Nightmare Abbey

by Thomas Love Peacock

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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