The Fiery Castle

The Fiery Castle

The Fiery Castle, or, Sorcerer Vanquished: A Romance: Relating the Wonderful Adventures of a
Female Knight, in Which Is Described Her Attack on Rudamore Castle, to Release a Lovely Maid,
Detained There by a Sorcerer, and Glorious Victory Over the Guardian Demons of the Gate: With Her
Achievements in the Temple of Illusion, in Which She Resists the Allurements of the Spirits, Releases
Her Beloved Knight From the Dungeon of Torture, and Causes the Fatal End of the Sorcerer

Author: Unknown
Publisher: W. Mason
Publication Year: 1810
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10.9cm x18.2cm
Pages: 28
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ6 F4636, 1810

This fantastical 1810 chapbook follows two knights through trial and tribulation as they attempt to rescue their loved ones from the grips of a lustful sorcerer, battling spirits and demons all the while dispelling enchanting illusions.

Material History

Fiery Castle Title Page

The Fiery Castle does not have a cover, but rather a nondescript worn page, tinted yellow with scattered mysterious brown stains, separates the reader from the book’s title. A flip into the string-bound chapbook reveals, unsurprisingly, more brown stains. What is a surprise, though, is the intricately drawn illustration that was hidden beneath the nondescript outer page: with fine lines filled in with bright pink, yellow, orange, and blue accenting the image, the illustration depicts a dame, accompanied by a knight posed for combat against two black demons guarding a gate engulfed in flames. Underneath, a simple caption reads: “See p. 7.” Clearly, this action-packed scene occurs only five pages in—as the story begins on page two.

Across from this fascinating illustration is an even more intriguing, albeit long, title: The Fiery Castle, or, Sorcerer Vanquished: A Romance: Relating the Wonderful Adventures of a Female Knight, in Which Is Described Her Attack on Rudamore Castle, to Release a Lovely Maid, Detained There by a Sorcerer, and Glorious Victory Over the Guardian Demons of the Gate: With Her Achievements in the Temple of Illusion, in Which She Resists the Allurements of the Spirits, Releases Her Beloved Knight From the Dungeon of Torture, and Causes the Fatal End of the Sorcerer—its truncated title being, The Fiery Castle, or, Sorcerer Vanquished. With varying fonts, text sizes, forms of capitalization, and embellishments throughout, it is entirely likely that the publisher was actively trying to capture and retain readers’ attention with this long title. There is no author listed on the title page or anywhere in the chapbook.

Fiery Castle Sample Page

The book itself, only twenty-eight pages in length, was printed and published in London by a W. Mason and sold for sixpence. Past the opening illustration, there is no decor in the rest of the book aside from a single decorative border on the first page of the story, and a small ink and quill depiction on the thirty-second page, informing the reader that the novel is “Finis.” Flipping through the pages, the chapbook has all the characteristics of a standard paperback: set margins, pagination, and an easy-to-read font. There is but one outlier within this uniformly printed text on page 22. A small, lowercase t in “the” seems to have fallen a step below its fellow letters, resembling a subscript of sorts. Small printing quirks like this are perplexing, but give the text a sense of craftsmanship.

The Fiery Castle measures roughly 0.3 cm thick, standing at 18.2 cm tall and 10.9 cm wide. The brittle yet cotton-like pages are held together by a single strand of string, with the page reading “finis” almost finished itself, as it hangs on for dear life. This book, littered with small folds, rips, blemishes, and tinged with what can only be described as old age, shows all the signs of having led a thrilling and entertaining life as a shilling shocker.

Textual History

The Fiery Castle, or, A Sorcerer Vanquished is one of many gothic novels in the Sadleir-Black Collection. This edition was published in 1810, though there appears to be at least one earlier version which is listed as the second edition on WorldCat. This previous edition was published in 1802 by A. Young located at 168, High Holborn, Bloomsbury. Although this version is indicated as the second edition, there is no specific information on whether it is distinctly separate from the first edition. One clear distinction that can be asserted is that although the earlier edition was simply entitled: The Fiery Castle, or, The Sorcerer Vanquished: An original romance, the 1810 edition in the Sadleir-Black Collection has much more detail incorporated into the title. Both chapbooks were sold for sixpence, or half a shilling, although they were printed eight years apart.

While the novel’s original author is unknown, The Fiery Castle (1810) was distributed by an experienced publisher by the name of W. Mason. Mason’s primary operations were based at No. 21 Clerkenwell Green where he “published at least fifteen gothic pamphlets” and he habitually “summarised the entire novel on the title page” (Potter 94). This serves to explain the variance in the titles between the 1802 and 1810 versions.

At the time of publication, the demand for gothic pamphlets was diminishing. and in its place, a “growing marketplace for children’s toy books” emerged (Potter 98). W. Mason, however, published The Fiery Castle presumably because gothic publications remained well-received by readers to some extent. His decision to publish the novel may be attributed to its plot, as it illustrates a hybrid between the gothic and fairytale genres. Due to evolving public sentiment, The Fiery Castle was written in a way that swapped out the “standard gothic villain,” incorporating instead a sorcerer that is defeated by a heroine; this demonstrates how “the gothic was absorbed into the growing market for children’s stories” (Potter 98). Subsequently, the chapbook’s unconventional plot may have been another motivating factor for W. Mason’s printing of The Fiery Castle.

Fiery Castle First Page

Many of the chapbook’s physical details, such as its decorative borders, margin size, font, and font size appear standard across W. Mason’s publications. Another chapbook published by Mason, entitled The Spirit of the Spirit, which has been scanned in its entirety and uploaded digitally to HathiTrust, resembles The Fiery Castle almost identically. Both texts’ layouts include a single illustration on the page next to the title, with each title page utilizing the same fonts and borders atop of the first page of the story.

W. Mason’s 1810 printing of The Fiery Castle appears to be the last and latest edition of the novel, with no further editions published. The novel does not have any modern editions available for purchase, nor are there any digital copies online. As a result, there have been no modifications to the story since there are no new editions, nor has the text been adapted to different mediums like film.

The Fiery Castle has very limited recognition in academic scholarship, with Franz Potter’s mention being the only noteworthy mention of the novel. This may be attributed to what Potter describes in Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers as the slow yet steady shift away from gothic literature at the time that the book was distributed. Consequently, there is limited additional information to be discovered regarding The Fiery Castle’s origins.

Narrative Point of View

The Fiery Castle is narrated in third-person omniscient perspective, as the narrator provides the context for each individual character, their thoughts, as well as details on the events that are unfolding. Seamlessly switching from one scene to the next, the narrator concisely illustrates both the emotions and actions that encompass each character. The narration discloses details for a wide array of characters, ranging from the most prominent of knights to the most minute of spirits. While the narrator does not make any outright personal interjections regarding the crimes that unfold in the plot, there is a notable use of adjectives within the narration that appear to appraise the characters’ choices.

Sample Passage:

The fairy appeared, and, waving her invisible wand, extinguished the torch. The altar shook to its base, and Hymen and his attendant Cupids fled in dismay; the spirit found his power subdued, and his arts fettered. All presence of mind fled, in proportion as his fears arose, of meeting with the torments with which Rudamore was prepared to afflict him, for failing in his enterprise. The female knight saw, in a mirror which the fairy held to her view, the reflection of her girdle, which displayed again, in luminous letters, its sentence of “Be virtuous and conquer!” (26)

The narration clearly dissects each aspect of the scene, including each character or group of characters—the fairy, Hymen and the Cupids, the spirit, the female knight—within it and their subsequent actions. This creates a plot that is transparent, as the catalyst of the chain of events. In this case, the narrator is correlating the chaos that ensues to the initial arrival of the fairy and her “waving her invisible wand,” which in turn, impedes the efforts of Rudamore’s minions. Furthermore, the narrator recounts the emotions of the characters, thus providing context for their specific behaviors. By thoughtfully combining emotion and action in narration, the characters’ own portrayals are made more robust. This is illustrated in small points throughout the narration, such as the discussion of the spirit’s motivations for misleading the female knight. The spirit’s drive to deception is evidently grounded in his fear of “meeting with the torments with which Rudamore was prepared to afflict him,” which the narrator makes known by providing context. This thorough narration allows the reader to gain further insight into key elements of the plot, while also providing explanation for specific character choices.


The Fiery Castle opens with the protagonist, known only as the female knight, seeing a young man in an enchanted mirror whom she falls in love with at first sight. Her father is a powerful sorcerer and her mother, a fairy. Receiving their permission, bestowed a set of weapons and armour engraved with the message: “Be Virtuous and Conquer,” and endowed with courage, she sets out on her journey (3). In the midst of her travels, she comes across a heartbroken knight in the forest. He informs her that his beloved Dellaret has been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, Rudamore. The female knight offers her services, thus the two set out on a journey to Rudamore’s castle.

Fiery Castle Frontispiece

Upon their arrival, the two knights are faced with two demons that are guarding the gate. Raising their swords, the gate is engulfed in flames to prevent their passage, and the heartbroken knight once again feels despondent. The female knight’s mother comes to their aid, declaring that “with this touch of my wand, your armour becomes adamant, and your arms are changed to gold” (6). As a result, the knights successfully defeat the demons and traverse through the flames. Hearing the commotion, Rudamore opens the gate to investigate, the two knights storm past him, and Rudamore flees further into the castle.

While the knights make their way through the castle, Rudamore summons spirits and orders them to distract the two trespassers. He intends to capture the two knights by conjuring his “Temple of Love and Illusion,” which will entrap their senses and distract them from fulfilling their quest (8). This illusion appeals to all five senses and the spirits take on tantalizing human forms meant to distract them.

The knights find their way down to the dungeons of the castle, observing and speaking to other imprisoned knights that are also grieving the loss of their mistresses to Rudamore’s rapine. After venturing through these cells, the knights arrive in a chamber filled with pillaged weapons and the robes of the women whom Rudamore has conquered on display. As this exploration unfolds, the knights are unknowingly walking towards the illusion and are greeted by the impressive, yet hallucinatory Temple of Love. Each is guided by enchanting servants to their own elevated throne of marble while a procession of servants deliver glasses of wine to them. Just as they are about to drink the liquid, the fairy interferes with the procession, causing the servant to spill the goblet and preventing her daughter from consuming this laced liquor. As the liquor spills onto the ground, a hemlock grows in its place. Realizing the foul properties of the wine, the two knights attempt to escape the temple. To prevent this from happening, two spirits assume the facades of each knights’ respective lovers, tempting the knights back into the grips of the illusion.

As the knight believes he is reunited with Dellaret, he worries that her being in the temple means she has sacrificed her virginity to Rudamore. Reassuring the knight of her chastity, the imposter delves into an elaborate tale explaining that she withstood both illusion and torture, attributing this mental fortitude to “my incessant thoughts of you, and the unshaken resolution to be ever faithful to my part of the mutual vows we have made to each other” (16). Hearing this, the knight laments that he does not have the skills necessary to rescue her from the clutches of Rudamore. Pretending that heaven has suddenly bestowed her with this idea, the imposter suggests that the pair can effectually escape so long as they marry each other “at the altar of Hymen,” because Rudamore is only tempted to keep maidens captive and their marriage would allow the knight and Dellaret to ensure she would no longer fulfill his desire for chastity (21). In reality, the spirit is carrying out Rudamore’s plans to trick the knight into marrying the imposter, as Rudamore brings the true Dellaret to witness the knight’s subsequent infidelity all in the hopes of swaying her resolve.

Rudamore forces Dellaret to watch her beloved knight marry a woman, who from her perspective resembles an old hag, and insists that he has been endeavoring this entire time to enlighten her about the knight’s true character as well as the superficiality of his proclaimed love for her. Justifying the torture he has been subjecting her to, Rudamore claims this was all done out of love. After this, he offers to make Dellaret his wife and empress, while Dellaret, both heart-broken and cornered, asks for a day to consider his offer.

In the meantime, the knight and the imposter consummate their illusory marriage while the female knight is also on the verge of marrying her own imposter at the altar of Hymen. Yet again, her mother interferes. Extinguishing the torch at the altar, the spirit loses his powers and flees, allowing the fairy to explain to her daughter that she was almost seduced by a wind spirit. Shocked by the revelation, the female knight rests at a canopy. While the female knight is sleeping, Rudamore has been consulting his book of destiny which informs him that his inevitable demise is approaching. Desperate for self-preservation, Rudamore also reads in the book that the female knight’s true love had embarked on a similar quest in search of her, and that he nears the castle. Planning to use this knight as a bargaining chip for his life, Rudamore kidnaps the man and imprisons him in the dungeon. This wrongdoing is manifested in the female knight’s dream, and as a result, she awakens and rushes to rescue him.

Dellaret, wandering around contemplating her uncertain fate and exhausted from the day’s events, collapses by chance into her knight’s arms while he is asleep. When the two wake up, the knight is immensely confused by Dellaret’s irate reaction at her current circumstances. Still believing the two are happily united, Dellaret unleashes the truth exclaiming to him, “As you have deserted me, for such an ugly and disgustful wretch, I will abandon you” (29). She flees to Rudamore, demanding that he imprison the knight in exchange for the right to take her virginity. This request is immediately granted, the knight is captured and subjected to torture by Rudamore’s spirit, while the sorcerer forces himself upon Dellaret.

Fiery Castle Final Page

The female knight discovers Rudamore just as he is taking advantage of Dellaret. As she is about to land a fatal blow on the evil sorcerer, Dellaret pleads to the female knight that she end her life first. Rudamore interrupts their discourse to plead for mercy, offering to show the female knight where her lover and her companion are being held captive. The three go to the dungeons and are brought face to face with the two captured knights. The female knight attempts to slay Rudamore for his crimes, however the fairy disrupts her daughter’s attempt. The fairy informs her daughter that this is not adequate justice unless Rudamore first confesses his devious schemes. Furthermore, it is made known that the two men cannot be released from their bindings without Rudamore’s spells. The sorcerer feigns repentance and releases the men while confessing his role in the manipulation of the knight and Dellaret. Realizing Rudamore’s evil interference, Dellaret and her knight immediately restore their love and faith in each other. As the couples are reunited, Rudamore takes this as an opening to flee to his chambers. To ensure Rudamore properly receives justice, the fairy leads her daughter to him. The female knight slays Rudamore and the companions proceed to live peacefully in the castle, which the fairy has restored to a glorious property.


Ashe, Thomas. The Spirit of the Spirit. London. W. Mason, 1812. HathiTrust Digital Library.

Potter, Franz J. Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers: 1797–1830. University of Wales Press, 2021.

The Fiery Castle, or, A Sorcerer Vanquished. London. W. Mason, 1810.

Researcher: Cynthia Hardy

The Monastery of St. Mary

The Monastery of St. Mary

The Monastery of St. Mary: Or, the White Maid of Avenel. A Scottish Tale.

Author: Emilia Grossett
Publisher: J. Bailey
Publication Year: Unknown
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10.8cm x 17.4cm
Pages: 24
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.

Material History

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. 

The title page for The Monastery of St. Mary

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.

Textual History

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.

The frontispiece for The Monastery of St. Mary

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.”

Sample Passage:

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. 

Text from The Monastery of St. Mary

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. 

The final page for The Monastery of St. Mary

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. 


Koch, Angela. “‘The Absolute Horror of Horrors’ Revised: A Bibliographical Checklist of Early-Nineteenth-Century Gothic Bluebooks.” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text 9 (Dec 2002), pp. 45–110. 

BONNETS. 1819. The British Stage and Literary Cabinet 4, (35) (11): 41–2.

“J Bailey.” The British Museum. 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

The Invisible Ring

The Invisible Ring

The Invisible Ring; or, the Water Monster, and Fire Spectre

Author: Unknown
Publisher: Printed by T. Maiden for Ann Lemoine, J. Roe
Publication Year: 1806
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 8cm x 11.5cm
Pages: 36
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.I548 1806

In this 1806 chapbook set in the Grecian Isles, an evil magician and his accomplice stop at nothing to thwart the marriage of the beautiful Princess Evelina and her true love, Prince Valentia.

Material History

The University of Virginia’s Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction contains an edition of “The Invisible Ring.” The full title of the book—“The Invisible Ring; or, the Water Monster, and Fire Spectre”—appears only once in the whole text. This can be found on the first page of the book following the cover. The title is then referred to as simply “The Invisible Ring” atop each page of text. The name of the author is not included anywhere in the book. The most specific reference given is a brief sentence indicating that The Invisible Ring was published in England in 1806. There is one illustration in the whole book which lies on the inside cover. It depicts a woman standing alone on a small piece of land surrounded by water. She is chained to a large boulder, representing a scene from the book. The monochrome image is captioned simply “Invisible Ring.”

The title page of The Invisible Ring

The book’s dimensions are 11.5 by 8 centimeters; it is 36 pages long. The binding is no longer in place, but a strip of leftover leather remains along the seam. The front and back covers are now simply reduced to paper. The quality of the paper in the book is thin and weathered; the overall appearance is worn, damaged, old, faded, and small. Many pages have small tears beginning at the edges, and several pages towards the end are even entirely detached. Each page is covered from top to bottom with closely-set text in very fine print. There is little white space leftover. At the bottom of each page is a letter followed by a number: for example, “G1.” This style of marking was used to maintain page order during printing. However, the first page begins on the letter “G,” indicating that there once may have been preceding pages of separate stories that have since been lost.

Written on the first page under the full title are the words, “Founded on the popular Aquatic Melo-Drama, as performed with universal applause at Sadler’s Wells.” Sadler’s Wells is a prominent theater and dance company in London that is still in existence today. Additionally, following the story, there is a section devoted to the full lyrics of each song mentioned in the book. 

On the last two blank pages of the book, there are penciled-in notes, including a list of ten book titles such as The Invisible Ring and Blackbeard, the Notorious Pirate. Publication years are also written down next to each book title. These notes may have been taken by Michael Sadlier or another reader in an attempt to discover other books belonging to a collection of short stories with The Invisible Ring. This would also provide an explanation for the missing pages at the beginning of the book. Moreover, the notetaker hypothesized in his notes that The Invisible Ring may be related to another chapbook: “This must be a sequel to The TellTale (1805).”

Textual History

The chapbook The Invisible Ring; or, the Water Monster, and Fire Spectre was published by T. Maiden for Ann Lemoine in London, 1806. This chapbook was a version of a play that was popular the same year in London. The author of the chapbook is unknown, but the playwright of The Invisible Ring was the celebrated dramatist Charles Dibdin Jr., and the music in the play was composed by William Reeve. It premiered on June 25th, 1806 at Sadler’s Wells Aquatic Theatre.

Collection of song lyrics in The Invisible Ring

Due to little digital evidence, there are many unknowns surrounding the chapbook’s history: it is unclear whether there were multiple editions of the chapbook, if it was ever translated, if there are prequels or sequels, how it was advertised and received, or if it was ever adapted. However, although information regarding the chapbook is scarce, the play version from Sadler’s Wells has a significant digital footprint. To that point, there are no digital copies of the chapbook to be found online, but there are multiple references to the Sadler’s Wells production on GoogleBooks (Greene 4517). 

The writer of the play, Charles Isaac Mungo Dibdin (1768–1833), was the first son of Charles Didbin, who was also a playwright and composer. Dibdin the younger launched his career in the theatrical world when he became the manager of Sadler’s Wells in the year 1800 (Kilburn). He took the theatre to new heights in 1804 by installing a water tank below the stage rebranding Sadler’s Wells as an aquatic theatre. The water tank was ninety feet long, twenty-four feet wide, and three feet deep (Press 223). The water was sourced from a nearby river. However, the process of changing out the water took many workers and many hours, so it was only done once every three weeks (Press 224). The aquatic theatre allowed for far more realistic productions than before, consisting of actors swimming across the stage during aquatic scenes. This included naval attack scenes in a war play as well as an oceanic setting for a play about Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. The aquatic feature was utilized in The Invisible Ring during its last scene.

Markings at the end of The Invisible Ring

At the end of The Invisible Ring chapbook, there is a list of lyrics from the songs that originate in the play. These were written by William Reeve. Reeve (1757–1815) was a composer for Sadler’s Wells for many years, owning a full eighth of the company by the year 1802 (Halliwell). He worked closely with Dibdin during this time. However, he was known for his habit of using other composers’ music in his arrangements, leading his work to be criticized by many (Halliwell).

In terms of reviews of the play, newspaper clippings from the week of the first performance of The Invisible Ring indicate that Sadler’s Wells was a popular theatre with many supporters (“Aquatic Theatre Sadler’s Wells” 3). The play was likely well-received by the public as a result of its “variety of supernatural appearances performed on real water” (“Aquatic Theatre Sadler’s Wells” 3). However, an incident at the theatre in 1807 marks the decline of Dibdin’s success at Sadler’s Wells. A false fire alarm was set off during a performance and the resulting stampede killed eighteen people (Kilburn). The Napoleonic Wars occuring at the same time put a further stress on the entertainment industry, eventually leading to Dibdin’s bankruptcy. He eventually sold his shares of the theatre to pay off his debt (Kilburn). The Invisible Ring along with all the notable productions of the time were likely soon forgotten.

Narrative Point of View

The Invisible Ring is narrated in the third person omniscient by an anonymous narrator who does not appear in the text. The narrator describes events concerning each character in the story, as well as each character’s internal reactions to major plot points. In addition, the narrator gives the reader insight into events that some characters are not privy to. The narration is composed of lengthy sentences with lots of punctuation.

Sample Passage: 

We will leave them wandering for the present, and return to the intrepid Jeannot, who had voluntarily undertook a hazardous enterprize, in which there was very little chance of succeeding, but a very great one of losing her own life: but this she was willing to risk for the sake of her dear mistress. (15–16)

This style of narration gives the chapbook the feel of a play where the audience is directly involved in the production. Additionally, the passage shows a verbose sentence structure. The use of long sentences allows the narrator to give vivid descriptions of events and characters’ emotions. For example, the narrator uses this passage to delve into Jeannot, who is a minor character in The Invisible Ring. Though her role is small, the narrator still provides an explanation for her actions and builds her character into not just an arbitrary servant, but a loyal confidant of the princess.


The story takes place on an isle in the ancient Grecian empire. The plot is introduced with the forthcoming wedding of Prince Valentia and his beautiful betrothed, Princess Evelina. Alas, a neighboring governor named Ernulph seeks the princess for his own. He journeys to the cave of the mysterious sorcerer and magician, Alnaschar, to ask for help in his scheme to prevent Valentia and Evelina’s matrimony. There, the two form a sinister partnership.

The frontispiece of The Invisible Ring

Valentia and Evelina’s wedding day arrives. The ceremony is just beginning when an apparition of Evelina’s deceased mother appears. In reality, she is merely a guise of an evil spirit conjured by Alnaschar to create a diversion at the wedding. While she chants prophecies of warning, Ernulph, Alnaschar, and his henchman, Nervoso, kidnap Evelina. Valentia sends his captain of the guard after them, but Alnaschar escapes with Evelina through the use of a magic ring that renders its wearer invisible. 

The captured Ernulph and Nervoso are taken to a prison for interrogation. When Nervoso agrees to comply with Valentia’s demands, Ernulph begins to attack him, so Valentia orders for the two to be imprisoned separately. Shortly after, a violent fight ensues between Ernulph, the captain, and Valentia. Ernulph is defeated, but Valentia mercifully gives him his freedom, hoping the act of kindness will result in friendship. However, Ernulph leaves angrier than before. 

Afterwards, Valentia questions Nervoso, who confesses Ernulph’s entire scheme. He promises to steal Alnaschar’s invisible ring so that Valentia can use it to rescue Evelina, who is being held captive in Ernulph’s castle, which is guarded by impenetrable magical forces. Valentia releases Nervoso, who journeys to Alnashcar’s cave. He waits until the magician is asleep, then puts a magic ointment on his eyelids that will keep him asleep for twenty-four hours. He then steals the ring and begins the journey back to Valentia’s castle. Meanwhile, Valentia pays a visit to Evelina’s fairy godmother, Bonoma. She produces a dragon for him to use in pursuit of Evelina. 

When Nervoso arrives back at the castle, Valentia is not there, so he uses the stolen ring to play tricks on Evelina’s maids, Marianetta and Jeannot. Jeannot quickly realizes that their pesterer is Nervoso with the invisibility ring. She manages to steal it off his finger and takes it for herself. Valentia returns to the castle three days later after an unsuccessful attempt to rescue Evelina with the dragon. Nervoso informs him of how he lost the ring to Jeannot. Then the two journey to the forest surrounding Ernulph’s castle to gather intel and hatch a new escape plan. 

Jeannot, in the meantime, uses the advantages of the invisibility ring to bypass the magician’s enchantments and enter Enrulph’s castle in an attempt to save her beloved princess, Evelina. She finds Evelina being held captive in a room with Alnaschar and Ernulph. Due to her invisibility, the three dismiss her entrance as a gust of wind. Alnaschar begins preparations for a potion that will render Evelina unconscious, leaving her unprotected from Ernulph’s wicked intentions. But when he gives it to Evelina, the invisible Jeannot knocks the glass out of her hands. Ernulph and Alnaschar plot once more and decide on another means of tricking Evelina: an enchanted belt that will allow Alnaschar to control her will. However, Jeannot hears their plan and again destroys the belt just as Evelina is about to wear it. Amidst Ernulph and Alnaschar’s confusion, Jeannot slips the invisibility ring onto Evelina’s finger and hides behind a sofa. Realizing Evelina’s disappearance, Ernulph and Alnaschar leave the room in search of her; Jeannot uses the opportunity to escape back to Valentia’s castle. 

Sample text from page 28 of The Invisible Ring

Back at Ernulph’s castle, Evelina uses the power of the ring to secure her escape. She makes it to the forest where she encounters Valentia and Nervoso. There is a joyous reunion between Evelina and Valentia, and also between Nervoso and the invisibility ring he cannot believe to have found again. Just as they are making their exit from the forest, Ernulph, Alnaschar, and several of their attendants arrive on the scene; a battle ensues. The princess is taken again and Alnaschar draws a magical line before Valentia that he cannot cross. However, Nervoso, invisible by the ring, evades the line and follows Alnaschar in order to rescue Evelina. He finds her trapped in a tower. She must accept a marriage proposal from Ernulph or she will soon be chained to a boulder on an island where a sea monster resides. Nervoso reports back to Valentia with the news, then travels to the fairy Bonoma for more help. 

Meanwhile, Evelina refuses Ernulph’s proposal, so Alnaschar and Ernulph deliver her to the island. Just as the sea monster emerges to devour her, Valentia arrives on his dragon and begins to fight the sea monster. Nervoso arrives too and discovers Ernulph and Alnaschar on the island. While Valentia and Nervoso duel with Ernulph and Alnaschar, Bonoma arrives and frees Evelina from the enchanted rock. Valentia and Nervoso defeat Ernulph and Alnaschar, who then sink into the lake. 

Valentia and Evelina return to Valentia’s castle and are married the next day. Nervoso and Jeannot receive recompense for their bravery and the two get married several days later as well. 


“Aquatic Theatre Sadler’s Wells” The Observer, 20 July 1806, 3.

Greene, John C. “Appendix: New London Plays, 1745-1820” Theatre in Dublin, 1745–1820: A Calendar of Performances, Volume 6. Lehigh University Press, 2011, pp. 4517. 

Halliwell, Victoria. “Reeve, William (1757–1815), actor and composer.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. September 23, 2004. Oxford University Press.

The Invisible Ring: Or, the Water Monster, and Fire Spectre. A Romantic Tale Founded On the Popular Aquatic Melo-drama, As Performed With Universal Applause At Sadler’s Wells. London, printed by T. Maiden for Ann Lemoine, 1806.

Kilburn, Matthew. “Dibdin, Charles Isaac Mungo [known as Charles Isaac Pitt; performing name Charles Dibdin the younger] (1768–1833), theatre manager and writer.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. September 23, 2004. Oxford University Press.

Press, Anita L. Sadler’s Wells Theatre Under Charles Dibdin the Younger from 1800 to 1819: When Britannia Ruled the Stage. 1994. ProQuest.

Researcher: Isabella Mehrotra

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