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Last Updated on September 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

Thomas Love Peacock's 1818 novel, Nightmare Abbey, is a lighthearted satire of the burgeoning Romantic movement in literature and, in particular, the fashionable gloom evinced by its leading figures, many of whom were friends of his.

Christopher Glowry is a melancholy widower who lives with his son Scythrop in...

(The entire section contains 1466 words.)

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Thomas Love Peacock's 1818 novel, Nightmare Abbey, is a lighthearted satire of the burgeoning Romantic movement in literature and, in particular, the fashionable gloom evinced by its leading figures, many of whom were friends of his.

Christopher Glowry is a melancholy widower who lives with his son Scythrop in a ramshackle mansion known as Nightmare Abbey. Frequent guests at this Gothic dwelling are Ferdinando Floskey, a transcendental philosopher reminiscent of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Mr. Cypress, a notably Byronic poet. Scythrop, whose name is derived from the Greek word for melancholy, seems to share many of the characteristics of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

As the novel opens, Scythrop is trying to drive away the pain of a failed romance by plunging into another of his utopian schemes to regenerate and improve the human race. Although his treatise on this subject falls stillborn, from the press, he's soon diverted from world salvation by the arrival of the lovely and flirtatious Marionetta O'Carroll.

The young man is enthralled by this new visitor, but his father warns him against the possibility of marriage to a penniless woman whose relentless high spirits violate their doom-laden family tradition. These words have no effect on Scythrop, but when Marionetta's chaperone decides it would be best that they leave, the gloomy youth threatens to commit suicide. The women decide to remain to calm Scythrop spirits. However, unbeknownst to his son, the senior Glowry and a Mr. Toobad have already arranged the marriage of his daughter, Celinda, to Scythrop. They reasoned that, although as lovely as Marionetta, the depressed and cerebral young woman would be a better match for his son.

Over the next few days, as amusing visitors come and go at Nightmare Abbey, it becomes evident that some kind of change has come over Scythrop. Although Marionetta had been confident of his love, she wonders why he now seems so aloof. Peacock reveals to the reader that, a short time earlier, Celinda, calling herself "Stella," had arrived at the gloomy mansion in search of Scythrop. She had been one of the very few readers of his recent treatise and was so deeply moved that she felt she needed to seek him out. Being quite taken with her as well, the young man placed her in his hidden, private apartment to allow himself time to contemplate his dilemma.

As time passes, he finds himself enchanted by this beauty who loves to discuss transcendental philosophy and decides that he'll continue his relationship with both women until he can choose which of them he truly loves.

But as it must, this dalliance soon ends, as the truth of the situation is revealed to the rest of the characters. Learning of each other's existence, both young women leave the house and Scythrop. Despondent, but not suicidal, he asks his servant for a bottle of Madeira.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 993

Refused by one young lady in his youth, Christopher Glowry immediately marries another. His wife is cold and gloomy, and Nightmare Abbey is a fitting name for her house. Glowry finds relief from his unhappy life in food and drink, and when his lady dies, he is easily consoled by increasing his consumption of food and wine. She left one son, Scythrop, who is gloomy enough to suit his father and Nightmare Abbey. A university education has so stripped Scythrop of his thin veneer of social graces that he is rapidly becoming a country boor like his father.

While his father is away in London attending to an important lawsuit, Scythrop amuses himself by constructing miniature dungeons, trapdoors, and secret panels. One day, he discovers by chance an apartment in the main wing of the abbey that has no entrance or exit; through an error in construction, the apartment had remained hidden for many years. He imports a carpenter, and together they construct a cunning secret panel through which one could step from the library into the hidden apartment. Scythrop now has a private refuge for his gloomy meditations.

Miss Emily Girouette declines to marry Scythrop. In consequence, when his cousin Marionetta visits, she rapidly conquers the heart of the sad young man. Marionetta, however, has no fortune, and Glowry refuses to hear of the marriage, but Scythrop grows more enamored daily of his coquettish cousin.

Glowry views the increasing attachment of Scythrop and Marionetta with great concern. Finally, he tells Scythrop that the girl has to leave. Furious, Scythrop rushes to his tower and fills a human skull with Madeira wine. Confronting his father and holding high the skull, he declares in ringing tones that if Marionetta ever leaves Nightmare Abbey except of her own free will, he will drink the potion. Convinced that the skull contains poison, his father consents to have Marionetta stay on as a guest. Scythrop drinks the wine with gusto.

Glowry confides his troubles to his friend, Toobad, who agrees that marriage with Marionetta is unsuitable in every way. He proposes his own daughter, Celinda, a young woman then studying abroad, as a good match for Scythrop. With Glowry’s hearty approval, Toobad goes to London to meet his daughter and return with her to Nightmare Abbey. Celinda, however, refuses to have a husband chosen for her and flees from her domineering father. Toobad appears at the abbey and leaves again, vowing to all that he will find his unruly daughter.

The house party at Nightmare Abbey grows larger. Mr. Flosky, a poet of the supernatural, spreads confusion with his metaphysical paradoxes. Listless, a bored dandy, arrives with Fatout, his French valet, who is the guardian of his mind and body. Another addition to the party is Mr. Asterias the ichthyologist, who engages in tracing down rumors of mermaids in the vicinity of the abbey. It is not clear what a mermaid would do in the fens around the abbey, but Mr. Asterias has faith. This faith is rewarded one night when Mr. Asterias dimly perceives the form of a woman clad in black. As he rushes across the moat, the mysterious figure disappears.

Scythrop takes as much delight as he can in Marionetta’s company; but Listless is the merriest person in the room when Marionetta is present. As far as his languid airs permit, he follows her about with great eagerness.

Watching Scythrop’s affection for Marionetta, Glowry decides that he has been too harsh with his son, and he suddenly announces his approval of their betrothal. To his father’s surprise, Scythrop stammers that he does not want to be too precipitate. So the generosity of the father goes unrewarded.

There is some mystery about Scythrop. For some time, he had been more distraught than usual; now he practically refuses marriage with his beloved. More than that, every time Glowry goes to his son’s room, he finds the door locked and Scythrop slow in answering his knock. A strange, heavy thud always sounds in the room before the door opens.

One evening, while the whole company is sitting in the drawing room, a tall and stately figure wearing a bloody turban suddenly appears. Listless rolls under the sofa. Glowry roars his alarm in Toobad’s ear, and Toobad tries to run away. He mistakes a window for a door and falls into the moat below. Mr. Asterias, still looking for a mermaid, fishes him out with a landing net.

These mysteries go back to the night Mr. Asterias thought he saw the mermaid. Scythrop is sitting alone in his library when the door opens softly and in steps a beautiful, stately woman. She looks at Scythrop carefully, and reassured by what she sees, she sits down confidently. The bewildered man can only sit and stare. The mysterious stranger gently asks him if he is the illustrious author of the pamphlet, “Philosophical Gas.” Flattered, Scythrop acknowledges his authorship of that profound work, only seven copies of which had been sold. Then the girl asks his protection from a marriage that would make her the slave of her sex. Already smitten, Scythrop agrees to hide her in his secret apartment.

Then Scythrop begins his dual romance. The serious girl, who calls herself Stella, talks night after night of the German metaphysicians and quotes German tragedy. Marionetta, however, is always merry and lively. Scythrop does not know whom to choose.

One night, his father demands entry into his room while Stella is there. Stella decides to show herself, regardless of consequences. Toobad recognizes his long-lost daughter Celinda. Scythrop now has to choose either Celinda or Marionetta; but he hesitates to make a choice, feeling that he cannot relinquish either. The next day, however, the decision is made for him. Marionetta has accepted Listless and Celinda will soon be Mrs. Flosky. Stoically, Glowry reminds his son that there are other maidens. Scythrop agrees and orders the Madeira.

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