A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude

A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude. Containing the Dreadful Imprisonment of Count L. And the Countess Harmina, His Lady .

Author: Unknown
Publisher: Thomas Tegg
Publication Year: 1803
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10cm x 18cm
Pages: 72
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.M356 1802 v.2 no.3



Material History

If you ever find yourself in Charlottesville, Virginia and are craving some gothic literature you are in luck. With the largest collection of gothic literature there are no shortages of stories you can choose from. With so many options it might be hard to choose one book to read so why limit yourself to just one? Under call number PZ2.M356 1802 v.2 is an old leather-bound book with nine individual chap books inside. This book is approximately 18cm long, 10cm across, and 4.5 cm deep. Bound in an old, marbled leather, it is obvious due to the appearance of the stiff old book that it was well loved by someone who is now lost to history. The book is bound in a way that the pages create a curvature where the top and bottom pages are in a parabola shape.

The spine of the book has six gold decorative bands and between the bands are also decorative flowers in gold colored decorative material that are almost entirely rubbed off. If the book was standing straight up, then between the second and third bands from the top, the leather is almost completely rubbed off. At one point this could have been a title or other information about the book. The last notable aspect of the spine of the book is the two large cracks running from the top to the bottom of the book showing the leather is cracking and deteriorating after years of use.

The histories of this book are largely unknown, but under inspection it reveals some possible details to illuminate its past. Inside the lamination of the front cover is a slip of paper on which are different names of books with their prices. Interestingly enough, none of the listings on the small sheet of paper perfectly match the book itself. The first seven of nine individual chapbooks are all printed and have similar fonts and margins to each other. Additionally, the signature letters at the bottom of each page are in order for the first seven but then restart at A in the eighth book. Books eight and nine have much wider margins and the font is slightly different. There is also wider line spacing between each row of words. This possibly points to a conclusion that the first seven were all printed together and then the last two were printed separately then all bound together at a later date. One contradictory piece of evidence for this conclusion is that the first seven books do not share the same publisher.

Flipping to the third chap book you are met with a frontispiece and a title page reading A Tale of Mystery or the Castle of Solitude containing the dreadful imprisonment of Count L. and the Countess Harmina. There are seventy-two pages in the chapbook. The pages of the chapbooks are yellowed and after years of being shut the ink of some pages has run into the other pages creating a shadow of what is on the pages. Additionally, at the beginning of the book there is a poem from Hamlet. Another mystery of the book is the author. There is no indication of who wrote the book but there is a publisher based in London, England on the front cover. Turning to the text there are 0.5cm margins and the printed words have a small font and are single spaced lines.

Textual History

Much like the title of the novel, A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude,the history and origins of the novel are a mystery. This chapbook was published in 1803 by Thomas Tegg (1776–1845), an English bookseller and publisher who was well known as one of the most prominent publishers: in the forty years that he was in business, Tegg published four thousand novels, averaging twenty a week (Barnes and Barnes 45). In his later years, he stated, “My line is to watch the expiration of copyright and then produce to the public either current works at a cheaper rate, or to revive works of merit which have been lost to the public by the perversity of authors, by bungling of the first publishers, or by excessive price” (quoted in Barnes and Barnes 47). This statement was made in 1840, much later in Tegg’s career once he had already accumulated wealth, so it is unlikely that The Castle of Solitude was only published by Tegg after the copyright had expired.

Immediately following the publication of The Castle of Solitude, there were no advertisements or reviews in newspapers. In 1805, John Ker published a 38-page chapbook titled The Castle of Solitude: With the Adventures and Dreadful Imprisonment of Count L. And the Countess Harmina. This novel was a complete plagiarism of the 1802 chapbook but in a much more concise manner. This change might have served the novel well because in Gothic Writers describes A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude as “an almost incoherent chapbook” (Thomson et al. 140).

A prequel to A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude was eventually published in 1828 titled The Horrible revenge: Or, the Assassin of Solitary Castle. This novel follows Baron T, Count L, and Lady Harmina, and depicts the events leading up to when Albert discovers the prisoners in the Castle of Solitude. This connection is made clear through the similar titles and stories that are given through the memoir of Baron T read by Albert after the Baron’s demise.

It was likely a savvy business decision to name this chapbook A Tale of Mystery. Shortly before the publication of this chapbook in 1803, England saw its first melodrama created by Thomas Holfroct titled A Tale of Mystery and performed in 1803. This melodrama was a major success and Montague Summers, in his Gothic Bibliography, describes the 1803 chapbook as “trading on the popularity of Holcroft’s melodrama” (523).

A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude also appears in a bibliography of gothic texts put together by Professor Jakob Brauchli and included in The English Gothic Novel: A Miscellany In Four Volumes V.1. There are three references in this bibliography to A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude. The first and third references are to this chapbook but do not provide any information on the author; and both list the publication date as “1820?” (312, 335). The third reference is particularly of a magazine of the time called Marvelous Magazine, suggesting that A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude was reprinted in this magazine and possibly at a later date. The second reference listed by Brauchli is of the shorter and plagiarized version of the book, which was also printed in the Marvelous Magazine (322).

Today you can read A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude via Google Books. Physical copies are owned by the University of Virginia, Harvard University, and the Newberry Library in Chicago, Illinois.

Narrative Point of View

A Tale of Mystery: Or the Castle of Solitude is narrated, for the majority of the book, by a third-person narrator that is never revealed to the reader. This narrator does not relay to the reader anything regarding the plot that the main character, Albert, does not already know. The writing style of the novel is very long-winded and similar to other more canonical pieces of Gothic literature. Occasionally, the narration switches to a first person point of view when characters share stories of their pasts with others. The prose remains consistent across characters’ individual stories and the narrator’s overarching tale.

Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:

When the recluse had learned the success of Albert’s visit to the convent, he did not hesitate to say his wife is a criminal, and that who her compeer was would be fully elucidated ere long.— Then, Stamping with his foot, up came and old servant, whom he had called Gerald. (Castle of Solitude 16)

Sample Passage of First-Person Narration from the Recluse’s Journal:

My boy is dead of decline, and I have, through the kindness of a neighbouriug farmer, procured a poor harmless old man to take his place. A young man named Albert has discovered my retreat! I thought at first, he had a soul like mine, but I find him a poor timid wretch. (Castle of Solitude 26)

The narration of the story through the third-person perspective helps bolster the imagery of the setting and also increases the suspense, particularly when a mysterious voice speaks to the characters. The narrator does not tell readers who the voice is but does hint at the voice belonging to a ghost. The story later reveals that this voice was not a ghost but rather one of the characters, a reminder that the narration is focalized only through what select characters know. When the narration is first-person, the characters frequently emphasize their emotions and motivations.

Summary

A Tale of Mystery: Or the Castle of Solitude opens in a municipality in southern Germany where two siblings hear of their father’s sickness. One of these siblings, Albert, visits the castle where his father, Count Arzen, and older half-brother, Anhalt, live. The idea of his father dying scares Albert because his father does not like him and will leave  all of his belongings and estates to Anhalt. In a flashback the reader learns that Count Arzen was first married to the Countess, Anhalt’s mother, but she died when someone spooked her horse and she was thrown off. Subsequently, the Count married his mistress, Elvinia, and conceived Albert. Sadly, Elvina dies giving birth to Albert and his father will never let him forget this. Additionally, the Count did not like Albert for marrying Angela (out of love) instead of marrying the woman his father preferred (who had more lands and wealth). Albert and Angela have two children: a son, Henry, and an unnamed daughter.

After returning home from his first visit to his father’s castle, Albert hides his father’s deteriorating condition from Angela. The next day, Albert visits the castle again and his father passes away. Albert talks to Furstein, a faithful servant who has long been in the family’s service, and Furnstein gives Albert a small sum of money. Anhalt does the same, promising to make sure Albert’s wife and children are cared for. Before leaving the castle, Albert hears a mysterious voice saying, “Pardon and Peace” (Castle of Solitude 7). Unsure if this is his late father, Albert faints and soon returns with Anhalt and Furstein. We find out that in the months leading up to the Count’s death Albert had sent many letters enquiring for his father’s forgiveness for marrying Angela but his father never responded to them.

With the passing of his father, Albert feels like there is nothing more for him to do in the town he was born and raised in so he joins the military. After his first tour, he returns with a big promotion and visits his wife and brother at the castle Arzen. While he is with Angela, Albert hears a strange voice telling him not to trust her. After this voice, Angela faints. Angela then disappears and Albert believes she has left him to join a convent. Albert sets out from the castle to find her.

On his journey, it begins to rain. To find cover, he travels deep into the forest and comes across a castle. He is admitted only briefly before he tries to find the convent again. The recluse of the castle offers a room to stay for Albert that night if he is not able to enter the convent. Unable to enter the convent, Albert returns to the castle and is admitted to stay for the evening. After a night of heavy snowfall, he is stuck in the castle with a reclusive man who does not want to be bothered by society. The solitary man quickly changes his mind and tells Albert he must leave the next morning. That night, Albert hears odd sounds and decides to investigate; the recluse almost discovers Albert but he sneaks away. Mysteriously, the recluse dies that night of a fever. Additionally, Albert and the groundskeeper investigate the source of the noise and they discover two people who had been locked in the dungeon for twelve years. Looking through the recluse’s office, Albert finds a lengthy written report of his life.

The report reveals that this recluse is Baron T and long ago he fell in love with a woman named Harmina. After Harmina’s father, Count Frolitz, stayed with the Baron and approved of the wedding, he and Harmina were to be married. On the wedding day, Harmina eloped with someone else and left the castle. Shortly after, Count Frolitz died of gout and left his lands to the Baron without another heir. Four years later, there was a great fire and the Baron decided to leave Bavaria to tour Europe. During this tour, he ran into one of his previous servants and threatened his life to find out that he works for Count L and his previous betrothed wife Harmina. Using this servant, Baron T invaded the castle, locked up Baron L and Harmina in the dungeon, and took up residency in this castle—the castle of solitude.

Back in the present, after Albert frees Harmina and Count L, they discuss their plans: Harmina wants to go to a convent to retire and live out the rest of her days, and Albert likes this idea because maybe she could find his wife at the convent.

Albert sends letters to Furnstein and Anhalt but Anhalt’s letter back is cold and does not encourage Albert to return home. Furnstein’s letter warns Albert not to return home because it is unsafe.

More time has passed and Harmina discovers that Angela is not in fact in the convent. Banditti attack Albert and he appears to be dead but is not. Albert returns to his family’s castle only to discover that his daughter is dead and Anhalt is dying. After Anhalt’s death, his evil plots are revealed. Anhalt had been in love with Angela his entire life. Jealous of his younger brother, Anhalt had planted seeds in his father’s head to hate Albert and these worked; he convinced his father to despise Albert and never showed his fathers will to his brother. Upset with Alberts  success, Anhalt paid the banditti to attack Albert. Once Count Arzens original will is revealed it is clear that the Count forgave and pardoned Albert, just like the voice said. Also it is revealed by Anhalts on his deathbed that Anhalt had taken Angela prisoner and impregnated her, later killing both the child and Angela. The final plot twist of the book is that the mysterious voice had been Furnstein in a closet the entire time. The story ends with Albert getting a happy ending and finding a new wife with whom to live out his days.


Bibliography

Barnes, James J., and Patience P. Barnes. “Reassessing the Reputation of Thomas Tegg, London Publisher, 1776–1846.” Book History, vol. 3, 2000, pp. 45–60.

The Castle of Solitude: With the Adventures and Dreadful Imprisonment of Count L. And the Countess Harmina. J. Ker, 1805.

Harwell, Thomas H., editor. The English Gothic Novel: A Miscellany in Four Volumes, volume 1, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Salzburg, 1986.

Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. The Fortune Press, 1973. 

A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude. Containing the Dreadful Imprisonment of Count L. And the Countess Harmina, His Lady. Thomas Tegg, 1803.

Thomson, Douglass H., Jack G. Voller, and Frederick S. Frank, editors. Gothic Writers: A Critical and Bibliographical Guide. Greenwood Press, 2002.


Researcher: Nathan C Henderson


How to cite this page:

MLA: “A Tale of Mystery: Or, the Castle of Solitude.” Project Gothic, University of Virginia, 2024, https://gothic.lib.virginia.edu/access-the-archive-2/a-tale-of-mystery-or-the-castle-of-solitude/