[Warning, contains some spoilers for a 103 year-old story. Be sure to pre-order The Strange Recollections of Martha Klemm on Kickstarter!]
Absolute Evil is one of the few Hawthorne stories that is not only extant but oft-reprinted. While Cirsova Classics is a project primarily focused on pulp stories that have never been collected or reprinted, we opted to include it for completion’s sake so that we would be releasing all of Hawthorne’s All-Story Weekly fiction together.
Not only has Absolute Evil been collected in a recent horror anthology [American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps, 2009], following its publication in All-Story Weekly, it was reprinted in a British periodical, The Premier Magazine, in June 1919 as “The Island of Ghosts” with a handful of changes. Indeed, it is this version that has seen print more than the original [Island of Ghosts appears in both The Ash Tree Press Annual Macabre 2000 and Stark House’s Strange Island Stories anthology(2018)].
Most of the changes are superficial and the vast majority of the text remains the same. The only notable change of any significance is that throughout the text, the villain, the Reverend Nathaniel Tyler, an eloquent and fierce-preaching Calvinist pastor and theologian, is transformed into merely Professor Nathaniel Tyler. Some of the more blasphemous details described in the method by which a man engaged in diablerie might be granted powers to transform and work evil are omitted to tone down some of the imagery. Additionally, though of somewhat less consequence, Martha merely supposes by tradition her ancestry from the Salem witches rather than asserts it.
To an extent, it ruins this excellent line from the original:
“I was interested in original sin, and had dabbled in esoteric philosophy; my remote ancestors had been Salem witches. So, on these grounds at least, I was ready to meet Nat Tyler half-way.”
While I personally think that the changes made to the revised version weaken the themes and horrific nature of the tale [sure, we could all see a College Professor renouncing Christ and committing blasphemies to be granted Satanic powers to terrorize the New England coast, but a well-respected New England minister? Why that pops monocles even today!], I do think it is worth checking out both versions of the story for comparison sake.