Scary Stories #3

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe


Before there was Gothic, Ann Radcliffe set out to define exactly what a book of this genre should entail: a com bination of the elements of horror and romance. Only second to The Castle of Ortranto by Horace Walpole, The Mysteries of Udolpho is frequently used as a case study for what defines the Gothic genre.

Below are some of the prominent Gothic elements you will find in The Mysteries of Udolpho:

Scary/Haunted old building/castle with Gothic architecture:

Death & Decay: 

Madness / Hereditary Curses:

Secrets & Doubles:

Quick summary: After Emily St. Aubuert is imprisoned by her evil guardian, Count Montoni, in his gloomy medieval fortress in the Appenines, terror becomes the order of the day. With its dream-like plot and hallucinatory rendering of its characters’ psycological states, The Mysteries of Udolpho is a fascinating challenge to contemporary readers.

There’s good fun to be had in dark castles and secret passages, among mysterious voices and ghostly apparitions. Although the novel appears many pages long, reading was not unpleasant or dragging.

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Halloween Countdown: Costume #4

4. The vampires from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We all know that there are going to be a lot of sparkly-skinned vampires running around this year, or even perhaps what has become the classic look for the vampire: black hair with widow’s peak and cape.  But what was Stoker’s real vision for these monsters of the night?

Description of Dracula by Bram Stoker: “There he lay looking as if youth had been half-renewed, for the white hair and moustache were changed to dark iron-grey, the cheeks were fuller, and the white skin seemed ruby-red underneath; the mouth was redder than ever, for on the lips were gouts of fresh blood, which trickled from the corners of the mouth and ran over the chin and neck. Even the deep, burning eyes seemed set amongst the swollen flesh, for the lids and pouches underneath were bloated. It seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood; he lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion.”

Now for the brides of Dracula. In Stoker’s novel, the three women that live with Dracula are never referred to as his brides.  Two are described as having dark hair, while one, the leader, is desrcibed as being blonde. The only description Stoker really gives is of there “high aquiline noses, like the Count’s”. I could not find any descriptions of their clothing, but in almost ever photo of them in Google images, they are wearing long, white flowing gowns.

Scary Stories 2: The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

One of Edgar Allan Poe’s most popular short stories with the media today, The Tell-Tale Heart, is a narrative of self-destruction. From the beginning, the narrator can be recognized as an untrustworthy source of information, especially with his proclomation: “but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them.”

It’s just like Egard Allan Poe, master of horror, to leave us at the mercy as a mad-man-narrator. But what really drove him insane is the beating of what the narrator thinks is the old man’s heart. “It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder, every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! — do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am.”

Sound of the Tell-Tale Heart – click to hear the heart!

However, this is where the narrator begins to give us false information.  It is not the old man’s heart he hears beating after all, since it still beats when he is dead, but the beating of his own, tell-tale heart, which tells of his hideous deed.

I believe Poe reveals this to us when he has the narrator inform us,  “for it was not the old man who vexed me but his Evil Eye.” I take the eye to be a pun (metonymy) on I, thus what is really driving the narrator crazy, is himself, as he stated in the first sentence of the story.

If you would like to read “The Tell-Tale Heart,” click here. (it will only take you 5-10 minutes to read and will leave you delightfully chilled).

I really wanted to find The Simpsons episode of a “Tell-Tale Heart,” even a tiny snippet, but surprisingly, it was no where to be found (I love The Simpsons Halloween episodes!).  So instead, we must do with a 1953 short animated film that reminds me of The Nightmare Before Christmas with its use of Gothic neo-classical drawings. A very fine substitute; check it out!

Scary Stories 1: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

“To the wicked, all things are wicked; but to the just, all things are just and right… How delightful to think that a justified person can do no wrong!” — from The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

This Gothic, psychological mystery created quite a stir in it’s time.  Booed by critics for it’s strange genre (it was an early attempt at crime fiction), James Hogg (1770-1835) initially published the book anonymously, even though he was a great author at the time.

In Hogg’s early life he was poor and only learned to read by the generosity his employer at the time, who lent him many books. He is now famous for his writings on Scottish life, which are used by historians today to help them recreate a time lost.

When Hogg published Justified Sinner in 1824, it was reviewed by no one and almost forgotten, forever.  However, In 1924 it was found by a French writer who helped to bring modern acclaim that the book still holds today. This French writer, Andre Gide, is quoted as saying about Justified Sinner: “It is long since I can remember being so taken hold of, so voluptuously tormented by any book.”

Summary: The novel is divided into three sections, giving the reader several ways of understanding the story and the psychology of the madman. The first section is a factual summary of events as they exist in local tradition and folklore. The second section is the confessions of the fanatical Robert Wringhim. The short final section is the unearthing of Wringhim’s remains by a group of writers and the discovery of the shocking confessions that were buried with him.

When I read this book I did feel the same, slightly tormented, but I would describe it more as an unease.  With a lot of religious overtones (and undertones of Atheism), it does feel ‘preachy’ at times. However, this is always interrupted with an unknown devil-like character that causes all the trouble in the novel.

The main reason why this novel made me feel uneasy was it’s crazy host of characters and perhaps reading from the perception of a mad-man; a serial killer in training (and being trained by the devil himself, no less).  Your heart goes out to all the characters they torture and kill, and the only relief is the mysterious light on the hill at the end of the novel.  Was it an angel, or was it this now scientifically explained play of light on moisture:

Reading Books for Big Houses

With the great variety of shows centred around looking into the homes of others, Holmes on Homes, Trading Spaces, Divine Design and House Hunters International, my favorite, there is also, thankfully, a lot of classical literature that centre’s on the magnificent homes of others. Sometimes I do find myself picking up a book solely because the cover portrays a magnificent estate and I know when I read the story, I will be transported to elegance I can only read about.

This is why I have decided to list my top 5 books with big houses:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited–they went there.”

– In my mind I see Gatby’s house as a neo-classical example of architecture in the 1920’s. Click here to get more of a feel for what it would have been furnished with.

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2. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

“All without was silent and dark, unless that could be called light, which was only the faint glimmer of the stars, showing imperfectly the outline of the mountains, the western towers of the castle, and the ramparts below where a solitary sentinel was pacing. What an image of repose did this scene present! …in a foreign land – in a remote castle – surrounded by vice and violence…” (Page 97).

– The Castle of Otranto from the novel is a medieval castle and is todays definition of gothic in literature. The house is made to have a spirit of it’s own and a history that surpasses all who live there.

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3.  The Female Quixote or The Adventures of Arabella by  Charlotte Lennox

“The Marquis, following the Plan of Life he has laid down, divided his Time between the Company of his Lady, his Liberty, which was large and well furnished, and his Gardens.” (Page 6).

– This novel is an example of the Romantic Period and includes much grander descriptions of homes than the one I was able to find above. The main character Arabella lives like Don Quixoto, having read too many romances, and believes the world to be but a fairy tale.

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4.  Dracula by Bram Stoker

“The castle was built on the corner of a great rock, so that on three sides it was quite impregnable, and great windows were placed here…The windows now curtainless, and the yellow  moonlight, flooding in thorugh the diamond panes, enabled one to see even colours, whilst it softended a wealth of dust which lay over all and disguised in some measure the ravages of time and moth.” (Page 55-6).

– Stoker describes Dracula’s castle in great detail, perhaps because he was inspired when visiting this real-life castle in Transylvania. This 700-year-old castle thankfully haunted Stoker’s mind and the result, one of the most popular gothic tales of all time.

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And for the finale…

5.  Against Nature (À rebours) by J.K. Huysmans

“This dining-room resembled a ship’s cabin, with its ceiling of arched beams, its bulkheads and floorboards of pitch-pine, and the little window-opening let into the wainscoting like a porthole. (page 19). …By these means he was able to enjoy quickly, almost simultaneously, all the sensations of a long sea-voyage, without ever leaving home;” (page 21).

– I recommend anyone who is in design to seriously think of reading this. The main character Jean Des Esseintes is a rich man in Paris who shuts himself away in his house, which mimics many different atmospheres, such as the description of traveling on a ship above. The novel is titled Against Nature because Esseintes mimics nature, fooling his senses to think he is exerperiencing something authentic. I would love to see someone design the home he describes, because it really is a masterpiece.

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Any recommendations?