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#96 ~ Melmoth the Wanderer

Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin

Earlier this year Devourer of Books posted about the Penguin Books giveaway and I quickly joined for my chance to get a free book. When I found out that the Penguin Classic book assigned to me was Melmoth the Wanderer, I had flashbacks to Junior Year Honors English taught by Sister Irene Mary. Our final project for that class was a 20 to 25 page term paper. Sister gave us options as to what that paper would be about: architecture, art, or literature. I chose literature. Once that decision was made, Sister selected the book for us. There were only three of us who chose literature. The day that the assignments were handed out, three brand new books were proped up on the chalk board: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, My Antonia by Willa Cather, and Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery. I was the one singled out to readVanity Fair. Even in high school I enjoyed a reading challenge. Still, my heart sunk when I noticed that my book was twice as thick as My Antonia.

Melmouth the Wanderer tells the story of Jonathon Melmoth, a man who comes into his uncle’s estate upon that miserly man’s death. Before he died, his uncle asked him to destory the portrait in his private room along with the papers in the drawer. After Johnathon believes that he sees someone in the house when his uncle dies, he cannot resist the tempation of reading those papers, which end up telling the story of the Melmoth family. Thus begins his trek toward selling his soul.

The tone, themes and narrative methods are classically gothic. Everything is dark and foreboding. From the moment you enter into Melmoth’s manner, you sense that you better watch over your shoulder. The history of the Spanish sailor who rescues Johnathon from the cliff sweeps you away into the world of forced vocations to a Jesuit convent and his multiple attempts at escape despite the cost to his safety and sanity. What made this novel difficult to read was the narrative style. Whereas it is typical for a paragraph to start with each new speaker, Maturin included the dialog of two or more characters within the same paragraph. Without a careful and close reading, it because quite easy to get lost. There also were times where the level of detail was oppressive, much like being in a one-sided conversation with someone who makes sure to cover every minute detail. There were sections of the novel, often where single paragraphs went on for three plus pages, where I found myself getting impatient a needless wade into the quagmire.

In the end, I did not complete this novel. When I realized I was 255 into the novel and I was just getting to the point in the Spanish sailor’s story where he was finally brought before the Inquisition, I couldn’t continue. It wasn’t because the basic plot wasn’t enjoyable. It was actually. However, the style in which this story was written and the number of references made by the author within the text made reading this novel feel like climbing Mt. Everest without any preparation or supplies. It was frustrating not having the source material to read along with it.

This novel would be best read in a classroom setting or by someone who was willing to devote weeks of time, energy and study to it. I wouldn’t have been able to read and enjoy Ulysses without the guidance and encouragement of a wonderful professor. I’m in no way comparing Charles Robert Maturin to James Joyce. There was no poetry in Maturin’s prose, but I would imagine that there could be an engaging course taught about Melmoth the Wanderer.

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6 Comments

  • At 2008.08.28 07:25, Shana said:

    Jennifer, at 255 pages you gave this a very good and decent try. Sounds like it had potential if it had just been written a bit differently.

    • At 2008.08.28 10:39, Jessica said:

      I’m still struggling to get my Penguin Classic read. 🙂 I’m impressed you got as far as you did.

      • At 2008.08.29 00:29, kegsoccer said:

        Wow sounds like you really tried with this one. Totally agree with you about how a great professor can make a difference. I really need to finish my Penguin too.

        • […] Inquisition is has definitely been at the forefront of my reading recently.  I stopped reading Melmoth the Wanderer when it was gearing up for the the Inquisition.  Immortal also focused on the topic as well.  The […]

          • At 2009.06.02 18:21, alkfiehgaiogj said:

            i really enjoed it myself! thought it was wonderfully written and spooky

            • […] Penguin Classic sent to me to read and review.  I’m not sure how lucky I was, but I was sent Melmouth the Wanderer.  It wasn’t my favorite classic, but it still sits on my shelf, another Penguin Classic for […]

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