Werewolf Wednesday: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 5

ReynoldsMisc(This is the fifth part in a series; see also parts onetwothree and four)

Reynolds’ Miscellany, where Wagner the Wehr-Wolf was serialised, was sold for one penny an issue. That’s half of the “penny dreadful” label earned, and now — after some stalling — I’ve arrived at the portion of the novel that justifies the second half.

Granted, there’s still a little more stalling to go. At this point it’s clear that Reynolds is not above repeating himself. Consider the narrator’s description of Nisida:

She was attired in deep black; her luxuriant raven hair, no longer depending in shining curls, was gathered up in massy bands at the sides, and a knot behind, whence hung a rich veil that meandered over her body’s splendidly symmetrical length of limb in such a manner as to aid her attire in shaping rather than hiding the contours of that matchless form. The voluptuous development of her bust was shrouded, not concealed, by the stomacher of black velvet which she wore, and which set off in strong relief the dazzling whiteness of her neck.

Compare this with Agnes’ description in the previous chapter of the mysterious woman who haunted her:

The lady was enveloped in a dark, thick veil, the ample folds of which concealed her countenance, and meandered over her whole body’s splendidly symmetrical length of limb in such a manner as to aid her rich attire in shaping, rather than hiding, the contours of that matchless form.

Chapter 11 opens with announcing that months have passed, so that the story has reached 31 January 1521. Love is in the air, with Francisco expressing his love of Flora (despite social strictures against a count marrying a commoner) and Wagner courting Nisida. The latter encounter is broken off abruptly, however, as Wagner realises that the sun is about to set on the last day of the month — and soon he will become a wolf. After one of the purplest descriptions of s sunset ever commuted to prose, the following chapter describes Wagner’s transformation:

But, hark! what is that wild and fearful cry?

In the midst of a wood of evergreens on the banks of the Arno, a man—young, handsome, and splendidly attired—has thrown himself upon the ground, where he writhes like a stricken serpent, in horrible convulsions.

He is the prey of a demoniac excitement: an appalling consternation is on him—madness is in his brain—his mind is on fire.

Lightnings appear to gleam from his eyes, as if his soul were dismayed, and withering within his breast.

“Oh! no—no!” he cries with a piercing shriek, as if wrestling madly, furiously, but vainly against some unseen fiend that holds him in his grasp.

And the wood echoes to that terrible wail; and the startled bird flies fluttering from its bough.

But, lo! what awful change is taking place in the form of that doomed being? His handsome countenance elongates into one of savage and brute-like shape; the rich garments which he wears become a rough, shaggy, and wiry skin; his body loses its human contours, his arms and limbs take another form; and, with a frantic howl of misery, to which the woods give horribly faithful reverberations, and, with a rush like a hurling wind, the wretch starts wildly away, no longer a man, but a monstrous wolf!

At last, Wagner the Wehr-Wolf has its werewolf. Reynolds seems more at home with the ensuing lupine mayhem than with the preceding romance, and shows great glee in describing the wolf’s bloody rampage through a funeral procession:

The coffin-bearers dropped their burden, and the corpse rolled out upon the ground, its decomposing countenance seeming horrible by the glare of the torch-light. The monk who walked nearest the head of the coffin was thrown down by the violence with which the ferocious monster cleared its passage; and the venerable father—on whose brow sat the snow of eighty winters—fell with his head against a monument, and his brains were dashed out.

The mayhem continues. The wolf makes short work of a boy who happened to be in his way (“the child—the blooming, violet-eyed, flaxen-haired boy—the darling of his poor but tender parents, is weltering in his blood!”), causes a herdsman to be gored to death by his own startled ox and knocks a gay maiden to her death in a rapid stream. Then, finally, dawn breaks and Wagner once again becomes “a handsome, young and perfect man” — at least, until the month ends.

Werewolf Wednesday: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 4

ReynoldsMisc(This is the fourth part in a series; see also parts onetwo and three)

Chapters 8 and 9 of Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf are largely taken up by Wagner’s granddaughter Agnes narrating her backstory. This anecdote begins with Agnes encountering “a cavalier of strikingly handsome countenance” who claims to have got lost while hunting with the Baron von Nauemberg. The cavalier introduces himself as the Count of Riverola and proceeds to flatter Agnes, eventually persuading her to accompany him to Italy. Despite feeling “a dreadful pang” for her grandfather, she abandons him without notice and disguises herself as the count’s page. After arriving in Florence Agnes finds herself doted upon by the count (“To me he unbent as, doubtless, to human being he never unbent before”) but has a disturbing encounter with a mysterious woman:

At the same instant I glanced toward the stranger lady; she also drew back the dark covering from her face. Oh! what a countenance was then revealed to me—a countenance of such sovereign beauty that, though of the same sex, I was struck with admiration; but, in the next moment, a thrill of terror shot through my heart—for the fascination of the basilisk could scarcely paralyze its victim with more appalling effect than did the eyes of that lady. It might be conscience qualms, excited by some unknown influence—it might even have been imagination; but it nevertheless appeared as if those large, black, burning orbs shot forth lightnings which seared and scorched my very soul! For that splendid countenance, of almost unearthly beauty, was suddenly marked by an expression of such vindictive rage, such ineffable hatred, such ferocious menace, that I should have screamed had I not been as it were stunned—stupefied!

Continue reading “Werewolf Wednesday: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 4″

Werewolf Wednesday: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 2

ReynoldsMiscLast week I started a trip through George W. M. Reynolds’ sprawling nineteenth-century werewolf novel Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf. The prologue introduced the titular lycanthrope, while the first two chapters depicted thus far unrelated intrigue in a noble household. So, let us see where chapter three takes us…

Nisida, deaf-mute daughter of the reecently-deceased Count of Riverola, has decided to open a closet forbidden to be opened by any but her brother on his wedding day. Inside she finds something that makes her recoil with horror, along with a manuscript which, when read, sends her “grinding her teeth with demoniac rage”, although the exact details are kept from the reader. Aghast at the contents, Nisida decides to put the manuscript back: “she repaired with the lamp to her brother’s room—purloined the key a second time—hastened to the chamber of death—opened the closet again—and again sustained the shock of a single glance at its horrors, as she returned the manuscript to the place whence she had originally taken it.”

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Werewolf Wednesday: Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds (1846-7) Part 1

ReynoldsMiscOne book I’ve been planning to cover for this column is Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf by George W. M. Reynolds; this was serialised between 1846 and 1847 in a periodical edited by the author, Reynolds’ Miscellany. I have to admit, though, that it’s taken me a while to pluck up the fortitude. I tried reading the novel a few years ago, but it was only a chapter or two before I started having flashbacks to reading Varney the Vampire — and soldiering through that monument to incoherence wasn’t an ordeal I was in a hurry to repeat.

But still,  no history of literary lycanthropy would be complete without covering Wagner’s adventures. To make things easier on myself I’ve decided to cover the novel piecemeal, with this post covering the prologue and first two chapters. Since I never finished the book on my first attempt (and to be honest, have forgotten what happened in the chapters I did read) this will be a voyage of discovery for me. Wish me luck — who knows, Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf might be a cut above Varney the Vampire after all.

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Werewolf Wednesday: “The Other Side” by Count Eric Stenbock (1893)

EricStenbock-1-236x300Count Eric Stenbock is remembered primarily for two stories, one about a vampire and the other about werewolves. The former, “The True Story of a Vampire”, is most notable for its overt homosexuality; beyond this, it has little to make it stand out against the likes of Carmilla and Dracuila. Stenbock’s werewolf story, however, is a different matter.

“The Other Side” was published in an 1893 edition of an Oxford literary magazine called The Spirit Lamp. It was possibly influenced by Théophile Gautier’s 1836 story of the vampiress Clarimonde, as both tales depict a character being batted back and forth between a waking world of religious orthodoxy and a dream world of unholy temptations ruled by a beautiful demoness.

Rather than a female vampire, Stenbock uses a female werewolf named Lilith. The werewolf-as-temptress motif was not unusual in the nienteenth century: see also Frederick Marryat’s “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains” (1839), Sir Gilbert Campbell’s “The White Wolf of Kostopchin” (1889) and Clemence Housman’s “The Were-Wolf” (1890). Even amongst this company, however, “The Other Side” stands out for the weirdness of its imagery.

The story is subtitled “A Breton Legend” and, although I’ve come across a few sources that take this claim at face value, I have yet to confirm whether Stenbock was inspired by any particular folktale when writing. That said, the story clearly has roots in the fevered world of early modern witch-trials, when sorceresses and devils were believed to hold nightmarish rites together. This is the world in which Eric Stenbock locates his werewolves.

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Werewolf Wednesday: “The Were-Wolf” by Clemence Housman (1890)

WhiteFellClemence Housman’s story “The Were-Wolf” was originally printed in an 1890 edition of Atalanta, a British magazine aimed at girls; it was later published as a standalone volume in 1896.  While the former edition was illustrated by Everard Hopkins the latter featured new artwork by Laurence Housman, the author’s brother, which can be seen here.

Along with Frederick Marryat’s “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains” (1839) and Sir Gilbert Campbell’s “The White Wolf of Kostopchin” (1889), Housman’s story fits into a body of nineteenth-century werewolf tales in which the lycanthrope is cast as a beautiful temptress who infiltrates a household, only to prey upon its most vulnerable members in the guise of a white wolf.

The story opens with a young man named Sweyn and his (presuambly Scandinavian) farming household noticing weird phenomena. First, they hear “with strange distinctness a sound outside the door—the sound of a child’s voice, a child’s hands” but when someone opens the door they find nobody there; not even footprints in the snow. Sweyn suggests that they had only heard the sound of the wind, but the rest of the household is unconvinced:

Many faces looked scared. The sound of a child’s voice had been so distinct—and the words “Open, open; let me in!” The wind might creak the wood, or rattle the latch, but could not speak with a child’s voice, nor knock with the soft plain blows that a plump fist gives. And the strange unusual howl of the wolf-hound was an omen to be feared, be the rest what it might. Strange things were said by one and another, till the rebuke of the house-mistress quelled them into far-off whispers. For a time after there was uneasiness, constraint, and silence; then the chill fear thawed by degrees, and the babble of talk flowed on again.

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Werewolf Wednesday: the Case of Dr. Broniervski (1912)

In the same chapter that it provides a detailed outline of a lycanthropy ritual, Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book on werewolves offers a supposedly true account of a meeting with such a shapeshifter. Attributed to one Dr. Broniervski, the story should be taken with the same helping of salt as all of the other “true” stories retold b O’Donnell, but even if fictional it marks an interesting blend of the werewolf theme with the intangibility of a ghost story.

Taking place ten years before Dr. Broniervski met O’Donnell (a date that is meaningless, as the book never reveals when the two met), the story begins with the doctor travelling in Montenegro. He hires a local guide named Kniaz, but his companion Dugald Dalghetty warns him against this choice: “Kniaz has the evil eye,” says Dalghetty; “he will bring misfortune on you. Choose some one else.”

Broniervski ignores this warning and sets off with Kniaz on a journey from Cetinge to a town called Skaravoski, the latter of which appears to have never been mentioned in any other publication. Along the way, the conversation turns to the supernatural:

He asked me several times if I believed in the supernatural, and when I laughingly replied ‘No, I am far too practical and level-headed,’ he said ‘Wait. We are now in the land of spirits. You will soon change your opinion.’ The country we were traversing was certainly forbidding—forbidding enough to be the hunting ground of legions of ferocious animals. But the supernatural! Bah! I flouted such an idea.

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Werewolf Wednesday: “The Man-Wolf” by Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian (1859)

800px-Erckmann-Chatrian_woodburytypeThis week I shall be taking a look at an early piece of French werewolf literature, courtesy of authors Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian. The story was originally published in either 1859 or 1860 (the sources I have at hand are inconsistent) as “Hugues-le-loup”, while an English translation entitled “The Man-Wolf” was published in 1876 and can be read online here.

The story by Erckmann-Chatrian concerns a Germanic family cursed with a (possibly psychological) lycanthropy that dates back to their ancestor Hugues, whose name anglicises to Hugh. This is an interesting overlap with “Hugues, the Wer-Wolf” by the British writer Sutherland Menzies, published nearly thirty years previously, which involved a (supposedly) lycanthropic family surnamed Hugues.

Menzies appears to have borrowed the name from Hugh Lupus, a Norman earl; I know of no folklore association the real-life Hugues with lycanthropy, but his name fits. Were Erckmann and Chatrian also inspired by the same individual? It seems curious that two French writers would model a family of fictional German aristocrats upon a Norman-British personage, but the trnaslator’s note at the start of the story playfully suggests a connection:

The English reader will not fail to notice the correspondence between the title and the well-known designation of the illustrious head of the noble house of Grosvenor. Whatever connection there may or may not be between that German Hugh Lupus of a thousand years ago and the truly British Hugh Lupus of our day, all the base qualities of his supposed progenitor have disappeared in him who is adorned with all the qualities which make the English nobility rank as the pride and the flower of our land.

“The Man-Wolf” begins with the protagonist, a doctor named Fritz, being visited by his sometime foster-father Gideon Sperver. The latter reveals that his master the Count of Nideck is suffering from “a terrible kind of illness, something like madness” and needs medical help.

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Werewolf Wednesday: The Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter (1590)

Peter Stubbe

No survey of werewolf history would be complete without discussing The Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter”, a 1590 text that was (so the front matter claims) “Truly translated out of the high Dutch, according to the copy printed in Collin, brought over into England by George Bores ordinary post, the 11th day of this present month of June 1590, who did both see and hear the same.” An online copy can be read here.

After some pious opening remarks upon the evil of those who stray from God, the document introduces us to its chief personage:

In the towns of Cperadt and Bedbur near Collin in high Germany, there was continually brought up and nourished one Stubbe Peeter, who from his youth was greatly inclined to evil and the practicing of wicked arts even from twelve years of age till twenty, and so forwards till his dying day, insomuch that surfeiting in the damnable desire of magic, necromancy, and sorcery, acquainting himself with many infernal spirits and fiends, insomuch tat forgetting the God that made him, and that Savior that shed his blood man man’s redemption: In the end, careless of salvation gave both soul and body to the Devil for ever, for small carnal pleasure in this life, that he might be famous and spoken of on earth, though he lost heaven thereby.

We are told that Stubbe Peeter was motivated by malice rather than greed. Instead of riches, this sorcerer asked the Devil for the ability to turn into a ferocious beast, and his wish was granted by a magic girdle:

The Devil, who saw him a fit instrument to perform mischief as a wicked fiend pleased with the desire of wrong and destruction, gave unto him a girdle which, being put around him, he was straight transformed into the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like unto brands of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body and mighty paws. And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appear in his former shape, according to the proportion of a man, as if he had never been changed.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell on How to Become a Werewolf (1912)

This week I’m returning to Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book Werwolves, which previously provided the account of Estonia’s luminous lycanthrope. In the fourth chapter, O’Donnell discusses how a person might become a werewolf; once again, his seeming inability to actually cite his sources gives the general impression that he’s just making things up on the fly, but his book nonetheless has interest as a stage in the development of werewolf literature.

O’Donnell lists a few alleged methods of obtaining lycanthropy: “by eating a wolf’s brains, by drinking water out of a wolf’s footprints, or by drinking out of a stream from which three or more wolves have been seen to drink”. These sound to me as though they may be genie folkloric concepts, although I have yet to find earlier attestations to them (the detail about footprints turns up in a number of later publications). O’Donnell, meanwhile, is unimpressed: “but as most of the stories I have heard of werwolfery acquired in this way are of a wild and improbable nature, I think there is little to be learned from the modus operandi they advocate.” Given the fanciful nature of the stories he chose to include, this really does raise questions about the ones he rejected.

O’Donnell notes that “in some people lycanthropy is hereditary”, possibly drawing upon the theme of the cursed werewolf family found sometimes in nineteenth-century literature, “and when it is not hereditary it may be acquired through the performance of certain of the rites ordained by Black Magic.” The author states that these rites “vary according to locality” before outlining what he apparently considers to be a typical werewolf ritual.

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