical novel—there were some historical fiction novelists before him, but he popularized the genre. As a lover of the Gothic, I also am well aware that Scott never wrote a truly Gothic novel, and yet, he sprinkles Gothic elements into many of them. I have long felt that he is the bridge between the Romantic or Gothic novel and realism in British literature. Of course, the novels of manners that preceded him—works by Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, and others—were largely realistic as well—but Scott does something special in Ivanhoe. He takes Gothic elements and removes the supernatural from them, making them real.

I do not know if Scott ever read Fanny Burney’s The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties (1814), although we know he met Burney, seeking out a meeting with her, so I suspect he did read it and was perhaps influenced by it in writing Ivanhoe. My reason for thinking so is that in the novel, Burney creates a character she refers to as “A Wandering Jewess.” The main character, Juliet, or Ellis as she is known throughout most of the novel, is not Jewish at all, but she wanders about England through a variety of difficult situations as she tries to earn a living, all the while unable to reveal her true identity. I won’t go into details about the novel, but an entire chapter of my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption is dedicated to Burney’s novel. It is sufficient here, I think, to say that Scott’s inspiration for creating his Jewess character, Rebecca, may have been inspired by Burney’s novel.

Scott was revolutionary in introducing a Jewish character into a novel in a sympathetic manner, although here again he was preempted by Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington (1817), written as a sympathetic portrait of Jews after a reader complained to Edgeworth about her anti-Semitic depictions of Jews in several of her previous novels. Scott was a fan and friend of Edgeworth and heavily influenced by her first regional novels, set in Ireland, in writing his own regional novels set in Scotland, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Harrington also influenced him in writing Ivanhoe. That said, Edgeworth’s novel is completely realistic. While Scott’s novel is also completely realistic, he sprinkles supernatural and Gothic images throughout it.

The Wandering Jew was a popular image in Gothic literature, as I discuss in depth in my book The Gothic Wanderer. Here, I will simply state that the Wandering Jew was cursed by Christ to wander the earth until His Second Coming. The Jew usually has hypnotizing eyes. He also has supernatural powers, such as being able to control the elements. He makes his first appearance in Gothic literature in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795). Later versions of his character include Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner (1798), the vampire figure, and Rosicrucian characters who have the elixir of life that gives them immortality and the philosopher’s stone that can turn lead into gold, as in William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799).

Ivanhoe makes use of the Wandering Jew theme from the beginning. Ivanhoe is disguised as a pilgrim from the Holy Land who is wandering through the countryside when he meets up with the Jew, Isaac of York. Through the combination of these two characters, we have a Wandering Jew reference early on. Other Gothic elements borrowed here are that Isaac, as a usurer, is accused of “sucking the blood” of his victims to become fat as a spider—a vampire image, and a surprising one since the first vampire novel, The Vampire by John Polidori (1819), was not published until the same year as Ivanhoe, although vampire-type characters feature in several earlier Romantic poems, notably Coleridge’s “Christabel” (1816). Ivanhoe, in disguise, also has a mysterious origin since his identity is not known—this is typical of heroes in literature and especially supernatural beings, but also of Juliet in Burney’s The Wanderer.

Later, Scott reverses the Wandering Jew imagery when Front-de-Boeuf holds Isaac as his prisoner. We are told that Front-de-Boeuf fixes his eye on Isaac as if to paralyze him with his glance. Isaac’s fear also makes him unable to move.

Rebecca and Ivanhoe by T. Lupton

Rebecca, Isaac’s daughter, has perhaps the most Wandering Jew characteristics. She is a healer, who has knowledge beyond most people. This knowledge makes people think she is a witch, ultimately leading to her nearly being burned at the stake, but she is more closely akin to the Rosicrucian Gothic Wanderer figures who have knowledge beyond most people. She says her secrets date back to the time of King Solomon, and when Ivanhoe is wounded, she says she can heal him in eight days when it would normally take thirty. Later, Rebecca also takes on the angst of a Gothic wanderer figure in the unrequited love she feels for Ivanhoe that cannot be restored. Many female characters of this period are also Gothic wanderers in their unrequited love, including Lady Olivia in Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison (1753-4), Elinor in Burney’s The Wanderer (1814), and Joanna, Countess of Mar in Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809). Finally, Rebecca ends up before an inquisition and almost ends up being burnt for witchcraft. This scene reflects many Inquisition scenes in other Gothic novels, including Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797) and the slightly later Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin.

Personally, I find Ulrica to be the most fascinating Gothic wanderer figure in the novel. She is a Saxon maiden who was forced to marry a Norman lord, and consequently, is filled with guilt and angst. She compares herself to the fiends in hell who may feel remorse but not repentance. When Ivanhoe’s father Cedric reminds her of what she was before her marriage and how the Normans have badly used her, she decides upon revenge via death. Ultimately, she burns down the castle and dies in the flames after mocking her husband. In fact, she mocks her husband by pretending to be supernatural. As he’s dying, Front-de-Boeuf hears an unearthly voice telling him to think on his sins, the worst of which was the murder of his father, a sin he thought hidden within his own breast.

Scott is also not above poking fun at the Gothic. Athelstane, heir to the Saxon kingdom that has been usurped by the Normans, ends up dying, only to be resurrected from the dead. This is a play both on Christ’s resurrection and the vampire figure. It is also a humorous moment in the novel. Other than being extremely strong, Athelstane has nothing heroic or supernatural about him but is a bit of an oaf more interested in filling his stomach than loving the Saxon heiress Rowena or regaining his ancestors’ crown.

Rebecca as portrayed in a 1913 silent film of Ivanhoe.

Frankly, I’ve always been a bit surprised that the novel is titled Ivanhoe since I don’t think Ivanhoe much of a hero, especially since for a good part of the novel, he is lying wounded. Ultimately, King Richard is the novel’s real hero. Like Ivanhoe, he is incognito in the beginning, disguised as the Black Knight, and he displays great physical strength. Ultimately, all the major acts of heroism fall to him. He frees the Saxon and Jewish characters, including Ivanhoe, when they are taken prisoner, and in the end, he saves England from the treachery of his brother, Prince John. Richard even heals the bad feelings of the Saxons toward the Normans, making Cedric and Athelstane relinquish their efforts to restore a Saxon king to the English throne. In my opinion, King Richard, as depicted in this novel, may be our first real superhero figure. A later novel, James Malcolm Rymer’s The Black Monk (1844-5), which is far more Gothic than Ivanhoe, would later also use him in a similar way where he returns to England incognito.

In the end, of course, Ivanhoe and Rowena marry, despite Rebecca’s love for him. Rebecca then visits Rowena to tell her she and her father are going to Granada where her father is in high favor with the king and where, presumably, as Jews, they will be safer. She says she cannot remain in England because it is a “land of war and blood” where Israel cannot “hope to rest during her wanderings.”

And so, in the end, Rebecca and her father embody the Wandering Jew figure, having to wander from England now to Granada, and who knows where they may wander again.

But ultimately, what is most remarkable about Scott’s novel is that the Wandering Jew figure in Gothic literature to this point did evoke some sympathy for the cursed man who must wander for eternity, and perhaps by extension, to the Jewish people. Scott, however, went a step further by creating realistic and sympathetic Jewish characters. For that reason, Ivanhoe is a bridge from the Gothic into realism, and beyond that, a step toward tolerance and humanity.

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

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Sarah Perry’s Melmoth: A Modern Spin-Off of Maturin’s Classic Gothic Novel Melmoth the Wanderer

Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin is one of the greatest of the Gothic novels of its time although it is largely forgotten today, so I was very surprised when I learned that someone had decided to use Maturin’s character to create a new Gothic novel.

Sarah Perry’s Melmoth is a reimagining of a female version of Maturin’s famous character.

I had never read anything by Sarah Perry before, although she has previously published two novels After Me Comes the Flood (2014) and The Essex Serpent (2017), the latter of which has received critical acclaim, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from her new novel Melmoth (2018). I found it a mix of classic Gothic elements without being either a rehashing or sequel to Maturin’s novel. Rather, Perry largely makes Melmoth her own, primarily by making her female. Maturin’s Melmoth lived in the seventeenth century and has a prolonged life of about 170 years before meeting his end at the end of the novel. Perry’s Melmoth has lived since the time of Christ. While Maturin obviously drew on the Wandering Jew theme, he did not as explicitly use it as Perry. Perry never refers to the Wandering Jew, but that legend typically concerns a shoemaker named Ahasuerus who refused to let Christ rest outside his shop on his way to Calvary. Christ then curses him to wander until the Second Coming. (There are numerous other versions of the story and other people, including Judas and Pontius Pilate, who are candidates for being the Wandering Jew, but Ahasuerus’s version is the best known.) Perry’s title character is one of the women who saw Christ rise from the dead at the tomb, but later she denied he had risen, a lie that has resulted in her being cursed to wander the earth.

Gothic wanderer figures like the Wandering Jew are often wracked with guilt over their sins and seeking to end their existence and free themselves from their curse. Because Perry’s Melmoth never really gets a voice and is usually off-stage, we do not know much about her existence over the centuries or whether she feels any guilt. All we know is that she is constantly lonely and therefore seeks to entice others to join her in her wandering, something she never succeeds at, although the novel is filled with documents from people who have seen her or whom she has tried to seduce. She watches those who are lonely or have committed crimes and therefore will be easy targets for her and she follows them, although she never succeeds in winning them over.

I have to admit I was disappointed in the overall story, although Maturin’s own storyline is not all that fabulous either. Like Maturin and other Gothic novelists, Perry uses the story-within-a-story technique, and she also uses various manuscripts and documents that the characters find to move the story along and shed light on Melmoth’s character and to serve as individual testimonials to her existence. Some of these documents and their stories are more effective than others, in my opinion, but they typically reveal truths about the people who saw Melmoth—people who committed crimes or transgressions for which they feel guilt.

One of the better stories is the document by Hoffman about his experiences during the Holocaust. Since the novel primarily takes place in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the inclusion of the Holocaust is not surprising since Maturin used the Inquisition which was equally horrifying to its contemporaries.

The main character in the novel is Helen, an Englishwoman living in Prague and translating works into English. She befriends Thea and her husband. Before long, Thea is dying and Helen is there to help her after her husband abandons her, although it’s believed maybe Melmoth got him. Helen becomes paranoid about Melmoth after she learns more about her. Helen also has a guilty secret of her own that makes her susceptible to Melmoth’s seduction.

The book is divided into three parts, and I have to admit by the third part I kind of wondered if it was really going anywhere. The second part is the most entertaining, ending with an interesting scene where the main characters go to see the opera Rusulka, the story of a water sprite who asks a sea witch for help so she can become human and love a prince. In exchange, she gives up her voice. The storyline is very similar to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” although it uses slavic folklore as its origin. Thea comments in the novel that her husband always thought the opera’s main character a fool to give up immortality for love. After this scene is a rather drawn out and tedious new story to begin Part 3 before the novel gets wrapped up.

Despite the Rusulka comment that implies immortality is something to treasure, none of the characters embraces immortality in the end, so Melmoth is left to wander on, ultimately trying to seduce the reader to join her in the final pages.

Overall, Melmoth is an interesting take on its title character. I appreciated Perry’s tie-in to Wandering Jew figures, her mention of Maturin’s novel, which Helen remarks that no one reads, and also how she provides different spellings for Melmoth’s name, including Melmotte (likely a reference to Anthony Trollope’s character in The Way We Live Now (1875) who is believed to have been inspired by Maturin’s Melmoth). However, there are several sections that are just boring or documents that while referring to Melmoth do not really connect to the other parts of the novel or the characters. The story-within-a-story pattern is not as tightly woven as in Maturin’s novel. That said, Melmoth is only about a third as long as Melmoth the Wanderer, which itself is probably twice as long as it needs to be because of its overall wordiness and overly long paragraphs.

I also would have preferred a more guilt-ridden Melmoth. Instead, Perry’s character is less of a true Gothic wanderer character than a needy, codependent creature who is repulsive because of her neediness. There is nothing attractive about this Melmoth, who is unable to seduce anyone, unlike Maturin’s more glamorous Melmoth who seduces the beautiful Immalee.

That Maturin’s novel is still being read and appreciated despite its faults and that it has inspired Perry’s reimagining shows it still has the power to capture our imaginations. I don’t think Perry’s novel will ultimately be remembered, however, any more than is Balzac’s sequel Melmoth Reconciled (1835). Nevertheless, fans of the Gothic will enjoy some of its allusions and plays on the Gothic tradition.

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

 

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Dracula’s Rival: The Beetle by Richard Marsh

Richard Marsh’s Gothic novel The Beetle first appeared in 1897, the same year as Dracula. Originally published in serialization as The Peril of Paul Lessingham: The Story of a Haunted Man in the magazine Answers from March 13 to June 15, that autumn it was published in book form with a new title, The Beetle: A Mystery. The title change is apt since it is more concise and focuses on the chief horror of the story. However, the original title is significant because it identifies Paul Lessingham as the main character. Lessingham does not occupy a major chunk of the narrative, yet he is in some sense responsible for the horrible events that unfold.

The Beetle is about an androgynous human-like creature who shape-shifts into a beetle and may have sources in Ancient Egypt, scarabs, and the cult of Isis.

Before discussing the plot and the novel’s Gothic elements, it’s worth noting that few literary critics have given The Beetle much attention, even though the novel outsold Dracula upon its initial publication. It was immensely popular and was never out of print until 1960. It even inspired a 1919 silent film and a 1928 stage play. As late as 1997, a radio play of it was produced. However, only in recent years have literary critics started to take notice of it.

This article will explore The Beetle’s Gothic elements, suggest why it fails beside greater Gothic novels like Dracula, and why it deserves a place of significance in the history of its genre, although it more draws upon its Gothic predecessors than inspired later Gothic works.

The novel is divided into four books, each told by a different character. Each section is a document or report compiled by Champnell, the inspector in the case. These different narrative voices and the idea of documents compiling a novel suggest an influence of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Notably, Stoker would use a similar format in Dracula.

In Book 1, Robert Holt, an unemployed and homeless clerk, seeks shelter by entering through an open window into a house. Inside the house, he sees glowing eyes from which he is unable to draw his gaze. Even when he realizes the creature he sees is not human, he finds himself unable to flee. Eventually, the creature approaches him and “mounts” him, crawling up him. The description of this encounter is very sexual, the creature even coming to his “loins.” Given the book’s title, the reader assumes this creature is the beetle. It is described in sticky, wet terms that make it sound female, and yet also male. Later, a light comes on and the creature disappears. Holt finds himself in a room with a man in a bed. This man throughout the novel will also be described as an Oriental and an Arab. Like the mysterious creature, the man also has hypnotic eyes, and he orders Holt to undress. Unable to resist, Holt is left standing naked before the man. The man, with female features, ultimately kisses Holt, which seems to be a way of feeding upon him. Toward the end of the novel, Holt is found with scratches on his neck and he appears to have been drained of life, reminiscent of vampire behavior, although the beetle is clearly not a vampire. The scenes with Holt are the most disturbing and intriguing of the entire novel. I won’t go into further detail about them but they are filled with sexuality and homoeroticism.

Eventually, Holt is ordered by the strange man to go to the home of Paul Lessingham, a member of Parliament, and rob him. He is told if Lessingham catches him, to utter the words “the beetle” to scare him off. Holt, unable to disobey, does exactly what the strange man says. Lessingham catches Holt in the act of robbery, but he shrinks back in horror when the words “the beetle” are uttered. Holt then flees.

The second book is told by Sydney Atherton, who sees Holt fleeing from Lessingham’s home and goes to warn Lessingham. Atherton is in love with Marjorie Lindon, who is in love with Lessingham.

The third book is told by Marjorie, presenting her view of her love affair. Her father is opposed to the marriage, not liking Lessingham’s politics. Because of Lessingham’s political speeches, the delivery of which might be termed preaching, and because of his first name, Lessingham is called “The Apostle” and “St. Paul” by Atherton. What Marjorie doesn’t know is the story of Lessingham’s past. Lessingham had once traveled to Egypt and there had been walking down a street when he heard a woman singing. He went into the building and found it was a type of nightclub. The woman he heard singing eventually drugged him, and before he knew it, he had lost about two months of time being her sex slave while in a drugged up state. He refers to this woman as the Woman of the Song. This woman has many literary predecessors, notably La Belle Dame Sans Merci, whom Keats wrote about and many of the Pre-Raphaelites painted—a woman who takes men to her fairyland as lovers and when they return to the real world, they find a significant amount of time has passed in what seems just hours. The woman’s ability to take control of a man also recalls H. Ryder Haggard’s novel She. Lessingham only has dim memories of what happened in the den where he was held captive, although he believes human sacrifice is among the crimes committed there. Finally, in a rare moment where his captor forgets to drug him, he is able to escape.

As the novel progresses, it’s realized that the Woman of the Songs, a member of the cult of Isis and perhaps not human but some sort of creature forgotten by history, has traveled to England. It turns out she is the Beetle and also the strange man in the bed whom Holt first met. She is apparently androgynous or able to shift her appearance. Her hypnotic eyes, of course, have predecessors in the hypnotic eyes of the Wandering Jew as featured in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, and vampires, including Stoker’s Dracula, although earlier vampire novels like Polidori’s The Vampyre and Rymer’s Varney the Vampire are more likely influences. A more contemporary source may have been George Du Maurier’s Trilby, in which Svengali hypnotizes and controls the female title character. Prior to The Beetle, hypnotic eyes were attributed to male Gothic figures and they usually controlled men, but Trilby is, to my knowledge, the first novel in which a woman is controlled by hypnotism, and The Beetle is the first novel in which a female character is able to mesmerize another with her eyes.

The novel concludes when Marjorie is kidnapped by the Beetle/Woman of the Song. In fact, Marjorie is forced to dress in Robert Holt’s clothes (who by now is lying close to death) and then make her way to a train station to be smuggled out of England. The implication is that she will become the Woman of the Song’s next human sacrifice. Fortunately, Champnell, the police inspector, who narrates the fourth and final book, along with the help of Atherton, is able to rescue Marjorie in time.

The novel is fascinating for its use of hypnotism, its use of an ancient creature—the Beetle appears to be thousands of years old—its homosexual and homoerotic renderings that are very similar to but surpass the homoeroticism in Dracula, and its treatment of a threat from the East upon England, just as Dracula has been read as a novel about the threat of Eastern European immigrants upon England.

However, the novel ultimately fails to succeed because it never fully explains the mystery. We never understand what the creature is or how it metamorphoses; unlike Dracula, whose role as a vampire is illuminated by Van Helsing’s knowledge, the Beetle is never understood. We do not know how or why the creature becomes a beetle; is the creature cursed like someone who turns into a werewolf is, or is it is some strange creature who was overlooked by zoologists and got written out of evolution theories? At the end of the novel, we are told that Champnell has read a report of a discovery of a hole in the ground in the East where several strange creatures are found dead after an explosion, and we are to assume the Beetle was one of these non-human creatures, but while this makes us feel assured that the threat is over, it does not explain what the Beetle is. Equally unsatisfactory is why the creature comes to England. Paul Lessingham’s past experiences in Egypt allow us to understand that it is the same creature he experienced that has now comes to England. The creature says it wants revenge, but what Paul did, other than escape, is not clear. The creature apparently kidnaps Marjorie as revenge since Paul is engaged to Marjorie, but none of the creature’s motives are really ever made fully clear.

Ultimately, however, what causes the novel to falter, in my opinion, is that Paul Lessingham is not a Gothic wanderer figure—although tormented by memories of the Beetle while in the East, Lessingham is not a transgressor—he did nothing to deserve his torment, and he has no guilt over his past—just simply a horror of an event that occurred in his past. While he apparently brings the creature to England in the sense that it follows him there, he does not intentionally unleash such evil. Of course, in Dracula, no one is at fault for Dracula coming to England either, but Dracula himself is the Gothic wanderer. We learn enough about his past in the novel to know he has committed a transgression—made a pact with the devil by studying in the Scholomance and in the mountains, and thus he is damned, and we know when Dracula is destroyed at the end that an expression of relief comes across his face, a sense that he is glad to be released from the vampirism that fills him. The Beetle’s ending is less satisfactory. It is apparently destroyed, but all that is left is a sticky mess and a lot of unanswered questions. We never learn what the creature was, how it came to be what it was, or why it commits human sacrifice, if that is even what it was doing.

I will not say this is the final word on The Beetle or Richard Marsh. Marsh (1857-1915) actually wrote about eighty novels and stories, none of which have received much critical attention. Several others deserve to be explored, including The Goddess: A Demon (1900) about an Indian sacrificial idol that comes to life with murderous intent, The Joss: a Reversion (1901) about an Englishman who transforms into a hideous idol, A Spoiler of Men (1905), in which a gentleman-criminal renders people slaves to his will through chemical injection, and A Second Coming (1900) which imagines Christ’s return in twentieth century London—another case of the ancient and the modern coming together. I have not read any of these novels, just seen short descriptions of them, but because their themes are similar to those in The Beetle, they may hold further answers into Marsh’s thinking about these themes that will further illuminate a reading of his best-known work.

The Beetle’s popularity definitely struck a chord among its readers, and though eclipsed by Dracula, and understandably, it remains fascinating in many ways. Marsh’s popularity in his day makes further study of him and his works a worthy pursuit for a fuller understanding of Gothic literature at the dawn of the twentieth century.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poster announcing the 1843 publication of the novel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Wandering Jew in The Children of Arthur Series

My newest novel, Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is the most Gothic-influenced of my novels. While the series builds on the Arthurian legends, it also draws on many other legends, including those of Charlemagne, the Fairy Melusine, Prester John, Dracula, and the Wandering Jew. Here is the prologue to Lilith’s Love, which introduces the Wandering Jew, who is frequently known to appear at key historical moments, as if he is in some way manipulating them, and such is the case in this scene:

Prologue

Constantinople, May 29, 1453, Just after Midnight

“The city will be both founded and lost by an emperor Constantine whose mother was called Helen.”

— Ancient Byzantine Prophecy

For fifty-three days, the siege had held. He had never thought he would be able to hold off the Turks for as long as he had. Had Pope Nicholas V and the rest of Europe come to his aid, it might have been different; even so, his people had been remarkable in their determination not to surrender to the enemy. But any day now, even any hour, it was bound to end.

Lilith's Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is largely a sequel to Dracula, focusing on the life of Quincey Harker.

Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is largely a sequel to Dracula, focusing on the life of Quincey Harker.

And he would be the last, he, Constantine XI, the last Emperor of the Romans. For fifteen centuries, there had been an empire, and for more than eleven centuries, the capital had been here in Constantinople, but now all that would come to an end. He had done everything he could, trying to negotiate peace with the Turks, striving to get the Orthodox Church to concede to the Pope’s demands that they become Catholic, imploring the rulers of France, England, Hungary, Venice, whoever would listen, to come to his aid, but it had all been to no avail. The Turks far outnumbered those in the city.

And the city was not even worth taking; Constantine knew that. Its wealth had diminished to almost nothing in the last two centuries, ever since the Latins had used a crusade to the Holy Land as an excuse to sack the city and then rule as its emperors for most of the thirteenth century. Although the Romans had regained the city and the throne in time, the empire had continued to shrink and weaken; continually, Constantine and his imperial predecessors had sought to keep the Turks at bay, the emperors wedding their daughters to the Ottoman sultans and doing anything necessary to ensure the empire’s survival.

And as the last emperor, Constantine knew the blame would lie upon his head, without regard to how little chance he had to stop his enemy or how all of Christendom had abandoned him and his people to their fate. What would they call him? His first namesake was Constantine the Great. Would he be called Constantine the Defeated, Constantine the Failure, Constantine the Unworthy? Perhaps the best he could hope for was to be killed in battle so he would be remembered as Constantine the Martyr.

He stood alone now on the battlements, his soldiers knowing he wished to be alone with his thoughts. He looked out at the vast hordes of Turks encamped around the city. Even now they were battering at the walls, hoping to topple any one of them, not even seeking sleep as the night moved toward dawn.

How had it come to this? To some extent, Constantine could understand the reluctance and ignorance of his fellow rulers to come to his aid. Even the Pope, the supposed leader of the Christian world, he could forgive for his stubbornness when he considered that they were all men, full of weaknesses, but how could God Himself turn His back on them? How could the Holy Virgin to whom the city had been dedicated, desert them?

Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor, who like King Arthur, is prophesied someday to return.

Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor, who like King Arthur, is prophesied someday to return.

And there was no doubt they had been forsaken. The Holy Virgin had shown she would no longer protect them. The city had been dedicated to the Virgin since its ancient days. In desperation, the people had cried out to her ever since the siege had begun, and just three days ago, her most holy relic, the Hodegetria—an icon of her, believed to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist himself, which had saved the city on numerous occasions—was brought forth from Saint Sophia and carried in a procession through the streets. It had been mounted on a wooden pallet and lifted onto the shoulders of several strong men from the icon’s confraternity. The people followed as the Hodegetria traveled through the city, while the priests offered up incense, and the men, women, and children walked barefoot to show their penance. Hymns were sung, prayers said, and the people repeatedly cried out to the Virgin, beseeching her protection: “Do thou save thy city, as thou knowest and willest. We put thee forward as our arms, our rampart, our shield, our general: do thou fight for thy people.”

Then, before anyone realized it was happening, the Hodegetria slipped from the hands of its bearers. They struggled to grasp it, but it was too late. The people ran forward to pick it up, but it was as if it were weighted with lead, refusing to be raised. Eventually, when it was raised again, the procession had barely restarted before thunder burst through the clouds and lightning split the sky. Then the heavens poured down rain, soaking the procession and all the penitents. The downpour became torrential so that the procession had to halt; water, inches deep, filled the streets, making them slippery, and the flood soon threatened to wash away the children in the procession. Struggling, the icon’s bearers eventually managed to return the Hodegetria to Saint Sophia as gloom settled over the city, less from the weather than the omens that clearly stated the Virgin had refused their prayers and penance.

Worse, the next day, God’s grace had left the city. Since its construction by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, Saint Sophia had held within it the Holy Light as its protector. But that night, a great glow was seen in the sky. First, the sentries on the walls and then people in the streets had cried out in fear that the city had caught on fire. All the sky lit up, but the flame was located only on the roof of Saint Sophia. The flame shot forth from the window and circled the entire dome several times before gathering itself into one great and indescribable flash of blinding light that shot up into the heavens. Clearly, the Holy Light had returned from whence it had come, no longer offering God’s protection to the city. The sight had been so overwhelming to Constantine that now, two days later, it still made him sick to think of it. Had he himself lost favor with God? At that fatal moment, such a thought had caused him to go numb throughout his body and collapse to the ground in a faint, remaining unconscious for hours.

When Constantine finally woke, the people had begged him to flee the city before it was too late, but he had insisted he would not do so. To leave his people solely to save his own life would be to heap immortal ridicule upon his name. And even if he did leave, what life would remain for him, without a throne, marked as a coward for not standing by his supporters in their hour of greatest need? Better he stay to fight, and if need be, die with his people.

He had seen both these catastrophes with his own eyes, but the most shocking event he alone had experienced. Early the next morning, when he had gone out walking in the palace gardens, he had come face-to-face with an old man with a flowing white beard in a tattered black robe. Constantine had never seen the man before, and he could not understand how the man had entered his private gardens. But before he could accost the man, the stranger looked him square in the eyes, his own eyes piercingly gray, and without showing fear or deference for Constantine’s station, he said, “Greetings, Constantine, last of the Romans.”

Constantine had frozen, feeling himself unable to speak or move. His mind went blank for what seemed the longest time as the question “Who are you?” struggled to rise to his lips. His first fear was that the man might be an assassin, sent by the Turks—who but an assassin would dare to enter his private garden at dawn? But then, slowly, the answer came to his lips in a whisper.

“The Wandering Jew.”

Before the words fully escaped Constantine’s mouth, the man turned and disappeared behind a clump of trees. Constantine ran after him, so stunned that he pursued him into the bushes, scratching himself on their branches but unable to see anyone. After a couple of minutes, he calmed himself and returned to the walkway, fearing his people had seen his frantic behavior. Had he dreamt it, or had he truly seen the man? But he could remember those words clearly; they yet rung in his ears: “Greetings, Constantine, last of the Romans.”

Gustave Dore's depiction of The Wandering Jew, said to have been a shoemaker cursed by Christ to wander the earth until Christ's Second Coming.

Gustave Dore’s depiction of The Wandering Jew, said to have been a shoemaker cursed by Christ to wander the earth until Christ’s Second Coming.

He knew such a meeting forebode great ill. The Wandering Jew—he whom Christ had cursed to wander the earth until His return—had long been rumored to appear at pivotal moments in history. Stories claimed he had been seen in the city once before, back in 1204 when the Latin Crusaders had sacked Constantinople. He had also been seen at the surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, amid the mob during the Peasants Revolt in England in 1381, and most recently in the crowd when the Maid of Orleans had been burned at the stake in Rouen, France in 1431. Constantine had heard rumors in recent days that the Wandering Jew had been sighted in Constantinople’s streets, but he had dismissed such rumors as folk tales. Now, he could not imagine who else this man could be who dared to address him as “last of the Romans”—an ominous reference, indeed.

The next day, Constantine knew his death was certain when twelve Venetian ships arrived to aid the city, bringing with them the news that no larger fleet nor other enforcements would come. Twelve ships would be of little help against the incredible Ottoman navy and the hordes of Turkish soldiers preparing for the final assault they all knew was coming. No one could accurately tell the numbers, but a city of just over fifty thousand souls—a city that in its glorious past had been home to a million residents—was being protected by an army of less than twenty thousand against some one hundred thousand Turks, plus their allies. Surely, the situation was hopeless.

Constantine had little doubt that tonight was the last time the sun would set on the city before it was taken, and pillaged, and perhaps even destroyed. The walls could well be broken through before dawn. The Turkish cannons had already damaged them beyond repair. The conquest would happen as soon as Sultan Mehmet II led the next charge.

Nothing was left to do but offer prayers, though prayers now seemed of little help. Nevertheless, Constantine had spent the last day at service in Saint Sophia, on his knees before his people and God, begging forgiveness for their transgressions. Afterwards, he had spent time here on the ramparts with his longtime friend and advisor Sphrantzes. And then he had sought some time alone, time to prepare himself for what he did not doubt was his imminent death. He would do so nobly, as Emperor of the Romans, and in a manner to make his ancestors proud, but he would be dead nonetheless, and he had his doubts that God would have mercy upon his soul after the signs he had already seen.

“Your majesty.” He turned to hear himself addressed and found the captain of the guard speaking. “The Turks are about to break through the wall. You must return to the palace. You must look to your own safety.”

“You know better,” Constantine replied, already in his armor. “Come; we will fight together, and may God have mercy on our souls.”

The Turks were firing their cannons. It was almost half-past one in the morning. Just as the emperor joined his army before the St. Romanus Gate, a cannonball came ripping through the wall, sending stone and men flying, and by the time Constantine and his men recovered from the shock, three hundred Turks had poured through, their voices roaring as they entered the city. In panic, some of the Romans fled into the streets, desperate to see to their own and their families’ safety, but most stood fighting beside their emperor and the officers.

The Romans fought violently, but they were far outnumbered, and while the battle raged at the great crumbling opening in the wall for several minutes, eventually, the Romans were cut down as the Turks began to spread and pillage throughout Constantinople.

Constantine found himself covered in blood as his sword continued to slice at the Turks before him, but within a few minutes, he was surrounded by his enemies. He had taken care not to wear anything to make the enemy suspect he was the emperor, for he knew if they discovered his identity, his life would be spared, but only because the sultan would want to hold him as a prisoner. No, he would much rather die here with his people than be forced to go down on bended knee before Mehmet II, or worse, be paraded through the streets by his captors.

Suddenly, Constantine felt a great pain in his back. He immediately became dizzy; for a moment, he felt his knees buckle and he thought he would collapse, but then he experienced a great lifting feeling, as if he were floating into the air. He could only think that his soul was leaving his body. Had he been slain? Was he now dead? Was he being taken to Heaven—could death be this quick?

Looking up, bending his head all the way back, he saw he was in the arms of a great winged man, a beautiful gorgeous man, a man a good couple of feet taller than him—no, not a man but an angel.

And then all went black.

*

When he opened his eyes, Constantine found himself lying on a cot inside a barren room all built of stone. He could see the sky, but nothing else from the window, making him assume he was quite high up. All he heard were birds chirping and a breeze rustling through the trees. No screams of his people. No cannons booming. And most surprisingly, he felt no fear.

Was he dead? But, surely, Heaven did not look like the barren room of a castle.

For a moment, he relished the quiet, but his curiosity overcame him. He sat up and continued to look out the window. From his sitting position, he could see what appeared to be a marsh, and beyond that a river, and then just a green row of trees and a lush countryside. He appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Certainly, he was far from Constantinople.

“Where am I?” he muttered, about to put his feet on the floor when the door opened. In walked a man whom Constantine had only seen once before.

“You!” Constantine gasped.

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

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Dracula Meets King Arthur’s Descendants in New Novel: Lilith’s Love

For Immediate Release

New Novel Merges King Arthur, Lilith, and Dracula Legends

Marquette, MI, November 18, 2016—Since the dawn of time, Lilith, Adam’s first wife whom he spurned in Eden, has held a grudge against Adam and Eve’s descendants, and since the time of King Arthur, the descendants of Britain’s greatest king have sought to stop her from wreaking havoc upon the human race. But never could they have envisioned Dracula joining Lilith’s forces.

Lilith's Love brings together the legends of King Arthur, Dracula, and the Bible in a surprising mix of Gothic and historical fantasy.

Lilith’s Love brings together the legends of King Arthur, Dracula, and the Bible in a surprising mix of Gothic and historical fantasy.

Lilith’s Love is the fourth of five volumes in Tyler R. Tichelaar’s The Children of Arthur series. The series began with Arthur’s Legacy in which Lilith, in her incarnation as Gwenhwyvach, Guinevere’s half-sister, sought to destroy Camelot. The series continued through Melusine’s Gift and Ogier’s Prayer as Arthur’s modern day descendants, Adam and Anne Delaney, discovered the truth about their heritage and, with the aid of Merlin, tried to stop Lilith from destroying all that is good in the world.

Now things come to a head when Adam and Anne meet Quincey Harker, the child born to Jonathan and Mina Harker at the conclusion of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Quincey’s mother, Mina, had been forced by Dracula to drink his blood, and as a result, Quincey was born with superhuman powers and a tendency toward evil. Ultimately, Quincey is forced to choose between good and evil, and what he learns on his journey could ultimately make the difference in finally defeating Lilith, but nothing, everyone quickly realizes, is quite what it seems.

Lilith’s Love, like its predecessors, blends together myth and history to create a new imagining of mankind’s past and the possibilities for its future. Part Arthurian legend, part sequel to Dracula, the novel stars a legendary cast of characters, including Merlin, Emperor Constantine XI, the Wandering Jew, Dracula, Captain Vanderdecker of the Flying Dutchman, and Lilith herself. Readers will take a magic carpet ride from the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the beginnings of a New World Order in the twenty-first century, rewriting a past we all thought we knew to create a future far more fabulous than we ever dreamed.

Arthurian authors and fans have been delighted with each volume of Tyler R. Tichelaar’s The Children of Arthur series. Sophie Masson, editor of The Road to Camelot, praises the first book, Arthur’s Legacy, as “an intriguing blend of action-packed time-slip fantasy adventure, moving love story, multi-layered mystery, and unusual spiritual exploration.” Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, states of Lilith’s Love, “Tichelaar deftly weaves together history, myth, and legend into a tale that takes the reader on an epic journey through time, connecting characters and events you’d never expect….” And Rowena Portch, award-winning author of the Spirian Saga series, proclaims that the Children of Arthur is for those who “love the mystical magic of Camelot but thrive on the excitement and tribulations of Game of Thrones.”

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of numerous historical fiction novels, including The Marquette Trilogy, The Best Place, and the award-winning Narrow Lives, as well as the scholarly books The Gothic Wanderer and King Arthur’s Children, the latter of which served as research and inspiration for The Devon Players’ upcoming independent film Mordred. Tichelaar is currently writing the final book of the Children of Arthur series, Arthur’s Bosom, to be released in late 2017.

Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four (ISBN 9780996240024, Marquette Fiction, 2017) can be purchased in paperback and ebook editions through local and online bookstores. For more information, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com. Review copies available upon request.

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New Book on Spring-Heeled Jack Explores Jack’s History, including Gothic Connections

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack: From Victorian Legend to Steampunk Hero by John Matthews is a fascinating look at a sometimes overlooked character who has had a significant impact on sensational and Gothic literature as well as the public’s imaginations and fears for nearly two centuries now. Matthews, who is perhaps best-known for his many books on the Arthurian legend, has compiled nearly every known reference and possibility related to Spring-Heeled Jack into this book.

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack, just released by author John Matthews

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack, just released by author John Matthews

Those not familiar with Spring-Heeled Jack will wonder why they have never heard of him. He first appeared in London and its surrounding areas in 1838 and continues to be sighted every few years, it seems, both in England and now the United States and perhaps even in a few other places around the globe. His origins lie in several startling attacks he made upon unsuspecting women in the early Victorian period. He is frequently described as dressed in black, wearing a cape, having long fingers, pointy ears, and eyes that glow red or blue. His most famous feature, however, is his amazing ability to spring or leap enormous distances, sometimes twenty feet from the ground to a roof or even thirty feet from one rooftop to the next.

In this encyclopedic book about all things Spring-Heeled Jack, Matthews begins by going back to the original sources. He quotes in detail the numerous newspaper reports of Jack and his attacks upon his victims. Most of his attacks were relatively mild, just appearing and frightening women, or mildly assaulting them, although in some cases, he attacks with knives, especially the men who pursue him.

Jack was likely some sort of criminal who developed a spring mechanism for his shoes, but just who he was has never been fully revealed. He quickly became a legend and soon many copycat crimes were occurring; some of these criminals were caught but others not. Jack also often acted like the typical highwayman who was a popular literary figure in the Newgate novels of the 1830s, and later, Jack the Ripper at least left behind one note where he signed himself as Spring-Heeled Jack, though as Matthews notes, Jack the Ripper was a serial murderer while Spring-Heeled Jack’s crimes are far less severe and seem mostly intended just to shock and frighten people. Nevertheless, the Ripper’s crimes took place in the 1890s, showing that Spring-Heeled Jack retained a hold on the Victorian imagination.

While the historical newspaper accounts are interesting, for me, what is more fascinating is Jack’s appearances in literature. Matthews details how Jack soon became part of popular culture. By 1840, there was a stageplay produced about him. In 1867, there was a penny dreadful published titled Spring-Heeled Jack—The Terror of London, and in 1878, another serial was published with the same name. The difference between these two works is significant. In the first, Jack is depicted as a demon figure. In the latter, he is a young nobleman deprived of his inheritance whose actions are based on his desire to get revenge on those who have cheated him; others copy his crimes, but this second penny dreadful makes it clear that Jack is a clever trickster type of hero. I find this transition in Jack’s character fascinating since I am a firm believer that the Gothic Wanderer figure in nineteenth century literature was eventually transformed into our modern-day superhero figure. In this version, Jack has the qualities of the Gothic Wanderer in being disinherited, although he is lacking guilt and commits no true crimes.

Equally fascinating is the possibility that Jack is an early version of Batman. Matthews notes that there is no evidence that Batman’s creator, Bob Kane, knew anything of Spring-Heeled Jack, but he provides plenty of evidence that bat-man figures were in the popular imagination well before Batman arrived on the scene. (More on that below.)

An illustration of Spring-Heeled Jack from the 1867 serial.

An illustration of Spring-Heeled Jack from the 1867 serial.

Matthews devotes a great deal of time trying to determine the origins of Spring-Heeled Jack as a fictional or popular culture figure beyond whether or not he was a true historical criminal. He digs back into mythology looking at Jack’s origin in devil figures (one of Captain Marryat’s novels, Mr. Midshipman Easy, from 1835 is cited as a source here also; in it a character wears a devil’s costume and springs into a house frightening people), Jack the Giant Killer (with a nod to King Arthur here), the popular Jack-in-a-Box toy, and Robin Hood, since Jack is often depicted as a hero fighting against the rich. That said, Jack is also depicted as aristocratic and possibly preying upon the poor—one of the possibilities for his identity is the historical Marquis of Waterford.

This aristocratic side to Jack fascinates me and brings me to the one omission in the book, for which perhaps there is no evidence, but which seems to me very likely—that Jack influenced the creation of Dracula and the vampire legend. Of course, the vampire figure had already been popularized in England with John Polidori’s The Vampire in 1819. But the depiction of vampires still had a long way to go before Dracula set the standard for vampire characteristics. One of the possible sources for Spring-Heeled Jack that Matthews cites is the “Moon Hoax of 1835” in which it was claimed that a civilization had been discovered on the moon and that it was inhabited by winged men which were called “man-bats.” This may well be the first suggestion of men connected to bats. Of course, Dracula has the ability to change into a bat in Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic, and as I’ve pointed out in my previous blogs about French novelist Paul Féval, vampires were also associated with bats in his novel Vampire City (1875). Could Spring-Heeled Jack, whose cape is often depicted as looking like wings tied to his arm, have also influenced the depiction of Dracula? I have not been able to find any link between Stoker and Spring-Heeled Jack, but the Jack was in the popular imagination so doubtless Stoker knew of him. Note that Dracula is also a count and Stoker’s novel has been read as being a story about how the nobility preyed upon the lower classes. Dracula’s victims, like Jack’s, are also predominantly female.

Another interesting connection between Spring-Heeled Jack and Dracula can be found in another possible version of Jack that Matthews mentions—The Mothman, who was first sighted in 1966 in West Virginia and whom the film The Mothman Prophecies was made about. The Mothman is also winged and can fly. Interestingly, it is claimed he was spotted just before the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001—this suggests he might play a role in political events. Similarly, the Wandering Jew has often been said to appear during historical events, including the French Revolution and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Wandering Jew is often cited as an influence upon Stoker, particularly because Stoker was manager for the actor Henry Irving and he encouraged Irving to consider playing the Wandering Jew. Stoker also wrote about the Wandering Jew in his book Famous Impostors. Jack the Ripper’s murders were also associated with the Jews as instigators of the crimes. Could Spring-Heeled Jack have had some connections to the Wandering Jew in the popular imagination?

The cover of the 1904 serial about Spring-Heeled Jack.

The cover of the 1904 serial about Spring-Heeled Jack.

In any case, the story of Spring-Heeled Jack is a true historical and literary mystery that continues to fascinate. Matthews concludes the book by looking at Jack’s appearances in film, television series, and comic books in more recent years. He omits mention that Jack also was featured in an episode of the short-lived 2016 television series Houdini and Doyle, likely because the book was already being prepared for printing when the series aired, but it shows that Matthews’ prediction at the end of the book that Spring-Heeled Jack will likely be around for many years to come is true without a doubt.

The book also contains numerous illustrations, including several colored plates, and the appendices contain the full text of the 1878 penny dreadful version of Jack’s story.

Overall, The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack is a true treasure trove for anyone interested in Jack himself, or popular culture, Victorian crime, the Gothic, comic books, or superheroes. It’s published by Destiny Books and is available worldwide including all the major online booksellers.

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

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