Mrs. Humphry – Manners for Men (1897)

Review by Justin Tate

First published in 1897 by “Girl’s Gossip” columnist C. E. Humphry, this how-to guide on not being a cad or embarrassing yourself in polite society is surprisingly readable. Mrs. Humphry utilizes sharp wit that remains hilarious 100+ years later. Other laugh-out-loud moments emerge thanks to the rich ironies of drastic culture change. My favorite parts, however, are when she berates men for engaging in uncouth behavior that continues to plague today’s society.

For example, manspreading. Yes, the act of bowed legs on public transit was an issue in 1897 as well. She has a whole section on it:

True courtesy will prevent a man from infringing the rights of his neighbours on either side by occupying more than his own allotted space. Very stout men are obliged to do so, but at least they need not spread out their knees in a way that is calculated to aggravate the evil. Even a thin man can take up a quantity of room by thus disposing himself at an angle of forty-five with the other occupants of an omnibus.

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Franz Kafka – The Metamorphosis (1915)

Review by Justin Tate

Gregor’s transformation into a bug is no ordinary plight, and yet the fallout is bitterly recognizable. Relatable, even. In fact, I associate myself with Gregor so exactly that it is almost as if Kafka had been writing—in his veiled, symbolic way—about my queer anxieties, just as they are on this day in 2021.

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Elizabeth Bonhôte – Bungay Castle (1796)

Review by Justin Tate

Bungay Castle by Elizabeth Bonhote is a literary artifact of the 1790s. This was a time when London was obsessed with reading Gothic novels by Horace Walpole, Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe and their numerous imitators. Minerva Press was a major publisher of all things Gothic and they added Bonhote’s novel to their growing catalog in 1796, the same year that Matthew Lewis published his enduring masterwork, The Monk.

For those of us with an academic interest in Gothic literature, the 1790s is seen as a magical period of enlightened creativity; a renaissance of all things spooky and macabre. The era also contains a never-ending well of Gothic novels that need to be re-read, re-analyzed, and re-discovered. Sadly, these works have been largely neglected by academia and, in many cases, out-of-print for over two hundred years.

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Bram Stoker – Dracula + “Dracula’s Guest” (1897)

Review by Justin Tate

Dracula seems to be one of those love-it or hate-it type books, but for me it is all love! The opening chapters alone provide some of the most gripping, suspense-inducing, edge-of-seat anxieties I’ve ever read, all leading up to a delightfully queer twist with a male character stepping in for the traditional Gothic heroine.

Jonathan Harker fulfills the damsel in distress role quite suitably, being locked away in a remote castle and forced to navigate the domineering personality of his captor. Dracula is reminiscent of Montoni from Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, particularly in the way he has control over Jonathan’s sexual well-being. When the three weird sisters close in on an unaccompanied Jonathan, Dracula stops them at the last second, saying “This man belongs to me!” before Harker “sank down unconscious.”

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Joseph Sheridan le Fanu – Carmilla (1872)

Review by Justin Tate

Lesbian vampire novel that pre-dates Dracula by 25 years? Sign me up! Carmilla (1872) was in fact a huge influence on Bram Stoker, as shown by many subtle references in Dracula (1897) and more obvious ones in “Dracula’s Guest”. Largely a forgotten classic, today Carmilla is receiving something of a revival thanks to an increased academic interest in queer artifacts and this new edition that’s edited by Carmen Maria Machado.

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Mary Elizabeth Braddon – Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)

Review by Justin Tate

Lady Audley’s Secret is a gorgeous example of the Victorian ‘Sensation Novel’ which dominated Great Britain during the 1860’s and ’70s. It includes a unique female mastermind of evil, while also presenting enough evidence for a lively counter argument over who the real villain is. The prose is top-notch and very modern. At times it reads more like the latest literary prize-winner and not something that was published over a hundred and fifty years ago. There’s plenty of mystery and suspense to keep the pages turning, but intriguing characters are what really keep you glued. It’s a shame this classic no longer enjoys the massive popularity it once carried well into the early 20th century. It holds up extremely well.

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Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1859)

Review by Justin Tate

Over 150 years later, The Woman in White still deserves its status as one of the most beloved and influential novels written in English. The combination of Gothic aesthetics, penny dreadful scandal, domestic drama and Victorian true crime makes it a mainstream delight for all readers, then and now. There’s even classic detective work that would, no doubt, go on to inspire the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

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Matthew Lewis – The Monk (1796)

Review by Justin Tate

Among the controversial literary works published throughout world history, few have sparked the level of outrage and obsession associated with Matthew Lewis’ 1796 novel The Monk. Even before his book bugged out eyes all across London, the patriarch was feeling hesitant toward Gothic plots. On one hand, Ann Radcliffe’s narrative puzzleboxes were charmingly written. But on the other, her female characters were too pushy against their fathers, too resistant of assigned husbands, and too eager to run off on exotic adventures. A girl could get ideas reading such folly. What a mess that would be!

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Catherine Smith – Barozzi (1815)

Review by Justin Tate

A Gothic rollercoaster! Action is launched with the first line and doesn’t hold back until the twist-filled resolution. Smith was an actress by trade and her dramatic experiences fit well within the genre, where characters are encouraged to speak in the operatic tones of Shakespearean tragedy.

First published in 1815 and largely out-of-print until 2006, Barozzi would have likely been a mainstream publication in its day, but not splash-worthy. The tyrannical ruler willing to embrace any evil to maintain power is highly reminiscent of Manfred in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and, by extension, Macbeth (1606). The sections which deal with demon conjuring reflect Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796). And the magician’s reveal of a conclusion is very much in line with the tradition of Ann Radcliffe. In other words, Smith played all the hits but nothing edgy enough to cause a stir.

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Paul Féval, père – Vampire City (1867)

Review by Justin Tate

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies wasn’t the first book to remix classic literature with horror. Way back in 1867 came this totally bonkers French novel which imagines Ann Radcliffe as a vampire hunter. The young novelist, along with several ragtag companions, scout across Europe to root out blood suckers and save Ann’s sister before the upcoming double wedding. Along the way, Radcliffe’s macabre adventures inspire her to write her masterpiece, The Mysteries of Udolpho.

If the plot sounds ridiculous, it’s supposed to be. Féval, who was quite popular in his day, tells his tale with all the self-aware hilarity one might expect from a skilled satirist. The tone is meant to be zany, and zany it is. I wouldn’t call it a fine novel by any stretch of the imagination. That said, according to Goodreads, I highlighted over 200 sentences. It’s rare for a book to have me so glued that I’m highlighting on every page.

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