Ignite the flame that will help you guide your way through the darkness and return with a story to tell.

19th Century

Not Your Romantic Vampire

The Strain Trilogy

 I love vampires and in the past few years I have indulged in the guilty pleasure of reading the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris: yes the ones about True Blood and Sookie Stackhouse. Before them I loved reading the Vampires Chronicles by Anne Rice until I got to Memnoch the Devil, which lost it for me, though I will say that I very much enjoyed Pandora, which is not quite part of the Vampire Chronicles. In the very beginning I read Dracula by Bram Stoker. The book took two efforts to get into it since the language is older and the way the book is presented, a compilation of diary entries and newspaper articles, is something for a 20th and 21st century mind to get used to. Once I found my rhythm, the 500 plus pages melted away as the pages seemed to be turned by the characters themselves.

It seems that in the beginning vampires were cruel and vicious as you can read about in “Carmila” and the “Vampyre,” then somewhere around Interview with a Vampire they became nicer drawing from us sympathy and even admiration. BUt throughout all earlier vampire stories there was a romance atmosphere, same as with most early gothic fiction, which I would say could be called gothic romance for multiple reasons. Then Twilight and True Blood happened and vampires became the hottest undead on the block, like rock stars even. I have some friends who say no they are monsters as we should either run away or destroy them. I understand what they are saying and I agree, but I also believe that vampires and romance go hand in undead hand.

But I do love a good scare from something different and imaginative so enter The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro. 

Like so many of the book I read I found this book in mass-market form at a library book sale back in 2010. The cover caught my eye and the description said that I should read this before the other books I bought that day. Two days late I finished the book and was quickly trying to find the second book, The Fall.

Yesterday I finished the third book of the trilogy, The Night Eternal, and though the first book is by far the best, the whole trilogy is terrifying. This is horror in vampires, and these are not your traditional vampires. They are more like zombies controlled like drones through their original maker, their master.

Since Guillermo del Toro is one of the co-authors all signs point to this being a movie one day, but I think it would make a better TV series then a movie. As I was reading the first book it felt like reading a script for a series, which worked well for the story. Throughout the trilogy, but mostly in the first book, are these side scenes where we see the simultaneous impact of these horrible creatures. We see that they are merciless and are nothing to be desired.

Over all I found these books to be creative, fun and entertaining. I am a huge fan of del Toro’s films and now I am a fan of his books. There are several book trailers that are fun to watch which you can see here and here.

Before I end I need to give an ‘I’m Sorry’ to Chuck Hogan whom I had never heard of before I read these books. He is the author of The Town, which was made into a great film with Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner. Sometimes writers slip by and we do not hear about them.

Happy Reading,
ORB

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Abraham Stoker

A while ago I read a great book titled The Sherlockian, which is a story about the missing journal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In that story there are two sections, one in the present day and one in the past, which follows Doyle and his good friend Bram Stoker. I mention this because just recently a friend of mine sent me a link to an article regarding the missing journal of Bram Stoker.

It turns out that Stoker and Doyle have a lot in common. In real life they were distantly related cousins, they both wrote stories about vampires, and are both overshadowed by a single character of their creation. I ask you to name, off of the top of your head and fingers, another book or piece of work by either of these two authors that has noting to do with Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula.

What they also have in common is they both have had missing journals suddenly appeared recently in the last few years. The disappearance of Doyle’s journals is much more interesting, partly due to the fact that he has written some of the most famous mysteries. As you can read in this article, Stoker’s missing journal was hidden in plain sight, on the bookshelf of one of his descendants. Not as interesting, and a little humorous.

I tell you this because there will be a book, which is to be titled The Lost Journal, to be published early 2012 to commemorate the 100 anniversary of the creator of Dracula’s death.

Happy Reading,

ORB


The Frankensteins

We all know the story of Frankenstein and many of us have seen the different films with the stiff arm monster with bolts in his next. I first read the fantastic tale by Mary Shelley when I was in college and was surprised by how much this 19th century novel felt like a modern thriller. And in many respects it is a modern story showing how much humans have accomplished in the world of medicine and science, while also asking the question of how much is too much. Can humans accomplish too much through science? It is hard to believe that Shelley wrote it when she was only in her early 20’s in 1818.

When I was young and I first saw the 1931 film with Boris Karloff, who also did the voice of the narrator and the Grinch in the original cartoon of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as the monster I always thought that the monster was named Frankenstein. As I have grown older and have reread Frankenstein as well as other additions to the legend, I come to understand that the monster is named Frankenstein. What is so great about this story is there are two monsters and there are two victims. Both Victor Frankenstein and his creation are villains in the story as they explore the new limits of human understanding of life and death.

Like vampires and Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster have been recreated in dozens of films (Son of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Horror of Frankenstein, Lady Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein. There have also been numerous books written about the monster and his maker.

First, there is The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Achroyd. This was my first Peter Ackroyd novel and from I have heard from others I need to read more, but first things first. This was a great book I read for Halloween two years ago and I have never forgotten it. He has taken the wondrous tale and transplanted it with modern day knowledge in the world of science from the 19th century. With the power of hindsight he has remade, though loyally as you can see,  this story with the background of history during one of the most amazing times of scientific discovery, which you can read about in The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes. To list some of his historical characters you will find Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley and my personal favorite, Humphrey Davy.

I know that many people will think that this book sounds like the remake of the film Cape Fear, and though I admit I felt the same when I read about this book, I will tell you that this book respects Mary Shelley as it builds on what she has done in such a way that makes this book special in its own respect. For more about this book here is a review from the New York Times.

Second, there is This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel. This is a fun story that follows the life of Victor Frankenstein when he was only in his 16th year. I admit that I have often wondered what kind of life Frankenstein lived before we first meet him in Shelley’s story. What type of childhood did this mad genius have? Who were his parents and who were friends? Did he have any siblings? Oppel took on the challenge to create the young adult life of Victor in the form of a young adult story. Like Achroyd, Oppel respected what Shelley created. When you read his story you can see the hints of the future as you know how this young man will die. For more about this story, click here.

I have no problem with authors using their imagination and telling the story of how a remarkable literary character came to be, as long as it is done well. My first experience with such a story came not that long ago when I read Finn by Jon Clinch, which tells the story of Huckleberry Finn’s father. (Another story I highly recommend.) To me this is why we have imagination and why authors write. It is the very best stories that stay with us and make us think, thereby inspiring others into imagining the story expanded into an entire world. Why are Frankenstein and Dracula remade and retold into hundreds of different stories in both books and films? Because they are the two best gothic novels ever written.

Frankenstein is one of the most iconic Halloween characters that has no doubt inspired other horror stories. Please tell me about what you like to read for Halloween.

 

Happy Reading,

ORB


Charles Brockden Brown

Charles Brockden Brown

When we think of gothic fiction in American most people minds turn towards Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving or even Nathaniel Hawthorne. Truth is the person most responsible for creating not only the gothic presence in the New World that inspired the authors above, but also developing a new type of gothic literature is a man by the name of Charles Brockden Brown.

Brown was born in Philadelphia in 1771 to a merchant Quaker family. His great-uncle, Charles Brogden, was the first Registrar of Philadelphia and a man whom worked with Benjamin Franklin. Interesting fact, the Brown family was criticized for not openly supporting the American Revolution. His father was accosted and accused of being a Tory all because of his Quaker pacifism. During the war Brown’s father was charged with Tory sympathies and sent to Virginia in exile. The family business was ruined and the young Brown was tragically separated from his father. This series of events would play a huge role in steering Brown to a life of writing.

Charles began his academic career at the Robert Proud’s School moving his profession into Law, but that would not last. He eventually switched to writing when he felt that there was always a bit of the unjust in justice. This move also came with the influence of the a group called the Friendly Club, which was a collection of “artists, lawyers, and physicians who encouraged his literary efforts  and shared with him their interests in in both physical and mental abnormalities”                     – Norma S. Grabo University of Tulsa

I mention this last point about the physical and mental abnormalities because it is important when trying to understand the nature of Brown’s writing as a gothic genre. In each of his two famous gothic novels, Edgar Huntly or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker and Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, we find elements of science and the understanding of the human mentality to be central to the creation of the story. As Jay Fligelman writes, “Brown, views the psychology of human behavior as the real realm of ultimate mysteries. If the Faustian agenda of enlightenment science sought to demystify the world, Brown sought to remystify it.” What this means is if the emergence of science took away much of the mystery of our world and the stars, Brown wanted to find the mystery in science.

This idea is shown in Wieland where we find the antagonist is a man named Carwin whom has many talents. He is a professional Biloquist, which is a fancy archaic version of the word, ventriloquist. In the story, Carwin is able to throw his voice so that it appears to becoming from outside of his body. His disembodied voices can also sound like other people. He uses his talent to break up a marriage by creating a seen where a woman’s husband thinks he hears her and another man having an affair. With out a doubt his greatest trick is convincing the protagonist that he is hearing the voice of God. I shall not give away anymore.

In Edgar Huntly, we find a similar story, but this time the twist in science is sleep-walking. I know that sounds a bit silly, but it is a fantastic story filled with imagination and dark mysteries. Brown is a talented writer and great story teller. But, why are they gothic?

These stories are taken out of the traditional gothic setting of European castles and cathedrals and inserted into the American wilderness when it was still a dangerous wilderness that had not been developed and explored to what we know and see today. Gone are the days of the dark corridors and things that go bump in the night of the ancient castle. Here we find deep forests filled with the unknown that attacks our imagination with the wind through the trees and echo of sounds from wild animals that can sometime sound like the screams of a child.

In the publishing of his first book, Wieland (1798), Brown became the first native born American author to become a professional writer. He made a living off of his writing, which was not very common his that day and age. Today, Brown was is the beginning of American novels and the american gothic genre. His works are taught in many American universities. Google his name and you will see.

Brown wrote a lot in his short life. He died at the age of 39 in 1810 from Tuberculosis.

For more about Brown visit here.

Happy Reading,

ORB


Dore – Dante – Purgatory XVIII

 

 

“Now focus your mind’s eye on what I say,”

he said, “and you will clearly understand

the error of the blind who lead the blind.”

 

“It should be clear to you by now how blind

to truth those people are who make the claims

the every love is, in itself, good love.”


Gore’s Poe

 

 

“Surely,” said, I, “surely that is something 

at my window lattice; Let me see, then 

what thereat is, and this mystery explore.”


M.R. James

Since I mentioned briefly in the last post the fantastic stories of M.R. James I thought that he was owed his own post. So here it is.

Montague Rhodes James

As I mentioned in that article I first found his book of ghost stories while browsing through a used bookstore in Belfast a few years ago. I had never before heard of him, but the title caught my eye since it included the word ‘Ghost’ and the price seemed more than fair, which was one pound, about two dollars. I bought it and quickly began reading that afternoon in mid september.

I instantly loved the stories and found that each one was better than the previous. I have read many collections of stories and often I find that by the end I want to be done so that I can read something else and walk away from the collection knowing that I had read that that there was to read. Not this book, not his stories. Each year, right about this time of the seasons, I reread many of his stories, which have held up over time.

What makes his stories so powerful is their atmosphere and their ability to turn a normal situation one of terror. He has a great ability to use his words to capture the atmosphere of the 19th century in foreign lands and bring them to our modern day eyes and imagination. His sense of details and how those details can and should be used is both fantastic and horrific. Please, if you have never read his work, buy or check out a collection of his stories and read them this Halloween and over the winter months.

From his collection of stories I say that his best are The Ash Tree, Number 13, Count Magnus, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral and my favorite among favorites, ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.’ In each one of these stories we find the questions, ‘can ghosts really cause us harm?’ To which James’ characters answer, ‘yes, they can.’ His horror is more than a bump in the attic or the creak of a door, it is a hand that reaches out the door of a room that cannot always be found, reaching for the neck of an innocent. His stories teach us that when you visit and old town or structure, be careful what you might wake up.

Part of James’ ability to craft such stores comes from his education and his profession as a medieval scholar. He lived from 1862 – 1936 in England and was the Provost of King’s college from 1905 – 1918. If Bram Stoker is the father of the modern vampire, James is arguably the father of the modern day ghost story. There are stories that he used to have gatherings in his study at King’s College around Christmas and at these gatherings he would read his stories. Believe me when I say that many of them are frightening.

It seems like many great writers of the macabre come from this time period, the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. It could be that they lived on the bridge from the world of candle light darkness as well as on the brink of the light bulb of the modern era. From where they stood, Stoker, James, Conan Doyle, Stevenson and even Le Fanu and Lovecraft all could see the world they came from and the future where they were heading.

Each of these writers focused on the old parts of this world what has survived, been forgotten and rediscovered by some scholar or explore of nature, science and history. From them come works that have survived for us to read at night by the light of our modern world. These stories remind us that there is still much that is unknown about our world and in that unknown you can find your own imagination.

Happy reading,

ORB


The Meaning of Night

I good friend of mine once told me that after he finishes a book he sends it to another friend so that they can enjoy it. Though I like this idea I could never do it. When I read a book that I really like I must keep it. It then lives on my book shelf with my other cherished books collecting dust until I come around to clean it off, hold it in my hand and think about the words with in its covers. I love coming back to books after I have read them. Sometimes I’ll read the entire book again, but then sometimes I’ll read only a few lines or not read a single word. I’ll hold the book and remember the imagination it gave to me.

The Meaning of Night is a book that I loved from the first time I saw the title. The meaning of night, what is its meaning? The blank canvass for our imagination is what I have always thought. For those of you who likedThe Nature of Monsters this is another book I think you will find can scratch that 19th century-victorian-gothic itch.

It is a story that begins with a murder and the opening line “After killing the red-haired me, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.” Yes, this is a story told from the point of view of a murderer, Mr. Edward Glyver. As the story progresses he describes for us in detail how he committed the murder. I tell you this because I have read that the biggest problem most readers have found in this novel is the fact that it is written in the first person and that person is a murderer. Do not worry this does not spoil the story.

The narrator is a cold blooded killer who is out to destroy the man whom he claims destroyed his own life, Mr Phoebus Daunt. The first murder is only practice to see if he has the strength to kill another human being. I know that some people do not care to read more about such a character and I admit that the reason why I do not finish most books that I dislike is because I do not like the main character, but here is how I see. Though I do not care so much for the narrator I do find him very interesting and I want to know why he wishes to murder Daunt. The narration and the emotion of the narrator reminds me of what I most enjoyed in reading the thoughts of the killer in Poe’s “A Tell Tale Heart.”

Michael Cox is an expert on 19th century gothic literature as well as the Victorian world. Like The Nature of Monsters this story feels as if it were written by someone from the period. The words and how they are used are methodical and for me they bring back so much imagination that was given to me from reading other stories from the time period.

And why is it gothic? Setting and location.

For the readers of the 21st century the world of the 19th century feels somewhat like a haunted castle. In our minds the streets are alight with oil lamps that cast oily shadows on the dirty cobblestone streets guarded by bobbies who use their whistles to echo out a crime into the night. It is a world that is mostly unknown to us other than the structures that are still standing for us to see and the stories that have survived for us to read. The rest of the detail we must filled in with our own imagination. For all good writers their words end where our imagination begins.

Two years I bought a copy of Cox’s second book, Glass of Time. I have not yet read it, but when I set out to write this entry I read the back of the book and learned that Michael Cox died at the age of 60 in 2009. In this world I could not believe that his death had remained unknown to me. What is most remarkable is how his death influenced The Meaning of Night.

For thirty years he had been dreaming up this story, taking notes and developing his characters in his imagination. But his own self-doubt stood in his way. His love and respect for authors such as Dickens and Conan Doyle gave him a feeling that he could not hope to write with such talent and prose. As he said, “I wasn’t confident that I could do it, and I couldn’t do it for 30 years.”  Then in the early ninety’s he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment to have tumors removed from his nasal cavity, brain and spine. As the cancer spread he began to lose his eye site. Rather than give up he set out to write his first novel, which became a mega success. 

One of my favorite short story authors is M.R. James, who is known for his 19th century ghost stories. If you have not had the chance to read them, please do and you will not be disappointed. I found a collection of his stories while I was traveling in Belfast five years ago. The book was hidden in an used bookstore with the price mark of one pound. In my research of Michael Cox I discovered that he was one of the leading experts of M.R. James and had written a book on James and his tales of the macabre. Surprised by this fact I checked inside the book of ghost stories and there on the page for suggested further readings I found “M. Cox: M.R. James: An Informal Portrait 1983.”

To this day this is my favorite collection of short stories beating out Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury’s The October Country. It sits today on my shelf next to Cox’s two stories all waiting to be read, held, dusted and reread ever October just before Halloween.

For more about Michael Cox and his death click here.

Happy Reading,

ORB


Dore’s Raven

The Raven

“On this home by Horror haunted . . .”


The Raven’s Dreams

The Raven

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before; . . .


Gustav Doré

Paul Gustave Dore

It is fun how we can live our entire lives and not know that there is an artist, author or some creator that will blow our minds away with their work. It seems that as I get older, to my delight, I find more and more of these people in the world. Several years ago it was the writer Neil Gaiman. I know, it was not until I finished school that I learned of the awesome works of Neil Gaiman and now I have read just about everything of his there is to read including all four volumes of the Sandman series. This summer I found the etchings of John Taylor Arms at the National Gallery of Art. Now I wish to share with you another artist, Paul Gustave Dore.

Dante's Inferno

I found him this summer, while researching Dante Aligheri as I was reading the Inferno. In researching I found this illustration of a lost pilgrim (Dante) in a dark and lonely forest and thought it to be wondrous and perfect imagery for the text of the Inferno. Little did I know that there would be more illustrations such as this to compliment not only the first volume of the Divine Comedy, but for all three volumes, Purgatory and Paradise. Again, as in the case of the work of John Taylor Arms, the attention is in the details of his work. When you look at one of his illustrations you can see the amount of time, energy and patience he put into it as you can feel that energy pervade out of it. The work is like magic like the words are poetry.

Don’t misunderstand me, I love using my imagination when every I can in reading poetry, prose, short stories or novels, but there is a different experience when you have images such as these from an artist such as Dore. There is a quality that comes with them and an experience that follows. It is art and poetry combined into one symphony that any person whom appreciates the macabre will enjoy. The gothic appeal is strong in his work as he shows the beauty in the tragedy.

Here is a brief biography on Dore.

Born in Strasbourg, France on January 6, 1832, Dore made a name for himself as a prolific artist, illustrator, engraver and sculptor, but he worked primarily with wood and steel engravings. His artistic talent was recognized at an early age by his parents and friends. When he was 14 his parents moved to Paris. While out walking he saw in the window of a publishing company engravings to match different works of literature. Knowing he could do a better job he brought his work to the shop the next day and showed them to the publisher, Charles Philipon. Philipon was amazed by what the young Dore had to show him, but thought the work to be was too good for the hand of a teenager. After Dore proved the illustrations to be his own he was given a job.

The Bible: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Early in his career he was commissioned to illustrate the works of Lord Byron, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and the The Old Testament of the Bible (1866), which made him famous not only in France, but around the world. What he is most known for, however, are his illustrations for Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Poe’s poem, The Raven. In his life, he illustrated more than 200 books and thousands of illustrations.

He was a workaholic and managed to produce a lifetime of work in a short life. He died after a brief illness at the age of 51 in 1883. He grave can be found in the Pere Lachaise Cemetary in Paris.

His work is unequally in talent and imagination as he brings to life the very wonders of the classical works we still love and read today. As soon as I discovered that there is for sale as book of his illustrations to the entire Divine Comedy, I knew I could not finish the 100 cantos without his art. I find it difficult to understand how one person could produce so much work and have each one be excellent and amazing.

Paradise Lost: Satan's Fall from Heaven

Recently I bought his work on Poe’s The Raven, which is one of my single favorite pieces of writing. His work is deep and thoughtful, complete and emotional. He seems to be able to draw out with an illustration the same passion and imagination that the author wrote in with words. The many collections he created are a testament to his talent, dedication and respect to his craft and the works of others. He was born with a unique talent that few have ever had. We are luck that at an early age he recognized that talent and was able to pursue it until the day he died.

Please share with me your thoughts on Dore’s work and any artists you think share his abilities and passion.


John Taylor Arms

Momento Vivere, Notre Dame Cathedral, Evreux

It use to be that I was too embarrassed to admit that I had never before heard of a famous individual and this embarrassment at times hindered my interests since I would be too scared to ask the questions that I needed to ask. That question that would inevitably lead to more questions.

It was only this past July that I learned the name John Taylor Arms and I discovered the name by accident. While touring the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. I saw on a sign one of my favorite words, ‘Gothic.’ It is typical that when ever I see that word it is connected to some subject that will interest me. This situation was no different. I walked into a room at the very back and to the left of the basement level of the gallery. It was a place that was being ignored by most of the patrons who where more focus on the impressionist and expressionists art that hung in the main corridor. At the time the quiet atmosphere was great since it gave me the room all to myself. For more on the exhibit, click here.

John Taylor Arms

Upon closer inspection I saw the name John Taylor Arms, and I was happy that I found him, ending my ignorance in private. For those of you who like me had never before heard of this great architect and print maker he is an unique person. Born in Washington D.C. in 1887, he began his academic career by studying law at Princeton, but that did not last and he would transfer to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. After he graduated in 1912 he went on to become the most renown artist working in etchings and aquatints. Because he had an architects trained eye for detail he was able, with constant devotion to the almost painful details, to create images with such superb detail that they seemed to poses more craft and precision than any one person could create.

Though his work is not entirely tied to gothic architecture, he did specialize in strictly representational etchings of medieval cathedrals and gargoyles. His work has been said to be denser than photographs, and it was because of his fine eye for detail that he was able to make etchings of gothic cathedrals so beautiful.It is, after all, these details of gothic structures that give them their power over the eye. Think about it. Next time you see a gothic style building, look closer at it and you will notice the tiny details that add up to its grand presence in an almost out of this world beauty. In his work and in the actual structures you can see the amount of time, talent, skill and care the was poured into the facades, towers, and the entirety of each project. Through his dedication and focus he was able to successfully transfer that marvel onto copper plates and then to paper.

From reading about Arms I learned that he was drawn to gothic architecture not only for its detailed splendor, but for the fact that it survived through the centuries to become living relics. Such survivors deserve respect for the fact that they endured when most perished in time. It is amazing to think that what people can create can long outlive their creators far into the future to the point were they almost seem alien to the modern world. Throughout Arms life and career as an artist the world of modern art change to more abstract art, progressives and independents. Still he dedicated himself to his craft and did not stray and for that we have his work today. Arms died in 1953 in Fairfield, Connecticut. He worked until the day he died and his creations have survived these fifty-eight years for us to see and tell others about.

For a review of the exhibit, click here.

Enjoy,

ORB


The Smithsonian ‘Castle’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though there are many old cathedrals in the United States that can be considered as being of gothic architecture, there are few castles. Sadly for those of us who live in the United States and love gothic architecture, there are few places to visit to see the beauty of that medieval style. There may be some of similar style, but few of historic craft and artifact. Perhaps the most well known gothic castle in American is the Smithsonian Institution Building, which is appropriately nicknamed the ‘Castle.’

James Renwick, Jr.

In terms of size and aesthetics, the ‘Castle’ is an impressive structure. With its red sandstone it appears bold in its splendor on the Washington Mall and stands out from even amongst the Capitol Building, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery of Art and the Supreme Court, all of which are more classical in their style. I have had the chance to visit Washington D.C. many times and I have always been impressed with the layout of the mall with the Washington Monument on one end and the Capitol on the other. I have always been aware of the out of place red gothic castle, but never have I looked into why it is there or who designed it. I did know that it was the headquarters for the Smithsonian, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I am a little sad that it took me so long to learn more about this beautiful building that has stood for over 100 years.

Picture borrowed from Smithsonian Institute Archives

Completed in 1855, the ‘Castle’ was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. James Renwick was born in 1818, in New York City. His was part of an affluent family that was well educated. His mother came from a prominent New York family, and his father was an engineer, architect and professor of natural philosophy at Columbia, where later James would study engineering. James did not, however, study architecture. The only education he received in that field was from his father who taught him the trade. Indeed, he did grow up with early exposure to the craft and was nurtured in architecture throughout his life.

Grace Church: Image from Grace Church website

 

He received his first major commission at the age of 25 for designing the the Grace Church in New York in 1843. The church is modeled in the English Gothic Style. Even though the church received other bids from well established architects it took a chance on the young engineer believing that his background and family provided a guarantee that the church would rise without fault. The finished product was very different from what could be found in the city at the time. It was the first of its kind, gothic, to be seen in New York and one reason why the style was chosen can be linked to the churches rector, Thomas House Taylor.

Prior to his arrival in New York, Taylor had spent a year traveling throughout Europe for possible the purpose of searching for ideas as to what the future church should resemble. It is without doubt that he would have seen many gothic style churches, but we also know that Renwick had never seen one, outside of what he could find in books, thus adding to his talent, skill and vision.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Of all of his designs Renwick is perhaps most renown for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, also in New York City. This project came later in his career after he had completed Grace Church and the Smithsonian Castle. It is a marvel to see in the atmosphere of Manhattan as it was built long before midtown became what we can see today. Once upon a time this was not the populace part of the city. Construction began in 1858, but the project was placed on hold during the Civil War. It would take another thirteen years before the cathedral would be completed in 1878.

Today, like the rest of Renwick’s monuments to the gothic style, the cathedral is a National Historic Landmark. These structures are worth seeing even though they may be hard to photograph. Pictures do not capture their full majesty.


The Man Mr. Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is easily one of the most recognizable names in American literature and though he would wish to not be considered an author of Gothic literature, his stories do have a gothic influence. Let me explain.

He was born in 1809 in Boston to David Poe, the son of Irish immigrants, and Elizabeth Arnold Poe. When both of his parents died in 1811 he was taken in as a ward by man named John Allan from Richmond. Evidence shows that the relationship between Allan and Poe was never that of a father and son and Allan never formerly adopted Poe. Throughout Edgar’s life his relationship with his guardian would go through periods of happiness and deep despair as Edgar battled through times of poverty while attending school and times with of gambling and drinking.

Perhaps the most important time of his life was came in 1815 when the Allan family moved to England where John Allan opened a branch of his mercantile firm in London. In 1819, the family traveled to Scotland to visit relatives and there Poe spent two months admiring the local aesthetics. As he traveled throughout the Scotish countryside he was exposed to the ancient castles, abbeys country mansions and cathedrals. Being exposed to such a world as that stayed with Poe and we can see descriptions of these places in his story ‘Fall of the House is Usher.” In that story Poe describes the ancient house of Usher situated next to a Tarn, which is a small mountain lake that was formed by a glacier. Tarns are not found in the eastern United States as they are more common to Scandinavia and Northern England. The word tarn itself is from an Old Norse word. He begins the story by having his narrator describe the house as a depressing scene. “There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart.” The view of the decaying house is enough to inspire the narrator with these thoughts of horrors the same way the view of gothic cathedrals and castles have inspired writers such as Walpole, Radcliffe, Lewis and Lathom.

Poe wrote man stories that can be considered gothic in nature including “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Man That Was Used Up.” But Poe is more than just gothic, he is also a mystery. In “The Murderers in the Rue Morgue” Poe created the modern day detective story.

Virginia Clemm

He believed in the idea that the only narratives worth writing were those that could be read in one sitting, secretly criticizing his own work, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” calling it “a silly book.”  (I agree in that it is not my favorite story to read.) Poe’s earlier stories including “MS. Found in a Bottle,” “The Assignation,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” received praise from notable American authors such as Washington Irving, whom Poe had to chance to publish in one of the many magazines for which he worked.

Poe worked hard for years to build his own literary magazine that would only feature American writers and he was an advocate for the creation of an international copyright law that would protect American authors and stop American magazines from pirating English works.

Gradually over his professional career he gained some success as a writer and some as a publisher/editor. He once interviewed Charles Dickens in Philadelphia and wrote a well read review of Nathaniel Hawthorne. When his famous poem “The Raven” was published in January 1845 it made Poe an national celebrity.

He was not a drug addict and was not an alcoholic as many people today imagine. The success he is given today was gained through hard work. In school he was very talented in languages such as French and Latin. He once attended the University of Virginia where the faculty included former presidents Madison and Monroe.

Poe is also famous for marrying his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. As strange as this marriage is today with not quite so strange then and there is evidence that he and Virginia did truly love each other. For many years she bought him happiness, but the happiness would not last. In January of 1842 Virginia suffered a massive pulmonary hemorrhage while singing. To distract himself from her illness Poe threw himself at his work. Virginia would never recover and she died at the age of 25 in 1847 leaving Poe in a deep depression that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Poe would die only two years after Virginia, in October of 1849 at the age of 40. HIs death came as a mysterty being admitted in to Washington College Hospital on October 3rd in a delirious fit until he died four days later on October 7.

About a year and a half ago I attended an event that discussed the life and sudden death of Edgar Allan Poe. As most people know, Poe died from unknown circumstances at the Washington College Hospital in Baltimore on October 7th. What no one knows is exactly how he died. Before I go into some of the theories I want to share with you my history of Edgar Allan Poe.

My first experience with Poe happened on October 25th, 1990 when I saw the first Simpsons Halloween Special titled ‘Treehouse of Horror.’ The episode, which is appropriately named “The Raven,” sets Homer as the narrator in this spectacular parody of Poe’s famous poem. After watching the episode and having my father explain to me its origin, I attempted to read the poem, but failed miserably with my young not-quite-eight-year-old mind. It would be ten years later while in high school when I again attempted to read the unusual poem and two years after when I read my first Poe short story, “The Tell Tale Heart,” which was also made into an episode of the Simpsons. Today I can still recall exactly where I was and under what circumstances I read that tale for murder and insanity. I remember how Poe’s words drew me into the story with the steady pace of a beating heart and how the rythme of the tale flowed off of the page and caused me to forget my surrounds. I remember the words changing, moving more rapidly as the climax grew with the beating of the hideous heart.

Back to the library event, which was organized by the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. Throughout my life I heard of a few difference theories about how Poe died. First, the rabies theory, which always seemed the most fitting idea to me, no offense Edgar, but wild stories usually come with wild endings. Second, which I always believed, was the Cooping theory involving a gang that forced him to vote multiple times during an election. Rather than explain the details of these theories I’ll simply refer you to this webpage. In the end no one knows how he really died and we may never know since he has been dead for more than 170 years. If you are interested in reading about Poe’s death, one book that has come highly recommended, which I have not had chance to read, but have every intention is a book titled “Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe,” by John Evangelist Walsh. What ever conclusions people have, I prefer to leave his death as a true mystery. Sometimes there is a little bit of magic hidden in ignorance.

During his lifetime Poe did not receive the attention and praise as he does today. In fact, some people at the time of his death wrote about him being a drunkard and a lunatic. His modern success is in part due to the French poet Charles Baudelaire who published a multi-volume edition of his work in French, which created his fame abroad. Throughout the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th century, Poe’s fame grew as he was gradually introduced into classrooms and pop-culture.

Poe's Tombstone in Baltimore, Maryland

If you are interested in learning more about Poe’s death and how his grave moved from the back of the Westminster Graveyard, where it was first set without without a headstone, to the current day position shown above, please ask Sara Sigourney Rice.

Happy Reading,

ORB


The Nature of Monsters

The Nature of Monsters

by Clare Clark

The title and the cover of this book had me sold from the beginning and with out any research on the novel or the artist I jumped into its pages. It did not take long for me to understand that Clare Clark is one of the most talented living writers. The Nature of Monsters is a modern day traditional Gothic novel, written in a style that resembles 19th century writers, which is a talent that few writers today have. The only other writer I have read, whose work comes remotely close to her skill, is Michael Cox, the author of The Meaning of Night. (That book is for another post.)

Clark has a fantastic ability to create a dense and complete atmosphere through her story-telling that pervades off of the pages into the very room around you. She is patient with her writing and takes her time developing each scene and every character as the story evolves in a most natural way.

As for the story, it follows the life of a young girl named Eliza who travels from rural England to live in early 18th century London. Part of what is special about this novel is the point of view of the narrator, Eliza, who describes in ugly detail what London was like not only in the 18th century, but what it looks like through her quiet country eyes. From her words we can feel, smell and taste of the time.

Eliza has come to London to become the servant of an apothecary, who is a demented man seeking to prove his theory that nature can create a real life monster. His theory is that what happens to the mother in pregnancy will affect the child, believe this from his own experience. This was a common theory before the development of modern medicine. There was once the idea that if a woman was pregnant and had impure thoughts of a man that was not her husband then her child would look like that man.

It is scary to think of what it would be like to live in a world where such thoughts were not only believed, but taught as medicine. At this time in history it was thought that the blood was created in the stomach and then flowed to the heart where it was burned like oil in a furnace. If someone had a fever they would be bled to remove the excess blood that was thought to be over heating the body.

As I mentioned before this book resembles a traditional Gothic novels in that there is no real ghost or monster. In the beginning, there was always a sinister person or group of vagabonds pretending to be ghouls and this novel keeps with that tradition. There is no mythical monster born from hell that then crawled out of the darkest woods for the deepest seas. Tradition shows that monsters are real, but they are living breathing people, like the apothecary who is himself only a cruel man sinister thoughts.

Gothic novels are also called gothic, because they take place in the old cathedrals and castles that we still see standing today. As much as these structures inspire us now they inspired the imaginations of artists hundreds of years ago. This novel is no different. In an interview (here) Clark explains how much St. Paul’s Cathedral inspired her to write this story and how she imagined that others in history were captivated by the immense structure.

Before you read this novel I must warn you that it is not for the faint of heart as it is a disturbing story. But if you can survive the rough patches , I’ll tell you, with out a spoiler alert, that there is a light at the other end of the pages.
For more you can read a review here and find more about Clare Clarks other novels The Great Stink and Savage Lands.

Happy Reading,
ORB