A Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter
Publisher: T. and R. Hughes
Publication Year: 1808
Book Dimensions: 11cm x 17.5cm.
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .C667 1808
In this chapbook published in 1808, two characters meet in a convent and realize, through a tale of mystery and suspense, that they have more in common than they thought.
The novel, The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter, is a gothic text published in 1808 in London. The more common title is simply The Convent Spectre, evident due to the fact that this shortened title and the date are the only text that appear on the front cover. The title page inside the front cover displays the full name. There is no official author listed for this text and there are no markings of a potential author in the book.
This work is only 36 pages and does not contain any chapters. The 11cm by 17.5cm chapbook simply consists of a binding, frontispiece, title page, and the text of the story. The Convent Spectre was printed as a bluebook. These were cheap pamphlets of short gothic stories, many of which were essentially plagiarized versions of longer gothic novels. They were called bluebooks because the cover was a thin piece of plain blue paper. Although one of the first descriptions that comes to mind for this novel from a contemporary perspective is that it is unique, in the early nineteenth century it would have been considered extremely commonplace to own bluebooks. The binding paper on this particular copy is more teal than blue, which could be the effects of weathering, or it may have just been printed with slightly greenish paper. Despite flimsy binding, the book has been preserved relatively well for the past 200 years, which leads to the conclusion that it may not have been frequently read before ending up in the Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. The front cover is extremely plain. The title and the date of publication on the cover appear to be handwritten. Everything about the publication highlights its inexpensiveness.
The one illustration in this entire book, the frontispiece, is surprisingly detailed considering the overall quality of the publication. This black and white image fills the entire page. However, as opposed to the multiple pictures that might be featured in a longer gothic text, this bluebook only contains one. On the title page there is in an epigraph of a quote from Shakespeare.
Overall, the book is extremely fragile. The edges of each page are worn away slightly, but none of the pages have been damaged enough so that the text is illegible. The paper itself feels like the material of a coffee filter and has a slightly yellowish tint. There are stains on some of the pages, and one particular stain appears to be from coffee or some dark drink and is noticeable on multiple of the pages. Additionally, the binding is very worn and fragile. The top of it is coming undone but the lower half is still together. Essentially, the book seems to have gone through some wear and tear but considering how delicate the book is as whole suggests that each previous owner of the pamphlet has tried to keep it in good shape.
The layout of each page maximizes the amount of text that could fit in a 36-page pamphlet; there are small margins and small text. Each page contains the title and page number at the top, and some of the pages have marking such as “A2”, “B3”, and “C1” on the bottom. This was a common convention during the gothic time period because it helped the publishers ensure they bound the pages in the correct order. One sheet of text would come out of the printer in eight rectangular pages, front and back, to make sixteen pages of text on each sheet, and then be folded to fit into the binding.
Conclusively, this small, delicate book is a typical, cheap publication of a gothic story. Its simplicity and compactness are both a unique contrast to some gothic texts which come in multiple volumes and with many pictures, but yet commonplace for the average worker in the nineteenth century to own. It is incredible that a such fragile object is still able to be analyzed to this day.
There is no known author for The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter, which results in a significantly ambiguous history. This copy of the chapbook was printed by T. Plummer for T. and R. Hughes (located at 35 Ludgate Street in London) (see also Summers 283). T. and R. Hughes was one of many publishing companies in London at the time, but printed primarily gothic texts during the early 1800s.
There are only three other copies of this chapbook known in the world: one at Princeton University, one at the University of Oxford, and one at the National Library of Wales. Michael Sadleir, the man who donated a large portion of the gothic texts at University of Virginia, owned the copy that is now at Princeton as well. According to their library catalogs, the copies at Princeton and Oxford have the exact same publisher, year, engravings, dimensions, and bluebook cover, which means it is probable that this story was only ever printed once: in London in 1808. It appears that each copy has the same quote from Shakespeare on the title page because both Princeton and Oxford library catalogs mention it in their notes section. This quote reads, “Some unborn sorrow, ripe in fortune’s womb, Now coming towards me, grieves my utmost soul” which comes from Richard II and sets the mood for the novel. Hubert J. Norman was tagged to be someone of importance for the copy in Oxford, but it is unclear what the relation is. According to the Oxford University Library’s catalog entry, it looks like this chapbook may have originally been printed with multiple other stories, all bound together. The Oxford catalog lists two possible bindings for this particular copy; one that is bound with thirteen other chapbooks and titled “Pamphlets” and one that is bound with eleven other chapbooks and is titled “Romances”. The Oxford copy also has a signature which is “A-C6”, which could have a connection to the signature that is on the copy in the Sadleir-Black collection, but it is uncertain.
Although there does not appear to be any connection to other gothic novels, there is a significant connection between this chapbook and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The main character in this play is named Don Pedro, which is the name of the protagonist in The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter. There are also many parallels between the two characters. In Much Ado About Nothing Don Pedro becomes the middle man between all of the events and displays dramatic irony by being oblivious to the connection between characters. This is extremely similar to the role the character Don Pedro plays in The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter. This connection is evidence that this chapbook was influenced by at least one of Shakespeare’s plays. Furthermore, the Shakespearean quote on the title page is not from this play, but rather from Richard II. Therefore, it is probable the author of this chapbook was significantly influenced by Shakespeare’s plays, and perhaps used ideas from many of them to compose this work.
Interestingly enough, there does not appear to be a single literary review on The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter. It appears the work did not sell very well after being printed considering the fact that there are only four known copies in the world and that there are no literary reviews on it. There are also no online versions of the text. This story does not appear to have ever been translated. Furthermore, there are no other texts associated with it, such as a prequel or sequel.
Narrative Point of View
The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter is narrated from a third-person omniscient point of view, but is nearly entirely limited to the experiences of Don Pedro and Theodore. The narration presents the thoughts and emotions of these two characters to the reader, but does not grant the same access to other characters. A significant amount of the book is taken up by Don Pedro recounting the story of his life to Theodore, which is immediately followed by Theodore explaining the events of his life. Similarly, the nobleman also tells his own narrative. Therefore, a large part of the chapbook feels like it is in first person, but in reality, there are just many extremely long quotations from the three characters in the book that share their story. The language includes a lot of description of the different locations in the story, even though the book is rather short.
Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:
After having performed the offices for the dead, Theodore returned to the convent, deeply affected in his mind at the awful scene he had just left. Entering now the chamber of Don Pedro, whom he found alone, he related to him every particular concerning this terrible confession. He then took from his pocket the picture of his daughter, which the dying marquis had given him, and put it into the hands of Don Pedro, who immediately knowing it by its strong resemblance, exclaimed— “Gracious providence ! ’tis she. This is a true likeness of that unfortunate unknown, of whose terrible fate I was myself a melancholy witness ; whose cruel death in my chamber I have related to you, and whose interment cost me so much anxiety and distress.” (35–36)
Sample Passage of Don Pedro recounting his personal story:
I went to the bed, but what was my amazement, when opening the curtains I found this unhappy creature in a frightful posture. I took her by the hand and called her; but alas ! she was dead and cold as ice. (11)
This passage from the book comes at the very end of the story. Through the narration, it is revealed that Theodore is highly distressed, and from Don Pedro’s exclamation it is evident that he is extremely surprised that Theodore’s daughter is the same woman he encountered. Furthermore, he reveals that the daughter has caused him distress. This is a prime example of the way the story combines dialogue and third-person narration to reveal the characters’ emotions throughout the story. When the narration is more inside Don Pedro’s mind, then the dialogue reveals Theodore’s thoughts. Therefore, the third-person omniscient point of view allows us to see Don Pedro and Theodore’s thoughts through both the narration and the dialogue. This narrative style echoes the central plot in which these two characters have overlapping life stories, but they do not know it until the end of the book.
This story begins with the introduction of the character Don Pedro on a rainy, windy night. He is inside the church of St. Michael’s monastery where he finds a man consumed in prayer, who is introduced as Theodore. Don Pedro, highly distressed, proclaims to Theodore that he is responsible for the murder of someone. Theodore tells Don that he believes he is not a bad man and tries to console him. Although the specifics are not yet revealed, it is evident that something significant happened in Don Pedro’s life which has encouraged him to seek refuge in a monastery. After a few days, Don Pedro decides to reveal his life’s events that led him to the monastery because he feels like he owes Theodore an explanation of why he was so agitated the night they met.
Don Pedro was born in Mantua, where he was best friends with his cousin, Marquis de Palmyrin. The Marquis ended up marrying a widely adored woman who becomes the Marchioness. Despite his attempts to suppress his emotions, Don Pedro soon found himself in love with the Marchioness. He decided it was best if he left the Palace de Palmyrin, where they were all living, in order to remain loyal in his friendship with the Marquis. Before leaving, he takes a small picture of the Marchioness. For a period of time after Don Pedro’s departure from the palace, the Marchioness refused to engage in conversation with the Marquis about him because she was secretly in love with Don Pedro as well. The Marquis perceived her disregard for his close friend as hatred for Don Pedro, so the Marquis forced the Marchioness to write Don Pedro a letter saying that she wished for his return to the palace. When Don Pedro received this letter, he was extremely troubled and one night went to a friend’s house for consolation. On his return home that night, he ran into a woman asking for his help. Because the woman appeared so pitiful and in need of help, he decided to let her stay at his house for the night. The woman, wearing fancy clothing but covered in dirt, refused to reveal her identity and take off her veil. The next morning, Don Pedro finds the woman lifeless in her room: suicide.
This event convinces Don Pedro to make the journey back to the Palace de Palmyrin and take the body of the woman with him in a suitcase. Along the way, he stops at an inn with a servant and ventures about a mile from the inn to bury the body in a cave. Immediately after the burial, a man from the inn, referenced as the hermit, appears in the cave. The pair are worried that the hermit witnessed them burying the body and, therefore, the pair tries to escape. Don Pedro and his servant narrowly escape the hermit and hide in the surrounding woods. While attempting to make it back to the inn, the hermit sees them again. This time, they end up in a small town after escaping the pursuit of the hermit. They meet friendly people who provide them with mules so that they can get back to the inn and finish their journey back to the palace.
Back at the palace, Don Pedro soon has an encounter with the Marchioness in which he expresses his love for her after all of this time. She declares she never wants to see him again. Don Pedro obeys this request for a significant period of time, but one night, when Don Pedro thinks everyone is asleep, he sneaks into the Marchioness’s room and kisses her. She does not refuse because it is dark and she thinks he is the Marquis. However, soon the Marquis walks in and chases Don Pedro, who he cannot instantly identify, out of the house. Don Pedro gets away, but in the process drops the picture of the Marchioness he took when he first left the palace. This picture is used as evidence that the Marchioness’s infidelity was with Don Pedro. The Marquis returns to the Marchioness and kills her in his rage and jealousy. Don Pedro returns to the palace and finds the Marchioness dead and screams in despair, which is heard by other women of the palace who come running and immediately assume the murderer is Don Pedro. These events cause Don Pedro to flee to the church, which is when he finds Theodore.
Theodore, after taking in this whole story, understands and begins telling the story of his life to Don Pedro. One day during his childhood, a girl was brought to see him by her mother after hearing how accomplished Theodore was in school. This girl’s name was Emilia and the two ended up falling in love and getting married. Emilia died ten months after the marriage while giving birth to their child, who Theodore named Emilia in her honor. In Emilia’s teenage years, she met a nobleman who sent Theodore a letter proclaiming his desire to marry her. When Emilia received word of this, she hastily declined the offer and told her father the man who sent the letter was not to be trusted. Furthermore, she was already profoundly in love with a man named Mortimer. The nobleman soon sent Theodore another letter expressing that he was determined to marry Emilia and that Mortimer’s life was in danger if his desire was not fulfilled. Theodore became extremely anxious due to this situation and decided to put Emilia in a convent. Mortimer soon grew very sad and one day left his home and never returned. Emilia ceased communication with her father. Theodore turned to religion to find peace and escape guilt. Right after Theodore ends his story, he is summoned by a monk and immediately after the ghost of the woman who committed suicide in Don Pedro’s home appears in front of him and thanks him profusely for his kindness.
Don Pedro is on the verge of committing to the monastery until, one day, he discovers a distressed-looking lady in the church who ends up fainting in his arms. This lady turns out to be the Marchioness de Palmyrin. Surprised by the Marchioness still being alive, he schedules a meeting with her at the Palace de Palmyrin. In this meeting, he learns that the women who blamed Don Pedro for her attempted murder saved her and that the Marquis de Palmyrin left the castle immediately, joined the army, and died from a battle wound. The two decide they want to marry, which provokes Don Pedro to tell Theodore he has changed his mind and wants to leave the monastery. During this conversation, Theodore is summoned to assist a dying man who has entered the church. The man begins to tell Theodore he has many sins on his conscious and asks Theodore to read a letter which describe all of them. The letter reveals to Theodore that this man is the nobleman who wanted to marry his daughter and who also murdered Mortimer. After killing Mortimer, the nobleman had taken a letter Mortimer wrote to Emilia out of his pocket and sent it to Emilia because it describes a way to help her escape the convent. On the planned night, the cloaked nobleman picked up Emilia. When Emilia realized he was not the right man, she became incredibly distressed and fell ill, so the nobleman brought her to Naples to get better. He tried to convince her to live a happy, married life with him, but instead she escaped the place she is held hostile.
Soon after Theodore finishes reading the letter, the nobleman dies and Theodore immediately relates this whole story to Don Pedro, and when Theodore shows Don Pedro a picture of his daughter, Emilia, Don Pedro realizes it is the same woman who killed herself in his house. Right after the pair figure out this coincidence, the ghost of Emilia appears, which causes Theodore to faint. These events lead Don Pedro to be convinced to leave the monastery right away and marry the Marchioness, and in the end, the couple lives happily ever after.
The Convent Spectre, or Unfortunate Daughter library catalog entry. Princeton University Library Catalog.https://catalog.princeton.edu/catalog/2302480
The Convent Spectre, or Unfortunate Daughter library catalog entry. University of Oxford Library Catalog.https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk
The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter. London, T. and R. Hughes, 1808.
Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. Fortune Press, 1969.
Researcher: Lindsay Grose