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Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)

by Charles Maturin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,6283410,838 (3.72)2 / 208
Revered as a true gothic masterpiece, "Melmoth the Wanderer" is the last complete work by the Irish author and playwright, Charles Maturin. Since its publication in 1820 it has been admired by such authors as Sir Walter Scott, Honore de Balzac, Edgar Allan Poe, and Maturin's great nephew, Oscar Wilde. In this story of temptation, villainy, and a satanic bargain for immortality, Maturin offers his social commentary on early nineteenth century England and unabashedly attacks Roman Catholicism. The Wanderer, having engaged in a pact with the devil in exchange for extended life, is doomed to a tortured existence searching for someone to take on his Satanic contract, allowing him to die a natural death. Although Melmoth epitomizes the Faustian figure, Maturin creates a singularly unique character with the added complexities of sympathy, love, and conscience, and secures this cryptic portrayal of evil a place in literary history as the quintessential Gothic novel."… (more)
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English (29)  Spanish (4)  French (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
1.5*

I really didn't care for this classic, supposedly a Gothic horror novel, but I don't want to give it just 1* rating because as a classic it must have some merit that I just didn't see.

It started off OK - Gothic horror is not a genre I care much for but I have enjoyed some of them so I was willing to give it a chance. But just as the story seemed to be getting going, the main character John Melmoth helps rescue a Spanish man who had been in a shipwreck. The Spaniard proceeds to tell John his life story. That story within a story contains another story told to the Spaniard about a girl in India. The Indian's Tale goes on to contain not one but two other stories! Finally the Indian's Tale is finished (at about 90% of the way through the book) but the reader never gets to hear the end of the Spaniard's Tale. The ending is abrupt and anticlimatic.

Most of the book struck me as Maturin telling horrible stories about Catholics, especially the priesthood. Having chosen Spain as the setting for most of the book, he makes use of the Spanish Inquisition freely but even the 'friendly' priests are portrayed as worldly, power-hungry, bitter or impotent. Melmoth the Wanderer came across to me as pathetic more than frightening but to be frank, after the first third of the book I wasn't paying close attention any more. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 27, 2023 |
"..starting from the doze in which he had frequently indulged during this long narrative.
'But hear the result' said the pertinacious narrator."


Well i can certainly see why people might have issues with this book but there's lot of good with the bad. The main plot actually takes up about the first 10%, the 45-60% area and the last 10%. The rest are various other tales which are very tenuously connected.

It opens in ireland and is both very Gothic and very funny, in fact Maturin's sense of humour makes sporadic and odd appearances throughout the book.

After the opening and a short tale to add some more atmosphere we jump into 'The Spaniards' story and this is the low point and longest point of the whole thing. Those two appellations are probably not coincidental ;) .
Its a man-vs-institution story and whether its a monastery/convent, mad house, prison, boarding school, police state etc these tales don't have lot of variety to them at least in the broad strokes.
However Maturin is very good at psychology and emotional reactions. Unfortunately this tale is severely undermined by 2 factors. One is that its told by the Spaniard himself, rather eliminating the sense of danger since we know he at least survived, and two its placement.
We know its part of a larger whole and so it takes great focus to stop the 'are we there yet' voice in your head which is waiting for this to intersect the overarching storyline.

The middle section of the book is part of the main plot as i mentioned earlier and this is also one of the most floridly written segments its really good. Then we have two more tales almost back to back.
The 'Gusmans' is a social collapse tale somewhat like Zola's the 'Dram Shop' and 'Elinors' tale or whatever that one was called, is a Gothic romance.
Both of these latter stories are at least a lot shorter than the 'Spaniards' but you might still need to be able to stay in the moment to enjoy them.
Before we finally get back to the main plot for the finish.

Maturins best elements as a writer are his realistic psychology as mentioned before and also his speeches, there are some great speeches by various characters in this. So powerful in fact that Maturin felt the need to add a special disclaimer to say that the opinions expressed by his evil characters where not those of the author :) .

As you can tell it can get very nested, in fact it goes total 'Inception' at times, at one point we have the irish guy listening to the spaniard tell of a story, in which a man is listening to a story about a woman listening to story... how many levels is that :lol . Just hold tight to your totem and lets hope you don't end up in Limbo :) .

I heard once that this was virtually unreadable, glad to say i can disagree. A lot of good parts if not perhaps a great whole. ( )
1 vote wreade1872 | Nov 28, 2021 |
"Era una noche de tormenta en el mundo que teníamos sobre nosotros; y aunque estabamos muy por debajo de la superficie de la tierra, el murmullo del viento que suspiraba por los pasadizos me llego al oído como las voces de los difuntos, como las súplicas de los muertos. Involuntariamente fijé los ojos en el manuscrito que debía copiar, y ya no me fue posible apartarlos hasta que no hube concluído su extraordinario contenido". Ch. R. Maturin. ( )
  darioha | Oct 8, 2021 |
Reasons to read: published 1820 (bingo), 1001 books,
Legacy: This book was written by Charles Robert Maturin, an Irish Protestant clergyman (ordained in the Church of Ireland) and a writer of Gothic plays and novels. This is his best known works. According to the editors of 1001 Books..., this book is a transitional novel in literary history. It is the final example of Gothic traditional with key features; wild, remote, or otherwise exotic.
Style: the book is a succession of strange stories, entrapments, dangerous lure. There is the opening of the book where John Melmoth the student goes to his uncle's home. The following stories include; the Tale of the Spaniard, the Tale of the Indians, The Tale of Guzman's Family, and back to the Tale of the Indians.
Characters: John Melmoth, a student who inherits his uncle's money. He also acquires a manuscript which tells the story of an ancestor also called John Melmoth.
Identity; John Melmoth, the ancestor, gained satanic immortality in exchange for his soul. A Faustian bargain. He is seeking his release from this covenant with the devil by seeking another to take his place. The book explores the nature of temptation and torment.
Contribution: the book/author contributed to Poe, Wilde, Baudelaire and others.
Readability: it is long. Each story is interesting but could have been made shorter. There is a lot of descriptive words and it was not always easy to stay engage. I listened to the audible production, narrated by Gerry O'Brien.
Rating 3.6 ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 22, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (45 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maturin, Charlesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baldick, ChrisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
GoyaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grant, DouglasEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perry, SarahIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sage, VictorEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the autumn of 1816, John Melmoth, a student in Trinity College, Dublin, quitted it to attend a dying uncle on whom his hopes for independence chiefly rested.
En el otoño de 1816, John Melmoth, estudiante del Trinity College (Dublín), abandonó dicha institución para asistir a un tío moribundo en el que tenía depositada principalmente sus esperanzas de independencia económica.
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Had I been told such a story of another, I would have denounced him as the most reckless and desperate being on earth - yet I was the man. p.212
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Revered as a true gothic masterpiece, "Melmoth the Wanderer" is the last complete work by the Irish author and playwright, Charles Maturin. Since its publication in 1820 it has been admired by such authors as Sir Walter Scott, Honore de Balzac, Edgar Allan Poe, and Maturin's great nephew, Oscar Wilde. In this story of temptation, villainy, and a satanic bargain for immortality, Maturin offers his social commentary on early nineteenth century England and unabashedly attacks Roman Catholicism. The Wanderer, having engaged in a pact with the devil in exchange for extended life, is doomed to a tortured existence searching for someone to take on his Satanic contract, allowing him to die a natural death. Although Melmoth epitomizes the Faustian figure, Maturin creates a singularly unique character with the added complexities of sympathy, love, and conscience, and secures this cryptic portrayal of evil a place in literary history as the quintessential Gothic novel."

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