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Vathek (1786)

by William Beckford

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,1254313,669 (3.13)1 / 162
'Woe to the rash mortal who seeks to know that of which he should remain ignorant; and to undertake that which surpasseth his power!'The Caliph Vathek is dissolute and debauched, and hungry for knowledge. When the mysterious Giaour offers him boundless treasure and unrivalled power he is willing to sacrifice his god, the lives of innocent children, and his own soul to satisfy his obsession. Vathek's extraordinary journey to thesubterranean palace of Eblis, and the terrifying fate that there awaits him, is a captivating tale of magic and oriental fantasy, sudden violence and corrupted love, whose mix of moral fable, grotesque comedy, and evocative beauty defies classification. Originally written by Beckford in French atthe age of only 21, its dreamlike qualities have influenced writers from Byron to H. P. Lovecraft.This new edition reprints Beckford's authorized English text of 1816 with its elaborate and entertaining notes. In his new introduction Thomas Keymer examines the novel's relations to a range of literary genres and cultural contexts.… (more)
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» See also 162 mentions

English (36)  French (3)  Swedish (2)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (43)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
A faustian tale, written like something from the Arabian Nights. The style of writing can make some sentences confusing but overall its quite clear. Nicely weird in places, overall good but can drag a little. ( )
  wreade1872 | Nov 28, 2021 |
Vathek capitalised on the eighteenth century obsession with all things Oriental, which was inspired by Antoine Galland's translation of The Arabian Nights (itself retranslated, into English, in 1708). Beckford was also influenced by similar works from the French writer Voltaire. His originality lay in combining the popular Oriental elements with the Gothic stylings of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764).

William Beckford wrote Vathek in French in 1782, when he was 21. He often stated that Vathek was written as an emotional response to "the events that happened at Fonthill at Christmas 1781", when he had prepared an elaborate Orientally-inspired entertainment at his lavish country estate with the assistance of renowned painter and set designer Philip James de Loutherbourg.[4] Beckford said that it took him only two to three days and the intervening nights to write the entire book.

Vathek was written during a time when part of European culture was influenced by Orientalism. It is an Arabian tale because of the oriental setting and characters and the depiction of oriental cultures, societies, and myth. Vathek is also a Gothic novel with its emphasis on the supernatural, ghosts, and spirits, as well as the terror it tries to induce in the reader.

The title character is inspired by al-Wathiq (Arabic: الواثق‎), son of al-Mu'tasim, an Abbasid caliph who reigned in 842–847 (227–232 AH in the Islamic calendar) who had a great thirst for knowledge and became a great patron to scholars and artists. During his reign, a number of revolts broke out. He took an active role in quelling them. He died of fever on 10 August 847.

The narrative of Vathek uses a third person, omniscient, semi-intrusive narrator. The novel, while it may lend itself to be divided into chapters, is one complete manuscript without pause. ( )
1 vote Marcos_Augusto | Aug 28, 2021 |
Really not my thing... ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | May 21, 2021 |
William Beckford wrote "The History of Caliph Vathek" in French in 1784, but it was first published in an English translation by Samuel Henley in 1786. Widely regarded as one of the seminal works of Gothic literature, this strange, unclassifiable novel recounts its eponymous protagonist's quest for esoteric knowledge and carnal pleasure, a quest which ultimately leads to his damnation.

"Vathek" combines exotic descriptions of the Orient with passages of grotesque comedy and a dollop of supernatural derring-do. Indeed, one of the challenges for modern sensibilities (and possibly its original readers as well) is to determine which passages should be taken at face value and which ones are to be read as self-parody. Even allowing for the genre's excesses, episodes such as that of a wizard being turned into a ball and kicked around Vathek's kingdom are clearly intended as black comedy. But what about Vathek's damnation, described in language of poetic intensity? Is the moralistic ending to be taken at face value or is Beckford being ironic? The author's letters suggest the former to be the case - which is rather surprising considering the atmosphere of decadence which permeates the novel.

If read purely for narrative pleasure, Vathek might disappoint. The plot is episodic, there are too many changes of gear, and the novel's ultimate message - if it does have one - is elusive and unclear. Yet, for anybody interested in early Romanticism, Orientalism, supernatural fiction or, for that matter, unusual literary fare, this is a must-read.

The Oxford World Classics text follows the 1816 English language version, prepared by Beckford himself. It includes an informative introduction by Roger Lonsdale which, interestingly, makes the case for *not* considering Vathek a Gothic novel. Also included are the erudite endnotes which Beckford included in the 1816 edition of Vathek (although first-time readers might prefer just reading through it and then consulting the notes on subsequent readings).

https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2020/03/William-Beckford-Vathek.html ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Mar 5, 2021 |
William Beckford wrote "The History of Caliph Vathek" in French in 1784, but it was first published in an English translation by Samuel Henley in 1786. Widely regarded as one of the seminal works of Gothic literature, this strange, unclassifiable novel recounts its eponymous protagonist's quest for esoteric knowledge and carnal pleasure, a quest which ultimately leads to his damnation.

"Vathek" combines exotic descriptions of the Orient with passages of grotesque comedy and a dollop of supernatural derring-do. Indeed, one of the challenges for modern sensibilities (and possibly its original readers as well) is to determine which passages should be taken at face value and which ones are to be read as self-parody. Even allowing for the genre's excesses, episodes such as that of a wizard being turned into a ball and kicked around Vathek's kingdom are clearly intended as black comedy. But what about Vathek's damnation, described in language of poetic intensity? Is the moralistic ending to be taken at face value or is Beckford being ironic? The author's letters suggest the former to be the case - which is rather surprising considering the atmosphere of decadence which permeates the novel.

If read purely for narrative pleasure, Vathek might disappoint. The plot is episodic, there are too many changes of gear, and the novel's ultimate message - if it does have one - is elusive and unclear. Yet, for anybody interested in early Romanticism, Orientalism, supernatural fiction or, for that matter, unusual literary fare, this is a must-read.

The Oxford World Classics text follows the 1816 English language version, prepared by Beckford himself. It includes an informative introduction by Roger Lonsdale which, interestingly, makes the case for *not* considering Vathek a Gothic novel. Also included are the erudite endnotes which Beckford included in the 1816 edition of Vathek (although first-time readers might prefer just reading through it and then consulting the notes on subsequent readings).

https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2020/03/William-Beckford-Vathek.html ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Sep 12, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Beckfordprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bawden, EdwardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Benda, WolframTranslator and Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Benda, WolframTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blaine, MahlonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blei, FranzÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Camerino, AldoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carter, LinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cruz, RayCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Damman, BenjaminEngraver.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elie, PaulIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Emmett, R.J.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fitz-Gerald, SJ AdairIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Graham, Kenneth W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grimsditch, Herbert B.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Håkansson, GabriellaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Helnwein, GottfriedIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Helnwein, GottfriedIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Henley, SamuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Isfelt, ArthurTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lonsdale, RichardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lonsdale, RogerEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marzials, Frank T.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moravia, AlbertoForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morley, HenryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
North, WilliamForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paoletti, GiovanniEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pentleton, CarolDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pintor, GiaimeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Redon, OdilonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The long and extravagant career of the author of Vathek would surely have impressed Samuel Johnson as a notable and sustained illustration of what his Imlac had called (in his own very different 'oriental' tale) 'that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life'. (Introduction)
Vathek, ninth Caliph of the race of the Abassides, was the son of Motassem, and the grandson of Haroun al Raschid.
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Contains only Vathek. Please do not combine with editions containing The Episodes of Vathek or other works.
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'Woe to the rash mortal who seeks to know that of which he should remain ignorant; and to undertake that which surpasseth his power!'The Caliph Vathek is dissolute and debauched, and hungry for knowledge. When the mysterious Giaour offers him boundless treasure and unrivalled power he is willing to sacrifice his god, the lives of innocent children, and his own soul to satisfy his obsession. Vathek's extraordinary journey to thesubterranean palace of Eblis, and the terrifying fate that there awaits him, is a captivating tale of magic and oriental fantasy, sudden violence and corrupted love, whose mix of moral fable, grotesque comedy, and evocative beauty defies classification. Originally written by Beckford in French atthe age of only 21, its dreamlike qualities have influenced writers from Byron to H. P. Lovecraft.This new edition reprints Beckford's authorized English text of 1816 with its elaborate and entertaining notes. In his new introduction Thomas Keymer examines the novel's relations to a range of literary genres and cultural contexts.

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Vathek. in Gothic Literature

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