The Monastery of St. Mary: Or, the White Maid of Avenel. A Scottish Tale.
Author: Emilia Grossett
Publisher: J. Bailey
Publication Year: Unknown
Book Dimensions: 10.8cm x 17.4cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .G76 M n.d.
This early nineteenth-century chapbook by Emilia Grossett is a Scottish tale featuring various encounters with the mythical White Maid of Avenel. The story is believed to be plagiarized from The Monastery by Walter Scott.
The Monastery of St. Mary by Emilia Grossett is a short text, only twenty-four pages in length. The size of the pamphlet is only 17.4 by 10.8 centimeters. The pages are yellowed with age and relatively thin. The font appears to be one that is standard to today’s texts, similar to Times New Roman. The pamphlet is not bound by any sort of cover, though pamphlets from this era were frequently bound with a leather cover or bound with other similar pamphlets together as a bunch.
Since this copy of the pamphlet is unbound, the first thing that the viewer sees is the label that reveals that it is from the Sadleir-Black Collection at the University of Virginia. On the backside of that page is the only illustration that can be found in this pamphlet. The illustration is in color, and it shows a man in a kilt and a woman wrapped in a white sheet. The man’s brightly colored pink socks have bled through the page, and the ink can be seen on the previously mentioned cover page. The pink marking caused by the bleeding of the sock color seems irregular and is likely not visible in most other copies of this pamphlet. After the illustration comes the pamphlet’s title page, which states the full title, The Monastery of St. Mary: Or, the White Maid of Avenel. A Scottish Tale,followed by the author’s name and the publishing information. On this title page, a faint mark of the previous illustration can be seen as though it was printed onto the page like a watermark. This mark is most likely sun damage or staining, and not an intentional addition to the text.
One noticeable and possibly confusing part of the book to the untrained eye is the page numbers. The standard page numbers, which number up to twenty-four on the final page, are in the top corner of the text. There is a second set of numbers, however, that appears at the bottom of the first five odd-numbered pages. These numbers have the letter A in front of them (A2, A3, etc.) and are useless to the reader, but very important to the printer of the text. When pamphlets like these were printed in large sheets and then folded and cut into the order that they were meant to be read in, the printer used these numbers to ensure that the pages were configured correctly.
Some final details that one might notice when looking through the pamphlet include the publishing information and the price. The price is listed on the title page as sixpence. The publishing information appears on the title page below the price, and on the final page below “The End.” This reveals that the pamphlet was published in London, despite its advertisement as a Scottish tale.
One of the most important things to note about Emilia Grossett’s chapbook, The Monastery of St. Mary, is that it was almost certainly plagiarized from Walter Scott’s 1820 novel, The Monastery. Both the novel and the chapbook have the same characters as well as the same plotlines, except for the chapbook being a simplified version of the plot due to its brevity in length. This makes it difficult to find information about the chapbook specifically, because any mention of the character names or locations in the chapbook almost always lead to mentions of Scott’s novel.
There is a beautiful frontispiece in The Monastery of St. Mary, but unfortunately the illustrator’s name is either unlisted or illegible. The illustrations of similar scenes such as one titled Halbert Glendinning’s First Invocation of The White Maid of Avenel in an 1821 London edition of Walter Scott’s The Monastery were done by a man named Richard Westall, but they are clearly not by the same illustrator as the chapbook version because Westall’s work looks much more polished and professional than the frontispiece in The Monastery of St. Mary (Font 130).
Under the caption of the frontispiece, the publisher of the chapbook is listed as “J. Bailey.” This was a publisher who operated out of London at 116 Chancery Lane. According to E. W. Pitcher, Bailey was active at that address from the years 1809 to 1815, however there is also evidence pointing to Bailey publishing before 1809 and after 1815, including this chapbook which, though undated, was presumably published after the 1820 novel that it plagiarizes (Pitcher 78, Koch 75). According to the British Museum’s archives J. Bailey was active in publishing from 1799 to 1825 when the press was eventually shared with at least one other man by the same surname, William Bailey, suspected to be his son (“J Bailey”). J. Bailey is listed as the publisher for many gothic chapbooks and pamphlets from the early nineteenth century, among other small literary works and informational handbills (Bonnets 41).
Emilia Grossett is a fairly mysterious author with not much credited work in the literary field. There are a couple texts that have her listed as the author, however, including The Spirit of The Grotto from 1799, and The Freebooter’s Wife from 1819 (Summers 56). The latter title is listed as a book, not a chapbook, published as one volume. Montague Summers’s Gothic Bibliography and several library catalogues, including WorldCat, spell the author’s surname as “Grosett” as opposed to “Grossett” as it appears on the title page of The Monastery of St. Mary. Grossett’s other known texts were not published by J. Bailey.
Narrative Point of View
The Monastery of St. Mary is written in the third person by an anonymous narrator who is not a character in the text. The narrator mostly focuses on the dialogue and events that transpire throughout the world of the story, but they occasionally exhibit omniscience by describing the characters’ thoughts or feelings that are unvoiced in the story. The language used by the narrator is modern enough that it reads very easily, with the exception being the dialogue, which sounds a little more antiquated than the general writing style in the text. As would be expected, the text uses British spelling which is noticeable in instances such as writing “pedlar” instead of “peddler.”
Father Philip, eager to acquaint the Abbot of the discovery he had made, rode homeward as quick as his mule would carry him ; and in spite of the haste he made, the moon had risen before he reached the banks of the river, which it was necessary for him to cross to reach the Monastery. As the Monk came close to the water’s edge, he saw a female sitting under the remains of a large broken oak tree, looking on the current, and weeping most piteously ; surprised to see a female there at that time of night, yet supposing her grief arose from her wish to cross the river. Father Philip politely addressed her, and offered to carry her across on his mule. (5)
This excerpt demonstrates the narrator’s use of the third person, the description of scenery and events in the story, and insight into the characters’ (in this case Father Philip’s) thoughts and emotions in response to events or other characters in the text. This description of the internal reaction that the woman causes in the monk offers a clearer idea of how the character feels about the White Maid of Avenel than just a description of her appearance would. In the description of the woman, the narrator also offers an interpretation of her emotional state, that she is “weeping most piteously,” which seems to be the way that Father Philip perceives the woman and not necessarily just a description of what she is doing.
The Monastery of St. Mary is set on the border of Scotland, where the magnificent Monastery of St. Mary sits on the bank of a river. Simon Glendenning and his family live in the Tower of Glendearg, which is located a few miles from the monastery in a hidden glen. Despite the tower’s inaccessible nature, Simon is called to war and dies at the battle of Pinkie. His widow Elspeth surrenders her tower and is pitied by the Englishmen.
The widow of Sir Walter Avenel, whose husband was killed in the same manner as Simon Glendenning, has been forced from her home by the Englishmen and is roaming helplessly around the country with her children. They find shelter in the home of a shepherd, Martin, and his wife, Tibb, but their cattle have been killed and they will soon starve if they stay there. The group decides to take a chance and go to the Tower of Glendearg, hoping that Elspeth will welcome them due to Lady Avenel’s high status, which she does.
Lady Avenel intends to return to her mansion once the country is more peaceful, but Julian Avenel seizes possession of the mansion. Therefore, Lady Avenel stays at Glendearg where her health gradually declines due to the death of her husband. Elspeth sends Martin to fetch the priest at the monastery so that Lady Avenel can confess before she dies. The priest emerges from her chamber after a long wait and is in a foul mood. He says that he suspects the house to “be foul with heresy” (5). Elspeth is alarmed but admits that Lady Avenel often reads out of a black book. Father Phillip is horrified when he sees that it is a book of holy scriptures, which is a sin when possessed by anyone but a priest. He takes the book from them.
On his way back, the priest reaches the river and sees a woman weeping on the bank. He calls out to help her. She leaps on the back of the mule and leads it into the water, then dunks the priest in the water thrice and throws him on the bank where he lies unconscious. Once he is found, the book of scriptures is gone. His jumbled story is questioned by many people, including Father Eustace, who goes to Glendearg to enquire about the priest’s visit.
Father Eustace is informed of a strange figure who returned the book, which he again confiscates. On his way back, the priest’s mule stops suddenly at a turn in the road and hears an unbodied female voice whispering to him. He is then thrown from his mule, unconscious, and wakes up in the dark. Upon returning to the monastery, the priest learns that a trooper had gone to confession after seeing a white woman on the path where he intended to murder Father Eustace that night. The trooper, named Cristie of the Clinthill, accepts a gold cross from the father before departing. The priest realizes that the book is once again gone.
Days later, Halbert Glendenning goes out alone and summons the White Maid. She helps him retrieve the book, then disappears. Halbert returns to the Tower with the book, and finds a miller and his daughter, Mysie. Soon after their arrival, Cristie of the Clinthill and Sir Piercie Shafton arrive, hoping to find hospitality there since the knight is fleeing death in England. Halbert and the knight clash with one another, due to their mutual superiority complexes.
The next day, Halbert is once again offended by Sir Piercie, and goes to summon the White Maid. She gives no advice but hands him a token to use when Sir Piercie boasts again. Upon returning to the tower Halbert is once again offended by Sir Piercie, so he presents the token. It works, and the knight is immediately calmed, but realizes Halbert’s power over him and says that it will cost the boy his life. They agree to duel in the woods the following morning. When the morning comes, they go to the site of the enchanted fountain to fight. They find in its place a neatly dug grave and shovel, which Halbert denies preparing.
They duel, and despite the knight being a more skilled fighter than Halbert, the latter stabs Sir Piercie, apparently killing him. Halbert tries to summon the White Maid, but nothing happens, and he screams curses at her for putting him in this position. Fleeing, Halbert finds a man in the valley who he drags back to the site of the duel, hoping to save the knight. They find the grave filled, but the only trace of the knight is his doublet that was laid down before the duel. The stranger, named Henry Warden, listens to the story and advises Halbert to find shelter at the castle of Julian Avenel instead of returning home.
At the castle they find Julian accompanied by a young woman, Catherine, who is unmarried although pregnant. This offends Henry because he is a preacher, and he advises Julian to marry the woman. Julian is enraged by his advice and throws Henry in the dungeon. Halbert is locked in a bedroom to stop him from interfering. Halbert escapes his room through a window.
Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Glendearg are alarmed that Halbert and Sir Piercie have yet to return, and they send Martin out to look for them. Martin finds the grave, the bloodstains, and the doublet. Martin returns and is telling the others what he found, when Sir Piercie walks into the apartment wearing blood-stained clothes. This leads them to believe that Halbert is dead, and Edward decides to get revenge for his brother’s death. He confines the knight to a guarded room until the grave can be searched the following morning. Father Eustace arrives at the castle and requests a private meeting with Sir Piercie, who admits that Halbert wounded him and he fell unconscious, before waking up with the realization that his wound had miraculously healed.
It is forgotten that Mysie’s bedroom is within the larger room in which the knight is being held, and she overhears his conversation with Father Eustace. Mysie takes pity on the knight and decides to save him. She goes to the door and whispers to Edward that she is trapped. Edward opens the door and Mysie and the knight exit the apartment, undiscovered by Edward due to the lack of light in the stairwell. The knight flees with Mysie on a horse but is almost immediately seen and shot at by Edward. They manage to escape, and they eventually stop in a village to rest. Mysie disguises herself as a man.
Meanwhile, Halbert has found an inn in which to stay and there he meets a pedlar who knows where to find the recipient of Henry Warden’s letter, Lord Moray. The two men agree to travel together the following morning, and they find themselves before the Earl of Moray. The Earl is informed that the Monastery of St. Mary is surrounded by English troops who are searching for Sir Piercie Shafton. Halbert is instructed to lead the men to the monastery and advise the two sides to wait until the Earl arrives to fight. The Earl and Sir John Foster arrive simultaneously, and the former announces that his purpose was fulfilled, since they had captured Sir Piercie. Upon closer inspection, they discover that the person they captured is in fact Mysie.
All of the troops arrive in procession at the monastery, in search of Sir Piercie. The knight advances from the crowd and says that he is leaving England with his bride, Mysie. Halbert and Mary Avenel marry and regain possession of the Castle of Avenel. They live there with Elspeth, Martin, and Tibb happily ever after. Edward joins the Monastery of St. Mary and beholds the last sight of the White Maid of Avenel, whose fountain eventually dries up and is never seen again.
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“J Bailey.” The British Museum. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/AUTH227817. Accessed 27 Oct. 2020.
Font, Lourdes M. “Five Scenes from a Romance: The Identification of a Nineteenth-Century Printed Cotton.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 22, 1987, pp. 115–132.
Grosett, Emilia. The Freebooter’s Wife: Or, the Hag of Glenburne; A Scottish Romance. W. Mason, 1819.
Grossett, Emilia. The Monastery of St. Mary: Or, the White Maid of Avenel. A Scottish Tale. J. Bailey, 1820.
Pitcher, E. W. “Pirates and Publishers Reconsidered: a Response to Madeline Blondel.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 75, no. 1, 1981, pp. 75–81.
Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. The Fortune press, 1941.
Researcher: Rain J. Eguiguren