At last, the first lady of the Gothic makes a long-overdue debut on the blog. The last of her novels to be published in Ann Radcliffe’s lifetime, The Italian: or the Confessional of the Black Penitents was written in response to Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796). Whereas Lewis’s novel employed a panoply of demons, ghosts and gore that bordered on camp, Radcliffe’s more subtle account of the machinations of the evil Father Schedoni puts into practice her preference for terror (the sublime stimulation of the nervousness or anxiety that foreshadows horrific events) over horror (the abject revulsion that inevitably greets the horrific reality of catastrophes and abominations directly observed). Presented in the form of an assassin’s confession, the resultant psychological drama is amongst the best the genre (and Radcliffe) has to offer.
Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) was an experienced and highly-regarded naval officer, who had fought with distinction in the Napoleonic wars, during which career he also invented a maritime flag signalling system, which bears his name and is still widely used. As if this weren’t enough, he was also a prolific writer of fiction, wildly popular during the nineteenth century and hugely influential in the adventure genre. He is perhaps best known today for his children’s novels, Mr Midshipman Easy (1836) and The Children of the New Forest (1847).
The Phantom Ship (1839) is his only overtly supernatural novel. It is based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman – a ghostly vessel cursed to sail around the Cape of Good Hope for all eternity. The novel is a sort of sequel to the legend, in which Philip Vanderdecken, the son of the ship’s Dutch captain, battles to save his father from the curse. One particularly memorable section involves an insert story featuring a werewolf, which has been widely anthologised as ‘The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains’.
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.
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.
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.
EDIT: A recent update to Allen J. Hubin’s definitive bibliography of crime fiction reveals more information about the elusive May Coates.
Charles Robert Maturin’s classic Gothic novel is a sprawling epic about a man who sells his soul to the Devil, wandering the earth in search of another poor unfortunate to take on his burden. The complicated tale-within-a-tale structure unfolds the plot through a series of haunting episodes in which various protagonists describe their encounters with the elusive Melmoth.
Commonly held to be the last gasp of the first phase of European Gothic, the novel really does have it all – live burials, the horrors of the inquisition, Faustian pacts, mysterious manuscripts, lunatics, damsels in distress and banditti aplenty. Not, perhaps, what you’d expect from the pen of an Irish clergyman (even if the deliciously OTT condemnation of Catholicism makes some sense given Maturin’s Hugenot background and Protestant affiliations). The Church seems to have agreed – leading to an ironic situation in which writing was simultaneously the bar to Maturin’s advancement in the Church and the means by which he supported his wife and family.
Until recently, a properly formatted, unabridged electronic version of the novel did not exist – so kudos to whoever produced the fantastic transcription at Project Gutenberg Australia, on which this version is based!
Here’s a treat, if I do say so myself. Six stories by Sabine Baring Gould, most of which first appeared in the periodical Hurst Johnian. The stories were well-nigh unobtainable for many years (even the British Library doesn’t have copies of these particular issues of the journal) until they were reprinted by Sarob Press in 1999 as part of Margery of Quether and other weird stories. This volume too is now out of print, but Richard Morgan of Sarob Press has very kindly consented to my preparing an ebook of the otherwise uncollected stories in that volume. This means that all of Baring-Gould’s known supernatural fiction is now available on this blog – to view more titles by him, click here.
EDIT: As it turns out, there is at least one more uncollected Baring-Gould story, ‘The Witch-Finder’, which I’ll add to the ebook when I get a chance!
A quick note on the texts:
I’ve scanned most of the stories from the Scarob Press edition, which uses the texts of the original periodical publications. In the case of ‘The Fireman’ and ‘The Old Woman of Wessel’, I’ve used the texts available on Wikisource. As far as I can tell, this version of ‘The Old Woman of Wessel’ is the text of the original periodical publication – but the text of ‘The Fireman’ seems to be from a later American reprint of the story, which may be pirated from Baring-Gould’s original. There are only minor differences, however, none of which materially affect the meaning or significance of the text.
This collection of short stories was published posthumously in 1899, at the behest of Dahlgren’s husband. The ebook I’ve provided here contains only those stories with a macabre or supernatural interest – the full collection contains no fewer than twenty-four stories, most of which fall outside the remit of this blog. Readers can, however, read the full collection at the Hathi Trust website. For information about Dahlgren’s life and her other work, see the biographical and bibliographical notice that accompanies her manuscript holdings at Georgetown University
Happily for lovers of supernatural fiction, the macabre or uncanny stories are probably the best in the collection. The title story is a tale of occult religious practices that blemish the life of a young Doctor’s wife; ‘Who Was She?’ concerns an inn haunted by the mysterious figure of a weeping woman, while ‘A Murder Mystery’ is a bizarre cross between A Tale of Two Cities and ‘Babes in the Wood’, with possible shades of Titus Andronicus. ‘The Fatal Boots’ is a macabre reflection on coincidence and destiny (a perennial preoccupation of Dahlgren’s). ‘My First Patient’ is a wonderfully hokey take on mesmerism, while ‘Earth-Bound’ concerns the otherworldly implications of a jealous husband’s spiteful final vow.
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!