Vathek – William Beckford

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Oxford University Press – 1983 (Originally published in 1786)

This Gothic classic is the story of the Caliph Vathek and his series of poor life choices. Vathek is led astray by an evil giaour’s promises of more wealth and power. (‘Giaour’ is old Turkish slang for a non-Muslim. The reader pretty soon realises that the Giaour in question is actually some kind of evil spirit.) This is basically an 18th century English writer’s attempt to write an Islamic version of the Faust legend. Ahhhh, remember the good old days when appropriating culture was still considered a bit of a laugh?

Beckford was only 21 when he wrote Vathek, and he claimed it only took 3 days to complete. The story itself is quite good, but the characters are rather flat, and I think that it would have benefited from some development. Beckford later wrote the Episodes of Vathek (not included in this edition), which are additions to this text, but as far as I understand, they are side stories about very minor characters and don’t add anything to the central plot.

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Vathek and the Giaour

You can pick up a copy of Vathek for dirt cheap, or download the audiobook for free.  As far Gothic classics go, this closer in its scope to The Castle of Otranto than Melmoth the Wanderer; it’s worth a read, but don’t expect too much.

Word on the street is that William Beckford was a shrub rocketeer.

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Vathek – William Beckford

3 thoughts on “Vathek – William Beckford

  1. Gene Ellena Bertram says:

    I’ve been fascinated with Beckford for many years, largely for his folly of a house Fonthill abbey, but I finally read Vathek last year. It’s very interesting and I liked the descriptions of the “hell” as the end of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. BBC did a great documentary series about a year ago on Gothic art, lit and architecture, and there was an interesting section on Beckford. It used to be on youtube, but I can’t find it now. If you get a chance, you should definitely check it out!

      Like

      1. Gene Ellena Bertram says:

        Oh, yes, I saw it and enjoyed it very much. I especially liked the dramatic readings they did from each of the novels they discussed.

        Like

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