Wagner the Werewolf

Wagner the Werewolf

by George W.M. Reynolds

First published in 1847, Wagner the Werewolf is one of the very earliest treatments of the Werewolf theme in English literature, and has lost none of its power to shock, it is one of the greatest works of George W. M. Reynolds, once the most popular author in England, and the 'Master of the Penny Dreadful'.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Horror
  • Rating: 3.53
  • Pages: 496
  • Publish Date: September 10th 2007 by Wordsworth Editions
  • Isbn10: 1840225300
  • Isbn13: 9781840225303

What People Think about "Wagner the Werewolf"

I think this is the best Gothic novel that I have ever read. The main characters are all delightful shades of gray and all do some rather bad things but still remain the heros of the story. The story is a wonderful supernatural tale.

ALL of these things happen in WAGNER, THE WEHR-WOLF, a full-blooded, sprawling, rollicking, ludicrous Gothic novel - and more besides! A werewolf continually murders and preys on residents of Florence Italy in gruesome detail and at length" - and THAT would have been the ringer because, despite the title and regardless of being chock-a-block with plot events, the only thing missing from this books is much "werewolf action" - in fact, despite his curse (placed by Faust himself on poor Fernand Wagner) that makes him transform at sunset on the last day of every month until sunrise the next morning, Wagner only changes into a werewolf 3 separate times in these 500+ pages (but more on that anon). This is a Gothic novel in its latter form - predecessor of blood and thunders, sensation novel, dime novels, pulp novels and the soap opera (putting that last piece together actually made me understand why 60s TV soap DARK SHADOWS obviously took the direction it did and introduced a vampire early on) - in other words, endless clunky purple prose, broad characters uncontrollably driven by their desires (revenge, love, fame, sadism, etc.), plots that can turn in almost any direction, lashings of bloodthirsty action, gruesome violence and Orientalist intrigue. The book is on the side of Christianity but Jews and Muslims are NOT presented as unknowable others, and the Catholic Church comes in for lots of drubbings with regards to convents and The Inquisition, while the text specifically calls out the antisemitism of the times. Characters are constantly taking heartfelt oaths, overhearing important conversations that further the plot (in fact, a misunderstood overheard conversation is the lynch-pin the mystery turns on!), hiding secrets or passions or grudges, and, generally, coincidence runs rampant (who would have thought the bandit gang's underground lair and the dungeon of the pleasure-denying nuns were separated by only a wall!?!). So, about that "Wehr-Wolf" aspect - possibly the last thing the book is actually focused on is Wagner's lycanthropic curse. Having said that, the second chapter in which Wagner transforms is surely the highlight of this aspect, as he's being put on trial (for murder he didn't commit, no less!) at the time!

I turned to my smart Goodreads friends who all confirmed pretty much what I already knew, so I don't feel like I missed out anything here by not having any Faust experience.

As for this being one of the first werewolf stories in English, I found it very interesting that Wagner (view spoiler) turns into monster on the last day of month and he became werewolf after drinking some magic drink.

If you're a fan of the Gothic tradition, you must read this.

It does however put forth some very advanced themes regarding victorian era ethics with regard to religion, involving Muslim and Jewish characters and portraying the attitudes of the 16th century (when this novel is set), which were not much more enlightened in the 19th century, a point that Reynolds actively sought to shed light on as an atheist.

Think entire chapters of filler to describe how "beauteous" the leading lady Nisida is, sexualized depictions of sadistic nuns, literal skeletons in a closet, and dozens of subplots that the werewolf is tangentially related with at most which happen to tie together during the bloodbath at the end. Penny dreadfuls and other serial novels were the telenovelas of their time, so this kind of book is best read in small doses as they were originally intended. Whenever people say Bella Swan reflects 19th century gender roles, I'll have to say that I've read BAD books from the Victorian period that are less sexist than Twilight.* If you want to laugh at the purplest of prose and contrived plots, this is the book you want.

In the end, Wagner the Werewolf remains an artifact of 19th century popular culture and I can't recommend reading it for pleasure.