Thursday, November 12, 2009

books books books

About three years ago I realized that some of the books I had most wanted to read in the world, were starting to pop up on Amazon. 18th century gothic novels and chapbooks -- late 19th/20th century supernatural mysteries -- things that haven't seen the light of day again in decades. Not only that, but this time they were affordable! I have the unfortunate combination of a deep love of obscurity in the realms of literature, film and music, and absolutely no cash with which to fund said obsessions.

Valancourt Books and Zittaw Press were the main sources of my undoing -- I have ordered several dozen books from these fine publishing houses and I go on mad sprees several times a year when, armed with an Amazon coupon or gift card, I add another five to the pile. Above and below are a selection of some that I have accumulated, but I admit I haven't even gotten around to reading all of them so far, I just want to make sure that I have them before they disappear.

One of the things that most excited me was the forthcoming/ongoing publication of all of the "Horrid Novels" described in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. I'm not actually an Austen fan, other than that particular book, because it's a parody of the 18th century gothic novel. My absolute favorite parody of the gothic novel, "The Heroine" by Eaton Stannard-Barrett, has been my holy grail of books for some dozen or so years, since I took an old copy out on interlibrary loan and had to return it before I finished it. But it's coming out! Eventually! I know it's available as a download for free on the Internet Archive, but I like real books. Hold in the hand books. Touch the smooth glossy cover books.

The Horrid Novels are, incidentally (list copied from wikipedia for ease of typing):
I don't really know where to begin with why I love the 18th century gothic novel so much, except that it seems to be the basis for a lot of things that I love that came after it. In a way they are the source of all of the "Scooby Doo" cliches of the genre -- the empty suit of armor in the corridor, the painting with the shifting eyes. The secret passage concealed behind the bookcase. The pirates pretending to be ghosts. Candelabras and dank abandoned castle corridors. Imprisonment in a tower. The identity of the wrongdoers revealed in the final act!

While all of those things can be found in the classics of the genre, like The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe and The Monk by Matthew Lewis, every one of these relics is interesting to me, even if they all follow similar plot lines. A few of the most exciting books out of the batch to me are:

Literary Mushrooms - a collection of gothic chapbooks from 1800-1835

Phantasmagoriana - the very collection of stories that inspired Lord Byron, the Shelleys, & co., on one infamous dark and stormy night. in its first English translation!

Before the Count - a collection of British vampire tales from 1732-1897, long before vampires were sexy, sparkly or any of the other things that they appear to be now.

So there you go. A buncha books. I've been reading a different series all fall (the Wordsworth series of Mystery and Supernatural books) but I'll be getting back into these piles as we advance into the dark winter...


  1. This is a great article and I must put those books on my reading list, especially Phantasmagoriana and Literary Mushrooms!

    You continue to be one of the coolest and most interesting people I know, through your art and your taste in books, music, etc.!

  2. Thank you jeff, and right back atcha! :)

  3. I love your work and your blog! I was presented with an award this morning and would like to pass it on to you! Just scroll down, it's the last thing i babbled about :)

  4. Thank you so much Kathryn! I appreciate it!! I will take some time to think about the blogs I read and continue passing the award to some others! :)