The Sole and Beautiful Inmate of the Isle

Melmoth illustrations - pinnacle of the spire

“This scene of the physical and mental world in an agony of fruitless and incessant motion, might have suggested a profound and singular image, had not the whole attention been riveted to a human figure placed on a pinnacle of the spire.”

– Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer

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Books are islands. Authors are our captors. The story, the characters, the places within, the words and ideas are our five a day while we are held on these islands by our captors.

I wonder if authors know the power they wield over their readers, exiling us to private islands away from all the hustle and bustle of the so-called real world. If they do know, they are benevolent, inviting us to sojourn a while, rest our weary selves, replenish our energy on the smorgasbord they offer us as nourishment on their islands.

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“The sole and beautiful inmate of the isle, though disturbed at the appearance of her worshippers, soon recovered her tranquility. She could not be conscious of fear, for nothing of that world in which she lived had ever borne a hostile appearance to her. The sun and the shade – the flowers and foliage – the tamarinds and figs that prolonged her delightful existence – the water that she drank, wondering at the beautiful being who seemed to drink whenever she did – the peacocks, who spread out their rich and radiant plumage the moment they beheld her – and the loxia, who perched on her shoulder and hand as she walked, and answered her sweet voice with imitative chirpings – all these were her friends, and she knew none but these.”

– Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer

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Since the moment I first learned to read, I have been an addict of being a captive on the isle of books. It is an escape, a sanctuary, a haven, an adventure, feeding my imagination.

I love to visit secondhand bookstores in search of an island to treasure. On one such visit I happened upon an intriguing hardback ensconced in an even harder sleeve – Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin.

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Melmoth the Wanderer.

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I took a peek inside this imposing tome and was unable to put it down. I had to buy it as it became glued to my hand. My eyes wanted to read more. My mind was entranced. I had no choice in the matter, and I’m glad that I didn’t.

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Melmoth illustrations - let no man know

“Let no man know that I died, or when, or where.”

– Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer

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It is one of those books which has stories within stories, for it is the long and fascinating tale, read by one of his ancestors, of an immortal who finds himself wandering through many worlds, experiences and times. History comes alive and becomes personal. Diverse cultures and religions are vividly portrayed. Archetypes of life – the story of Immalee, the child who was lost at sea in a storm, saved by an island, grew up in the wild, in blissful innocence away from human influence, who is then as a young woman repatriated, forced to grow up again under human influence and lost once again in a sea of human storms – blend together with philosophy and fantasy. It is a cornucopia of real life viewed through an inquisitive and pulsating imagination.

The story of Charles Maturin himself is as intriguing as his creation.

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Melmoth illustrations - read on, perplexed

“As the manuscript, after a few blotted and illegible pages, became more distinct, Melmoth read on, perplexed and unsatisfied, not knowing what connection this Spanish story could have with his ancestor…”

– Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer

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Usually after I have read a book I release it back into the ocean from whence it came, for others to find a wonderful island as I did.

This is one of the few I have held onto, perhaps I am still its willing captive, not quite ready to leave.

I have tried to find out who created the illustrations, unfortunately I have failed (if you can succeed where I failed please let me know, it would be much appreciated), and my copy of the book is missing its title page… I wonder what is the story behind the missing page? Another story within a story, an island within an island, someone let go of the book but kept the title page, perhaps because there was a personal inscription upon it.

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“For many a night these canoes might be seen glancing past each other over the darkened sea. like shooting stars of the deep, with their lighted paper lanthorns, and their offerings of flowers and fruits, left by some trembling hands on the sands…”

– Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer