The Tale of Terror eBook

Edith Birkhead
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 261 pages of information about The Tale of Terror.
of visionary speculation before it settles at last into the simple faith which unites the philosopher and the infant.  And thirdly, the image of the erring but pure-thoughted Visionary, seeking overmuch on this earth to separate soul from mind, till innocence itself is led astray by a phantom and reason is lost in the space between earth and the stars.”

These three conceptions are embodied in Margrave, who has renewed his life far beyond the limits allotted to man; a young doctor, Fenwick, who represents the intellectual divorced from the spiritual; and Lilian Ashleigh, a clairvoyante girl, who typifies the spiritual divorced from the intellectual.  The interest of the story turns on the struggle of Fenwick to gain his bride, and to wrest her from the influence of Margrave.  The plot, intricately tangled, is unravelled with patient skill.  In spite of the wearisome explanations of Dr. Faber, who is lucid but verbose, there is a fascination about the book which compels us to go forward.

In Lytton’s hands the barbarity of the novel of terror has been gracefully smoothed away.  It has, indeed, become almost unrecognisably refined and elevated, and something of its native vigour is lost in the process.  Amid all the amenities of Vrilya and Intelligences, we miss the vulgar blatancy of an honest, old-fashioned spectre.


For the readers of their own day the Gothic romances of Walpole, Miss Reeve and Mrs. Radcliffe possessed the charm of novelty.  Before the close of the century we may trace, in the conversations of Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, symptoms of a longing for more poignant excitement.  It was at this time that Mrs. Radcliffe, after the publication of The Italian in 1797, retired quietly from the field.  From her obscurity she viewed no doubt with some disdain the vulgar achievements of “Monk” Lewis and a tribe of imitators, who compounded a farrago of horrors as thick and slab as the contents of a witch’s cauldron.  Until the appearance in 1820 of Maturin’s Melmoth, which was redeemed by its psychological insight and its vigorous style, the Gothic romance maintained a disreputable existence in the hands of those who looked upon fiction as a lucrative trade, not as an art.  In the meantime, however, an easy device had been discovered for pandering to the popular craving for excitement.  Ingenious authors realised that it was possible to compress into the five pages of a short story as much sensation as was contained in the five volumes of a Gothic romance.  For the brevity of the tales, which were issued in chapbooks, readers were compensated by gaudily coloured illustrations and by double-barrelled titles.  An anthology called “Wild Roses” (published by Anne Lemoine, Coleman Street, n.d.) included:  Twelve O’Clock or the Three Robbers, The Monks of Cluny, or Castle

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The Tale of Terror from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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