La Terreur: The Northanger Canon

December 24, 2008 § Leave a comment

I’m so chuffed to find that three of the Northanger Canon titles have made their way onto Valancourt Books‘ bestsellers list for 2008.

The Northanger Canon is a selection of 18th century Gothic fiction immortalized by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Other than the two Radcliffe works, the ‘horrid novels’ were belived to be a delightfully adsurd fabrication of Austen’s until the early 20th century. Valancourt Books publishes six of the Canon titles:

The other titles of the Canon are The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe 1794, Horrid Mysteries: A Story From the German Of The Marquis Of Grosse by Peter Will 1796, Clermont 1798 by Regina Maria Roche and Orphan of the Rhine by Eleanor Sleath 1798.

Anyone interested in taking up a course of important Gothic reading would have to include on their book list:

  1. The original Gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto 1764
  2. Clara Reeve’s The Champion of Virtue: A Gothic Story 1777 [Reprinted as The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story]
  3. Vathek by William Beckford 1786
  4. The Adventures of Caleb Williams 1794 by William Godwin (father of Mary Shelley), often describedy as the first detective novel
  5. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe 1794
  6. Matthew Gregory Lewis’ The Monk 1796
  7. The poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner written 1797-1798 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  8. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen 1798 (published 1817)
  9. John Polidori’s The Vampyre 1816
  10. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley 1818
  11. John Keats’ poems La Belle Dame Sans Merci 1819 and The Eve of St Agnes 1820

Shelley’s Frankenstein of course stands out on this list, the moral and philosophical probing of the novel is still branded on our culture today. Frankenstein is the single most important product of the Horror tradition, but it considerably transcends its sources.

As cruely overlooked by literary consensus as he was in life, John Polidori was a very good writer who’s few works are obscured by the long shadows cast by his Diodati associates, the Shelleys and Lord Byron. The Vampyre, when at all mentioned, is noted for featuring the first vampire who is humanesque: an alluring, sexual aristocrat modeled on Lord Byron. This vampire, Lord Ruthven, was not only the all important pre-cursor to J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla 1872 and Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1897, he defined the vampire as we know him today. But far more importantly, Polidori brought an intellectual, a rational conclusion to the Gothic novel. When Lord Ruthven is finally finished off with pistol and bullet, it is human morality, rationality and strength that has saved the day, and not a form of mysterious, supernatural comeuppance.

Lewis’ The Monk has been cited by many as a superior work to Walpole’s. The Marquis de Sade, who among other attributes was a masterful critic, did rate it the superior and stated that the Gothic culture was ‘the inevitable product of the revolutionary shock with which the whole of Europe resounded’ in his 1800 work Reflections on the Novel.

Thirty years after Walpole created a framework for terror, the discontented rumblings of Georgain British society and the horrors of  the French Revolution and The Terror  slowlybut surly worked their way into fiction.

    Gothic Bath 1810 Jean-Baptiste Mallet, Château-Musée de Dieppe

    Valancourt Books is an independent micro press specializing inquality new editions of rare literature from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. I think the boys say it best themselves: ‘Valancourt Classics seeks out unjustly forgotten literary classics and makes them newly available in annotated scholarly editions.’

    Related on (Grey Pony): Sublime Anxiety: the Northanger Canon ; Austen and the Picturesque Part III ; The Diodati Authors and their Stories

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