Love and Marriage…and the Gothic
I sometimes forget that gothic literature is more often than not “romantic” literature. So many gothic stories are centered on match-making and weddings and star-crossed lovers. So far, a good number of my Gothic September stories highlight this very thing.
“Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1839) – Schalken, a poor painter, is in love with Rose Velderkaust, the niece of his mentor. Although he isn’t the richest or most handsome, Rose is a bit keen on him too. Alas, a mysterious stranger with a chest of gold asks for Rose’s hand in marriage and Uncle Douw can’t refuse. Rose disappears on the way to her new home in Rotterdam and Schalken is left to discover her fate. Le Fenu uses a nested narrative to tell this tale as part of The Purcell Papers. Rev. Purcell relates Schalken’s story as a story told to him by the owner of Schalken’s painting of events. Unnecessarily labyrinthine? Maybe.
“The Dream Woman” by Wilkie Collins (1874) – The subtitle of this story is “A Mystery in Four Narratives” and Collins also engages stories being told to others. We start with Percy Fairbank and his wife encountering a hostler, Francis, suffering from a nightmare (during the day, when he should be attending to his duties). Francis tells his story of a mysterious woman who he met on 2am of the night of his birthday. He married her, but through a dream he knows she will bring him ruin. Fairbank then relates how he tried to help Francis, but it’s all too obvious that his efforts will be in vain. The last narrative is that of a man set to watch over Francis on the night of his birthday. The set-up for the story is long, but it’s the inevitability that is chilling.
“The Ebony Frame” by Edith Nesbit (1893) – The narrator of “The Ebony Frame” has matrimonial problems as well. He’s engaged-ish to Mildred, a “dear good girl,” but he believes his destiny is the beautiful Pre-Raphaelite woman who inhabits a painting that he inherited. She totally real; he’s sure of it. “The Ebony Frame” is less unsettling than the others, but still entertaining.
In the land of perilous novels, I pulled A Long Fatal Love Chase by Lousia May Alcott from my TBR “jar.” A doomed, scandalous love affair with a tall, dark stranger seems to be the order of the day. More thoughts on it in the future.
Other Perilous Stories of Note
I’d also like to mention a couple of contemporary horror short stories that I read in the last week or so. Definitely worth checking out!