Through a series of interpolated tales, Charles Robert Maturin presents the story of a man whose pact with Satan condemns him to live for nearly two centuries. John Melmoth, given supernatural powers that allow him to travel freely across the European continent, seeks to corrupt a number of individuals whose circumstances make them especially vulnerable to temptation. His efforts give him little solace.
The novel opens in 1816. John Melmoth, a young college student and namesake of the title character, returns to the family estate in Ireland to be with his uncle, who is dying. The uncle gives him a vague warning about the family history and leaves John instructions to destroy an old portrait. The young Melmoth discovers a manuscript written by a seventeenth century Englishman named Stanton, who reveals that the Wanderer offered him freedom from confinement in Bedlam mental hospital in exchange for his soul. Stanton refused, and the tale breaks off.
The evening he reads this tale, young Melmoth is visited by the Wanderer, who has come back to Ireland. Melmoth sees the Wanderer again the next evening, off the coast by his estate. Chasing after the strange figure, young Melmoth falls into the sea and is rescued by Alonzo Monçada, a Spaniard who has also encountered Melmoth the Wanderer.
Monçada relates to John Melmoth several tales that highlight the nature of the Wanderer and his special powers. In the first, the Spaniard tells his...
(The entire section is 580 words.)