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3.28  ·  Rating details ·  5,584 ratings  ·  443 reviews
Beckford's Gothic novel, Vathek, an Arabian tale, was originally written in French when the author was 21. It is the story of Caliph Vathek, whose eye can kill at a glance, who makes a pact with the Devil, Eblis. ...more
Paperback, Oxford University Press, 170 pages
Published 1999 by Oxford University Press (first published 1786)
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Arnstein Pettersen The literary genre called Gothic draws its name from two things: The period between the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths (410 CE) and the renaissance …moreThe literary genre called Gothic draws its name from two things: The period between the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths (410 CE) and the renaissance (approx. 14th century), was in the 18th century considered to be a dark, barbarous period whose sole redeeming feature was the concept of chivalry. Vathek is set somewhere between 840 and 850. The second would be the architectural style referred to (erronously) as Gothic. Vathek is not set in Europe and thus does not contain this specific style, but the focus on grand architecture is still present. The genre has a strong focus on the supernatural, which Vathek has in abundance. Other lesser elements such as the weakness of clergy and strong distinctions between innocence and malice are also present.

What is not present is a hero or heroine, and many of the genre traits are connected to these. Vathek is a villainous protagonist and so the tale does not require a polarized counterpart, instead finding the antagonist in another villain.

Other traits may apply, but I consider at least these to be important when deciding whether to tag the tale Gothic or not. Vathek has been labeled interchangeably Gothic, Oriental and fantasy, sometimes even comedy. All seem valid choices to me.(less)

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Ahmad Sharabiani
Vathek, William Beckford

Edited with an introduction by Roger Lonsdale, London: Oxford university press, 1970=1349, 187 Pages

Vathek (alternatively titled Vathek, an Arabian Tale or The History of the Caliph Vathek) is a Gothic novel written by William Beckford. It was composed in French beginning in 1782, and then translated into English by Reverend Samuel Henley in which form it was first published in 1786 without Beckford's name as An Arabian Tale, From an Unpublished Manuscript, claiming to be
Bill Kerwin

An odd book, and not a completely successful one. I cannot deny it a wealth of ironic observation and an elegant style, but I believe the author indulges his hobbies and obsessions--his Orientalism, his ephebophilia, his loathing of his mother and other termagants--to an extent that distorts this tale of sensuality, pride and and destruction instead of informing and enriching it.

The last twenty pages or so, however, that relate Prince Vathek's damnation in the underground realm of the angel Ebl
Henry Avila
Caliph Vathek the ruler in fabulous Baghdad, and its extended Empire, the Middle East and Africa...Grandson of the illustrious Harun al -Rashid, but not his equal to say the least, from the Arabian Nights fame (this is fiction, folks , with only a very vague resemblance to a real man, so don't bother to look him up on Wikipedia). Being the 9th century, the Caliph has absolute power, also an evil eye, deadly when angered as a lot of his poor victims discovered much too late. Nobody looks at Vathe ...more
A preposterous proto-orientalist fantasia, full of afrits, genies, harems and evil plots. Based very loosely on the life of the ninth-century caliph al-Wathik, it is structured around a Faustian deal with the devil – it's a fast read and tonally quite a strange one. Obviously Beckford was enamoured of the 1001 Nights, but his story is also shot through with curious elements of his own, and it all builds to an unusually dark ending.

Vathek is sometimes described as a Gothic novel, and it does shar
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gothic
There is a story behind my purchasing this book. I occasionally bid on book lots at the local auction house. Recently I bid on a box of books which looked rather interesting. I managed to transpose the numbers and ended up with a different box of books, most of which I didn’t want. However there were seven folio society book from the late 1950s and early 1960s, which I have kept (sending the others back to auction). This was one of the folio society books.
I knew little about Vathek or William Be
Nov 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Underground palaces! Concealed didacticism! Homosexual indiscretions!
This is an 18th century Gothic novel written by an English author, but written in the French language. It's about an Arabian sultan who makes a deal with the devil, which almost never ends well. That's an odd mix of tags, but this is an odd story. It reminds me a bit of Castle Otranto, but more violent. Just not my cup of tea. ...more
Mattia Ravasi
A sensualistic fantasy opera of immense decadence and depravity. Foundational in tone and content on so much 20th century fantasy - Jack Vance clearly took a leaf from this book - what I really like to do when I read books like this is imagine how it must have felt to experience the banquets and feasts here described as an 18th century Englishman who never saw a piece of fruit more exotic than a pear.
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Jan 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
I seem to have embarked on a re-exploration of the gothic genre. After finishing a re-read of The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole a couple of days back, Last night I finished Vathek by William Beckford, a novel which also stems from the trend for Orientalist fiction which played upon the exoticism of an imagined Arabic setting, largely inspired by translations of The Thousand And One Nights.

It's the story of the Caliph Vathek, a sensualist and seeker of knowledge whose quest for novelty lead
Feb 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Postmodernism has nothing on Vathek. An absolutely bizarre Gothic tale, rich in Orientalism and deviltry. You may think that the modern era has corned the market in strange, difficult texts, but there is truly nothing new under the sun. Vathek is stranger than strange.
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First published in 1786, William Beckford's Vathek was apparently written in the span of 3 days, which while it is not an extremely long book, is still incredible given its sheer imagination. It makes me wonder what else Beckford could have accomplished, if his greatest novel was put down on paper in a mere 3 days. He was very talented, as evidenced by his writing, yet apparently was never truly able to harness his talents. One may only wonder if he could have even surpassed the fame of writers ...more
Aug 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Vathek was Caliph in the area of approximately present-day Iraq, at some unknown time in the past. He was generally a fair person, but woe unto him who got Vathek angry. He lived in an immense castle, with the absolute finest of everything. One day, a very strange, and very ugly, man stood before his throne. He had a hideous laugh, but didn’t speak. He showed Vathek all manner of rare and exotic items, including sabers inscribed in an unknown language, inscriptions which kept changing from day t ...more
Sep 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
William Beckford wrote "The History of Caliph Vathek" in French in 1784, but it was first published in an English translation by Samuel Henley in 1786. Widely regarded as one of the seminal works of Gothic literature, this strange, unclassifiable novel recounts its eponymous protagonist's quest for esoteric knowledge and carnal pleasure, a quest which ultimately leads to his damnation.

"Vathek" combines exotic descriptions of the Orient with passages of grotesque comedy and a dollop of supernatu
K.D. Absolutely
May 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Aaron Vincent, whose YA taste I respect most
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books and 1001 Books You Must Read Before You DIe (2006 to 2010 editions)
Shelves: 1001-core, classics, 501
Surprisingly quite an interesting read! The plot is thick, interesting characters and definitely written by somebody with a very rich imagination! Wiki says that Mr. Beckford, at the young age of 21, wrote this straight 3 days and 2 nights in French in 1782. Now, after 228 years and the story is still interesting and can put to shame the contemporary fantasy gothic novels we have.

The character of Caliph Vathek, still from Wiki, is inspired by the life of Al-Wathiq ibn Mutasim (Arabic الواثق), an
Oct 12, 2008 rated it did not like it
So plodding, this book. It was painful to read. Even in Starbucks with wonderful smells of cinnamon and chocolate wafting around. Page by page, I trudged on.
Some great imagery, but at great expense!
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: classics, fantasy
How can a book with an Arabian Nights setting and featuring magic, dwarves, harems, a trip to hell, jinn, and demons be boring? Read Vathek and find out. The book just felt so plodding and dull.

Overall, fantastic ideas but with an execution that didn't impress me.
Alice Lippart
Some interesting parts, but overall not quite my jam.
Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: devoted gothic readers
I used to recall, with appalled amusement, the words of a former colleague of mine, who was slyly intrigued (and very proud of his cleverness) that anyone could read dead writers. What can I say? You don't usually argue with fools, whose minds are relaxed. Moreover, ignorance has many faces, and some of them are really funny even if in an involuntary way.

On the other hand though, maybe because there are strange points where ineptitude and intelligence seem to cross (not always clear whether for
Caidyn (he/him/his)
I received an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!

CW: Orientalism

Didn't like this one at all. When I started reading it, it stank of Orientalism and if this wasn't an ARC, I would have just stopped reading it. But this one wasn't for me. While I'm glad that the publisher is doing new classic horror stories, but I didn't like this one. I wanted to enjoy it, but I found it slow and the Orientalism of the times killed me.
John Anthony
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a weird book which I rather expected to loathe but didn’t. Vathek and his evilly motivated mother are loathsome I guess but their moral degeneracy is all part of the fable.

Beckford’s tale is fantasy writ large. It could almost be an early ancestor of all those Harry Potter volumes. Certainly some of the characters would not be out of place at Hogwarts. Whilst described as a Gothic tale, it is hard to believe that it was written in 1786.

I first encountered Beckford, as it were, in ‘ “Men
This is copy number 40 of 250 signed numbered copies.

The Book is signed by Donald Sidney-Fryer who wrote the introduction and David Whitlam who profusely illustrated the book.
Jenny Macdonald
Mar 14, 2015 rated it liked it
A cross between a gothic Pilgrim's Progress in reverse and The Thousand and one Nights it tells the tale of a Caliph, Vathek, and his mother, Carathis, who are cruel and ruthless in their search for knowledge and supernatural powers. A visiting merchant, a Giaour, attends Vathek and promises him all knowledge and power if he works for the Devil, Eblis. Of course to do this involves abandoning their faith Islam, living a debauched life and murdering a large quantity of innocent people. Vathek doe ...more
What a bizarre book. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I didn't hate it. The title character is a generically Arabian sultan who enters into a deal with a djinn that ends as well as one might expect. Which is to say, not at all. Vathek's descent is told in loosely connected episodes, with some very surreal scenes included. Incredibly odd plot aside, it's actually written fairly well. Miles better than The Castle of Otranto, at least. It's delightfully over the top, of course, but no ...more
K.J. Charles
Orientalist tripe. Read it for my English degree, forgot everything about it in self defence, reread in the light of a bio of Beckford which was horrifying (the racism, the creepy paedo vibes, the evil female character closely based on his cousin's wife who acted as a go between when he was seducing a child). No plot as such, just a lot of wallowing in highly ineffectual wickedness. All Gothic trappings without decent foundations, much like Fonthill Abbey, snerk. ...more
Jim Smith
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
A lurid and lustful Araban Nights-esque gothic fantasy. I knew this had to have been a favourite of Clark Ashton Smith within ten pages, and looking it up I'm right. A clear inspiration for his Zothique stories and other problematic pulp fiction of a dark magical east to be othered and afraid of. The horny fantasies of colonialism, bookended by some effective cosmic horror elements.

Of its portrayal of Arabic/Islamic culture, a typically racist H. P. Lovecraft felt Beckford's novel "reflected ve
John David
Sep 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
William Beckford, the author of “Vathek,” led a rather remarkable life – so remarkable, in fact, that reviewers and critics are left baffled at how to interpret it other than reading it as a sort of fantastic confabulation of his life. He was born in 1760, son of the two-time Lord Mayor of London; at the tender age of ten years, his father died and left him one of the richest men in the entire country. This allowed him to pursue his interests in art, architecture, and travel, all of which he did ...more
Ebster Davis
Jun 16, 2015 rated it liked it
This book reminded me a lot of a thousand arabian nights; hard to follow at times, with lots of really vivid/psychedelic descriptions...but it's a lot shorter and less explicit.

The main character is pretty worldly king, and he can kill people by looking at them (but only if he's extremely angry). His mom is a necromancer of sorts and they do horrible thing after horrible thing so that he can divine his future/grand destiny or something like that.

I liked how the book represented Djinn. My favor
Dec 19, 2020 rated it liked it

VATHEK is considered a gothic novel, but there is little gothic about it. There are no churches or castles, and the maiden does not run from the caliph for long. However, there are a great many supernatural elements taken from Arab mythology.

Vathek is a Caliph who didn't learn to rule his kingdom well, or how to behave correctly. He is primarily concerned with indulging his five senses. He is a sybarite. Extravagance being his native way, he builds five palaces onto the existing palace. The o
Tim Pendry
The 1970 (revised 1983) Oxford World Classics Editions of Beckford's 'Vathek' of 1782 is almost exhaustingly as well as exhaustively scholarly with not only the final 1816 text as the basis of the book but a full range of notes from the original.

The work is quite slight in many ways but it has to be granted its originality as a quasi-Gothic piece of orientalism and as a major influence on subsequent fantastic literature.

Beckford himself had the potential to be great but he was not only born far
عماد العتيلي
May 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-reads

Vathek - Faust - Frankenstein. The same theme depicted in three different titles!
The search for forbidden knowledge, which leads to eternal damnation and misery.
It is an interesting theme which I truly enjoy to read.
But, you know, it's really difficult for me to enjoy anything after Faust and Frankenstein! I think two novels about the same theme are just enough!


The negative thing about the novel is its passive depiction of the orient! It's a combination of demonizing and neutralizing, just l
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Reading 1001: Vathek - Beckford 2 14 Feb 16, 2020 04:21AM  
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William Thomas Beckford was an English novelist, a profligate and consummately knowledgeable art collector and patron of works of decorative art, a critic, travel writer and sometime politician, reputed at one stage in his life to be the richest commoner in England. His parents were William Beckford and Maria Hamilton, daughter of the Hon. George Hamilton. He was Member of Parliament for Wells fro ...more

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