Literature / Vathek

Vathek (alternatively titled Vathek, an Arabian Tale or The History of the Caliph Vathek) is a Gothic Horror novel written by William Beckford. It was composed in French beginning in 1782, and then published in 1786 without Beckford's name as An Arabian Tale, From an Unpublished Manuscript, claiming to be translated directly from Arabic. (this was in fact an English translation by Reverend Samuel Henley). The novel chronicles the fall from power of the Caliph Vathek (a fictionalized version of the historical Al-Wathiq), who renounces Islam and engages with his mother, Carathis, in a series of licentious and deplorable activities designed to gain him supernatural powers.

As a public domain work, it can be found at Project Gutenberg.

This story provides examples of:

  • Deadly Gaze: Vathek has one.
    ... when he was angry one of his eyes became so terrible that no person could bear to behold it, and the wretch upon whom it was fixed instantly fell backward, and sometimes expired.
  • Dumb Is Good: Or maybe Overreaching Intelligence is Evil:
    Such shall be the chastisement of that blind curiosity, which would transgress those bounds that the wisdom of the Creator has prescribed to human knowledge; and such the dreadful disappointment of that restless ambition, which, aiming at discoveries reserved for beings of a supernatural order, perceives not, through its infatuated pride, that the condition of man upon earth is to be— humble and ignorant.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Averted; Bababalouk is at worst a Punch Clock Villain whose badness is mainly in working for someone like Vathek.
  • Faking the Dead: Fakreddin, Noureddin's father, does this with her and Gulchenrouz in an attempt to keep Vathek away from her. It doesn't work.
  • Hell: Vathek, Noureddin, and Carathis end up there (called "The Palace of Subterranean Fire" in the story) in their quest for power. Has a fire and brimstone aspect in that the hearts of sinners are consumed with the flames of their sins such that it shines through their bodies.
  • Human Sacrifice: Vathek goes so far as to sacrifice fifty children to an evil genie. They are saved by a Genie ex Machina.
  • Our Genies Are Different: Some are evil, but some are devout Muslims and try to save Vathek from himself.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Vathek rips this idea down and dances on it, particularly by stealing away his host's daughter in defiance of her arranged marriage.
  • Satan: Going by the name of Eblis here.
  • Shown Their Work: Vathek is capped off by an extensive series of endnotes. Some of which have footnotes.note