Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

February 11, 2018

Ex Libris: A Selection of Books About Books

On Saturday’s Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, I talked about a selection of novels about books. It was quite a specific theme this week – I wasn’t talking about books that features writers, libraries or a general love of reading. Instead, I was interested in stories where a specific book is of interest (as a material object or as lost/forbidden content).

You can listen to the show on the player at the end of this post, but as promised here are the details of the books I featured. Let me know what you think in the comments.

The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas (2006)

This is the book that inspired today’s theme, as I finished reading Thomas’s novel a couple of days ago. The End of Mr Y tells to story of Ariel Manto, a sort-of PhD student working on thought experiments, who is researching an obscure nineteenth-century author named Thomas Lumas. Ariel is particularly interested in Lumas’s lost work (the eponymous The End of Mr Y), of which only one copy is believed to exist – and which is rumoured to be cursed. The only person Ariel knows who has read The End of Mr Y is her erstwhile PhD supervisor Saul Burlem… but he disappeared some time ago.

Thomas’s novel begins with Ariel discovering a copy of The End of Mr Y by chance, and being drawn into the strange ‘thought experiment’ of Lumas’s tome. There’s something of a story-within-a-story here, as we read (some) chapters of The End of Mr Y along with Ariel. The ‘present day’ story sees Ariel beset by antagonists keen to get hold of the book, and experimenting with the weird world of Lumas’s work.

This isn’t a huge recommendation, sadly, as I didn’t enjoy The End of Mr Y as much as I was expecting. It’s not quite as deep as it thinks it is, and after a time I got a little tired of the Philosophy 101 mini-lectures. However, I’m happy to accept I’m in the minority here (the novel was very well-received when it came out), and Thomas’s novel definitely inspired me to think more about books-about-books and stories-within-stories… which brings me on to the rest of my list…

The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (1993)

Originally published in Spanish under the title El Club Dumas (I read the English translation by Sonia Soto), The Club Dumas tells the story of book dealer Lucas Corso, who is commissioned to authenticate a previously unknown partial draft of The Three Musketeers. While researching the Dumas draft, Corso is approached by Varo Borja, who wants authentication of a very different type of book. Borja has a copy of Of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows, an occultist volume that purportedly contains instructions for summoning the devil. Three copies of Of the Nine Doors exist, but only one is believed to be genuine. Borja wants Corso to tell him which one.

As with his previous novel, Pérez-Reverte’s novel is a very bookish book. Not only is it set in the world of antiquarian book-dealing, but it contains references to all manner of literature (from the works of Alexandre Dumas and Arthur Conan Doyle, to Gone With the Wind and Watership Down). The book was adapted into a film – The Ninth Gate – in 1999, which was directed by Roman Polanski and starred Johnny Depp as Dean Corso. The film focuses on the occult plot, though, and so all references to Dumas’ work are dropped.

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James (2012)

Something a bit different now… James’s 2012 romance novel features Samantha McDonough, an American librarian on holiday in the UK, who discovers a lost letter from Jane Austen in an old book of poetry. In the letter (written to Austen’s sister Cassandra), the author makes mention of an early manuscript that she lost at Greenbriar in Devon. When she discovered that Greenbriar (a mansion house) still exists, Samantha heads off to see if she can track down the priceless missing manuscript. Of course, she discovers a lot more than this, as she meets Anthony Whitaker, the new owner of Greenbriar.

James’s novel really is a story-within-a-story, as Samantha’s burgeoning relationship with Anthony is paralleled by the story-within-a-story of The Stanhopes, Austen’s rediscovered manuscript. Inspired by Austen’s 1816 Plan of a Novel, according to Hints from Various Quarters (which was, admittedly, intended as satire), The Stanhopes is the story of Rebecca Stanhope and her impecunious father. Like a number of other readers, I found The Stanhopes to be a fairly decent imitation of an early, unedited Austen novel (not completely convincing, but engaging enough) – but at times, it did overshadow the ‘present day’ story of Samantha and Anthony. Definitely one for die-hard Janeites.

If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino (1979)

First published in Italian under the title Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore (I read the 1981 English translation by William Weaver), Calvino’s experimental novel begins in second person, present tense. ‘You’ are sitting down to read Italo Calvino’s novel If on a winter’s night a traveller. You make yourself comfortable, lost in the anticipation of your new book. You start to read…

Calvino’s book seems to begin like a story-within-a-story. The next chapter is the first chapter of a book called If on a winter’s night a traveller. But this is all that’s included, as the second and subsequent chapters are missing. ‘You’ go to the bookstore to track down a correct version of the novel, but when you start to read your new volume, what you actually get is the first chapter of an entirely different novel. Calvino’s book continues in this vein, alternating between the first chapters of ten entirely different novels and a second-person narrative about ‘your’ increasingly desperate attempts to find at least one complete book to read.

If this sounds confusing, it really isn’t. Calvino – a member of Oulipo – has created a book about books that makes complete sense. It’s a very different way of constructing narrative, which builds to an unexpectedly satisfying ending.

Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine (1993)

I have to admit that this next title is one of my favourite books ever, so I’m sorry if I sounded a bit gushing on the show! The Asta’s Book of the novel’s title is the diary of a Danish woman who moves to East London with her husband in 1905. Asta keeps her diary (which is brutally honest and wonderfully acerbic) for over sixty years. After her death, her daughter Swanny has the diaries published, and they become something of a literary sensation.

Asta’s diaries are the story-within-the-story. The ‘present day’ story has Asta’s granddaughter Ann as its protagonist. After Swanny’s death, Ann inherits the diaries (and other effects from her grandmother). She’s contacted by an old (ex-)friend, who is working on a documentary about an unsolved murder, which Asta had made brief mention of in the diaries. Encouraged by her friend’s curiosity – and some unresolved questions about her own family – Ann decides to delve a bit deeper into Asta’s Book, wondering for the first time what her grandmother didn’t write down.

Asta’s Book is a beautifully rich and detailed story, told through the alternating stories of Ann (and her memories of her grandmother and aunt) and Asta’s own narration. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone. A lot.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (2014)

And I ended the show on another strong recommendation. The Silkworm is the second of the Cormoran Strike novels by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), and I think it’s my favourite of the three published so far.

Galbraith’s private investigator Strike is approached by Leonara Quine, who is concerned about the disappearance of her husband Owen. Owen Quine was once an enfant terrible of the literary world, though his output has been less impressive of late. His disappearance coincided with the leak of an unpublished manuscript entitled Bombyx Mori (named for a type of silkworm that is boiled alive in its own cocoon in order to extract its silk). While not strictly a story-within-a-story, we get enough detail of Bombyx Mori to realise that this book – considered unpublishable by the London literary scene – was intended to be an excoriating satire of the people in Quine’s intimate circle. Naturally, the people featured in Quine’s book are the prime suspects in… whatever has happened to him.

The Silkworm is a real page-turner, full of larger than life characters and with a compelling little puzzle at its heart. The first two of Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike novels were adapted for TV in 2017 as Strike, starring Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger.

To hear more about all of these books and my reasons for choosing them, you can listen to the show again here:

February 11, 2018

Performers Wanted for Live Poetry Special

Want to perform your poetry on the radio?

On Saturday 17th March, Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM will be hosting a live poetry special. I’d like to invite poets and spoken word performers to come along and perform their work on the show.

The Hannah’s Bookshelf Live Poetry Special will be going out live from the studio in Harpurhey, North Manchester at 2-4pm. It will be broadcast on 106.6FM (in the North Manchester area) and online (for the rest of the world). Performance slots are 6 minutes long.

Whether you’re a veteran performer or new to reading your work, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line via the Contact page, tweet me or message me on Facebook if you’d like to perform. Slots will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

February 6, 2018

North Manchester FM: A Helping of History, Tuesday 6 February, 12-2pm

Join me on Tuesday at 12 for another Helping of History on North Manchester FM. This week, I’ll be talking about possibly one of the best known and significant dynasties in our local history, when we Meet the Asshetons!

As always, I’ll also be reading Yesterday’s Papers, and you can pit your wits against the Who Am I? quiz – just how well do you know North Manchester’s landmark buildings?

Tune in on Tuesday at 12 on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here:

January 29, 2018

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 3 February, 2-4pm

Tune in on Saturday at 2pm for Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. This week, my guest will be the wonderful Catherine Lundoff.

Catherine lives in Minneapolis with her wife and the two cats that own them. She is an award-winning writer and editor whose stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in such venues as Respectable Horror, My Wandering Uterus, The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty, Renewal, The Cainite Conspiracies: A Vampire the Masquerade V20 Anthology and Nightmare Magazine: Queers Destroy Horror. Her recent books include Silver Moon and Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories. Catherine is also the publisher at Queen of Swords Press, a new genre fiction publisher of tales from out of this world. When not writing or working on Queen of Swords, Catherine is a professional computer geek who enjoys science fiction and fantasy, good books and local theatre.

I’ll be chatting to Catherine about Queen of Swords, werewolves and all things speculative fiction. And, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for this week’s Apocalypse Books.

Catch the show on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here:

January 29, 2018

North Manchester FM: A Helping of History, Tuesday 30 January, 12-2pm

Join me on Tuesday at 12 for another Helping of History on North Manchester FM. This week, our story takes in Hollinwood and Harpurhey (and a little further afield), as I’m going to be talking about Hannah Beswick, also known as the Manchester Mummy. Find out about Hannah’s life, death and afterlife on this week’s show.

As always, I’ll also be reading Yesterday’s Papers. And you can pit your wits against the Who Am I? quiz – just how well do you know North Manchester’s landmark buildings?

Tune in on Tuesday at 12 on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here:

January 23, 2018

North Manchester FM: A Helping of History, Tuesday 23 January, 12-2pm

Tune in to North Manchester FM on Tuesday at 12 for another Helping of History. This week I’m going to be talking about Tinker’s Gardens – North Manchester’s once-famous pleasure gardens. So there’ll be plenty of talk of hot air balloons, dancing and cucumbers on this week’s show!

And, as always, I’ll be reading Yesterday’s Papers, and you can pit your wits against the Who Am I? quiz – just how well do you know North Manchester’s landmark buildings?

Catch the show at 12 on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield.

Missed the show? You can listen again here:

January 21, 2018

I’ll Be There For You: Some of my Favourite Literary Friendships

This week’s episode of Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM was all about some of my favourite books about friends and friendship. You can listen to the show on the player below but, as promised, here are the details of the books I talked about on Saturday’s show.

Beaches by Iris Rainer Dart (1985)

Probably more familiar to most people from the 1988 film adaptation starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, Dart’s 1985 novel tells the story of the lifelong friendship between Cee Cee Bloom and Bertie White (renamed Hillary Whitney in the film). The two meet when they’re kids in Atlantic City and promise to keep in touch. Despite falling out for a time, the two women always come back to each other in times of crisis – proving that a BF really is F.

I included Beaches on my list today because it’s such an iconic story of female friendship, not because it’s one of my favourite books. To be honest, this is probably one case where the film is a little bit better than the book (or, at least, it’s a good idea to see the film before you read the book). The novel’s characters are not quite as likeable than their film counterparts, and it’s just that little bit harder to imagine why they’ve been friends for so long. Plus, it really adds to the book if you can imagine Cee Cee Bloom belting out her songs in Bette Midler’s voice!

It by Stephen King (1986)

No list of literary friends would be complete without King’s 1986 novel about the power of friendship (though, admittedly, it’s more often considered to be a book about ancient monsters and terrifying clowns). The story is split across two timeframes. In the late 1950s, children the town of Derry (in Maine) are terrorized by a creature they name ‘It’, which manifests as each child’s worst fear. Ben, Eddie, Bill, Richie, Stan and Bev – joined later by Mike – band together as the Losers Club to understand, and hopefully defeat, the monster that stalks them, despite the fact that the monster seems to have gone forgotten and unnoticed by the town’s adults. In the 1980s, Mike (the only member of the Losers Club to stay in his home town) suspects that It has returned to Derry, and he calls up his old friends to remind them of what they did in their childhood – and ask them to do it again.

It has seen two high-profile adaptations since its publication. The 1990 TV adaptation cemented the figure of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (one of It’s most memorable manifestations) in the popular imagination, thanks to Tim Curry’s terrifying portrayal. In 2017, the first of a two-part cinematic adaptation hit the big screen. In this version – directed by Andy Muschietti – the timeframes have been separated and moved closer to the present. Part 1 is set in the 1980s and focuses on the childhood of the Losers Club. In many ways, this adaptation really emphasizes the theme of friendship in King’s work. But, for many King fans this didn’t really need any emphasis, as friendship and its enduring legacy is a theme that crops up a lot in his work.

The Dead Letter Box by Jan Mark (1982)

As a lot of the books that have friendship as a theme are aimed at children and young adults, I thought it would be appropriate to include a kid’s book on my list. And what would be better than my favourite book about friendship from my own childhood? Mark’s novel has always had a very special place in my heart, because I read it at a time when I was in a similar situation to the main character.

The Dead Letter Box is about Louie and her best friend Glenda. When Glenda moves away, Louie hits on an imaginative way for them to keep in touch – they’ll write each other letters and leave them in a book in the local library (their very own ‘dead letter box’). It’ll be their secret, and a very special way to keep in touch with each other. But, sadly, Louie has to deal with the fact that sometimes BFs are not F, as the number of letters she receives begins to dwindle… but maybe there’s something new around the corner… This is a lovely novel about dealing with change, moving on, and finding a new best friend.

A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine (1987)

The next book on my list is more about the potential for friendships to turn toxic… but I guess you could still say the characters in Vine’s novel are best friends for a time. The book begins with the new owners of Wyvis Hall, an old manor house in Suffolk, deciding to bury their pet dog in an old animal cemetery they’ve discovered in the grounds. To their horror, this unearths the remains of a woman and child. As news of the discovery hits the press, three people are forced to confront memories they’d been trying to repress.

Much of the book is told in flashbacks to the summer of 1976, when a young man named Adam Verne-Smith inherited Wyvis Hall and decided to turn it into a sort of commune. As Adam remembers that summer – and the friends with which he shared it – the truth about the skeletons in the cemetery starts to come to light. As well as being a gripping thriller, A Fatal Inversion is a great story about the claustrophobia of friendship, and the simmering tensions that can lie beneath the surface.

In the Woods by Tana French (2007)

This week’s show was partly inspired by the book I was reading, Broken Harbour by Tana French, a police procedural thriller with a psychological (almost Gothic) flavour. Like several of French’s other books, Broken Harbour weaves friendships and their legacy through the story of a murder investigation. The clearest example of this is found in her award-winning debut novel, In the Woods.

Twenty-two years before the events of the novel, three best friends – Adam, Peter and Jamie – went into the woods, but didn’t come back. Adam was eventually found, with blood on his clothes and scratchmarks on his skin, but he couldn’t remember anything that had happened. Peter and Jamie were never found. Now, the body of a 12-year-old girl has been found in the same woods, and Adam (now a Murder Squad detective who goes by his middle name Rob) is sent to investigate. Rob works with his partner Cassie Maddox and another detective Sam O’Neill, but their investigation is constantly haunted by the secrets of Rob’s past. In the Woods is an absolute page-turner, and one of those books that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. French has followed up her debut with a series of novels featuring other detectives from the fictional Dublin Murder Squad: The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbour, The Secret Place and The Trespasser.

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1955)

Okay… maybe this is an unusual choice for a list of literary friendships, but I’m still going to argue it’s about two men who are BFFs – with heavy emphasis on the second F. After all, haven’t we all got that one friend who we’re just tied to through some quirk of history that we can’t quite remember?

The English language version of Beckett’s play premiered in 1955. It was his own translation of his French work En attendant Godot, which premiered in Paris in 1953. The play begins with two men – Vladimir and Estragon (who call each other by the nicknames Didi and Gogo) – waiting for Godot. It ends like that as well. Who Godot is, and why they’re waiting for his arrival, is never explained. They just know they have to wait for him.

Included by critic Martin Esslin in his work on ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, Beckett’s play is a work that has encouraged numerous interpretations – and defied them all. It’s a play about the absurdity of existence, the futility of language, the pointlessness of the human condition. And it’s also a play about two friends, hanging around, waiting for something to happen.

To find out more about all of these books, and about my reasons for choosing them, you can listen to the show here:

January 16, 2018

North Manchester FM: A Helping of History, Tuesday 16 January, 12-2pm

Tune in to North Manchester FM on Tuesday at 12 for another Helping of History. This week, I’m going to be talking about the strange case of the century-long feud that was eventually solved by a magician! I’ll be talking about Theale Moor, an area of land on the borders of Moston, Middleton, Chadderton and Hollinwood… and about the violent dispute that once raged over it (and the intervention of a very colourful character from Manchester’s history).

As always, I’ll be taking a look at Yesterday’s Papers. And you can pit your wits against the Who Am I? quiz – just how well do you know North Manchester’s iconic buildings?

Catch the show on Tuesday at 12 on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here:

January 14, 2018

Frankenstein and Friends: A Selection of Books From 1818

The 1st January 2018 saw the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. For my first Hannah’s Bookshelf (on North Manchester FM) of the year, I thought it would be good to mark this anniversary by looking at some of the other books that were also published in 1818. What did the literary world look like when Frankenstein burst onto the scene? You can listen to the show on the player at the end of this post, but (as promised) here are the details of the books I talked about…

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Obviously, the first book I talked about on the show was Frankenstein. Shelley’s first novel was published anonymously in January 1818 by Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor and Jones, in 3 volumes. However, many people who have read a modern paperback edition of Frankenstein will not actually have read the originally published version. Shelley revised the novel in 1831 for a ‘popular edition’, and it is this text that is used for many of the mainstream editions available today. The 1818 version is available though, and some scholarly edition include interesting and informative comparisons between the two texts.

Given this year’s anniversary, there are lots of people talking about Frankenstein at the moment, so I don’t really feel there’s much more I can add to that conversation. What interests me today is the rest of the literary landscape of 1818. It’s widely acknowledged (nowadays, at least) that Frankenstein was a groundbreaking novel, so it’s fascinating to look at what other novels first hit the shelves that year…

Gothic Novels

The first wave of ‘Gothic’ fiction came towards the end of the eighteenth century. By 1818, it was a mainstay of ‘popular’ fiction, with some presses (like the Minerva Press) specializing in the sentimental (and sometimes supernatural) stories that readers were still lapping up. Many of the authors of ‘Gothic’ novels (though they weren’t known by this name at the time – they were more commonly called ‘romances’) were women, and it seems that many readers were too. In many ways, Frankenstein was an antidote to these Gothic fictions – it is a bold new type of ‘women’s writing’, which substitutes melodrama with philosophy and science – but that doesn’t mean the romances had gone away. 1818 saw the publication of a number of popular novels by women (though not necessarily ones that have survived the test of time), including: Selina Davenport’s An Angel’s Form and a Devil’s Heart; Ann Hatton’s Secrets in Every Mansion; Mary Meek’s The Veiled Protectress; and Louisa Stanhope’s The Bandit’s Bride and The Nun of Santa Maria di Tindaro.

But the proliferation of Gothic fiction in the preceding decades had got on a few people’s nerves. 1818 was a bumper year for critiques and satires of the Gothic. The best known of these today is undoubtedly Jane Austen’s posthumously published Northanger Abbey, but also interesting is Patrick Brontë’s (yes, the father of Charlotte, Emily and Anne!) moralizing corrective The Maid of Killarney – a short novel that manages to combine a sentimental adventure plot with heavy-handed criticisms of Catholic emancipation, Irish Home Rule and women’s education!

Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock

As well as the raft of Gothic fictions, 1818’s literary landscape was dominated by the Romantic poets. And, of course, this dominance was also satirized. Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey mocks some of the concerns of Gothic novels, but it is a much more pointed lampooning of the Romantics and their circle. Peacock, who was friends with Percy Shelley (but not a big fan of Lord Byron’s work), wrote Nightmare Abbey as a (kind of) affectionate satire of the pretensions and posturings of the Romantic movement. The novel focuses on Christopher Glowry, a misanthrope who lives with his son Scythrop at the eponymous abbey. The plot – mostly set in motion by Scythrop’s desire to heal a broken heart – is convoluted, overblown and downright ridiculous in places, managing to work in the Illuminati, German Romantic literature and mermaids. But it’s the characters that have been of most interest to literary scholars.

It is quite clear that Scythrop is a satirical portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Of the visitors to Nightmare Abbey, Mr Flosky is based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Mr Cypress is Lord Byron. However, it is a little trickier to pin down the inspirations for the female characters (partly due to the complicated web of relationships enjoyed by the Romantic poets, and partly due to the fact that not all the details of early-nineteenth-century ‘celebrity’ relationships are well-known now). It is possible that Marionetta, one of Scythrop’s love interests, is based on Harriet Westbrook. Does this mean that the earnest and intense Stella is a portrait of Mary Shelley? Or could Peacock have had another woman in mind when he wrote this character?

The Heart of Midlothian by Walter Scott

The Heart of Midlothian is the seventh of Scott’s Waverley novels, and it was originally published in four volume as Tales of my Landlord. The author/editor, as with most of the Waverley novels, was given as ‘Jedediah Cleishbotham, Schoolmaster and Parish-Clerk of Gandercleugh’. The Waverley novels aren’t a series as such, but, as the author was anonymous/pseudonymous, they acquired the overarching name of the first novel due to the fact that subsequent novels were ‘by the author of Waverley‘.

The Heart of Midlothian tells the story of Jeanie Deans, a young woman who travels from Edinburgh to London on foot, seeking an audience with the queen to get a pardon for her sister Effie. As with many of the Waverley novels, there is a historical background to the fiction. In this case, it is the 1736 Porteous riots, which took place after the execution of two smugglers at the Old Tolbooth prison (from which the novel takes its name). Scott claimed to have based the character of Jeanie Deans on a real woman, who made the long journey to save her sister’s life.

The History of the Fairchild Family by Mary Martha Sherwood

The first volume of Sherwood’s Fairchild Family children’s fiction was published in 1818, with  subsequent volumes appearing in 1842 and 1847. The book follows the moral education of the Fairchild children – Emily, Lucy and Henry – by their parents. But be warned: this is not children’s literature as we’ve come to know it! The children learn about their ‘moral depravity’ (due to Original Sin) and about earthly morality through a series of lesson-like stories, including the deaths of two of their neighbours. When Charles Trueman and Augusta Noble die, the children learn about the need to prepare themselves for salvation – Charles is saved, but Augusta horrifically (and literally) burns. Also of note is a story in which the children are taken to see a rotting corpse on a gibbet in order to learn about the perils of sibling rivalry.

Sherwood’s book has little of the innocence of childhood so worshipped by the Victorians. Instead, the books are Evangelical Christianity taught through domestic tales, rather than preached through allegory. Later editions of the book would revise this approach, replacing ‘moral depravity’ with ‘naughtiness’. Sherwood’s own approach also softened somewhat in the later volumes, with the lessons of the 1842 and 1847 volumes featuring notably fewer rotting and burning bodies!

Dictionnaire Infernal by Collin de Plancy

And finally for today’s list, a work of ostensibly non-fiction… Collin de Plancy was a French occultist and demonologist whose Infernal Dictionary describes and categorizes demons and their hierarchies. de Plancy intended his work to take an encyclopedic approach, rather than offering a poetic description of Hell and its torments. He attempted to imbue his subject with rationalism, but traces of religious faith and superstition can be discerned.

The Dictionnaire Infernal doesn’t offer anything controversial (or, indeed, original) to the field of demonology. Many of the 65 categories/names of demons listed by de Plancy will be familiar: Belzebuth, Mammon, Lamia, Lucifer, Behemoth, Astaroth… and Leonard. While the book was first published in 1818, it is perhaps the 1863 edition that was most influential, as it included illustrations that became well-known and reproduced.

de Plancy’s claim that he wanted to leave the descriptions of Hell to the poets undoubtedly reminds us of the most famous of these poetic descriptions: John Milton’s Paradise Lost. And, given the repeated references and echoes of Milton’s work in Shelley’s novel, that brings us full circle back to Frankenstein!

To find out more about these books, and about my reasons for choosing them, you can listen to the show here:

January 9, 2018

North Manchester FM: A Helping of History, Tuesday 9 January, 12-2pm

Tune in on Tuesday at 12 for another Helping of History on North Manchester FM.

On this week’s show, I’ll be talking about another North Manchester luminary – and an unexpected (and topical) literary connection. What links gas-lights, Cheetham Hill and Frankenstein? You’ll have to tune in to find out!

As always, I’ll also be reading Yesterday’s Papers. And you can pit your wits against the Who Am I? quiz – just how well do you know North Manchester’s landmark buildings?

Catch the show on Tuesday at 12 on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here: