'Her princes within her are like wolves': the werewolf as a Catholic force in Wagner the Wehr-Wolf

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W. M. Reynolds’s 1850s Gothic serial, Wagner the Wehr-Wolf, reimagines the werewolf as a figure of religious hypocrisy. The serial follows the eponymous Wagner, who gains eternal youth, beauty and wealth through a satanic pact which curses him with lycanthropy; his rapid disenchantment with his immortal state propels him to find a cure amidst the religious upheaval of Inquisition-torn sixteenth-century Italy. Despite Wagner the Wehr-Wolf’s dubious literary status today, Reynolds’s rhetoric expresses a profound engagement with religious doctrine through his understanding of the Gothic morphology embedded in Victorian culture. As with the witch, the werewolf was once considered an enemy of the Church; despite this persecution, Reynolds hypothesises that both the institution and the creature are inherently congruent, their natures committed to generating guilt, violence and a schism from the Godly. His discourse uses the Church’s own rhetoric on and severe treatment of suspected werewolves against itself, theorising that the Church both creates and becomes the very beasts it tortures. Reynolds dissects both Church and creature from a Protestant Victorian perspective, reifying Gothic literature’s standard practice of associating Catholicism with a regrettable, historical Other and reducing the religion to a collection of terrifying superstitions—much like the myth of the werewolf itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-41
Number of pages20
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2016

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  • G. W. M. Reynolds
  • Gothic fiction
  • radical fiction
  • folklore
  • religion
  • Catholicism
  • werewolves
  • monsters
  • Victorian literature


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