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.
castle and who took pleasure in Miss Reeve’s well-trained ghost, had previously enjoyed the thrill of chimney corner legends.  The idea of the gigantic apparition was derived, no doubt, from the old legend of the figure seen by Wallace on the field of battle.  The limbs, strewn carelessly about the staircase and the gallery of the castle, belong to a giant, very like those who are worsted by the heroes of popular story.  Godwin, in an unusual flight of fancy, amused himself by tracing a certain similitude between Caleb Williams and Bluebeard, between Cloudesley and The Babes in the Wood,[9] and planned a story, on the analogy of the Sleeping Beauty, in which the hero was to have the faculty of unexpectedly falling asleep for twenty, thirty, or a hundred years.[10]

Mrs. Radcliffe, who, so far as we may judge, did not draw her characters from the creatures of flesh and blood around her, seems to have adopted some of the familiar figures of old story.  Emily’s guardian, Montoni, in The Mysteries of Udolpho, like the unscrupulous uncle in Godwin’s Cloudesley, may well have been descended from the wicked uncle of the folk tale.  The cruel stepmother is disguised as a haughty, scheming marchioness in The Sicilian Romance.  The ogre drops his club, assumes a veneer of polite refinement and relies on the more gentlemanlike method of the dagger and stiletto for gaining his ends.  The banditti and robbers who infest the countryside in Gothic fiction are time honoured figures.  Travellers in Thessaly in Apuleius’ Golden Ass, like the fugitives in Shelley’s Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne, find themselves in robbers’ caves.  The Gothic castle, suddenly encountered in a dark forest, is boldly transported from fairyland and set down in Italy, Sicily or Spain.  The chamber of horrors, with its alarming array of scalps or skeletons, is civilised beyond recognition and becomes the deserted wing of an abbey, concealing nothing worse than one discarded wife, emaciated and dispirited, but still alive.  The ghost-story, which Ludovico reads in the haunted chamber of Udolpho, is described by Mrs. Radcliffe as a Provencal tale, but is in reality common to the folklore of all countries.  The restless ghost, who yearns for the burial of his corpse, is as ubiquitous as the Wandering Jew.  In the Iliad he appears as the shade of Patroclus, pleading with Achilles for his funeral rites.  According to a letter of the younger Pliny,[11] he haunts a house in Athens, clanking his chains.  He is found in every land, in every age.  His feminine counterpart presented herself to Dickens’ nurse requiring her bones, which were under a glass-case, to be “interred with every undertaking solemnity up to twenty-four pound ten, in another particular place."[12] Melmoth the Wanderer, when he becomes the wooer of Immalee, seems almost like a reincarnation of the Demon Lover.  The wandering ball of fire that illuminates the dusky recesses of so many Gothic

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The Tale of Terror from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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