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.
“It was now the latter end of autumn; heavy clouds had all day been passing laggingly and gloomily along the atmosphere, as the hours pass over the human mind and life.  Not a drop of rain fell; the clouds went portentously off, like ships of war reconnoitring a strong fort, to return with added strength and fury.”

He takes pleasure in coining unusual, striking phrases, such as:  “All colours disappear in the night, and despair has no diary,” or “Minutes are hours in the noctuary of terror,” or “The secret of silence is the only secret.  Words are a blasphemy against that taciturn and invisible God whose presence enshrouds us in our last extremity.”

Maturin chooses his similes with discrimination, to heighten the effect he aims at producing: 

“The locks were so bad and the keys so rusty that it was like the cry of the dead in the house when the keys were turned,” or: 

“With all my care, however, the lamp declined, quivered, flashed a pale light, like the smile of despair, on me, and was extinguished ...  I had watched it like the last beatings of an expiring heart, like the shiverings of a spirit about to depart for eternity.”

There are no quiet scenes or motionless figures in Melmoth.  Everything is intensified, exaggerated, distorted.  The very clouds fly rapidly across the sky, and the moon bursts forth with the “sudden and appalling effulgence of lightning.”  A shower of rain is perhaps “the most violent that was ever precipitated on the earth.”  When Melmoth stamps his foot “the reverberation of his steps on the hollow and loosened stones almost contended with the thunder.”  Maturin’s use of words like “callosity,” “induration,” “defecated,” “evanition,” and his fondness for italics are other indications of his desire to force an impression by fair means or foul.

The gift of psychological insight that distinguishes Montorio reappears in a more highly developed form in Melmoth the Wanderer.  “Emotions,” Maturin declares, “are my events,” and he excels in depicting mental as well as physical torture.  The monotony of a “timeless day” is suggested with dreary reality in the scene where Moncada and his guide await the approach of night to effect their escape from the monastery.  The gradual surrender of resolution before slight, reiterated assaults is cunningly described in the analysis of Isidora’s state of mind, when a hateful marriage is forced upon her.  Occasionally Maturin astonishes us by the subtlety of his thought: 

“While people think it worth while to torment us we are never without some dignity, though painful and imaginary.”

It is his faculty for describing intense, passionate feeling, his power of painting wild pictures of horror, his gifts for conveying his thoughts in rolling, rhythmical periods of eloquence, that make Melmoth a memory-haunting book.  With all his faults Maturin was the greatest as well as the last of the Goths.

Project Gutenberg
The Tale of Terror from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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