The Christian Supernatural - The Gothics - Volume 1: From Gilgamesh to the End of the Nineteenth Century

Unutterable Horror - A History of Supernatural Fiction - S. T. Joshi 2014

The Christian Supernatural
The Gothics
Volume 1: From Gilgamesh to the End of the Nineteenth Century

One might suppose that any literary work produced in a Christian society would exhibit Christian elements and perhaps even be founded on Christian presuppositions; but, as we have already seen, the degree to which a specifically Christian metaphysic is at play in the Gothic novel varies widely from work to work. The Manichean nature of the Christian mythos, with the frightening presence of what seems to be a nearly all-powerful Satan and a legion of minions, would seem tailor-made for the production of horror literature, as we have already seen in an indirect fashion in the work of Dante and Milton; so it is not surprising that two of the more noteworthy works of Gothic fiction are explicitly founded on Christian myth.

The first such work is, of course, Matthew Gregory Lewis’s notorious The Monk (1796). If not of the highest literary quality, it is perhaps the most enjoyable to read of the Gothic novels—at least by current standards, if its liberal doses of sex and blasphemy are taken into consideration. It may be a guilty pleasure, but it is indeed a pleasure. Lewis (1775—1818) is of more than passing interest in his own right. His early voyage to Germany in 1772, where he became well-versed in the language and actually met Goethe, was no doubt central to his becoming a writer, and we shall have to assess the degree to which The Monk is influenced by German sources. He wrote his novel in a period of ten weeks (by his own testimony) in 1794, when he was only nineteen. A letter written to his mother at this time is of some importance:

I have again taken up my Romance, and perhaps by this time Ten years I may make shift to finish it fit for throwing into the fire. I was induced to go on with it by reading “the Mysteries of Udolpho,[”] which is in my opinion one of the most interesting Books that ever have been published. I would advise you to read it by all means, but I must warn you, that it is not very entertaining till St. Aubert’s Death. His travels to my mind are uncommonly dull, and I wish heartily that They had been left out, and something substituted in their room. I am sure, you will be particularly interested by the part when Emily returns home after her Father’s death; and when you read it, tell me whether you think there is any resemblance between the character given of Montoni in the seventeenth chapter of the second volume, and my own. I confess, that it struck me, and as He is the Villain of the Tale, I did not feel much flattered by the likeness. (Letter to his mother, 18 May 1794; quoted in Peck 208—9)

This tells us a number of things: that Lewis had already begun The Monk before reading Radcliffe’s novel; that, therefore, The Mysteries of Udolpho can at best have inspired Lewis to continue his novel rather than constituting the actual motivation to write it; and that any parallels between Lewis’s Ambrosio and Radcliffe’s Montoni (or, at any rate, the specific parallel that Lewis cites) are likely to be accidental. And the fact that Lewis found large parts of Udolpho “dull” suggests that he was intent to write a book that would sedulously eschew that characterisation.

The novel could well be called “The Evils of Superstition”—or perhaps even “The Evils of Religion.” In this sense, the novel appears to embody the essence of Christian supernaturalism only to subvert it, at least partially. Throughout the work, the focus is on the harm that religion can cause. On the very first page we learn that Madrid—“a city where superstition reigns with despotic sway” (9)—is the setting of the tale. In our very first introduction to its central figure, Ambrosio, the abbot of the Capuchin monastery, he is referred to with obvious sarcasm as “the man of holiness” (16). At this point it is uncertain whether we are dealing merely with the well-known strain of anti-Catholic bias that peppers much of English Gothic fiction, especially in those ubiquitous Inquisition scenes (for this issue see Sage, Horror Fiction in the Protestant Tradition), or more generally with a satire against Christianity in general or even religion in toto. What is made clear, however, is that Ambrosio’s guise of piety is a fraud. After giving a noble sermon that enraptures his listeners, he is described as follows: “He was no sooner alone than he gave free loose [sic] to the indulgence of his vanity. When he remembered the enthusiasm which his discourse had excited, his heart swelled with rapture and his imagination presented him with splendid visions of aggrandisement. He looked round him with exultation; and pride told him loudly that he was superior to the rest of his fellow-creatures” (34). This is not noteworthy for its subtlety, but the revelation that the sin of pride is one of Ambrosio’s flaws is important for Lewis to establish.

Lewis also displays with relish the other crippling sin that will lead to Ambrosio’s demise—the sin of lust. This becomes immediately evident when his faithful servant, Rosario, turns out to be a woman, Matilda, who has donned the disguise to be close to him. In a passage that would probably have made Ann Radcliffe faint dead away, Matilda reveals herself in every sense:

As she uttered these last words, she lifted her arm, and made a motion as if to stab herself. The friar’s eyes followed with dread the course of the dagger. She had torn open her habit, and her bosom was half-exposed—and, oh! that was such a breast!—the moon-beams darting full upon it enabled the monk to observe its dazzling whiteness. His eye dwelt with insatiable avidity upon the beauteous orb: a sensation till then unknown filled his heart with a mixture of anxiety and delight; a raging fire shot through every limb: the blood boiled in his veins, and a thousand wild wishes bewildered his imagination. (55)

Hot stuff! In all seriousness, the idea that “a sensation till then unknown filled his heart” suggests, perhaps implausibly, that Ambrosio had never had such lustful thoughts before, but that his one glimpse of a beauteous white breast has effected a radical change in his character so that it now becomes the driving motivation for his subsequent acts.

At this point Lewis’s anti-religious diatribe could be interpreted merely as a revelation of hypocrisy: the fact that Ambrosio cannot or will not live up to the highest ideals of religion need not imply a condemnation of the principle of religion itself. It is perhaps not too early to bring in a much later passage that sheds further light on this issue. We are now presented with the thoughts of Lorenzo, who has been striving to free his sister, Agnes, from “the horrors of a convent” (120). He ponders the situation:

He had long observed with disapprobation and contempt the superstition which governed Madrid’s inhabitants. His good sense had pointed out to him the artifices of the monks, and the gross absurdity of their miracles, wonders, and superstitious relics. He blushed to see his countrymen the dupes of deceptions so ridiculous, and only wished for an opportunity to free them from their monkish fetters… . He resolved … to set before the people, in glaring colours, how enormous were the abuses but too frequently practised in monasteries, and how unjustly public esteem was bestowed indiscriminately upon all who wore a religious habit. (275)

This passage delicately treads the line between condemning merely the hypocrisy and superstitiousness of individual religious believers (especially those who proclaim their piety by living in convents and monasteries) and condemning all religion as superstition. At any rate, it is likely that some of the opprobrium that descended upon the youthful author was some readers’ sense that Lewis’s screed was uncomfortably close to the attacks of the deist Voltaire and perhaps even of the atheist Diderot. Indeed, the whole story of Agnes’s attempts to free herself from the convent, her love for Don Raymond, and the efforts of Lorenzo on her behalf really add nothing to the overall narrative and merely serve to take the focus away from its true protagonist, Ambrosio.

As the novel progresses, Ambrosio’s lustfulness and savagery become almost megalomaniacal. After a dalliance with Matilda (“As she spoke, her eyes were filled with a delicious languor: her bosom panted: she twined her arms voluptuously around him, drew him towards her, and glued her lips to his” [180]), who eventually tells him that he really doesn’t stand a chance with her, Ambrosio’s focus turns to the innocent Antonia, who had come to hear the sermon with which the book opens. For a time it seems as if his feelings for her are genuine love rather than crude lust; but he quickly confounds this idea by groping her (“He fastened his lips greedily upon her, sucked in her pure delicious breath, violated with his bold hand the treasures of her bosom, and wound around him her soft and yielding limbs” [210]). Her mother, Elvira, interrupts this tender scene. It is at this point that Matilda comes close to revealing her true status and power: she claims that she can help Ambrosio gain possession of Antonia through black magic. She speaks obscurely of a “guardian” (213) who can help in the enterprise. Not only does she present to Ambrosio a magic talisman that shows Antonia bathing (during which “a tame linnet flew towards her, nestled its head between her breasts, and nibbled them in wanton play” [217]), but, after descending into a sepulchre, she actually performs the ceremony as he watches. The “guardian” appears:

It was a youth scarcely eighteen, the perfection of whose form and face was unrivalled. He was perfectly naked: a bright star sparkled upon his forehead, two crimson wings extended themselves from his shoulders, and his silken locks were confined by a band of many-coloured fires, which played round his head, formed themselves into a variety of figures, and shone with a brilliancy far surpassing that of precious stones. Circlets of diamonds were fastened round his arms and ankles, and in his right hand he bore a silver branch imitating myrtle. His form shone with a dazzling glory: he was surrounded by clouds of rose-coloured light, and at the moment that he appeared a refreshing air breathed perfumes through the cavern. (221)

This is, indeed, one of the more effective supernatural scenes in Gothic fiction, and we are not surprised to find that this is Lucifer, whom Matilda calls by name. The strange thing is that Matilda herself threatens Lucifer into giving up the myrtle, as if she had greater power than he.

For the time being, we understand that Matilda has bestowed upon Ambrosio some mysterious powers to effect his purposes. He again goes to Antonia’s room and is interrupted by Elvira, whom he kills. If Ambrosio’s moral fate has not been sealed before (and, in point of fact, up to this point he had been guilty only of certain minor peccadilloes, if his actual conduct and not his mental state is considered), it certainly is now. Ambrosio now gives Antonia a drug that simulates death and buries her in a tomb. Later he wakes her and—not to mince words—rapes her. There is no need to quote the passage in question (304—5), which still carries the power to shock and appall. But the worst part of it is that, now that she has been, as it were, tainted, she can no longer have any viable function in the narrative. Lorenzo had been in love with her, but of course she is now off limits. She flees from Ambrosio but he inflicts fatal wounds on her. Another young woman, Virginia (whose name says it all), is now attracted to Lorenzo; and Lewis is even so tactless as to say that, “the unhappy girl [Antonia] being effectively out of the way” (317), Lorenzo was now at liberty to pursue her and forget all about Antonia.

But Ambrosio’s fate is not yet determined. He and Matilda are captured, put on trial, and tortured. Matilda then comes to him, saying that she has renounced all hope of salvation in exchange for freedom; will he not do the same? Reluctantly, Ambrosio agrees: he himself summons Lucifer and signs a parchment in his own blood. At this point Lucifer, in triumph, tells Ambrosio the truth: it was he who threw Matilda in his way to lure him to his soul’s destruction; through her machinations, Ambrosio has killed his own sister (Antonia) and mother (Elvira). He is condemned to eternal punishment.

The subnarrative about Agnes is of only minimal interest, but it does contain the celebrated passage about the Bleeding Nun. Agnes tells Raymond, with peculiar jocularity, the story of this nun who noisily haunts the castle of Lindenberg (“According to the tradition, this entertainment commenced about a century ago. It was accompanied with shrieking, howling, groaning, swearing, and many other agreeable noises of the same kind” [113]), although there is no explanation for why the nun is haunting the place. Later, Raymond actually sees the Bleeding Nun; stricken with terror, he brings in a mysterious figure called the Great Mogul to lay the ghost. In spite of his Islamic-sounding name, the Great Mogul uses explicitly Christian means to rid the castle of the Bleeding Nun, employing a crucifix, a Bible, and other such devices in the solemn ceremony he conducts. We learn shortly thereafter that this person is the Wandering Jew.

It is possible that the greatest merit of The Monk lies not in its literary virtues (if any), nor in its (ultimately inconclusive and hardly profound) reflections on religion, but in its mere existence. In spite of Lewis’s acknowledgement of the influence of Ann Radcliffe, the novel presents as stark a contrast to the well-bred tameness of her work as could possibly be imagined; and its emphasis on flamboyant supernaturalism, even if a bit grotesque and extreme, was vital to the subsequent course of weird fiction. Its popularity showed that readers would welcome the over-the-top horrors it embodied as enthusiastically as they did the tight-lipped heroine-in-peril scenarios that Radcliffe would peddle for the rest of the decade. I have mentioned that Radcliffe’s The Italian appears to be influenced by The Monk; but, in reality, it is a rebuke of its flamboyance and an attempt to rewrite it in her prim, non-supernatural manner. Edith Birkhead, whose sympathy for the Radcliffean school over that represented by Lewis and Maturin is evident, stated that Radcliffe “saved the Gothic tale from an early death” (38), but that distinction could better be bestowed on Lewis; and although he himself made no further efforts to capitalise on the book’s popularity by way of another novel of the same or similar sort, others—like Charlotte Dacre, whose central figure in Zofloya; or, The Moor (1806) turns out to be Satan—were not slow in doing so.

As for Lewis himself, he turned his attention to horrific and supernatural drama, although his only real success, at least from a literary perspective, is The Castle Spectre (performed 1797; published 1798), and even that success is a rather modest one. The play is pretty clearly derived from The Castle of Otranto (as a footnote by Lewis in the published version all but admits) and other works dealing with the usurper of a noble title and castle and his eventual downfall. From the outset, it is evident that Earl Osmond has killed Earl Reginald and his wife Evelina to gain possession of the castle; at the same time, he wishes to wed his own niece, Angela, the daughter of Reginald and Evelina, to seal his victory. The play features not only the actual appearance (twice) of the spectre of Evelina, but both deliberate and unwitting instances where characters pretend to be spectres, thereby achieving a kind of clumsy union between Walpolian supernaturalism and Radcliffean explained supernaturalism. And yet, perhaps the most effective scene in the play is Ormond’s account of the hideous dream he has experienced:

… ’twas a dream of such horror! Did such deams haunt my bitterest foe, I should wish him no severer punishment… . [The ghost of Evelina appears to him.] Her infected breath was mingled with mine; her rotting fingers pressed my hand, and my face was covered with her kisses!—Oh! then, then how I trembled with disgust!—And now blue dismal flames gleamed along the walls; the tombs were rent asunder; bands of fierce spectres rushed round me in frantic dance!—Furiously they gnashed their teeth while they gazed upon me, and shrieked in loud yell—“Welcome, thou fratricide!—Welcome, thou lost for ever!”—Horror burst the bands of sleep; distracted I flew hither:—But my feelings—words are too weak, too powerless to express them. (66—67)

Quite impressive, even if it is only a relatively conventional expression of guilt and remorse. Of Lewis’s other supernatural plays, Adelmorn the Outlaw (1801) is an uninspired rehash of The Castle Spectre, while The Wood Daemon (1807) has moments of effectiveness in its account of a peasant who makes an evil bargain with a wood demon to gain handsomeness and military prowess in exchange for a murder he must commit as a sacrifice; when he fails to commit the murder, furies in league with the wood demon snatch the peasant up and bear him off. Like The Castle Spectre, this play must have been impressive if properly staged. Other plays are less central to the horror tradition, but of some interest nonetheless. Alfonso, King of Castile (1801) is a blank verse tragedy with plenty of blood and thunder, but no supernaturalism. The Captive (1803) is a tour de force of sorts—a short dramatic monologue with only a single speaker, a woman thrown into a dungeon (other characters appear only in pantomime). It is an interesting attempt to display madness on stage. Lewis also wrote a four-volume set of Romantic Tales (1808), largely translations or adaptations from the German.

It is odd that Lewis did not attempt to write another novel that would recapture the success of The Monk. Possibly he was deterred by the notoriety of the novel and its wide condemnation among reviewers and readers for “immorality”—a point augmented by the fact that he was a member of Parliament at the time the novel appeared. Evidently, the conclusion of the novel, where Ambrosio gets his religiously orthodox comeuppance, was an insufficient balance to the shocking obscenity of the earlier parts of the narrative. Lewis’s turning to drama was, if nothing else, generally successful commercially: he gained £18,000 from the early performances of The Castle Spectre, although his other plays were much less profitable. In 1812, upon the death of his father, he felt obliged to tend to family estates in Jamaica, and he died in 1818 of yellow fever while on board a ship returning to England.

If The Monk is merely a light entertainment, the hulking novel that culminates both the “Christian supernatural” mode of this period and the Gothic novel as a whole is a very different matter. I refer, of course, to Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Robert Maturin (1780?—1824). Of Maturin’s other novels very little need be said. The only work of any relevance is his first novel, The Fatal Revenge; or, The Family of Montorio (1807), which, in spite of Sir Walter Scott’s charitable review, deserves Lovecraft’s dismissal of it as a “confused Radcliffian imitation” (S 31). When one has said that it is a non-supernatural work featuring a monk named Schemoli, one has said all one needs to say. Maturin was a Protestant Irish clergyman (a fact of some importance, as we shall see presently) who, in spite of his long friendship with Scott and some successes as a playwright (notably the non-supernatural Gothic play Bertram), was so persistently concerned about impending poverty that his relatively short life seemed largely to be lived in misery. One begins to wonder, then, to what degree he drew upon his own mental and psychological state in some of the more gripping scenes of his best and most enduring novel.

The remarkable thing about Melmoth the Wanderer is that, although it is manifestly based on a supernatural premise—John Melmoth, who has sold his soul to the Devil for eternal life, must find someone to take the bargain off his hands, lest he be doomed to eternal torment—the means that Maturin uses to set up the confrontations between Melmoth and his successive would-be victims are such that the novel becomes a systematic display of torture, cruelty, and misery; for Melmoth believes that only the most wretched and desperate would give up their immortal souls to take up his bargain, and so Maturin spends the great bulk of the text in portraying the dismal fates of the hapless individuals (or, in some cases, whole families) whose increasing misfortunes might—at least in Melmoth’s mind—lead them to consider his offer. As a result, the entire novel is, really speaking, a kind of enormously extended conte cruel. This is not by any means a criticism, for Maturin’s handling of these episodes of degradation are masterful and terrifying; indeed, it is such scenes that make as good a case as could be made for considering at least some exemplars of non-supernatural horror to be legitimately within the realm of weird fiction.

Consider the opening tableau, when Stanton, who is haunted by the figure of Melmoth in England, Spain, and elsewhere, is locked in a madhouse. Melmoth comes to him and delivers an incredible lecture about the horrors of such a place:

“… where be your companions, your peaked men of countries, as your favourite Shakespeare has it? You must be content with the spider and the rat, to crawl and scratch round your flock-bed! … How delightful to have vermin for your guests! Aye, and when the feast fails them, they make a meal of their entertainer! … A time will come, and soon, when, from mere habit, you will echo the scream of every delirious wretch that harbours near you; then you will pause, clasp your hands on your throbbing head, and listen with horrible anxiety whether the scream proceeded from you or them.” (55—56)

There is much, much more of this, but this should suffice. There is really nothing like this in all Gothic fiction, and it looks forward to the psychological intensity of Poe and Bierce.

Then there is the case of Alonzo Monçada, who is the scion of a wealthy family but is nonetheless placed against his will in a monastery. Aside from allowing Maturin to engage in much anti-Catholic polemic, the scenario also offers him great potential for scenes of psychological torture. With the help of his brother, Juan, Alonzo attempts to escape, but is caught and placed in a dungeon. His battles with the horrible reptiles infesting the place lead to this reflection: “’I do assure you, Sir, I had more to do in my dungeon than in my cell. To be fighting with reptiles in the dark appears the most horrible struggle that can be assigned to man; but what is it compared to his combat with those reptiles which his own heart hourly engenders in a cell, and of which, if his heart be the mother, solitude is the father’” (146). This is followed by a remarkable tableau in which Juan and Alonzo enlist the services of a hideous person, a parricide who is never given a name, who promises to help Alonzo escape but in the end betrays them; inevitably, Alonzo is sent to the Inquisition. It is here that Melmoth appears to him. Maturin slyly alludes to Melmoth’s preternatural age by Alonzo’s remark, “He constantly alluded to events and personages beyond his possible memory,—then he checked himself” (228). Alonzo, like all the others, resists Melmoth’s blandishments and ultimately manages to escape when a fire breaks out in the place (in the course of which the parricide is torn apart by a mob).

In spite of the fact that Melmoth himself keeps to the background except at those moments when, in his belief, his chosen victims are at their lowest psychological ebb and therefore amenable to his offer, he nonetheless dominates the novel from beginning to end. The moment he is referred to (by Stanton) as a “tempter” (57), his function as a stand-in for Satan is confirmed. Adonijah, the father of a Jewish man with whom Alonzo takes refuge, elaborates upon the point, speaking of a “rumour” of “a being sent abroad on the earth to tempt Jew and Nazarene, and even the disciples of Mohammed, whose name is accursed in the mouth of our nation, with offers of deliverance at their utmost need and extremity” (269), and even referring to him as “the evil one” (269). A later character considers Melmoth’s bargain: “He has offered, and proved to me, that it is in his power to bestow all that human cupidity could thirst for, on the condition that—— I cannot utter! It is one so full of horror and impiety, that, even to listen to it, is scarce less a crime than to comply with it!” (427). Curiously enough, it is only at this point that the first explicit indication of the nature of Melmoth’s bargain is provided: “what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (429).

As for Melmoth himself, he defends himself after a fashion, chiefly in the long digression (although perhaps the term has no meaning in a novel that is really nothing but digressions, or at any rate relatively discrete episodes) about the East Indian princess Immalee, who is in fact a Spanish woman named Isadora. To her Melmoth paints a portrait of the evils of religion and the wretchedness of (civilised) humanity in a manner perhaps meant to be reminiscent of Milton’s Satan. In making a simple-minded explanation of the nature of a Supreme Being, Melmoth states, in the manner of the Enlightenment philosophers:

“It is right … not only to have thoughts of this Being, but to express them by some outward acts. The inhabitants of the world you are about to see, call this, worship,—and they have adopted (a Satanic smile curled his lip as he spoke) very different modes; so different, that, in fact, there is but one point in which they all agree—that of making their religion a torment;—the religion of some prompting them to torture themselves, and the religion of some prompting them to torture others.” (290)

That parenthetical aside gives the game away.

And yet, lest one assume that Maturin is being a kind of ancestor to Richard Dawkins, he comes through with his patented anti-Catholicism (Immalee: “… and when they brought me to a Christian land, I thought I should have found them all Christians.”—“And what did you find them, then, Immalee?”—“Only Catholics” [344]), but he goes on to utter, through the mouth of Immalee/Isadora, the ultimate characterisation of Melmoth’s psychological plight: “He who is without a God must be without a heart!” (514). And yet, it is earlier stated of Melmoth that, rather like Frankenstein’s creature, “His sarcastic levity bore a direct and fearful proportion to his despair” (352).

In spite of the appalling prolixity of the novel—it must be in excess of 150,000 words, and there are all kinds of episodes and segments that have little bearing on the central premise, especially the “Lovers’ Tale” (444f.) toward the end—there is something in the text that keeps the reader well-nigh hypnotised. Perhaps it is nothing more than the intensity of Maturin’s vision, and his consequent use of highly flamboyant and picturesque language to express it. (For those who decry the floridity of Poe, Lovecraft, and others in the weird tradition, the final line of Melmoth the Wanderer is worth remembering: “Melmoth [the Wanderer’s descendant] and Monçada exchanged looks of silent and unutterable horror, and returned slowly home” [542].) The structural anomalies of the novel—the fact that the bulk of the text is presented as the narrative of Monçada, even though the novel opens as the narrative of John Melmoth, descendant of the Wanderer—must be forgiven, as must the tiresome anti-Catholicism, the unconvincing love affair between Melmoth and Immalee, and many other flaws that could be pointed out in the text. There is something of genuine greatness in Melmoth the Wanderer, and its prodigious length, even if it is engendered merely by successive accounts of the pathetic wretches whom Melmoth hopes to tempt, nonetheless give the novel an epic grandeur that is sadly lacking in, say, The Mysteries of Udolpho and certainly in the shilling-shocker, The Monk.

It is worth discussing the extent to which both The Monk and Melmoth the Wanderer may have been influenced by German literature. Many of the earlier reviewers of the former, including Coleridge, contended that Lewis was merely aping a variety of German Gothic works in his novel. Syndy M. Conger has written the definitive work on this subject, and she concludes that Lewis, during his visit to Germany in the early 1790s, appears not only to have read Goethe’s early published version of Faust, titled Faust: Ein Fragment (1790), but also some other sections of the work in manuscript. Other works, including Schiller’s unfinished short novel Der Geisterseher (1789; The Ghost-Seer) and J. K. Musäus’s “Die Entführung” (1782—86; The Abduction), and Veit Weber’s “Die Teufelsbeschwörung” (1791; The Devil’s Oath), played a role in various details of The Monk; but beyond mere details, Conger concludes persuasively that German literature had the effect of transforming the novel from romance to tragedy—although to some extent this transformation remains incomplete because of Lewis’s fatal temptation to descend to over-the-top and at times nearly obscene flamboyance.

If any work truly transformed Gothic romance to the true status of tragedy, it is Melmoth the Wanderer, and Conger has demonstrated that it too was significantly influenced by German sources. It appears that Maturin read Faust largely as filtered through Madame de Staël’s discussion and partial translation of it in her work, De l’Allemagne (1813), translated into English that same year as Germany. Maturin was also influenced by Bürger’s “Lenore” and Schiller’s Geisterseher, but Faust was the chief influence, with the result that Melmoth himself becomes a kind of amalgam of Mephistopheles (as tempter) and Faust himself (as quester for forbidden knowledge).

The broader question of the place of early German Gothic literature in the development of the supernatural is difficult to treat in small compass. Schiller’s little novel is not supernatural, although it suggests it in the enigmatic figure of the Armenian, who plagues the protagonist with apparent displays of sorcery; but these displays are then systematically exposed as frauds. Schiller was not in fact interested in the supernatural, or even the explained supernatural, as a component of literature; rather, the purpose of his work was largely political and moral: at the beginning of the novel he makes note of “the way the human mind can be deceived and go astray” (5). Christian Heinrich Spiess’s Das Petermännchen (1791—92), about an evil spirit, and Ignaz Ferdinand Arnold’s Der Vampyr (1801), the first known vampire novel, are of some note, although it is difficult to trace their influence upon subsequent literature—especially since no copy of the latter has come to light. German weird writing of this period, including the work of Hoffmann, Tieck, and La Motte Fouqué (to be considered in the next chapter), tended to draw more upon folklore than its English counterpart, and at times its distinction from the actual folktale becomes problematical.