While this work does not exactly date from the Victorian era, at least it is from the early Edwardian. I stumbled upon it quite by accident, as well as other very interesting works by Black Heath Editions, presented solely in kindle format on Amazon.com.
I am so pleased I did. I will reap many happy rewards from this discovery.
"I've got it! At least it fits in with all the details we've found. She must have been of royal blood; for in that fourth picture she's with the man with the black beard, who has the symbol of royalty, and she's nearly as large as he. In this first scene she's making love to this duck in the white skirt, who is very much smaller, to show he's a mere man. He's coy, and has his hands before his face. I suppose that means he does not want to come into the game. Those three other fellows, who are lying on their backs over here, must have been three chaps who did not come to any good end by her. They all have their hands over their faces, you see; same position as the leading man. I guess she was a pretty strenuous lady, judging from these next two pictures. My word, they are frank, aren't they? In the fourth picture the king is reprimanding her for her ways, and she's got her back to him. On this wall, she's evidently being tried for her sins, and the king is pronouncing sentence. And here—hi! look at this—they're walling her up in this very tomb, alive. Here they're dragging her along that passage outside, with the tomb open and ready; and in this last one, the king is putting in a stone. There's the lamp standing on the stone block, with a slave doing something to it." He drew a long breath. "Well! by George! But why did they shut her up alive? Why didn't they poison her or cut her head off, or something that way?"
In the Dwellings of the Wilderness is the first novel of C. Bryson Taylor and was originally published by Henry Holt and Company in New York City in 1904.
The edition under consideration here was published by Black Heath Editions in 2014. Black Heath Editions republishes lesser known works from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for incredibly reasonable prices.
Charlotte Bryson Taylor was born in Washington D. C. on 7 March 1880, the daughter of a U.S. Navy admiral. Charlotte was very well educated and by the time she was twenty-years old, her writing appeared regularly in newspapers and magazines. As with Riddell (link), Charlotte had to deal with ingrained opposition to women earning a living. She signed her works "C. Bryson Taylor." It is assumed this was done to conceal her gender.
A few years after publishing her second novel, Nicanor: Teller of Tales in 1906, (which was less well received) and suffering from several personal tragedies, Charlotte left the publishing world. She died in June 1936 in New York City.
In brief, this tale is set in Egypt where several American archaeologists and their group of native workers discover a lost pharaonic tomb. Quite by accident, they uncover and manage to enter a secret chamber where entombed inside lay the body of a royal lady. This entombed woman was not a mummified corpse in the traditional sense. The body was not prepared nor embalmed. The body was not bandaged nor placed in a sarcophagus. Nothing resembling the iconic image of the mummy was present. The creature here is the victim of intentional entombment while yet alive and natural mummification due to environmental factors.
On the walls of the tomb is carved the tale of this woman. Her entombment was punishment for her craven deeds. One explorer is trapped alone for a short time in the tomb and sees (or imagines he sees) the desiccated mummy reforming into a beautiful woman and tempting him.
The creature in this story does not resemble a mummy in the more common and popular sense, it is more like a ghoul. In Arabic lore, the ghoul or "ghul," whose source lay in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, was said to have "lured lustful men to their doom by taking the guise of beautiful women."i This is exactly how the creature, the re-animated corpse in this tale, hunted her prey; luring various men (archaeologists and native workers alike) away to their doom.
Middle Eastern lore is rich and possesses a long, long tradition in myth and folklore of undead creatures. A singular example of the depth of Middle Eastern myth as it relates to the undead can be found in a passage from the four-thousand-year-old tale of Gilgamesh. The goddess Ishtar threatens the loosing of all hell with the words:
I shall bring up the dead to consume the living,
I shall make the dead outnumber the living.
While not directly concerned with mummies, such an ancient story mentioning, even in passing such as here, the idea of the dead rising to attack those still alive implies that the concept of the man-eating undead is deeply rooted in the region's culture. This, coupled with the Ancient Egyptian obsession with the afterlife, makes for lasting imagery.
And lastly, it is worth noting that as In the Dwellings of the Wilderness was published in 1904, the previous year saw the publication of Bram Stoker's The Jewel of Seven Stars (link). While there seems to be little doubt that In the Dwellings of the Wilderness was influenced by The Jewel of Seven Stars and both share plot elements in common; there are differences as well:
- most significantly, the creature in both works was once an Egyptian princess.
- the Egyptian princesses were not mummified in the traditional sense.
- both princesses were guilty of some heinous infraction.
- In The Jewel of Seven Stars, an elaborate ritual was required to reanimate the princess. While with In the Dwellings of the Wilderness, one just had to open the door.
- In The Jewel of Seven Stars, the name of the princess and her back-story are critically important to the tale. In the Dwellings of the Wilderness, does not even give the princess's name.
- In The Jewel of Seven Stars, the protagonists fight in a more spiritual type of attack. In the Dwellings of the Wilderness's creature is much more straightforward.
To be honest, I was surprised to learn that The Jewel of Seven Stars and In the Dwellings of the Wilderness were not the earliest works of fiction to revolve around a female mummy as protagonist. Some other, earlier works of mummy fictionii:
- Théophile Gautier's "The Mummy's Foot" (1840). A female mummy's spirit haunts the man who possess her mummified foot.
- Edgar Allan Poe's "Some Words With a Mummy" (1845). A mummy is awakened by electricity. He has a conversation with the awakeners.
- Louisa May Alcott's "Lost in a Pyramid; or, The Mummy's Curse" (1869). A mummified sorceress curses the man who defiled her corpse.
- Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Ring of Thoth" (1890). A tale of love and betrayal. A man at long last reunites with his lover.
- Arthur Conan Doyle's "Lot No. 249" (1892). A man uses magic to reanimate and control a mummy to wreak vengeance. This is the first example of an animated mummy as a mobile and sinister creature.
Of the four iconic literary monsters of the nineteenth century, vampires, werewolves, mummies and ghosts, vampire tales were extremely popular and ghost stories by far the most common, it is the ancient dead of mummies that hold special interest for me, stories such as Taylor's In the Dwellings of the Wilderness.
Taylor, C. Bryson. In the Dwellings of the Wilderness: A Classic Novel of the Mummy's Curse (Black Heath Gothic, Sensation and Supernatural) Black Heath Editions. 2014. Kindle Edition.
Anderson, Douglas A. "C. Bryson Taylor." Lesser-Known Writers. 28 December 2011 Accessed 03 September 2017.
Colavito, Jason. "More on the Gilgamesh Zombies." Jason Colavito. 26 October 2011. Accessed 14 September 2017.
Evans, Dewi. "In the Dwellings of the Wilderness (1904) by C. Bryson Taylor." Mystery and Imagination. 29 July 2013. Accessed 17 August 2017.
Gallo, Daniel B. "The History of Zombies." The Shofar. 27 November 2012. Accessed 14 September 2017.
Getz Jr., James R. "Ishtar and Zombies." Ketuvim. 16 September 2009. Accessed 14 September 2017.
amb, Robert. "How Ghouls Work: Ancient History of the Ghouls." HowStuffWorks.com. 11 October 2011. Accessed 14 September 2017.
[i] Lamb, Robert. "How Ghouls Work: Ancient History of the Ghouls." HowStuffWorks.com. http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/strange-creatures/ghoul4.htm
[ii] Note: this is not a complete nor thorough list.