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Tenebrae: A Novel (Valancourt Classics)

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Tenebrae: A Novel (Valancourt Classics)


  Ernest George Henham was born in London in 1870 and as a young man travelled to the New World, where his sojourn in the Canadian Northwest provided the inspiration for some of his early works. As Ernest G. Henham, he published Menotah: A Tale of the Riel Rebellion (1897), God, Man & the Devil: A Novel (1897), the weird Gothic horror novel Tenebrae (1898), Bonanza: A Story of the Outside (1901), Scud: The Story of a Feud (1902), The Plowshare and the Sword: A Tale of Old Quebec (1903), ‘Krum’: A Study of Consciousness (1904), and The Feast of Bacchus (1907).

  Suffering from ill health, he moved to Dartmoor around 1906. In the words of a contemporary, “It is one of the strangest facts in literary history that a man, who had defined his place as a writer of fiction with nine novels or so, published under his own name, should have seen fit to begin his career afresh and write a long series of commercially unsuccessful novels under a pseudonym.” However, this was what Henham did, publishing A Pixy in Petticoats anonymously in 1906 before adopting the pseudonym John Trevena in 1907 for Furze the Cruel, the first in a trilogy of novels focusing upon Dartmoor life, followed by Heather (1908) and Granite (1909). He continued to write prolifically, achieving widespread critical acclaim but little commercial success. His notable works include Bracken (1910), Written in the Rain (1910) (short stories), Wintering Hay (1912), which the Los Angeles Times ranked with the works of Turgenev and Dostoevsky, Sleeping Waters (1913), and Moyle Church-Town (1915). Trevena’s life is so shrouded in obscurity that at the time of this printing even his date of death was not known, though he is believed to have died around 1946. Until the Valancourt edition of Furze the Cruel in 2010, all his works were out of print, despite the near-universal critical consensus during his lifetime that his works would live on among the classics of English fiction.

  Gerald Monsman is Professor of English at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He is the author of Pater’s Portraits: Mythic Pattern in the Fiction of Walter Pater (Johns Hopkins, 1967), Walter Pater’s Art of Autobiography (Yale, 1980), Confessions of a Prosaic Dreamer: Charles Lamb’s Art of Autobiography (Duke, 1984), Olive Schreiner’s Fiction: Landscape and Power (Rutgers, 1991), H. Rider Haggard on the Imperial Frontier (ELT, 2006), and the editor of Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (Broadview, 2002). Recently, his work has focused on rediscovery of Trevena and the South African writers Bertram Mitford and Ernest Glanville, and he has prepared scholarly editions of six novels by Mitford and four by Trevena for Valancourt Books, as well as editions of Pater’s Marius the Epicurean and Haggard’s Nada the Lily.

  By the Same Author

  as ernest g. henham

  Menotah: A Tale of the Riel Rebellion (1897)

  God, Man & The Devil: A Novel (1897)

  Tenebrae: A Novel (1898)*

  Bonanza: A Story of the Outside (1901)

  Scud: The Story of a Feud (1902)

  The Plowshare and the Sword: A Tale of Old Quebec (1903)

  ‘Krum’: A Study of Consciousness (1904)

  The Feast of Bacchus (1907)*

  as john trevena

  A Pixy in Petticoats (1906)*

  Arminel of the West (1907)

  Furze the Cruel (1907)*

  Heather (1908)

  Granite (1909)

  The Dartmoor House that Jack Built (1909)

  Bracken (1910)

  Written in the Rain (1910)

  The Reign of the Saints (1911)

  Wintering Hay (1912)

  Sleeping Waters (1913)*

  No Place Like Home (1913)

  Adventures among Wild Flowers (1914)

  Moyle Church-Town (1915)

  The Captain’s Furniture (1916)

  Raindrops (1920)

  The Vanished Moor (1923)

  The Custom of the Manor (1924)

  Off the Beaten Track (1925)

  Typet’s Treasure (1927)

  * Available from Valancourt Books


  A Novel



  With a new introduction and notes by

  Gerald Monsman


  Tenebrae by Ernest G. Henham

  First published London: Skeffington & Son, 1898

  First Valancourt Books edition 2012

  Reprinted 2014

  Copyright © 1898 by Ernest G. Henham

  Introduction © 2012 by Gerald Monsman

  All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without prior written consent of the publisher, constitutes an infringement of the copyright law.

  Published by Valancourt Books, Richmond, Virginia

  Publisher & Editor: James D. Jenkins

  isbn 978-1-934555-29-3 (trade paperback)

  Also available as an electronic book.

  All Valancourt Books publications are printed on acid free paper that meets all ANSI standards for archival quality paper.

  Set in Dante MT 11/13.2


  Introduction • vii

  Note on the Text • xiv

  Tenebrae • 1


  Ernest Henham’s early psychological horror story, Tenebrae: A Novel (1898), appeared toward the end of an exceptionally fertile resurgence of Gothic fiction: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890-91), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), and Dracula (1897). Oddly, Henham’s publisher, Skeffington & Son, specialized in theology, children’s picture books, and (perhaps not the father’s side of the business) novels of lurid sins and melodramatic suicides. Were it not for its psychological ambiguity, Tenebrae might be thought to be either homage to E. A. Poe’s works aimed at mass-market tastes—indeed, one does suspect it grew into a full blown novel from a lengthy story in situation and imagery much like “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839-40)—or, for the sake of satirical humor, a deliberate parody of Poe’s Gothic effects and insane narrators. In either such case one might then adapt the wry opening sentence of Arthur Symons’s review of Francis Thompson’s first volume: “If Crashaw, Shelley, Donne, Marvell, Patmore and some other poets had not existed, Francis Thompson would be a poet of remarkable novelty.” But the likeliest possibility is neither homage nor parody; rather, we have covert self-expression touching personal and cultural anxieties so unmentionable that the cloak of Gothic fiction was the safest means by which they might be explored. In Victorian society (and, one might add, almost any other culture) who can express what, and when, and where was a closely controlled matter of precept and proscription. It has been observed, for example, that after the French Revolution (1789) an expressed wish for the death of any authority figure, particularly the father, was socially taboo because it renewed anxieties about disruption and chaos. Our contemporary society is so much more open that often only legalities prompt distancing techniques, such as euphemisms in polite society (“That just tears the rag right off the bush!”) or the not infrequently hypocritical asseveration that “any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

  Henham’s dark romanticism explores the violence and aberrant sexuality of the narrator, an individual perversely self-destructive, a social outcast racked with personal fears, and one for whom the supernatural is hellishl
y hallucinatory. His dawning realization—to give a nod to Giovanni Palestrina’s Peccantem me—is the somewhat less-than-cheerful realization that “there is no redemption in hell.” In the handling of these somber Gothic themes Henham is by turns serious and comic, very much in the tradition of Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) or The Mysterious Mother (1791) with their exaggerated intensity of warped desire turned violent. But his story, apart from Poe’s influence, especially recalls the unapologetic supernatural staginess of M. G. Lewis’s The Monk (1796), described by Francis Jeffrey as a “mixture of extravagance and jocularity which has impressed most of his writings with the character of a sort of farcical horror.”[1] Henham’s horror, then, is part of the Gothic genre’s prototypical mix of styles and discourses, both literary and non-literary, lifted from popular theatrical entertainments, evangelical pulpit oratory, exaggerations of exotic fauna and flora in Britain’s far-flung empire, myths, legends, and even travel guides like that of the Western Morning News for Dartmoor, with enough picturesque or sublimely gloomy rocks, trees, and tarns to flesh out a shelf of novels.

  [1]Edinburgh Review, 20 (November 1812): 445.

  Henham’s novel is also heir to the later impressionistic techniques of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray and the decadence of Charles Baudelaire, author of the Symbolist Les fleurs du mal (1857) and translator of Poe, whose art evokes ecstasy and eroticism, ideal love and betrayal, a beauty hidden by darkness and a darkness staining the light. The narrator’s insane uncle, rejoicing in his Baudelairean life of alcohol and concoctions of drugs, is equally a sort of comic Dr. Jekyll—he even teaches his nephew to sweeten coffee with arsenic, something Martha Stewart has never suggested. He is the narrator’s familiar spirit, responsible for demonic possessions since he styles himself “king of the insects,” which is to say, Beelzebub, the king or lord (Beel) of the flies (zebub, a generic term for insects, including flies), another name for Satan. This may be a lampooning of Henham’s clerical uncle with whom the young boy lived—all the vices the righteous vicar abhorred are chalked up to this toadying uncle. For Henham, such psychic opposites as puritanical righteousness and unlicensed depravity both are blights to the soul. Taking his cue from those innovators who regenerated a decades-dominant Romanticism, Henham composes a horrifying scenario—the schizoid contestation between the conscious and the subconscious mind of its first person narrator. Henham might or might not have been aware of his multiple subtexts; but Tenebrae overtly deals with the narrator’s self-justifications and self-deceptions. What he repressively cannot admit to be the truth defines his madness as his self splits off from its moral environment. Tenebrae, then, becomes something more than mere literary sensationalism of only historical interest.

  Although in reality Tenebrae is the offspring of earlier Gothic and Symbolist traditions, Henham disguises a late Victorian cultural uncertainty and irresolution behind his diverse mix of sources. Thus the novel’s overlaying appeal to popular taste and intended commercial success is not in conflict with its artistic design because both are outcomes of the same anxieties. The emotions in his scenes are classically paranoid-schizoid, allowing his readers to experience with cathartic intensity the traumas of real life crises and fears through a fictionalized or surrogate reality. But if the “turbid lineaments” of Henham’s own struggles with an inhibited personality are autobiographically disguised in Gothic images and conventions, which life events produced which passages? His morbidity and “bewildering mysticism,” especially in several of his earlier novels, might suggest a psychological distress stemming from his orphaning, his troubled relationship with his clerical uncle, his struggle with his health, and possibly a sexual angst produced by a childhood of severe religious repression. Tenebrae’s narrator “lusting . . . to kill” suggests a dangerously repressed sexuality—not Henham’s actual impulse here but his fittingly artistic sublimation of those inhibitions by a description of the narrator’s acting out.

  Part I (“The Foreshadowing”) describes the protagonist’s alienation from his once loved younger brother who has taken his girlfriend away from him—as he says, “seduced her affections.” Hints by his old nurse and the mad uncle are inescapably confirmed when he voyeuristically spies upon the lovers. He even interrogates his visual evidence by comparison to a literary anecdote of misunderstood motives, only to reflect that he had overheard their love-making also. Whereas the elder brother’s world grows dark, mad, and filled with hate, the younger’s appears sane and contented. A key parallel in this novel’s structure is the theme of contrasting fraternal brothers in the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, especially the extra-biblical interpretation from the Midrash that identifies the real motive for murder as jealousy over a desirable woman. The narrator’s palm-print lifeline is a foreshadowing of the mark of Cain that afterwards appears as blood upon his forehead. Another echo in Tenebrae comes from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (1611) in which King Leontes becomes possessed with jealousy, convinced that his childhood friend, King Polixenes, has seduced Hermione, his wife: “I have drunk, and seen the spider” (2.1.45). Polixenes had recalled the age of innocence when he and Leontes were boys, pure even from original sin. Suddenly, the spider in the cup, sexual jealousy, corrupts that deep affection. Henham, it is true, gives his narrator’s jealousy a genuine foundation—“My brother had been guilty of vile treachery, and therefore I hated him. The woman abused me, while sharing in my brother’s deceit”—but in both works obsessive suspicion over which reason has no sway becomes a poisoning of the soul.

  In Henham’s tale, the traditional polarities of good and evil or darkness and light overlap in the context of sexual rivalry. The elder brother is wealthy, introverted, nervous, and violently envious of his handsome but poor younger brother, who is too weak to confess honestly to his older sibling his sexual conquest. The woman’s excuse, that her new lover didn’t want to give his brother “pain,” rings hollow. Both brothers, after all, are flawed—insecure and uncertain of their identities, sharing a dark symbiosis of love now turned to deceit and hate: “We shared, as it were, the same heart, the same mind, equal portions of the same soul. Only the law of Nature compelled us to pass through life beneath the identity of separate bodies.” For that reason, he explains: “Had I not loved you so greatly in the past, the hatred of the present had been less.” With an allusion from William Blake’s “The Sick Rose,” the older brother gives the girl roses from which his phobia—a spider—creeps forth. The “dark secret love” (Blake) of a guilty romance has penetrated and sickened what should have been an open and trusting affection, destroying innocence, beauty, life. Not long before the fratricide the narrator destroys in the fireplace a picture-frame with his and his brother’s photographs: “I had burnt my own portraiture with his; in figuratively destroying him, I had inflicted a like injury upon myself.” The narrator thereafter mutilates and throws his younger brother from a cliff onto the sea rocks: “Physically and mentally my brother was far weaker than myself. . . . With my small knife I stabbed the eyes which had looked into hers, the lips which had been pressed upon hers, the hand which had fondled her, even the heart which had throbbed for her.” He then scrambles down to weight his body with stones. In a last ghoulishly convulsive gesture the victim thrashes out at the narrator—seemingly anticipating such later famous cinematic moments as that in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s movie Diabolique where Simone Signoret pops out of the bath, “quoted” subsequently in numerous other film endings, such as Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction.

  In Part II, “The Under-shadow,” Henham creates a neologism formed by analogy with “overshadow,” implying not the penumbra created from the sun’s light above but a deeper “darkness visible” (Milton) from hell. The title of Henham’s novel is the Latin noun, singular or plural, meaning “shadows” or “darkness”—and also “gloom,” “blindness,” “night,” “death.” He adapts his phrase, “Ave, Tenebrae! Ego moriturus vos saluto” from Suetonius’s
Lives of the Caesars (a.d. 121) in which combatants fated to die once addressed the emperor Claudius: “Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you.” Henham’s version is in the first person: “Hail, Darkness! I who am about to die salute you.” He was doubtless aware of its ironic pagan contrast to the invocation of darkness in the Catholic and Anglican services during Holy Week at which the crucifixion is commemorated by a gradual extinguishing of candles: “Hail, darkness, as I walk towards you. . . .” After the darkness of betrayal, suffering, and death, Christ brings redemption connoted by the light of Easter morning. In Henham’s novel, darkness becomes an anthropomorphic horror: a spider in an all-but-haunted house mirrors a fantasy love that, unrequited, exacerbates the vengeance of a dangerously egocentric madman. The ordinary spider in the garden is described by the mad uncle as “the largest I have seen for a long time. His great body is covered thickly with long hairs. Then there is the cross. You cannot help seeing it. It is a white cross, and very distinct.” Henham here is thinking of the common garden “diadem” or “cross spider” (Araneus diadematus) with five or more large white dots in the shape of a cross. But by the end of the narrative it has become an infernal apotheosis the size of a bear with a human face, the dark double of the narrator and also a diabolous ex machina, Lucifer himself as the anti-Christ.[1]

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