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Melmoth the Wanderer

From Academic Kids

Melmoth the Wanderer is a gothic novel published in 1820, written by Charles Robert Maturin.

The central character, Sebastian Melmoth (a Wandering Jew archetype), is a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for 100 extra years of life and spends that time searching for someone who will take over the pact for him; the novel actually takes place in the present, but this backstory is revealed through several nested stories-within-a-story which work backwards through time (usually through the Gothic trope of old books.).

The main character's name has been taken up by other writers, serving as a pseudonym for Oscar Wilde in his self-imposed exile on the continent after his release from Reading Gaol. (A chapter of Cerebus references Wilde's pseudonym.) Aleksandr Pushkin suggests in passing that the hero of his famous novel in verse Eugene Onegin might assume the role of a Melmoth. The name also served as inspiration for Anne Rice's novel, Memnoch the Devil.

In Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita, Humbert Humbert drives a Melmoth car. Near the conclusion, he refers to it by name: "Hi, Melmoth, thanks a lot, old fellow". As explained in Alfred Appel's Annotated Lolita, the name is appropriate for the vehicle in which Humbert and Lolita wander across the United States—and for the connotations it evokes through association with Oscar Wilde and possibly Pushkin.

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