SnakGothic Literature

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okt 28, 2011, 10:05am

Why I created this thread: (just substitute Vathek for The Castle of Otranto). Do I need to mention spoilers?

okt 28, 2011, 12:42pm

If I manage the time, I'd like to finally read my French Vathek, Beckford's original (I read it in English).

okt 28, 2011, 10:19pm

I've got the English version, translated by Herbert B Grimsditch. This is the Folio Society edition with lithographs by Edward Bawden.

I bought it from Jarndyce booksellers (I think I've told this story before in the Folio Devotees group), which is opposite the British Museum. It was £30.00, probably the cheapest book in the shop and quite possibly the only one I could afford.

The general impression that's stayed with me is that there is a definite air of burlesque or parody in some passages and scenes, but overall it feels genuinely heartfelt.

Of course, I can't say how close Grimsditch keeps to the original, as I cannot read or speak or understand French (or any language but English, and that with a shaky grasp of (on?) grammar).

okt 29, 2011, 12:12pm


'The general impression that's stayed with me is that there is a definite air of burlesque or parody in some passages and scenes, but overall it feels genuinely heartfelt.'

Totally agree. Incidentally, I'm a big fan of the Grimsditch translation. Without meaning to shamelessly self promote (ha), I did a review of Vathek for my blog. If you want to check it out:

I love the lithographs in the Folio edition. They were love at first sight.

okt 30, 2011, 9:06pm

> 3

And another thing in the Folio edition's favour us that it - and Bawden's lithographs - are printed by the Curwen Press.

I enjoyed the reviews on your blog - I'll have to raise my game when I comment on "Pigeons from Hell"!

Redigeret: mar 14, 2012, 8:02pm

A wonderfully sensual read, this - for me, the whole book seems to take its cue from the opening description of Vathek's palaces of the senses and Beckford's constant 'feeding' of the reader's senses (especially the sense of smell) give it a solid and entrancing internal reality.

I quite agree that there's a definite tongue-in-cheek element to it, too; but what took me a little by surprise was detecting a quite stern morality underlying it. I'd quite suspected that Vathek would get away with it in the end and the ending, when it came, came as quite a sting in the tail.

Bit upset about Nouronihar - think she got a raw deal.

ETA - I get a strong feeling that Lovecraft would have been quite familiar with this. There are many passages that I suspect might have provided the starting points for some of his favourite themes.

Redigeret: mar 14, 2012, 12:26am


Regarding Lovecraft, he speaks a bit about Vathek in Supernatural Horror in Literature. He's largely favorable towards it, though he concludes his brief analysis by stating: 'Beckford. . .lacks the essential mysticism which marks the acutest form of the weird; so that his tales have a certain knowing Latin hardness and clearness preclusive of sheer panic fright. '

I think that's fair. I, myself, am a HUGE fan of Vathek; I try not to speak about it with people who have yet to read it or have little interest, because my praise will take on a life of its own if I'm given the license! :P

Redigeret: mar 14, 2012, 3:35am

#7 - Interesting comment from Lovecraft. It's quite right, of course, but then I doubt that Beckford was going for 'sheer panic fright' or for 'weird' in the sense that Lovecraft meant it. There are the dark and Gothic elements, of course, but I'd place it closer to The Decameron or 1,001 Nights (the adult version) than Edgar Allen Poe. Having said that, I think it's probably quite unique.

'I, myself, am a HUGE fan of Vathek' - I've been reading it in the Oxford World's Classics paperback, but I've been quite taken with it and now I think I'm going to have to* get a nice hardback edition at some point. Possibly the Folio Society one, but I've spotted what appears to be a rather beautiful edition (again the Grimsditch translation) by the Limited Editions Club with illustrations and decorative borders by Valenti Angelo.

Edit *I should probably substitute 'I'm tempted to' for 'now I think I'm going to have to' - this lusting after fine editions is threatening to get out of hand!

Second (whispered) edit And it's got full Morocco binding. Oh dear ...

mar 15, 2012, 4:50am

>8 alaudacorax:.
I have the LEC. It is very small only a few inches each side. If you are worried about ithings getting out of hand you should be aware that it is just one of a series of three in matching styles. The others are 'The Rubaiyat' and 'The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El Yezdi'. They are tricky to find in fine condition, each is a three part construction book ( prone to fading ); chemise ( very fraglie ); slipcase. I ended up with a compromise or two on the condition, don't do that - get really nice ones you won't regret it, they are joyous little volumes.

mar 15, 2012, 3:41pm

#9 - I suspect, starkimarki, that you're one of those people who position sweetie-shelves right next to the check-out queue in supermarkets.

I love Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat, so that's two books I'm lusting after instead of one, and if I ever got the two, I'd - of course - have to get the third to complete the set (have to admit that I don't remember that I was ever aware of the 'Kasidah' - I am now!)

Redigeret: mar 15, 2012, 5:12pm

I mentioned above that I read this in the Oxford World's Classics edition.

It can be bloody irritating. The editor assumes the reader's fluency in French. There are untranslated chunks of it throughout the introduction, and also in the editor's additions to the notes. I suppose I'll type them into an online translator at some point, but I don't have to be happy about it.

Also, 'The Episodes of Vathek' are not included. I fail to see the point of this omission in a modern edition. Their absence is quite noticeable in the novel as it stands. Of course, if you read Vathek as a key work in the evolution of the Gothic in the English-speaking world, the 'Episodes' are irrelevant as they weren't there through the nineteenth century. I don't care - I choose to be irritated. One can read them online, of course.

If I'm coming across as a bit grumpy, it's probably because I was delighted with Vathek, then read the introduction and felt I detected a slightly condescending tone towards Beckford. It spoilt my mood. I'm probably being irrational.

Redigeret: mar 15, 2012, 9:03pm

I agree regarding the untranslated French in the intro to the OWC edition: what gives? As for the 'Episodes,' pick up a copy of the Broadview edition (thought it's somewhat pricy) of VATHEK, which includes them in their entirety. It's the only copy that contains the unexpurgated first episode, which was quite homoerotic, and hence rewritten by Beckford into the more acceptable male/female story included in most editions of the Episodes. The Broadview also includes the edited version, as well as several critical materials well worth reading. I haven't read the text of VATHEK included in the Broadview, but I believe it's a new translation...not sure on that, though (I know that the Episodes, or at very least the 'scandalous' one, are new translations). Anyway, a recommendation, haha. (Not that you, er, need anymore of those...!) ;)

mar 16, 2012, 9:02pm

I'm far from well read in Gothic lit, so I may be quite wrong, but on current experience I'd say there's something a bit different about Beckford, a certain propensity for satire, or, eh, humour... something rather contrasting to the usual so very earnest Gothicists. Did he write anything else in this vein?

mar 16, 2012, 10:10pm

This is what I can contribute about William Beckford (it's not much) ...

The Episodes of Vathek is (are?) also available in paperback from Dedalus (well, I'm assuming it's still in print). However, the translation is by Sir Frank Marzials and published in 1912, so the first episode is presumably expurgated.

The third episode was left uncompleted by Beckford. There is a complete version available. It uses the Marzials translation and it was done by Clark Ashton Smith. It's been collected in the recent multi-volume Collected Fantasies from Night Shade Books. It also appeared in a short story collection published by Neville Spearman Limited in 1972, and reprinted as a paperback in 1974 by Panther. The collection is entitled The Abominations of Yondo.

I also have (still to be read) the Penguin Classics Vathek and Other Stories (first published by Pickering & Chatto in 1993, presumably in a less painfully-small font size). The three main sections are Oriental Tales consisting of "The Long Story (known as The Vision)" pages 1-26 and Vathek ("Text established by Kenneth W. Graham as part of a doctoral thesis in the University of London, 1971") pages 27-121, including 24 pages of the original notes compiled by Samuel Henley in 1786.

The second section is Satires and the third is Travel Diaries.

mar 16, 2012, 10:50pm


'I'd say there's something a bit different about Beckford, a certain propensity for satire, or, eh, humour... something rather contrasting to the usual so very earnest Gothicists.'

I completely agree. His own inclinations toward self-parody are much more obvious than the subtler efforts made later by the Victorians and are entirely unique for his time-period. And I suspect you're better read in the Gothic than you let on, Ms. Lola! :P :D

mar 16, 2012, 11:28pm

Yes, the humorous or satirical elements of it were why I was expecting Vathek to get away with it all at the end.

Redigeret: mar 16, 2012, 11:58pm

nd I suspect you're better read in the Gothic than you let on, Ms. Lola! :P :D

And if you should suspect I'm a dead ringer for Anna Karina in Une femme est une femme, who am I to say otherwise, Lady J, suspect awayyyy! ;)

Thanks, houseful, so it looks like the answer's basically "no". I have a book about Beckford on the road, The Grand Tour of William Beckford, at least it sounds like it...


What, leave badness unpunished?! That sort of villainy had to await 20th century...