The Shameful Book Club: Gothic Novel Update

fall-readingAll right! I hope you guys had a wonderful fall and are super excited for the shit winter we are already lucky enough to be on the receiving end of. It’s the perfect weather to curl up next to a fire in a creepy house and devour some old-school 19th century lit!  As you’ll see, I’m reading these slightly out of order and am behind schedule yet again. My excuse this time is that my new job turned out to have a different definition of “full-time hours” than the rest of the world, and I’m pretty much exhausted all the time. As soon as I read one word of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s I’ve already been asleep for an hour.

Anyway, I’ll either rage quit my job or work harder to finish my books. I know which one I’d rather do, but I guess we’ll see. Without further complaining, my first installment in fall’s Gothic Novels for The Shameful Book Club:

the-vampyreMore of a novella, The Vampyre is commonly considered the first literary work that treated vampires in a romantic and humanistic way, paving the path for Stoker’s Dracula and eventually Meyer’s Edward. Polidori was the first person to take the folklore and conflicting world rules surrounding vampirism and bring them together in a coherent manner. He started the rules, Stoker perfected them, and now everyone is trying to rewrite them all over again. The Vampyre follows young Aubrey, a wealthy gentleman, on his journeys with a mysterious Lord Ruthven who seems to be a charming and charismatic British gentleman. Leaving his sister behind, Aubrey decides to travel Europe with this fascinating man, only to discover through his care-takers that Lord Ruthven has a reputation for dishonoring ladies, if you know what I mean. When Aubrey learns that Ruthven has been at it again on their trip, he leaves him in Rome and heads to Greece. While in Greece he falls for a lovely inn keeper’s daughter, Ianthe. He hears the locals telling tales of creatures called vampires and begins to notice a strange resemblance between these creatures and his Lord Ruthven. Then, to Aubrey’s anguish, Ianthe is attacked by one such creature and killed. Aubrey himself is harmed trying to save her, and when he comes to after a sickness, who should be in Greece but Lord Ruthven.

The tale goes on, escalating and becoming ever more horrid from there. Aubrey drives himself nearly mad trying to escape Ruthven, only to find that he has only succeeded in bringing him closer to him. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but if you want to read The Vampyre, I definitely recommend it. It’s short and entertaining and appropriate for the gloomy weather. What I recommend even more is that you listen to it on audiobook, because the guy reading it is AMAZING! He adds emphasis and dramatic flare in all the right places. It made me laugh out loud several times. The Vampyre was obviously influential in Gothic literature and the horror genre, but it also had an impact on the literary world and culture of that time. It was the spark that ignited the very first vampire craze throughout Europe and was adapted into plays, operas, and 17th century fan fiction (a hilarious concept). Alexandre Dumas even references Ruthven as a character in The Count of Monte Cristo. That’s pretty cool.

Next I hit up Nathaniel Hawthrone’s The House of the Seven Gables. So, the House of the Seven Gables is a real place, just for your own personal knowledge and delight. It exists as a museum and is situated in the well known Salem, Mass. It belonged to a cousin of Hawthorne’s, and he was regularly a guest there. If you’re wondering why Hawthorne likes to write about witches and Salem so much, it’s because he had ancestors that were directly involved in those fascinating events. The guilt he carried for this involvement is a theme that is painfully clear in this work of his. Knowing all this before beginning the novel, I was incredible excited. Now having read the novel, I have to admit that I’m not entirely clear on what happened during it. I mean, the damn thing ends with an engagement (spoiler? who cares).

The story goes that there was once a horrible family feud between the conniving Pyncheon’s and the Maule’s, who were salt-of-the-earth types. The land upon which the house was constructed was said to have been wrongfully taken from the Maule’s by the Pyncheon’s, and Matthew Maule (the patriarch) cursed the Pyncheon’s and the house. As Maule takes his last breath, Colonel Pyncheon (who stole the land from him) dies in a ghastly way while sitting alone in his study. That’s the creepy and exciting back story.

The actual events of the book are seemingly bland. Hepzibah Pyncheon is an old maid living alone in the house, on the brink of destitution. Her elderly brother, Clifford, who had been in jail for the murder of their uncle, returns home in a frail and mentally fragile state. During this time a young cousin, Pheobe, comes to live with them, giving them both great joy. This sounds really boring, and parts are, but then there are strange passages that discuss the Colonel’s old portrait that seems to move, a dead body buried under floorboards, a spring that makes people sick, the hint of immortality within the Pyncheon’s, the bewitching and murder of a Pyncheon woman by a Maule man, a weird thing about smelling coffee, and much talk about a huge expanse of land in Maine that the Pyncheon’s have had a weak claim to since the days of the Colonel.

It is this exact land that propels our story forward. Hepzibah and Clifford have a cousin, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon. He’s an evil sonofabitch, if you will, and it is remarked more than once that he looks eerily similar to the Colonel. Like, that the Colonel is a vampire and never actually died. Maybe I read too much into that, because there is nothing about vampires in this book. Jaffrey believes that Clifford knows where the deed to this land in Maine is, and he threatens the siblings with institutionalization if they don’t produce the document. This is when some weird shit happens. I’m not going to say what kind of weird shit, because I want you to read this book, because it’s worth reading.

Hawthorne’s pros are beautiful. You can’t get away from his imagery. And while there wasn’t quite enough horror for me, the subtleties laid out by Hawthorne were rather delightful. There were times when I was at the edge of my seat, but the thing that bothers me about The House of the Seven Gables is its inability to commit. I love myself some magic realism here and there, but Hawthorne goes off on tangents in this novel that more or less attest to the fact that the Maule family were truly witches, and that a real curse had been put on the Pyncheons. And while there is a lot of this, enough to make me sure that some magical tomfoolery was occurring, there were no confirmations; no proof, or even a solid statement from a credible party. I just have a million questions!! Also, I find Holgrave (the degaerreotypist) to be beyond creepy. Anyone who’s read this book and wants to comment on the sketch factor of Holgrave, please do so.

phantom of the operaAnd so we come to The Phantom of the Opera. I know people freak out over this show. They love it. They love the movies. But have you ever actually read the book? It’s not great. The version I have in my head is one that my Aunt told me 22 years ago as a bedtime story, so obviously the actual book is a bit different from that. It’s definitely a pulpy rag, if you ask me. The plot is pretty much the same as the musical, but it is so incredibly ludicrous and written in such a slap-dash way that I hardly knew what was going on throughout the entirety of the novel. I also hate Christine. I hate, hate, hatehatehatehate her. She’s like the original manic pixie dream girl; never speaking her mind, covering up her problems with a strange free spirit attitude that only feels forced, and then devolving into a drippy mess. I feel so bad for Raoul. And the Opera Ghost, Erik, is comical. He’s not menacing or terrifying at all. And his story… I couldn’t even figure it all out. He ran away from home and became a gypsy (or was he a gypsy first??), and was then hired by a Shah in Persia to make some horrible torture chamber palace, and then ran away when he was sentenced to death in order to keep the torture palace a secret. That’s how he found himself in Paris and as part of the construction crew of the Opera House. While building the Opera House, he also managed to work in a ridiculous dungeon of evil without anyone noticing. Now he spends his time being a creep. Sounds reasonable.

Gaston Leroux wrote The Phantom of the Opera in second person, and the story was originally serialized, so I get why it feels so strange and segmented. Interestingly enough, it makes for a much better film and musical than novel, so unless you are a diehard fan or a literary geek, you really don’t have to read this one. You more than likely already know the plot, and I’m sure you have a huge “To Read” list now that everyone is coming out with their Best of 2014 picks. So skip this one, I beg of you.

Join me in December, as I test out the Beyoncé of this genre, Anne Radcliffe, and get into some modern gothic tales with Shirely Jackson. I probably won’t have time to revisit The Monk, but I’ll end this genre with The Woman in White, which will transition us nicely into Winter’s genre: Mystery Novels!!

Reading fights S.A.D., so crack open a book with me!


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