Archive for the ‘Gothic’ Category

William Beckford – Vathek

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

One of the early Gothic novels is the tale of Vathek (1786) by William Beckford. In essence it is more alike a traditional fairy tale in the style of the brothers Grimm mixed with Tales Of One Thousand And One Nights. The Gothic element is found mostly in its cruel depiction of events which provide some play on morality as early on a sense of doom starts creeping in. The events told are obviously bad and evil and nothing good will come from it. The setting is the Middle East in times when the Arabs were dominant, which would be around the year 1000. The location is kept vague as Beckford makes up names and places for which no real analogues can be found. It is the story that matters and as it is a fantastic tale which would be hampered by trying to fit it in a real environment.

It are the strong fantastical elements that sets it apart from, what I consider to be, the typical Gothic tale that has become common. Usually Gothic tales are embedded in a realistic environment which gets twisted in one way or the other. This to have a greater effect on the reader experience. I wouldn’t call it fantasy in the straight sense as it has a closer resembles to fairy tales and the tales of the Arabian Nights. The latter has probably been used by Beckford as inspiration. Although I haven’t read the original stories (yet), I did get that genuine feeling I had when seeing movie and TV adaptations. In that sense the story will give you a familiar feeling.

One of the problems of the novel is some lack of internal coherency. The tale is episodic in nature although it follows a main theme. I say episodic because events don’t follow naturally. Instead the story simply jumps from one to another storyline, often with little repercussions of what happened previously in what happened next. Realism is very much absent so it doesn’t matter anyways (so one could assume the author might have thought). Because of this I had trouble sticking to the story, even as it is a short novel (rather a novella in truth).

The main trouble I had to keep reading continuously was the prose. It is not bad at all. Beckford knows his style and has a large vocabulary besides it. No, the problem with the prose is that is written for a story teller. Beckford uses a dramatic style that works best when read aloud to an audience. Because of this dialogues are somewhat unnatural as they are written as proclamations or as if it were a play. This quickly gets tiresome unless you try voicing what you read in your own head.

The story itself is fairly entertaining although at times it felt like a hotchpotch of fairy tales mixed together. It is only lightly Gothic as the fantastical dominates and the events are more comical than trying to put it in a realistic setting. A nice read, but not really remarkable.

Strange mysteries

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Another two novels arrived this week, both by a female author and both in sense a tale of mystery. The first is the Gothic novel The Mysteries Of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe. With almost 700 pages quite the heavy tome for the time. Second is And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie. Its original title is Ten Little Niggers, but of course such titles aren’t seen as politically correct anymore these days. I’m quite the Agatha Christie fan and love the movie and TV adaptations of her Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories. I’ve read a fair number of her books, but only a limited amount of her many publications. Although I knew the original title of the novel and never realized I had never read the actual novel before while it is considered to be one of her best. So on that acclamation I decided to buy it as I would else not have turned upon it by chance.

Horace Walpole – The Castle Of Otranto

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

The Castle Of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole is considered to be the first Gothic novel. It was Walpole who coined the name in fact and he set a number of Gothic story elements that have since then been copied extensively: romance, gloomy locations and atmosphere, tragedy and supernatural occurrences. Walpole also lets the story take place in mediaeval times so it has some minor historical elements as well.

The novel is not long. The edition I had was only 80 pages, so one could call it a novella, were it not for the somewhat small letters and the lack of paragraphs and a lack of punctuation, especially in dialogues. It is all crammed together, no matter who’s talking, which makes it troublesome to follow who’s speaking. I should call it a kind of laziness on the side of the editor. Can it be that hard to add some hard enters? If done so it would not have surprised me the number of pages would have doubled.

Either way, it was fortunate that the prose of Walpole is overall very accessible and easily readable. He manages to keep a good pace in his plot with plenty of twists and drama. As a Gothic tale it is a strange story at times, although one could compare it these days to typical soap elements. The difference of course is that it is written in the 18th century and certain plot elements were more common while they are categorized more typically these days. Such is what one can expect if one takes up old novels.

While the story does manage to entertain the plot is not very coherent. I had some trouble keeping the whole picture, although the lack of punctuation and paragraphs could have influenced my view. It is mainly a weird story that does leave an impression because of the twists and the heavy drama. So as the first Gothic novel it is an interesting read, but not that good. What of course doesn’t help is that nowadays we are quite familiar with his at the time original plot elements which would now be seen as somewhat cliché.

Five old novels

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

I am always interested in browsing through a catalog of a certain publisher, if they happen to have an interesting collection, to find some interesting new books. In this case I was checking the Oxford University Press for some interesting titles. I picked up another historical work by Alexandre Dumas, La Reine Margot (1845), describing events in France in the late sixteenth century. Then I noticed they had a remarkable selection of Gothic novels. I am not a particular fan of the genre, although I have read a few, just because they can be quite peculiar and at times I like to have a different take on what I usually read. As I was looking for the best price I came to an omnibus edition of four Gothic novels (of that same title in case you want to check it out yourself) for which I would have paid two or three times as much for each book separately, so the choice was easy. The included novels are The Castle Of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, Vathek (1786) by William Beckford, The Monk (1796) by Matthew Lewis, and Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley. The last one is the most famous but the description of the other three titles attracted me most.