Compendium of Horror, Fear, and the Grotesque

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Edith Birkhead

Edith Birkhead's The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance is a must read for students of Gothic Literature. The work was published in 1921 and cites Walpole's The Castle of Otronto (published in 1764) as the incipience of the Gothic Romance. Her work studies the tradition through its development through Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (published in 1820) and then discusses the literary tradition in American literature through the works of Poe and Hawthorne. Here is Birkhead's own synopsis of the work:

CHAPTER I - INTRODUCTORY: The antiquity of the tale of terror; the element of fear in myths, heroic legends, ballads and folk-tales; terror in the romances of the middle ages, in Elizabethan times and in the seventeenth century; the credulity of the age of reason; the renascence of terror and wonder in poetry; the "attempt to blend
the marvellous of old story with the natural of modern novels."

CHAPTER II - THE BEGINNINGS OF GOTHIC ROMANCE: Walpole's admiration for Gothic art and his interest in the middle ages; the mediaeval revival at the close of the eighteenth century; The Castle of Otranto; Walpole's bequest to later romance-writers; Smollett's incidental anticipation of the methods of Gothic Romance; Clara Reeve's Old English Baron and her effort to bring her story "within the utmost verge of probability"; Mrs. Barbauld's Gothic fragment; Blake's "Fair Elenor"; the critical theories and Gothic experiments of Dr. Nathan Drake.

CHAPTER III - "THE NOVEL OF SUSPENSE." MRS. RADCLIFFE: The vogue of Mrs. Radcliffe; her tentative beginning in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, and her gradual advance in skill and power; The Sicilian Romance and her early experiments in the "explained" supernatural; The Romance of the Forest, and
her use of suspense; heroines: The Mysteries of Udolpho; illustrations of Mrs. Radcliffe's methods; The Italian;
villains; her historical accuracy and "unexplained" spectre in Gaston de Blondeville; her reading; style; descriptions of scenery; position in the history of the novel.

CHAPTER IV - THE NOVEL OF TERROR. LEWIS AND MATURIN: Lewis's methods contrasted with those of Mrs. Radcliffe; his debt to German terror-mongers; The Monk; ballads; The Bravo of
; minor works and translations; Scott's review of Maturin's Montorio; the vogue of the tale of terror between
Lewis and Maturin; Miss Sarah Wilkinson; the personality of Charles Robert Maturin; his literary career; the complicated plotof The Family of Montorio; Maturin's debt to others; his distinguishing gifts revealed in Montorio; the influence of Melmoth the Wanderer on French literature; a survey of Melmoth; Maturin's achievement as a novelist.

CHAPTER V - THE ORIENTAL TALE OF TERROR. BECKFORD: The Oriental story in France and England in the eighteenth century; Beckford's Vathek; Beckford's life and character; his literary gifts; later Oriental tales.

CHAPTER VI - GODWIN AND THE ROSICRUCIAN NOVEL: Godwin's mind and temper; the plan of Caleb Williams as described by Godwin; his methods; the plot of Caleb Williams; its interest as a story; Godwin's limitations as a novelist; St. Lean; its origin and purpose; outline of the story; the character of Bethlem Gabor; Godwin's treatment of the Rosicrucian legend; a parody of St. Lean; the supernatural in Cloudesley and in Lives of the Necromancers; Moore's Epicurean; Croly's Salathiel; Shelley's youthful enthusiasm for the tale of terror; Zastrozzi; its lack of originality; St. Irvyne; traces of Shelley's early reading in his poems.

CHAPTER VII - SATIRES ON THE NOVEL OF TERROR: Jane Austen's raillery in Northanger Abbey; Barrett's mockery in The Heroine; Peacock's Nightmare Abbey; his praise of C.B. Brown in Gryll Grange; The Mystery of the Abbey, and its misleading title; Crabbe's satire in Belinda Waters and The Preceptor Husband; his ironical attack on the sentimental heroine in The Borough; his appreciation of folktales; Sir Eustace Grey.

CHAPTER VIII - SCOTT AND THE NOVEL OF TERROR: Scott's review of fashionable fiction in the Preface to
Waverley; his early attempts at Gothic story in Thomas the Rhymer and The Lord of Ennerdale; his enthusiasm for Buerger's Lenore_and for Lewis's ballads; his interest in demonology and witchcraft; his attitude to the supernatural; his hints to the writers of ghost-stories; his own experiments; Wandering Willie's Tale, a masterpiece of supernatural horror; the use of the supernatural in the Waverley Novels; Scott, the supplanter of the
novel of terror.

CHAPTER IX - LATER DEVELOPMENTS OF THE TALE OF TERROR: The exaggeration of the later terror-mongers; innovations; the stories of Mary Shelley, Byron and Polidori; Frankenstein; its purpose; critical estimate; Valperga; The Last Man; Mrs. Shelley's short tales; Polidori's Ernestus Berchtold, a domestic story with supernatural agency; The FACES Vampyre; later vampires; De Quincey's contributions to the tale of terror; Harrison Ainsworth's attempt to revive romance; his early Gothic stories; Rookwood, an attempt to bring the Radcliffe romance up to date; terror in Ainsworth's other novels; Marryat's Phantom Ship; Bulwer Lytton's interest in the occult; Zanoni, and Lytton's theory of the Intelligences; The Haunted and the Haunters; A Strange Story and Lytton's preoccupation with mesmerism.

CHAPTER X - SHORT TALES OF TERROR: The chapbook versions of the Gothic romance; the popularity of sensational story illustrated in Leigh Hunt's Indicator; collections of short stories; various types of short story in
periodicals; stories based on oral tradition; the humourist's turn for the terrible; natural terror in tales from Blackwood and in Conrad; use of terror in Stevenson and Kipling; future possibilities of fear as a motive in short stories.

CHAPTER XI - AMERICAN TALES OF TERROR: The vogue of Gothic story in America; the novels of Charles
Brockden Brown; his use of the "explained" supernatural; his Godwinian theory; his construction and style; Washington Irving's genial tales of terror; Hawthorne's reticence and melancholy; suggestions for eery stories in his notebooks; Twice-Told Tales; Mosses from an Old Manse; The Scarlet Letter; Hawthorne's sympathetic insight into character; The House of the Seven Gables, and the ancestral curse; his half-credulous treatment of the supernatural; unfinished stories; a contrast of Hawthorne's methods with those of Edgar Allan Poe; A Manuscript found in a Bottle, the first of Poe's tales of terror; the skill of Poe illustrated in Ligeia, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, and The Cask of Amontillado; Poe's psychology; his technique in The Pit and the Pendulum and in his detective stories; his influence; the art of Poe; his ideal in writing a short story.

CHAPTER XII - CONCLUSION: The persistence of the tale of terror; the position of the Gothic romance in the history of fiction; the terrors of actual life in the Bronte's novels; sensational stories of Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu and later authors; the element of terror in various types of romance; experiments of living authors; the future of the tale of terror.

See Project Gutenberg for free online access to the complete edition of Edith Birkhead's The Tale of Terror.