Book review: Nightmare Abbey

Remember last week I was talking about the Folio Society? Well, this is one of their books that I picked up second hand. At the time I’d never heard of Nightmare Abbey or of Thomas Love Peacock but it was beautiful and looked like a classic piece of Victorian fiction so I figured it would be worth a punt.

Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock

Unfortunately, I don’t think I could have been more than 20 pages into Nightmare Abbey before it started to annoy me. It’s a Gothic topical satire, laughing at the Romance movement and metaphysics. Sadly, this hasn’t aged well and I found the jokes irritating rather than funny. Since the novel has only the scarcest trace of a plot, there isn’t much else to hold it up.

Much of the book is written in dialogue form and the focus is clearly on the conversations of the characters rather than on the plot. Points are heavily laboured and repeated and this style, to me, was just annoying. The one redeeming aspect was the use of unusual and archaic words which often had me reaching for the dictionary – clearly, this was intended to poke fun at the pretentious characters, but any excuse to learn a new word is a good one.

Favourite new words include,

  • atrabilarious – melancholy or irritable
  • jeremitaylorically – in the style of Jeremy Taylor (sadly I doubt I’ll get a chance to use this one)
  • eleutherarch – chief of a fictitious society of free thinkers
  • cartilaginous – made of cartilage

Admittedly, one point made me laugh,

“Mrs Hilary hinted to Marionetta that propriety, and delicacy, and decorum, and dignity, etc., etc., etc., (1) would require them to leave the Abbey immediately.

(1) We are not masters of the whole vocabulary. See any novel by any literary lady.

but that was the high point. One laugh in a supposedly humorous book is a pretty low score. At least it was very short, but I kind of wish it had been shorter.


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