My Dear and Unfortunate Reader,
Gothic literature is not for the faint of heart; nor is it for the short of patience. The heroines of Austen’s time seem to have gobbled it up surreptitiously and loved every moment of convent seduction and perilous donkey-riding along winding paths to perdition (read, Italy). Modern gothic novels are mostly to be found in the romance section of the bookstore and should mostly be left there as well. So my object on this dark and forbidding Wednesday is to give you a quick rundown of what gothic classics you should be curling up with. Make sure you have at least the entire rest of your week free- these darlings are hefty.
The Mysteries of Udolpho– If you’ve read Northanger Abbey then such bits as “Laurentina’s Skelton” and “The Black Veil” will ring somewhat familiarly in your ears. Ann Radcliffe wrote a bunch of gothic novels at the end of the eighteenth century but this one is her most famous. It is credited with really launching the gothic novel into popularity. Strangely enough it was popular with more than anemic misses with a penchant for fainting fits. Everyone and their mother, father, sister, and little brother read this novel. It was passed around in families, talked about everywhere in the street, influenced playwrights and novelists through England, and remains the most popular gothic novel ever written. It is very long and very ridiculous but it is a classic and is not to be missed.
“Emily gazed long on the splendours of the world she was quitting, of which the whole magnificence seemed thus given to her sight only to increase her regret on leaving it; for her, Valancourt alone was in that world; to him alone her heart turned, and for him alone fell her bitter tears.”
The Monk- Also mentioned in Northanger Abbey as the most horrid of novels (read “horrid” as like “sick nasty” or “best book ever”) Matthew Lewis’ really messed up story of convent seductions and unholy couplings in churches is full of actual supernatural occurrences, something Radcliffe’s novels never are. Think of Radcliffe as being like Scooby Doo- it’s always some guy in a monster mask. The Monk, on the other hand, has lots of things that actually go bump in the night. And did I mention the cross-dressing?
“She sealed his lips with a wanton kiss; ‘Though I forgive your breaking your vows to heaven, I expect you to keep your vows to me.”
Melmoth the Wanderer– I am currently waist-deep in this cynical tome about how awful all religions that are not protestantism are. Right now the tempter, Melmoth, is on a deserted island trying to corrupt a girl who wears nothing but flowers all day by showing her human sacrifice on the shores of India through a telescope. You’re jealous of how I spend my days.
“Yes, I laugh at all mankind, and the imposition that they dare to practice when they talk of hearts. I laugh at human passions and human cares, vice and virtue, religion and impiety; they are all the result of petty localities, and artificial situation. One physical want, one severe and abrupt lesson from the colorless and shriveled lip of necessity, is worth all the logic of the empty wretches who have presumed to prate it, from Zeno down to Burgersdicius. It silences in a second all the feeble sophistry of conventional life, and ascetical passion.”
If you can get through all that I will be happy to give you more. My suggestion? Read Northanger Abbey instead. Way funnier than any of the above. Unless by funny you mean weird as the day is long… then these have got everything else beat by a mile.
“It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language”