Seven Gothic Tales

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The elegantly written narratives, each independent of the others, treat stages of 19th century aristocratic life in Europe. Their adventures frequently transcend the ordinary, for theirs is a Gothic world in which the unreal often appears more substantial than reality itself.

“THE DELUGE AT NORDERNEY,” the opening tale, recounts how four people, each one eccentric, spend a night in a flood-surrounded barn and pass the time by revealing their secrets. In “THE OLD CHEVALIER,” an aging baron recalls a youthful and disastrous encounter with a prostitute in Paris. “THE MONKEY” takes up an arranged courtship between an unmatched couple whose meeting brings about a catastrophe.

When a Danish count in “THE ROADS AROUND PISA” sets out to search for an Italian noblewoman’s runaway granddaughter, he meets some peculiar travelers at an inn and becomes involved in a proposed duel. “THE SUPPER AT ELSINORE” tells of a mysterious reunion between a long lost brother and his two spinster sisters.

“THE DREAMERS” is a story about three men passionately in love with elusive women, who turn out to be one woman given to disguises. “THE POET” reveals how a young genius’ rejection of his mentor leads to disaster. The tales employ a narrative style reminiscent of an earlier time, an approach which allows them to be openly instructive while they entertain.

Their Gothic qualities, which embrace darkness and grotesqueness, permit them to strip away the murky side of humankind--its undefined desires, inexplicable passions, love mixed with hate, and sexual repression. Layered with meaning that goes far beyond their outward air of adventure and mystery, the tales try always to unravel the more important mystery of human nature.

They depict, as well, the end of an age. The decadent aristocrats of these tales stand doomed as their world crumbles, feudalism giving way to democracy, aristocracy to equality. Yet the characters...

(The entire section is 811 words.)