Happy Birthday to the Marquis De Sade!

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I’ve been meaning to do a post on the Marquis De Sade since I started this blog, and what better day to do it than his 276th birthday! De Sade’s life was as interesting as his books, and it’s hard to know where to start with him. I have an awful lot to say about the lad, and I’m sure this won’t be my only post on his work.

Trigger Warnings: Rape, Murder, Blasphemy, Bestiality, Rape

(You said Rape twice…)

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The 120 Days of Sodom & Other Writings – Marquis De Sade
Grove Press – 1987

My introduction to De Sade’s writing was 120 Days of Sodom. It is, without a doubt, the vilest book that I have ever read.  It’s a bit like the GG Allin of literature; it’s fucking horrendous, but it’s kind of cool that somebody did it. This book is so far ahead of its competition in terms of offensiveness, that any attempt to outdo it would seem petty.
It’s a fairly long book, and it’s very formulaic in some ways. I read it over a few days, and it really got to me. This is one of the very few books that has actually given me nightmares. (Imagine drifting off to the land of Nod only to find yourself being forced to attend a ‘blood-orgy’ in a subterranean vault. Yes, a ‘blood-orgy’; I distinctly remember that phrase from the dream.) As it so happens, this is also one of the very few books that has actually made laugh so hard that tears ran down my face. There is one part in which a man “fucks a goat from behind while being flogged; the goat conceives and gives birth to a monster. Monster though it be, he embuggers it.” Now THAT’S comedy! “Monster though it be” HAHAHAHAHA!!! The man is having sex with his own mutant offspring! LOL!!! 

When introducing one of the characters, a lady named Thérèse, De Sade notes;
“Her ass was peppered with wounds, and her buttocks were so prodigiously slack one could have furled the skin around a walking stick; the hole in this splendid ass resembled the crater of a volcano what for width and for aroma the pit of a privy; in all her life, Thérèse declared, she had never once wiped her ass, whence she had positive proof that the shit of her infancy yet clung there”
Some people view him as a philosopher, some ill-informed individuals imagine him as a sexual-revolutionary, but I think that De Sade has to be interpreted as a comedian with an extremely childish sense of humour. I can imagine him, sitting in his prison cell, chuckling away to his heart’s content as he wrote down the most vulgar, repulsive things he could imagine. The man had nothing to lose, and his writing gave him an opportunity to lash out at those who landed him in prison. His mother in law had had him jailed for abusing a prostitute, and if you read between the lines in books that he wrote in jail, all you’ll see is the phrase “You think that was bad? I’ll show you bad!”
Petulant, but truly hilarious.

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Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings – Marquis De Sade
Grove Weidenfeld – 1990

Next up is Philosophy in the Bedroom/Boudoir. I actually read the Penguin Classics version of this one, but I own the Grove Press edition. This takes the form of a dialogue between a young girl and a group of libertines who attempt to convince her to abandon her morality. It’s been a few years since I read it, but I remember this being very, very funny. The blasphemies in here are priceless; I recall some of the characters attempting to shout out phrases such as “Christ be triple-fucked” as they reach their orgasms. There is a long and boring section towards the end that discusses 18th century French politics, but it’s not essential to the plot, and you can just skip over it. This one isn’t quite as repulsive as 120 Days, but it does get pretty nasty.

I have also read the Oxford’s World’s Classics edition of The Misfortunes of Virtue. The Misfortunes of Virtue, written in 1787, is probably De Sade’s most palatable book. It’s still full of rape and misery, but it makes its point without getting too disgusting. It’s about a virtuous young woman who does her best to stay good. Every time she fails to take the opportunity to do something bad, something horrendous happens to her. It’s a fairly depressing text. Four years after publishing this one, De Sade decided it wasn’t horrible enough, so he rewrote it with extra rape and pooing, and renamed it Justine. 6 years after this, he rewrote it again, making it even more repulsive. Unfortunately, the final, 1797, version has never been published in English. The text in my Grove edition is the second version, but I haven’t got around to reading it yet.

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Juliette – Marquis De Sade
Grove Press – Not sure of year of publication (This edition lists a website though)

Although I own a copy, I have not yet read Juliette. Juliette is the companion book to Justine. While Justine was a little Goody-Two-Shoes, her sister Juliette was a bad girl who reaped the rewards of evil. I’m sure Juliette is a hoot, but it’s 1200 pages long, and although I have enjoyed his other works, De Sade’s books aren’t easy reads. 1200 pages of horrendous rape and murder seems like quite a commitment at the moment.

I just got this in the post the other day. It’s a novel about the Marquis from the 1960s. I’m sure it’s trash, but what a great title!
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Everyone has heard of De Sade, but not many people have actually read his books. He was a funny chap, but he was also a pathetic loser in a lot of ways. His anti-moral philosophies seem to have been a major influence on several forms of modern Satanism, and while I understand his point of view and agree with much of what he as to say about religion, I think that most of what he has to say is very shitty. Shitty, but sadly realistic. Anyways, that’s enough for tonight. If you want to discuss De Sadean/Sadistic philosophy, please give me a shout.

Happy Birthday Donatien Alphonse François!

*Although this post appears to have been posted on the 3rd of June, it was actually written and posted on the 2nd. De Sade was born on June 2nd, 1740.

Weird Fiction from the Golden Dawn

2016-05-06 19.05.55The Three Imposters and other stories – Vol. 1 of the Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen 
The White People and other stories – Vol. 2 of the Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen 
The Terror and other stories – Vol. 3 of the Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen
Chaosium Publishing

It’s very rare that I would read a book of short stories in the same way that I would read a novel. I usually have a book or two of short stories on the go that I’ll dip in and out of when I’m between other texts. It can take an awfully long time to get through a book in this manner, but it stops me from getting bored of the author’s style. (The Collected Stories of M.R. James, for example, took me about 7 months to finish, but I got through another 35 full texts in that same period.) In this particular case, the collection of short stories was broken up over three books, and I interspersed other collections between each of these volumes. It has hence taken me about 4 years to get through Chaosium’s collected weird tales of Arthur Machen, and I can’t honestly say that I remember much about the first ones that I read other than that I absolutely adored them.

Much like Penguin’s editions of Lovecraft’s stories, the first volume of this collection contains the best material. I took a copy of it out of the library after reading about Machen online, and I enjoyed it immensely. These creepy stories about freaks, weird experiments and dark forces are top notch stuff. I’ve already linked to my posts on James and Lovecraft, and I feel that Machen, at his best, occupies the middle-ground between these two authors. Every story in here was deadly. You should buy and read this book.

The second volume has some good stuff, but some of it is lame. This book contains the Angels of Mons stuff.  During the first World War, Machen wrote a story about some angels appearing on a battlefield at Mons. The story was published in a newspaper, and many people, including some of the soldiers who had been in that battle, took it to be a factual account. It’s kind of cool that this happened, but the story isn’t that great. The Red Hand and The White People are the highlights in this volume. Maybe take this one out of the library, or read those two stories online instead.

The third volume is plop. There were a few stories that seem promising at the beginning, but these either teeter off into incoherence or abruptly turn to shit. Changes was worth reading for the hideous, yellow-faced goblin-child, and Out of the Picture was entertaining if quite silly, but the rest of the stories in here are garbage. The title story is actually the uncut version of a story that appears in the second version, and it’s a drawn-out piece of trash. Speaking of what is contained in this volume, S.T. Joshi claims; “None of these works add anything to Machen’s overall reputation as a horror writer.” I agree. Joshi afterwards mentions other works of Machen’s which were too poor to be included here. Those stories must be the literary equivalent of sniffing a shit-stained pair of britches. Don’t bother with this one unless you’re a completist. It’s not an enjoyable read.

Machen also wrote a novel called Hill of Dreams. I haven’t read that yet, but it’s supposed to be good. I’ll get around to it someday.

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Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories – Algernon Blackwood
Penguin  – 2002

I took this book out of the library right after finishing the first volume in the above Machen collection. I read it straight through without breaks, and while I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, by the end I was getting burnt out on short stories. It has been a long time since I read this book, but I seem to remember the individual stories from this one better than those from the first Machen collection. There’s 9 stories in here, and they are all quite different. The weird in ‘Weird Fiction’ is a tricky thing to pin down, but I found that Blackwood’s stories are weirder (in the common sense of the word weird) than those of Machen or Lovecraft. That being said, this is the only collection of Blackwood’s that I have read, and maybe his other work is different. I would love to hear from anyone who has any recommendations on Blackwood’s other stuff. The layout of this book is nice; it has an almost identical format to the Penguin editions of Lovecraft (an introduction by Joshi and a small article and set of notes for each story). I would recommend picking this one up.

Both Machen and Blackwood were members of the magical order of the Golden Dawn along with W.B. Yeats and Aleister Crowley. Whatever though. I’m not going to get into that. If you’re interested, you can find out more about their involvement in this magical order online.

 

The Fiery Angel – Valery Bryusov

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Neville Spearman – 1975 (Valeri Briussov)
Dedalus – 2005 (Valery Bruisov)

I came across the title of this book when I was reading Colin Wilson’s The Occult two years ago, and from his description, I knew that I’d have to read it at some stage. I spent a while trying to track down a copy at a decent price, and when I found one, it spent a few months lying on the shelf before I got around to reading it. When I finally got around to it, I was met with an unpleasant surprise. Some of the pages were entirely blank. See the below video for details:


Like I said, I had ordered this a good while before picking it up to read, and so I didn’t feel it fair to demand a refund. I doubted that the bookseller had known about the defect, but I was having a slow day in work, and I decided to drop them an email to pass the time. Below is the message I sent.

my email

When I wrote that email, I did not expect a response. Fortunately, I was wrong; they replied promptly:
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Many’s the stupid email I have sent, but I have never been so satisfied with a response. Normally you get a feebly polite apology. I take my hat off to the individual who sent the above response to me. It makes me happy to think that there are companies out there that deal with customers as they should be dealt with. If you’re talking to a jackass, talk to them like they’re a jackass. (Although, note that the seller did very courteously offer to send me a replacement.) I was extremely satisfied with my dealings with this seller, and I encourage all of my readers to buy books from them whenever the opportunity arises.

Anyways, I soon thereafter bought a different copy of the book (the more recent Dedalus edition), and that version lay on my shelf for another year before I got around to it. While the Spearman edition has a foreword by Colin Wilson, the Dedalus version has an afterword by Gary Lachman. Surprisingly, the Dedalus version also omits a two page foreword by Bryusov himself that really should be part of the text. In it, Bryusov claims to be the editor of the tale and not the author so-to-speak. Otherwise, the text of the two books are identical copies of the same original printing. (There are identical imperfections on the same pages in both versions, one of which looks like a squished fly.) If I had to choose, I would buy the Spearman version, but I would make sure that it has all of the pages before buying! (My copy is missing pages 76, 77, 80, 81, 84, 85, 92, 93, and a few more.)

Two things before I start my actual review. First of all, the name of the author is spelled differently on my two copies of this book. It’s spelled Valery Bryusov most places online, so I’m going to use that spelling. Next, this post contains a few spoilers. If you are sure you want to read this one and you’re like me and like knowing as little as possible about a book before reading it, maybe you should read the book before you read the rest of this. (But make sure you do come back to finish reading this when you’re done. I discovered some cool stuff about this book that you’ll want to know!) If you’re not sure about whether or not you want to read this one yet, read away. The spoilers here won’t ruin the suspense of the novel.

So what’s the big deal here? Why did I bother with this book? Well, it’s a novel about magic, the witch-craze, repressed sexuality and perversion. What more could I possibly ask for? Set in 16th century Germany, it tells the story of a hard man called Rupprecht who’s making his way home after gallivanting around Mexico for a few years. He becomes enchanted by a girl who is staying in the same hotel as him, but he quickly notices that she’s carrying some serious baggage; she is possessed by demons and she practices black magic. As so often happens, this woman’s personality flaws make her seem all the more attractive, and Rupprecht decides to wander around with her for a while. She tells him that she’s searching for a former lover, and Rupprecht agrees to help her find him. Oh, and it also turns out that her old lover is either an angel or devil. (We’re never made entirely sure which side this ‘Fiery Angel’ is on.) At this point, Rupes’s compliance makes you start to wonder whether it was by natural or infernal means that he was so enchanted; shouldn’t he be taking this as his cue to tell Renata to fuck off?

Well, they wander around a while looking for the Fiery Angel, but Renata gets disheartened and decides that the only way to find him will be to ask the devil for help. Renata doesn’t want that kind of guilt on her conscience though, so she convinces Rupprecht that he should sell his soul so that she can find out where her boyfriend is. Rupprecht is a hard man and everything, but he clearly gets off on kinky sado-masochistic power struggles. The more he can debase himself for the sake of his lady, the stronger his mental ‘gasm shall be! He offers his soul to Satan and actually kisses the Dark Lord’s ringpiece in order to cuckold himself; what a creep!

There are several other twists and turns in their complicated relationship, but eventually Renata runs away on Rupprecht. After a bit of moping around by himself, he bumps into Faust and Mephistopheles and wanders around with them for a while. When he finally stumbles across Renata again, she has joined a nunnery, changed her name to sister Maria, and she’s gotten herself accused of witchcraft. (Typical, right?) She is of course guilty of witchery, but one gets the impression that the reasons she is being charged have less to do with her actions and more to do with the fact that nunneries are mad places full of mad people. The whole thing very quickly turns into a Devils of Loudun situation, and Renata is sentenced to death. Rupprecht tries to rescue her, but things don’t really go according to his plans.

That’s the basic plot of it, but there’s a tonne of cool bits that I’ve left out. Rupprecht attends a witches’ Sabbath, he spends time with Cornelius Agrippa and Johann Weyer, he performs ceremonial black magic and summons demons, and Renata and he have a tonne of kinky sex. (Ok, so we don’t get the juicy details, but judging by the way they act with eachother and the fact that Rupprecht claims that Renata wanted to do more than just regular inny-outty, we can assume that no door was left unopened!) One interesting feature of the text is the fact that although this is a novel about witchcraft and magic, it is also very much a piece of historical fiction. At no point in the book does anything happen that might not actually be explained in real life. Perhaps the most curious thing that occurs is that Renata knows Rupprecht’s name before he introduces himself, but I’m sure you can imagine 100 different ways that a person might find out the name of another guest at the same hotel as them.

Despite the fact that it is mentioned in neither Colin Wilson’s foreword in the Spearman edition nor Lachman’s afterword, it turns out that this book, particularly the last few chapters, is actually largely based on a true story. In 1749, a nun named Renata Maria Saengen von Massau was one of the last women in Germany to be executed for the crime of witchcraft. (She died in 1749, but The Fiery Angel is set over 200 years earlier; I don’t think any dates are specifically mentioned, but Cornelius Agrippa, who dies at the end of the book, actually died in 1535.) I found two different accounts of the real Renata’s life in my library. One is from Robbin’s Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. This is a rather sympathetic account that suggests that poor Sister Renata was a victim of mass hysteria. The other account of her life that I read was in Montague Summers‘ book, The Geography of Witchcraft. Monty was fully convinced that this woman was indeed a vile Satanist, and his account is even more fanciful than Bryusov’s.

Despite their different standpoints, Summers and Robbins both present the same basic story. Sister Renata had entered a nunnery when she was about 19 years old. She spent the last 15 of her 50 years in the nunnery as the subprioress. Everything was going fine in her life until a girl named Cecilia Pistorini started throwing fits in order to gain entry into the convent. Cecilia believed her hallucinations and spasms were messages from God, and she thought that this should allow her to skip through the novitiate stage of becoming a nun. Renata wasn’t convinced, and she suggested that the girl might have been putting it all on. Cecilia remembered this, and when she eventually became a nun, she convinced herself and others that Sister Renata was a witch. As she was dying, another senile old hag of a nun claimed that Renata had bewitched her, and this forced to the prioress of the convent to look into the matter. Word got out, and the idea that Renata was a witch caught on with other idiot nuns in the convent. They started imagining that they had been bewitched or possessed and a bunch of them started screaming things out during mass. The more attention they got from the local priests, the more horny they became and the more they acted up. This did not look good for poor Renata. She denied all of the allegations at first, but after twenty lashes with a consecrated rawhide bullwhip, she started to remember her sins.

In Renata’s confession, she claims to have given herself to Satan when she was only 8 years old. She spent her teenage years having sex with demons and learning the craft of Satanism, and then when she was old enough, she decided to join the convent with the sole purpose of bringing it down from the inside. (It’s a bit hard to understand how the other nuns didn’t notice anything for the first 49 years that she had been there.) She claims to have ridden to the Sabbath several times a week, to have made love to the Devil on countless occasions, and to have stolen consecrated hosts with the purpose of throwing them into the toilet. The way she stole the hosts was pretty cool. Before she would go to receive communion, she would cut slits in her flesh, and when the priest would give her the communion wafer, she would sneakily stick it into the communion-shaped holes that she had carved into her own body. She did this just so she could throw the body of christ into the crapper. What a legend!

There’s an interesting part in the Verbatim Reports from Sister Renata’s trials that might have been Bryusov’s source of inspiration for the character of Rupprecht.

“Q. Was she a witch?
A. Yes.
Q. Where did she learn this and from whom?
A. A grenadier had taught her in Vienna, where she and the whole household had gone with her father during the Hungarian war.
Q. How did she meet this grenadier?
A. As happens in wartime. The grenadier had often given her bread when she was hungry, and finally he promised to teach her something.
Q. What then did this grenadier finally teach her?
A. He gave her a paper, on which all sorts of letters were written. On this paper she had to draw a circle and stand inside it. In addition, she had received a charm [Zetel] with various words on it; and if she could read these words, then she could make passers-by in the street lame and crippled.”

In The Fiery Angel, Rupprecht doesn’t meet Renata in Vienna, but he is a soldier that meets her in a time of need, and they do spend time together studying the black arts. I think it’s quite likely that Rupprecht originated as a re-imagining of the mysterious grenadier from the real Renata’s confessions.

In the book, Renata dies in Rupprecht’s arms, but the real Renata was not quite so lucky. Her judges decided to show her some leniency in her execution though, on account of the fact that she had been seduced by Satan at such a young age. She was shown the courtesy of having her head chopped off before being thrown into a barrel of burning tar. Apparently the executioner made such a clean cut that her head popped clean off her body with the first blow from his sword, and he was given a round of applause for his accuracy. Imagine a crowd of people cheering a man for decapitating a 69 year old woman.

All in all, this is a very interesting book. I found the first half dragged a little bit, but it really picks up later on. Bryusov knew his stuff when it came to witchcraft, and there are a few books mentioned in here that I am going to have to try to track down. In truth though, this book is more about the psychology of attraction than it is about black magic. Apparently the plot of the story is largely based on events from the author’s own life. He basically took the story of a love triangle that he had been involved in, chose characters from a famous witch trial to play the roles, and set the story 200 years before those people had actually lived. The result is actually deadly. I mean, as mad as it sounds, I think this book would be an enjoyable read for a person with no interest in witchcraft or demonology. For those of us who are interested in those topics, this is a must read. Five stars.

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe!

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(Card made by my wonderfully creative wife)

Were he still alive, Edgar Allan Poe would be 207 today. If you haven’t read all of his stories, stop wasting your time on my dumb blog and check them out. It would be rather difficult for me to overstate how much I love Poe. Teaching English, I’ve had to read the Tell-Tale Heart, the Cask of Amontillado, and Masque of the Red Death more times than I can count, and I still get excited every time I get the opportunity to go back to them. There’s so many other great tales though. The Black CatThe Imp of the Perverse, and Fall of the House of Usher are some of my other favourites, but he wrote plenty more that are equally as brilliant.

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The pictured books are just some cheap collections I’ve picked up in the last few years. There are countless editions of Poe’s works out there, and I can’t recommend any in particular. (I will say, as I have said before, that the Complete Poetry Collection is a handy one for taking into the bathroom on a slow Sunday morning.) When I get rich, I’m going to buy a hardback edition of his collected works for my fine mahogany bookshelves. I’d also love a copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination with the illustrations by Harry Clarke, but I guess shitty thrift store collections and the internet will have to suffice until I hit the big time. Anyways, Happy Birthday Edgar!!!

And just so ye know; I’m right in the middle of the busiest part of my course at the moment, and this blog might get a little slow for the next month or so, but don’t fret; it won’t be long until I get to put down the textbooks and take up some quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore!

Here is just some of the utter garbage that I’ve picked up recently:2016-01-13 22.56.47

turds

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I recently started back at university, and I won’t have much time for reading or blogging for the next year. Still though, I’ll try to get a few posts up whenever I get the chance. Here are three books that weren’t as good as I hoped they would be.

The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux
Signet Classics – 1987

This one was actually pretty good for most of the book. I just felt that the ending was a let down. I read it a good while ago, and I have actually forgotten how it ended. I could look it up for the sake of this blog post, but I don’t think that my fragile heart could bear to go through that disappointment again.
Although the characters in here are annoyingly see-through, I think that the biggest problem for this book is living up to the reputation that Hollywood has created for it. The Phantom of the Opera, as an archetypal villain, is in the same league as Dracula or Frankenstein. Unfortunately the book that he comes from is not nearly as good as those of his rivals. It’s still fun though, and I probably enjoyed this the most out of any of the three turds.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
Golden Press – 1978

I had a cool Jekyll and Hyde board game when I was a kid, and I grew up imagining that the book would be as much fun as that game. Unfortunately, it isn’t. It basically tells the same story twice: once from the point of view of Jekyll and once from the point of view of Hyde. The plot is framed around a twist, but  I can’t imagine that there are many readers who don’t already know who’s who of this tale. This was another book that I read on a plane, so maybe it’s better than I remember. Still though, I’m not going to reread it.

Nightmare Abbey – Thomas Love Peacock
Penguin Classics – 1986
This one isn’t all that bad; it was just quite a bit different to what I expected. It’s often included in lists of classic Gothic literature, and while it is fairly morbid, it’s just not that spooky. Not a lot happens in it either; it’s mostly dialogue. It’s not an all-together bad read though; I definitely got a few laughs out of it. My edition also includes another novel by the same author. I probably won’t bother. Much of the inspiration  for that terrible Gothic film by Ken Russell came from this.

There you go faithful readers; three turds in the bowl. I’m sure this post has been even more disappointing than any of the books reviewed. Que sera, sera.

Zanoni – Edward Bulwer-Lytton

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P.F. Collier – 1892

Last year, I ordered a set of books by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It’s a 9 volume set of his most popular works. All the books are double-paged, and each volume contains a few different works.  I have a pretty big reading list, and it took a few months to get around to any of these battered old tomes, but almost as soon as I started reading, I knew this set had been a wise purchase. If you find a cheap copy of these books, buy them immediately. I spent about three times the cost of the books on the postage, but it was still worth it. (UPS are a dirty shower of thieving bastards!)
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A pretty cool cover. N.b. the fasces and the obscenity.

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LOL

These books were published in 1892, and it shows. The spines are all cracked and the binding is falling apart. I had to sit down at a desk and carefully turn each page so as not to cause further damage. Now one might think that this would have been detrimental to my enjoyment of these texts, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I felt so cool, patiently leafing through the pages and inhaling their aged musk. One can only imagine my delight on finding that the text that I started reading was about a ciphered manuscript given to the author by a mysterious Rosicrucian whom he had met in an esoteric bookshop. All my dreams were coming true at once!

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The frontispiece of Zanoni. It depicts Gaeto Pisani and his daughter, Viola. (I think.)

The manuscript tells the tale of Zanoni, an immortal sorcerer and member of an extremely exclusive secret society consisting of only two people. He tries his best to help out a pair of young lovers, but he fails miserably and ends up making their lives incredibly difficult. The youngfella thinks that Zanoni is really cool, and tries his best to be like him. Zanoni is fairly chuffed, and invites him to join his club. Unfortunately for everyone, Glyndon, the young man,  doesn’t get past the initiation ritual for the order, and ends up spending the rest of his days getting stalked by a particularly nasty entity called ‘the dweller of the threshold’.

Lytton was a hugely popular writer in the 19th century, and apparently the theosophists were big fans of his. Helena Blavatsky introduced a version of the dweller of the threshold into her teachings. She described it as an extension of one’s astral body that results from the remnants of past lives. Other occultists have appropriated the dweller in other equally silly ways. Van Morrison, everyone’s favourite adept of easy-listening, had an interest in the occult at some stage, and he used one of these bastardized versions of the dweller for the topic of one of his songs. Before I go any further, I want to declare my extreme and utter hatred for Van Morrison. I remember being a kid and having the tape of Van the man’s greatest hits playing in the car every fucking time my parents took me on a drive. I didn’t know what it was called, but I referred to it as ‘sweaty music’ because that’s how it made me feel. I actually listened to his song a few times before I wrote this review, and it made me want to vomit and shit diarrhea at the same time. Anyways, the lyrics to Morrison’s song are about some kind of benevolent source of spiritual inspiration. Bollocks to that. In Lyttons work, the dweller is a seriously nasty piece of work:

Its form was veiled as the face, but the outline was that of a female; yet it moved not as move even the ghosts that simulate the living. It seemed rather to crawl as some vast misshapen reptile; and pausing, at length it cowered beside the table which held the mystic volume, and again fixed its eyes through the filmy veil on the rash invoker. All fancies, the most grotesque, of monk or painter in the early North, would have failed to give to the visage of imp or fiend that aspect of deadly malignity which spoke to the shuddering nature in those eyes alone. All else so dark,—shrouded, veiled and larva-like. But that burning glare so intense, so livid, yet so living, had in it something that was almost HUMAN in its passion of hate and mockery,—something that served to show that the shadowy Horror was not all a spirit, but partook of matter enough, at least, to make it more deadly and fearful an enemy to material forms. As, clinging with the grasp of agony to the wall,—his hair erect, his eyeballs starting, he still gazed back upon that appalling gaze,—the Image spoke to him: his soul rather than his ear comprehended the words it said.

“Thou hast entered the immeasurable region. I am the Dweller of the Threshold. What wouldst thou with me?”

Deadly, isn’t she?

I won’t say much more about the plot, as I don’t want to ruin the story on you. Being honest though, this is not a great book. There are some fairly big flaws here; it seems a bit like the author was making up the plot as he went along, and the detailed parts on the French revolution are neither interesting nor particularly relevant. Some editions use the subtitle; ‘A Rosicrucian tale’, and this is fairly apt: there’s probably a lot of symbolic and esoteric meaning between the lines that will only become apparent to patient students of hermeneutics, but I’m not really concerned with that shit. This is an old book about wizards, spirits, demons, and babes with heaving bosoms, and I thought it was deadly.

Le Fanu’s Short Stories

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Sheridan Le Fanu – Madam Crowl’s Ghost & Other Stories / In A Glass Darkly
Wordsworth Editions – 2006 and 2008

Here are two collections of short stories from one of my favourite writers. I would recommend the Oxford edition of In A Glass Darkly, as that one contains nice notes at the back. Wordsworth editions are bare bones and rarely contain annotation. They are cheap however, and I own quite a few of them.

In A Glass Darkly is the better of the two collections. It’s been a few years since I read it, but I distinctly remember the joy I felt when the evil monkey appeared the first story. It’s also great because it contains lesbian vampires in a vampire story that predates Dracula. I think my favourite story in here is the novella: The Room in Le Dragon Volant. It’s not as spooky as the others, but I really like Le Fanu’s writing

Madam Crowl’s Ghost is a nice collection of ghost stories compiled by none other than M.R James. I read this one more recently, but I read the first two stories on a transatlantic flight and didn’t end up enjoying them as much as I would have were I to read them on the couch at midnight with a cup of peppermint tea. The stories in here are collected from different sources, and the quality and tone varies quite a bit. Some are great though, and most of them are set in Ireland. You can imagine my sheer delight on finding a story in here about a man from my hometown who shares my name. I loved this book, but the other collection is probably a better place to start if you haven’t read Le Fanu before.