The Spectre Mother: Or the Haunted Tower
Author: John Mitchell
Publisher: Dean & Munday
Publication Year: 1800
Book Dimensions: 10.7cm x 18cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.M537 S 1800
This 1800 chapbook by John Mitchell begins with a mysterious murder within Rovido castle and explores revenge, true love, and crime as the ghost of the slain woman visits characters in the story.
The Spectre Mother: Or the Haunted Tower is a short novel of 30 pages. It measures 18 centimeters in length and 10.7 centimeters in width. There is no cover attached to the book. The pamphlet was likely torn out of a larger collection of short Gothic chapbooks that were sold individually to maximize profits for the bookseller. On the spine are remnants of its leather binding and the adhesion used to keep the binding attached. The book was sewn together and threads are still visible sticking out between its pages.
The title page is instantly visible due to the lack of cover and is the reader’s first impression of the chapbook. It has a colored ink sketch of a scene within the book that covers about a third of the page. Below the ink drawing is a quote from a scene on page 12. The quote reads, “I cannot step by that child, said Moresco.” The colors yellow, green, red, and blue dominate the watercolor drawing, causing the illustration to stand out distinctly on the weathered, slightly browned title page. Above the ink drawing at the top of the page is the title of the book. It is printed in several different fonts with swooping lines surrounding the title, creating a pleasant and artistic look. Below the title is printed, “By the author of Midnight Horrors, Female Pilgrim.” The bottom of the title page contains the publisher information. The book was published in London and was printed and sold by Dean & Munday at 35 Threadneedle Street. At the top left corner of the title page is a pencil-written note that says “Ghosts.” The note was likely written by a bookseller to categorize the novel and label it for readers interested in ghost stories.
There are no decorations or illustrations within the text of the book. The paper is thin and delicate. The pages are soft like cotton and the fibers of the paper are clearly visible. Each page is a yellow-brown color that gives the novel an aged look.
The page numbers are at the top corner of each page and there are letters at the bottom of several pages throughout the book. These letters, “B, B3, C, C3,” were printed to assist the person responsible for binding the book. The pages were all printed out on large sheets of paper that had to be folded and oriented in a certain way to create the finished product. This was common practice at the time, and the method was used until around 1900.
The book has an overall elegant and classic look. Its average size ensures that the font and type in the novel are not too small. There is not a lot of empty, white space within the text and the margins are of average size so the pages do not feel cluttered. The sentence structure used by the author, John Mitchell, is varied and the paragraph sizes are fairly consistent throughout the book.
There is limited information to be found about The Spectre Mother: Or the Haunted Tower and its author, John Mitchell. It left little to no impression on British journals, though another more popular story by Mitchell—The Female Pilgrim—was reviewed several times. The Spectre Mother was originally published by Dean & Munday in London in 1800. Subsequent editions were published in 1820 and 1823. The 1820 edition was also printed by Dean & Munday and the 1823 edition by an American publisher, W. Borradaile, based in New York. In addition to Gothic novels, Dean & Munday also published historical and children’s books, like The History of Germany, and the German Empire, and The Butterfly’s Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast.
There seem to be a few versions of the 1800 edition of The Spectre Mother available today. Some contain two watercolor ink illustrations, while others contain only one on the title page. A digital copy of this edition can be found on the Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery. The 1820 edition of the story printed by Dean & Munday is identical to the first edition and changes no aspects of the original story, though it does include an additional watercolor and ink frontispiece opposite the title page. A digital copy of this edition can be found on Google Books. The later edition of The Spectre Mother was published in May of 1823 by W. Borradaile in New York City, which proves that there was enough interest in the story for it to be marketable in the United States. The title page of this edition contains the publisher information as well as the fact that it was sold “wholesale and retail, at his book-store, 130 Fulton-Street.” This version was printed as a pamphlet and threaded together with a red paper cover displaying prices for various chapbooks. The copy was advertised to cost 12.5 cents. It contains the exact story of the first edition, but has a different watercolor illustration, title page, and layout within the pamphlet. Its pages are slightly larger and the paragraphs are formatted differently.
Two works of John Mitchell’s are featured within The Spectre Bridegroom and Other Horrors edited by Robert Reginald and Douglas Menville. This anthology of reprinted horror and ghost stories was originally published in 1976 and includes The Spectre Mother and Midnight Horrors: Or the Bandit’s Daughter. They are both attributed to an anonymous author rather than John Mitchell. Another edition of the book was published in 2006.
There is little information available about John Mitchell, the author of The Spectre Mother. He wrote several other stories, including The Female Pilgrim and Midnight Horrors: Or the Bandit’s Daughter. While no reviews of The Spectre Mother were found, The Female Pilgrim received mixed reviews, one of which stated that the story was “an unequal imitation of the celebrated Pilgrim’s Progress, which is, perhaps, inimitable” (Griffiths 219). This could be similar to the case of The Spectre Mother, as many lesser known chapbooks were imitations of works of previous authors.
The Spectre Mother is listed in Franz Potter’s The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835: Exhuming the Trade. Potter states that the author was “confined by the restrictions of the bluebook” and therefore the reader is immediately immersed in the “contrived, gloomy atmosphere, often by forcing the location, such as a castle, to reflect the antagonist” (72). Following this analysis is a sample of the text from the first paragraph of the story, exemplifying the mysterious and ominous tone of the first several pages of the book. The author, however, is again stated as unknown and there is no mention of John Mitchell within the book.
Narrative Point of View
The narrator of The Spectre Mother is unknown and utilizes third-person narration. The narrator unveils the emotions of each character and shares their thoughts and concerns while also driving the plot forward. The story is narrated with ample descriptions that highlight the actions and eccentricities of each character. The sentences are long and the language evokes strong images and feelings.
The dark spirit of Moresco shrank from the presence of innocence thus forcibly delineated, and wanted courage to perpetrate a deed so horrible; but at the moment, the mother moved in her sleep, and with instinctive fondness pressed the babe closer to her bosom, as though to save it from the blow that hovered over it. —The transient beam of benevolence that had broken on the guilty soul of Moresco, vanished before his apprehensions of personal safety, and his thirst of gold; and with a nervous and well-aimed blow, he pierced her virtuous heart, who had never known even a thought injurious to his welfare or his happiness. —One faint and quivering sigh alone told the departure of the pure spirit from its mortal habitation! (8)
The style of narration in The Spectre Mother provides the reader with enough insight into the characters to understand their motivations and thoughts, but not too much to give away key plot points. In the beginning of the text, the narrator explains Moresco’s conflicting feelings about murdering Julia and her child, yet the reason that he was tasked with this mission is not disclosed until later in the story. The narrator uses the emotions of the characters to add to the dark melancholy tone of the story. Angela’s feelings of solitude and gloominess are described in detail by the narrator and they set the mood for her encounter with the ghost of Julia. As Angela tries to sleep, for instance, the narrator exposes that “she mused with terror and curiosity of the incidents of the night” and that “her distressed mind wandered to a no less painful, though a far different subject of meditation” (12).
These descriptions also bring to light the distinctions amongst the characters. While Angela pines for the life she lost when she was taken by banditti, and later worries about the safety of Julia’s baby, Moresco is primarily concerned with pleasing his boss and making money. The narrator also uses long, descriptive sentences to depict how characters react to surprises and supernatural visits. This configuration draws the reader in and builds tension as the narration follows the actions of the characters. Additionally, the narrator’s language—utilizing adjectives and adverbs frequently while describing the settings—evokes a strong sense of visuality.
The Spectre Mother: Or The Haunted Tower begins with the clock of Rovido castle striking midnight. A man emerges from the shadows of the dark halls and sneaks to the inhabited area of the castle. He carries a lantern and a concealed weapon as he makes his way through the castle, pausing frequently to quiet his guilty mind and ensure no one is awake. He enters a secret door and ascends a flight of steps to a gloomy gallery. The novel now exposes him to be a murderer as he removes a marble statue, presses a hidden panel behind it, and enters the chamber of his intended victims.
Moresco finds the woman he plans to kill, sleeping with her baby in her arms. He watches her sleep and experiences a moment of hesitation before stabbing her. She lets out a final sigh and dies. He points the knife at the baby and it smiles at him. Moresco snatches the child and is about to kill it when a blue light flashes and he sees the pale figure of the mother standing in front of him. She points to the corpse and bloody letters form over the body’s head. They read, “Let the life of the innocent be spared, to plead for the guilty soul of the murderer” (9).
Moresco drops the dagger and sinks to the floor in terror. He holds the child and vows to protect the infant. The spirit vanishes and he flees from the castle. He decides that he will not inform his employer that he failed to kill the child, and instead throws its bloody clothes into the river. He returns home and tells his wife, Angela, to take the child and raise it as her own. He angrily refuses to tell her who the mother is and she relents to abate his temper. Moresco makes her swear to keep it a secret. She recounts to him that earlier that night, the flames of the candles were extinguished and she heard a soft and dismal sigh in her ear. Moresco lashes out over this news and declines to address it. They go off to bed.
It is revealed that Angela Modeni was orphaned and destitute at an early age. The Marchioness di Montmorenci took her in and provided her with an education. When she was twenty years old, the Marquis di Montmorenci returned home from traveling abroad. They both had feelings for one another and he expressed his openly to Angela. She felt guilty about depriving the marchioness of a daughter in law of equal birth for her son, so she resisted his affections. When the marchioness found out about her son’s interest in her, she had Angela removed and induced her to secretly move to a distant convent. En route to the convent, Angela and her attendants were surrounded by banditti. Two of them, Ludovico and Moresco, were drawn to Angela immediately.
Moresco was the youngest son of a Neapolitan nobleman and was to inherit an estate, but his extravagant lifestyle caused him to lose everything. He desperately tried to win back his inheritance, but did so dishonorably. This resulted in him being forced to leave Naples. He met Ludovico’s men and joined their group and rose in their ranks to second-in-command.
Upon meeting Angela, Moresco wanted her for himself. He convinced her to rely on him to help her escape the banditti, and she reluctantly agreed. In order to appear more deserving of her favor, he proposed to her. Angela accepted and they got married and moved to a dilapidated tower in a deserted area in Italy. Soon after, Moresco started working for a man named Count Ruvello. The Count was third in line to inherit a family member’s fortune, after the man’s wife and child. Once the man tragically died in battle, the Count discovered his proximity to the man’s fortune. Greedily, he could not resist the temptation of wealth, and consequently hired Moresco to murder Julia and her child.
The day after the murder, Moresco wakes up, dresses as a friar, and leaves to meet with Count Ruvello. The Count begins to question him about the absence of the child’s body. Moresco becomes frantic as he believes he hears Julia’s sigh in the room, but the Count hears nothing. Moresco makes an excuse for the child’s missing body and explains that he dropped it in the river. The Count offers him a reward and asks Moresco to stay for a few days.
Angela wakes up soon after Moresco’s departure. Though she hates when he is around, she is lonely in the gloomy ruin when he is not there. She takes comfort in the baby and stays close to it. Late that night, a flash of lightning wakes her up. She goes to where the baby is sleeping and is greeted by a bleeding form surrounded by pale blue vapor. Angela is terrified and watches as it glides towards the bed and bends over the sleeping baby. It turns to Angela, raises one hand towards heaven and points the other toward the wound. It motions for Angela to follow, which she does not comply with. Then, a surprising enthusiasm takes over Angela and she grows courageous. She believes that she is being selected for something important. Angela picks up the sleeping baby and follows the spirit.
The ghost glides in silence to the end of the apartment, a concealed door flies open, and they make their way through a dark passage. The spirit pauses, turns to Angela, sighs, and sinks into the ground. Where it disappears, there is now a chasm. Angela experiences an irresistible force compelling her to descend the ruined steps down into the abyss. After doing so, a loud rumbling sound above her head causes her to look up and she sees the chasm close above her. Shadowy hands beckon her forward and she musters the courage to continue through the underground chambers. The ghost that brought her down is now standing by an altar of black marble stained with blood and adorned with human bones. It beckons her forward and motions to a crack in the marble containing a bloody dagger. The ghost points one hand to her bosom and the other she points to the weapon and traces the name of Moresco carved on the hilt. The spirit tells her to save the innocent from the guilty, explains that the Count hired Moresco to commit the murder, and says that she must restore to the child the inheritance that he has taken away from her. The ghost tells Angela not to fear acting with firmness as her virtue will produce her happiness.
Angela wakes up on a small bank near her house, ready to obey the spirit’s request. On Angela’s return home, it begins to rain and she decides to approach a building to ask for shelter for the night. No one answers her call. Angela, tired and desperate, ascends a staircase nearby and takes cover in a gallery and soon falls asleep. The baby crawls away from her and cries until a man finds it.
Angela wakes up and panics when she realizes the child is missing. She searches the area until she finds the baby resting on a couch in a nearby room. The man reenters, and she is shocked to discover that it is Di Montmorenci. They have a joyful reunion until he sees her wedding ring and is reminded of her unavailability. He throws himself on the floor and she begins to calm him, explaining the situation she is in. She decides to leave out Moresco’s involvement in the story but feels conflicted. She does not know how to carry out the mission that the spirit set for her without exposing the Count and endangering the life of Moresco. Angela requests to speak with a holy monk about the important matter, and move with the child to a convent temporarily. She confesses everything to Father Bernada, who urges the necessity of bringing the Count Ruvello to justice, while only revealing Moresco’s guilt if necessary.
The next morning, Angela and the baby leave for the convent, much to Di Montmorenci’s sadness. During their stay, Angela’s attachment to the baby grows stronger and stronger. She then receives a letter from Father Bernado. He and a party of officials went to Count Ruvello’s home to confront him. The Count and Moresco were seated together upon their arrival. After inquiring about Moresco’s religious dress, the Count instantly implicated Moresco in order to divert suspicion away from himself. Both men were confined to guarded rooms, where Moresco committed suicide. Count Ruvello was brought to trial, found guilty, and banished. Father Bernado tells Angela that the child must be returned to her family home for her existence to be universally acknowledged. Since there is no guardian for the child, Angela can take on that role. He tells her that he recounted her actions to the Pope, and the Pope decided to bestow two thousand crowns on her for her misfortunes.
Di Montmorenci visits Angela at her new home with the child and they get married after her twelve months of widowhood are complete. Father Bernado officiates the wedding and the couple soon sets off for Venice, where Angela is received with respect and esteem due to her new rank.
Griffiths, Ralph. Monthly Review, or, Literary Journal, 1752-1825, Vol. 27, Hurst, Robinson, and Co., 1762.
Mitchell, John. “The Spectre Mother, or, The Haunted Tower.” Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery, https://cdm16014.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p4014coll9/id/18519.
Mitchell, John. The Spectre Mother: Or the Haunted Tower. London. Dean & Munday, 1800.
Mitchell, John. The Spectre Mother: Or the Haunted Tower. New York City. W. Borradaile, 1823.
Potter, Franz J. The History of Gothic Publishing: 1800-1835: Exhuming the Trade. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Reginald, Robert, and Douglas Menville, editors. The Spectre Bridegroom and Other Horrors. Wildside Press, 2006.
Researcher: Ruby G. Peters