To further explore my studies into 19th century supernatural fiction and Victorian culture in general, I read The Witch of Prague & Other Stories by F. Marion Crawford.
This work is essentially divided into two parts. The first, taking up the first third of the book, is made up of eight wonderful short stories. The second, taking up the remainder, is the novel The Witch of Prague. Published in 2008 by Wordsworth Editions, The Witch of Prague & Other Stories is part of the Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural series. A fine series of reprints which I whole-heartedly endorse.
Crawford, an American, was a highly prolific author from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He wrote in a variety of genres including historical fiction, drama and nonfiction. While his supernatural and weird fiction only make up a small part of his corpus, it has had a lasting impact on the genre. Indeed, if Crawford is remembered today at all, it is for his weird tales. The eight short stories included here are all of the supernatural genre. For the most part, they were published in the early years of the 20th century, well before the outbreak of World War I. The novel The Witch of Prague was originally published in 1891.
An earlier edition of The Witch of Prague was published in 1974 under Dennis Wheatley's Library of the Occult series.
In its introduction, Wheatley referred to The Witch of Prague as "...another classic of occult fiction." I can't say that I remember ever reading anything designated as a work of occult fiction before. Really, I don't know what "occult fiction" even is!
So, to me, this definition implies that "occult fiction" is more a subset of supernatural or weird fiction where the supernatural or weird element is gained through knowledge or talent by some other agency.
The interactions of the five principal characters; the Wanderer, Unorna (the Witch), Keyork Arabian, Beatrice, and Israel Kafka, make up the entirety of the novel. The different characters serving as mouthpieces for the author to expound on his varied philosophical beliefs concerning life, love, and death. These expositions and numerous internal dialogues reflect on the new idea of the mental sciences and in particular that new wonder of science called hypnotism.
I will not offer a summarization of this novel. Other reviewers have supplied such and their information will be found in the References section at the end of this essay. However, in my opinion, it is enough to say that this entire work can be reduced to the phrase "Love will have its sacrifices" ala Le Fanu's Carmilla.
Additionally, in the several reviews of this work that I have perused, each bemoan the long internal expositions that the characters ponder. These reviewers state that a good deal of harsh editing would have made this passable novel into a better short story. From our modern perspective that may be true. However, this work is a product of its time, 1891. The approach to science and mental powers expressed in this novel were relatively new ideas to the general public, necessitating a detailed presentation of the salient arguments. Further, attempting to hold something written over 120 years ago to our modern literary sensibilities does no justice to the original work or our ability to understand and appreciate it.
Crawford, F. Marion. The Witch of Prague & Other Stories. Wordsworth Editions: Hertfordshire, 2008.
Necromania. "The Witch of Prague & Other Stories." 26 April 2010.
Vintage Pop Fictions. "F. Marion Crawford's The Witch of Prague". 11 Feb 2014.
Wheatley, Dennis. "Introduction to The Witch of Prague", 1974.
Wikipedia, "Francis Marion Crawford."