The Imaginary Adultress

The Imaginary Adultress

Author: Unknown
Publisher: Corri and Co.
Publication Year: 1808
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 2 volumes, each 11.4cm x 17.7cm
Pages: vol. 1: 169, vol. 2: 183
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .I435 1808

This 1808 novel takes place in thirteenth-century France and includes pirates, slavery, lost children, and the machinations of a very devious husband on an unsuspecting wife.

Material History

Front Cover of The Imaginary Adultress

The Sadleir-Black Collection’s copy of The Imaginary Adultress is, at first glance, not much to behold. The book exists in two volumes of identical size and nearly identical physical appearance, so for the sake of this report one can assume that any description applies to both volumes. The book is small, about the length and width of a person’s hand. The dimensions are 11.4 cm by 17.7cm for the binding, and slightly smaller for the pages. However unassuming it may seem, it is evident that the book has been well-read and studied, as the front cover dangles from the spine by a few threads. The overall appearance of the book is worn, tattered, and faded.

The text remains wrapped in its original binding. The front and back consist of marbled paper, a technique in which cardboard and recycled paper are covered in a layer of paper dyed in colorful ink. What is unique about The Imaginary Adultress is that most of the marbling has faded or rubbed away, revealing the text of the recycled paper underneath. The black words rise to the surface horizontally over the faded green, brown, and grey swirls. The front cover appears to be formed from a recycled Bible, as one of the few legible phrases in the mass of text once-hidden under marbling is “And the angel of God.” On the back cover, the recycled paper bleeds through the marbled paper too, and appears to be a chart of numbers.

The spine is bound with brown leather, now cracked and peeling in decay. A stripe of dark red leather sits near the top, stamped with a texture that has not faded over the years. Two gold bands separate the red leather from the brown on both ends. Gold text printed onto the red leather reads:



The only outer difference between the volumes is a faint number 1 and 2 stamped into the spines under the red stripe. The second volume is in worse physical condition. The front cover has completely separated from the spine, but the marbled effect is better preserved.

Half-title page for The Imaginary Adultress

Gently opening the cover reveals a yellowed first page. The edges of the paper throughout the books are stained almost black, and the discoloration penetrates about a half inch into the page. Some pages (96-121 in volume 1) are stained with light brown dots almost like freckles or spots of mold, hundreds on each page. These spots are due to the books having been stored somewhere damp. Multiple other pages are stained from liquid, or are creased.

The half-title page displays a black title surround by wavy lines: THE Imaginary Adultress. It is worth noting that the second volume includes a flyleaf in the front of the book, and that this copy of the first volume does not. It is possible that this page is missing. Turning the page again unveils the full title page, which reads “The Imaginary Adultress. In Two Volumes.”

The next line indicates that this is in fact the first volume. Underneath the title is the name of the printer “E. Thomas,” and the address of the publisher, “Corri, and Co. No. 15, Little Newport-Street, Leicester-Square; and Colburn, Conduit-Street, New Bond-Street.” At the bottom of the page the date of publication is repeated, “1808.” No author is named.

The next page is the first of the story, and the words “The Imaginary Adultress” take up the top half of the page. The text begins with a drop cap, “O” and then the word “FANATICSM” followed by an exclamation point. The remaining text follows correct punctuation and capitalization.

The margins are a little over a half an inch on the sides, and a little less than an inch rom the bottoms and top of the page. Though beginning on the second page of the text, the page number appears in the top margin. In the bottom margins of some pages, there are capital letters A-F in the first novel, and numbers. For example, on page 153 of the first novel, the bottom margin contains the code “H 3”. These letters and numbers exist as instructions from the printer to the book binder on how to fold and assemble the pages, which were printed in long sheets. The typeface is quite large, and the words are loosely set on the page with large spaces in between them. Each line contains roughly six to seven words, and many words split with hyphens. There is about half a line of spacing in between each line. Overall this gives the effect of a large amount of “white space” on the page.

Sample of Unknown Annotation, Inside Back Cover, Volume 2 “The plot of this book is almost ______ in its absurdity-–the three husbands being the same man.”

The book contains no illustrations of its contents, but under the title on the first page of text, there is an intricate line design. On the final page of the second volume, there is another intricate illustration of a line, but entwined with vines and holding a banner which reads: “FINIS.”

On the inside cover and back pages of the first volume, and the back page of the second volume, there are notes written in pencil. The handwriting is in cursive and difficult to transcribe.

On the inside front cover is written:
     Old Novel
     [unreadable word]
     [unreadable character or letter]

Farther down the page is written slanted and a small drawing: 

On the inside back cover, there are page numbers (27-28, 56, 150) written alongside notes about the text. The person who wrote this could have been a student, professor, or scholar studying the novel within the Sadleir-Black collection, or it could be the handwriting of the original owner. The second volume has more page numbers and notes inscribed into the inside back cover.

Textual History

The first edition of The Imaginary Adultress was published and printed in 1808, in both English and a German translation. No later editions were published until 1987­–1990 by a publisher “Stuttgart: Belser” in English. More recently, both volumes of the first edition of the novel have been digitized as a part of the Corvey Collection within the Gale database, “Nineteenth Century Collections Online: European Literature, 1790-1840.” Because of this, the book is now available for purchase on Amazon; as of 2017, listed prices were paperback for $13.95 and hardcover for $23.95.

Title page for The Imaginary Adultress

There is no author listed in the either volume, and no information available on who the author might be. The specific publishing information given on the second page of the first volume is:
   Printed by E. Thomas, Golden-Lane Barbican;
   For Corri, and Co No. 15, Little Newport-Street
   Leicester-Square; and Colburn, Conduit Street,
   New Bond-Street.

The Imaginary Adultress appears in multiple British periodicals from 1807 to 1808. In The Athenaeum, the novel is mentioned in the section “Monthly List of New Publications” under the heading “Novels, &c.” The advertisement reads, “The Imaginary Adultress.  2 vols. 12 mo. 7s. boards.” (“Monthly List of New Publications” 68). These abbreviations explain that the novel exists in two volumes, and was printed on large sheets of paper which were folded twelve times, then sliced into pages. The amount of times the paper was folded is relevant because it expresses the small size of the novel. The “7s” indicates that the book cost seven shillings, and “boards” references that the covers were constructed out of cardboard. Other novels in the list range from five shillings to twenty shillings in price, so it is fair to assume that The Imaginary Adultress was not an expensive read. This same line of advertising is repeated in another periodical, Universal Magazine, under “New Publications.” The advertisement offers only the title, while other novels in the list include short descriptions of their plot or backgrounds on the author. The only other information given in the advertisement is: “2 vols. 8s.” (“Books Published November 1807” 448). In yet another monthly periodical, the price is listed as eight shillings (“List of New Publications in December” 578). In 1808, seven shillings would be roughly 29.54 pounds in England in 2017.

The Imaginary Adultress is referenced in a dissertation by Sister Mary Muriel Tarr published in 1946 titled Catholicism in Gothic Fiction. Her analysis takes offense at the novel’s assertion that Catholicism is a type of “fanaticism” and states that the novel is “flagrantly antagonistic” of the Catholic faith (20).

Narrative Point of View

The Imaginary Adultress is written in a frame narrative, that begins in the first person with an anonymous narrator, who asserts that he or she is retelling the story of a thirteenth-century manuscript. Throughout much of the novel, the narration is third person limited, and retrospective, with occasional commentary from a first-person narrator. The third-person narration spins long sentences with many clauses, blending archaic rhetoric with a stream-of-consciousness-like romantic style. The first-person narrator, in brief asides, interjects lamentations on the fate of the characters.

Sample Passage:

And the happy hut which she had inhabited three months with the tender Bernard. The flowers were there still; and my chronicle pretends, that Clemence did not behold them again without a lively emotion, and that this emotion was all to the profit of love, for in such moments, the heart feels itself more indebted to love, than to Hymen. Hymen in fact, is but a name, love is every thing; it is love alone that gives a value to every favor which Hymen censures. Be this as it may, my chronicler, who appears to be very accurate in his calculations, pretends to have discovered some connection between this journey to the mountain, and the birth of a brother to little Louis, which Clemence brought into the world the following spring. I do not take the liberty to follow him in these singular details; I merely relate the facts as I have found them. (160-61)

This passage contains both narrative styles that are present in the novel. It begins in the narrative style that persists through most of the novel, the third person. With this perspective, our heroic protagonist Clemence, and her beaux, Bernard, are described from an outsider’s view, as the narrator omnisciently reflects on their actions and the plot of the novel. Doing so holds the potential of distancing the reader from the story. Still, even in the first sentence here, the narrative style breaks and references a “chronicle,” which can be assumed to mean the manuscript from which the first-person narrator is extrapolating. At first, this seems to be the author grasping at a semblance of legitimacy for the tale. The chronicle is personified with the verb “pretends,” and again in a different sentence, “my chronicler…pretends.”  This insinuates that the manuscript is not an objective account of history, and that our narrator must take control of the drama into his or her own hands. Thus, the three-hundred-page anecdote is neither reality nor myth, but some muddled in-between filtered through two personal lenses.

The intrigue continues, since the plot from the manuscript which our first-person narrator chooses to censor, contains the mere suggestion of sex. (This theme of covering up sex continues throughout both volumes.) The first-person-narrator reveals that the original manuscript “discovered some connection” between the young couple moving in together after marriage and “the birth.” However, the narrator simultaneously refuses to acknowledge this to be true! “I do not take the liberty to follow him in these singular details.” The conception that a young married couple could produce a child is deemed too scandalous by the narrator, and creates a stiflingly conservative tone for the novel. By “merely” relating “the facts,” our narrator wants the audience to believe that there is no credible connection between two young, married people living together and pregnancy. The narrator comes off as absurd, and begs the question: did the author really think that readers did not know about sex? Or was this simply in keeping with the socially prescribed nineteenth century formality to refrain from even alluding to copulation?  Either way, doing so risks alienating the modern reader by reinforcing a form of repressive sexual ignorance.


The opening page of text in volume 1, featuring a line illustration and drop cap

The Imaginary Adultress: Volume 1 begins with a narrator introducing the story as a tale discovered in a thirteenth-century manuscript. The narrator affirms that the story will take place in the beginning of the thirteenth century, in France.

The story begins by recounting the history of the “Albijenses,” a faith under a man called Peter Valdo that broke off from the “Church of Rome” to take over and become the principal faith of the south of France. The Pope concluded to call the French to take up arms against the people of Lyons, inciting a religious civil war. In Alby, the city where the religious sect began, the church forced a violent inquisition on the residents under a brutal seneschal. Two wealthy residents, Sire de Lautrec and Beatrice de Trincavel, whose fifteen year old daughter Clemence was desired as the queen of the Albijenses, were imprisoned.

To save her parents, Clemence offers her hand in marriage and her family’s fortune to the seneschal in return for their release from prison. The seneschal agrees and releases Lautrec and Beatrice into the mountains, under the condition that they never see their daughter again. Clemence soon becomes pregnant. Her husband plots to become the Governor of Alby by assassinating the current Governor, Simon de Montfort. However, his plot is foiled when De Montfort intercepts a letter, and the Governor has the seneschal hanged. Clemence flees in the night, under fear of her own death. She resolves to find her parents.

In her flight, she hears a mysterious voice and finds a note which tells her to head to Black Mountain. It is there she finds her parents. They confess to each other the sufferings that have passed. The three live comfortably in a cavern in the woods, and Clemence delivers her child, a son named Louis. One day, while De Lautrec is in the neighboring town selling wood, he sees two inquisition men from Alby. Startled and afraid of being recognized, De Lautrec quickly leaves town and attempts to return home unfollowed. Louis is stolen from his cradle at the opening of the cavern, and a note left in his place which says that Louis was taken for Clemence’s safety, and that she is discovered, and must flee to the Valley of Andorre. The three immediately quit the cave and on their journey come across a mutilated corpse, who De Lautrec recognizes as the man who he saw in the market and must have revealed the family’s location.

Once arrived in the Valley of Andorre, the family meets and stays with many families of shepherds in the region. Surrounded by happy couples, Clemence feels lonely and wishes for love. The family lives in a cottage owned by an elderly widow, who wishes for her son Bernard to marry Clemence when he returns from being a soldier. The widow convinces De Lautrec to let Clemence lead the sheep up the mountain in the spring with her son. During the spring festival, Bernard arrives and meets Clemence. They are infatuated with one another, and the widow, father, and entire valley support their coupling. After dancing together, Bernard drops to one knee and offers a bouquet of primroses to Clemence and formally declares his love for her.  Later Bernard tells De Lautrec that in his travels he passed through Alby, and De Lautrec inquires on the status of the town. Then, Bernard sings a love song for the father and widow, which Clemence overhears. She muses that she is fated to suffer and not experience love, but that the safety of her parents is her only consolation.

De Lautrec and Beatrice want to protect Clemence from marrying Bernard, but understand that circumstances do not allow them to leave the Valley. They slowly come to terms with the union of the young couple, and their acceptance of a forever pastoral life.

The young couple ascends the mountain with the sheep, and returns to the cottage of the widow and the parents once a week. After three months in the mountains together, Bernard confesses his love for Clemence again, and she attempts to refuse on the basis of her terrible past, but he implores her to discuss it with her parents before disavowing him. Clemence confesses to her parents that she feels guilt for feeling love. De Lautrec assures her that she can marry Bernard. But Clemence worries that Bernard will spurn her when he finds out she is a widow and a mother. The parents assure her of Bernard’s devotion, and permit her to tell him the story of their family’s struggle

In returning to the mountain, Clemence tells the sad story of her life to Bernard, who weeps and venerates her for her acts of filial piety. He swears to be hers forever, and to be the father of Louis if the boy is returned. The couple descends the mountain and marry in the parish church, then return to their cottage on the mountain as husband and wife. Clemence soon births another son. However, Clemence mourns the absence of Louis. The volume acknowledges that she spends two more years in the valley, but ends on a cliffhanger: that she will be torn from her happiness in the valley.

The second volume begins two years after the end of the first. They valley is threatened by a group of Moorish pirates who are pillaging through the Pyrenees. The young men of the Valley fight the pirates, commanded by Bernard. Bernard dies in battle, or so the fleeing soldiers tell Clemence. Clemence sprints to the scene of the battle and collapses. Upon awaking, she is surrounded by the pirates, who capture her and decide to sell her into slavery. They disembark by ship for Valentia.

Clemence is bought as an attendant for a rich man, Abdulla’s daughter, Fatima. Fatima eventually marries and moves in with her husband, Zaboul. He begins a harem in their home, so Fatima returns to her father. Zaboul avows the slave women and Fatima wishes to return, but “Arabian” law says she must marry another man and be repudiated by him before she may return to Zaboul. Zaboul chooses a Christian slave as the potential husband, and promises his freedom, if he marries Fatima and treats her like a sister. Fatima is married, but before the night, begs her father to save her from sleeping with the slave. Abdulla decides that another woman will take Fatima’s place, but must be drugged asleep so as to not reveal the family secret. Clemence is chosen and drugged and planted in the bedroom. Abdulla also drugs the slave husband to make him more sexual. Clemence is raped without her knowledge during the night. The next day Abdulla sells her to the slave merchants, who are unable to sell her because she grows very sick.

One day a man in the mosque across from the slave merchant’s tent is being spit on and cursed by the Muslims, until he repent his heresies. Later the same man approaches the tent and buys Clemence, takes her to his home and nurses her back to health. The man is revealed to be a doctor and philosopher, Averroës. The book explains that his rival, Zoar, had accused him of heresy.

Averroës regards Clemence as his daughter, and she tells him the sad story of her life. Averroës swears to return her to her family. Clemence is again pregnant. The benefactor tells Clemence that he has learned news that her native Alby has been freed of its tyrants, and that there is no more religious persecution in her home. Averroës sends a slave of his to deliver a letter to Clemence’s parents. The journey takes a long time, and Clemence delivers her third child, a son who she regards with indifference. Averroës implores Clemence to leave the boy with him, so that he may raise the boy as his own son.

The slave returns with a letter from De Lautrec, who asserts that the parents are settled back in their home in Alby, where the son of the tyrant Simon, Henry, is now ruler (but does not share the views of his father). De Lautrec discloses that the son of Bernard was left in the care of the old widow, but who is now unable to be found.

Page 183 of Volume 2, Illustration of intricate line entwined with vines, holding a banner which reads: “FINIS.”

Averroës bids his slave to deliver Clemence to her parents, and the two soon depart for Alby. First, she travels to the Valley to search for her son, but he and the widow are nowhere to be found. Clemence reunites with her parents in Alby, and continues to search for her sons, but in vain. Prince Henry asserts that he and Clemence shall be married, to the surprise of her and the parents. They decide to flee to the Valley of Andorre, if the prince should disregard her refusal. The night after refusing him, Clemence finds on her pillow a note written in the same handwriting as the letter that directed her to her parents and the letter left behind after Louis was taken. The note implores her to meet and consider Henry. Clemence and her parents head to the villa where they meet the slave of Averroës, who has returned with a gift for Clemence from his master. The slave guides them through the woods, but upon passing through the wood, she appears to have been transported to the Valley of Andorre. The cottages of the widow, and the Shephard’s hut are built before her, along with Bernard, the Widow, and her child. Bernard reveals that after the battle, he was captured by the pirates and sold into slavery in Valentia, just as Clemence had. It is then that Averroës’s gift for Clemence is revealed, her son who she left in the old man’s care. Clemence is mortified, but there is a letter around the boy’s neck which reveals that soon after she departed for Alby, the widow arrived to pay Clemence’s ransom. The letter also reveals that this child is the son of Bernard, because it was Bernard who impregnated the drugged Clemence that nuptial night. However, Bernard awoke from his stupor and recognized Clemence, and attempted in vain to wake her from her drugged state. Bernard was then transported back to France and sold.

Clemence is then guided to the villa, to meet Henry. But it is her husband Bernard! Bernard has been Henry, and her secret benefactor, the entire time. He also presents to Clemence her first son, Louis, and confesses that he bribed the seneschal to lay with her during their wedding nights. Therefore, all three of Clemence’s children are of Henry (Bernard).

The couple returns to the cottages, and Henry explains his story. The woman who pretended to be his mother was his childhood nurse. While she travelled to Cordova to find Clemence, Henry travelled to Italy to have Clemence’s first and second marriages dissolved by the Pope. Louis had been raised in safety by a friend. The couple is married and retires to De Montfort with De Lautrec and Beatrice.


“Books Published November 1807.” Universal Magazine, vol. 8, issue 48 (Nov. 1807): 447­–49.

The Imaginary Adultress. London, Corri and Co., 1808.

“List of New Publications in December.” Monthly Magazine, or, British Register, vol. 24, (1808): 577­­­­–78.

“Monthly List of New Publications.” The Athenaeum: A Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information, vol. 3, issue 13 (Jan. 1808): 65­–69.

Tarr, Mary Muriel. “Catholicism in Gothic Fiction: A Study of the Nature and Function of Catholic Materials in Gothic Fiction in England (1762–1820).” 1946. Catholic University of America, Dissertation.

Researcher: Willow Cosenza