A reading of a classic horror story
‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ is a Gothic novel in miniature. All of the elements of the Gothic novel are here: the subterranean secret, the Gothic space (scaled down from a full-blown castle to a single room), the gruesome crime – even the hovering between the supernatural and the psychological. In just five pages, it’s as if Edgar Allan Poe has scaled down the eighteenth-century Gothic novel into a story of just a few thousand words. But what makes this story so unsettling? Closer analysis reveals that ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ centres on that most troubling of things: the motiveless murder. You can read the story here.
First, a brief summary of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. An unnamed narrator confesses that he has murdered an old man, apparently because of the old man’s ‘Evil Eye’ which drove the narrator to kill him. He then describes how he crept into the old man’s bedroom while he slept and stabbed him, dragging the corpse away and dismembering it, so as to conceal his crime. He goes to some lengths to cover up all trace of the murder – he even caught his victim’s blood in a tub, so that none was spilt anywhere – and then he takes up three of the floorboards of the chamber, and conceals his victim’s body underneath. But no sooner has he concealed the body than there’s a knock at the door: it’s the police, having been called out by a neighbour who heard a shriek during the night. Read the rest of this entry
A summary of a classic poem
‘Tithonus’ is not as famous as some of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s other dramatic monologues – ‘Ulysses’ enjoys considerably more popularity – but it is worth analysing because it offers something different from much other poetry. As the poet-critic William Empson put it, ‘Tithonus’ is ‘a poem in favour of the human practice of dying’, because the poem exposes the horrific reality of what it would be like to live forever.
The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world,
A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.
Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man—
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem’d
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask’d thee, ‘Give me immortality.’
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men, who care not how they give.
But thy strong Hours indignant work’d their wills,
And beat me down and marr’d and wasted me, Read the rest of this entry
The best Gothic novels
The following list is not supposed to represent the ten most definitive Gothic novels ever published – it’s a list to inspire debate and discussion as much as it is a list of recommendations of classic Gothic works of fiction. Nevertheless, we reckon the reader of Gothic fiction could do worse than seek out these ten important Gothic novels. We’ve included some of our favourite interesting trivia about each novel as we go.
William Baldwin, Beware the Cat. What’s this? Surely any list of the best Gothic novels in English has to begin with The Castle of Otranto? But no: that book comes second on our list. Instead, we begin with this obscure short novel written during the early 1550s, during the reign of the boy-king, Edward VI (1547-53). Contrary to what many scholars of the novel claim, the English novel didn’t begin in 1719 with Robinson Crusoe – and nor, we would contend, did the Gothic novel begin with The Castle of Otranto. Instead, the first recognisably ‘Gothic’ novel in English is this wonderfully inventive comic skit that features werewolves, talking cats, jokes about poo, jibes at Catholicism, and even – anticipating Terry Pratchett by some four-and-a-half centuries – jokey footnotes and marginal glosses to the text. We discuss Beware the Cat in more detail in our book, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History. You can read Baldwin’s novel online here. Read the rest of this entry