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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Oriental whimsy, 11 Mar. 2014
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Matteo Dei - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Vathek and Other Stories: A William Beckford Reader (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I've bought this book having enjoyed Beckford's travel writings and especially as it is considered one of the first and foremost Gothic novels. Perhaps the definition of Gothic literature eludes me, but I would never compare this work with, say, Ann Radcliffe's Udolpho or Matthew Lewis' The Monk. Although there may be Gothic-related themes (supernatural events, monstrous creatures, representation of Hell), the general atmosphere is very different, preferring the absurd, fantastic and whimsical to the mystery, gloom and dread. Rather than by The Castle of Otranto, the novel was clearly influenced by The Arabian Nights and Voltaire's satirical and moralizing tales.

Vathek is a highly personal, idiosyncratic story where the author projected his great passion for oriental subjects, adding innumerable and highly imaginative stories and a pinch of moral values. It has an oriental setting, decorated with plenty of details drawn from Beckford's extensive knowledge of Persian culture and literature. The protagonist Caliph Vathek, moved by pride and curiosity, embarks on all sorts of bizarre quests, ready to sacrifice almost anything to his wishes. At the end he has to expiate his sins.

Vathek sheer originality and introduction of oriental themes in English literature established it as a source of inspiration for later writers and poets. For me it is an amusing fantasy, although somewhat pointless.

This Penguin edition has another imaginative story written in Beckford's youth (The Vision), and several satirical and travel writings where the author's sharp wit and sarcasm can be best appreciated. There are also an introduction, helpful notes (some by the author himself) and a select bibliography.
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