The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 4. Tales of the occult
Lytton’s keen and credulous interest in all forms of the occult first finds expression in the short Glenallan and in Godolphin (1833). The diabolic aspects of rosicrucianism had been put to use in Godwin’s St. Leon, and in Melmoth; spectral figures of more beneficent origin loom in the semi-allegorical Zanoni (1842), developed from Zicci (1841). The rosicrucian initiate, Zanoni, yields up all he has won of youth and power for the sake of a forbidden human passion; in consequence, he falls a victim to the Terror; the book suddenly ceases to be vague and becomes dramatic when dealing with the fates of Robespierre and Henriot. Lytton’s treatment of the Terror falls in date between that of Carlyle and that of Dickens. Two works nearer to the date and manner of Wilkie Collins also make use of the supernatural; in A Strange Story (1862), a murder mystery is darkened and complicated by the power which one character possesses of suspending natural law; the short story The Haunted and the Haunters (1859) contains Lytton’s most impressive use of the occult; the machinery is explained, at the end, in the manner of Mrs. Radcliffe—by persistent will-power, a curse is preserved in a magical vessel, generations after a crime has been committed. But the effect of the tale is due less to this than to the half-impalpable loathsomeness which menances the invader of the haunted house; here, the story may challenge comparison with the Mon¸ada episode in Melmoth. For the finer chords of mystery and terror struck by Coleridge and Keats, Lytton had no ear.