The Lost Stradivarius (1895)

by J. Meade Falkner

Few would argue the power to music to stir powerful feelings, but seldom do we think of the possibility of music's being a force for evil. That's what J. Meade Falkner imagines, however, in The Lost Stradivarius. 

A young aristocrat, John Maltravers, is in his final year at Magdalen College, Oxford. His friend William Gaskell returns from a trip to Italy with suites of music by the 17th-century Italian composer Graziani. When Sir John plays a set of dances called “L’Areopagita,” he senses that the wicker chair in his room is occupied. The specter eventually points Sir John to a hidden cupboard, where he finds a Stradivarius violin. By now obsessed by the man who hid the violin as well as by the music, Sir John learns that the instrument's owner was an occultist who had sought to conjure the vision of absolute evil (“the Vision Malefica”). Sir John’s obsession eventually destroys him.

The story is told by Sir John's sister Sophia, who is powerless to save him, and Gaskell to give to Sir John’s son when he reaches maturity.

Written during the Victorian era, the book might be read as a caution against overindulgence of the senses.

“We can scarcely doubt that as certain forms of music tend to raise us above the sensuality of the animal, or the more degrading passion of material gain, and to transport us into the ether of higher thought, so other forms are directly calculated to awaken in us luxurious emotions, and to whet those sensual appetites which it is the business of a philosopher not indeed to annihilate or to be ashamed of, but to keep rigidly in check," Falkner writes.

Or it can be simply read as a good ghost story.


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