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.”
Read more “Bram Stoker – Dracula + “Dracula’s Guest” (1897)”
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.
Read more “Joseph Sheridan le Fanu – Carmilla (1872)”
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.
Read more “Mary Elizabeth Braddon – Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)”
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.
Read more “Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1859)”
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!
Read more “Matthew Lewis – The Monk (1796)”
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.
Read more “Catherine Smith – Barozzi (1815)”
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.
Read more “Paul Féval, père – Vampire City (1867)”
The Italian appeared in 1797 during peak Ann Radcliffe pandemonium. Fueled by the success of her uber bestsellers The Romance of the Forest (1791) and The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), this new release was destined to be popular, no matter what. Fans were anxious for another Gothic thriller by their favorite author, particularly since the genre had become so fashionable. Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796), for example, had recently scandalized readers in all the right ways. When rumor got out that The Italian was Radcliffe’s literary response to Lewis, anticipation whirred like a steam engine.
Certainly the publisher had big expectations. Radcliffe was already the highest paid author in the world after receiving a record-breaking £500 for Udolpho. For the The Italian she was paid £800, or about three times the annual salary of her successful, journalist husband.
Read more “Ann Radcliffe – The Italian (1797)”
The Castle of Otranto was the Blair Witch Project of 1764. Both were game-changers which popularized a new genre. Blair Witch launched the “found footage” horror trope and Otranto inaugurated the “Gothic.”
Interestingly enough, Otranto also employs a “found footage” gimmick with its first edition, pretending that the original manuscript was hundreds of years old, unearthed from the dusty library of an “ancient Catholic family” and had to be translated from Italian. There’s a lengthy introduction written by the “translator” explaining all his theories about how much of the story might be true and what the author intended to achieve. This charade isn’t part of the game-changing nature of the novel, however, because such a tactic was in vogue at the time.
Read more “Horace Walpole – The Castle of Otranto (1764)”
The Mysteries of Udolpho is considered Radcliffe’s most enduring literary achievement. At nearly 700 pages it’s certainly her longest. As such, and because I’m usually juggling several books, I decided to blog my review over time. This way I can capture a range of emotion experienced in the duration of such a sprawling epic.
Here’s how it all went down…
11/16/2020 Update – Seventy pages in and I can tell Radcliffe is doing something different this time. The mystery element mulls more beneath the surface than usual and pacing is far more luxuriant. Gorgeous scenery is crucial to the Radcliffe formula, but she really stops to smell the roses. Not a bad thing, as her travel writing skills have improved from her earlier novels. Here’s one lovely example:
Read more “Ann Radcliffe – The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)”