recent reading : november 2021

— Roger Luckhurst. Gothic. An Illustrated History. Princeton University Press, [2021].
Massive full color account of the Gothic, as it has evolved “beyond its origins in architecture and the printed page to become fully transmedial”.  The discussion of architectural gothic makes clear how utterly transgressive the literary Gothic is, right from the get go. Wendy Walker discusses this in her afterword to Sexual Stealing. In Longsword (1762), the Historical Tale starts with shipwreck, imprisonment, betrayal of trust, and the eponymous earl is reported dead by a scheming rival who seeks to marry the countess. In The Castle of Otranto (December 1764; 2nd ed., April 1765), the giant black iron helmet crashes into Prince Manfred’s orderly world, killing his heir and unfettering his desires.

— Avram Davidson. Beer! Beer! Beer! [Novato, California : Or All the Seas with Oysters Publishing, November 2021]. Pictorial wrappers with a cover drawing by Avi Katz.

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— Paul Theroux. Facing Ka‘ena Point. Privately printed [by Jesse Marsolais], 2021. 100 copies, signed by the author.

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— William Blake. Songs of Innocence and Experience with other poems. Basil Montagu Pickering, 1866

— Gilbert K. Chesterton. The Man Who Knew Too Much. Harper & Brothers, 1922.

— Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985. Edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre. PM, [2021].

— Brendan C. Byrne. Accelerate. [Moonachie, New Jersey : for the author, 3 November 2021].
A smart, dazzling book, a hurtling cross-country drive — west to east, for a change — powered by language and attitude.

— [Walpole, Horace]. The Castle of Otranto, A Gothic Story. The Second Edition. London: Printed for William Bathoe in the Strand, and Thomas Lownds in Fleet-Street, 1765.

the new route

[Walpole, Horace]. The Castle of Otranto, A Gothic Story. The Second Edition. London: Printed for William Bathoe in the Strand, and Thomas Lownds in Fleet-Street, 1765. ESTC T143237. Summers, A Gothic Bibliography, p. 265. Published 11 April 1765 (500 copies).

title page of the second edition of The Castle of Otranto : the first to call itself A Gothic Story

from the OED :

definition of the Gothic in the OED

Labels and categories are invariably assigned retrospectively, for the authors are walking into new territory. The first of the “Gothic tales”, Thomas Leland’s  Longsword (1762), has the subtitle, An Historical Romance. The title page of the first edition of Otranto (published in December 1764) reads: The Castle of Otranto, A Story Translated by William Marshall, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto.

The Gothic was in the air, hence the new subtitle for the second edition, naming the craze which spread across Europe for the next sixty years. The second edition also includes a preface by Walpole discussing some of his aims :

it was an attempt to blend the two kinds of Romance, the ancient and the modern. In the former, all was imagination and improbability : in the latter, nature is always intended to be, and sometimes is, copied with success. [. . .] The actions, sentiments, conversations, of the heroes and heroines of ancient days were as unnatural as the machines employed to put them in motion.
The author of the following pages thought it possible to reconcile the two kinds. Desirous of leaving the powers of fancy at liberty to expatiate through the bundles realms of invention, and thence of creating more interesting situations, he wished to conduct the mortal agents in his drama according to the rules of probability ; in short, to make them think, speak and act, as it might be supposed mere men and women might do in  extraordinary positions. He had observed, that in all inspired writings, the personages under the dispensation of miracles and witnesses to the most stupendous phenomena, never lose sight of their human character ; whereas in the productions of romantic story, an improbable event never fails to be attended by an absurd dialogue. [. . .] As the public have applauded the attempt, the author must not say he was entirely unequal to the task he had undertaken : yet if the new route he has struck out shall have paved a road for men of brighter talents, he shall own with pleasure and modesty, that he was sensible the plan was capable of receiving greater embellishments than his imagination or the conduct of the passions could bestow on it.

To which one might add: and women of brighter talents, too : for later authors in the Gothic include Anne Radcliffe and Mary Shelley.

commonplace book

‘Pardon this intrusion’

The Richard Manney copy of the first edition of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) in original boards sold at Christie’s last month for more than a million dollars. It is remarkable to see Mary Shelley’s book in original condition. I have seen two others: a beautiful, tragic smoke-stained wreck (since rebound), and a fabulous copy in pink boards (the lottery of the binder’s stock of materials) in the Pforzheimer collection at the New York Public Library, exhibited there in 2012 along with the presentation copy to Lord Byron. When I looked at the Manney copy before the auction, I turned to a certain page (not the first time I have done so). This is the page, deep in the story, where we hear the first words spoken aloud by the monster:

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even the spadgers go back to London when the ’op pickin’s over

a remark from the mouth of Magersfontein Lugg
in Margery Allingham’s Dancers in Mourning

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never one to claim that his goose was his swan

— Robert Aickman

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Getting rid of “Tom Lecky” allowed the work to be free to play and experiment without the burden of attribution.

— Tom Lecky, interviewed by Kim Beil for Bomb

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In a totally unrelated field, one in which the writer had gained some international recognition, he had discovered that through the long years of activity, experimentation and study, the further one progressed from the status of the beginner to that of the “expert” (horrid word!), the less one was able to recall the outlook and needs of the beginner. [. . .] Briefly, he had become a specialist — to his great detriment, in many ways.

— Eugene V. Connett

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