Part Faust, part Mephistopheles, Melmoth has made a satanic bargain for immortality. Now he wanders the earth, an outsider with an eerie, tortured existence, searching for someone who will take on his contract and release him to die a natural death.
With its erudition and wit, and its parody of arcane learned manuscripts, this Gothic masterpiece-first published in 1820-follows in the tradition of both the classics of its genre and the works of Cervantes, Swift, and Sterne. Some of its many admirers were Sir Walter Scott, Honoré de Balzac, Edgar Allan Poe, and Maturin's great nephew, Oscar Wilde. This edition includes a critical introduction, explanatory notes, and suggestions for further reading. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (14)
This book is a hoot
I am new to Gothic literature.I recently read "The Monk," and enjoyed it so much I decided to try some more.I liked "Dracula" but Radcliffe's sobbing Emily in the "Mysteries of Uldopho" left me cold.So I tried the Melmoth.This book has everything.It stars Melmoth the Wanderer who made a deal with the devil and wanders the earth looking for someone to take the bargain off his hands.The protestant anti-catholicism that runs through the Monk is twice as entertaining in Melmoth as in "The Monk" and the depictions of depraved clergy are even better.Some of Melmoth's screeds against, Catholicism, Christianity itself, and all human endeavor sounded too sincere for me to believe that it didn't come from some dark place in the heart of the apparently religious author.
I thought the nested stories would annoy me, but they didn't.The stories are not hard to follow, although as others have noted, Maturin can go on a bit.They say this is the last of the Gothic novels.I can see why.Melmoth killed the genre.After Melmoth, there was nothing left to say.
This book is not for the faint of intellect.It is the most challenging book I have ever read.I never thought I'd ever read a more difficult book than "War and Peace" but it was a breeze when compared to Maturin's heavily laced oblique referencing and sub-sub-subplots.This took me a year to read because each chapter would leave me feeling dizzy in trying to comprehend the storyline.The book wasn't at all what I had expected (a linear Gothic thriller).Nevertheless, the book was the most edifying experience I've had in reading a fictional novel.Maturin takes you to the Spanish Inquisition, the Great Fire of London, the craggy shores of Ireland, and to remote desertislands.At the same time he tells you an extensive history of each time and situation.I wish that more horror authors were as dedicated as him in creating eccentrically elaborate plots with extensive research invested into the story.Maturin's research makes the novel incredibly rich in realism and his characters are very believable.My only complaint with the Penguin edition is the thick section of explanatory notes at the end of the novel.I like to get as much as I can out of the text by reading commentary and notes but it was annoying how many times I had to flip back to the 50 page section of notes.Most of the references I didn't really care about or see how they were relevant to understanding the storyline.I can understand why some of the references are there, but for the layman they are mostly unnecessary.Read the references if you're the "scholarly type", otherwise skip them.This book is a challenge.Read it if you like challenging plots.Don't feel bad if Maturin's narrative makes you sleepy.This is far from a page turner.It is a thriller, and terrifying, but not while you read it.It will sink in on a subconscious level and will linger with you for years, even if it takes you years to finish.
Melmoth the Wanderer: Most Unique Gothic Novel -- and Not the Easiest to Read
Among the many Gothic novels of English literature, "Melmoth the Wanderer" would require considerable patience on reader's side. Not that Charles Maturin's book is very boring; each of the stories in the long narrative per se is interesting, often intense and even funny. But unlike Gothic novels written by Ann Radcliffe or Matthew `Monk' Lewis, the book's unique narrative method is not for everyone's taste. In short, it never goes straight. Maturin gave the book this title -- `Melmoth the WANDERER" -- and his title is an apt one..
The novel (published in 1820) begins with an episode in 1816 when a young student John Melmoth (not the titular Melmoth) visits his dying uncle, and there he finds a manuscript in which a strange tale is recorded about one Stanton who lived in 17th century London. You might expect the real story begins with this manuscript, but things are not so simple. Maturin gives twists to this typical narrative device by not directly following the story of Melmoth, a man who traded his soul with ... well, you know what.
Unlike Radcliffe's "The Italian," you don't find a traditional, linear narrative here. The manuscript and the other characters narratives after that are frequently interrupted by blotted out spots or another story, which begins without picking up the threads of previous narrators. The book looks like pieces of stories put together like "The Arabian Nights," and you have to wait for Melmoth who always appears at the crucial moment of the life of the narrator or the protagonist of the narrative.
So we read terrifying stories about the shipwreck, Spanish Inquisition, impoverished family in Madrid or Immalee, beautiful innocent girl living alone in India, but of them are directly related to each other except the presence of mysterious Melmoth who offers something to those who suffer. Some stories are embedded in another story and at times you are reading a story-within-story-within-story (like Jan Potocki's amazing "The Manuscript Found in Saragossa.") The narrative structure is not an easy one to grasp and sometimes we don't know where we are now. But that is exactly the point of the book.
The character of Melmoth is also very enigmatic. He is given many chances to speak, and he speaks pretty much, but what happened to him or why he has to wander is not explicitly told by anyone. He doesn't speak, but whisper evil words. He remains in the shadow, but we sense his accursed presence. We come to know him by putting together various narratives. The process is toilsome, but rewarding in the end.
There are familiar Gothic themes in "Melmoth the Wonderer" - Inquisition, subterranean passages, imprisonment, etc. Maturin is good at using them, but his book's strength lies in the gripping descriptions of dark sides of humans, and the character of wild-eyed Melmoth who derides and tempts the hearers in agony with a sinister voice. If you're interested in Gothic novels and characters like Faust, "Melmoth the Wonderer" would not disappoint you.
THIS BOOK IS THE GRANDFATHER OF POE, MARY SHELLEY, BRAM STOKER, JOYCE AND EVEN DICKENS WITH GREAT INTRO BY SAGE
I found the introduction extremely informative and helpful, and well structured with "chapter headings". Sage's learned and informative frequent footnotes are also extremely helpful at all times, the fruit of his own extensive research into this landmark work, the motherlode of so much that follows up to our fallen post-literate times.
From the start you can see the heavy influence this work had on so many later Irish and English novelists, and yet the author died in grinding poverty and rejection (hey, so did Joyce and other IRish novelists who CREATE a new form of writing).
It is amazing to read this novel and see how very much Maturin influenced so many other supposedly more modern writers, and what a delightful and complex writer he is. You will not put this enormous book down. It is a joy and a fiery flame. It has much to say about how our institutions, including religious, kill, and even speaks to the current fashionable dehumanization of Islam.
An amazingly brilliant and "modern" work only two hundred years old and still living large and hard! Looks like this novel made the same deal with the devil! I only wish his other brilliant works, like the Wild Irish Boy trilogy were still available, and Bertram at an affordable price
The Wandering Narratives
Simply put, this book is a tedious, crashing bore.It might do as an example of how NOT to write a book, but there is really no redeeming value otherwise.
The greatest problem with the work is the "nested" narratives, as one reviewer refers to them, that comprise the book.First, a shipwrecked ex-monk begins to tell Melmoth's descendent his (long, tedious, uninteresting) story. Then, fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition and hiding in an underground series of caverns, he begins to translate a book. The narrative then shifts to said book, where we begin the "Tale of The Indians". In the middle (more or less) of this tale the narrative shifts once again to Melmoth The Wanderer himself who tells the story of "The Guzman Family" and "The lovers' tale". Finally, the "Tale of the Indians" reaches its conclusion after these drawn-out interruptions. Subsequently-you guessed it-the narrative shifts again (it's not clear at this point if it's back to the book (which is never mentioned again) or to the narrative of the ex-monk.Then, we have a sort of anticlimactic conclusion. The great problem in all these narratives is that the authorial voice NEVER CHANGES, not one scintilla. It's still Marturin telling the tale, without even an attempt to alter the style or voice of the telling to the series of changing raconteurs.
Marturin supposedly started this work as an extension of a sermon he preached. I think that is the only way to understand it or appreciate it, (if you're given to such things) as an anti-Catholic, anti-free-thinking screed against all who aren't devout (non-Catholic) Christians.If you truly believe in the Lake of Fire and the damnation of souls for pursuing knowledge.- Instead of seated on a prayer stool, where one obviously ought to be-this is the book for you.-Heretics need not apply---Otherwise, for the sane reader, a colossal waste of time and attention.
Let me aver here (and commend to same sane reader) that the truly great and classic novel of this sort is James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: A truly eerie account of religious obsession, with profound and haunting psychological/spiritual insight, that will leave even the most modern reader chilled and thoughtful.
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