Tag Archives: fin de siecle

The Joss: A Reversion (1901)

Richard-Marsh-Portrait

Best known for The Beetle (1897), Richard Marsh was a hugely prolific fin de siècle writer whose output includes several highly entertaining works characteristic of the late-Victorian mode of the Gothic. This novel, first published in 1901, begins with a haunted house and ends with a truly bizarre story of an Englishman’s transformation or, as the subtitle has it, his ‘reversion’. The nature of this horror is revealed gradually through multiple narrators, initially focussing on Mary Blyth, whose unfair dismissal from her job as a draper’s assistant turns out to be one of the least terrible events in what transpires to be the most horrific week of her life!

The novel deals in typical fashion with characteristic late-Victorian fears about racial degeneration and contamination by a foreign other. The setting too is highly characteristic, depicting London as a labyrinthine metropolis at the heart of Empire, in which mystery lurks behind the façade of every building and down every dark alley – the London of Bram Stoker, Arthur Machen, Conan Doyle and Stevenson – and is a must-read for any fans of the period’s Gothic tales.

The Joss: A Reversion [Kindle]

The Joss: A Reversion [Epub]

The Joss: A Reversion [PDF]

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Hauntings (1890) by Vernon Lee

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Vernon Lee was the pseudonym of  Violet Paget (1856-1935). She is best remembered today for her ghost stories and her essays on aestheticism. Indeed, the latter heavily informs the former, and her celebrated supernatural fiction is highly wrought, unashamedly decadent and dripping with the atmosphere of Renaissance Europe, which she so successfully captured in her non-fictional work. Born to expatriate parents, Paget spent most of her life on the continent, mainly in Italy where she lived for most of her life in a villa just outside Florence. She was a pacifist, a New Woman, an advocate of female same-sex passion, a democrat and an aesthete who developed a theory of aesthetics founded upon the idea that to consume a work of art is to develop an an intensely empathic connection with it. Her ideas were thus at the forefront of fin de siècle thinking – and make for a unique and memorable collection of stories.

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The increasing interest in Paget’s supernatural fiction in recent in recent years is evidenced by the long-overdue publication of her complete supernatural tales (Ash Tree Press, 2002) and a scholarly edition of Hauntings (Broadview Press, 2006). The latter remains her best-known collection and is presented here as perfect reading for Hallowe’en!

Hauntings [Kindle]

Hauntings [Epub]

Hauntings [PDF]

Textual note: the text is based on the Project Gutenberg HTML version, with the formatting altered slightly to reflect the layout of the first edition.

Kalee’s Shrine (1886) by Grant Allen and May Cotes

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This intriguing, but little-known ‘imperial Gothic’ novel begins in dramatic fashion when an anglo-Indian infant is made a votary of Kalee, vengeful goddess of the Thugs. Years later, the baby has grown into beautiful Olga Trevelyan. But it soon transpires that Kalee’s nefarious influence still lurks in Olga’s unconscious mind, waiting to be reawakened.

V0045118 Kali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma.

As with many an ‘imperial Gothic’ novel, the theme of reverse colonisation – the fear that England’s subjugated realms might possess the strength to fight back and overthrow the imperial centre – looms large. For me, the theme of mesmerism, an ancient supernatural force embodied in a threatening foreign other, and a peaceful English seaside setting is also heavily redolent of Dracula. I don’t know if Stoker had read Allen’s novel, but it wouldn’t surprise me! Unlike Stoker, however, Allen’s staunch sense of the rational (he had begun life as an evolutionary biologist) leads him to obfuscate the supernatural element, inventing a number of pseudo-scientific explanations that cast doubt on the paranormal elements of the book. Even so, the tale ends on an unsettling note of ambiguity, which implies that even if modern science is strong enough to combat effects of supernatural evil, it may not be able to explain it away.

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Nothing is known of ‘May Cotes’, beyond the fact that she was the young woman (possibly Anglo-Indian) who first came up with the original idea for the story. She contacted the folklorist and historian Andrew Lang, who suggested she collaborate with Grant Allen. Allen himself was a prolific author of fiction, particularly famous for his New Woman novel The Woman Who Did (1895) and for speculative works like The British Barbarians (1895) – both of which appeared as part of John Lane’s infamous ‘Keynotes’ series of 1890s fiction. Kalee’s Shrine (1886) is little-read today, but deserves to be rediscovered – especially by readers interested in late-Victorian or imperial forms of the Gothic.

Kalee’s Shrine [Kindle]

Kalee’s Shrine [Epub]

Kalee’s Shrine [PDF]

EDIT: A recent update to Allen J. Hubin’s definitive bibliography of crime fiction reveals more information about the elusive May Coates.

The Romance of a Demon (1892) by Thomas Malyn

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This short novel was published in 1892 by the London firm of Digby, Long and Co. Apparently written as an attempt to discredit Theosophy, Buddhism and other esoteric religions, it tells the entertaining story of Duncan Derroll and his discovery of the occult practices that have brought disaster upon the family of his beloved Carrie Rimmon.

I stumbled across this book at the British Library last year. It’s extremely rare, being only viewable as an electronic scan even at the BL itself. I’ve transcribed the present text manually from the print on demand version issued by the British Library (I’ve checked with the library’s permissions department and apparently this doesn’t breach any copyright rules).

I’ve also made limited enquiries about the author, Thomas Malyn. Assuming this isn’t a pseudonym, The Romance of a Demon appears to have been Malyn’s only published work. I’ve identified two possible ‘Thomas Malyns’ who may be the author. One was a Chemist Manager based in Caerphilly and the other was a schoolteacher from Essex. The latter seems the most likely candidate, so here’s all I’ve discovered about Thomas Malyn. He was born in Essex c.1848, but spent some years lodging with Henry Browson and his wife at Legbourne in Lincolnshire, whilst working as a schoolteacher. By 1891, his occupation is given as ‘certificated schoolmaster’ and he has returned to Essex (residing at Braintree). He also entered the Freemasons in 1871, but appears to have left by the mid-1880s. By 1911, he had become a Headmaster, but I haven’t been able to find out which school/s he taught at. He appears to have married twice, once to Jane and, in 1893, to Margaret. He died in 1937.

Then again, the writer may well have been an obscure Chemist Manager from Caerphilly. Who can say? If anyone knows anything about the mysterious ‘Thomas Malyn’, I’d absolutely LOVE to hear from you!

The Romance of a Demon [Kindle]

The Romance of a Demon [Epub]

The Romance of a Demon [PDF]

John Long (1864-1935), whose firm, Digby, Long and Co., published the novel.

John Long (1864-1935), whose firm, Digby, Long and Co., published the novel.

Nightmare Tales (1892) by Helena P. Blavatsky

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Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a Russian occultist, best known for forming the Theosophical Society in 1875. Theosophy is an esoteric religion, albeit one that shares several ideas with Hinduism and Buddhism. Still practised today, its central tenet posits the notion of a universal spiritual humanity based on a shared reclamation of ancient wisdom – an ur-knowledge once widely known but long-since lost. The society lasted until as recently as 2011, when it split into several smaller organisations. Blavatsky’s ideas were set forth in her densely written treatise The Secret Doctrine (1888).

Blavatsky’s Theosiophical outlook underlies her one collection of fictional writing, Nightmare Tales (1892), which foreshadows the ‘weird fiction’ tradition of horror in its hints that not all ancient knowledge is beneficial – some strands might be best left to lie.

Nightmare Tales [Kindle]

Nightmare Tales [Epub]

Nightmare Tales [PDF]

The Theosophical society’s HTML edition gives the estimated dates of the stories’ original composition and the website also contains information about Blavatsky’s life and work. Paganini’s ‘Dance of the Witches’, which features prominently in ‘The Ensouled Violin’ can be heard (for free) at the excellent Classical Music Online.

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