Review: Gothic Classics, featuring Northanger Abbey and The Mysteries of Udolpho


Gothic Classics Vol. 14 “And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as ‘what one reads about’ may produce? — Have you a stout heart? Nerves fit for sliding pannels and tapestry?”

— Northanger Abbey’s Henry Tilney, who knows how to tell a great ghost story, among his other talents

If you’re in the mood for a quick read but crave something more substantial than brain candy, the Graphic Classics series is a perfect fit:

Graphic Classics is a series of books presenting great fiction in comics and illustration for contemporary readers ages 12 to adult. Each volume features the works of the world’s greatest authors, illustrated by some of the best artists working today in the fields of comics, illustration and fine arts. (from the Graphic Classics website)

Gothic Classics, volume 14 in the series, whets the appetite with a suprising little amuse-bouche from Jane Austen (which I’ll leave for the reader to discover), then serves up the darkly delectable Carmilla, J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic 1872 novella and a must-read for anybody serious about literary and cinematic vampires.

Next is Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. As the £500 gorilla of Gothicism, any adapter would find it a challenge to do justice to this hefty tome without overwhelming the rest of the volume. I’m happy to report this is a fine condensation, capturing the imagery and suspense of the original novel in an approachable and very entertaining read. Udolpho especially translates well into a graphic novel because the sensational genre lends itself to classic comic-style sound effects and visuals. I highly recommend this adaptation to Udolpho newcomers and fans alike.

Time for a sorbet to clear the palate, provided by one of Edgar Allan Poe’s shortest short stories: The Oval Portrait. Not only does Poe allude to Mrs. Radcliffe and Udolpho, but this chilling little tale about an obsessed artist shows the danger of substituting art for reality. A fitting prelude to the next story …

And Northanger Abbey is delightful. Catherine, our unlikely heroine, does not disappoint. Anne Timmons’ illustrations are adorable; Catherine’s sweet, animated expressions are as irresistible as one imagines from the novel. As this retelling is set alongside Udolpho, it’s fun to flip between the two stories, comparing Catherine with Emily and observing how Jane Austen artfully manipulates Gothic elements to great effect. One tiny quibble: there is not much Henry in this adaptation, but his few scenes show off his humor and character to its best advantage. This is a charming version of Northanger Abbey which even Henry would have to admit is “nicely done”.

The volume closes with another surprise: the bittersweet At the Gate by Myla Jo Closser. This tender little ghost story nicely balances out the creepy “beyond the grave” motifs in the tales which precede it. The prepared reader may wish to have a box of tissues nearby in case some dust gets in the eyes while reading, because Janeites and their shriveled hearts of tar do not cry at silly little ghost doggy stories, no indeed.

Gothic Classics delivers a fine set of illustrated adaptations. Each classic work has been charmingly brought to life while preserving the spirit of its source. As a whole, the collection of stories is satisfying and memorable — and at their best when read in order. Enjoy!

Gothic Classics is available directly from Graphic Classics or several bookstores.