Today I read the second story in my anthology The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales, edited by Chris Baldick, called The Prisoner of Montremos by Richard Cumberland; 1791. And dude, this starts out with a BANG. Right here, in the very first sentence, we have INCEST. That’s right, incest. Or rather, the accusation thereof. Don Juan, by all accounts practically a pillar of society, has been accused of incest! And is brought to trial for the poisoning his half-sister Josepha whilst she was PREGGERS with his CHILD.
Don Juan is Portuguese and lives all by himselfs in a spooky castle. Everyone seems to think he’s the evil stuffs, even though he makes all kinds of contributions to charity. Only his on private confessor bothers to thank him for all the good stuffs he does. How sad!
So when the “good men” come to take Mr. Don Juan away for inquests, he goes willingly. For he is innocent!! He says it wasn’t really incest because, tada! He is not Josepha’s brother! He loved her! They were to be marrieds! Yes, Josepha’s parents pretty much adopted him and raised him up from a infant. He never thought of her as his sister, they were not raised that way. Yes he did give her that medicine and yes, he knew there was poisonings in it, but neither he, the apothecary nor Josepha put it in there. No he will not tell, go ahead and torture him, HE WILL NOT TELL. He gave his deathbed promises.
From here it descends into a Gothic mash-up of melancholy revelations, fantastical deathbed confessions and sensational deaths, betrayals and whatnot. At first, I was all, what is so GOTHIC about this? Where is the supernatural stuffs? No ghosts! No dark and stormy nights! But when I went back to the introduction and reexamined, just what makes Gothic GOTHIC and why the heck The Prisoner of Montremos is included, Baldick explains his choices thusly:
“In my choice of tales for this collection, I have set out to present not only the best and most striking characteristic of shorter Gothic works but at the same time some sort of evolutionary sequence through whcih the reader can trace developments across more than two hundred years of this tradition.”
And, even though The Prisoner has to supernatural tendencies, I can see where it was 1) sensational for its time (Dude, accusations of incest in 1791 were bound to not be taking lightly!) and 2) therefore important to the genre. The Prisoner of Montremos, while perhaps not the best written thing ever, was highly enjoyable. If you would perhaps like to take a gander of it yourself, you can read The Prisoner of Montremos here. It’s only 4 pages long!