Sunday, November 25, 2018

Two Gothic Novels

I've been slow to update, and have a stack of things I've read to review, so let's do some portmanteau blogging...

Rayland Hall, or, The Remarkable Adventures of Orlando Somerville is regarded as someone significant from a scholarly point of view. It's basically a chapbook of about 36 pages that's a plagiarism of a longer work, The Old Manor House by Charlotte Smith, a 1793 work that ran to thirteen hundred pages over four volumes. Some anonymous but enterprising hack chopped it down to novella length, changed some names, and made it a much more streamlined work. Published in 1810, Rayland Hall is technically a Gothic....but only technically so. While academically interesting, Rayland Hall isn't recommended for the casual D&C fan because, honestly, it's lack in Gothic thrills and chills. There are no ghosts or treasures, but instead a cross-class love affair and questions of inheritance. While offering up some critique of the British social order, and offering a glimpse of the country during the American Revolution, it's lacking in other departments. If anything, this can be viewed as a precursor to all those "gothic romance" novels that are long on the romance but short on the Gothic.

The Cavern of Death is more like it. First published as a newspaper serial in 1793/4, it's full of the castles, ghosts, and violence that one normally expects from Gothic fiction. Another anonymous work, it at lest is longer and not a plagiarism, but an original work. Set in a faux-Germanic land similar to the territory shown in Hammer films, it gives us the adventurous Sir Albert hoping to marry his lady-love Constance, and being thwarted by a wicked Baron. But there's also a murder plot, a clutch of assassins, and a trip to the cave of the title, where we encounter a ghost, a skeleton and a bloody sword, that lead to the revelation of dark secrets. While obviously crude and brief, with no room for any real grace in the style, it still manages to be a fast-moving and entertaining read at under 100 pages.

More on the way....

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