The Invisible Ring; or, the Water Monster, and Fire Spectre
Publisher: Printed by T. Maiden for Ann Lemoine, J. Roe
Publication Year: 1806
Book Dimensions: 8cm x 11.5cm
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.
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 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).”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-23304
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. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-7586
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