Read The Episodes of Vathek by William Beckford Free Online
Book Title: The Episodes of Vathek|
The author of the book: William Beckford
Edition: Hippocrene Books
Date of issue: October 1st 1995
ISBN 13: 9781873982617
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 22.38 MB
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Reader ratings: 7.3
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This book actually consists of material William Beckford wrote for inclusion in VATHEK (which I reviewed in Three Gothic Novels: The Castle of Otranto, Vathek, The Vampyre, and a Fragment of a Novel) (you can even tell at which point, late in the novel, it would have been inserted). But this never happened (for a number of reasons) and while scholars knew these "episodes" were written, they were deemed lost for quite a while, until found and eventually published in 1912.
Some argument could be made as to why they were "lost". All the stories concern tales narrated to Vathek as he awaits judgment in Hell, told by sinners to explicate how they ended up there. So the contents are almost necessarily tales of unseemly behavior and great perversion (within the framework of what could be gotten away with when they were written, of course). So, for example, the first episode, "The Story of Prince Alasi and the Princess Firouzkah", is stunningly obvious as a coded tale of homosexual love. Prince Ali promises a fleeing regent that he will look after the young prince of a neighboring kingdom and raise him as the child of a simple farm-boy. Ali almost instantly finds that "Prince" Firouzkah is exactly the soul-mate and boon companion he's been mooning for, a friend he loves dearly. But Firouzkah is one of those figures that literature, especially coded homosexual literature, is replete with: a beautiful but cruel creature who has no morals and no compunctions about indulging his every whim, manipulating all around him. The narrative "saves" Ali from any dubious interpretations of his friendship when Firouzkah is revealed to be a princess in disguise, but that fact only seals his fate as he follows her down the pathway to Hell.
The second, and longest story, is the complicated "The Story of Prince Barkiarokh", in which a prodigal son, who admits to being bent towards evil from birth, must fulfill his father's demands to gain a great treasure, and ends up married to a Peri (think another kind of Genie or Djinn) who then relates her own long and complicated history before she gets involved in the tale. The tale of the Peri, Homaiouna, is very entertaining on its own as she wishes to help humanity (almost like a superhero) and quickly discovers that even with magical powers at her command, teasing out the differences between good and evil in the human heart can be quite confusing. When we dovetail back into the story, Barkiarokh takes possession of his great treasure (an invisibility ring like that of famed Gyges) and proceeds to do malicious and self-interested evil while neglecting the chance to fight and regain his family's throne. He quits Homaiouna's company and sets himself up as the indulgent ruler of a kingdom he steals, causing much consternation and misery including the suicide of his new wife. Many more terrible things happen (read it and find out) including intended incestuous pedophilia, if you can believe it, before his Peri wife fixes things so he ends up in Hell. The moral seems to be that once a man indulges his simple badness, corruption quickly multiplies.
The last part is an unfinished episode, "The Story of Princess Zulkais and the Prince Kalilah" involving twins who are raised as magical superhumans but only have eyes for each other. I would like to know how it turns out....
Which is kind of funny because all of these stories turn out the same, in that you know where they are being narrated from. So really, the point of the reading is more for all the marvelous Orientalist/Arabian Nights window-dressing like opulent harems, wicked magic, satanic fakirs and lots and lots of powerful spirits like Afrits, Peris and Djinns, and they are a lot of fun, although I found Homaiouna's sub-story the most interesting, narrative wise.
Which leads to one final comment. This book is, generally, up to Dedalus' usual beautiful standards (the cover photo-montage is very striking!) but I was a bit disappointed in the introduction, which seemed a bit rushed and obtuse, failing to note interesting details like how these tales, if they had been included in VATHEK, would have made the novel a great example of that old fairy-tale standard - a story with tales within tales within tales, like The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. Or for that matter, as I noted above, how the knowledge of their point of origin (narrative wise) casts a sad spell over any good events that transpire, as we know things will eventually go badly, giving an almost sour, decadent cast to the proceedings, as all venality leads to the arms of Eblis. Finally, it would have been nice to include a note that Clark Ashton Smith, famous master of the weird tale, completed the unfinished third episode himself (which I have yet to read, but will trace down). But still, a very nice collection and, in a way, I enjoyed it more than its nested source VATHEK (or at least the mid-portion, which dragged a bit).
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Read information about the authorWilliam Thomas Beckford was an English novelist, a profligate and consummately knowledgeable art collector and patron of works of decorative art, a critic, travel writer and sometime politician, reputed at one stage in his life to be the richest commoner in England. His parents were William Beckford and Maria Hamilton, daughter of the Hon. George Hamilton. He was Member of Parliament for Wells from 1784 to 1790, for Hindon from 1790 to 1795 and 1806 to 1820.
He is remembered as the author of the Gothic novel Vathek (1786), the builder of the remarkable lost Fonthill Abbey and Lansdown Tower ("Beckford's Tower"), Bath, and especially for his art collection.
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