bällino. Abällino was created by Heinrich Daniel Zschokke and appeared in Abällino der große Bandit (Abällino the Great Bandit, 1794); it was adapted for English as Rugantino; or, The Bravo of Venice in 1805 by Matthew G. (Ambrosio, see below) Lewis. Zschokke (1771-1848) was a German writer and administrator who remains best known for Abällino der große Bandit. Abällino was, with Friedrich Schiller’s Der Rauber (see the Karl von Moor entry), one of the two works that helped spawn the räuberroman (robber novel) craze, both in Germany and England. (The räuberroman genre’s quintessence was Vulpius’ Rinaldo Rinaldini). Abällino is about the Neapolitan Count Rosalvo, who has given himself the job of ridding Venice of conspirators, thugs, and assassins. He does this using two assumed identities. One of them is Flodardo, a handsome, virtuous man who labors unceasingly to improve Venice. The other identity is Abällino, a huge, monstrous and ugly outlaw. Abällino is given the job of killing the lovely Rosabella, the niece of the Doge, as a way to prove himself to the outlaws of Venice’s underworld. But Abällino is in love with Rosabella and kisses her rather than kills her. The Doge, hearing of this, tells Flodardo (who is paying court to Rosabella) that he can have Rosabella’s hand in marriage if he captures Abällino. Count Rosalvo, being a very clever man, does so. He plans a banquet to capture the chief criminals of Venice, and during the meal allows himself to be captured, along with all the other outlaws, only to reveal himself as Flodardo. The novel ends with plans being made for Flodardo’s wedding to Rosabella.
Abällino has all the attributes one would expect from this sort of character. He's bold and daring, he's very clever, he's a gentleman at the core, and he has the typical Gothic combination of breast-thumping self-pity and grand bravado: "Yet will I bear it! I will submit to my destiny! I will traverse every path, and go through every degree of human wretchedness; and whate'er may be my fate, I will be still myself, and whate'er may be my fate, I will still act greatly!"
bbadona. Abbadona was created by Friedrich Klopstock and appeared in his poem Der Messiah (1773). Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803) was a German poet; a deeply religious patriot, he sought to restore the "ancient German spirit" through his work. He was influential on Goethe and on the German Sturm und Drang movement, and his Odes influenced German song composition for decades afterwards, but he is chiefly remembered now for one work: his epic Der Messiah, which deserves the term "Miltonian." Der Messiah is 20 cantos of hexameters; a hexameter is a poetic line of six metrical feet, one well known example being the following description from the King James Bible:
A canto, of course, is a section of a major poem. Der Messiah is, as might be expected, lengthy, taking up fifteen books and written from 1748 to 1773; the poem deals with the life of Christ at no small length.
How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer son of the Morning.
Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing?
God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Abbadona is one of the more intriguing figures of the poem. He is an angel who is drawn, seemingly unwillingly, into Lucifer's rebellion. Once the revolt has failed, and Satan and all of his followers have been cast into Hell, Abbadona does not gnash his teeth and curse the Divine Name, as the other fallen angels do, but instead sits apart "in gloomy solitude" and bewails his fall:
...now mournfully he sits
Engross'd in thought, and muses o'er the scene
Of youth and innocence, the morning fair
Of his creation, when to life and light
Abdiel and he, at God's first call, had sprung
Together forth. In ecstasy exclaim'd
Each to the other, "Who are we? Oh say
"How long has thou been here?" In dazzling beams
Then shone the distant glory of the Lord
With rays of blessing on them; round they look'd
And saw innumerable multitudes
Of bright immortals near; and soon aloft,
Uprais'd by silvery clouds, were they convey'd
To the Almighty Presence. They beheld
And worshipp'd their Creator. Memory now
Thus tortured Abbadona. Bitter tears
Roll'd down his cheek...
...with horror Satan's purpose had he heard,
And now essay'd to speak; but struggling sighs
Thrice chok'd his utt'rance.
He eventually manages to speak and upbraids Lucifer for his blasphemy and pride. Discovering that Lucifer is planning to do Jesus a rotten one, he tries to go to Heaven to warn God, but he has trouble getting by the angels set to guard over Lucifer and his posse:
...with ling'ring step
He reached the dismal gates where watchful sat
The two bright angels. Oh, how he felt then,
When Abdiel, the invincible, he saw!
Abash'd he bent his visage. To go back
Was his first impulse; then t'advance; then far
Across th'irremeable void to speed
His mournful, lonely, flight. Trembling he stood
In melancholy silence, till at once,
Must'ring fresh courage, he advanc'd. His heart
Throbb'd in loud beat, tears such as angels weep
Roll'd silent down his cheek; deeply he sigh'd
While anguish such as mortal heart ne'er feels,
Shook his perturbed frame as slow he passed.
Abdiel, you see, was Abbadona's "special and chosen friend" (of Dorothy?) in the prelapsarian days, but after the Fall and throughout the poem the other angels do not acknowledge Abbadona and Abdiel looks on him "in tones/Soften'd by sadness, yet austere and grave."
Later, during the crucifixion, Abbadona lingers around the cross, feeling a constant woe that he has fallen--"then immortality/Became a curse; one life one endless death!"--and filled with fear, repentance, and even hope, he addresses Jesus:
'Tis true Hell hates thee; but, lo, one remains
One lonely one, who hates his Maker not!
One, who unseen has long pour'd forth in vain,
Alas, too long, woe's burning, bitt'rest tears!
Satiate of being, weary to behold
A sad eternity!
At the end of the poem, with Jesus ascending to Heaven, Abbadona begs for destruction, being tired of his life, and angels of death circle around him, flaming swords pointed at him, but to the reader's relief:
At last, an echo, as of Jubilee
A voice, as from the Father to the Son,
Descended from the throne. 'Come!' it pronounc'd
'Come, Abbadona, to thy pardoning God!"
And so Abbadona is reunited with Abdiel, rushing into his arms and then throwing himself in front of God and praying for forgiveness.
The poem is long and without much to hold the reader's interest or attention, apart from Abbadona himself; Abbadona is interesting, and yet much of his time is spent in abject self loathing. But there's just enough stuff about Abbadona as a fallen angel, rather than as a self-pitying git, to keep the reader involved. He's got a "branded brow," and a "pallid face...marr'd/By death eternal," "bright locks" of "glossy curls," "wings of gold," and a "rosy light...Glow'd on his shining cheek....The thin disguise, the cold and ghastly smile/The glaring radiance, (not like beams of bliss.)/The woe of ages, the consuming pangs,/The wretched Abbadona!"
Anyhow--go and read it. It's worth slogging through the verbiage about how great God is. (yawn) Admittedly, it doesn't quite fit into the Victorian theme of the page, but I like it enough to include it here anyhow.
bdallah. Abdallah was created by Ludwig Tieck and appeared in Abdallah oder das furchtbare Opfer (Abdallah or the Horrible Sacrifice, 1795). Tieck (1773-1853) was one of the foremost German Romantic writers; he was the creator of the Woodwoman and of Zerina; I have more information on Tieck in the Woodwoman entry. Abdallah, though not seen as one of Tieck’s better works, is nonetheless a fairly interesting work.
Abdallah is set in a generic Arabian kingdom ruled by the evil Sultan Ali, a cruel tyrant. His arch-enemy is Selim, a good, brave, and just man who lives in isolation in his tower with his son Abdallah and Omar, Abdallah’s friend and tutor. Omar’s thirst for knowledge had been so great that he had gone in search of Mondal, an enormous misanthropic “fallen angel” who no mortal had ever seen. Mondal, the “monster of destruction,” was supposed to know the secrets of the universe. When Omar finally found Mondal he swore allegiance to Mondal as a way to gain power. Mondal sent Omar back into the world of men to bring destruction and misery to humanity. Selim had been impoverished when Ali had unjustly confiscated his wealth, and so Omar, taking pity on Selim, revealed to him where some buried treasure might be found. For this Mondal punished Omar by trapping him in the crack of a mountain and exposing him to endless torments. Omar’s only chance of release is that he cause a son to bring about the death of his father. Omar chooses Abdallah as the son and Selim as the father. Selim has vowed to curse Abdallah if he does not marry the daughter of Selim’s close friend Abubeker, but Abdallah loves Zulma, the daughter of Sultan Ali. So Omar plays on Abdallah’s anger and regret at being forced to chose between obeying his father and following his heart; simultaneously Omar sways Abdallah’s mind with an epicurean, nihilistic, and decadent philosophy which equates vice and virtue, privileges pleasure as the highest goal in life, and which allows Omar to stress to Abdallah his right to enjoy Zulma’s favors regardless of what his father says. Omar follows this up by telling Abdallah about Omar’s alliance with undefined supernatural beings and then by sending Abdallah into a cavern, populated by ghosts and owl demons, where Abdallah sees his future, including a vision of his father’s mutilated body, which convinces Abdallah that the only way he can be happy is by his father’s death.
Abdallah becomes convinced that Selim’s death is inevitable and irreversible and that his death is the only way by which Abdallah can be happy with Zulma. At this point Nadir, who had previously belonged to a secret society of which Omar had been a member, sends a scroll to Abdallah which reveals who Omar was in service to and what evils await Abdallah. Abdallah isn’t sure if the scroll is a fake or not, but when Nadir promises him a way to be happy as well as make his father happy, Abdallah agrees to go along with him. Abdallah follows Nadir’s orders and goes back to the cavern of demons. Abdallah attempts to prove to himself that they, and consequently his previous vision of his future, were all just one big hallucination, but the ghosts circle him chanting “Vatermörder!” (Father Murderer!) and this is too much for Abdallah, who breaks. Now desperate, Abdallah uses a magic ring which Omar had given him and calls on Omar, who rescues him. The next morning Abdallah allows himself to be convinced by Omar that it was all just a bad dream.
Selim is a part of a conspiracy against Ali, which Omar betrays to the Sultan, so that when Selim’s forces attack Ali’s palace, the Sultan’s men are waiting for them. In the resulting battle Selim is badly wounded and barely makes it to safety, but he is unaware of Omar’s involvement and chalks it up to the wrath of fate. Ali, furious with Selim, offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to the man who gives him the living Selim. Abdallah is forced to make a choice: Zulma, or Selim, and thanks in large part to Omar’s philosophical arguments, Abdallah chooses Zulma. Abdallah finds out that Raschid, the Sultan’s gardener, has discovered Selim’s whereabouts and also loves Zulma and so intends to claim Zulma himself. Abdallah murders Raschid and then betrays Selim to Ali, who is quite pleased at his enemy’s son betraying him. Selim is sentenced to death, but Zulma, on finding out what Abdallah has done, is now repulsed by him, his own parricide having destroyed her love for him. At the wedding dinner things become unreal and quite strange, with the guests changed into “machines” and Abdallah himself tormented by ghosts and corpses. He appeals to Omar for help, but Omar tells him to ask God for help. Abdallah, in agony, is thinking about suicide when the corpse of Selim appears. The next morning the body of Abdallah is found with horribly “distorted” features.
The resemblance of Abdallah to other Orientalist/Arabesque Gothics, most notably Vathek, is not coincidental. Tieck, who wrote Abdallah as a young man–it is generally considered among his juvenalia–was fascinated with the Arabian Nights and with the early English Gothics, especially Beckford’s Vathek. He was also, when he wrote Abdallah, very much obsessed with his own dark thoughts, his suicidal feelings and alienation and fear, and so Abdallah is in many ways Tieck’s Me character, and Abdallah something Tieck wrote to distance himself from his own emotional darkness. But Tieck, even in his early twenties, was a talented writer, and so Abdallah is an enjoyably over the top novel which, as Tieck biographer Roger Paulin wrote, “out-Gothicked any other representatives of that mode.” Tieck added a recurring theme of the inescapability of Fate, something which was not present in most other Gothics. Once Abdallah has given in to temptation, there is no hope for him–but from almost the beginning he and the reader are convinced that his betrayal of his father, and consequently his own damnation, are inevitable.
Abdallah himself is, as mentioned, a fictional analogue of Tieck. Abdallah begins as gullible and innocent, but under the sway of the older, evil Omar he is slowly drawn from a pure, childlike faith into evil, finally giving way to temptation and committing murder and parricide. Abdallah, even before he is victimized by Omar’s arguments, is friendless and quite lonely, bemoaning his lack of someone he can confide in. He is in many ways quite weak, which is one major departure for Tieck and Abdallah from the Sturm und Drang tradition.
ben-Ezra, Raphael. Raphael Aben-Ezra was created by the Reverend Charles Kingsley and appears in Hypatia: New Foes with an Old Face, which first appeared in Fraser's Magazine (beginning in 1851 or 1852, I've seen references to both) and was published in two volumes in 1853. Kingsley was the author of Westward Ho! (see the Amyas Leigh entry), and I've got some biographical information on Kingsley there.
Hypatia has in common with Westward Ho! the almost overt war between Kingsley the Muscular Christian and Kingsley the Storyteller. Hypatia is about: the triumph of Christianity over paganism (in the form of the Neoplatonists); the life and death of Hypatia of Alexandria; the sins of Jews and Catholics; the moral superiority of Christianity; and the vivid culture that was Alexandria. Like Westward Ho!, there’s a sizable didactic element in Hypatia, not just for the purposes of touting Christianity but also to educate the reader about Neoplatonism (and its flaws) and Alexandria in general. So there are long pages of nothing but lecture and description, pages originally intended to edify and yet dead boring to the modern reader. And as in Westward Ho! there’s no small amount of historical inaccuracies, Christian apologia, and religious and ethnic bigotry (in the form of anti-Semitism). And, finally, Kingsley gives sufficient space to Hypatia’s philosophy but slights her considerable mathematical achievements.
And yet Hypatia, like Westward Ho!, has a lot to recommend it. The novel is set in Alexandria in 415 C.E. and follows the final months of Hypatia’s life as well as those men and women who interacted with her. The recreation of Alexandria is vivid and colorful, as is the cast of characters: desert monks, cynical Roman governors, fanatical, corrupt Christian priests, touring Goths looking for Asgard, and so on. There are historical cameos, most memorably from Augustine and Synesius. (Augustine in particular is fully fleshed out by Kingsley). Hypatia herself–prim, self-righteous, an orthodox Neoplatonist, disdainful of all matters of the flesh, smart but too proud to see her own flaws–is skillfully brought to life, so that her fall has more than a hint of tragedy about it. There isn’t a lot of action–Hypatia isn’t that sort of historical novel–but the dialogue more than makes up for it. Though Kingsley plays up the atrocities of the early Catholic Church for his own ideological purposes, he doesn’t turn a blind eye to Christianity’s bloody beginnings. The dialogue has a real energy and life, so that many of the main characters are given apothegms and witticisms to say. (Interestingly, the Jews and non-Christians seem to get the best lines). Raphael and Orestes (the Roman governor) are both amusingly cynical and show a sparkling irony in their talk, a quality noticeably absent from many historical romances.
Raphael Aben-Ezra is a wealthy Jew living in Alexandria. He is an acquaintance of Orestes and a former student of Hypatia. Raphael’s relationship with them both is similar; he isn’t their friend, exactly, and they distrust him as he does them, but they enjoy his company. With Orestes Raphael is enjoyably sardonic and witty, indulging himself in various mild vices (such as gambling). With Hypatia Raphael is a challenging interlocutor. Hypatia lectures to the intelligentsia of Alexandria, most of whom are young men in love with her, but Raphael challenges her views and forces her to exert her intelligence to the utmost while debating with him. By himself Raphael is a version of the Byronic “man of feeling,” who is jaded and world weary and can only feel passion in the depths of pain. (In many ways Raphael is a historical romance version of Zenith the Albino, a resemblance which quite surprised me until I thought about their Byronic forebear). He is Jewish by culture, and is loyal to his people, but lacks any sort of religious sentiment and is deeply cynical about the entire affair. He muses about killing himself but lacks the compulsion to do so. He is honorable, though, and when the anti-Semitic pogroms begin he gives up all of his sizable wealth and leaves Alexandria, just as he often boasted that he could. (Hypatia is astonished, seeing in Raphael a man capable of being true to his word even at such an extravagant cost. Though she dislikes him, she respects him enormously, never more so than at this deed).
It is in leaving Alexandria that Raphael’s life changes. He takes along his faithful mastiff Bran, saves the lives of some Christians, falls in love with one of them, proves himself good to his boast that he is one of the best swordsmen in Alexandria, sees The Light and converts to Christianity, and undergoes a change of personality so that his despair is replaced with hope, although his biting cynicism never entirely departs.
As with Westward Ho!, Hypatia ended up being a lot more interesting and a lot more involving than I anticipated.
ccelerator. In his 1899 story "A New Accelerator" (which first appeared, I believe, in Wells' Twelve Stories and a Dream (1903), but which can be found today in any good collection of Wells' short stories) H. G. Wells describes the invention of a wonder drug called "accelerator" which gives the human body super-speed. Professor Gibberne, a man with a "Mephistophelian touch to his face," a questing intellect and a "great and deserved" reputation for his work on the "action of drugs upon the nervous system," seeks to find a stimulant that "stimulates all round, that wakes you up for a time from the crown of your head to the tip of your great toe, and makes you go two--or even three to everybody else's one."
Naturally, Gibberne creates it. Gibberne and the narrator of "A New Accelerator" (presumably Wells, though given the anti-Semitism and anti-"Orientals" bias that the narrator expresses I would hope otherwise) drink the "accelerator" (a greenish liquid) and are given super-speed; for the half-hour that the effects of the drug last Gibberne and the narrator move so fast that the entire world is literally frozen in motion.
Interestingly, Wells does not portray the drug as being an unalloyed good. He predates modern comic book writers by describing some of the negative consequences of super-speed; Gibberne, by running about at super-speeds, creates such wind friction that his clothes smolder and his white linen trousers are browned, and the narrator says "if we had run we should, I believe, have burst into flames. Almost certainly we should have burst into flames!" As the drug progresses both Gibberne and the narrator feel worse and begin to sweat excessively, and when the narrator flops down on the ground, as the drug wears off, he burns the turf beneath him.
At the end of the story Gibberne is planning on marketing the drug in stepped doses, and is working on a "Retarder" to dilute the drug's potency.
dler, Irene. Irene Adler, The Woman, appeared only the once (alas) in A. Conan Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia," which was the first Sherlock Holmes short story and which appeared in the July 1891 issue of The Strand. In March 1888 Sherlock Holmes made the mistake tangling with Irene Norton, née Adler.
The facts of her life are relatively well-known, if Holmes' research can be relied upon (and he is usually reliable). She was born in New Jersey in 1858; a contralto, she became the prima donna at the Imperial Opera of Warsaw. While there, in 1883, she became involved with the King of Bohemia, who treated her badly ("cruelly wronged," in her words). Sometime after their relationship ended she moved to London; it might be surmised that in the five years between the ending of her relationship with the King of Bohemia and her move to London she was involved in some notorious activities, for she is in Holmes' files and is referred to by His Highness Wilhelm von Ormstein as "the well-known adventuress." In 1888 she married the Freemason Godfrey Norton, a member of the Inner Temple and a lawyer. After that...well, nobody knows for sure. There is some talk that she eventually left Norton and took up with Holmes, bearing him a child that in turn grew up to be Nero Wolfe, but this is all speculation.
The Woman is a figure to be respected and feared; she is described by the King as having "the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men." Holmes describes her as "the daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet." But she's more than just beautiful; she is a talented actress and singer, is skilled at disguise, but most of all has an excellent mind. She's clever, insightful, and quick on her feet. All in all, an excellent adversary (or partner) for Holmes.
A very interesting set of speculations about The Woman, and I'm not going to say anything else for fear of spoiling the surprises.
gnold, Robert. Robert Agnold was created by B.L. Farjeon and appeared in Great Porter Square (1881) and The Mystery of M. Felix (1890). B.L. Farjeon (1833-1903) was an Australian Jew, the author of books, short stories, and dime novels and the father of composer and pianist Harry Farjeon. Agnold is a young reporter for the London Evening Moon. He is unnamed in Great Porter Square, being referred to only as Our Reporter. The books are more like early police procedurals than anything else, containing long excerpts of criminal trials, longer statements by the suspects (one such statement is over 80 pages long), and spending a great deal of time on the lives of those directly and indirectly involved in the crimes or in the central love stories; they're really slice of life novels rather than mysteries. Farjeon includes lengthy sections of letters between main characters, letters which are epistolary info-dumps and help move the plot along but don't do much else. Farjeon was a functional, utilitarian writer but not much besides that. Neither Robert Agnold novel is particularly interesting, and the most notable thing about either of them is the amount of space which Farjeon spend in describing the lives of the poor. Farjeon's sympathies were clearly with the underclasses, rather than the upper classes or the police.
Agnold is well-regarded by both the reading public and his colleagues at the Evening Moon. He's said to have "generous instincts and sympathetic nature (which) have won for him an unusual meed of respect," and during the novels he does show a considerable amount of compassion toward the unfortunate. He involves himself voluntarily in criminal cases, and while he's working in pursuit of a story it is equally important to him that an unfairly accused man not go to jail. Agnold is not cutthroat at his job, either, being willing to withhold a hot story for three days in exchange for an accused man telling him everything. Agnold has extensive knowledge of the London slums, and is very much a reporter of the street rather than of the manor houses. He is persistent: "the woof of his nature is strong and tough, and difficulties rather inspire than depress him." But Agnold is not a particularly great detective; he questions the witnesses to a crime and its obvious suspects and draws the obvious deductions, but displays no genius for crime solving, and in fact is not ultimately responsible for solving the crimes, although his investigations are certainly vital in freeing the unjustly accused and jailing the guilty.
lban. Alban appeared in Gustave LeRouge's The Princess of the Skies (1902). LeRouge was a French science fiction writer I've been able to find only a little information about. He was a pulp writer who produced a few interesting works which were written after 1902 and so are not covered here. (I do devote some space to them on my Pulp Heroes site). LeRouge's 1919 War of the Vampires (starring Robert Darvil) is well-regarded, but remains untranslated into English. Alban is the scientist-adventurer who creates the Vernean craft of the title, a ship that can fly through the skies, even at the highest altitude (and perhaps even into the vacuum of space); it is "constructed in order to be hermetically sealed," and the passengers, in airless spaces, "would be able to breathe thanks to liquid air." It is not a lighter-than-air craft, moving instead by a kind of liquid-air rocket; pseudo-retro-rockets ("a series of steel cylinders filled with liquid air with the valves pointing downward") help it take off and land. It of course has a wide range of other useful and technologically-advanced gadgets, including a translation machine and "electric rifles." Alban is not only a brilliant inventor, but insightful and inventive in other ways; when the Princess of the Skies goes down in the Himalayas and Ludovic, one of Alban's young passengers, is near death, Alban applies a liquid air cylinder directly to the heart of Ludovic and revives him. (Okay, it doesn't work when summed up, but in the flow of narrative it works. Trust me).
lberto C. Alberto C. appeared in Dalla Terra alle Stelle ("From the Earth to the Stars"), an 1887 novel by Ulisse Grifoni, an Italian writer of science fiction about whom I've been able to find little. Dalla Terra alle Stelle is about Alberto C., a young college student in Florence. In a fit of despair over both bad grades and a love affair gone awry, Alberto quits his literary studies and takes up chemistry. (Something about chemistry being more real and less imaginary, like love itself). Purely by accident, after playing around with various combinations, Alberto mixes up a paint that nullifies gravity. Alberto and his friend Professor Sandrelli build a ship, which they call the "casa volante," the "flying house," and travel around the world, seeing Africa and the Pacific, and then venture into space. They land on Mars, where (judging from the narrative frame, which tells the story in flashback) they find miniature Martians, who look like humans, and then return to Earth, where the ship sinks in a sea near the North Pole.
leriel. Aleriel, an alien, appeared in A Voice from Another World (1882) by Reverend Wladyslaw Somerville Lach-Szyrma (1841-1915). The Reverend Lach-Szyrma, a friend to the working man, founded the West Cornwall paper The Cornishman in 1878. Lach-Szyrma was English, of noble Polish descent; he taught in Cornwall, devoting himself to helping the Cornish miners. (Like I said, he was a friend of the working man) He was made the Vicar of Carnmenellis and then later Barkingside. While he wrote widely, he is best remembered (when he's remembered at all) for Aleriel. A Voice from Another World is not available anywhere, and so I can't tell you what happens in it, but Aleriel also appears in Aleriel; or a Voyage to Other Worlds (1883), the sequel to Another World. I can tell you about Aleriel (and its sequel, "Letters from the Planets" (1887-1893)). Aleriel is a native of Venus who came to Earth in a small spaceship powered by antigravity; he is a winged Venusian who is not supernatural but is functionally immortal and has various psychic powers. He initially disguised himself as Dr. Posela, a hunchback (the hunchback was to disguise the wings), and is described in this way:
He was a very short fair young man, greatly deformed around the shoulders. He was dressed in a common ouvrier's costume, with a large Breton hat and a cloak thrown over his blouse. His face, however, in spite of his coarse costume and manifest deformity, was of exquisite refinement and even beauty. His complexion was fair as a girl's, but pale even to bloodlessness. His eyes, though somewhat obscured by the hat, were most strange and brilliant. His features small and delicate. He had neither mustache nor beard, and scarcely looked above twenty.In his revealed state he has a phosphorescent corona around his body. During the Siege of Paris Aleriel saved the nameless narrator of A Voice from Another World and Aleriel from the Prussians, and Aleriel leaves the narrator on Earth and goes on to travel around the other planets, sending the letters that make up Aleriel back to the narrator. Aleriel first visits Venus, which has an advanced society and technology, including "ether cars" which work on the antigravity principle; it is a tropical paradise without sin or death whose natives have vaguely Hebraic names. Aleriel goes from there to Mars; maps of both Mars and Venus are provided within the text of Aleriel. Mars is described as being the next stage beyond Earth, with one state, language, and religion, as well as electric locomotion; its inhabitants are gigantic leonine humanoids who are virtuous, friendly, and very religious. Although they don't speak any language that humans or Venusians recognise, Aleriel can communicate with them via "international symbolism." From there Aleriel goes to Jupiter, which is a water-covered ocean with a few floating islands; its natives are gigantic fish-like humanoids who are extremely logical and who live in underwater cities. After Jupiter Aleriel proceeds to Saturn, which is essentially Earth at an earlier stage in its development, with enormous mushrooms and gigantic insectile monsters. The sequel to Aleriel, which is of even littler interest than Aleriel, simply expands on the interior worlds, with Mercury being visited for the first time (it is full of technologically-advanced inhabitants--more so than the Venusians--who live in floating cities) and the moon being found to have been inhabited long ago by an advanced civilisation.
lice. Alice was created by “Lewis Carroll” and appeared in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). “Lewis Carroll” was the pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898). Dodgson was a Reverend and resident at the Oxford college of Christ Church, where he taught mathematics. But what he is known for is, of course, the Alice books, the most famous children’s books of them all.
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Alice, a British schoolgirl, notices a white rabbit in a waistcoat run by her and disappear down a rabbit-hole. Alice follows the rabbit down the hole and after a long drop lands in a hall, from which she begins a series of adventures in Wonderland, eating and drinking food that makes her change her shape, surviving a flood, encountering a number of various ill-tempered talking animals, meeting a giant persnickety hookah-smoking caterpillar, meeting a very cranky Duchess, speaking with a vanishing Cheshire Cat, attending a peculiar tea party and then an even stranger garden and croquet party overseen by the terrifying Queen of Hearts, listening to the story of the singing Mock Turtle, witnessing a trial about some stolen tarts, and finally waking up, for it had all been a curious dream. In Through the Looking Glass, set six months later, Alice walks through a mirror and enters Wonderland again. She is a literal pawn in a chess game and makes her way across the board that is Wonderland, meeting talking flowers and the Red Queen, visiting a strange shop, meeting the dumpy, feuding twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the slow and stupid White Queen, the pedantic and grumpy Humpty Dumpty, the battling Lion and Unicorn, and is threatened by the Red Knight and rescued by the White Knight. Alice finally makes it to the end of the board and is Queened herself, and attends a banquet in her honor. At the end of the banquet she wakes up, for it had all been another dream.
As with Sherlock Holmes, I find myself at something of a loss as to what to say, in any cogent fashion, about Alice. It is the most canonized children’s book in existence, translated into more languages than any book save the Bible, and read almost as widely now as a century ago. I’d bet that nearly everyone reading these words has read Dodgson and remembers the books, and because of their content, remembers them vividly. The Alice books are likely commented on by academics almost as often as the Sherlock Holmes books are, and from more disciplines, especially math. The Alice books have contributed numerous cliches to the English language. What can I possibly add?
As with Holmes, two things: personal reaction, and historical importance.The Alice books have always been popular, but what we today forget about is the effect that Dodgson’s work had on the genre of children’s literature. Before Dodgson, stories written specifically for children had a moralistic and didactic element to them; they were intended to teach children proper morals and behavior. There were of course fairy tales of various stripes as well as adventure stories which were aimed at children; Captain Marryat’s Masterman Ready was one such, as was Thomas Mayne Reid’s The Rifle Rangers (see the Captain Haller entry). But through all of these ran a heavy strain of moralizing, and the notion that what the children read must be morally instructive was never far from their authors’ minds. There were one or two exceptions to this, such as Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House (1839), but though popular these exceptions did not spawn imitators. Even books as dark as Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter (1845, and a book which I’ll include here sooner or later) had moralizing elements to them. This changed with the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Reverend Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies. The Water Babies (which I cursorily cover in the Child Heroes section but which otherwise won’t be getting a write-up on these pages) brought a realism to the genre of children’s fiction in its treatment of the plight of child chimney sweeps and established that was possible to write a story for children that was both popular and at least partially rooted in the real world. But The Water Babies was a didactic novel, albeit one aimed at changing the minds of adults as much as children. Alice was not aimed at changing anyone’s mind. There is no moralizing or didactic aspect to Alice and Looking Glass. Both are nonsense satires which lampoon adults but make no attempt to instruct children. This was revolutionary in children’s fiction and allowed for the maturation of the genre.
So how do they read? Well, of course, but the adult reader’s enjoyment of the stories is likely to be hampered somewhat by their over-familiarity. If you’re like me, and I know I am, you read the Alice booksdozens of times in your childhood, and even though that was almost thirty years ago, many of the episodes remain very familiar. Even a gap of nearly thirty years’ time isn’t enough to make them feel fresh and new to me. Too, so many of aspects of the Alice books have been taken by our literary and popular culture for similes, metaphors, and phrases in general, so that one can be forgiven for briefly feeling one’s reading a collection of cliches.
What will be particularly striking will be the almost poetic precision of Dodgson’s phrasing. Even though Dodgson uses a conversational tone and naturalistic dialogue, he still manages to derive the maximum effect from the minimum of words. The poems themselves are wonderfully evocative–“Jabberwockey” succeeds in conjuring up a vivid world despite its use of neologisms and made-up words–but there are numerous smaller exchanges and moments which adult readers will appreciate more than they did as children, such as the description of the dreaming Red King from Through the Looking Glass:
"He's dreaming now," said Tweedledee: "and what do you think he'sdreaming about?"In only 85 words Dodgson succeeds in introducing the reader to ontological horror–no mean feat.
Alice said, "Nobody can guess that."
"Why, about you!" Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. "And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you'd be?"
"Where I am now, of course," said Alice.
"Not you!" Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. "You'd be nowhere.Why, you're only a sort of thing in his dream!"
"If that there King was to wake," added Tweedledum, "you'd go out-- bang! -- just like a candle!"
It’s in scenes like that Dodgson’s work is best appreciated by adults rather than children. Children have always enjoyed Alice and Looking Glass, though it only achieved Canon status after Dodgson’s death. But Dodgson incorporated a huge amount of material, from the philosophical to the mathematical to the satirical, which children might find humorous but won’t fully appreciate, not in the way that children can. No doubt many of us, as children, sensed the frightening implications of the Tweedles’ description of the Red King’s dreams, but we weren’t able to articulate it. As adults, we’re better equipped to fully understand just how terrifying the conception of the Red King and his dreams are, or grasp the exquisite parodies and bad poetry, or enjoy how Dodgson works out the chess metaphor in Through the Looking Glass. There’s actually a great deal of material that Dodgson aimed at his contemporary adult audience, satires of political figures and then-common poems and sayings. The modern reader is likely to miss all of these without the help of annotations, which is why Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice is such a boon. Gardener and his contributors do a splendid job of teasing out all the many meanings and references which Dodgson included and will multiply by orders the modern reader’s enjoyment of Dodgson’s work. Although the logical nonsense and colorful absurdities are enjoyable by everyone, the annotations make the books a whole new experience for readers.
It was a surprise to me, reading the books after decades away, just how much John Tenniel’s illustrations added to my appreciation of the books. There have been other illustrators of the two books, from Barry Moser to Ralph Steadman to DeLoss McGraw, but Tenniel remains the classic for most of us, and with good reason. It’s not just that his were the illustrations we saw as children and so we associate his images with the books. Tenniel’s work is memorable in its own right and splendidly portrays several scenes in ways that Dodgson’s text couldn’t.
Finally, two things will surprise the modern reader: how grim the books can be, and how unpleasant the adults can be. There’s a distinct motif of death running through the books, from the Queen of Hearts’ calls for decapitation to Alice’s worry that if she shrinks too far she will go “out altogether, like a candle.” This, combined with the recurring rudeness and abuse which the child Alice endures from the adult characters, no doubt explains part of the books’ appeal for children.
Alice, in Dodgson’s words, combines “youth, audacity, vigour, and swift direction of purpose.” She’s polite, but resourceful, and though a child displays great pluck.
listair. Alistair was created by Vincent O’Sullivan and appeared in “When I Was Dead” (A Book of Bargains, 1896). O’Sullivan (1872-1940) is one of the best horror fiction writers of the past few centuries; the degree to which his name draws no recognition from most horror fans says much about modern horror fans’ ignorance of their genre. O’Sullivan belongs more to the 20th century than the 19th, which is a real shame, since several of his 20th century short stories are masterpieces of the form. But I’ll be including three of his early works on the site, with the recommendation that you search out his later work, such as “Basil Holderness” or “They.”
“When I Was Dead” is about Alistair, the curmudgeonly owner of Ravenel Hall, an unpleasant manse which has no visitors–there’s something about it which they don’t like and which sets their nerves on edge. Alistair admits these things but doesn’t care; he’s too busy working on his theory that “if you place some drops of human blood near you, and then concentrate your thoughts, you will after a while see before you a man or a woman who will stay with you during long hours of the night, and even meet you at unexpected places during the day.” Alistair has some luck, conjuring up an old woman, but “when I tried to construct the eyes she would shrivel and rot in my sight.” Then one night, as he is “thinking, thinking, as I had never thought before,” there is a terrible crash, and his servants begin entering his library and crying out at what they see. More of the servants gather, and they ignore Alistair’s commands to them, and they act as if he is dead, which Alistair refuses to believe. A doctor sees the body and pronounces the verdict, and Alistair merely wanders the house. Alistair’s sister, who he hates, visits, and when he tries to stab her in the neck she does not die. And then the funeral passes, and finally he sees “a black thread winding slowly across the white plain” and he says, “I’m not dead! Sweet God, I am not dead.”
The idea of “When I Was Not Dead” is cliched to us now: the dead man who doesn’t know that he is a ghost. It’s O’Sullivan’s execution that makes the story so memorable. The tone is deadpan intensity, so that Alistair can talk, in a very matter of fact way, about the shade of the old woman he’s conjured up, and how “very complete” she is, except “alas! She was eyeless.” But Alistair grows increasingly shrill and desperate in his efforts to convince himself that he’s not dead, and his emotions, such as his hate for his sister, posses him, and the final quote leaves us with an insane ghost who refuses to accept his unlife. O’Sullivan’s descriptions are excellent; his sketch of Ravenel Hall–“the passages were long and gloomy, the rooms were musty and dull, even the pictures were sombre and their subjects dire...at Ravenel the chain of nerves was prone to clash and jangle a funeral march”–is quite vivid, but he pointedly omits any description of Alistair’s corpse, so that we know that Alistair is refusing to admit he sees it until he must.
Alistair is an intense, irascible, anti-social man whose grip on life is so strong, or his denial of his own death so powerful, that he blinds himself to his own status and becomes that frightening thing, an insane ghost.
“When I Was Dead” is a sharp, well-crafted short work which puzzles on a first reading and is more appreciated the more it is considered.
Clarence appeared in the Chicago Record in the late 1890s in stories
like “Clarence Allen, the Hypnotic Boy Journalist; or, the Mysterious Disappearance
of the United States Government Bonds." He was created by George Ade (1866-1944),
a columnist for the Record as well as a dime novelist. Clarence
is twelve years old and a Chicago native. He’s quite talented, capable
of being the city’s best newspaperman while also being an expert hypnotist,
a very good detective, and “manly” and “strikingly handsome.” A shame his
stories are rather dull, eh?
l-Raschid, Caliph Haroun. Caliph Haroun al-Raschid, Commander and Protector of the Faithful, was of course a real person, the Caliph of Baghdad (763-809). But he became a cultural hero for Arabs and the subject of any number of Arabian Nights-style stories. This particular fictional Haroun al-Raschid was created by "Al Arawiyah," the penname of H.N. Crellin, and appeared in Tales of the Caliph (1885). Horatio Nelson Crellin is something of a mystery; I know that he wrote Caliph and a sort of sequel, Romances of the Old Seraglio (1894), as well as a historical drama, The Nazarenes (1894), and the lyrics to The Maiden's Khaki Song (1900), but apart from that I know nothing about him, including his birth/death dates. (I suspect that he was British, given how his works appear in the British Library but not in American libraries, but I can't prove that).
Tales of the Caliph is a light and not overly serious set of stories about the adventures of Haroun al-Raschid during his reign as Caliph of Baghdad. Now, when I say "not overly serious" I am not denigrating the work. To the contrary; the light touch of Crellin perfectly matches the tone he is going for. There are serious heroic fantasies from Muslim cultures--what is The Book of Dede Korkut but a heroic fantasy?--but on the whole they're tedious religious tracts with entirely too much seriousness and not nearly enough humor. The Arabian Nights has some of that; Tales of the Caliph has more. And a good thing, too, since it's the lightness and humor of Caliph that makes it fun. Crellin is enjoying himself with Caliph and not taking what he's writing too seriously, and the result is a very enjoyable set of stories.
The stories are linked, all beginning with the same premise: that Caliph Haroun
was in the habit, as every one knows, of wandering very frequently through the town after nightfall in various disguises to see for himself that justice was done, and also, it may be confessed, by no means loth to encounter such adventures as he might meet with.It's not that Caliph Haroun is a glory hound, exactly. It's just that being Caliph is so boring. So whenever he gets the chance Caliph Haroun leaves his palace disguised as a merchant, accompanied only by his faithful Grand Vizier, Giafer (thus breaking the Pterry rule that all Grand Viziers are evil: "Once you were in the hands of a Grand Vizier, you were dead. Grand Viziers were always scheming megalomaniacs. It was probably in the job description: 'Are you a devious, plotting, unreliable madman? Ah, good, then you can be my most trusted minister'"), and occasionally by Haroun's bodyguard Mesrúr. Together they wander about Baghdad (or sometimes other cities of Haroun's empire) and see what adventures they can find and hear what stories they will be told.
What results are a series of stories-within-stories in the Arabian Nights style, so that the plot of a story continually twists and changes; what begins as an investigation into palace theft becomes the kidnapping of the Caliph becomes a story of warring kings becomes the Caliph escaping from captivity with the help of a brooch which bestows invisibility which becomes the Caliph trekking through heathen countryside which becomes Haroun (still incognito) being told by two merchants what they think of the Caliph. Which then becomes one of the merchants telling the Caliph his life story, and part of the merchant's story involves someone he meets telling him a story about a marriage gone wrong. And, perhaps, in the middle of that story, the wife will describe her own life story. And then....
But you see the technique. There are those who don't enjoy this sort of thing. I pity them, as they're missing out on some good literary fun.
Some of the stories involve: a faithful blind fisherman getting his just deserts, and his evil, selfish brother getting his ("Haroun ordered the Cadi at once to make over formally the whole of his property to his two brothers, the Caliph adding with his usual grim humor, 'As you are a man of the law, it is fit that you do justice in a legal way.' And then added, addressing Mesrúr, 'And now impale him.'"); an old man selling magic unguents to the Caliph to pay for his granddaughter's living conditions; an evil Emir imprisoning his son and attempting to rape his daughter-in-law; the discovery of the most powerful fence in Baghdad, and how his elderly son, a beggar, refused to take a single piece of ill-gotten silver from him; a merchant who has truly earned his name of Murad Essed the Unfortunate Merchant; the Caliph's wife allowing a childhood friend to visit her in her quarters (a crime for which the Caliph nearly beheads both); a man who resembles the Caliph impersonating him, with generally good results for all concerned; and a man who makes the mistake of predicting, for the Caliph, a future which is highly illogical.
Interestingly, some of the stories have science fictional elements. Arabian Nights stories are most often supernatural, with jinnees and flying carpets and the like, and Tales of the Caliph is no exception. There is the invisibility brooch, and the ointments the Caliph purchases from the old man allow him to see through walls and to understand the languages of the animals. But there are also two science fictional items in the stories: a vision involving interplanetary travel (to a Utopia in which "religion" is unknown, because all men live Islam and so have no need to know it) and a "magic tube" which the bearer uses to see Britain in the 19th century. (This is the future which the Caliph objects to: "'What!' he exclaimed, "can your magic tube, when it pretends to show us future times and other nations, invent no more probably and coherent wonders?'")
The Caliph himself is very passionate and easily bored. He is a good Muslim and desires justice as well as to rule his empire wisely, but he has a short temper and is known for beheading those who displease him. In the words of a merchant, speaking to a disguised Haroun: "He is...a just man, and very brave, but fierce, hot-tempered, and hasty. And as he is very apt to lose his temper, those who have to do with him are very liable to lose their heads." He has a "grim humor" which involves an occasional dark poetic justice inflicted on wrongdoers, but on the whole he is a good man, noted for his "intrepidity and hardihood."
Tales of the Caliph is entertaining and well-written. Crellin gets the tone and the pace of Arabian Nights stories just right, and obviously had fun writing the stories. While it's not Art, Tales of the Caliph is certainly more enjoyable than a lot of its contemporaries, and a modern reprinting would not be amiss.
mbrosio. Ambrosio was created by M.G. Lewis and appeared in The Monk: A Romance (1796). Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818) was a Member of Parliament, wrote several Gothics and over a dozen plays, and as the owner of a Jamaican plantation twice instituted slave reforms, but he will always be known as the author of The Monk, one of the greatest of the Gothics and the quintessence, with The Castle of Otranto (see the Manfred entry) and Melmoth the Wanderer, of the form. Ambrosio is one of the classic villains of Gothic literature.
Father Ambrosio is the marvel of Madrid, universally recognized as the most learned and virtuous of the city’s monks. Ambrosio is a very strict and proud man, and his brand of Catholicism is intolerant of sin and lacking in mercy. But the citizens of Madrid love him, and the woman of Madrid visit his church not out of piety but out of adoration for him. In the audience one day is a lovely young woman, Antonia, and her mother, Elvira, who have come to Madrid to get financial help from one of their relatives, Marquis Raymond. Antonia is very impressed with Ambrosio, immediately idolizing him. Antonia meets Don Lorenzo de Medina, a young nobleman, who is so charmed by Antonia, who is a fetching and sweet innocent, and Lorenzo promises to intercede with Raymond on Antonia’s behalf. But Lorenzo learns that Raymond is the man supposedly responsible for Agnes, Lorenzo’s sister, entering the convent, and so Lorenzo challenges Raymond, but Raymond asks Lorenzo to suspend his judgment until Raymond can explain himself. Agnes had been persuaded by unscrupulous relatives that Raymond was dead, and so she entered the convent. Raymond discovered that she was there and began visiting her by night, but when she found she was pregnant with his child and tried to arrange an escape with him, she is found out by Ambrosio, who shows no mercy to her, despite her pleas, and turns her over to the Mother Superior, who imprisons her, intending to starve her to death, and then tells Lorenzo that Agnes is dead. Lorenzo doesn’t believe it, though everyone else does, and begins investigating. Meanwhile Ambrosio discovers that Rosario, a young man who is his best friend in the monastery, is actually Matilda, a young woman who is further hugely in love with him. Ambrosio wants her to leave immediately, but she pleads with him to let her stay and even threatens to kill herself if she is forced to leave. Ambrosio’s pride is flattered by this, and Matilda’s beauty (what he can see of it) appeals to him, and so he allows her to stay. Matilda slowly leads him on, making him want her, and eventually, after pretending to save his life, she succeeds in seducing him. Ambrosio is at first ashamed of what he’s done, but this taste of the sexual life is too much for his better impulses, and so he and Matilda continue to sex--but surreptitiously, since Ambrosio doesn’t want to lose his reputation and good name. But Ambrosio eventually grows tired of sex with Matilda, and his infatuation with her turns to contempt, not helped by the revelation that Matilda is using magic to summon up devils. This pains Matilda, but she knows there’s nothing she can do about it. Ambrosio turns his attention to Antonia and becomes obsessed with her. Antonia has no clue that Ambrosio lusts after her and approaches him for help with her sick mother. Ambrosio visits and tries to manhandle her, but Elvira walks in on them and so Ambrosio has to go. Matilda, now acting only as Ambrosio’s friend (i.e., withholding sex from him), gives him a magic myrtle which is guaranteed to put Antonia into a magical sleep so that Ambrosio can rape her without resistance. Ambrosio tries this, but Elvira, Antonia’s mother, is warned in a dream about the rape and interrupts Ambrosio, threatening to tell the city about what he really is. Ambrosio strangles Elvira and then returns to his cell. Ambrosio, more obsessed with Antonia than ever, gets a magic potion from Matilda which plunges Antonia into a near-death state. Everyone thinks Antonia is dead, and Ambrosio has her body put into a dungeon beneath the monastery, and when she recovers from the drug he rapes her. When it’s over she tries to escape, and in a panic Ambrosio stabs her in the chest.
While this has been going on, Lorenzo has gotten an order to arrest the Mother Superior for the murder of Agnes. The common people of Madrid are infuriated when they hear about this and form a mob, storming and burning the convent and tearing the Mother Superior to pieces in the street. The mob then attacks the monastery. Lorenzo discovers the nearly starved Agnes and her newborn baby in the dungeon and then finds Antonia. They express their love for each other and Antonia then dies. Ambrosio and Matilda are arrested by the Inquisition and put to the question. Matilda confesses to everything and is condemned to the auto-da-fe. Ambrosio confesses to the things he did but does not confess to having sold his soul to the devil. After being tortured he changes his tune and is also condemned to be burned at the stake. Ambrosio is frightened of the torments to come, and at his low point Matilda appears and tells him she is going to escape and enjoy her life, because she’s just sold her soul to Satan. She gives him the means to do likewise, and after wrestling with temptation he gives in and does so in exchange for his freedom. The devil (or perhaps The Devil) takes him away from his cell, but then taunts him, telling him that he was about to be pardoned but now has sold his soul forever and that Elvira was his mother and Antonia was his sister. Then the devil, who of course is never to be trusted in deals like this, drops Ambrosio on to a mountain, where he lingers in agony for six days before dying on the seventh.
The Monk was enormously popular when it first appeared and made Lewis’ name and fortune. It has attracted all sorts of fun quotes, both at the time of its publication and more recently. One reviewer, apocryphally Coleridge, said that it was such a morally foul book that “if a parent saw [it] in the hands of a son or daughter, he might reasonably turn pale.” Byron himself called it “the philtred ideas of a jaded voluptuary.” And Frederick Frank, a noted critic of the Gothics, described it in this way:
With its potent intermixture of satanism, supernaturalism, sexuality and sadism The Monk rapidly fixed itself in the public mind as the locus classicus of the novel of horror. The Monk struck its first readers as a deliberate and welcome rebuttal to the non-violent values of Radcliffean Gothic romance. It repudiated all of the subtler ways of terror, offering no mysteries, no prolonged suspense, no pretended supernatural, no genealogical reconciliations, and no pity for its sufferers and sinners.So how does it hold up? How is the average intelligent reader of today going to find The Monk?
Pretty good, actually. It’s not perfect, naturally. Lewis’ prose style is unquestionably dated and somewhat stiff, and the novel is old enough to have a vocabulary whose usages and meanings is slightly different from our own, which can be disconcerting. Lewis occasionally pokes fun at women, and like so many of his contemporaries is given to long-winded monologues. As in so many of the Gothics, the villain is more interesting than the hero, and the story of Don Lorenzo and Agnes is significantly less interesting than that of Ambrosio, and can be skipped with little loss. And, as in so many of the Gothics, Lewis indulges in no small amount of Catholic-bashing. However, Lewis’ objection to the Church is not a simplistic Catholicism-is-evil-because-it-is-wrong argument, as appears in so many other Gothics. The Monk’s argument against Catholicism lies not so much in the wickedness of its practitioners as in the way in which, according to the novel, the religion represses human sexuality and leaves no room for men’s and women’s natural urges. This still results in Catholic-bashing, but it’s a more solidly reasoned Catholic-bashing than writers like Eugene Sue, in The Wandering Jew (see the Father Rodin entry), and Charles Kingsley, in Hypatia (see the Raphael Aben-Ezra entry above) and Westward Ho! (see the Amyas Leigh entry), engaged in.
All of that being said, however, The Monk is very readable and quite enjoyable–much more so than anything Anne Radcliffe wrote, more than The Castle of Otranto, and more than Melmoth the Wanderer. Of all the great, classic Gothics, The Monk is the most purely enjoyable, from a reader’s perspective, if not of the best quality. And, make no mistake, The Monk is one of the great, classic Gothics.
In terms of the history of the Gothic genre, there are a few landmark works, books universally recognized (by the critics, if no one else, for who else reads Gothics these days but critics, academics, and the occasional oddball like me?). There is The Castle of Otranto, which essentially started the genre. (As I mention in the Manfred entry, Otranto wasn’t the first Gothic, but it was influential where its predecessors weren’t, laying the groundwork for what followed). There is The Mysteries of Udolpho (see the Count Montoni entry), which popularized the Gothic motifs and established the rationalized & anti-supernatural version of the Gothic novel. There is Melmoth the Wanderer, the generally recognized high point of the genre. And there is The Monk, which took the supernatural aspects of Otranto and multiplied them by several orders. The Monk popularized the supernatural version of the Gothic novel and acted as a repudiation of the Radcliffean rationalist tradition. There are two conflicting currents in the Gothic genre, the supernatural and the rational/anti-supernatural, and The Monk set the standard for the former, as Udolpho did for the latter. Lewis was influenced by German literature and folklore in writing The Monk and can be credited with introducing the German influence into the writing of the Gothic. The Monk also was the first Gothic to make use of the Wandering Jew, who along with the German folklore figure the Bleeding Nun appears in Raymond’s story, and was the first Gothic to use the Faustian bargain. Both the Wandering Jew and the Faustian figure and bargain would become conventions in the Gothic genre. And, finally, Lewis was the first writer of the Gothics to make the villain the protagonist of the story, another move which would become a Gothic convention.
Influence is hardly all that The Monk has going for it, though, and is not why the book is so enjoyable. The Monk has some fun plot twists, and if you’ve never read it before and were clever enough to skip my plot summary you are likely to be surprised by some of what takes place–Rosario turning out to be a woman, for example, and sweet, loving Matilda becoming a temptress. The magic sequences, especially Matilda’s summoning of the devil, is vivid and memorable and the equal of what you might read in a modern dark fantasy novel. Lewis sets a good pace in making his way through the plot; he doesn’t linger over many scenes, and although there is a lot of plot to get through, the pages still turn. The book is shot through with sex, which I of course enjoy, and it’s easy to see why previous generations considered it pornography. And there’s some real acuity to the characterization of Ambrosio. He’s a very realistic character, and with very recognizable traits and flaws, and his weakness, his struggle with his urges, his inability to resist temptation, and his descent into hypocrisy and evil are very plausible and lifelike.
But The Monk is also a very dark book, and for many people their enjoyment of Lewis’ work will be tempered by this darkness. The Monk is shot through with sex, yes. In fact, it’s obsessed with it. Ambrosio becomes so goatish that he even dreams of having sex with the Madonna, and the book, like Ambrosio himself, fixates on Antonia, so that the reader would be justified in feeling a queasy voyeuristic complicity in her rape. The Monk is more sensual and carnal, more concerned with basic human drives and urges and emotions, than other Gothics. It’s a more visceral story, and Lewis uses the carnality not for sensationalism’s sake but as a part of his anti-Catholicism, pro-sexuality argument.
The Monk doesn’t stint on savagery and darkness. There is the incestuous rape of Antonia on a bed of rotting corpses, a scene which lingers in the mind. There is the Prioress killed in the street, torn apart by the enraged mob. There is the emotional cruelty which Ambrosio uses against first Agnes and then Matilda, during that period when Ambrosio has tired of Matilda and before she has gone completely to the dark side. There are the murders–not briefly told–of Elvira and Antonia, matricide and sororicide, and the torment of Agnes. The Monk has a wide range of vile human behaviors, and while such things are a part of the schauerroman, or “shudder novel,” the German genre of novels which Lewis was attempting to imitate, there’s always the feeling that Lewis is reveling in the horrors he shows the reader, rather than reviling them along with us. Lewis seems to linger a little too long over some moments, and draws others, like Antonia’s suffering, out too long. To say that The Monk is indulgent is to understate the case. It wallows in its excess, its showcasing of the humanity’s darker urges. There’s a real energy and liveliness in its lack of restraint. And that’s a big reason why it is so readable. The Monk may wallow in the sewer, but in doing so it shows more verve and energy and life than the comparatively wooden Mysteries of Udolpho.
Ambrosio is the classic Gothic Hero-Villain. Although Manfred, in The Castle of Otranto, was the first, and Vathek is another important one, it was Ambrosio who was most influential on succeeding Hero-Villains. I go into the character type in some detail in the Gothic Hero-Villains section. There’s a lovely long passage about halfway through The Monk which details Ambrosio’s background and wonderfully describes the typical Hero-Villain character, and so rather than repeat the description of the Hero-Villain I wrote in the Gothic Hero-Villains section and in the Melmoth the Wanderer entry, among other places, I’ll simply quote, briefly, from The Monk:
Had his Youth been passed in the world, He would have shown himself possessed of many brilliant and manly qualities. He was naturally enterprizing, firm, and fearless: He had a Warrior's heart, and He might have shone with splendour at the head of an Army. There was no want of generosity in his nature: The Wretched never failed to find in him a compassionate Auditor: His abilities were quick and shining, and his judgment, vast, solid, and decisive. With such qualifications He would have been an ornament to his Country...The fact was, that the different sentiments with which Education and Nature had inspired him were combating in his bosom: It remained for his passions, which as yet no opportunity had called into play, to decide the victory...for a time, spare diet, frequent watching, and severe penance cooled and represt the natural warmth of his constitution: But no sooner did opportunity present itself, no sooner did He catch a glimpse of joys to which He was still a Stranger, than Religion's barriers were too feeble to resist the overwhelming torrent of his desires. All impediments yielded before the force of his temperament, warm, sanguine, and voluptuous in the excess.Ambrosio, as mentioned, is a man of many qualities. He is very intelligent, quite learned, a great orator, an individual of great emotions and passions and drive. But even before his fall he was too proud, both of his status and of his supposed invulnerability to temptation. Unfortunately, he had not been tempted by the sins of the flesh, and it was that lure he could not resist.
ncient Mariner. The Ancient Mariner was created by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and appeared in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (Lyrical Ballads, 1798). Coleridge (1772-1834) was a major poet of English literature in the first half of the 19th century. His best work, including “Ancient Mariner,” “Christabel,” and “Kubla Khan,” are firmly entrenched in the Canon. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a work usually assigned in high school and college. Most adults don’t read after school, which is a shame, because it’s an excellent work of horror.
A man is about to join a wedding feast when he is taken aside by an old sailor. The sailor transfixes the wedding guest with an occult stare, and the wedding guest, against his will, is forced to sit and listen to the Mariner’s story. The sailor had been on a ship which had sailed around the world, but the ship was caught in an ice floe. An albatross appeared and guided the ship to freedom, and the crew treated it well, but the ancient Mariner shot it with his crossbow. This act of evil–for the killing of an albatross is against the laws of hospitality and the sea–brings upon the Mariner a curse, and when the other sailors try to justify such killings as long as the bird killed is one that brings fog and mist rather than sunshine, the curse descends upon them. The crew hate the Mariner for his act and tie the albatross’ corpse around his neck. The ship enters the Pacific Ocean and is becalmed. Days pass and the ship is stuck, and at night strange lights are seen and some of the crew have visions in dreams. The crew begins to die of thirst, and then a ship draws close to them. The ship is propelled by no wind or tide and is a bare skeleton, with thin, limp sails. This ship has a crew of two, a deathly, Life-in-Death Night-mare woman and her mate, Death. They dice for the crew of the Mariner’s ship, and the woman wins them. All the crew die except for the Mariner, and he, accursed, is stuck on the ship, surrounded by dead men, for a week. The Mariner sees some beautiful water snakes dancing on the water and unconsciously blesses them, and the albatross falls off his neck. Then the dead men move and crew the ship again, and it moves without wind or tide. The Mariner sees that angels are animating the bodies, and after they sail back to the equator the Mariner falls into a trance. He hears two angels discussing him, and one says that he has done penance and has more to do. The ship returns to the Mariner’s home, and a local hermit rows out to the ship. The hermit rescues the Mariner as the Mariner’s ship sinks, and the Mariner confesses to him and is shriven. The Mariner is cursed to wander from land to land and suffer periodic fits of agony until he finds a man to whom he can tell his story. The Mariner releases the wedding guest, who is a sadder and wiser man for the story.
The realm of horror poetry is one I know little of, but I suspect that “Ancient Mariner” is rarely considered to be a part of that genre. Most people likely think of it as part of the Canon, which (of course) means that it couldn’t possibly be something as lowly as genre work, especially that awful, icky thing called “horror.” Too, when Coleridge wrote “Rime” there was no distinct horror genre. By the end of the 18th century there were fairy tales and kunstmärchen (see the Zerina entry for more on them) with frightening elements to them, and there were of course the Gothics, with the Castle of Otranto (see the Manfred entry) and Vathek in particular offering horrific moments, but the idea that stories designed to frighten belonged in a separate, distinct category had not been conceived of. So people likely don’t think of “Rime” as horror in part because it comes from a time before horror as a separate genre had been conceived. Finally, the overtly religious element of “Rime” probably leads people to consider it as separate from presumably atheistic or anti-Christian horror fiction.
But the modern reader is likely to read it and be struck by the large horrific content of the poem. There are scenes which linger in the mind after the poem ends: the crew dying of thirst, their tongues “withered at the root,” watching
slimy things...crawl with legsthe skeleton ship and its nightmare crew casting dice for the lives of the ships crew; the Mariner trapped on the ship while the dead men crew the ship:
Upon the slimy sea.
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night
The water, like a witch’s oils
Burnt green, and blue and white.
The cold sweat melted from their limbsAnd, of course, the Mariner himself, a doomed wanderer, holding his victims fast with his “glittering eye.”
Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.
An orphan’s curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! More horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man’s eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse
And yet I could not die.
The Mariner is a kind of Wandering Jew figure, albeit one without the anti-Semitic overtones. It’s an interesting treatment of the character type. The Mariner is Catholic, and Judaism and the specifically Christian elements of the Wandering Jew myth are never mentioned, but Coleridge undoubtedly knew of the myth. The Mariner combines not just the myth of the Wandering Jew but also the myth of Cain, who, let’s remember, is doomed to wander.
“Rime” is a highly entertaining poem. It’s hardly perfect, though. (My old lit. professors are no doubt shrieking with horror at this point). Coleridge has some embarrassingly simplistic rhymes in “Rime,” and his mastery of pacing and tone occasionally slips. On the whole, however, it’s usually marvelous. Coleridge creates evocative and striking images (of the woman dicing for the sailors’ lives: “Her lips were red, her looks were free/Her locks were yellow as gold;/Her skin was as white as leprosy,/the Night-mare Life-in-Death was she,/Who thicks man’s blood with cold/;” of the ship: “Her beams bemocked the sultry main,/Like April hoar-frost spread;/But where the ship’s huge shadow lay,/The charméd water burnt alway/A still and awful red”), he manipulates vocabulary, line length, and pacing to reflect the aspect and moment of the Mariner’s story, implies some crucial things rather than states them out loud (and in doing so lends them power), and the story of the Mariner’s sin, repentance, and salvation has a real power to it, even for the jaded modern reader.
The Ancient Mariner did a foolish, evil thing–why, we’ll never know. But he suffered for it, becoming an old man, with a “long grey beard and glittering eye.” He has a “skinny hand! And thou art long, and lank, and brown/As in the ribbed sea-sand.” His eye is bright and his beard is hoar. And he is of course cursed to wander, and afflicted by periodic agonies. But he teaches the wedding guest a good lesson:
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.
ndreyich, Pyotr. Pyotr Andreyich was created by Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin and appeared in Kapitanskaia dochka (The Captain’s Daughter, 1836). Pushkin (1799-1837) is one of Russia’s greatest poets and a brilliant writer whose work remains solidly, and with justification, in the canon of world literature. (Putting Pushkin on the same site as Bracebridge Hemyng and Luis Senarens makes me think that this entire project may somehow have gone disastrously wrong). The Captain’s Daughter is set during the 1773 rebellion of the Don Cossack Emelian Pugachev against Empress Catherine II. Pyotr Andreyich is the son of a former soldier and a nobleman. When Pyotr reaches age seventeen his father decides it’s time for him to become a man and so sends him off to join the army. Pyotr is given a position at the Belgorsky Fortress, on the edge of the steppes, and there becomes embroiled in Pugachev’s rebellion. Pyotr meets his future wife at the Fortress, the Captain’s Daughter of the story’s title, and inadvertently saves Pugachev’s life. Pugachev returns the favor later on, sparing Pyotr when many others in the Fortress are killed. Pyotr endures battles, separation from his wife, and being jailed, finally being reunited with his wife (who is responsible for Pyotr’s final freedom from jail). Pugachev is eventually hanged and Pyotr and Marya, his wife, live happily ever after.
The Captain’s Daughter is highly regarded by critics, who see it as one of the best historical novels in the Russian language. My exposure to Russian historical novels is limited, admittedly, but I have to wonder what that statement says about other Russian historicals. The Captain’s Daughter was not, in my view, much more than average. Pushkin does a good job of conveying what life would have been like for a soldier at the time, although the essentially romantic nature of the novel leads me to think that there’s a level of unpleasant detail which Pushkin left out. The Captain’s Daughter lacks the venomous patriotism and ethnic bigotry which marred Taras Bulba and With Fire And Sword (see the Yan Skshetuski entry); there’s only one anti-Semitic comment, and that a throwaway one-liner. The novel has the usual Russian seriousness and lack of irony; Pushkin, though modeling himself on the work of Sir Walter Scott, doesn’t display a self-awareness of genre conventions–by which I mean, someone like Stanley Weyman, in his stories, is usually winking at the reader and saying, “I’ve got a great story here–I hope you enjoy it.” Pushkin doesn’t do that, and while a lack of obvious self-awareness can often be a good thing, in this case it isn’t. Some reviewers see various themes (including “violence, revolt, the threat of death, honor, relations with parents, the beneficence of sovereigns, and finally the sovereign's involvement in marital happiness”) in The Captain’s Daughter as marking it out as superior to most historical romances. These themes are present in many historicals, and many of those are better written (Pushkin’s style is extremely utilitarian and non-decorative) and more entertaining.
Pyotr Andreyich is an immature and headstrong young man of no particular skill at arms. He’s passionate, but not exceptionally so, and given to the pouts and sulks of many young men. He tries to be a dutiful son, although his father makes this difficult. His greatest character trait is his sense of honor; he tries to be a good soldier and faithful servant of the Empress no matter what, and would rather die than betray the Empress.
The Captain’s Daughter is entertaining, but nothing more than that. Better you should read Stanley Weyman or one of the other Yellow Nineties Swashbuckler authors.
nodos. Anodos was created by George Macdonald and appeared in Phantastes (1858). Macdonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish novelist, poet, and minister. He was well thought of during his lifetime for his regional fiction, but is now remembered primarily for his fantasy fiction, both for children (like At the Back of the North Wind) and for adults, like Phantastes. Phantastes is obviously the product of thought and care, but is less than the sum of its parts.
Anodos is a Bildungsroman, or story about the development and maturation of a young man or woman. In this case the young man is Anodos, who in some ways is a very callow and selfish 21 year old. One day, after his father has died, Anodos meets his fairy godmother, who tells him that he will on the morrow find the way to Fairy-Land. And so Anodos does, beginning a series of adventures which eventually help him mature into a better person. In the first adventure he wanders through the woods of Fairy-Land, meeting some of the natives and despite being warned against her is seduced by the Maid of the Alder Tree, only being saved from consumption by the ogrish Ash tree by a knight who the Maid had previously seduced. In the second adventure Anodos sings to life the marble statue of a woman, but he ignores advice and in a frightening scene acquires a shadow, which follows him around Fairy-Land and dulls his pleasures. There follows an intercalated story about a knight falling in love with a woman he sees in a magic mirror. Anodos then enters the palace of the Fairy Queen, the "house of life," and has adventures there, each time walking through one of four doors, the door of tears, sighs, dismay, and terror. His adventures become more traditionally epic: fighting giants, being captured by his shadow and held in durance vile in a tower, and becoming a squire to the knight who had saved him from the Maid of the Alder Tree. Finally, on his way to becoming a better person, Anodos sacrifices himself to save innocents from sacrificing themselves to a monster. He awakens at his home back on Earth. Only 21 days have passed, although he feels like 21 years have passed, and he has become a new and better person.
I called Phantastes less than the sum of its parts. The novel, like Macdonald, was influential, and many of the aspects and some of the individual moments of Phantastes are good and even great, but as a novel, as a reading experience, I found Phantastes less than satisfying.
Phantastes played a significant part in the development of the modern image of faeries and Fairy Land. Traditionally, of course, Fairy-Land is a scary place, and the Kindly Ones frightening, nasty folk. As usual, there's a Terry Pratchett quote to fit the occasion:
Elves are wonderful. The provoke wonder.But that changed in the 19th century. The Grimm Brothers first published their collections of folktales in 1812, and English translations began in 1823. Hans Christian Andersen's work first appeared in English in the mid-1840s and was enormously popular, sparking a boom in original fairy tales. So by mid-century the idea of faeries as much more benign than their folklorish portrayal was in place. Macdonald's work wasn't original, but because he told a fairy tale in a more mature style and with greater literary skill than his predecessors he brought more attention to the concept and helped propagate it.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.
Phantastes was Macdonald's first work in prose, and helped establish his reputation. Through Phantastes and his later work, including Lilith (which may or may not appear on this site) Macdonald was greatly influential on Lewis Carroll (whose Alice will appear on this site, after I finish reading Armadale, the first Raffles collection, and the complete Sherlock Holmes), C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who in turn helped shape 20th century fantasy fiction. It has been said that Phantastes is actually the first modern fantasy novel, but I think this is a too-generous assessment of Phantastes. Phantastes more properly belongs in the category of the kunstmärchen, or literary fairy-tale. There was a revival in the popularity of the fairy tale in Germany in the late 18th century as part of the Romantic movement, and one of the results of this revival were was the kunstmärchen, fairy tale stories being written by adults for adults. “The Undine” and “The Elves” (see the Zerina entry) are two examples of the kunstmärchen, and I talk a bit about the kunstmärchen in those entries. The kunstmärchen was written at novel length as well as in short stories, and Phantastes is a kunstmärchen at novel length. The main difference between previous kunstmärchen and Phantastes is that Macdonald added picaresque and self-exploratory “dream romance” elements (see below) to the kunstmärchen. In doing so he created genuinely mythical literature, but Phantastes is not something new and different (a better example of the “first fantasy novel” might be one of William Morris” heroic fantasies, which will be covered here sooner or later), but rather a particularly good example of the kunstmärchen genre. At the time, however, Phantastes was seen as something relatively new, and the self-exploratory and allegorical aspects of Phantastes were influential on Carroll and Lewis and Tolkien, along with the clear level of skill in the writing of Phantastes.
That's Phantastes' historical significance. In terms of its literary worth, there are a number of elements of Phantastes which are notable. Phantastes is highly symbolic and allegorical, and great academic/critical fun can be had in assigning meanings to the characters and events of the novel. Macdonald, a Congregationalist minister, definitely put in a Christian allegory, so that the reader can interpret Anodos' setbacks and final triumph as part the Victorian Christian ideal of the carnal self having to die to be replaced by the spiritual self. There are any number of symbols and allegories in Phantastes, however, so the novel can also be taken as commentary on Christianity, organized and non-, on the proper course of sexuality, on the nature of mortality, or on several other things. But Macdonald wasn't happy with those who assigned a simplistic allegory to Phantastes, and so it's perhaps more accurate to say that Phantastes is a novel of allegories, rather than an allegorical novel.
Macdonald is known for his "dream literature or "visionary literature," and Phantastes is, with Lilith, the best example of what is meant by that phrase. It's partly a reference to the fact that what happens in the novel takes place, or seems to, in a dream. But more than that, the tone and feel of Phantastes is of a dream committed to paper. Phantastes has the same curious logic that dreams do, where transitions which are objectively strange nonetheless make perfect sense, in context. Although the declamatory, this-happened-then-Anodos-spoke-then-that-happened prose style leaves little room for Anodos' interior life--and, indeed, we get to know Anodos far more through his actions and words and cursory statements about his feelings than through any moments of experienced emotions--that, too, is appropriate for dreams, with their lack of reflection and self-consciousness. The descriptions vary from frighteningly ambiguous to an almost hyper-real clarity, like dreams themselves. And, as with dreams, Phantastes is full of moments and symbols and motifs whose symbolism, on conscious reflection, is obvious, or at least seems to invite an obvious interpretation. In addition to the Christian allegory, there is also the issue of sexuality, which appears as one of the temptations Anodos falls prey to and which is implicitly compared to the higher, romantic love.
Part of the “dream literature” tradition is that the elements and environment of the traditional fairy tale are used for the protagonist”s self-discovery. Phantastes essentially established the genre of dream romance (romance being used here in the old sense of adventure story) and embodies this tendency. Phantastes was of course written before Freud and Jung, and so lacks the vocabulary and approach of psychiatry, but Macdonald is clearly articulating the mid-century version of what Freud and Jung would describe early in the next century. One of Macdonald's gifts is for the occasionally quite telling phrase, and one exchange in particular, seemingly a throwaway, gains great significance in view of Anodos' journey of self-discovery. Early in the novel he returns from the forest and is told, “I dare say you saw nothing worse than yourself there?” He responds, “I hope I did.” In Fairy-Land this proves to be so. Anodos sees nothing worse than himself. But Anodos, who begins as not the sharpest arrow in the quiver, learns to his discomfort that his dark side--his shadow--can be very bad indeed.
Finally, Phantastes works, and works well, as "dream literature" because, as in dreams, the meaning of its symbols becomes heightened and almost primal. The imagery of Phantastes can easily be interpreted psychologically, most significantly with regard to Anodos' shadow and its anticipation of Jung. Closer to Macdonald's intent was W.H. Auden would have called the novel's mythopoeia, or myth-making aspects. Macdonald takes the traditional iconography of the fairy tale and welds Christian dogma and symbolism on to it, and the resulting combination gains significance and power; Phantastes becomes a myth of its own.
And yet for all of its virtues Phantastes isn’t a compelling read. At least, I didn’t find it so. As I said, Macdonald’s style is declamatory and mainly consists of I-did-this, I-saw-that, I-said-this statements. This results in a flatness, and while many of the descriptions are beautifully phrased and several of the scenes are at the least intriguing and, when Anodos gains his shadow, memorably nightmarish, most of Anodos’ adventures aren’t inherently interesting. Neither is Anodos himself, and while there are moments of readability there are pages when nothing happens to keep the reader reading.
Anodos himself begins as a shallow and immature young man newly of age when Phantastes begins. He has almost no self-control and is prey to several of the major sins, especially pride, but his adventures in Fairy-Land cure him of those. His name means “pathless,” and he seems to have no higher goals than self-indulgence at the beginning of the novel, but his experiences in Fairy-Land give him purpose and teach him self-discipline.
nticipator. The Anticipator was created by Morley Roberts and appeared in “The Anticipator” (The Keeper of the Waters and Other Stories, 1898). Roberts (1857-1942) was a British author. “The Anticipator” reads like a piece of classic science fiction from the 1950s, perhaps something by Ray Bradbury–and that’s a good thing. Carter Esplan, a writer, is infuriated. He conceives of wonderful stories–he knows they are wonderful, for he is under no illusions about his own level of talent or his execution of those ideas–writes them, and sends them off to the magazines, only to be told that Burford, a much lesser talent, has already submitted a story on the same lines. This repeatedly happens, and it drives Esplan to a level of insane hatred. Burford, for his part, knows that he is a mediocrity, knows that his work lacks “the diabolical certainty of Esplan’s,” knows that he is “greedy, grasping, esurient,” and so he hates Esplan as the talentless always hate the talented. But though the critics hail Esplan and shun Burford, Burford succeeds, and sells two stories to the magazine Esplan thinks of as his own. This renders Esplan a homicidal maniac, so that he is not willing to stop with openly sneering at Burford and delivering the cut direct, but he conceives of ways to kill Burford, and even plots to. But as he is considering how he will murder Burford the following morning, he feels great pain. “He reeled, put his hand to his stricken head, and fell heavily in a pool of his own blood. And the Anticipator, horribly afraid, ran down a by-street.”
“The Anticipator” is an odd little story. The concept is, as I said, something from a much later time. The treatment is not so advanced–but it’s not bad, either. Roberts does a good job of conveying the intense emotions of both Burford and Esplan, with the final part of the story an almost hallucinogenic trip into Esplan’s insanity.
Burford’s ability to anticipate Esplan’s ideas is never explained. He simply writes Esplan’s stories, worse than Esplan does but sooner than he does, and so he is financially successful, if not artistically. His hatred is understandable, on some level; it is the “hatred of an outpaced, outsailed rival...he was, he knew, a successful failure, and his ambition was greater even than Esplan’s...he ground his teeth, and hating his own work, hated worse the man who destroyed his own conceit.”
pergy. Apergy was introduced in Percy Greg's Across the Zodiac (1880). Greg (1836-1889) was a British poet, novelist and historian who wrote widely in a number of genres. Across the Zodiac was a major work for its time, and quite influential. The central concept of apergy also showed up in John Jacob Astor's A Journey in Other Worlds (1894) and was referred to, as mentioned below, in Jack London's "A Thousand Deaths." Apergy is a nameless force which lends enormous power to one who can harness it; it works as a "repellant force" that is essentially anti-gravity. In Across the Zodiac the narrator's manuscript is found on an island somewhere in the Pacific; the mss. apparently dates from around 1830. The narrator, a Brit. who is an experienced soldier and diplomat from his time in India, discovers apergy. Using that discovery he builds a ship, the Astronaut, which is a lot like an ordinary ship--hull, masts, etc--but is built for traveling in space: it is airtight and has chemicals to produce air as well as being stocked with plants to purify the air. He goes to Mars, experiencing weightlessness along the way. Once on Mars he finds an older civilisation which has developed into a sort of Victorian nightmare: universal suffrage has led to atheistic communism and from there to chaos. A scientific elite arose and imposed order on Mars by creating and forcing onto the Martians a rigidly materialistic cultural orthodoxy. The Martians have electric lights and appliances, motion pictures, dictation machines, advanced sewage treatment plants, dirigibles, electric cars, and submarines, but women are held as chattel and children are raised by the state. The hero, of course, goes against such a heathen world order, marrying a social outcast and joining the Order of the Star, a Martian religious underground movement whose aims are the restoration of the ancient Martian moral and social values and the dignity of individual Martian men and women. Across the Zodiac is not a particularly thrilling read, but Greg but a lot of thought into it, creating a very detailed and credible Martian society and environment, even creating a language for them. Likewise, his treatment of space travel is much advanced over his contemporaries.
rbaces. Arbaces was created by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and appeared in The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) is already mentioned on this site in the Vril and Zanoni entries. Having now read my third Bulwer-Lytton, I feel that I should revise my too-flippant comments about him in the Vril entry. It is true that his style has in many respects not dated well. There is bombast, there is a straining after effects, there is fustian, there is loquaciousness taken to the point of excess. All of those are present. But notwithstanding his flaws Bulwer-Lytton was a more interesting and better writer than I gave him credit for, and certainly than those who ignorantly mock him as "Edward Barely-Literate" do. He was actually an experimental writer, playing with the limits of fiction and trying to convey via his fiction the genuine mysticism which he felt. Zanoni was particularly influential in that regard, having a great deal to do with the formation of the Order of the Golden Dawn. I find it hard to enjoy Bulwer-Lytton's work, but I cannot deny his imaginativeness and intellectual rigor.
The Last Days of Pompeii is a historical romance about the final days of Pompeii before Mt. Vesuvius erupted. While Bulwer-Lytton's painstaking research shows in the wealth of detail in the book, the narrative, about a group of Pompeiian individuals and the romance between the lovely Ione and the heroic Glaucus, is mostly tedious. (I think so, anyhow). But as is often the case with works like this, the villain holds the interest in a way that the hero and heroine do not. Arbaces is not in the upper rank of fictional villains; he isn't Zenith the Albino, Dr. Quartz, or even Ambrosio, but he's entertaining enough in his own right.
Arbaces is an Egyptian living in Pompeii. He is a magician, the "Lord of the Burning Girdle" and "he...from whom all cultivators of magic, from north to south, from east to west, from the Ganges and the Nile to the vales of Thessaly and the shores of the yellow Tiber, have stooped to learn." In Pompeii he is a figure of fear and respect, in large part because he is rumored to wield the Evil Eye. He has contacts everywhere, especially among the Priests of Isis, whose chief is his servant and into whose company Arbaces personally inducts a number of priests. Arbaces is far more intelligent than everyone else around him, and even though his magic is humbug he is cunning enough to fool everyone with it. He doesn't believe in Isis, but rather in Nature, and sees Isis and all goods as metaphors for the glory of Nature. (As you might guess, when Christianity rears its head in Pompeii, Arbaces takes none too kindly to it). He is too intelligent for his surroundings, in fact, and is deeply bored, finding pleasure only in the contemplation of Nature, in the hatred of Rome (Arbaces is a strident Egyptian patriot) and in his orgies, which involve lovely young innocents ("I love to rear the votaries of my pleasure. I love to train, to ripen their minds, -- to unfold the sweet blossom of their hidden passions, in order to prepare the fruit to my taste"). Arbaces falls in love with Ione, who he has known since she was a child, and schemes his way to her wedding bed, but fails despite his best efforts.
Arbaces is, in other words, the classic Gothic Hero-Villain, the evil-doer who appeared in nearly every Gothic and who can be found on this site in the figure of Ambrosio, among others. The Hero-Villain does evil but is not wholly evil; he is a mix of towering passions and impulses and has great intellectual and physical gifts and uses them for evil ends. Arbaces would not be out of place in many a Gothic novel, but Bulwer-Lytton wrote The Last Days of Pompeii after the end of the Gothics. Arbaces functions rather as a figure at the juncture of the Gothic and the historical novel.
rria Marcella. Arria Marcella was created by Théophile Gautier and appeared in “Arria Marcella” (1852). I have some information on Gautier in the Cleopatra entry. “Arria Marcella” is a timeslip story about a dreamy young Frenchman named Octavian who is much more at home in the past and in art than in the present. He and his two friends Max and Fabio, undertaking the Italian tour, visit the museum in Naples which holds the various antiques exhumed from the ashes of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Octavian is very taken with an imprint taken from the house of Arrius Diomedes, and when Octavian, Max and Fabio visit Pompeii itself they visit the former house of Arrius Diomedes, where Octavian is very affected by the spot at which Arria Marcella, the lady whose mould is in the museum, was found. Octavian has fallen in love with the lady, and wishes that he had been in Pompeii on the day of the eruption so that he might have saved her, “and thereby merited her love.” That night he sleepwalks into the dead city and enters Arrius Diomedes’ house, which he finds to be not ruined, but in its full glory–as is the city itself. Octavian becomes convinced that he is back in Pompeii before Vesuvius had destroyed it. Octavian meets a Pompeiian, and they hit it off, although when Octavian tries to explain about the future to the Pompeiian he is met with genial incredulity. They attend a comedy together, and while there Octavian sees the lovely Arria Marcella, the woman he is intoxicated with. She looks at him, “and that look fell upon him heavy and burning as a jet of molten lead.” She sends her maid to fetch him to her house, and when he arrives she tells him that his love for her summoned her spirit and made her live again. They embrace and kiss for a time, until Arrius Diomedes appears and tells her, “Arria, Arria! Did not your lifetime suffice for your misconduct, and must your infamous amours encroach upon centuries to which they do not belong? Can you not leave the living in their sphere?” Arrius then tells Octavian, “Young Christian, forsake that larva, who would seem to you more hideous than Empousa or Phorkyas, could you but see her as she is!” Arria refuses to obey her father, so he pronounces “a formula of exorcism” which reducers her to “a handful of cinders.” Arrius disappears, and the house becomes a ruin again. Octavian becomes miserable and melancholy, wandering around Pompeii and hoping to see Arrius again. Eventually he gives up hope and marries a nice young English woman, who he is quite well behaved to but who feels that he is in love with another. “A secret drawer, opened during her husband’s absence, afforded no confirmation of infidelity to Ellen’s suspicions. But how could she permit herself to be jealous of Arria Marcella, daughter of Arrius Diomedes, the freedman of Tiberius?”
“Arria Marcella” isn’t quite in the same class as “One of Cleopatra’s Nights” or “La Morte Amoureuse” (see the Clarimonde entry). There’s the same vividness of description at points, especially when Arria Marcella is described and during her tryst with Octavian, but at other points Gautier goes for a more stripped-down and straightforward narrative. Gautier’s descriptions bring Pompeii to life, but Arria herself is not as well drawn or memorable as Clarimonde. It’s entertaining, of course, and well-written, simply lacking in the sublime heights of the other two. But the appearance of Arrius Diomedes is startling, and his knowledge of the timeslip is a bracing jolt of Wrongness, in the Clute-ian sense.
Arria Marcella is, like Clarimonde, misunderstood by the patriarchal figure who wins the fight for the protagonist’s (Octavian’s) soul. She is a dark, pale beauty with melancholy eyes who is “cold through having remained so long without love,” and whose offer to Octavian, of her emotions and her body, seems genuine. Arrius Diomedes is a doctrinaire “Disciple of Christ” whose attitude toward his daughter is cruel. He calls her “impious,” a “demon” worshiper, and one who is “voracious.” Her response (and my own leanings are toward her rather than toward him) is “Do not crush me in the name of that morose religion which was never mine! I believed in our ancient gods, who loved life and youth and beauty and pleasure...let me enjoy this life that love has given back to me!” Arrius’ religion, like the Abbé Serapion’s in “La Morte Amoureuse,” forces him to see this in constricted and incorrect ways, and so yet another good (if not entirely innocent) woman is destroyed.
ssowaum. Assowaum was created by “Francis Johnson” and appeared in Die Regulatoren in Arkansas (The Regulators of Arkansas, 1845). “Francis Johnson” was the pen name of Friedrich Gerstäcker (1816-1872), a German who went to America in 1837, lived a checkered life on the frontier for six years, then returned to Germany and began writing Westerns. Die Regulatoren in Arkansas remains his best known novel and was first published in English as “Alapaha the Squaw,” “The Border Bandits,” and “Assowaum the Avenger,” in American Tales 67-69 (23 July-16 September 1870).
The Regulators of Arkansas is set in Arkansas in the early years when murder and desperadoes were common. Set against them were local vigilante groups, the “Regulators.” The main characters of The Regulators are searching for a particularly bad gang who are involved with Rawson, a nearly sociopathic Methodist minister who marries, then kills women. Unfortunately, Rawson makes the mistake of murdering Alapaha, the wife of Assowaum, who joins up with a group of Regulators and aids them in tracking down Rawson and delivering frontier justice to him.
The Regulators of Arkansas is in many ways a typical dime novel, in narration, content, and style, although it lacks the tiresome one-line exchanges of dialogue that betray the paid-by-the-word context of the times. Gerstäcker was not a great literary talent, but he was better than the average dime novel author, and The Regulators of Arkansas is closer in quality to an average dopey 19th century adventure novel than it is to the average dopey dime novel. Its racism is usual for the day, with blacks being portrayed about as negatively as one would expect and with the “Indians,” like Assowaum, being mostly Noble Savages, and their culture being mostly made up.
One unusual note, though, is the foreshadowing of that later staple of Westerns: the doomed hero following the frontier as it moves west. This can be found even in places like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1884), although the classic example is in Alan Le May and Frank Nugent’s The Searchers. It is one of the keys to the essential tragedy of the Western, that the cowboy hero is called upon to civilize the untamed frontier for society, but once the frontier is tamed the hero has no place in it, and is forced to continue moving west. At the end of The Regulators Assowaum is invited to stay with his white “brother,” but Assowaum declines, saying that he remembers the days when his people could hunt and fish freely and that he goes in search of a land where he could still do that.
What is most interesting about The Regulators of Arkansas–at least, most interesting to me, and I assume most interesting to you, my readers–is the fact that Gerstäcker was writing a Western at all. What is not widely known in the U.S. is that there is a long tradition in Germany of writing what we think of today as Westerns but which might more properly be called “frontier fiction.” Frontier fiction, whether by German authors or Americans, has been popular in Germany for over 170 years, and even today there are Western festivals there. During the 20th century there were a number of very popular Western pulps; I list the main characters of several of them in the German Heroes section of my Pulp Heroes site. During the 19th century there were several German frontier writers, but the three most significant were Carl Postl, a.k.a. Charles Sealsfield, a representative of whose work will appear here sooner or later; Friedrich Gerstäcker, the most popular of the mid-century German frontier writers and the first man to write what we'd consider a Western; and Karl May, author of the Old Shatterhand stories and the most popular of them all.
Assowaum is known as “the Feathered Arrow.” He is relatively friendly to white folk, and even risks his life to save a white woman, one of his friends, from marrying Rawson. Before the death of Alapaha, Assowaum is...not talkative, exactly, but not the reserved personality he becomes after Alapaha is murdered. (She may have also been raped, as well, although Gerstäcker does not go into detail about what Rawson did to Alapaha). Assowaum very much loves his wife, the “Flower of the Prairies,” even though her conversion to Christianity greatly conflicts with his own religion, and her death turns him into a vengeful man, willing to work with the Regulators to find Rawson. Assowaum is a member of “one of the northern tribes of the Missouri” and is a former Sioux fighter. He has a very typical skill set for dime novel Indians, being strong, fast, a good fighter, and excellent at tracking. He speaks in a stereotypically “Indian” way, relying heavily on animal metaphors: “But does my brother believe that the bear returns to his den when he scents the track of the hunter at his entrance?”
tle, King. King Atle was created by Selma Lagerlöf and appeared in “The King’s Grave” (Invisible Links, 1899). Lagerlöf (1858-1940) was a Swedish writer who successfully wrote a variety of story types. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize; she wrote the epic Gösta Berlings Saga (1894), the splendid Christian fantasy The General’s Ring (1928), and the children’s book The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1906), which was extremely popular around the world for several decades. In E.F. Bleiler’s words, “a very capable author whose work is undeservedly forgotten.”
In a rural section of Sweden there is an area where the heather grows wild, covering everything with its unfading red flowers. The only place the heather does not cover are the great stony cairns of old King Atle and his warriors. They had died so long ago that the fear and respect of the people for their graves had faded. One morning an exhausted hunter lay down by the cairns to sleep. From out of the nearby forest came a local peasant girl who saw the flat rock between the cairns and was seized with the whim to dance. Her dancing and singing awoke the hunter, who gazed dumbly at her, too bashful and intimidated to say anything, and he fled at the first words she said to him. She pursued him, for she didn’t want him to say anything to the people in the village, caught him, and threw him down–she was a strong, well-fed girl while he was weakened and anaemic. But she took pity on him, seeing how frail he was and how alone he was, with no one, neither mother nor sister nor sweetheart, to look after him. His name was Tönne, and he had one great sorrow in his life: that his mother had died before he could finish the house he was secretly building for her. A friendship grew between Tönne and Jofrid, the peasant girl, but he fell in love with her, which she did not reciprocate. He was too shy and inarticulate to tell her how he felt about her or ask her father for her hand in marriage, which to Jofrid meant that he was “of a race of slaves” and therefore not worthy of her hand in marriage. He felt that she did not understand his thoughts, even when he showed her the house he built for his mother, and so Tönne began building a house for Jofrid on the spot near the cairns where she had danced.
She never offered to help him build the house and was reluctant to marry him, but the house never left her thoughts, and when it was complete she felt the urge to see what it was like inside. She found to her surprise that it was much more pleasant than she had anticipated. Looking out of the house she saw that the stones of King Atle’s cairn was no longer stone, but was in fact King Atle himself, looking at her, smiling and winking. She grew afraid of him and ran home. Tönne, seeing that Jofrid had been in the house and had added some weavings to it, took heart and asked for Jofrid’s hand in marriage. She consented, somewhat reluctantly, but the pair were happy for many years. They earned a good reputation among the people, Tönne growing stronger and less dim-witted and Jofrid always being full of merriment. But one day a peasant whose wife had died asked Tönne and Jofrid to take care of his son as a foster-child: “The child is very dear to me, therefore I give it to you, for you are good people.” Tönne and Jofrid did not know how to care for a child and did not make the time for it, and within a few months it was dead of starvation. No one in the village blamed them, not even the peasant, who felt that it was God’s will. Soon after the child’s funeral they heard a feeble crying from outside their house, and then little feet on the threshold of the house and a little hand on the door. From that point forward they were haunted by the ghost of the child. Jofrid one night went outside the house, wondering how penance and confession to relieve them of their punishment, and saw King Atle looking at her; he whispered “Why repent? The gods rule us. The fates spin the threads of life. Why shall the children of earth mourn because they have done what the immortal gods have forced them to do?
From that day forward Jofrid refused to accept responsibility for the child’s death. Tönne wished to do penance by offering themselves as slaves to the child’s father, and she did not, and this disagreement led to her hating him for his weakness and humiliating him in front of others and the degeneration of their marriage. Tönne grew unhappy and thin and pale, and her love for him came back when she saw him wasting away. She vacillated on whether to join him, however, despite her growing feeling that King Atle was lying in wait for her. During a party at her house she saw him again and heard him say, “Why grieve for what you have done, compelled by the immortal gods?” She gave in to this belief, despite feeling that she ought to struggle against him, and when her friends went out dancing around the cairn she joined them. They eluded the grasping hands of King Atle, all being too blind to see them reaching for them and too fast for him to catch them. She was not, and “she knew to the very last that it was because she had not been able to conquer the stone king in her own heart that Atle had power over her.”
“The King’s Grave” is a very good story of the supernatural. Lagerlöf combines an excellent descriptive sense–her creation of the landscape and scenery of Sweden is vivid–with a very good psychological depiction and characterization. She quite ably portrays what life in rural, pre-modern Sweden would have been like and adds to that the lingering supernatural effect of King Atle’s tumulus on Jofrid. Lagerlöf’s style in “The King’s Grave,” is straightforward and clear, lacking in poetic touches but quite good at psychological insight. Unlike Lagerlöf’s The General’s Ring “The King’s Grave” isn’t specifically a Christian story, but it is very concerned with morality and ethics and doing the right thing; Jofrid’s punishment comes when she refuses to accept responsibility for her actions.
I didn’t find “The King’s Grave” frightening, but otherwise it is excellent.
When King Atle is not a pile of stones he is “a mighty old warrior...scarred and grey” with “small, oblique eyes under a dome-like brow, a broad nose and a long beard.” In the old days he was a mighty warrior who had “overthrown hundreds of enemies there on the heath and waded through the streams of blood that had poured between the clumps.” But in death he becomes a tempter, urging Jofrid toward a fatalistic philosophy and moral denial, and then punishing Jofrid when she succumbs to temptation.
ubrey, Rollo Lenox Smeaton, Earl of Redgrave. Rollo Aubrey was introduced in George Griffith's "A Visit to the Moon," in Pearson's Magazine (January 1900). Biographical information on Griffith can be found in the Natas entry below. "A Visit to the Moon" is Rollo Aubrey's first appearance. However, the story has a page-long "introductory note" detailing Aubrey's earlier adventures and describing how they are "now matters of common knowledge." Beginning things in media res and referring to previous adventures which had never been printed were not s.o.p. in the 19th century, especially for serial magazines, which makes this story rather curious to me.
Aubrey, a wealthy British adventurer, meets Professor Hartley Rennick and his daughter Lilla while on holiday in the Canadian Rockies. Rennick, the famous "Demonstrator in Physical Science in the Smith-Oliver University in New York," believes that "everything in Nature has its opposite" and that the "forces of Nature" can be split into their "positive and negative elements," and has ideas on certain advanced experiments he wishes to carry out. Aubrey is taken with the Professor's ideas and with the "mental and physical charms" of his daughter and so becomes Rennick's partner. With Aubrey's money and certain of his suggestions, Rennick is able to divide the "Universal Force of Gravity" into "its elements of attraction and repulsion;" he further builds machines which are capable of manipulating both. They build the Astronef, a ship capable of traveling through space, and put the machines which control the "R Force" ("Repulsive or Anti-Gravitational Force") into it; the ship is fully-automated, and can be flown by only two people, or even set on auto-pilot. The Astronef is stocked with liquid oxygen and air "purifiers," and armed with several light machine-guns and four "pneumatic" guns fills with two kinds of shells, one a solid explosive and one a flammable liquid that burns in a vacuum.
The Professor dies from complications following a bout of influenza, and Aubrey is left in control of the Astronef. He flies it to New York City, causing a world-wide stir, and marries Lilla, and then the couple go off into space, to explore the solar system, traveling at 20,000 miles per hour. Naturally, what they (and Murgatroyd, their Scots engineer/engine-man) find there is not the true solar system; wearing their oxygen-supplied body suits, they find monsters, skeletons, and a pyramid on the moon; a warlike civilisation on Mars full of Clipper of the Clouds-style flying ships and nine-foot-tall, bald humanoids (one of whom tries to rape Lilla and is shot dead by her); a Venus with a breathable atmosphere, a lovely, mountainous & wooded environment, and winged, singing, long-haired humanoid creatures who seem to be sinless and who Lilla and Aubrey leave, for fear of being "a couple of plague-spots in a sinless world like this." (This moment of humility on both their parts is a welcome change; the great majority of the time Lilla is a bit of a Victorian prig and Aubrey a square-jawed Victorian exploiter)
On Jupiter they find regularly-ordered cities under glass and crystal covers, inhabited by an technologically and culturally advanced ("they had learnt the lesson that sin is mere foolishness, and that no really sensible or properly educated man or woman thinks crime worth committing") civilisation; a Saturn covered with seas which are themselves full of vicious double-headed monsters, whose skies are full of dull, winged creatures, and on whose land moves giant gorillas and trees 800 feet tall; and then an exciting and danger-filled trip home.
xel. Axel was the creation of the Comte Philippe Auguste Matthias de Villiers de l'Isle Adam (1838-1889). Villiers (as he has been known) was a French dramatist, novelist, short story writer, and poet, and is regarded as an important figure in the history of French literature, as much for the imagination of his works as for their transitional nature, evoking both the romanticism of the early 19th century and the symbolism of the early 20th century. He was widely regarded during his lifetime, being highly influential on W.B. Yeats and his friends, and still is well-viewed critically today.
He is most remembered for his play Axel (1890). Set in 1828, the play (which is clearly not meant to be performed, but instead read--it is full of dialogues and monologues which are not "realistic" but instead are direct expressions of Villiers' idealism and anti-materialism) is about the existential übermensch Count Axel Auersberg and his struggle with the temptation of materialism (in the form of a treasure in gold in a cavern beneath his castle) and love (in the form of Princess Sara de Maupers). A brief summary of the play's plot is this: Axel's cousin, Commander Kaspar, is told about the gold beneath Axel's castle, and plots Axel's death to acquire. Axel, suspecting this, kills Kaspar in a duel. Axel, however, begins to give in to the temptation of the gold and weakens in his resolve to remain apart from the world. Because of his weakening, Axel is abandoned by his occult mentor, Master Janus. Depressed by this abandonment, Axel determines to commit suicide in the cavern, but he discovers Sara there. She wants to use the gold against the German government, and tries to fight Axel. They fall in love, and then, deciding that they can never be as happy in life as they were at that one moment when they fell so rapturously in love, they commit suicide together. (Yeah, the play is as happy as I've made it sound)
The figure of Axel, however, is intriguing enough to be included here. He is at least a century old, and possibly immortal, thanks to his occult arts. He is a self-appointed exile, an isolationist and visionary with a distaste for materialist bourgeois life as well as for the German government (but not the German people); the famous line "Live? Our servants will do that for us!" is not an indication of haughty superiority but of worldweariness. His castle is impenetrable, set in the middle of the Black Forest and sitting on top of a massive underground cavern. In and around the forest are Axel's allies: 20,000 foresters with carabines, packs of "Ulm war dogs," and miners, all of whom are loyal to Axel and against everyone else, particularly the German government. Axel is "suave, athletic and rippling," is a master strategist and an expert swordsman. He is taught in the occult ways by the mysterious Master Janus, who may or may not have engineered Axel's death.
yesha. Ayesha was created by H. Rider Haggard and appeared in She: A History of Adventure (in The Graphic, 1886-1887, and then as a novel in 1887), Ayesha: The Return of She (1905), She and Allan (1921), and Wisdom’s Daughter (1923). Haggard I discuss briefly in the Allan Quatermain entry.
She is about Ayesha, She Who Must Be Obeyed, the Queen of the Amahagger people of Africa. Centuries ago Ayesha (pronounced “Assha”), then the “mighty Queen of a savage people,” met and fell in love with Kallikrates, an Egyptian priest who had fled Egypt with his love, the Princess Amenartas. Kallikrates would not leave Amenartas, however, and the enraged Ayesha killed Kallikrates. The pregnant Amenartas fled, but Ayesha, heartbroken, remained, mourning Kallikrates and waiting for him to return. Amenartas, meanwhile, charged her descendants with avenging Kallikrates’ death. She takes place in the modern day (well, modern when it was written, anyhow), as Cambridge don L. Horrace Holly and his adopted son Leo Vincey discover that Leo is the descendant of Amenartas. Holly does not initially believe it, but Leo does, and so the pair travel to Africa, accompanied by their servant Job, to find the truth behind the story. After some hardships (as always, travelling in Haggard is difficult and dangerous) they discover the Amahagger. A group of cannibalistic Amahaggers try to kill and eat them, but Leo and Holly fight them off and then are saved by Ayesha’s powers. They are brought to Ayesha, who lives in the ruins of the great city of Kôr. Ayesha treats Holly in a friendly fashion, but he makes the mistake of asking to see Ayesha unveiled. She is breathtakingly beautiful and he is instantly entranced by her. She is not entranced by him (he’s ugly and a misogynist), but remains friendly to him, but when she sees Leo, she is shocked, because he is the twin of Kallikrates, and is, she is sure, Kallikrates reincarnated. Leo, seeing the unveiled Ayesha, is likewise smitten, and so the trio and Job go to the Flame of Life, where Ayesha will render Leo immortal, like her. Unfortunately, Leo is afraid of the Flame, so Ayesha volunteers to bathe in it first, as she did once before (it is the source of her powers). The Flame kills her, and Leo and Holly, much shaken, return to civilization.
In Ayesha: The Return of She Holly and Leo go in search of Ayesha in central Asia, where she is now the priestess of a sacred mountain. She and Leo finally marry, but then he dies from her kiss and she follows him into the Land of Death. Wisdom’s Daughter is about Ayesha’s beginnings as a priestess of Isis and her first meeting with Kallikrates; the novel alters some aspects of Ayesha’s backstory, making her the destined lover of Kallikrates rather than the more tragic third wheel in the Kallikrates-Amenartas relationship. In She and Allan, which is set before She, Quatermain and Umslopogaas visit Ayesha in Kôr, and Allan sees the ghosts of his dead loved ones, none of whom remember him except the Zulu woman Mameena and (in a very touching reunion scene) Quatermain’s old hunting hound Smut.
She is one of the landmark fantasy novels of the 19th century. This is not so much because of how it is written–though always entertaining, Haggard is no great stylist, and the novel has certain infelicities–as to its still-potent symbolism and imagery. Ayesha’s centuries-spanning obsession with Kallikrates verges on necrophilia; as she demonstrates to Holly and Leo, she has preserved the body of Kallikrates and “night by night have I slept in his cold company.” The confrontation between the misogynists (Holly, Job, and to a lesser extent Leo) and the powerful, highly sexualized queen, and their willing submission to her, is very much a not-so-sublimated dominance/submission game. Ayesha herself is alternately coquettish and forbidding, kind and cruel, a dominatrix in down. Even more than that, however, she is a sexual fantasy of another kind, the powerful woman who becomes completely submissive and willing when she meets the right man.
Sexuality pervades She, from the homosocial setting of the novel’s early moments to the matrilineal and sexually permissive society of the Amahaggers to the marriage between Ustane and Leo to the almost lascivious description of Ayesha’s appearance to the sexually frustrating interaction between Ayesha and Holly and then the union between Leo and Ayesha. But along with this aura of sexuality is an ambience of cruelty, from the treatment of Holly (the constant insults he endures because of his looks and Ayesha’s teasing of him) to Ayesha’s actions toward Ustane to Haggard’s treatment of Ayesha. This combination of cruelty and sexuality, along with the overwhelming presence of death (Ayesha dresses in a shroud and reminds Holly and Job of a corpse) and the dead in Kôr (a city of mummified corpses) and Ayesha’s necrophilic obsession with Kallikrates, leaves She as, in the words of E.F. Bleiler, “one of the clearest statements of death eroticism ever written.”
But the presence of an atmosphere of sexuality is no guarantee of respect for women, and unfortunately She is, if anything, a statement of misogyny, and a worse one than either King Solomon’s Mines or Allan Quatermain. The good/bad dichotomy which was present in the latter two novels is worsened in She; the two main female roles are the devoted and good Ustane and the powerful and wicked Ayesha. But though devoted and faithful to Leo, Ustane is sexually aggressive, and the fate reserved for her by Haggard is death. Ayesha, too, is killed, even after voicing her desire to submit to Leo and let him be her master. Powerful independent women are wicked, in Haggard’s world (recall that Nyleptha, in Allan Quatermain, submitted to Sir Henry Curtis as soon as they were married, while the independent Sorais turned evil).
She is often seen as Haggard’s most pointed attack on the New Woman. The “New Woman” was a social and literary type who emerged in the 1880s. The term itself entered common parlance in the mid-1890s and referred to a group of women who took many of the theoretical ideas of feminism and put them into practice as a lifestyle. The New Woman was usually middle class and worked for a living, often at a job that until recently had been limited to men. She advocated self-fulfilment rather than self-sacrifice, and chose education and a career over marriage. (The phrase “Girton girl,” which has thankfully fallen out of usage, was derisively used in the late Victorian and Edwardian years to refer to women who had completed their university courses.) She spoke directly and was forthright about her political views, arguing publicly for the destruction of class distinctions and for economic independence for women. She smoked and drank openly. She decried restrictive fashions, rejecting petticoats and corsets and instead wearing “rational” (i.e., men’s) clothing. She exercised. And most alarming to the critics of the New Woman, she was sexually active, or at least advocated sexual freedom, and avoided marriage, seeing it as a trap designed to rob women of their independence. This independence–social, financial, and sexual–was threatening to Victorian conservatives, a threat Haggard felt, and so the destruction of Ayesha (who is both the oldest of women and the most powerful of New Women) can be read as Haggard’s attack on the New Woman itself.
She is entertaining. But it’s not perfect, and while more memorable than King Solomon’s Mines She is not as well written. The fluidity of KSM is missing, replaced with longer infodump-like descriptions and lectures. Although She is narrated in the colloquial, like KSM and AQ, the dialogue with Ayesha is done in a mock archaic style (“"Nay, nay," she answered in the same soft voice, "thou dost not understand--the time has come for thee to learn. Thou art my love, my Kallikrates, my Beautiful, my Strong! For two thousand years, Kallikrates, have I waited for thee, and now at length thou hast come back to me”) which was undoubtedly intended to convey the immensity of Ayesha’s age and her Otherness but which can try the reader’s patience. Although the characterisation of Ayesha is fine, Holly is less well-delineated and Leo mostly a cypher. Haggard is a dab hand at vivid imagery and powerful ideas and is a strong storyteller, but his literary ability and style are not the equal of his other skills.
As a side note, even though She has all the trappings of fantasy Ayesha several times repeats that she does not use magic, merely “a knowledge of the secrets of Nature” or “a force thou dost not understand.”
Ayesha herself is powerful, using ambiguously described forces and abilities to farsee (via a water mirror), project her voice over great distances, scar and kill via curses, heal using the drugs her greatly advanced chemical and medical knowledge enables her to produce, and to entrance with her voice and looks. Whether Ayesha is evil or not is, I think, a matter of perspective. She can and is cruel, and even capricious. She is willing to kill Ustane to gain Leo. She thinks little of the Amahaggers. And she is obsessed beyond reason with her murder of Kallikrates, centuries ago. But seen another way, she’s more sad than evil. She killed the man she loved and spent over two thousand years regretting it, sleeping by his corpse and recriminating herself for what she did. She waited for over two thousand years for her love to return, a record of faithfulness no mere mortal could match. And once she finally has Kallikrates back, she bows before Leo, humbling herself. She vows to do only Good, to please him. She’s love-smitten, so completely that she is willing to swallow her not-inconsiderable pride just to be with the man she loves. That’s no small thing for an immortal and powerful queen to do.
A. Abällino to Axel
B. Hajji Baba to Amelia Butterworth
C. Cahina to Inspector John Cutting
D. The Damned Thing to Dyson
E. Robert Easterley to Pedro Arbuez d'Espila
F. Fantomas to the Fulgurator
G. "G" to Dr. Ginochio Gyves
H. Les Habits Noir to the Hypnotist
I-J. Ichor to Rob Joslyn
K. Kai Lung to Kreuzgang.
L. Lady Detectives to Arsène Lupin
M. Madame Koluchy to Dora Myrl
N. Nameless Child to Alice Nutter
O. Jack O'Halloran to Ozmar the Mystic
P. Pan to Psammead
Q. Dr. Jack Quartz to Quong Lung
R. A.J. Raffles to Lord Ruthven
S. Mr. Sabin to Count Szémioth
T-U. Adrian Temple to Undine
V. Vaila to Vril
W. Hilda Wade to Wung-Ti
X-Y. Xipéhuz to Yuki-onna
Z. Zaleski to Zoe