George Brewer’s The Witch of Ravensworth

A some time back I wrote a blog post about The Animated Skeleton, an early Gothic horror novel written in 1798 and reprinted for the first time by Valancourt Books. Though fascinating and enjoyable, ‘Skeleton is not an easy read, due to the writing style. It was suggested that I should try The Witch of Ravensworth as a more accessible Gothic read, so I did!

Written in 1808 by George Brewer, The Witch of Ravensworth is not that much more recent than ‘Skeleton, but the prose is significantly different and flows much better. The structure of the story, interestingly enough, is quite similar to ‘Skeleton in general, though it differs in the specifics.

The amoral Baron de La Braunch will stop at nothing to achieve his goals – even eliminating loved ones who are under his care and protection. After marrying the widowed Lady Bertha, he realizes that her voluminous inheritance will go to her late husband’s son rather than his own, and he vows to remove the inconsiderate boy.

He turns to The Hag, a hideous old woman who lives in the countryside around his estate. She is rumored to be involved in horrifying witchcraft. When she makes an unexpected appearance at the Baron’s wedding and utters a curse against the bride, the Baron realizes that The Hag could be the appropriate tool for his tasks.

The Hag is a fascinating character. In her discussions with the Baron, she freely admits her diabolical ways, and entices him into making a pact with her dark lord in exchange for the elimination of the boy. She later encourages him to bargain his way deeper into damnation by offering to remove all obstacles from his path and provide him all that his heart desires. Her demands, and the depictions of demonic rituals, are effective and creepy, even more so considering the era in which the book was written.

The story combines elements of Macbeth and Faust, along with its own unique little touches. The Baron gradually comes to realize that his newfound success does not lead him to happiness, but he has been drawn down a road upon which he cannot turn back.

Much like The Animated Skeleton, the story of the Witch has a surprise ‘twist’ ending that will no doubt leave many modern readers unsatisfied (though Witch‘s twist is much better thought out than that of ‘Skeleton). In spite of this, the book is a fast, enjoyable Gothic read, and definitely one that has been neglected for far too long.

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8 Responses to George Brewer’s The Witch of Ravensworth

  1. Personal Demon says:

    I’m currently reading Northanger Abbey, which is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “gothic parody.” Catherine, the heroine, and her friend Isabella love reading “horrid” novels, and there’s a famous conversation in the novel that references several gothic novels of the period. The books have come to be called the “Northange Canon”, and you can see a list of them here and here.

  2. “The books have come to be called the “Northange Canon”, and you can see a list of them here and here.”

    That’s cool! Most of the Canon seems to in print right now. I’m not sure how much of it I’ll get to; I’ve got a few more Gothic novels sitting in a stack, but I’ll probably go back to more modern work in the near future!

  3. Personal Demon says:

    Dr. SkySkull wrote: “…but I’ll probably go back to more modern work in the near future!”

    Ooh! You totally dissed Jane Austen! You were all like “Yo! Austen, your book list rocks! I could totally dig it,” and she was all like “Truly?” and you were all like “Word!” and she was all like “How very kind of you, Dr. SkySkull. Why you are not at all the grim spectre of doom that rumor would have me believe. Perhaps, and I realize that I am being far to forward for my sex, but perhaps we could discuss this further, perhaps over tea? Chaperoned of course,” and you were all like “Sure thing… NOT. I got a bunch of younger, prettier books back at my crib. See ya round, b-atch,” and she was all cryin’ into her hankie ‘n shit.

    Dang man, you cold.

  4. Babs67 aka the fiancee says:

    PD – you know, he totally disses Jane Austen. I had the movie Becoming Jane from Netflix for several weeks. Every time I suggested we watch it, he managed to find something else to do (usually surf the internets). I watched it last weekend while he was out skydiving in hillbilly country. Not as good as the book The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen which has a similar storyline. The book details more of how Jane might have come up with her inspiration for different stories including Northanger Abbey. Excellent read – but I like historic fiction and chick lit.

  5. Babs67 wrote: “PD – you know, he totally disses Jane Austen.”

    Hey, you should talk: you dissed the entire field of mathematics again last night! 😛

    PD wrote: “…and she was all cryin’ into her hankie ‘n shit.”

    If Jane Austen still has the ability to cry into her hankie nearly 200 years after her supposed death, I’m sure she’s tough enough to take some dissin’ from an anonymous internet blogger! 😛

  6. Babs67 aka the fiancee says:

    My dearest Dr. Skullstars – Did Jane Austen cause you to drop out of advanced English Lit your senior year in high school? Did you have a TA who could barely comprehend the English language teaching your freshman english class? Did you barely squeak by in Advanced Composition in Graduate School? If not, then I don’t think you were as scarred by English as I was by my math experiences and have no right to diss Jane Austen! I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Math Disorder. My reaction to you bringing it up is quite normal and I would expect that you would respect my mental health by not doing so. (You big baby) 😛

  7. plaid tsepes says:
    If you folks like prime Goth literatoor on the hoof, check out my man Charles Brockden Brown, arguably the first American novelist… (pre-Fennimore Cooper.) People usually say he reminds them of Poe or Hawthorne, but he was writing years before either one of them. (He died in 1810)
    He was the guy to transplant the Goth tradition onto American soil, and he often used unreliable narrators. He dealt with such preoccupations as madness, same sex romance, female equality, and religious fanaticism. No less a personage than Mary W. Shelley acknowledged him as an influence. Why Jane Austen would need to clamber up onto George Sand’s shoulders just to kiss CBB’s… but I digress…

  8. plaid tsepes: Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll have to give Brown a look.

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