Posts Tagged ‘literature’

the monk

reblogged from my older blog, Gypsyscarlett: Writing the Victorian Gothic.  originally posted on May 20, 2012

Into the Gothic World of the Monk

One of my maxims for writing stories that take place in past eras is that people have always been the same.  What goes on inside hearts, and behind closed doors has never changed.   It is only the outer society that differs in clothes and manner.
     A fantastic example of this is the 1796 novel by Matthew G. Lewis.   It is difficult to imagine this being published in the staid Victorian period.  But go back one century to the much more bawdy 18th, and this book was not only published, it was a smashing hit.  The fact that some critics deemed it obscene and dangerous, of course, only helped to sell more copies.
      Matthew Lewis, born on July 9. 1775, to a prominant English family, wrote the novel in a span of ten weeks.  Inspired by the novel, Mysteries of Udolpho, he aimed to write his own Gothic masterpiece.   Evidently putting aside any care or worry what anyone would think of him or his novel, he went full out, no-holds barred. The title character, Ambrosio is the ultimate man of two faces.  To his congregation he is the embodiment of purity and moral excellence.  Inside, he is an ego-ist who feeds on their adoration.
       The novel becomes a Matryoshka doll of stories within stories.  Romance,  sex, magic, murder,  and ghosts  fill the pages. While the confessions he hears indicate that most of the characters are decent enough folk caught up in an unjust world,  Ambrosio, himself, spirals into one of the most loathesome characters in all of literature.  A hypocrite to the extreme who blames everyone  and everyone but himself for anything and everything he does,  his arrogance and utter disregard for others leads him to rape and murder.
     The novel also boasts one of the most fascinating, unapologetic characters in Matilda.  As Ambrosio’s lover and nemesis,  she is his perfect foil, and the reader will be quite curious whose side she is really on.
     Story-wise, the novel is a marvel and it is easy to see why it had such great influence on such later literary figures as Emily Bronte and Poe.  On the negative side, the novel is unfortunately filled with the racism and sexism of its day.  Reading the treatment of the women is not easy.  Their constant punishment will raise the hair of anyone with modern sensibility.   While the men happily go along their merry ways, you can bet any of the female characters who engages in physical intercourse- whether it be consensual sex or  rape, will either die or lose her beauty and retire into a convent.  Only one female character in the book who has had pre-marital sex is “allowed” by the author to marry the man she loves at the end.   But not until after she has suffered one of  the cruelest, most heartbreaking tragedies one can imagine.
     Accepting the book for the era it was written, I was able to greatly enjoy the story while glaring at times and being grateful that authors no longer need to punish their ladies as some sort of horrible, hypocritical “moral”.
     Recommended as a highly engaging, spellbinding, and at times, surprisingly humorous tale with a fantasic, witty end.
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Some years ago, I chanced upon DARK SHADOWS ALMANAC. Included within its pages was a wonderful essay by Lara Parker detailing her journey writing her first book, Angelique’s Descent
As a long-time fan of the gothic (and charmingly playful) 1960s daytime soap, I was delighted to hear my favorite actress from the show had written a book detailing the life of her infamous character: the romantic and very scorned witch. The woman who would curse Barnabas Collins to eternity as one of the living dead.

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From the moment I began to read I was swept away in Ms. Parker’s warm recollections for the show, and her determination in honing the craft of writing.

“How in the world does an actress end up writing a novel? Actresses are those vain, frivilous creatures who bask in the limelight and would never think of holing up in a dark office for months sruggling to produce a piece of fiction,” she began.

Afte Jim Pierson (director of the official fan conventions) spent much time convincing Harper Collins to consider releasing brand new novels based on the show, Ms Parker was called in to meet with Caitlin Blasdell, an editor from the publishing firm.

“I appreciated the opportunity but I really didn’t believe I’d be able to do it…I was neither foolish enough nor presumptuous enough to assume that I would have the ability to generate hundreds of pages that in any way would resemble the many fascinating, intriguing novels I had read in my life.”

While Lara confessed she would be interested in writing about Angelique’s childhood- all the heartaches she must have suffered to turn her into the woman fans saw on the show, she was surprised by Blandell’s confidence in the endeavor.

The other explained in a hushed tone, ” ‘Please don’t worry, Lara. Just write it the best you can. We have professional writers at Harpers who will take what you do, fix it up, and make it into a real book.’ ”

“My pride was injured, and all I could do was think how much I resented her offer.”

Invigorated by the challenge in front of her, Lara immediately began to study literature, digging deep into the lush language and intricate plots of Daphne du Maurier, the Bronte Sisters, Dickens, Stoker, Poe, as well as many others. “I read Interview with the Vampire and Gone With the Wind, digging beneath the stories to focus on structure and point of view. I was determined to steep myself in the romantic style.”

Thinking upon the character she had played decades ago, “I began to imagine ever more heartbreaking events which would harden Angelique. Her hopes would soar, only to be shattered agaisnt the rocks….Any student of literature will recognize the obvious symbolism I struggled to put into place… Since Angelique was a child of the sea, water was her emotional center….I played with these elements, only because, despite what I said about actresses in the beginning, I was an English minor in college, and these things returned to me.”

The book was ultimately published as Lara Parker wrote it. No need for any ghost writers for that lady!

next post: Angelique’s Decent: Book Review

source for this post: Dark Shadows Almanac
edited by Kathryn Leigh Scott and Jim Pierson