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Vathek (1786)

by William Beckford

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,1954414,069 (3.15)1 / 162
No words can describe the amazement of the courtiers when they beheld this rude merchant withstand the encounter unshocked. They all fell prostrate with their faces on the ground to avoid the risk of their lives, and continued in the same abject posture till the Caliph exclaimed in a furious tone, "Up, cowards! seize the miscreant! see that he be committed to prison and guarded by the best of my soldiers!… (more)
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 Gothic Literature: Vathek.34 unread / 34benbrainard8, November 2021

» See also 162 mentions

English (35)  French (3)  Spanish (2)  Swedish (2)  German (1)  All languages (43)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
Completely preposterous and not in a good way. I can see why this orgy of Oriental tropes would have been exciting to an 18th century European reader high on the Arabian Nights and hungry for more genies, giaours, dives, and dwarfs. It's a nauseating banquet of sherbets and cordials, served by massed ranks of eunuchs, mystics, and sacrificial first-borns, a horrible literary carbuncle melting down into a bilious slurry where plot decoheres and characters implode under the weight of their own absurdity.

Here's Vathek's mom preparing a magic potion:

By secret stairs, known only to herself and her son, she first repaired to the mysterious recesses in which were deposited the mummies that had been brought from the catacombs of the ancient Pharaohs. Of these she ordered several to be taken. From thence she resorted to a gallery, where, under the guard of fifty female negroes, mute, and blind of the right eye, were preserved the oil of the most venomous serpents, rhinoceros’ horns, and woods of a subtle and penetrating odour, procured from the interior of the Indies, together with a thousand other horrible rarieties. This collection had been formed for a purpose like the present, by Carathis herself, from a presentiment that she might one day enjoy some intercourse with the infernal powers, to whom she had ever been passionately attached, and to whose taste she was no stranger. ( )
  yarb | Jun 28, 2022 |
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 | Jan 1, 2022 |
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. 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 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (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, WolframTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Benda, WolframTranslator and Afterwordsecondary 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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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No words can describe the amazement of the courtiers when they beheld this rude merchant withstand the encounter unshocked. They all fell prostrate with their faces on the ground to avoid the risk of their lives, and continued in the same abject posture till the Caliph exclaimed in a furious tone, "Up, cowards! seize the miscreant! see that he be committed to prison and guarded by the best of my soldiers!

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