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Vathek 2/e (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 13 Jun 2013
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About the Author
Thomas Keymer has edited Oxford World's Classics editions of Johnson's Rasselas, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Richardson's Pamela and Fielding's Joseph Andrews and Shamela. He is the author of numerous critical essays and books, editor of The Cambridge Companion to Laurence Sterne (2009) and co-editor, with Jon Mee, of The Cambridge Companion to English Literature from 1740 to 1830.
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Top Customer Reviews
What sets the novel apart from so much early Gothic fiction is not only its use of an oriental setting but rather the quality of the writing. Beckford wrote his book in French so as to set it apart from the tawdry pieces written in vulgar English. The French text was then translated, under Beckford's watchful eye, by Samuel Henley. Between them the two men ended up with a very elegant short English novel. In particular the descriptions of the strange events such as Vathek's witch-like mother burning noxious substances at the top of a tower in order to please the Giaour have a dream-like intensity. Similarly humour is used to lighten the mood such as when the beautiful and nubile Nouronihar runs rings around one of Vathek's elderly and dusty advisors.Read more ›
If you want to see a man, with a hedonistic complex for knowledge and pleasures of the flesh fall further tha even Faust; this could be the book you're looking for.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Along the way, the reader is treated to accounts of numerous supernatural occurrences (the Caliph can kill with just a hard stare from his black eyes, for example) and even more accounts of atrocities committed to gain favor with Eblis (pushing 50 young children off a cliff, for example). The Caliph is distracted from his quest when he becomes enamored with a seductive young lady, but his mother tracks him down and pushes him into completing his journey.
But as we all know, pacts with the Devil never turn out well for mortals, and so it is with the Caliph.
Surprisingly enough, the novel is entertaining, although the plot consists just of one fantastical and bizarre incident after another, without any of the suspense or character development normally considered necessary for a good novel. The tone, which is slyly humorous and ironic, rescues the book from the boredom brought on by a mere catalog of incidents. My favorite part is when dwarfs are pinched to death.
Even more of interest and wonder is the biography of the writer, as given in the introduction (augmented by my internet research). William Beckford was the richest man in England at the time, and built Fonthill Abbey, a huge Gothic cathedral-like castle with the highest tower in England, which housed his huge collection of art and other esoteric treasures and included a retinue of lavishly attired foreign servants, including a dwarf who opened the door. His sexual behavior was so reprehensible to society that he was forced from time to time to leave his home for the Continent to escape scandal and possible prosecution. He was widely supposed by neighbors to hold orgies with unspeakable acts in his isolated castle. More than one research source indicates that this novel was considered to be semi-autobiographical, particularly in reference to the mother of the Caliph and Beckford's real mother!
I would not recommend this novel to anyone not interested in Gothic literature and tracing its history.