The Three Ghosts of the Forest

The Three Ghosts of the Forest

The Three Ghosts of the Forest, A Tale of Horror. An Original Romance.

Author: Unknown
Publisher: D. N. Shury
Publication Year: 1803
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10.2cm x 16.5cm
Pages: 34
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .T565 1803

In this 1803 chapbook, jealousy, secrecy, kidnapping, and murder erupt as Orlando pursues romance with Isabella, Octavia, and Adela—three sisters.

Material History

At first glance, this book looks very frail and worn. With dimensions of 10.2cm x 16.5cm and a thickness of about 0.5cm, it is very small and thin. The cover is completely blank, and it is only yellowed paper (there is no kind of leather or hardback cover on the front). Also, there is no back cover of the book, it is just a piece of paper with writing from the beginning of another story.

The title page for Three Ghosts of the Forest

The title of this particular gothic book has a few different forms. Because the frail cover of the book is blank, the first place where the title appears is on the backside of the cover. In this location, the title is Three Ghosts of the Forest. The font of the title is relatively large, and it is fancy because the letters are outlined in black but have no color on the inside of the letters. The only other information on this page is the illustration as well as the artists’ names under the illustration. On the title page, which faces the inside of the cover, the title of the book is printed as The Three Ghosts of the Forest, A Tale of Horror. An Original Romance. The font here is solid black and much larger. The title page features a short four-line poem, and some decorations are present on the title page which include black lines separating the different parts of the title and separating the poem from the list of publishers underneath. It also includes the city of publication, London, and the year it was published, 1803. The decorative black line also appears below the word “finnis” on page 34. Once again, on the first page of the text, the title reads The Three Ghosts of the Forest. While this book has a title printed within it several times, it lacks an author’s name. This component does not appear anywhere throughout the book.

The novel also contains a frontispiece illustration. It is a black and white picture of two women wearing long white dresses, and they are surrounded by trees and grass. There is no caption beneath this picture, but the shorter version of the title is written underneath it. The artists’ names, however, appear underneath the illustration.

One of the most compelling parts of this book is a piece of patchwork that one of the original owners glued onto the back of the title page. There must have been a rip on this page, so somebody took the liberty to paste a fragment of a piece of paper over the rip. The patch has cursive handwriting in ink on it, and it is amazing to think that somebody wrote that so long ago. Other than the University of Virginia Special Collections Library stamp on the front of the book, this is the only mark of ownership.

This page features a hole over what appears to be the word “virtue”

This book has a relatively small font just because the book itself has such small dimensions, but it is not difficult to read the text. The text is not particularly closely set. Surprisingly, the margins of this book vary by page. Sometimes, as on page 5, the margins are much thinner on the right side than on the left, although on page 27 for example the margins are extremely crooked. As a result, the text is slanted on the page. This is a great example of the book’s individuality; every copy probably does not have the same margins since the printer that was used obviously printed some of the pages crooked.

This fragile book lacks a strong binding. The binding is paper, and it is held together by strings. There are no decorations on the outside of the book, and what would be the back binding is just the first few sentences of another different story. The book’s paper is very worn and yellowed. Many of the pages are stained with dark spots. The paper is thin and brittle, and page 13 actually has a hole in it which impends the reader from seeing one of the words.

Textual History

This book has an epigraph on the title page in the form of a short four-line poem. This poem appears to be original to this story, and it functions to give the reader an idea of some of the story’s themes. The narrator of the poem wants to escape his conscience because it will not let him forget some of the worst things he has ever done. This is relevant to the story since Orlando regrets his crimes so deeply by the end of the book.

Illustration showing Isabella’s ghost warning Adela about Orlando

There is little information available about the contemporary reception of The Three Ghosts of the Forest. However, the work does appear in several modern examinations of Gothic literature. One example of this book appearing in a twentieth-century work is Ann B. Tracy’s The Gothic Novel 1790–1830: Plot Summaries and Index to Motifs (1981). This resource provides a summary of the story, as well as summaries of many other gothic stories from the same time period, all organized alphabetically (177–81). It is interesting to note that despite the alphabetical organization, The Three Ghosts of the Forest also has thematic links with its surrounding stories. The summary featured before The Three Ghosts of the Forest is of a book called Tales of the Dead that also features ghosts. The book that is summarized after The Three Ghosts of the Forest is called Rosalind de Tracy; while this summary does not include ghosts, it includes elements similar to The Three Ghosts of the Forest such as marriage problems and death.

The Three Ghosts of the Forest also appears in Toni Wein’s 2002 work, British Identities, Heroic Nationalisms, and the Gothic Novel, 1764–1824. Wein comments on the unlikeliness of Isabella being able to escape her captivity because a servant accidentally left the door open. She also mentions the anonymous author’s message that indulgence and absence of religion make for a terrible person, as well as the message that wealth has too much influence on people and that it can keep good people from seeing the wrongdoings of evil people (161­–2). Something that is extremely interesting is the fact that in this source, the gothic book that is discussed on the next page is called Tales of the Dead, which is the exact same book that The Three Ghosts of the Forest was grouped with in Tracy’s work. According to Wein, Tales of the Dead also includes themes of economic corruption (163).

The Three Ghosts of the Forest is also featured in Franz J. Potter’s The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835. This 2005 work provides information regarding the publishing of many gothic books, but it only mentions The Three Ghosts of the Forest once. Surprisingly, this source states that the author of The Three Ghosts of the Forest is named Alexander Thomson. No other references of the book in other sources mention an author, and there is no author listed anywhere within the actual book, so it is unclear where this information originates. The History of Gothic Publishing also states that the book was “repackaged…into blue-book format” in 1803 (54).

There is a contemporary digital copy of this book, which can be found with the full text on Google Books. It features the same exact image that is on the hard copy of the book in the Sadleir-Black Collection. It even includes the first three pages of the story The Miraculous Preservation of Androcles which is exactly what the UVA Library’s copy includes at the end of the text. A difference between the two copies of these books is that the online version includes red stamps on some of the pages that say “British Museum 1560,” indicating its unique history of ownership.

Narrative Point of View

The Three Ghosts of the Forest includes both first- and third-person narration. The book is narrated in the third person for most of the first twenty-two pages of the book, and then it is narrated in the first person until the second paragraph of page thirty-three. After that, the remaining page is narrated again in the third person. The third-person narrator is anonymous and does not appear in the text. The narration in the third-person sections feels very emotionless and detached because, at some points, the narrator simply states the plot points. At other times, though, the anonymous narrator provides the reader with the characters’ emotions and processes of reasoning. The interpolated first-person narrative, which begins on page twenty-two is marked by a title, “The Confession of Orlando.” Orlando is the first-person narrator, and he gives more insight into his own feelings and reasons for his actions while explaining his point of view from his death bed. His narration feels very straightforward, as he is confessing and finally providing important information to help the reader understand the plot of the story.

Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:

The affrighted ruffians fled, leaving the wretched Octavia, unknowing whether she would live or die, in the forest—but she died in great agony about an hour later. (16)

Sample Passage of First-Person Narration:

I was left heir to a plentiful fortune, but the indulgence I had long enjoyed now led me to associate with what are called men of spirit; but never having met with any enlightened character to warn me of my evil, to shun those men of spirit that I thought wise, but were totally living under the idea of their own self knowledge and protection, having no knowledge of God, so that I was living like a wild man of the woods. (22–23)

The third-person narration is significant to the story because it has a way of distancing the characters from the reader. The description of Octavia’s death is very brief and abrupt. The absence of any of her last thoughts or wishes makes it difficult for the reader to empathize with her or mourn her death as a character. On the other hand, Orlando’s first-person narration allows readers to understand precisely how he is feeling. There is a heavy emphasis on circumstances and fate versus free will in his portion of the story. He appears to have a lack of agency which is caused by his circumstance that he is surrounded by ungodly men. Attributing his poor decisions to fate, he does not even consider the possibility of taking control and seeking out godly men who can help him change his ways. Octavia, while also lacking agency due to the fact that she is killed, does not get to have a long first-person narrative before her death. Readers are only given the in-depth perspective of the single male character in the story rather than also getting the perspective of one of the many female characters. This suggests that although both female and male characters lack agency, only the male character is important enough—and has enough agency as a storyteller—to give a testimony before death.


This story begins with an introduction of a few of the main characters. The Baron Arnhalt lives in the Chateau, and he has three daughters: Isabella, Octavia, and Adela. He plans to leave an equal share of his fortune to each of his daughters when he dies, and if any of them were to die unmarried, he would leave that portion to his nephew, Orlando. Orlando is also a wealthy man, and he wishes to marry one of the three daughters. Isabella is the oldest daughter, who has very good manners and is described as being “noble” (A2). Octavia is the second oldest daughter; she is artful, witty, and pretty. Adela, the youngest of the three, is described by the narrator as being very similar to Isabella, with an almost identical personality. Their father dies when Isabella is eighteen, and Orlando does not know which daughter he prefers yet.

Orlando starts to visit the Chateau much more frequently after the death of his uncle. He is able to rule out Adela as a possible suitor because she is being educated in a convent and he has not seen her in several years. He likes Isabella the best, but although she likes him as a person, she does not like him romantically. Octavia, though, is in love with him, and she wishes he would see her the way he sees Isabella.

This page features a handmade patch

Octavia makes friends with Orlando, and she tells Orlando that she will try to convince Isabella to accept his offers of marriage, but Octavia is not as innocent as she appears to be. Isabella had previously been in love with a man named Honorio, but he started to prefer Octavia. Isabella is such a good person that she encourages them to be together despite her love for Honorio.

Soon after, Honorio and Octavia are married. Once Isabella knows Honorio is with Octavia instead of her, she falls in love with a man who does not have much money. Honorio is not happy being Octavia’s husband, and they do not live together happily. Three months after their wedding, he is accidentally killed in the forest by ruffians. He hates being with Octavia so much that very soon after their wedding he made his will and left her basically nothing. The story returns to the present moment when Octavia assumes that now that she is a widow, Orlando will pursue her, but he still fancies Isabella.

One day, Orlando gets so fed up by the fact that Isabella does not love him that he and Octavia arrange for a group of people to kidnap her when she is outside alone to get some fresh air. Isabella finds herself in a furnished room with heavy bars on the doors and windows to prevent her escape. She is given anything that she wants or needs, and after a week of being kidnapped, she has nothing to complain about other than the fact that she wonders why she was taken away and wishes to be back at home. She also worries about how Octavia is doing not knowing where her sister is, when in fact Octavia is partly the reason for her kidnap. On the sixth day of her kidnapping, a disguised man comes into the room. He tells Isabella that she can be freed if she agrees to be his mistress, and he gives her three days to decide. After the three days have passed, he returns, and when he speaks this time, Isabella realizes that it is the voice of her cousin Orlando. He throws off his disguise, and she cannot believe he did such a thing to her. She scolds him and asks if he understands God’s laws, and after her speech, Orlando tells her that Octavia has him under her spell and that she is the reason he did this. He also tells Isabella that Octavia wants her to suffer and wants to take her fortune. Isabella is devastated by this news. She tells Orlando that if all her suffering is Octavia’s fault, she’ll return home and forget that he kidnapped her, but he tells her she must stay and be his mistress. Orlando leaves the room, reasoning that he will either keep her there until she dies unmarried or convince her to marry him, so either way he can receive her fortune.

News of Isabella’s disappearance has reached Adela’s convent. She decides to return home rather than take the veil. When Adela returns, Orlando sees how similar she is to Isabella and develops feelings for her. Whenever he thinks of releasing Isabella, he decides against it since Adela, his new object of affection, would surely hate him for doing that to her sister.

Octavia, still annoyed that Orlando does not love her, decides to threaten to tell Adela all that he has done. Octavia and Orlando agree to meet the next day at Orlando’s castle. Orlando then arranges for four men to stop Octavia on her way to his castle and take her to a distant convent and force her to take the veil. As Octavia is walking to the castle, a storm rolls in, and as she approaches the spot where Honorio was killed, the four men jump at her and one of them accidentally pierces her with his sword as she tries to escape. As this happens, Honorio’s ghost appears and says that his death had been avenged, with the same sword that killed him.

The same night, Isabella escapes from Orlando’s castle when a servant accidentally leaves the door open. As she runs through the woods, a robber comes out from behind a tree and takes everything she has, stabbing her to death afterwards.

When Adela hears of the deaths of her two sisters, she has to be carried to her bed and spends the next two weeks in a frenzied state of mind. When Orlando hears the news, he is not shocked about Octavia, but he is surprised to hear of Isabella’s death. Rather than dwell on depressing thoughts, he decides to go see Adela and try to win her hand in marriage. Adela agrees to marry him after the time of mourning has passed, not knowing of his involvement in her sisters’ lives.

One day, after Adela visited Orlando, he was walking Adela home just after sunset and the ghost of Octavia appeared. Octavia’s ghost tells Orlando that his time is near and then disappears. Orlando leads a distressed Adela to the end of the forest, but before they get out, Isabella and Honorio’s ghosts appear as well. Honorio looks angrily at Orlando, while Adela follows Isabella’s ghost away from Orlando. Once they arrive at the bank of a small river, Isabella’s ghost tells Adela not to marry Orlando because he has murder on his conscience. After that, the ghost disappears. Although she feels torn because she loves Orlando, Adela decides never to see him again and runs home.

The next day, Orlando wakes up with a terrible sickness, and he fears that Octavia’s ghost’s prediction is coming true. Adela only agrees to go visit Orlando because it is his dying request. When she gets there, she’s shocked at his sickly appearance and he starts telling her his confession of all the evil that he has done.

He starts his story at the beginning of his life, talking about how he was spoiled as a child and how his parents died when he was eighteen, leaving him a fortune. He lived an indulgent life, spending most of his inheritance and blaming his bad character on the unreligious people that he surrounded himself with. When Adela’s father died, he figured he should marry one of his daughters in order to gain their third of the fortune. He tells the story of how he loved Isabella and how he and Octavia conspired to get Octavia and Honorio together. Orlando became friends with Honorio and would always talk to him about how great Octavia was and how awful Isabella was, leading Honorio to marry Octavia. However, shortly after being married, Octavia told Orlando how terrible it was being married to someone who did not actually love her, and she requested that Orlando get rid of Honorio somehow. Orlando sent hired ruffians to kill Honorio, but afterwards, the guilt consumed him. Octavia did not regret it at all, and she expected to become rich by inheriting Honorio’s fortune. Although, as we already know, he left her nearly nothing in his will. Octavia then worried about the fact that Isabella was to marry a poor man, because she knew he would not want Isabella to keep helping Octavia financially. For this reason, Orlando says Octavia convinced him to kidnap Isabella. He felt very guilty after this and after acting odd around Octavia, they both knew that they were not on the same side anymore. One day, after Octavia left his house, an anonymous man requested to speak to Orlando about something urgent. He told Orlando that Octavia planned to poison him when they met the next day, so Orlando decided to hire the same ruffians from Honorio’s death to kidnap Octavia and take her to a convent. The ruffians return, though, to report to him that they had accidentally killed her and that they saw Honorio’s ghost. With both Octavia and Isabella dead, Orlando figured he could now pursue Adela without anything getting in his way. Octavia’s ghost haunted him constantly, saying she would not rest until he was dead.

Finished with his story, Orlando tells Adela to be happy that she escaped a terrible sister as well as a marriage with a terrible man. He begs God for mercy, and Adela cries for him. Happy to receive her pity, he finally dies. At his funeral, Adela thinks of how she wishes to escape this wicked world, so she decides to go live in the convent, donating one third of her fortune to the convent and the other two thirds to those she thought worthy. Whoever she donates the final two thirds of her fortune to remains ambiguous in the text.


Potter, Franz J. The History of Gothic Publishing, 18001835, Exhuming the Trade, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

The Three Ghosts of the Forest, A Tale of Horror. An Original Romance. London, D. N. Shury, 1803.

Tracy, Ann B. The Gothic Novel 1790–1830: Plot Summaries and Index to Motifs, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2014.

Wein, Toni. British Identities, Heroic Nationalisms, and the Gothic Novel, 17641824, Palgrave, 2002.

Researcher: Julia Wright

The Female Bluebeard

The Female Bluebeard

The Female Bluebeard: or the Adventurer

Author: Eugène Sue
Publisher: W. Strange
Publication Year: 1845
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 12.5cm x 18.5cm
Pages: 306
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .S83 F 1845

In this 1845 Eugène Sue novel, the Female Bluebeard is believed to have killed her past three husbands and now has three lovers: a pirate captain, a hide dealer, and a cannibal.

Material History

The Female Bluebeard title page

The Female Bluebeard: or the Adventurer is originally a French text by Eugène Sue; this edition presents the English translation. This edition does not give the original French title, but the French edition is entitled L’Aventurier ou la Barbe-bleue, with the name Barbe-bleue, or Bluebeard, coming from a French folk tale. In this edition, the full English title, The Female Bluebeard: or the Adventurer, appears on the fifth page and across every set of adjacent pages. Additionally, the author’s name appears on the fourth page under an illustration of the author, and again on the fifth page, under the title. It is on the fifth page that the book also gives the name of the illustrator, Walmsley, and the publisher, W. Strange.

The translator of this particular English edition is not specified, but we do know it was done in London in November of 1844, and the copy was published by William Strange in his office at 21, Paternoster Row, London, England in 1845. The text features thirty-four illustrations by Walmsley, and a separate epilogue to the story entitled “The Abbey of Saint Quentin.” The translator provides the reasoning behind the epilogue, noting that Eugène Sue was notorious for tying up the rest of his stories very quickly and in an “unsatisfactory manner” (286). Thus, this additional story gives a finished outcome and resolves any unanswered questions.

Translator’s Note for The Female Bluebeard

The translator prefaces both the full story and the epilogue. The epilogue was published separately by T.C. Savill, Printer, 107, St. Martin’s Lane in London.

The book is entirely unique, the cover of the book being a hard paper board which has been hand painted with a marbling technique. This particular cover has a muted, gray-green color with small swirls of reds, yellows, and blacks mixed in. The spine and the corners of the book are bound with dark brown leather, and the spine has both seven sets of parallel gilded lines going across it and a shortened version of the title, Female Bluebeard, also in gilt on the top of the spine. The book is 12.5cm by 18.5cm, and the edges of the cover and around the leather are worn. The binding of the book is still well intact; however, it is fragile upon opening it.

The opening of Chapter 1

Inside of the book, the first couple pages are end sheets of a thicker, more brittle paper, and the rest are of a softer, thinner sheet. There is a table of contents after the title page with both the chapter names and corresponding pages indicated. There are thirty-eight chapters plus an additional two for the epilogue. The pages of the book are identified with numbers indicated on the top left and top right of the pages, consecutively. There is a total of two-hundred and seventy-six pages for The Female Bluebeard: or the Adventurer, and the full story including the epilogue concludes on page three-hundred and six. Roman numerals, appearing at the bottom of some select pages, going up to the numeral XX, or twenty, were indicators to the people who bound the books which sections went in order.

The font of the text is rather small and closely set, and the margins are not very large. The illustrations appear both at the beginning of some chapters with the first letter of the first word in that sentence incorporated into the drawing, as well as throughout the chapters. They are all done in black ink by wood cuts. The illustrations don’t feature a caption, but they reflect scenes from that particular page or section. In some of the illustrations, the name of the illustrator, Walmsley, can be found cleverly hidden. For instance, in the opening of the chapter there is an illustration in which Walmsley’s name appears under the shadow of a fallen candlestick.

This particular book has some marks from previous ownership and from natural weathering. There is a name on the first page of the first chapter, written in pencil and signed in cursive, as well as a number scrawled in the corner of one of the first pages of endpapers. The significance of both is unknown. The pages show some browning and staining from air pollution interacting with the books over time, but little to no stains are from human error.

Textual History

Portrait of Eugene Sue printed in
The Female Bluebeard

The author of The Female Bluebeard: or the Adventurer, Eugène Sue, was well known across Europe, his French texts being adapted into every European language. He was lauded as the nautical romance author of Europe. His early works, generally maritime and romance focused, were immensely popular and enjoyed, but ultimately viewed as immoral and depraved. Many authors and publications were quick to defend Eugène Sue’s own moral character though, and his popularity in France led him to be elected as a representative of the people. After publishing several books then going into debt, Sue decided to leave Paris and abandon his upper-class roots to be among the people. This prompted his most popular novels, Mathilde and Les Mystères de Paris, which gave rise to many imitations and put him in the spotlight as a great socialist philosopher and novelist. Sue wrote some of the dramatic adaptations of these novels as well as for some of his other works, including the Morne-Au-Diable, an adaptation of The Female Bluebeard: or the Adventurer (“Eugene Sue: His Life and Works” 54­–66).

The Female Bluebeard was published in several manners. The book could be purchased whole as a single volume, but there was also the option to buy it in sections. It was sold in twenty parts in a magazine, for a price of one penny each. The sections contained two of the illustrations each. This twenty-number option could be bought by the publisher in London at 21 Paternoster-row, or “at all booksellers in England, Ireland, and Scotland” (The Standard 1). The W. Strange edition from 21 Paternoster Row, in 1846, just published, could also be purchased whole for three sickles (“Popular Books” 32). The English version of the text was published by several companies in London and by one in New York. The first English edition was the London edition by W. Strange. The New York version of L’Aventurier ou la Barbe Bleue, published in 1844 by J. Winchester, is titled differently as The Female Bluebeard; or Le Morne au Diable, taking from the name of the Female Bluebeard’s habitation. It is only one hundred and fifteen pages. The London publisher, Stokesley pr. owned by J.S. Pratt, likewise, used this title in their publication of the novel in 1845. This edition contained two volumes, measuring 445 pages, and a two-page insert about the other novels published by Pratt at Stokesley. The French text was translated to English for this edition by Charles Wright. Later, in 1898, The Female Bluebeard had several of its chapters published weekly in a London newspaper on “tales of mystery,” and it was advertised as a story of “love, intrigue, and adventure” (“Tales of Mystery” 241). There are several advertisements regarding the editions and where they could be bought. Stock of The Female Bluebeard was even auctioned off by a book collector at his house, boasting a thousand perfect copies of the eight-volume edition, illustrated with woodcuts with about one hundred and ten reams (“Sales by Auction” 546).

Translator’s Preface for 1845 W. Strange edition of The Female Bluebeard

The Female Bluebeard: Or the Adventurer was adapted for the stage several times. It appeared in England for one of the first times at the Drury Lane Theater in an adaptation entitled Adventurer in the Fiend’s Mountain (Amusements, &C 246). It was also adapted into a play by C. A Somerset Esquire at an amphitheater in Manchester (“Provincial Theatricals”). Both performances seemed to attract favorable attention and were deemed by the press a success. The novel likely had many more shows, as Eugène Sue himself, wrote an adaptation of it.

There were mixed reviews for The Female Bluebeard, as it did not quite capture the hearts of the people as much as many of his other works did. This novel, again, brought scrutiny on Sue’s character. One critic published that The Female Bluebeard was “licentious,” leading the translator of the W. Strange edition to write to the paper and defend the novel’s values. The translator argued that while not many French novels possessed a moral to their story, The Female Bluebeard did, and a valuable one at that (“Literature: The Female Bluebeard”). Moreover, there were some reviews that raved of its success, calling it “the most curious and exciting work” produced by Eugène Sue (“Popular Books” 32).

This particular text is not well attended to by scholars, as Eugene Sue produced a plethora of novels which garnered more attention and acclaim. His novel, Les Mystères de Paris, or The Mysteries of Paris, inspired several other locations-based mysteries such as the Mysteries of London and the Mysteries of Munich, and has been published since by the company Penguin Classics. His novel, the Wandering Jew, has also been published by modern companies, and has gained more attention, particularly for its strong anti-Catholic sentiments. In many of his popular novels, his socialist ideology attracted scholars and inspired a great deal of the emerging writers at the time. Sue’s work is thought to have influenced Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Alexandre Dumas. Alexandre Dumas wrote the biography of his friend and fellow writer, Eugène Sue (“Eugene Sue: His Life and Works” 54).

Narrative Point of View

The Female Bluebeard: or The Adventurer is narrated in the third person, not through a specific character, but by an anonymous narrator. The narrator continuously interjects throughout the novel to guide the audience’s reading along, directly addressing the reader as a willing participant in learning the history of the characters. The narration has a sense of self-awareness, being cognizant of and acknowledging the ridiculousness of some of its characters as well as several aspects of the story. There is a controlled omniscience throughout, as the characters’ emotions and motives are blatantly revealed. However, regarding some secrets, the author chooses to withhold their answers until it is needed for the plot. The narration is rich, striking a balance between complex and uniquely singular characters, vibrant and multi-sensory descriptions, and a wild and dynamic plot. Finally, some parts of the narration are left in French, as there was not quite as fitting a translation in English, either because of word play or connotations not being expressed in the same manner once translated.

Sample Passage:

We beg, therefore, to inform the reader, who has, doubtless, long since seen through the disguise, and penetrated the mystery of the Boucanier, the Flibustier, and the Carib, that these disguises had been successively worn by the same man, who was none other than THE NATURAL SON OF CHARLES THE SECOND, JAMES DUKE OF MONMOUTH, EXECUTED IN LONDON, THE 15TH OF JULY, 1685, AS GUILTY OF HIGH TREASON.

We hope such of our readers as have had any ill opinion of the Female Bluebeard within their hearts will now do her ample justice. (141)

The narration, particularly in this paragraph, capitalizes on the involvement of the reader in the analysis and reading of the text, creating a greater sense of investment on the reader’s part and making each reveal that much more impactful. While, the narrator gives the reader the benefit of the doubt of likely predicting the mystery element, this simultaneously invites the unaware reader to look retrospectively at the story and recall any clues or foreshadowing, keeping the reader participating. Through the inclusion of the reader throughout the novel, the narrator grabs the readers’ attention, continuously checking in on the progress of their interpretation and ideas about the text. By actually calling forth to the reader, each reader is figured as a singular person whose participation matters to the story, rather than having the story appeal to the emotions of many. This feigned exchange creates an even greater sense of a tale being told by word of mouth, and holds the possibility of investing the reader more into the story. As this connection is made, and mutual involvement and shared knowledge is established, the narrator is more effective in dispelling any of the reader’s disbeliefs or disparagements against the story. In the above sample passage, the narration dispels any aspersions on the Female Bluebeard’s character. The narrator, by voicing what the reader has “doubtless” thought, creates this idea that the reader’s and narrator’s opinion and view of the story will logically match up throughout the story, not just in this one singular instance. Therefore, the narration figures the reader as likely to go along with the rest of what the narrator presents and take it as truthful to the history. Thus, through the inclusion of the reader in the progress of the story, the author is able to give the feel of a spoken tale and interestingly sway the reader to accept what the author says as fact.


The novel opens up on the ship, the Unicorn, which has presently left la Rochelle for the island, Martinique, and is occupied most usually by Captain Daniel, a small crew, Reverend Father Griffon, and most unusually, by the Gascon, the Chevalier Polyphemus Amador de Croustillac. It is May of 1690, and France is at war with England. The Chevalier de Croustillac has chosen to wait until a less conspicuous time to reveal himself from where he has hidden on board the ship in order to get safe passage to Martinique and eventually, to America. Being a man of great immodesty and foolhardiness, he assumes a spot at supper with no word on how he arrived on board the moving vessel. The Chevalier manages to evade all questioning of his mysterious appearance on board the ship through extreme flattery, party tricks, and by the promise to only confess his intentions to Father Griffon. Nearing the end of the journey to Martinique, Captain Daniel offers the Chevalier de Croustillac a place on board his ship as a permanent source of entertainment, and Reverend Father Griffon, wanting to help the poor adventurer, offers for him to reside with the Reverend at his house in Macouba, where he can attempt to earn some capital. However, this all changes when word of the Female Bluebeard is passed around the ship and meets the ears of the Chevalier.

Angelina, the Female Bluebeard, reads in her gilded bed

The Female Bluebeard, like her folktale namesake, Bluebeard, is believed to have killed her past three husbands, and currently holds the abominable company of three ugly lovers: Hurricane, the pirate captain; a hide dealer boucanier coined, “Tear-out-the-soul”; and a Carib cannibal from Crocodile Creek, Youmaale. Despite these alarming and less than spectacular qualities possessed by the elusive Female Bluebeard, the Chevalier de Croustillac decides that he will show her a true gentleman and win her heart, and with it her fortune, regardless of the potential of her being old and ugly. And so, the Chevalier decides to go with Father Griffon, if only to leave after a night’s repose. This plan is met with strong disagreement from the Father, for he knows some truth to the story of the Female Bluebeard having received confession from a man who encountered her at her home on the Devil’s Mount, or the Morne au Diable. While staying with Father Griffon and resting for supper, a threat to forget his pursuit of the Female Bluebeard comes to the Chevalier in the form of a note tied to an arrow which narrowly misses his flesh. The Chevalier goes against both warnings, sneaks out of Father Griffon’s care, and embarks on a harrowing trek to the habitation of the Female Bluebeard at the Morne au Diable.

It is during this time that we catch a glimpse of the equally daunting and troubling journey to the Morne au Diable, full of danger and risk of death, of the Colonel Rutler, a partisan of the new king of England, William of Orange, who is tasked with a mission which will later be revealed.

Back at the Morne au Diable, the Female Bluebeard, revealed to be exceptionally fine and beautiful, is seen flirting with a man named Jacques, who she also lovingly calls Monsieur Hurricane. It is here that she also learns that the Chevalier de Croustillac is after her hand in marriage, and she, consequently, sends word to the Boucanier, Tear-out-the-soul, to bring him to her.

The Chevalier de Croustillac, led by his gut and the magnetism of his heart to the Female Bluebeard’s, stumbles into the Carib’s camp, exhausted, bloodied, and starving. He is met with a feast of the most unusual variety, and is led to the Morne au Diable, albeit with some feigned protestation from the Boucanier. Upon arriving at the magnificent dwelling of the Female Bluebeard, the Chevalier, wishing to impress the lady, requests a change of clothes for his own sullied and ripped ones, and is put into the garments of the Female Bluebeard’s late first husband.

On his journey to meet the Female Bluebeard, the Chevalier fights a group of feral cats

The Chevalier meets the Female Bluebeard, who we learn is called Angelina, with great awe and wonderment, and attempts to inspire Angelina with much of the same amazement and admiration that he holds for her. Angelina bemuses the Chevalier, speaking falsities and making fun of the Chevalier’s brash actions. She sticks close to her lovers, further aggravating the mind and heart of the Chevalier. She does offer him a limited position as her new husband, which shall end before a year is up through rather gruesome means, an offer the Chevalier is reluctant to accept, aside from his previous promises of marriage. However, Angelina recognizing that the Chevalier is not falling for her murderous and sinful façade, relates to the Chevalier that her three lovers are actually her guards, and her proposition to the Chevalier was made to poke fun at him and amuse herself. She then proposes to make him a new offer the next evening.

Meanwhile, we catch a glimpse of the interactions between the nervous and sweaty governor, Monsieur le Baron de Rupinelle, and Monsieur de Chemeraut, the envoy of France, aboard a French frigate, regarding a state secret vested in the Morne au Diable and backed up by Father Griffon. Monsieur de Chemeraut requests of the governor, ships with thirty of his best armed guards and a ladder, and advances towards the Morne au Diable. Father Griffon learns of their swift advance to the Devil’s Mount, and alarmed that they have learned the secret that only he possesses and fearing the safety of la Barbe-Bleue, he hurries to beat the French frigate to the Morne au Diable. Colonel Rutler, who we learned of earlier, has at this moment, escaped great perils and landed in the interior garden of the Morne au Diable, and is lying, hidden, in wait. 

Back at the Morne au Diable, the Chevalier’s rambling poetry and protestations of love, are met with amusement and some fondness by la Barbe-bleue or the Female Bluebeard. However, she relates to the Chevalier that she was expecting his arrival from word by her good friend, the Father Griffon, and had used the Chevalier’s foolishness for means of entertainment. They wander into the garden, the Chevalier becoming increasingly humiliated and affected, his love for the Female Bluebeard being genuine, and each of her words stinging and hurting his heart and hubris. To add to this, she offers him diamonds to reconcile his hurt feelings which only worsens the injury to his pride. La Barbe Bleue claims that humiliation was not her intent, and that she was under the incorrect notion that the Chevalier was only after her money and posed a threat to her and the inhabitants of the Morne au Diable. She demands his forgiveness, calling him her friend, and offering him a place to stay at her home, which completely reverses the anger and sorrow raging inside the Chevalier. The Female Bluebeard leaves to look for Youmaale and grab a more deserving present for the Chevalier, and in her absence the Colonel Rutler, still hiding in the garden, rushes toward the Chevalier. Pulling a hood over the Chevalier’s face and binding his hands, Colonel Rutler arrests him for high treason.

Colonel Rutler mistakes the Chevalier for the believed late husband of the Female Bluebeard, calling him “my Lord Duke,” and the Chevalier plays the part of the royal Englishman to gain information, learning that la Barbe Bleue’s husband is wanted by the King of England, William of Orange, for treason. The Lord Duke had posed a threat to the King, possessing great fortunes and having previously led a group of devoted partisans against the King, fighting for his royal father of a falcon of Lancaster. The Duke had, after his attempt at revolt, been executed, or at least thought to be until of late. All this being said, the Chevalier promptly decides to assume the personage which has already been given to him, without raising alarm to Angelina, in a means to gain the affection and permanent gratitude of la Barbe Bleue for saving her husband, who she loves dearly.

Arousing great surprise, the bound Chevalier and the Colonel are met by Angelina herself, disguised as one of her domestics, and she gives the Chevalier the Lord Duke’s sword and cloak to further cement his false identity. She leaves to relate the news to her husband, who we find out was masquerading as all three of her lovers, and is in reality, James Duke of Monmouth, the son of Charles the Second. Angelina believes them saved, but her dreams are disrupted when the Duke will not let the Chevalier risk his life for him. To add to her dismay, Father Griffon arrives with the news that the French Frigate knows of the Duke’s existence and location, and had questioned the Father of his whereabouts outside. Upon the arrival of the French frigate, Colonel Rutler had attempted to strike the Chevalier disguised as the Duke, and his blade had broken. This action did not go unnoticed by the French envoy, Monsieur de Chemeraut, and furthered confirmed his suspicions that the fallen and gagged man, was indeed the James Duke. Monsieur de Chemeraut propositions the Chevalier, believing him to be the Duke, to rejoin his partisans and place him back at the head alongside his royal uncle, James Stuart, by driving the “usurper,” William of Orange from his throne of England. Later, he informs the Chevalier that refusing the offer would mean imprisonment. Thus, the Chevalier accepts.

An illustration depicting an execution

The Chevalier de Croustillac, guarded closely by the Monsieur de Chemeraut, happens upon Angelina and Captain Hurricane conducting in improper displays of affection, and is horrified by her actions, the Captain’s real identity still unknown to the Chevalier. After much arguing, frustration, and consideration of the Chevalier’s trustworthiness, Angelina and the Duke reveal their secret, leading the Chevalier to readopt his plan and secure the lovers their safety and security. We also learn how the Duke had evaded death despite there being a witnessed execution.

The Gascon Chevalier, in his natural element, puts on a show for the French envoy and condemns the Female Bluebeard to a seemingly horrible fate, sending her and her lover away on the ship, the Cameleon, to a deserted island where they shall live out the rest of their limited days together. He rejects the Female Bluebeard brutally, while secretly arranging them both safe passage out of the Morne au Diable. Angelina bestows upon the Chevalier a medallion with her initials, and it is all the Chevalier needs to face the unpredictable hardships which lie ahead of him.

The Chevalier puts off his departure several times, afraid of the charade being discovered, but ultimately boards the ship to England, with little suspicion from the Monsieur de Chemeraut. It is at this time that Captain Daniel, commander of the ship, the Unicorn, approaches Monsieur de Chemeraut, requesting to sail alongside him for protection against pirates. Monsieur de Chemeraut refuses, but Captain Daniel sails alongside them anyways, carefully maneuvering his ship to avoid any attacks by the Fulminate, Monsieur de Chemeraut’s ship. The convenience of these ships’ locations works well for the Chevalier, as his treachery is discovered aboard the Fulminate by the Duke’s most adoring partisans, Lord Mortimer, Lord Rothsay, and Lord Dudley, and to avoid death or imprisonment, he jumps into the surrounding sea. The ship, the Cameleon, holding both Angelina and John, having appeared alongside the Fulminate as well, gives the Chevalier the distraction he needs to escape and board the Unicorn. The Chevalier, and Angelina and John tearfully part ways, the revered Lord Duke being pursued by the befuddled and furious French frigate. On board the Unicorn, Father Griffon and the Captain Daniel fill the Chevalier in on the orders they had received to accept him onto the ship, and surprise him with the last gift of the Lord Duke and Angelina; the ship, the Unicorn, and all its cargo. Again, receiving it as a hit to his ego, the Chevalier prescribes to Father Griffon in a note that he refuses the gift and has left the ownership to the Reverend to use charitably, as he sees fit. The Chevalier departs, beginning a new journey to Muscovy where he will enlist as a soldier under the Czar Peter.

The Abbey of Saint Quentin: An Epilogue to the Female Bluebeard
The opening page of “The Abbey of Saint Quentin”

The epilogue opens up on a convent, roughly eighteen years after the events of the Female Bluebeard, where the monks are corpulent and greedy. Two young farmer’s children by the names of Jacques and Angelina are approached by one of Reverends, who demands of them the produce and grains indebted to him by their father. Diseased since the last couple of months, the father is bedridden and incapable of work, their mother taking care of him, leaving them all penniless. Regardless, the Reverend threatens to displace them and lease their farm to a more able farmer. These words are heard by an old man with sad eyes and furs, and he approaches them feeling sympathy for their situation. Upon hearing their names and witnessing the startling similarities between them and the woman he once loved, the man, the Chevalier is overcome with emotion as always.  He requests of the children to stay in their barn and to be given a simple dinner which he will pay for. They depart together to see their father, and upon entering and seeing their mother, who is now middle-aged and dressed very plainly, the Chevalier faints. Angelina, the Female Bluebeard, does not recognize the Chevalier until she and her children come across the medallion she had once gifted him, tied around his neck just beside his heart.

The three old friends reunite, and the Chevalier asks of them to stay in their company for the rest of his life, paying rent to cover the needs of the struggling family. They accept after some groveling, neither party quick to accept gifts, and the Chevalier decides to search for the Father Griffon to reclaim his money from the sale of the Unicorn. The Father, still alive and having spent much of the money to become the proprietor of an estate, happily gives it to the three friends who reside there with their children for the rest of their days, their lives blissful and peaceful at last.


“Amusements, &C.” The Lady’s Newspaper, no 512 (October 18, 1856): 246.

“Eugene Sue: His Life and Works.” Bentley’s Miscellany (July 1858): 54-66.

“Literature: The Female Bluebeard,” Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, no 96 (September 22, 1844).

“Popular Books to be had by Order of All Booksellers.” Reynolds Miscellany (November 14,1846): 32.

“Provincial Theatricals.” The Era, no 335 (February 23, 1845).

The Standard [London], Issue 6273 (August 26, 1844): 1.

“Sales by Auction.” The Athenaeum, Issue 1178 (May 25, 1850): 546.

Sue, Eugène. The Female Bluebeard: or The Adventurer. London: W. Strange, 1845.

“Tales of Mystery: A Noble Scamp.” The London Journal (September 10, 1898): 241.

Researcher: Halle Strosser

The Imaginary Adultress

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