Weird Tales from the 18th Century
September 28, 2019 3:40 AM   Subscribe

Rictor Norton's Gothic Readings: The First Wave, 1764-1840 offers representative excerpts from early Gothic novels--which would eventually connect to everything from Surrealism (Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, 26 Feb. 2019: "Dorothea Tanning Review – A Gorgeous Trip Through Gothic Nightmares), to Scooby Doo (Eleni Theodoropoulos, CrimeReads, 13 Sep. 2019: "How Scooby Doo Revived Gothic Storytelling For Generations of Kids"), to innovation in humanities scholarship (Anna Williams, My Gothic Dissertation; Matthew Brown, 9 May 2019, "English PhD completes groundbreaking podcast dissertation")--but lesser-known tales of wonder and terror also appeared in shorter forms throughout the 18th century.

Direct links to especially atmospheric excerpts from the 18th C., plus links to complete texts: Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho (complete); George Moore, Grasville Abbey (vols. 1, 2, & 3); Regina Maria Roche, The Children of the Abbey (complete); Eleanor Sleath, The Orphan of the Rhine (complete); Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland (complete); Sophia Lee, The Recess (vols. 1, 2, & 3); Ludwig Flammenberg [Carl Friedrich Kahlert] with Peter Teuthold (trans.), The Necromancer (complete).

Some shorter 18th C. weird tales--roughly one per decade, not confined to Gothics or English lit, but all available online: Incidentally, in 1797 two satirical letters laced with misogyny delineated the tropes of the Gothic genre with the actual effect of making it sound very compelling: "Terrorist Novel Writing" and "The Terrorist System of Novel-Writing." Angela Wright explains more in "Haunted Britain in the 1790s" (a contribution to Gothic Technologies).
posted by Wobbuffet (10 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
Amazing post! Flagged as phantasmic. and now I know what I'm reading from now through Halloween
posted by miles per flower at 7:09 AM on September 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh wow thank you! The Mysteries of Udolpho is not exactly an easy book to get into but I really would recommend it, it is laser focused on the horror of women’s lives and it is fascinating. It also has the longest slow burn reveal of a plot point I have ever encountered.
posted by velebita at 9:51 AM on September 28, 2019

In this vein, some might also find interest in one Howard Phillip Lovecraft's survey of the genre, "Supernatural Horror in Literature" first published in 1927.

I've read a few items from it, slowly working along. That early stuff is certainly historically interesting if not always a great read.
posted by glonous keming at 10:44 AM on September 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

And I would have read the article too, if it weren't for those damned kids!
posted by evilDoug at 10:59 AM on September 28, 2019

Scooby-Doo in the middle made me laugh aloud, but of course it's true. I bet there's a great essay somewhere tying Buffy to 18th c Gothic to `the horror of women’s lives'. (One of my favorite things in BtVS is that I think Angel and Spike reflect their particular literary periods well and subtly. One of my least favorite is that Darla and... dang, the particularly tormented Spanish one... don't.)

Were there actually more decaying castles than usual in England in the 18th century, the way there were a lot of Hudson River Bracketed decaying mansions for Charles Addams to draw? I can see there might have been a bunch damaged by the civil war and made obsolete by economic changes, or alternatively that it's alluding to the French revolution.
posted by clew at 12:32 PM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just reread Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla the other day from a long list of Gothic lit links that popped up on my tumblr dash. 'Tis the season, I guess!

Can we talk about the generation of kids turned on to Gothic storytelling by Scooby-Doo without mentioning their older siblings who rushed home to watch Dark Shadows's tributes to the Brontës, Mary Shelley, Daphne du Maurier, Robert Louis Stevenson, Poe, Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, and Alexandre Dumas?

To anyone who's interested in Gothic elements in 1960's American popular culture, I highly recommend the Long-Forgotten Haunted Mansion Blog. It's rarely updated nowadays, but there is a huge back catalogue of posts that will keep you reading for a long time. It's an incredibly in-depth, scholarly exploration of all the cultural, historical, and artistic influences that went into the development of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion attraction between its conception in the early 1960s and its eventual 1969 opening,
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:03 PM on September 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Rictor Norton is a fascinating dude. I want to share that one of the funniest things I saw during my career of literary scholarship was two professors getting into an increasingly heated slapfight over whether to call Rictor Norton an amateur historian or an independent scholar.

For some real fun, read Otranto, then Udolpho, then The Monk, then read Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen's piss-take on girls that take gothic novels too seriously.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 9:50 PM on September 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Excellent post!

For Radcliffe, while Udolpho looms large, may I recommend The Italian (1797)? It's shorter, tightly organized, and lots of fun. (one etext)

The pre-1790s history of the Gothic can get Gothic scholars very excited. Which stories and novels count? Which ones are the most influential before Ann Radcliffe and "Monk" Lewis?

I usually begin with Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764). Super short, very unhinged and manic. Plus the author's an interesting character on his own. (Gutenberg)
posted by doctornemo at 5:48 AM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

So glad this got put in the sidebar! So much great stuff to dive into.
posted by theatro at 9:50 AM on October 1, 2019

Fantastic! 😱👻👻👻
posted by plant or animal at 11:58 AM on October 9, 2019

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