Fatal Vows, or, The False Monk, a Romance
Publisher: Thomas Tegg
Publication Year: 1810
Dimensions: 18.4cm x 11.3cm.
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.F368 1810
In this circa 1810 chapbook, backdropped against the outskirts of Italy, a complicated web of family, loyalty, and betrayal spirals a noble family into conspiracy and murder.
Fatal Vows is presented in a disbound pamphlet. The pamphlet was once bound, but there is no longer a hardcover. Paste on the spine of the pamphlet and gilding on the top edge of the pages reflect its previous state. Presumably, Fatal Vows was at some point bound with other pamphlets for ease of storage and style—a common practice at the time. The pages themselves are a linen blend (with perhaps a bit of cotton) in fairly decent shape. The paper is browned by age, but not brittle. There are no significant stains and few splotches—none that obscure the text or decrease legibility.
Fatal Vows is 18.4 x 11.3 cm in dimension, and sixteen pages long. Along the top of the pamphlet the pages are uniformly trimmed, but all other edges are slightly irregular. This variation is presumably due to the nature in which the collection of pamphlets was bound. Commonly, pamphlets of varying sizes were trimmed to the dimensions of the largest pamphlet. Works smaller than the largest pamphlet were often missed by the blade on a few sides, leading to irregularities in page edges like Fatal Vows’.
The front page of the pamphlet, once the University of Virginia note is moved aside, reads “William Coventry // Piccadilly.” This inscription indicates that the text was likely part of a personal collection. The next two pages feature the only two illustrations in the pamphlet, one in the frontispiece and one on the title page. The frontispiece illustration is brightly colored and depicts two men standing outside of a building. The man on the right, with a red cape and green suit, is holding out a sword. The man on the left, with yellow trousers and a blue tunic, appears to be making a vow on the sword. This illustration is helpfully captioned “Rinaldo binding Montavoli by an Oath.” Below the caption is the mark of the publisher, “Pub. By T. Tegg June 1810.”
The second illustration follows immediately after the title. At the top quarter of the page is the title, which varies between flowing cursive and block lettering (indicated by italicized and non-italicized text, respectively) reading: “Fatal Vows, // or // The False Monk, // a // Romance.” Below the title is the second illustration, depicting a man in purple leading a man in green down a staircase and into a stone room. The caption curves around the bottom of the illustration and reads “The Spirit of Montavoli’s Brother ledding him to a place of Safety.” Below the caption, once again, are three lines of the publisher’s information. The first line, “London”, indicates the city Fatal Vows was printed in. The next line repeats “Printed for Thomas Tegg, III, Cheapside June 1-1810” and the final line indicates the price: “Price Sixpence.”
Once the story itself begins, the page layout is relatively consistent. Aside from the first page, which repeats the title (interestingly adding a “the” before the title, the only point in the chapbook where this occurs) before beginning the story about halfway down the page, the margins on the page vary slightly from page to page but average out to a 2 cm outer margin, 1 cm inner margin, 2.5 cm bottom margin, and 0.5 to 0.75 cm top margin. At the top of each page, centered just above the text, is the title in all caps: FATAL VOWS. The page numbers are on the same line as the title, to the far left (for even number pages) or right (for odd number pages) edge of the text. The text itself is single-spaced. The only notable features in the story pages are the occasional letters at the bottom center of the page. Page six has a B, page nine has B3, page seventeen has a C, page nineteen has a C2, and page twenty-one has a C3. These letters serve to assist the printer in ordering the pages—pamphlets like these were generally printed on one large sheet, folded together, and then trimmed to allow for page-turning.
Unfortunately, there is very little either known or recorded on Fatal Vows, or, The False Monk, a Romance. Both the author and illustrator are unknown. Francis Lathom has been named as the author, notably by Google Books, due to the similarities in titles between Fatal Vows and his work The Fatal Vow; Or, St. Michael’s Monastery, but this is a misattribution. Only two copies of Fatal Vows are available online: one on Google Books courtesy of the British Library (although the author is misattributed, as Francis Lathom), and one through the University of Virginia’s Sadleir-Black Collection. Fatal Vows is mentioned in a handful of catalogs listing known gothic novels, but with no opinion or further insight attached to it, with one exception.
Fatal Vows has not been featured in much academic work. However, that does not mean Fatal Vows was entirely unnoted beyond the commercial sphere. Its one notable reference is an allegation that Fatal Vows is a plagiarism of, or at least very heavily influenced by, Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk. In Peter Otto’s introduction to the Rare Printed Works from the Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction at the Alderman Library, University of Virginia, he notes: “Like Radcliffe’s works, Lewis’s novel inspired a host of plagiarizers, imitators and competitors. The mystery of the black convent (London: A. Neil, [n.d.]) and Fatal vows, or The false monk, a romance (London: Thomas Tegg, 1810) are two of the many chapbooks that draw heavily on The Monk.” This is the only academic work to articulate opinions on Fatal Vows, although it is cited in other works and catalogs.
There appear to be no prequels, sequels, reprints, translations, or adaptations connected to Fatal Vows. Even when published, there is no surviving (if any) mention of Fatal Vows in the ads or articles of the time. There was no announcement in the newspapers of the time and no evidence that Fatal Vows stirred any public notice or controversy.
The only name that can be reliably connected to Fatal Vows is the publisher of the novel. T. Tegg (or Thomas Tegg III) is listed on both available scans as the publisher and bookseller and is comparatively much more well documented. Tegg set himself apart from his contemporaries by both the low prices and the lower quality of the books he produced. His self-description as “the broom that swept the booksellers’ warehouses” fairly articulates his practice of reprinting successful novels, works past copyright protections, and remainders (Curwen 391). Considering the nature of the works published by Tegg, it is perhaps not unsurprising that Fatal Vows was published with little fanfare.
Narrative Point of View
Fatal Vows combines the main story told in the third person by an omniscient, detached narrator, and interpolated stories told by characters explaining things that either occurred off-page or before the story began. There is no meta-narrative of the story’s origin or any relation to the narrator, but characters often narrate their own backstories through letters and oral stories, which are narrated in the first-person voice of the relevant character. The style is fairly formal, with no contractions and winding prose. The epistolary narratives vary slightly depending on the character narrating them, ranging from powerful emoting to detached cynicism, but the overall tone is still formal and vaguely antiquated.
Example of Third-Person Narration:
Rinaldo now informed Count Montavole that Miranda was his own daughter by Serina. The Count grew very faint; to encrease his misery Rinaldo added: “Know likewise that it is a BROTHER who is the death of thee.” He had no sooner finished this speech than he was seized for the murder of the Count, and as he quitted the dungeon he put a paper into Alberto’s hands. Montavole only lived to ejaculate, “a brother ! Miranda too my daughter ! oh—” (25)
Example of Interpolated Oral Tale of Susanna’s Confession:
Unconscious of what I did, I took the dreadful oath, and went gently into Lady Leonora’s room, and changed children with her, by which means Montavole has reared up his brother’s son instead of his own. (20)
Example of Interpolated Tale of Rinaldo’s Letter:
Hereupon I was seized by two footmen in livery, who dragged me to a noble palace: I was conducted to an elegant saloon, when a nobleman, for so I learnt he was, desired me to relate the whole adventure; accordingly, I did. He then observed that I had been used ill, and in return desired his nephew to give me a diamond ring. (26)
Overall, this chapbook’s narration focuses much more internally than externally—there is little imagery or scene building, but a heavy emphasis on the actions of the characters, which drive the majority of the plot. This contrasts with the low-key delivery the narrator uses to convey plot twists or surprises, as exemplified in the first passage. Miranda being the daughter of Count Montavole is a devastating plot twist even by itself, but Rinaldo being the brother of Count Montavole is even more so. However, the verbs used to describe Rinaldo’s proclamation are low-energy (“informed” and “added” are not exactly declarations) and Montavole’s death (who, in fairness, was already on the way out) is received without much fanfare. Within the scene, the room is full of characters that would be rattled by these announcements, but their perspectives are not noted. Even the announcement of Miranda’s parentage reads like an afterthought.
When characters themselves are narrating, more of their personality is able to shine through and influence the story. Susanna’s passage, when she explains the kidnapping she committed almost two decades ago, is full of qualitative adjectives and descriptors; Susanna is one of the kinder, moral characters in the story. This is juxtaposed against Rinaldo describing an altercation in his boyhood, where he describes his own actions with more understated neutrality.
Fatal Vows takes place on the outskirts of Italy, in a castle owned by a Count named Savini. Count Savini has two sons: Montavole and Alberto. Alberto is the youngest and is a charming and obedient son, while Montavole is morose and selfish. Montavole leaves home at an early age to pursue his own interests, breaking Count Savini’s heart. While on his travels, Montavole is attacked by bandits. His life is saved by a stranger, who identifies himself as Rinaldo and commands Montavole to repay his debt by swearing a vow of friendship and loyalty. Montavole is troubled but agrees, and Rinaldo vanishes into the night with an ominous “be careful of Saint Peter’s day” (7).
Eventually, Montavole hears word that his father is critically ill and returns home to see him before he passes. Unfortunately, he is too late, but in their grief Montavole and Alberto reconcile and Montavole decides to settle down. Montavole marries a rich woman named Leonora, and Alberto marries his fianceé, Matilda. Montavole and Leonora are miserable, as their marriage was one for money rather than love and Leonora is afraid of Rinaldo, who Montavole now keeps company with, but Alberto and Marilda are happy and in love. However, tragedy strikes one night when Alberto is murdered. The murderer escapes into the night, and the heavily-pregnant Matilda dies of grief in labor shortly after.
Over the next twenty years, two things of note occur. Firstly, Rinaldo is arrested after killing a man in a dispute, but escapes from jail just before his execution. Secondly, a baby girl is left on Montavole and Leonora’s doorstep with a letter in her crib. Leonora reads the letter, swoons, and decides to raise the child (now named Miranda) as her own, locking the letter away without explanation.
At the end of these twenty years, Leonora is now on her deathbed. Montavole and their son, Alphonso, (who is in love with Miranda despite the two being kept apart by his father) have been out of the kingdom for weeks, leaving only Miranda around to tend to Leonora. Knowing her time is coming to an end, Leonora decides it is time for Miranda to know the truth about her birth. She gives Miranda a key to a cabinet that holds the mysterious letter from her crib. Leonora directs her to read the letter, burn it, and then leave the castle to join the nearby convent. Her only warning is to avoid the castle’s resident monk, Roderigo, who she finds suspicious. After Leonora dies, Miranda goes to the cabinet, but the letter is not there. She despairs, but is interrupted by a mysterious voice that tells her “You have a father living… your father is a murderer!” (13—14). Overcome with shock, Miranda faints.
Alphonso and Montavole return, too late to say goodbye to Leonora. Alphonso rushes to Miranda but Montavole stops him. He has betrothed Alphonso to the daughter of a man to whom he owes a significant amount of money. In exchange for Alphonso’s hand (and prestigious family name) the man will not only forgive Montavole’s debts but offer a substantial dowry. Alphonso is heartbroken but consents.
Miranda, in the meantime, goes for a walk in the surrounding countryside to bolster her spirits. She comes across a cottage with an old woman named Susanna and her nephew, Alonzo, who is insane. Susanna tells Miranda that eighteen years ago, a woman who looked very much like her came to the cottage and died, leaving behind a baby who was taken away by a “mean-looking man” (15). Miranda concludes that she must have been the baby, but returns homes before uncovering anything else. However, as soon as she returns home Roderigo (the suspicious monk Leonora was so afraid of) seizes her and locks her in an abandoned tower. Montavole ordered her to be locked away so she could not get in the way of Alphonso’s wedding, and Roderigo tells her she will stay there for the rest of her life.
Meanwhile, with Miranda effectively out of the picture, Alphonso and Cassandra’s wedding goes off without a hitch. In the ceremony, however, Cassandra drinks a goblet of wine (provided to her by Roderigo) and dies of poisoning. There was another goblet of wine meant for Alphonso, but he disappears shortly after the ceremony and is spared from the chaos. The castle descends into an uproar.
After a few days in the tower, Miranda discovers a key to the door and flees to Susanna’s cottage. She begs Susanna to let her stay the night before she leaves the kingdom, and Susanna readily agrees. That night, however, Montavole and Roderigo break into the cottage. Miranda tries to intervene but she is powerless to stop Montavole and Roderigo, and they murder Alonzo. Susanna comes down just in time to see his death and exclaims “Count Montavole you have killed your son, the real offspring of Leonora… you cruel man!” (19—20). Shocked, Montavole flees. Roderigo takes away the body, and Susanna confesses Alonzo’s backstory to Miranda.
Susanna used to be a servant at the castle. When Matilda died, her child had actually survived, but lord Montavole commanded her to take the child away to the cottage and raise it as her nephew. However, Susanna switched Alberto’s child (Alphonso) with Montavole’s (for no discernable motive) and took him instead. Shortly after confessing, Susanna dies of grief. Miranda returns to the castle, hoping to beg Alphonso for protection, but comes across Roderigo instead. He gives her the letter Leonora had meant to leave her and leaves the room. Miranda finally learns her origins.
Montavole was Miranda’s real father all along. Her mother, Serina, was a noblewoman with a sickly father and little money. Montavole secretly murdered her father, who had attempted to keep him away from Serina, took Serina in, and got her pregnant. He strung her along for a while, promising that once his father died they would get married, but one day Rinaldo revealed to Serina that Montavole’s father had died long ago. Moreover, he had been married to a rich woman for the past twelve months. Serina fled, selling her clothes and jewelry, but was robbed by a coachman. She made her way to Susanna’s cottage and died of grief, and baby Miranda was taken away to the castle.
Meanwhile, Count Montavole is hiding out in one of his dungeons, having been led there by his brother’s ghost—but it is not his ghost. Alberto has been alive the entire time. Roderigo (who is revealed as Rinaldo) bursts in, in the middle of an unspecified fight with Alphonso, but switches tactics to kill Montavole. In Montavole’s final breath he realizes Miranda is also his daughter.
Miranda and Alphonso marry, and Rinaldo is put to death. A letter he wrote before his arrest reveals his own motivation. Rinaldo was actually Alberto and Montavole’s half-brother. His mother, Angelina, was seduced by Alberto and Montavole’s father (Count Savini), but he grew tired of her and abandoned her. Angelina gave birth to Rinaldo and managed to get by for a few years, but caught small-pox and lost her beauty. All her admirers abandoned her, and they were forced to sell all their furniture and move into a small apartment. They eventually ran out of money, and when Rinaldo was nineteen they were evicted. Angelina died in the streets, penniless and heartbroken, but before she passed she told Rinaldo about his father and begged him to avenge her death.
Now it is Alberto’s turn to reveal how he survived. Count Montavole had hired an assassin to kill him, but the wound was not fatal. One of Rinaldo’s servants saved him but locked him in a dungeon in the castle, where he lived until the servant slipped up and left behind a key. The servant himself had conveniently died a few days ago. With all the mysteries explained, everyone lives happily ever after.
Curwen, Henry. “Thomas Tegg: Book-Auctioneering and the “Remainder Trade.” A History of Booksellers, the Old and the New 1st ed., Chatto and Windus, 1873.
Fatal Vows: or the False Monk, a Romance. Thomas Tegg, 1810.
Fatal Vows: or the False Monk, a Romance. Thomas Tegg, 1810, Google Books, books.google.com/books?id=mDfNxphLieoC&source=gbs_navlinks_s. Accessed 27 Oct. 2020.
Otto, Peter. “Introduction.” Rare Printed Works from the Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction at the Alderman Library, University of Virginia. http://www.ampltd.co.uk/digital_guides/gothic_fiction/Introduction7.aspx. Accessed 27 Oct. 2020.
Researcher: Brynn Jefferson