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.