Valancourt Books

Despite the quantity of titles published, Gothic novels of 1790-1820 era are scarce. Valancourt Books is currently the best go-to for this particular niche.

In addition to publishing the list of “horrid novels” mentioned by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, they also publish a representative list of Minerva Press titles (I count twenty-two).

Valancourt’s whole catalog is worth checking out if you’re interested in the following:

  • Gothic & Romantic
  • Victorian & Edwardian
  • Literary Fiction
  • Vintage Thrills and Chills
  • Horror & Science Fiction
  • Rediscovered LGBT Literature

Arno Press went through a phase of publishing novels from this original Gothic (OG!) era in the 1970s. These were published for the library market and many are still available through interlibrary loan. On the open market, though, they can get kind of pricey.

Broadview Press is another strong contemporary source for some of the early Gothics. (Though these can be pricey.)

My current less-than-methodical pursuit has me reading a 1970s paperback with the traditional lady fleeing the spooky house cover written by Gil Brewer. Brewer interests me because he was a local writer and much of the crime fiction he wrote under his real name takes place in the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater metropolitan area. Some of his crime fiction work is quite good.

He wrote some Gothics in the early 1970s under the pseudonym Elaine Evans.

“The mansion had been built more than a hundred years ago by Brady Holloway, who had made his fortune in Pennsylvania before moving to the Louisiana bayou country. Brady was known as a demon, and his rages were infamous throughout the countryside. When he fell in love with the beautiful Charlene, some hoped that he would settle down. But instead his raging way of life continued — until Charlene was found brutally murdered. Shocked, Brady Holloway converted his entire fortune –$750,000 — into gold, and disappeared from the world. Now, more than a hundred years later, another beautiful young woman was coming to the mansion renamed Malpoindre — Evil Dawn — after Charlene’s murder. Would Kirsten Holloway, too, meet her doom on these haunted grounds?”

I just finished a scholarly work about the Gothic paperbacks of the 1960s/1970s. It wasn’t that great. The next on my TBR pile will take me back to Walpolian England. And after Black Autumn I’ll probably turn to The Graveyard School.

“The poetry of the Graveyard School—gloomy meditations on mortality, often composed in churchyards—was immensely popular in 18th-century England and was an important forerunner of the Romantic period and a major influence on the development of the Gothic novel. Yet, despite the unquestioned significance of the Graveyard Poets, critical attention has been scant, and until now there has been no anthology of their writings.”

My Gothic Body: Stone, part 1

This post should come much later in the story but since it’s currently on my mind I’ll post about it now.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a translation of The Five Remembrances I like.

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill-health.
There is no way to escape having ill-health.
I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to
change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground on which I stand.

I find it comforting to remind myself that I will change. I will age. I will have issues with my health. I will be separated from those I love. And someday I will die. The Five Remembrances reads pretty goth. All about death and loss and separation, but Hanh adds a gloss that makes the sutra much more meaningful to me.

In the version I have Hanh qualifies his translation with the comment

“If we look at the Five Remembrances only as ominous warnings of what is to come, they will serve only to create more suffering. Our practice is to smile to them, to look deeply and shine the light of mindfulness in order to transform our fear of old age, sickness, death, being separated from people and things we love, and to see the nature of our actions.”

Understanding Our Mind by Thich Nhat Hanh · 2008

Finding a way to accept inevitable change with grace, humility, and humor has become an important part of my search for middle-aged well-being.

After Back Collapse 2023 my stool changed dramatically. I went to a doctor to try and figure out what might be going on, and in the process I got a CT scan of my gut. Completely unrelated to any issues I was experiencing I discovered I have a large nonobstructive kidney stone.

I’ve learned that so much of health care is really playing the odds. It’s possible a stone like that would never grow, stay where it was, and I could live out my life without it having the slightest impact. It’s also possible that down the road it could do something that caused great pain, damaged my kidney, sent me to the emergency room, or otherwise make my life considerably worse.

I decided to get it removed.

To be continued…

My Gothic Body: Back Collapse 2023, part two

“The lower part of the castle was hollowed into several intricate cloisters; and it was not easy for one under so much anxiety to find the door that opened into the cavern. An awful silence reigned throughout those subterraneous regions, except now and then some blasts of wind that shook the doors she had passed, and which, grating on the rusty hinges, were re-echoed through that long labyrinth of darkness. Every murmur struck her with new terror[.]”

Castle of Otranto

The first few days of Back Collapse 2023 were some of the most painful I’ve ever experienced. Moving was stiff and slow as I tried to negotiate moving my body without in any way bending my lower back. Here are a few things I learned during that period

  • moving the lower back is an essential part of adjusting oneself in bed, from moving hips to rolling over,
  • the internet makes every ailment feel like imminent death or at least cancer,
  • between 70-80% of the adult US population will experience chronic back pain at some point in their life,
  • typically “throwing out one’s back” will respond to heat/ice and rest and a visit to the physician isn’t strictly necessary the first few days,
  • in my case I should have started icing earlier. I used heat because it felt like muscles were tightening up, but the ice was more helpful because there was inflammation and swelling,

After three days I could move enough I could have gone back to work on Thursday, but since we are on 4-day work weeks over the summer I stayed home on Thursday. By the following Monday I’d regained nearly all of my range of motion, though I still felt a little tender.

After a month I was back to my old self.

Except.

Hmmm, how to put this delicately…

My stool was not normal.

The first few days after my back collapsed I was wary about what I ate. Getting to and from the toilet was a major ordeal. Sitting was rife with challenges. For the first few days I did not want to move my bowels.

When I was eventually OK with sitting and shitting I noticed my stool was soft, sometimes watery. Shock to the system, I thought. It’ll pass.

Still the same symptom after a month.

After six weeks I made an appointment with a doctor to figure out what might be going on with my digestive system.

Ugh, doctors. Perhaps that needs an entry of its own.

(to be continued…)

My Gothic Body: Back Collapse 2023, part one

My body is more deteriorating gothic ruin than tidy and burnished temple. I have arrived at a time in my life when my body is alerting me that it is the nature of my body to grow old, and to decline.

In Mysteries of Udolpho, Emily is initially excited at the prospects of visiting the Castle Udolpho. As she gets to know the owner better, she becomes more apprehensive. The first time she sees the castle she notes “its mouldering walls of dark grey stone, rendered it a gloomy and sublime object.” Soon after arriving Montoni has this conversation with the servant left to oversee the castle’s upkeep.

“Well, how have you gone on in the castle, since I left it?” said Montoni.

“Why much as usual, Signor, only it wants a good deal of repairing. There is the north tower—some of the battlements have tumbled down, and had liked one day to have knocked my poor wife (God rest her soul!) on the head. Your Excellenza must know—”

“Well, but the repairs,” interrupted Montoni.

“Aye, the repairs,” said Carlo: “a part of the roof of the great hall has fallen in, and all the winds from the mountains rushed through it last winter, and whistled through the whole castle so, that there was no keeping one’s self warm, be where one would. There, my wife and I used to sit shivering over a great fire in one corner of the little hall, ready to die with cold, and—”

“But there are no more repairs wanted,” said Montoni, impatiently.

“O Lord! Your Excellenza, yes—the wall of the rampart has tumbled down in three places; then, the stairs, that lead to the west gallery, have been a long time so bad, that it is dangerous to go up them; and the passage leading to the great oak chamber, that overhangs the north rampart—one night last winter I ventured to go there by myself, and your Excellenza—”

I am my own crumbling ruin.

It was a great day. Jennifer and I were cracking each other up, really enjoying each other’s company. We were driving home from Sanibel Island, taking the “scenic” route, the slow route I prefer to the interstate. I was feeling deep, sincere gratitude for what I had, a real appreciation for the life I’d managed to somehow stumble into. It was Sunday, July 31, 2023.

At home, I had only a few chores to complete to be ready for work on Monday. I plopped some clothes into the washer (another thing to be grateful for, I reflected. Once upon a time I’d be schlepping all this stuff to some nearby laundromat). I laid on the couch and read some. Maybe snoozed a little. When I stood up my back felt a little tight and thought I’d do some yoga in a little bit (another thing to be grateful for, I’d managed to find my way to a healthy place, better food, regular exercise, visits to the physician, therapy, lost thirty pounds last year. Once upon a time I’d eat a large bag of cheetos for dinner and wash it down with a six-pack. Now, I ate fruit for dessert and my diet overflowed with vegetables).

As I bent to pull the clothes out of the washer the tightening in my back quickened.

This is escalating quickly, I thought.

I pulled some clothes from the washer and as I stood to put them into the dryer stacked on top my back locked. To move was to conjure pain.

I shuffled into Jennifer’s office.

“Here’s a curious development. My back’s gone out. I can barely move. Can you help me lie down on the floor?”

(to be continued…)

Off-Topic: Brown’s Unified Theory of Fucks

Off-topic but Mandy Brown’s Unified Theory of Fucks resonates.

Read the whole thing here.

“This is one of my answers to the question of, why give a fuck about work? Why love your work? It won’t, of course, love you back. It can’t. Work isn’t a thing that can love. It isn’t alive, it isn’t and won’t ever be living. And my answer is: don’t. Don’t give a fuck about your work. Give all your fucks to the living. Give a fuck about the people you work with, and the people who receive your work—the people who use the tools and products and systems or, more often than not, are used by them. Give a fuck about the land and the sea, all the living things that are used or used up by the work, that are abandoned or displaced by it, or—if we’re lucky, if we’re persistent and brave and willing—are cared for through the work. Give a fuck about yourself, about your own wild and tender spirit, about your peace and especially about your art. Give every last fuck you have to living things with beating hearts and breathing lungs and open eyes, with chloroplasts and mycelia and water-seeking roots, with wings and hands and leaves. Give like every fuck might be your last.”

Matthew Lewis hanging out with Byron and the Shelleys

Wait, what? I can’t recount how many times now I’ve read about that night at the Villa Diodati when Byron, Percy, Mary, Claire Clairmont, and John Polidori were hanging out and decided to tell each other scary stories.

And after reading about this for months this is the first indication that Matthew Lewis might have been there!

In Spectres of Antiquity, James Uden writes —

“At the Villa Diodati in 1816, when Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley participated in the ghost story contest that gave rise to Frankenstein, Lewis was there — translating. He earned his keep at the villa by translating Faust, according to Lord Byron, who was ‘naturally much struck’ by the poem, though he found Lewis an argumentative bore” (Then Uden cites Byron’s Letters and Journals, which I should probably dig up.)

I still don’t have a clear picture of what daily life might have been like that summer. I’m pretty sure Byron arrived with a large retinue of servants and attendants, dogs, horses, and various animals but I need to find the references in the letters and diaries. And from looking at Mary’s journal it looks like Lewis arrived in August. The story-telling contest was in June.

Wednesday, August 14.—Read Le Vieux de la Montagne; translate. Shelley reads Tacitus, and goes out with Lord Byron before and after dinner. Lewis comes to Diodati. 

I wonder what Mary thought about MGL. (I’m about halfway through The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis. It. Is. Scandalous!)

The principal characters there that summer were certainly familiar with The Monk, Lewis, and some of his other work. In this compiled list of Mary’s reading taken from her journals, we see she read Lewis’s Tales of Terror the year before that summer at Villa Diodati. However, she doesn’t make much of his visit in her journal entries. It’s not even clear if she spent time with him. Instead, it looks like she stayed at the smaller house, reading, translating, and taking care of the baby. (William was born in January of 1816.)

In 1816, at age 44, Matthew Lewis was no longer the enfant terrible but an established man of letters. He published The Monk when he was 21 and it was an instant sensation. To put the ages into context, that summer Byron was 28, Percy was about to turn 24, Mary about to turn 19, Claire had just turned 18, and John Polidori was 20. So young!

Lewis published The Monk in 1796, a year before Mary Shelley was born. In his mid-20s he met Goethe and had some conversations and some correspondence. He was a key figure in popularizing English translations of German “shudder novels” (schauerromane), as well as an important translator of German prose, poetry, and folk tales. His work and these German translations exerted a significant influence on the shaping of the Gothic genre.

I suppose in some future post I’ll unpack the chronology of events of that summer a little bit. It looks like maybe the contest was in June and Lewis’s visit was in August?

Lewis would have looked something like the following that summer. He died of yellow fever a couple of years later.

Shelley recounts some of the ghost stories Lewis told them during his visit to the Villa. Here is one of them —

A young man who had taken orders, had just been presented with a living, on the death of the incumbent. It was in the Catholic part of Germany. He arrived at the parsonage on a Saturday night; it was summer, and waking about three o’clock in the morning, and it being broad day, he saw a venerable-looking man, but with an aspect exceedingly melancholy, sitting at a desk in the window, reading, and two beautiful boys standing near him, whom he regarded with looks of the profoundest grief. Presently he rose from his seat, the boys followed him, and they were no more to be seen. The young man, much troubled, arose, hesitating whether he should regard what he had seen as a dream, or a waking phantasy. To divert his dejection, he walked towards the church, which the sexton was already employed in preparing for the morning service. The first sight that struck him was a portrait, the exact resemblance of the man whom he had seen sitting in his chamber. It was the custom in this district to place the portrait of each minister, after his death, in the church.

He made the minutest inquiries respecting his predecessor, and learned that he was universally beloved, as a man of unexampled integrity and benevolence; but that he was the prey of a secret and perpetual sorrow. His grief was supposed to have arisen from an attachment to a young lady, with whom his situation did not permit him to unite himself. Others, however, asserted, that a connexion did subsist between them, and that even she occasionally brought to his house two beautiful boys, the offspring of their connexion.—Nothing further occurred until the cold weather came, and the new minister desired a fire to be lighted in the stove of the room where he slept. A hideous stench arose from the stove as soon as it was lighted, and, on examining it, the bones of two male children were found within.

The Bleeding Nun

The story of the bleeding nun is a whole thing in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk. A few years after its publication he published the following poem in his Tales of Wonder.

I’d never heard the tale of the bleeding nun until I started this Gothic research.

Brief summary: Young lovers learn she is being sent to a convent and plot to use the local legend of the bleeding nun to their benefit. On the night the apparition of the bleeding nun is to appear (which all but the most superstitious know to be myth) they will disguise her as the spectre and once she’s out of the castle the two will escape and elope.

The Bleeding Nun

Where yon proud turrets crown the rock,
Seest thou a warrior stand?
He sighs to hear the castle clock
Say midnight is at hand.

It strikes, and now his lady fair
Comes tripping from her hall,
Her heart is rent by deep despair,
And tears in torrents fall.

— “Ah! woe is me,” my love, she cried,
“What anguish wrings my heart:
“Ah! woe is me,” she said, and sigh’d,
“We must for ever part.

“Know, ere three days are past and flown,
“(Tears choak the piteous tale!)
“A parents vow, till now unknown,
“Devotes me to the veil.”

— — “Not so, my Agnes!” Raymond cried,
“For leave thee will I never;
“Thou art mine, and I am thine,
“Body and soul for ever!

“Then quit thy cruel father’s bower,
“And fly, my love, with me.”
— — “Ah! how can I escape his power,
“Or who can set me free.

“I cannot leap yon wall so high,
“Nor swim the fosse with thee;
“I can but wring my hands, and sigh
“That none can set me free.”

— — “Now list, my lady, list, my love,
“I pray thee list to me,
“For I can all your fears remove,
“And I can set you free.

“Oft have you heard old Ellinore,
“Your nurse, with horror tell,
“How, robed in white, and stain’d with gore,
“Appears a spectre fell,

“And each fifth year, at dead of night,
“Stalks through the castle gate,
“Which, by an ancient solemn rite,
“For her must open wait.

“Soon as to some far distant land,
“Retires to-morrow’s sun,
“With torch and dagger in her hand,
“Appears the Bleeding Nun.

“Now you shall play the bleeding Nun,
“Array’d in robes so white,
“And at the solemn hour of one,
“Stalk forth to meet your knight.

“Our steeds shall bear us far away,
“Beyond your father’s power,
“And Agnes, long ere break of day,
“Shall rest in Raymond’s bower.” —

— “My heart consents, it must be done,
— “Father, ’tis your decree, —
“And I will play the Bleeding Nun,
“And fly, my love, with thee.

“For I am thine,” fair Agnes cried,
“And leave thee will I never;
“I am thine, and thou art mine,
“Body and soul for ever!” —

Fair Agnes sat within her bower,
Array’d in robes so white,
And waited the long wish’d-for hour,
When she should meet her knight.

And Raymond, as the clock struck one,
Before the castle stood;
And soon came forth his lovely Nun,
Her white robes stain’d in blood.

He bore her in his arms away,
And placed her on her steed;
And to the maid he thus did say,
As on they rode with speed:

— “Oh Agnes! Agnes! thou art mine,
“And leave thee will I never;
“Thou art mine, and I am thine,
“Body and soul for ever!” —

— “Oh Raymond! Raymond, I am thine,
“And leave thee will I never;
“I am thine, and thou art mine,
“Body and soul for ever!” —

At length, — “We’re safe!” — the warrior cried;
“Sweet love abate thy speed;” —
But madly still she onwards hied
Nor seem’d his call to heed.

Through wood and wild, they speed their way,
Then sweep along the plain,
And almost at the break of day,
The Danube’s banks they gain.

— “Now stop ye, Raymond, stop ye here,
“And view the farther side;
“Dismount, and say Sir Knight, do’st fear,
“With me to stem the tide.” —

Now on the utmost brink they stand,
And gaze upon the flood,
She seized Don Raymond by the hand,
Her grasp it froze his blood.

A whirling blast from off the stream
Threw back the maiden’s veil;
Don Raymond gave a hideous scream,
And felt his spirits fail.

Then down his limbs, in strange affright,
Cold dews to pour begun;
No Agnes met his shudd’ring sight,

— “God! ’Tis the Bleeding Nun!” —
A form of more than mortal size,
All ghastly, pale, and dead,
Fix’d on the Knight her livid eyes,

And thus the Spectre said.
— “Oh Raymond! Raymond! I am thine,
“And leave thee will I never;
“I am thine, and thou art mine,
“Body and soul for ever!”

— Don Raymond shrieks, he faints; the blood
Ran cold in every vein,
He sank into the roaring flood,
And never rose again!

1801 (From Tales of Wonder. Written and Collected by M. G. Lewis. Vol. 2. London, 1801) https://archive.org/details/taleswonder01leydgoog

Plate from ‘Raymond and Agnes; or, The Bleeding Nun of Lindenberg: an interesting melo-drama, in two acts’ by H. W. Grosette (London, 1820)

Why Gothic?

In the summer of 2023 I was fishing around for some substantive research project to sink myself into. I knew I wanted to write about myself but not wholly about myself. I wanted to intermingle some sort of research I could use as a lens for contemplating my own aging, mortality, existence, etc. 

I eventually arrived at Frankenstein.

Frankenstein is, among other things, all about life and death and the meaning of existence and the body as an object. I would, I decided, do a deep dive into Frankenstein (the book, the creature, the movies and other spin-offs and variations) and use that as a springboard for some more personal reflections. 

On July 31st my back collapsed (I ultimately discovered I have a bulging L1 disc) and that sealed my commitment to writing about Frankenstein.* I read the book, read bios of Mary Shelley, her mother, and watched many, many Frankenstein movies.

As I got deeper into the project I realized I wanted more context (which is my predictable response to most things in life). What works would Mary Shelley be familiar with when she wrote Frankenstein? How unique was her work? Was Frankenstein sui generis or just another drop in a sea of genre work? And so, my research expanded into the Gothic.

Ultimately this is still a research project about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the creature (and reflections about my own existence). The final result (if, indeed, there is ever a final result) will most likely be a self-published ebook. The blog will be notes and sketches taken along the way as I sort through the literary, artistic, philosophical, and biographical underpinnings of Mary Shelley’s world, and then follow the development of the creature over the next two centuries.

If you want to follow along you can subscribe (in the right-hand column there is a “subscribe to blog via email” box) or follow on your favorite RSS. I’ll also be re-posting on Tumblr (which is the extent of my social media presence these days).

*I’m better now, though very minor issues continue to linger. For example, I am meeting with a physical therapist on Monday to discuss ways of strengthening my back and my core, and improving my standing and sitting posture. I started yoga last spring and loved it, but I think some of the positions may have been exacerbating the issue.

Gender Play/Gender Panic

Here’s a pairing of concepts that’s new to me. I haven’t read his work yet, but historian Dror Wahrman apparently argues/suggests/indicates/frames the British 18th century as one of gender play followed by gender panic.

Hmmm, reading a review of his book The Making of the Modern Self, it looks like he may be addressing something that Horace Walpole exemplifies. And that is the Addisonian condemnation of English character as shallow and superficial. I noted that Walpole embraced these qualities.

One reviewer writes:

“Dror Wahrman is only the most recent historian to attempt to elevate the “forgotten century” to greater prominence in British historical studies, but he has done so by focusing our attention on the very superficiality that has consigned the period to the margins for so long.”

Eglin, John. “The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England.” Journal of Social History 40, no. 4 (2007).

I like the countering of the two concepts of gender play and gender panic because it neatly captures something about Timothy Mowl’s biography of Walpole I couldn’t articulate before.

Mowl writes his biography as if he is a historian in an era of gender panic writing about a figure in an era of gender play. (Perhaps mindset is a better term than era?) Mowl deserves abundant credit for taking up issues of gender and sex in the world of Horace Walpole when a few centuries of criticism, review, and biography skated around the topic. Mowl, however, doesn’t have a particularly strong concept of gender history. His work feels dated, even for the mid-1990s. He takes a paragraph in the introduction to establish his heterosexual bonifides and assure the reader he is “happily married to a second wife,” and “father of [a] school-age son,” but he can write about queer life because there is much “homosexual activity” in his chose profession of architectural history. I can smell the gender panic rising from the page.

I’m intrigued by Wahrman’s framing because it suggests Walpole wasn’t an outlier (Mowl calls him “the great outsider”). He was representative of the gender play of his era.

Looking forward to reading Wahrman’s book.

As far as Mowl’s book? Definitely worthwhile for the serious walpolianite, not so necessary for the cursory reader. For the cursory reader interested in Walpolian gender/sex I recommend: Haggerty, George E. “Queering Horace Walpole.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 46, no. 3 (2006): 543–62.