Werewolf Week: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 15

So, Fernand Wagner has decided to set off to sea to rescue the shipwrecked Nisida, and Chapter 40 opens by addressing the practicality of his mission:

The reader may perhaps be surprised that Fernand Wagner should have been venturous enough to trust himself to the possibilities of a protracted voyage, since every month his form must undergo a frightful change—a destiny which he naturally endeavored to shroud in the profoundest secrecy. But it must be recollected that the Mediterranean is dotted with numerous islands; and he knew that, however changeable or adverse the winds might be, it would always prove an easy matter to make such arrangements as to enable him to gain some port a few days previously to the close of the month.

As it happens, Wagner’s biggest problem at sea is not his lycanthropy but the weather. His ship runs into a storm and he finds himself stranded on an island, where his thoughts turn to Nisida: “Nisida would be the island queen; she should deck herself with these flowers, which her fair hands might weave into wildly fantastic arabesques!” (a remarkably accurate description of what we’ve already seen Nisida getting up to).

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Werewolf Week: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 14

ReynoldsMiscChapter 36 sees Fernand Wagner finally put on trial for murder — a murder which, ironically, this man-eating werewolf didn’t actually commit. The trial is an awkward one. He is asked what relation he had to the victim; Agnes; but the truth — that she was his granddaughter, but he had supernaturally rejuvenated himself so as to appear roughly the same age — is hardly something he can admit to in court. his case looks still more suspicious when it turns out that he owns a portrait of Faust; given the story’s period setting, Faust’s antics are still within living memory. (Incidentally, Faust is referred to as the Count of Aurana: is this Reynolds’ own addition to the legend?)

Then comes the resolution to one of the novel’s longstanding mysteries. The portrait that Wagner kept covered with a black cloth is brought into the court,and “the usher who had removed the covering recoiled with a cry of horror, as his eyes obtained a glimpse of the picture which was now revealed to view.” The result is delicious:

For, oh! the subject of that picture was indeed awful to contemplate! It had no inscription, but it represented, with the most painful and horrifying fidelity, the writhings and agonizing throes of the human being during the progress of transformation into the lupine monster. The countenance of the unhappy man had already elongated into one of savage and brute-like shape; and so admirably had art counterfeited nature, that the rich garments seemed changed into a rough, shaggy, and wiry skin! The effect produced by that picture was indeed of thrilling and appalling interest!

“A Wehr-Wolf!” had exclaimed one of the assistant judges: and while the voices of several of the male spectators in the body of the court echoed the words mechanically, the ladies gave vent to screams, as they rushed toward the doors of the tribunal. In a few moments that part of the court was entirely cleared.

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Werewolf Week: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 13

ReynoldsMiscChapter 34 of Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf returns us to the bandit Stephano. Having rescued two women from the sadistic nuns, he now turns his attention back to another task: rescuing Wagner from the dungeon, at the behest of the latter’s lover Nisida. However, he has mixed feelings. Having become captivated by Nisida’s “almost supernatural majesty of beauty”, he sees Wagner as a rival. (If he knew Wagner was a werewolf, that might well have given him another reason to pause for thought).

Indeed, the bandit becomes so captivated with Nisida (“Stephano could almost have fallen on his knees to worship and adore her. But, oh! what lovely skins do some snakes wear!—and into what charming shapes does satan often get!”) that he conspires with some fellow brigands to adapt her.

Meanwhile, Fernand Wagner (yes, the title character has finally returned to the narrative) paces about his dungeon cell until he is confronted by a fearful apparition:

Continue reading “Werewolf Week: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 13″

Werewolf Week: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 12

ReynoldsMiscChapter 32 of Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf returns to bandit-chief Stephano and company’s attempts to rescue Flora and Giulia from the clutches of the sadistic nuns. Their mission is interrupted by the tolling of a bell by “an old nun, who, for some dreadful misdeed committed in her youth, had voluntarily consigned herself to the convent of the Carmelites”. Regaining their composure after hearing this alarm, the band go ahead with chucking the two sadistic nuns who know of their presence (Sister Alba and an unnamed abbess) into a dungeon cell to rot. Manuel, Giulia’s lover, objects to this; but Stephano overrules him.

The alarm turns out to have roused the local sbirri, who get into a fight with the bandits (Piero, a character given a name only in the previous chapter, is killed: “he fell back again, and expired with the name of Carlotta upon his tongue”). Finally, the convent catches fire (apparently due to a lantern dropped in the confusion) and the subterranean chamber collapses, burying all those who failed to escape in time.

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Werewolf Week: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 11

Yes, time for another trip into Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf. Wagner himself is still absent from the narrative, being trapped in a dungeon, but his supporting cast finds plenty to do…

Chapter 30 returns us to the plight of Flora Francatelli (the lover of Franscio, who is the brother of Nisida, who is the lover of Wagner). Having been held captive by the nuns of the Carmelite Convent for six days, she suspects that her condition is the fault of Nisida, who resented the prospect of having her as a sister-in-law. Whoever is to blame for her predicament, Flora’s surroundings are harrowing indeed:

Sometimes the stillness of death, the solemn silence of the tomb reigned throughout that place: then the awful tranquillity would be suddenly broken by the dreadful shrieks, the prayers, the lamentations, and the scourges of the penitents.

The spectacle of these unfortunate creatures, with their naked forms writhing and bleeding beneath the self-inflicted stripes, which they doubtless rendered as severe as possible in order to escape the sooner from that terrible preparation for their novitiate—this spectacle, we say, was so appalling to the contemplation of Flora, that she seldom quitted her own cell to set foot in the chamber of penitence. But there were times when her thoughts became so torturing, and the solitude of her stone chamber so terrible, that she was compelled to open the door and escape from those painful ideas and that hideous loneliness, even though the scene merely shifted to a reality from which her gentle spirit recoiled in horror and dismay.

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Werewolf Week: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 10

ReynoldsMiscIn the run-up to Halloween, I’ve decided to make my weekly column on werewolves into a daily feature. Kicking things off, let me resume my enlightening journey through George W. M. Reynolds’ lycanthropic penny dreadful Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf. Before I go on, let’s have a quick recap of the main characters…

  • Fernand Wagner: A werewolf currently trapped in a dungeon for the murder of his granddaughter Agnes (who was actually killed by a mysterious woman)
  • Francisco, Count of Riverola: A young aristocrat
  • Nisida: Francisco’s deaf-mute sister, who loves Wagner
  • Flora: Francisco’s servant, currently held captive by sadistic nuns for perceived sexual immorality
  • Giulia, Countess of Arestino: Currently held captive by sadistic nuns for perceived sexual immorality
  • Manuel, Marquis of Orsini: Giulia’s lover
  • The Count of Arestino: Giulia’s cuckolded husband
  • Stephano Verrina: A bandit-chief
  • Isaachar ben Solomon: A Jewish usurer and victim of anti-Semitism

With Giulia captive, her lover Manuel and the bandit-chief Stephano decide that she must be rescued; the two spend an extended amount chapter 27 standing around talking about this before Stephano finally takes Manuel to his hideout, which turns out to be filled with riches.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 9

Chapter 23 of Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf stays with the newly-introduced character of Giulia Arestino and her lover Manuel, Marquis of Orsini. After a series of flowery paragraphs about the sea, we learn that Giulia’s husband — the Count of Arestino — is spying upon this adulterous affair. After a few more paragraphs of purple prose, this time waxing poetic about love and jealousy, Manuel admits to having indulged his gambling problem again (“This habit of gaming entraps me as the wine cup fascinates the bibber who would avoid it”). So distraught is he that Giulia has to talk him out of fleeing Florence in disgrace — at which point her husband barges into the room, “in the midst of his Italian ire”. He is most displeased:

Oh! fool—dotard—idiot that I was to think that a young girl could love an aged man like me! For old age is a weed, which, when twined round the plant of love, becomes like the deadly nightshade, and robs the rose-bush of its health! Alas! alas! I thought that in my declining years, I should have one to cheer me, one who might respect me, if she could not love me—one who would manifest some gratitude for the proud position I have given her—and the boundless wealth that it would have been my joy to leave her. And now that hope is gone—withered—crushed—blighted, woman, by thy perfidy! Oh! wherefore did you accompany the old man to the altar, if only to deceive him? Wherefore did you consent to become his bride, if but to plunge him into the depth of misery? You weep! Ah! weep on; and all those tears, be they even so scalding as to make seams on that too fair face, cannot wipe away the stain which is now affixed to the haughty name of Arestino! Weep on, Giulia; but thy tears cannot move me now!”

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My Writing on Classic Monsters

VarneyFeatureThe Halloween season is upon us, and you may well be in the mood to read up on the history of the classic monsters from film, legend and literature. Well, I’ve written quite a bit on the topic; I suppose you could say that a very large, very loose project of mine involves covering our favourite fictional beasties in as much detail as possible…

Vampires: My main offering here is a twelve-part essay series called The Vampyre’s Legacy, where I analyse (at least) one vampire story for each decade from the 1810s through to the 2010s. If that series doesn’t spend enough time in the nineteenth century for your liking, I’ve written a few other articles on vampire literature of that era. Want to read about vampire films? Well, I’ve written an essay on silent vampire films, plus a three-part series on Dracula’s Daughter.

Werewolves: My weekly Werewolf Wednesday column has covered a large chunk of lycanthropic films and literature, and I recently collated the links here.

Mummies: I’ve written an entire book on the bandaged shamblers. It’s part of the Devil’s Advocates series form Auteur Publishing and it’s focused primarily on the 1932 Mummy with Boris Karloff, but it has a whole chapter devoted to mummies in vintage weird fiction and another discussing post-Karloff mummy films. Available in paperback and ebook from the outlet of your choice!

Headless horsemen: They may not be quite as versatile as monsters go, but headless horsemen have a quite interesting history — as I found when I did a deep dive into the Dullahan of Irish folklore (part 1, part 2) after finding Wikipedia’s utterly terrible article on the topic.

Poltergeist girls: Regan, Carrie, Carol Ann, Emily Rose — I covered them all alongside their inspirations in-life cases of alleged poltergeists and possession over the course of a four-post series.