Season 2, Episode 6 - The Torture by Hope

Back of the Bookshelf

Oct 31 2022 • 15 mins

It’s becoming a Back of the Bookshelf tradition that we release a horror themed episode on Halloween and 2022 is no exception. This time we’ve gone with a little known French story called La Torture Par L’Espérance (The Torture by Hope) by Villiers de L’Isle Adam.

The story was originally published in issue 3191 of the newspaper Gil Blas on 13th August 1888 and was printed again later in the year in the author’s short fiction collection, Nouveaux Contes Cruels (New Cruel Tales). An English language version followed in June 1891 in Issue 6 of The Strand. From its first appearance, it was compared to the work of Edgar Allan Poe and it’s easy to see why.  It has an ambiguous ending and shares many of the same themes, such as cruelty, torture, religion and death. Set in a prison belonging to the Spanish Inquisition, it is particularly reminiscent of The Pit and the Pendulum, and the two stories were actually combined into a single narrative in Jan Švankmajer’s short animated film The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope. The portrayal of the main character, a Jewish Rabbi named Aser Abarbanel, is stereotypical, but the writing is of such a high standard in other ways, that it’s worth overlooking this flaw.

As for the author, he was born to a distinguished aristocratic family in 1838. He wrote in a romantic style, usually in the horror and mystery genres, and became fairly well-known in his day, but struggled financially in his later years. He died of stomach cancer in 1889. The Torture by Hope is an excellent example of his writing prowess, and our adaptation features music by Kevin MacLeod and our usual immersive soundscape. Now, screw your courage to the sticking place and journey back with us to a time of torture, terror and religious intolerance.