Note: In the interest of disclosure, I wanted to mention that Valancourt Books has graciously asked me to write an introduction to an upcoming release, John Blackburn’s Broken Boy (1959)! Very excited, but I don’t think it affects my blog posts on their work — I’ve been a fan of Valancourt’s releases since I began this blog.
In general, I’m not a terribly big fan of Gothic novels. Admittedly, I haven’t read too many of them, but those I have read have been of rather uneven quality. I was intrigued, however, by Valancourt Books’ release of this work by George Soane (1790-1860), The Stranger Knight, originally serialized from 1812-1814.
This book is the continuation of Valancourt’s (semi-) annual Halloween tradition, in which they release a short volume of rare and unusual material. In this case, The Stranger Knight is at the center of a bit of a mystery: in 1812, a book by George Soane titled Knight Daemon and Robber Chief was supposedly published; however, nobody has ever seen a copy of it! Valancourt suggests that The Stranger Knight may be connected in some way to Soane’s mysterious missing novel.
The book also includes one of Soane’s unfinished Gothic stories, The Bond of Blood, (partially) written in 1815. Even with this addition, there isn’t a lot of material in the book — both stories and the introduction total 97 pages — but the tales are surprisingly charming and nice examples of Gothic horror.
The Stranger Knight begins with the return of Count Ottocar from war to his castle home. He is horrified to see a black banner flying above the battlements, indicating death — his wife has died in his absence, and his son has been kidnapped by bandits. In a rage born of misery, he strikes his favorite page in anger, leaving the young servant near death. This act will spark a series of revelations that lead at first to seeming happiness but inevitably to incredible horror.
In The Bond of Blood, a young and cynical man named Alfieri is wandering the streets of Rome in the evening, weary of the world. Then he spies a beautiful and mysterious woman and follows her to evening services at church. She eludes him, only intensifying his desire to meet her. When he finally does, he makes a rash vow in order to be with her — only when it is too late does he learn the consequences of that vow.
A number of the Gothic novels that I’ve read have a disconcerting habit of releasing all the tension at the end with a Scooby Doo-esque revelation. I was happy to see that The Stranger Knight builds to and ends on a genuinely horrific note. The Bond of Blood is a delightful fragment that I almost enjoyed more than ‘Knight; it is a genuine shame that Soane did not complete the story.
Apparently in that era authors would regularly fail to complete serials, leading the publishers to post public appeals to the authors. Valancourt has included a few of these appeals in The Stranger Knight, which are both funny and enlightening.
Though short and partially incomplete, this pair of stories serves as a nice and effective sample of Gothic literature.