If you thought things were nutty before now, all I can say is buckle up, because from here on out things only get nuttier.
Chapter 8 returns us to Lorenzo and the Marquis moping around over Agnes’s presumed death. The only one not given over to the mopes is young poet Theodore who decides to don cape and eye patch and go begging at the convent with his guitar. As a dapper young lad he’s quick to work his way into the place and charm the nuns, which he does with a song from Denmark where the people are green and have orange hair.
Much impressed with his singing one of the nuns gives him a basket of food to take away. And of course in the basket is a secret message for the Marquis, telling him to get a warrant for herself and the head nun, and to execute it on Friday during the big parade coming up in Chapter 10.
The Marquis sets about doing this, while Lorenzo goes and serenades Antonia. She’s pleased by this and goes to bed happy.
… and then the bad shit starts.
First off, Ambrosio shows up with his burning myrtle that opens doors and puts people to sleep. He’s using it to creep through the house on up to Antonia’s bedroom, where there’s a long unsettling bit with him hovering over her unconscious body and removing her clothes. Dracula has nothing on Ambrosio. He’s all ready to do the raping, when the door opens and Elvira walks in. She’d already caught him trying to rape her daughter once and forbidden him to return to the house, but now, she’s ready to scream for the authorities. And she almost does, except Ambrosio kills her, by smothering her with her unconscious daughter’s pillow.
An aside… watching old movies in no way prepares you for reading old books. Old movies couldn’t show certain things. Old books could and did, so they’ll hit you with vivid description of some brutality straight out of Goodfellas.
Like here, not only do have Ambrosio killing Elvira next to where her daughter lies unconscious, you also have the description from Ambrosio’s POV of himself kneeling on Elvira’s chest until she can no longer draw breath.
And in true Ambrosio fashion, he reacts with disgust not with himself, but with Antonia, because like what she made him do. So, he flees and we go on to Chapter 9.
Chapter 9 is a cool down chapter Ambrosio once more rationalizes his actions and reinforces his veneer of respectability, putting the blame on Elvira for causing her own death. Matilda once more offers to have Satan help him in exchange for his soul, but Ambrosio reasons like a Catholic and thinks despite everything, as long as he doesn’t sell his soul he’ll at least get sent to Purgatory.
Meanwhile, Antonia finds the body and her life starts falling apart from there. She’s taken ill. Her landlady pays for a simple funeral. The days pass in grief and torment. One night, Antonia wakes up and goes to her mother’s room where she reads a ghost story, and finds herself visited by Elvira’s ghost. The ghost tells her in three days, she too will be dead, and that’s enough to send Antonia into hysterics. The landlady finds out what happened, and she flees the house to find the holiest man she can… Ambrosio.
He goes to the house, checks things out, and calms the “simple” women down. Remember now, Antonia has no idea that Ambrosio tried to rape her twice and killed her mother. She just knows her mother didn’t like him. Ambrosio’s looking after her health, and when he goes back to the abbey, he and Matilda hatch a plan to drug Antonia, so she appears dead, and then in the crypt when she wakes up, he’ll be waiting there. There’s some difficulties from Flora, Elvira’s servant and confidant who knows why Ambrosio can’t be trusted, but in the end he’s able to administer the poison to Antonia. He then commands that her burial should be performed without delay.
And so it is.
Chapters 6 & 7 can pretty much be subtitled “The Making of an Anti-Hero”.
Ambrosio’s not so much the villain as the protagonist of the novel. Unfortunately for everyone, much of his protagging is of the downward spiral type. This fact gets hightlighted in these two chapters as Ambrosio completes his turn away from his ideals and embraces the dark side as introduced to him by Matilda, his demon lover.
When Chapter 6 opens the pair are still abed together, and Ambrosio has some guilt over what he’s done, but those get shunted as he “riots in delights till then unknown to him”. Through all this Matilda’s still poisoned, but she can fix that – all they have to do is meet at midnight and go into the caves under the convent and Matilda can heal herself. They just have to get through the day, which they do. Ambrosio’s pretty good at rationalizing away what he’s done. Night arrives, and they’re off to the caves. Ambrosio’s set on guard, while Matilda goes below to do what needs doing.
You know, black magic stuff.
While Ambrosio’s on guard he can hear the cries of a prisoner in the basement of the convent. Agnes, of course. He’s moved to pity, which is ironic since her suffering is the direct result of his actions. But he stays where he is. Matilda returns and they go back to the monastery for more sex.
There’s then a mini-essay on how Ambrosio had all the qualities of a hero, only they’d been twisted and warped by his time with the priests, and he’s never known the outside world since he was raised entirely within the monastery because he was left on the doorstep while still an infant.
Life resumes. Ambrosio maintains his reputation and keeps drawing the crowds. Only now he’s more superior and cognizant of his power. Then one day at confession he encounters Antonia who wants him to recommend a priest to visit her sick mother. Ambrosio’s instantly infatuated with Antonia and after some pacing and calling Matilda, “Whore”, he decides he’ll go visit Elvira. He does so, and afterwards he finds Antonia and visits with her too. At first Elvira’s glad the monk’s visiting them, but she starts to suspect his reasons aren’t 100% pure.
And in Chapter 7 she’s proven correct. Chapter 7’s where Ambrosio seals the deal, and slides over from being a priest with a demon lover to being a straight up criminal.
It starts with Ambrosio deciding to seduce Antonia, an idea he doesn’t need a demon lover around to come up with for him. And he doesn’t care that it’s criminal. He just “can’t help himself”. So as his desire for Matilda cools, he fixates on Antonia, and the next time he visits, he gets her alone and tries to rape her. Fortunately, Elvira interrupts it, but what can she do? Ambrosio is one of the most respected men in town, while Antonia and she are poor women without connections. Ambrosio is quick to point out that no one will believe her. Still, Elvira kicks him out of the house and tells him to never come back.
Now Ambrosio feels bad, less because he tried to commit rape, than the fact that he failed to commit rape. He goes back to the abbey and starts to mope about how unfair it all is, when Matilda shows up.
She’s okay with him ditching her, and as his friend he’ll help Ambrosio in anyway she can. You know, with demon black magic stuff. Ambrosio despite everything still believes himself blessed by god, because he hasn’t signed anything over to the devil yet. Matilda’s a bit skeptical on that measure, She shows Ambrosio her magic mirror through which she can spy on anyone. So of course, Ambrosio uses it to watch Antonia take a bath. And that’s enough to get him to think there might be something in this black magic stuff.
So, it’s back to the cave under the convent to do some more witchcraft stuff. Matilda summons up Lucifer and gets a talisman from him that will open doors and put Antonia asleep (because Ambrosio doesn’t care if she’s awake or not when he has his way with her).
“Antonia will perceive her dishonor, but be unaware of her ravisher.”
Damn, Gothic novel… that’s f’d up.
But if Ambrosio needs more help after that he better be ready to pay with his soul. Of course, Ambrosio knows it won’t come to that. It’s not like dealing with the Devil ever ends badly for anyone. So as Chapter 7 ends, Ambrosio’s looking forward to midnight when Antonia will be all his.
Do you have a favorite old, weird book?
Recommend it and I’ll probably read it!
But, I’m also looking for books to give the YesterWeird treatment to, like I’m doing with Matthew Lewis’s The Monk.
Old = written before 1930.
Weird = I leave up to you.
My definition of weird includes Fantomas novels, Cavendish’s The Blazing World, Scientific Romances, Dumas and his contemporaries, Gothic and Sensation novels, Apuleius, and P’u Songling… so it’s pretty broad, but limited. I’m not likely to do another Gothic right away. While I do have some Ann Radcliffe on the shelf, I’m not really ready to jump into another foray of English Protestants fetishisiizing southern European Roman Catholics.
Current contenders for getting the YesterWeird treatment are:
Fantomas, the Corpse Who Kills! by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. Murder, mayhem, and derangement.
The Flower Beneath The Foot – Being a Record of the Early Life of St. Laura De Nazianzi and the Times in which She Lived by Ronald Firbank. This looks like it might be Game of Thrones as if written by Oscar Wilde in his Importance of Being Earnest style. That sounds like it might be cool, or it might be annoying.
Aphrodite: Ancient Morals by Pierre Louys. A scandalous, historical novel written by a French guy mostly famous for his pornographic poetry. It’s available on Gutenberg.
If you have a favorite, I’d love to hear it.
… and now we return to The Monk, chapter 5 to be exact.
Chapter 5: Raymond finishes telling Lorenzo the sad story of “How I Knocked Up Your Sister”. Lorenzo agrees not to kill him, and both agree that Agnes needs to get out of that convent. Lorenzo then brings up Antonia and her situation.
Part of that story is that Raymond is Antonia’s mom Elvira’s brother-in-law, but he never knew about it because his parents never mentioned it (they thought their son was too good for Elvira) and they lived mostly overseas. Being that his parents are dead, Raymond’s actually happy to learn he has a sister-in-law. So that’s one problem they don’t have to worry about, while they talk to the cardinal and pope about getting Agnes out of her convent. Everyone’s happy. Lorenzo leaves, Raymond gets ready to relax, but when he walks into his relaxing room, he finds Theordore in there sweating and straining.
…and can you guess what the strapping young German lad is doing all alone there in the room?
That’s right, he’s writing poetry.
Four pages of classic verse, or running with the rock opera concept album metaphor, he’s writing a power ballad. I’m pretty sure it’s on Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the song after “Moonchild”.
Being the full of himself sister-knocker-upper that he is, Raymond swipes the pages, reads, and critiques them. Surprisingly, he’s not a dick about it (well, besides being a total dick about it) and encourages Theodore to keep at it, and, who knows, maybe one day he can be the next Lope De Vega.
We then follow Lorenzo home where he finds a letter from Leonella, Antonia’s servant. She gives him Antonia and Elvira’s address, and Lorenzo heads over there right away.
Elvira is Antonia’s mom and one of the coolest characters in this book. She’s a tragic figure, abandoned by her relations and of delicate health, but strong willed and wise. When Lorenzo meets her, she sees right through his gallant foppish pretenses, and to his credit Lorenzo drops them. He updates her on the situation with Raymond her brother-in-law, and she sees that Lorenzo is in love with her daughter. He leaves telling them that first they need to get Agnes out of the convent, but after that they’ll fix everything for her. Afterward Elvira and Antonia have a mom/daughter talk about getting hopes up and falling in love, and all Elvira’s advice is sad and tragic, because she’s a sad, tragic mom in a Gothic novel.
The next day, Lorenzo goes to the convent to see Agnes.
“No, you can’t see her. She’s sick.”
The next day, Lorenzo goes to the convent to see Agnes.
“No, you can’t see her. She’s sicker than she was yesterday.”
Lorenzo believes none of this, and neither do we because we know Agnes got caught back in chapter 1 and the Mother Superior is a cruel heartless woman. We don’t know what happened to her, but we know it’s not good. Nice tension that.
He heads back to Elvira’s hoping to see Antonia, but instead Elvira sits him down for a talk. She tells him that it’s great that he loves Antonia, but his family won’t approve. He’s of noble birth, and her family are commoners. It’ll be a repeat of her own sad, tragic life for her daughter. So for their own good, she’s going to stop the relationship now, before they get too into each other. Lorenzo denies that his family is like that, and Elvira’s skeptical.
“Look at this,” she says.
“My late husband, Raymond’s brother, wrote it. It’s a poem.”
Yes… to save Lorenzo, and the world, from bad poetry, Lorenzo must stop courting Antonia. It’s the only way. Lorenzo’s shaken. He tells her he’s going to get permission from his uncle. He’ll do better than Raymond’s brother, and maybe he’ll just stick with prose vignettes under 1000 words. Those aren’t poems are they? Elvira says that’s a mystery, but until he gets the okay from his uncle he must stay away and visit no more.
Lorenzo goes home and sees a letter from the pope. It’s good news. The pope’s okay with Agnes leaving the convent. Lorenzo takes the letter and goes straight to Mother Superior. She tells him that Agnes died, and no, he can’t see the body. Lorenzo believes none of this, but he’s up against an evil nun, and so there’s no winning. He goes back to tell Raymond, and Raymond believes none of it. He practically goes mad at the idea and believes Agnes is still alive, locked somewhere in the convent. Lorenzo for his part believes Agnes is dead, but the nuns killed her and They need to find out what happened.
Chapter 6 has us back with Ambrosio, the fallen priest with the demon lover and the titular monk of the novel, who appears to be developing into a full on sex addict.
You know how it goes, he tried it once, and found it all right for kicks, but now he’s found out it’s a habit that sticks…
I’ve taught at the same school since 2011. For some these kids I’m the only English teacher they’ve had. One thing that’s fascinating to me this year is how utterly nice and good natured the current 6th graders are. Not that I’m complaining, but it puzzles me and I wonder if this was somehow created or if it’s just luck. Like, not every student is perfect or a great kid, but there’s no horrible bullies, which have been a problem in previous years, or kids prone to violent out-bursts (which is a problem at my other school). Instead the worst thing I have to put up with is some shenanigans where some boys have become competitive over who can be the best class clown. And if class clown shenanigans is the worst I have to deal with, I’ll say thanks and be happy.
And it is just these 6th and 5th grade classes. The classes coming up behind them are already showing some problem behaviors. So that makes me wonder what worked for those two classes and is it something that can be replicated?
Possibility 1: It’s dumb luck, and the chemistry between these students is just how it is and/or they had the good fortune to be matched with good teachers.
Possibility 2: It’s the environment. My school’s neighborhood went through a revitalization project that made the population dip while construction went on. Class sizes shrunk in real time (as opposed to always being small), so students bonded as a group better. Now this renewal project has ended and the neighborhood population has stabilized, but instead of having 3 classes of 22 students, the lower grades have 2 classes of 33 students, which is starting to feel crowded enough for students to get lost.
Possibility 3: A policy change, either regional or local. I’ve seen 3 principals come and go. Each one brought a different character to the school. Maybe a shift in the priorities at the top filtered down and affected the school’s character. Student behavior might reflect this.
But I count myself lucky for now despite the horrors of my second school – my main school’s all right, even if it does make me wonder.
We return now to Matthew Lewis’s The Monk.
The deeper I get into this book, 1) the more I like it, 2) the weirder its fetishisization of Catholicism gets.
In the chapters 3 &4 we leave Ambrosio and Matilda behind and return to Lorenzo and Don Raymond the Marquis de las Cisternas. Lorenzo’s upset because Don Raymond impregnated his sister, Agnes, despite her being a nun, and if Don Raymond doesn’t talk fast, he’s likely to wind-up stabbed in all the worst ways. So Don Raymond tells his story, and it’s not a bad story.
The Tale of Don Raymond’s Gap Year AKA How I Ended Up Schtupping Your Sister AKA Don’t Stab Me, Bro
Don Raymond was on his gap year and traveling around Europe in cognito, because in a book with a lot of names I can’t remember, why not have another? While in Germany, his servants and he get lost in a forest during a snowstorm and think they’re going to die, when their guide tells them he knows a wood-cutter nearby that will put them up. The wood-cutter and his sons are happy to have the guests, but the wood-cutter’s wife is having none of it. She doesn’t want these guys in her house, and Don Raymond’s like, “What a bitch”, but the wife just says, “I made your bed, check out the sheets.” When Don Raymond does he discovers them covered in blood and realizes the wood-cutter and his sons are bandits. Their plan’s to kill Don Raymond and all his servants in the middle of the night. But things get complicated when another traveler arrives at the house, and this one turns out to be the local duchess. She wants to get out of the storm, and the wood-cutter realizes they need to get more bandits, which gives Don Raymond time to escape and get help. There are some chases and fights and daring-do. The duchess is saved, Don Raymond’s servants aren’t, and Don Raymond gets an invitation back to the castle. The wood-cutter’s wife tells her story of how she fell in with the bandits and what brutes they were, and she gets exonerated for her crimes, and Don Raymond hires one of her sons (from an earlier marriage) to replace his dead valet. This kid, Theodore, becomes an important supporting character. Showing up at the castle, Don Raymond meets Agnes, because the Duke and Duchess are her guardians, since her parents are dead and her brother away. Of course Agnes and Don Raymond fall in love, but there’s a complication: the Duchess has also fallen in love with Don Raymond and she’s the insanely jealous type.
Time for a cunning plan!
A cunning plan that involves Theodore kidnapping Agnes’s chaperone and keeping her drunk in a closet, while Agnes impersonates the ghost rumored to haunt the castle (The Bleeding Nun) and Don Raymond waits in a carriage by the castle’s back door.
And the plan works perfectly, except the real Bleeding Nun shows up and Don Raymond runs off with her by accident.
Meanwhile, Agnes gets caught and the Duchess realizes what’s what and they ship her off to the convent ahead of schedule. Back to Don Raymond, he realizes he’s in a carriage with a ghost, there’s a panic, and horse death. He survives the accident but now the Bleeding Nun haunts him, and he pretty much assumes he’s a goner. Theodore learns where he is and tells him about a strange doctor in town that seemed to know all about the case. Don Raymond wants to meet that guy, and when the doctor shows up, he turns out to be a be-turbaned fellow of keen wisdom.
The doctor agrees to treat Don Raymond’s ghost problem, and there’s some midnight magic stuff, where the doctor says, “I’m going to take my turban off,don’t look at me.”
And Don Raymond says, “Okay”, but he totally looks and the sight of the unturbaned doctor fills him with horror and dread.
Turns out the doctor is the Wandering Jew (although I like to imagine that he’s Cain), and he does all he can to help people despite the curse upon him. Don Raymond gets better, returns to the castle, where he retrieves the Bleeding Nun’s bones and takes them back to his family for decent burial the sadder and wiser man. Yeah, she turned out to be a relation. In Madrid, he pines away for Agnes, not realizing how close she is until he sees her at church. They start having illicit meetings in the convent gardens. Don Raymond’s all about getting her out of the convent, but has to write the Pope for the okay. Meanwhile, both being young and having lived through such adventures allow their hormones to get the better of them, and lo and behold there you go Lorenzo: that’s how I impregnated your sister!
To which all agree it’s best to get Agnes the hell out of that convent.
One thing I hate in readers is a lack of curiosity. Often times folks devoted to a genre whine loudest about not having anything to read, when actually, if they just moved their heads a little in any direction, they’d find something great. Kindles have done away with that, although I’m not sure they’ve done much to improve reader curiosity. If anything Kindles have managed to speed everyone’s descent into a bottomless pit of their own choosing, only now that descent’s fueled by Amazon’s algorithm.
An illustrative anecdote: a month or so back I gave away some books to a friend. One of them I thought was awful and told my friend as much. A week or so later he told me he’d read the book, agreed it was awful, and “the next seven books in the series were just as bad”.
Now this lack of curiosity might not be the biggest problem in genre. But I’d hazard a guess that it could be the keystone problem all the other problems trickle out from. Again the solution is simple: move your head a little in any direction. You will find something better.
A while back I read this post by E. Catherine Tobler called “The Women We Don’t See”. It starts with an anecdote from a friend of hers who realized he hadn’t read a book by a woman in two years. And he was okay with that. A more recent while back, the writer K. T. Bradford challenged readers to quit reading white men for a year. I didn’t opt on the challenge, but I wasn’t incensed by the suggestion. If anything, both posts can simply be read as reminders to maybe think two minutes longer before picking up your next book to read. Even looking at the suggested books outlined in Bradford’s post, she’s only listing twelve books. One a month. You can’t read one book a month by a non-Anglo and/or non-dude writer. Seriously?
There are two big reasons authors get forgotten (beyond the fact that they might suck). The first is the author wrote only the one genre book, and that one was usually early in their career. Fred Chappell’s Dagon and Frederick Turner’s Double Shadow both fit this description (although Chappell has returned to genre at times).
The other reason books get forgotten is because they either exist outside a genre or within a genre that in part hopes to reject them. Despite the history and tradition of women and non-Anglo authors writing SFF, it’s certainly not part of the institutional memory yet. Not when an author can be asked to recommend books to readers and come up with nothing better than the equivalent of Led Zeppelin. This is also why I’m probably only hearing about Doris Piserchia this year. It’s probably also why Joanna Russ gets read like she’s an inoculation against feminism. And why a comment Margaret Atwood made years ago still gets trotted out against her.
All of which is to say show a little curiosity. Take the extra minute and change up your reading diet a bit.
Yeah, I hate that analogy too. It suggests I’m writing all this to extol the salubrious effects of reading certain books, like Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman is a bit of broccoli on your plate, and you should read it because vitamins, instead of the real reason, which is it’s a great science-fiction book with a moral dilemma at its heart that’s instantly recognizable to anyone who knows what the prime directive is.
And in case you need a place to start, here’s a link to SF Mistressworks. Go crazy.