The Convent of Saint Usurla

The Convent of Saint Usurla

The Convent of Saint Usurla, or Incidents at Ottagro. An Italian Romance.

Author: Unknown, but abridged from a Sarah Wilkinson novel
Publisher: John Arliss
Publication Year: 1809
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 11cm x 18cm
Pages: 40
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.C664 1809


In this abridged version of Sarah Wilkinson’s 1807 novel “The Fugitive Captive,” Magdalena retells the story of the peculiar circumstances in which she has been forced to escape her mysterious husband, the Count de Ottagro.


Material History

The Convent of Saint Usurla, or Incidents at Ottagro. An Italian Romance was published in London on August 22, 1809 with no named author. The full title appears only on the title page; in the header of every other page, it appears only as The Convent of Saint Usurla. It is important to note the spelling of Usurla, not Ursula, in the title. The reason for this misspelling seems to be intentional, as it appears in that form throughout the book; however, the reasoning is unknown. In addition, printing and publishing credit appears on the bottom of the frontispiece and title page, as well as the final page of the book and indicates both printer and publisher to be John Arliss at Bartholomew-Close.  

The title page for The Convent of Saint Usurla

The book is fairly small in size (18 x 11 cm) and without a cover, aside from the title page. This is consistent with the fact that it is likely from an inexpensive chapbook with several other stories. Additionally, the book is disbound. It is precariously held together by thread, evidenced by three small puncture holes on the interior of the pages which it is wound through. On one page, a small fragment of the thread pokes out. Furthermore, the pages are yellowed in an uneven quality throughout the book and scalloped around the edges. Some pages are shorter in width than others. This low quality in binding and appearance can be attributed to its nature as an economical source of entertainment for the public.   

Upon opening the book, one is met with two illustrations. There is a large (13 x 8 cm) illustration on the frontispiece and a smaller (3.5 x 5.5 cm) one on the title page. Both are black and white depictions of scenes from the book. There is a slight reverse image transfer from the large frontispiece illustration onto the adjacent title page. This is due to the differing properties in ink from the two pages. 

The remaining forty pages relay the story of The Convent of Saint Usurla. The text is closely set and fairly small with margins ranging from 1.5 to 2 cm. There are few paragraph indentations, leading to long blocks of uninterrupted text which give the page a crowded appearance. Some pages present words that are precise and clearly distinguishable, while others have ink globs and letters that appear fuzzy. This particular copy of the book has no post-production markings other than one small dark yellow rectangular stain on pages 20 and 21, most likely from a previous owner leaving a scrap of paper in the book for a long period of time. 

At the bottom of various pages, there are signature marks. In the production process, multiple pages were printed on the same large roll of paper which then needed to be folded in the correct order. These signature marks assisted the printers in the folding and binding of the text. Such signature marks appear on pages 3, 5, 15, 19, 25, 27, and 37 and are labeled B, B2, C, C3, D, D3, and E, respectively. Interestingly, each section under a particular signature mark, has a different paper and ink quality than those surrounding it. For example, the paper in signature mark section D is of a visibly lower quality than section C3. Despite the presence of these signature marks, a mistake in the folding of this copy was discovered which led to duplicate copies of pages 25 and 26.  


Textual History

In addition to the copy in the Sadlier-Black Collection at the University of Virginia, The Convent of Saint Usurla, or, Incidents at Ottagro. An Italian Romance (1809) can be found in various forms. For instance, in 2017, a copy of the chapbook was digitized to Google Books by the British National Library. It appears to be the same chapbook edition published by John Arliss, even exhibiting the same mistakes in page numbering. Additionally, the story was republished in Literary Mushrooms: Tales of Horror and Fiction from the Gothic Chapbooks, 1800–1830 by Franz J. Potter in 2009 with the author listed as Sarah Wilkinson. Likewise, a 2004 reprint by the Zittaw Press publishing company lists Sarah Wilkinson as the author as well. 

The reason for this ambiguity regarding the author comes from the fact that the brief chapbook story is an abridged version of the full-length novel, The Fugitive Countess or, Convent of Saint Ursula (1807) by Sarah Wilkinson. Sections of the chapbook story are pulled directly from the novel, with a few small changes. One alteration is the name change of “Ursula” in the novel, which has been printed as “Usurla” in the chapbook. Similarly, the name “Ottagio” in the novel is slightly altered to “Ottagro” in the chapbook. It is unknown if Sarah Wilkinson herself abridged her novel into the chapbook released in 1809, or if it was plagiarized by a counterfeiter, which was a common practice in the day (Frank 142). 

As aforementioned, The Fugitive Countess (1807), written by Sarah Wilkinson and published by J.P. Hughes, is a four-volume novel that expands upon the short chapbook story The Convent of Saint Usurla (1809). There do not appear to be any critical reviews of the novel or chapbook at the time of original publication; however, The Fugitive Countess is found to be advertised in newspapers. For example, the novel is mentioned under the section “New Novels, just published” in the London based newspaper Morning Post on June 12, 1807. Also, in the Morning Post, it is listed as number six in the “Popular novels/Romances” section on January 1, 1808 which indicates that it was at least marginally popular.

Despite the few mentions of the novel at the time of its release, The Fugitive Countess has received some scholarly critical analysis in recent years. In his work, The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835: Exhuming the Trade, Franz Potter notes a striking similarity between Clementina’s interpolated tale from The Fugitive Countess and one of Wilkinson’s previous chapbooks, The Wife of Two Husbands, which was itself an adaptation of a theater musical. He asserts that in the novel, Wilkinson, “drew from other popular themes found in Gothic novels, most notably from Eliza Parsons’s The Mysterious Warning” (128). Despite these similarities, The Fugitive Countess appears to be a legitimate, original novel that was only heavily influenced by popular Gothic works of the time, not plagiarized (History of Gothic Publishing 120).     

A signature mark is shown at the bottom of this page

Nowadays, The Fugitive Countess can be found digitized in the Corvey Collection, a massive collection of European literature from 1790–1840 (Behrendt). It can also be found in, English Language Women’s Literature of the18th & 19th Centuries published by Belser Wissenschaftlicher Dienst in 2004. This republishing of The Fugitive Countess, along with other recent republishings of its chapbook version, may be attributed to the revival of interest in Gothic chapbooks, and author Sarah Wilkinson herself in recent years, as “a case study of middling to lower-class female authorship during the early nineteenth century” (Hoeveler 184). 

A well-known chapbook author of her day, Sarah Carr Wilkinson (1779–1831) was the author of over one-hundred chapbooks, gothic novels, and abridged versions of plays, operas, and popular gothic novels—making her one of the most prolific writers of her genre (“Writing for the Spectre of Poverty” 23). Early on, Wilkinson’s writing career began with children’s books, but she soon transitioned primarily to writing short Gothic chapbooks, also called bluebooks, and full-length novels (Hughes 253). Wilkinson produced many more chapbooks, which were cheaply constructed and sold, than novels. Ultimately, chapbooks were a more profitable venture for her, and writing was her primary source of income (“Writing for the Spectre of Poverty” 23). Her most active and successful years were between 1803 and 1812, in which she received modest popularity in her genre (History of Gothic Publishing 116). Unfortunately, despite her relative popularity in the chapbook scene, Wilkinson “never had the comfort of literary or economic success” and faced a life-long struggle against poverty (“Writing for the Spectre of Poverty” 18). Her financial concerns intensified around 1820, which is exemplified in the many petitions (and denials) for financial assistance from the Royal Literary Fund (History of Gothic Publishing 113). In 1824, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, her plea for assistance was finally granted. The petition was endorsed by several of her publishers and cites, “a depression in the Book trade” as a reason for her need of assistance. This interesting inclusion indicates the waning popularity of the genre that had once sustained her. Unfortunately, Wilkinson’s health and financial situations both continued to deteriorate, culminating in 1831 when she passed away in a London workhouse (History of Gothic Publishing 113–15). 

Currently, there are varying opinions on the merit of Wilkinson as a serious author. Some of her harshest critics have gone as far as to assert that she engaged in “Gothic counterfeiting” (Frank 142). Others have called her a “‘hack’ writer” who pumped out contrived, formulaic stories for the sole purpose of making money (Hoeveler 184). On the other hand, more generous critics admit that Wilkinson wrote to sustain herself and often employed “recycled scenes and motifs” from the genre, even as some argue that her works also show an “ability to construct clear and simple story lines free from dense subplotting that often encumbered Gothic novels” and are important in that they “uniquely show the amalgamation of the bluebook and the novel” (History of Gothic Publishing 116, 130).


Narrative Point of View

The Convent of Saint Usurla is told in two alternating perspectives. Primarily, the novel is written from a third-person point of view. The narrator is unspecified, but omniscient to all of the characters’ thoughts, feelings, and actions. The chapbook is written in a fairly formal style, frequently employs long sentences, and often delves into the interiority of the protagonists. In contrast to this style of writing, the novel also has several interpolated tales inserted throughout which are written in a first-person perspective. These tales extend for many pages at a time and function to recount relevant past events. Since they are told from an individual’s perspective, they are limited to only this character’s point of view. Despite this, however, they are imbued with a great level of detail and highly specific dialogue.   

Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:

On this occasion the count visited Tivoli; and having remained there a few days, escorted his daughter to the convent, to the regret of her governess, who did not give her assent to this visit. The journey was delightful to Magdalena: everything was novel, consequently pleasing to her youthful mind; and she chatted with the utmost gaiety. The count could not withhold his love and admiration; but her presence forcibly reminded him of the injury he had done to her, and the necessity of preserving his own reputation unblemished. (7–8)

This passage from near the beginning of the novel demonstrates the omniscient qualities of the third-person point of view. In this case, this narrative perspective functions to give the reader a sense of the motivations of the characters which justify their subsequent actions in the story. 

Sample Passage of First-Person Narration in an Interpolated Tale:

A few days after this I was ordered to receive Ottagro as my husband. Such was my desperation, that being left alone with the count, I, on my knees, confessed my prior marriage, and its consequences, beseeching him not to betray me, but to form some pretext for preventing our approaching union. He raised me in his arms. “You have acted,” said he, “with honorable candour, never shall your confidence be betrayed. Lenardo’s widow must be my bride. If I act in conformity to your wishes your father will seek another alliance; the next suitor may not act with the same generosity as myself. Let me, in the character of husband, be your defender from ill.” (26) 

This passage is from Clementina de Lusini’s interpolated tale in which she recounts her backstory to Magdalena. A first-person perspective is important here because the readers are not given all aspects of the story, only the parts known to Clementina, herself. Due to this, the reader does not receive all relevant information until the end when all of the stories connect together. In addition, the interpolated tale format creates a non-chronological sequence of events. These elements propel the story forward and create mystery that can only be resolved by fully completing the novel. 


Summary

The chapbook, The Convent of Saint Usurla, begins in the middle of an action-packed scene in which the protagonist, Magdalena, the Countess de Ottagro, closely escapes imminent death at the hand of her husband, the Count de Ottagro. Upon fleeing, Magdalena and her maid, Laura, take refuge in the Convent of Saint Usurla where her loving aunt Viola is the Abbess. With this, the novel goes back in time in order to tell the story of how Magdalena came to be in this situation. 

As a young girl, Magdalena lost her mother and thus received a sheltered upbringing by her father, the Count de Verona. The Count de Verona was from an esteemed family in Tivoli; however, he was a gambler and managed to gamble away all of his money, as well as Magdalena’s inheritance. Due to this, Magdalena has no dowry, and thus little prospect for a favorable marriage. To avoid this problem, the Count de Verona wants Magdalena to become a nun and sends her to the Convent of Saint Usurla for a visit. Here, Magdalena becomes close to her Aunt Viola and makes friends, coming to appreciate the convent as she considers taking the oath.

While, at the convent, Magdalena meets the Count de Ottagro, who is a wealthy nobleman and friend of her father’s. The Count takes a liking to her, though she feels impartial, and two continue to meet. Suspecting his marital intentions and questioning his character, Aunt Viola expresses her disapproval of these meetings to Magdalena’s father. In response, the Count de Verona removes Magdalena from the convent and transfers her to the Castle de Ottagro. 

At the Castle de Ottagro, Magdalena spends several weeks with her father, the Count de Ottagro, and his cold sister, Lady Jacintha. In this time, Magdalena also grows close to the Lusini family—the amiable daughter Angelina and handsome son Ernestus—who live nearby; however, this is disapproved of as a bad blood exists between the Count de Ottagro and the Lusini’s for some unknown reason. In addition, Magdalena passes her time secretly reading in the castle library, in which she is forbidden. One late night in the library, Magdalena briefly sees a mysterious woman in white, and she flees in terror. The next day, Magdalena returns to the library and finds a mysterious note, addressed to her, which warns her of some unspecified danger. 

Soon after this strange occurrence, the Count de Verona orders Magdalena to marry the Count de Ottagro. He says that by doing this, Ottagro will erase the gambling debts that he has incurred and will even give him a future loan. At first, Magdalena rejects the idea since she is suspicious of Ottagro. However, the Count de Verona threatens suicide, so she ultimately agrees. The next morning, Magdalena unhappily accepts the Count de Ottagro’s marriage proposal, and the wedding ceremony is set for two weeks’ time. 

The frontispiece for The Convent of Saint Usurla

In the interim, one-night Magdalena spots the Count de Ottagro and his sister, Lady Jacintha, carrying a covered basket to the library. There, the two open a hidden trapdoor and descend. Now, Magdalena is highly wary of her groom-to-be and suspects that there is a secret prisoner in the library. Nevertheless, she proceeds with the marriage. 

A few weeks later, on a night in which the Count de Ottagro is out of town and Lady Jacintha is sick, Magdalena returns to the library and opens the trap door. She descends down a staircase and a long passage where she then reaches a locked door. Disappointed, Magdalena starts to return to the surface; however, Lady Jacintha’s maid Thomasine finds her. Magdalena fears that Thomasine will turn her in, but instead she unlocks the door to reveal the secret. Inside, there is a small child and a dying woman who is identified as Clementina de Lusini—the first wife of the Count de Ottagro.  

At this point, the dying Clementina de Lusini retells the story of how she came to be imprisoned in the library dungeon in the Castle de Ottagro. As a teen, Clementina fell in love with Lenardo di Orizzi, the son of her father’s arch nemesis. She was forbidden to marry him, but the two secretly eloped. Soon, their elopement was discovered by Lenardo’s family and because of this, he was sent far away to war where he was killed in action. After this devastating tragedy, Clementina discovered that she was pregnant. Fortunately, her family was scheduled to go on a long trip without her, during which she gave birth to a baby boy. She called him Lenardo and gives him to her doctor and his wife to raise. The doctor and his family, including young Lenardo, then moved to England.  

Ignorant to all of the events that had taken place, Clementina’s family returned from their trip with a friend, the Count de Ottagro. Thinking her lover to be dead, Clementina married the Count de Ottagro, but before long, her guilty conscience prompted her to tell the Count of everything that had occurred. Surprisingly, the Count de Ottagro accepted her admission, but over time grew resentful and unkind. After some time, Clementina became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl, Adeline, but the Count de Ottagro remained unhappy, as he wanted a male heir. 

After several years, Clementina visited her family’s mansion, where she found Lenardo, her lover, to be alive and well. Apparently, he was not sent away to war, but imprisoned by his father for his indiscretion and declared dead to the world. Upon the recent death of his father, he was freed. However happy, Clementina was also greatly troubled at this news, as she had already remarried.

Almost immediately, the Count de Ottagro discovered that Lenardo was alive, and he and Clementina have met. With this knowledge, he accused Clementina of plotting to murder him and took her to the dungeon under his library. There she found Lenardo and her maid, Drusilla, who was imprisoned as an accomplice to Clementina’s perceived betrayal. In a rage, Ottagro murdered Lenardo and Drusilla, and Clementina was devastated. The Count de Ottagro realized that he cannot free Clementina as she could expose him; however, he also does not want to kill her. As a result, he faked her and their daughter’s deaths and imprisons them in the library dungeon where they have been for the last five years. Soon after relaying this story, Clementina dies. 

Soon after this wild discovery, the Count de Ottagro grows suspicious that Magdalena has uncovered his secret. Under pressure, she admits. The Count threatens Magdalena, but ultimately swears her to secrecy. Two years pass by with this arrangement, when one-night Magdalena sees the Count de Ottagro smuggle a teen boy into the library dungeon. She secretly enters the dungeon and discovers that it is Clementina’s son, Lenardo. Lenardo tells her that he was raised in England by his adopted family, but upon growing older was told of his true past. On hearing this, he vowed to take revenge on Ottagro and started heading for Italy. However, all of this time, the Count de Ottagro kept tabs on the boy, so he was intercepted on his journey and imprisoned. With the help of Magdalena, Lenardo manages to escape and arrives safely at the Lusini home. The Count de Ottagro discovers this and, furious, he nearly kills Magdelena. However, Magdalena escapes and flees to the Convent to take refuge. This is where the various timelines of the novel converge.  

Fearing exposure, the Count de Ottagro rapidly flees the castle when his carriage crashes and he dies. Magdelena is now free from the evil Count de Ottagro and she and the handsome Lusini son, Ernestus, get married. 


Bibliography

Behrendt, Stephen C. “European Literature, 1790–1840: The Corvey Collection.” Gale Primary Sources: Nineteenth Century Collections Online. https://go-gale-com.proxy01.its.virginia.edu/ps/aboutThisCollection?userGroupName=viva_uva&inPS=true&mCode=4UVC&prodId=NCCO

The Convent of Saint Usurla, or, Incidents at Ottagro. An Italian Romance. London, John Arliss, 1809. 

Frank, Frederick S.. Gothic Writers: A Critical and Bibliographical Guide, edited by Douglass H. Thomson, and Jack G. Voller, Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, 2001. ProQuest Ebook Central. 

Hoeveler, Diane Long. “More Gothic Gold: the Sadleir-Black chapbook collection at the University of Virginia library.” Papers on Language & Literature, vol. 46, no. 2, 2010, pp. 164–193. 

Hughes, William. Historical Dictionary of Gothic Literature, Scarecrow Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy01.its.virginia.edu/lib/uva/detail.action?docID=1144297

“Multiple Classified Ads.” Morning Post [London], Issue 11322, June 12, 1807, p. 2. Gale Primary Sources: British Library Newspapers.

“Multiple Classified Ads.” Morning Post [London], Issue 11503, Jan. 1, 1808, p. 4. Gale Primary Sources: British Library Newspapers.

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

Potter, Franz. ‘Writing for the Spectre of Poverty: Exhuming Sarah Wilkinson’s Bluebooks and Novels.” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text, issue 11, 2003, pp. 17–34.

Wilkinson, Sarah. The Fugitive Countess or, Convent of Saint Ursula. London, J.P. Hughes, 1807.


Researcher: Samantha K. Venables

The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity.

The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity.

The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity

Author: Jean-Baptiste-François-Xavier Cousin de Grainville
Publisher: R. Dutton
Publication Year: 1806
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 2 volumes, each 11.5cm x 19cm
Pages: volume one, 220; volume two, 204
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .S52 L 1806


In this 1806 Jean-Baptiste-François-Xavier Cousin de Grainville novel, embark on a journey with the last inhabitants of the world as they navigate around the universe’s impending destruction.


Material History

The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity was originally a French text by Jean-Baptiste-François-Xavier Cousin de Grainville. The author’s name appears nowhere on the front cover or inside of the book. Instead, “By Mrs. Shelly author of Frankenstein [illegible word]” is penciled in underneath the title on the full title page of both volumes. Though the two texts share the same short title, The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity was written by Cousin de Grainville not Mary Shelley.

The full title page for The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity, featuring a reader’s incorrect addition of an author

This edition, which presents the English translation of the French original, was published in London at Grace Church-Street in 1806 by R. Dutton, as denoted on the full title page of both volumes. An epigraph appears underneath the title on the full title page in both volumes and says, “Through what new scenes and changes must we pass?—The wide, th’unbounded, prospect lies before me.—” which is from Addison’s 1713 “Cato.” The French title is not given in this edition, but the French edition is called Le Dernier Homme, Ouvrage Posthume. The full English title, The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity, is only present on the full title page of each volume and the shortened titles—The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity. and The Last Man.—are present on the half title page of each volume. The latter title—The Last Man.—also appears in the top margin of the left and right pages starting from the beginning of chapter one until the end of the last chapter.

Any designs that may have graced the front or back covers of the book are completely gone, due to over 200 years passing since it was originally printed. There are remnants of a wax-dripped insignia on the spine of volume one and black printed letters on the front cover of volume two; otherwise, the covers are a brownish-yellowish color and are fraying at the corners. There is also worn-off blue tape on the spine that wraps towards the center of the front and back covers in an attempt to secure the fragile binding. The book is 11.5 cm by 19 cm and is of a medium thickness. Volume one contains 220 pages and volume two contains 204 pages, making the entire book a total of 424 pages.

The binding from volume two is in poorer condition than volume one, as all the pages are completely detached from the binding. In volume one, the pages are still slightly secured to the binding, albeit a third of the pages are detached from it. However, all of the pages of each volume remain intact and secured to each other with an adhesive. The paper is yellowed, and there are brown splotches of varying sizes on the majority of pages. The origin of these splotches is unknown. When the book is closed, the pages are noticeably crinkled.

A stamp of T. Norris’s Circulating Library

The page immediately following the full title page in volume two has an advertisement for another text published by R. Dutton, The Saracen, or Matilda and Melek Adhel. A Crusade Romance with no listed author. The advertisement relates in italics, “Just published, in 4 vols. 12 mo. price 18s. in boards,” and, “This work has been highly spoken of in the L’Ambigu of M. Peltier.” On page 11 of volume two, there is a handwritten correction for a typo: someone has crossed out “Ormus” and penciled in “Eupholus.” There are no illustrations, decorative elements, table of contents, epilogue, or author’s note present within the text.

We know that this edition of The Last Man has had many institutional homes, as a stamp of T. Norris’s Circulating Library is glued onto the inside of the opening cover of each volume. There are also illegible names and numbers scrawled in pencil and ink on the opening cover and first blank page of each volume, supporting the idea that this edition of The Last Man has passed through many hands. In both volumes, the only writing that can be clearly deciphered is “Doris Pousonly 1927.” This constant transfer between different people also contributed to the novel’s fragile state and worn-out appearance.

The font used in both volumes is identical, and it is of a larger size, making it easier to read. Copious amounts of spaces separate paragraphs, which are generally on the shorter side and range from one to three sentences. The spacing of sentences within paragraphs and words are also spread apart. The first word of every chapter is printed in a larger font size than the following words, with the first letter in a more decorative font. The chapter headers are preceded and succeeded by black lines, which creates ample spacing between them and the paragraphs. They are also in a different font and size than the primary font and font size, and the numbers are roman numerals. Page numbers appear at the top of the pages – the leftmost side of the left page and the rightmost side of the right page.

Different printer notes are scattered throughout the chapters in order to keep track of the page order. Below the last sentence of each paragraph, there are catchwords placed on the bottom and to the rightmost side of the page. These words were customary printing techniques during the nineteenth-century to pair up pages with the same word that appeared at the top of the next page. Also, capital letters immediately followed by a number appear inconsistently on the middle of the bottom portions of pages. These notes provided a map for printers on how to fold the book and align the pages together.


Textual History

An advertisement for The Saracen, or Matilda and Melek Adhel, which was also published by R. Dutton, appears in volume 2 of The Last Man

The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity. was originally written in French by Jean-Baptiste-François-Xavier Cousin de Grainville and titled Le dernier homme. Cousin de Grainville was a former priest at the Church of Saint-Leu in Amiens. This is also the same place where he delivered a funeral oration defending the King of France at the time, Louis XVI, which resulted in his imprisonment and potential death sentence. In order to avoid the latter, he was urged into marriage, and the union simply became a way to keep up appearances. After the marriage, he began writing Le dernier homme, which ultimately became his life’s work. He also kept a school in Amiens, but was shunned as an apostate priest. Due to the treatment he endured, he committed suicide at Amiens in 1805, making Le dernier homme a posthumous publication (Paley 67–8).

The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity. was published and received in several different manners. The original French publication received little to no attention; Morton D. Paley notes that this makes the emergence of the English version in 1806, which lists no author, strange (68). The minimum attention the novel received produced a few reviews, which were generally bad. In one instance, the reviewer deems the novel as “most extravagantly wild and eccentric” and recommends it to readers who are “much addicted to the reading of romances” but also warns, “if the same readers should be hostile to licentiousness and profaneness, and should think that translations (as this seems to be) one of the vilest books imported from the Continent, ought to be consigned to some other conspicuous place—we recommend the fire” (“Art. 21” 446). The 1811 publication of the second edition of Le dernier homme in French was influenced by Sir Herbert Croft, who was a contemporary admirer of the novel, and prefaced by Charles Nodier, who was Croft’s literary assistant; the second edition received a little more attention than the first, but still remained widely unknown (Paley 68).

A signature by a person who previously held the book

Cousin de Grainville’s work is believed to have inspired the development of other pieces of literature in the following years of its publication. Benjamin Morgan suggests that Cousin de Grainville’s novel stimulated the genre of “Romantic millenarianism,” which included the works of Lord Byron’s Darkness (1816), Thomas Campbell’s The Last Man (1823), and Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) (618). All of these texts are placed in an impending apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic world and involve a fixation on the last man on earth. In 1831, the novel was adapted into a poem by A. Creuzé de Lesser, which was titled “Le dernier homme, poème imité de Grainville,” and published in Paris (Paley 68).

Today, The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity. has been attended to by many scholars and approached as a work of science fiction, potentially one of the earliest such works. Wesleyan University Press published an edition, translated by I.F. Clarke and M. Clarke in 2003 as part of their Early Classics of Science Fiction series. In one review of this newer edition, John Huntington emphasizes common literary elements in the novel, such as “realism and “the kind of empirical detail which will later characterize the SF [science fiction] novel” (374). There have also been interpretations that contextualize the earth’s deterioration in the novel. In one analysis, Morgan situates Cousin de Grainville’s novel amidst other works that examine “ecological catastrophe” (618).


Narrative Point of View

The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity. is a frame narrative in which the main story is narrated in the third-person omniscient by an anonymous narrator and the secondary tale is narrated in the first person by Omegarus. The frame narrative is heavy on dialogue, while typically using descriptive paragraphs to reveal that a strange or magnificent event has taken place. The secondary narrative is related from the perspective of Omegarus, in which he tells Adam about his history. Since the secondary narrative is in the first person while also incorporating a lot of dialogue, Omegarus uses descriptive paragraphs to focus on his thoughts and reactions to different situations. Omegarus also relates stories that other characters told him at that particular instance in his history, which can generate confusion as to the chronology of events. The secondary narrative functions as the backstory to the main narrative, which is narrated in the present. At times, the third-person narration of the framing narrative interrupts the secondary narrative to remind readers that it is the main story, as one can easily become lost in the secondary narrative and forget about the main narrative. It also serves as a way to interact with readers, as we are like Adam listening for the first time to Omegarus’s story.

Sample Passage of Main Frame Narrative:

Scarcely had Omegarus ended the description of the two pictures, when Adam, much affected, interrupted him saying, “Omegarus, O my son! (allow me to use this appellation from my tenderness) hold an instant, and let me recover breath! Thou hast opened again in my heart a source of sentiment which I thought dried up. Ah! If thou didst but know me! – I, as well as Adam, had a wife and children, and but now fancied that I saw them, heard them, and tasted with them all the joys of a husband and father!” (vol. 2, 48–49)

In the main narrative, Adam stands in the same place as the readers of the novel, as he is invested and heavily affected by listening to Omegarus’s story for the first time. This invites readers to be sympathetic towards Omegarus and his future. Readers also know more than Omegarus, because we know Adam’s true identity while Omegarus is unaware of who Adam is at this point in the story. Adam points this out in this passage as he laments, “If thou didst but know me!” then Omegarus would understand why he is heavily affected by the story. In expressing his emotions, Adam interrupts Omegarus’s story, bringing readers back from the secondary narrative to the main narrative. This interjection also acts as a break from Omegarus’s story, which contains a lot of information to digest in one taking.

Sample Passage of Secondary Narrative:

I came. Her room decked out, the soft fragrance I inhaled, Syderia’s dress, – all were preparations that surprised me. I drew near her ; the picture of Eve with her infant son attracted and delighted my eye, and induced a wish to see the other which was veiled. No emotion ever equalled mine at the sight of the Mother of Mankind in the arms of her husband. (vol. 2, 51)

From the first sentence here, the “I” used by Omegarus denotes this passage as originating from the secondary narrative versus the main narrative, which makes no use of first-person pronouns outside of dialogue. Because of this, readers have a window into Omegarus’ thoughts, specifically about Syderia in comparison to the painting of Eve in this sample passage. This ability invites readers to be sympathetic towards Omegarus and gain an understanding of where he is coming from, as we are learning his history from his own perspective, even though Omegarus’s narrative is also faulty and biased, since it is difficult to remember every instance that has occurred in one’s history.


Summary

The half-title page for The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity.

The novel begins with an unknown speaker being willed to enter a cave by a spirit possessing knowledge of all future events. The spirit intends to reveal the events that will result in the end of the universe through a magic mirror. The speaker first sees an image of a melancholy man and woman, Omegarus and Syderia, who are the last inhabitants of the universe. The spirit shows the speaker, who is interested by the cause of their melancholy, a different image depicting Adam, the first father of mankind, guarding the gates of hell as punishment for causing the human race to have original sin. Ithuriel, an angel, comes to Adam and tells him that God has a special mission for him, which involves sending him back to earth. In return for his participation and success in the mission, Adam will be granted deliverance from his punishment. Ithuriel promptly returns Adam to earth, where God communicates that he must demand from Omegarus painful sacrifices using only eloquence and persuasion.

Omegarus and Syderia walk outside of their palace after being plagued by images of bleeding specters and the sound of groans, when they see an old man, who they view as a favorable omen sent from heaven. The old man is actually Adam, who must conceal his true identity from Omegarus and Syderia. Adam inquires the source of their sorrows, to which Omegarus relates the images and sounds that have plagued him and Syderia. Adam confirms that Omegarus has committed a fault that has agitated heaven, and he was sent to teach him how to avoid it. He asks Omegarus to tell him the history of his life and Omegarus begins to tell his story.

Omegarus’s birth was a phenomenon, due to procreation being fruitless twenty years prior, and was nicknamed “Manchild.” No other children, though, were born afterwards, and shortly after the death of Omegarus’s parents, he decided to travel to Europe. Before leaving, he visited his parents’ tomb where the Genius of earth, who is charged with the planet’s preservation and care, appeared to him and warned him of earth’s impending destruction. The Genius explained that he would live as long as the earth lived and that only Omegarus, united by marriage with a specific woman, would result in the production of children and delay the earth’s, mankind’s, and his own destruction. Omegarus offered to promote the Genius’ intentions, and the Genius told him to seek out a man named Idamas, because he knew what plans heaven had for Omegarus.

The start of volume two, showing the large spacing and different fonts used

Upon entering the city that Idamas inhabited, Omegarus encountered Policletes and Cephisa, who had been imparted the knowledge of Omegarus’s fate. Policletes told Omegarus how he went to a temple one day after feeling anxious about the earth’s decay and had a vision of Omegarus as a child, who told him his anxieties would end when he laid eyes on Omegarus’s future wife. Policletes charged this vision as the reason for seeking out Omegarus’s wife. After this encounter, Omegarus continued searching for Idamas, until he is stopped by a man named Palemos, who claimed that heaven had bestowed the knowledge of the future to him and knew Idamas. He explained how he was a guest at Idamas’s home the previous night, where he witnessed God tell Idamas that the earth would be revived through Omegarus, who he is meant to accompany in his journey. Policletes then took Omegarus to Idamas, and they subsequently depart across the seas.

On their journey, Idamas related to Omegarus the story of Ormus, who promised to bring his people into a new world by taking control of the ocean. Initially, his people supported him, but eventually, Ormus abandoned his plans due to his people claiming that his actions were selfish and simply a way to have his name immortalized. Afterwards, Ormus sought refuge in the City of the Sun in Brazil, where he was greatly revered. Omegarus’s future wife was also in Brazil. Idamas’s narrative was interrupted when they discovered that they had reached Brazil’s shores. Omegarus, Idamas, and all of their companions were initially met by Eupolis and the Americans who intended to kill all of them, since this was the law enforced in Brazil to preserve the minimal food supply. Only a sign from heaven, which was the gift of numerous animals from a neighboring village, caused Eupolis and the Americans to change their intentions and lead them to Aglauros, who ruled in the Brazils. Idamas told Aglauros of the display by heaven and convinced him of Omegarus’s role as the reviver of the human race. He then told Aglauros that he would name Omegarus’s wife, and Aglauros allowed Idamas to follow-through with his plans, but imprisoned Omegarus in a tower so that he does not accidentally choose the wrong woman.

After several weeks, Idamas told Aglauros to order all the young American virgins to the plains of Azas where he would name Omegarus’s wife. Meanwhile, Omegarus was visited in the tower by a goddess, who painted an image of a perfect and beautiful woman. The following night and onwards, the same woman visited him in the tower. Syderia also experienced the same phenomena as Omegarus, but instead, she was visited everyday by a young man. They fell in love with each other, which is the reason why both Omegarus and Syderia wished to not partake in the plains of Azas. Despite their reluctance, Omegarus and Syderia were required to go to Azas and discovered that they were the ones they saw every day and night.

This page shows a typo corrected by a previous reader of the book, as well as the printer notes (B6) and a catchword (Wretched), both designed to help the printer or bookbinder assemble the pages

The preparations for their marriage were immediately started, but Ormus, who was charged with uniting Omegarus and Syderia, prophesized that their marriage would actually result in the destruction of earth and mankind. He bestowed this knowledge onto Eupolis and a few of the Americans. On the day of Omegarus and Syderia’s wedding, Eupolis revealed this knowledge to everyone after Ormus and Idamas are killed by presumably heaven’s wrath. He demanded that Omegarus return to Europe and Syderia remain in Brazil. 

That night, Forestan, Syderia’s father, visited Omegarus and pleaded that he took Syderia with him to Europe, for Eupolis and the Americans intended to kill both her and Omegarus to eliminate the threat of the prophecy all together. Omegarus agreed, and him and Syderia escaped to Europe the same night. In the following days, Omegarus was consumed with his love for Syderia, which she refused to return in respect of her father’s wishes to not marry Omegarus. One day, Omegarus wished to escape Syderia’s presence and ended up in a delightful valley wherein he perceived Syderia willingly accepting his love. Realizing it was an illusion, Omegarus immediately rushed back to Syderia, but she still implored that they remained separated. This caused further distress in Omegarus, who now shunned Syderia.

One day, Syderia is visited by her father’s spirit, who revealed that he had died shortly after her departure. He told her that heaven actually approved of her marriage to Omegarus and that his love for her would be rekindled by two images located over the altar in the temple. Syderia was moved by the second image, which depicted Eve and her infant son, and presented herself under the two images so that Omegarus may find her. Once he found her, Omegarus was moved by the first image of Eve and Adam getting married. Shortly after, Omegarus and Syderia got married. With the end of his narrative, Omegarus demands Adam to ask heaven whether or not their union is favorable.

After consulting with heaven, Adam drags Omegarus from the palace and reveals that Syderia is pregnant and their child will be the father of an ill-fated generation of humans. Omegarus is unwilling to believe Adam, as he is still unaware of his true identity. Adam cites all of the bad events that have taken place since Omegarus and Syderia have been in each other’s company, and Omegarus admits that he was in the wrong, but refuses to allow Syderia’s death and the death of their child. This refusal causes Adam to reveal his true identity to Omegarus as the “Father of Mankind,” and he tells Omegarus the mission that God has entrusted to him. Although at first unwilling to let Syderia die, Omegarus changes his mind when God shows him a vision of the future where his future generations are at war with each other. Omegarus signs a tree and carves that he is innocent in hopes that Syderia reads it and officially parts ways with her. She ultimately perishes as a result of his absence. The Almighty opens the graves of the dead and shields Omegarus from the havoc the dead causes. The novel concludes with Omegarus witnessing the end of the universe.


Bibliography

Cousin de Grainville, Jean-Baptiste-François-Xavier. The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity. London, R. Dutton, 1806.

Huntington, John. “Lumen/The Last Man.” Extrapolation (pre-2012), 44.3 (Fall 2003): 372–375.

Morgan, Benjamin. “Fin du Globe: On Decadent Planets.” Victorian Studies, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Summer 2016): 609–635.

“Art. 21. The Last Man; or Omegarus and Syderia, a Romance in Futurity.” The British Critic, 1793–1826, vol. 28, 1806, pp. 446.

Paley, Morton D. “Le dernier homme: The French Revolution as the Failure of Typology.” Mosaic 24, 1 (Jan 1991): 67–76.


Researcher: Shayna Gomez

Don Algonah

Don Algonah

Don Algonah: Or the Sorceress of Montillo. A Romantic Tale

Author: Unknown
Publisher: T. Hurst
Publication Year: 1802
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10cm x 17.5cm.
Pages: 71
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .D651 1802


Don Algonah: the Sorceress of Montillo, published in 1802 and republished several times, is a tale of adventure, magic, violence, and a quest for unforbidden love that takes place in Madrid, Spain.


Material History

Don Algonah: Or the Sorceress of Montillo. A Romantic Tale consists of 71 pages and is approximately 10 cm by 17.5 cm. The author is unknown because there is no author name printed on any of the pages. At first glance, the book appears very aged because of the missing cover and discolored pages that are loosely hanging onto the binding. You must be careful while looking through the book as to not accidentally fold the brittle and thin pages. Some pages can be seen peeking out from the side because they are no longer attached to the rest of the book. The outer edges of the book are also discolored and shriveled. Surprisingly, none of the pages are missing and the text is still very clear and readable. 

The title page for Don Algonah: Or the Sorceress of Montillo

The original front and back cover of the book is missing, leaving a blank page on both sides. This is most likely because this book was originally part of a pamphlet consisting of multiple stories. It was very common for multiple stories to be printed into one pamphlet. As a result, some booksellers thought they could make a larger profit by selling the stories individually, so they would rip the stories out of the pamphlet. Although both front and back covers are missing, we can still see traces of brown, fuzzy leather with blue and gold designs on the binding. It is very likely that the covers of the book were made of the same leather material. There are also three small holes near the binding on every page and a piece of string strewn between a different set of holes. The pages were originally sewn with a needle, but someone pulled the pages apart and then bound it back together again. The blank front page also has the word “romance” written on the top left corner. 

On page three there is a title page with the book’s full title printed at the top and a detailed black and white illustration of men sitting around a fire. There is another black and white illustration on the left page of a tall man with a knife. Both illustrations use hatching which is a technique used to create different shades. This book was probably produced very cheaply because non-colored illustrations were much cheaper. A previous owner of the book also handwrote their name on the top corner of page three. 

Every page has a page number printed on the top. Some pages also have a capital letter followed by a number at the very bottom. The pages of a book were printed on a large sheet of paper and the book binder would have to fold the paper with multiple pages on the front and make and make sure the pages were in the right order. The letter and number pair was for the book binder to make sure the pages were in order without having to know the page numbers. 


Textual History

Don Algonah: Or the Sorceress of Montillo is the second edition published by T. Hurst in 1802. The first edition was published the same year. The book does not explicitly state who the author is, but the bottom of the title page mentions that the book was printed for T. Hurst and sold by J. Wallis. The authorship is unknown. Thomas Hurst was a publisher in London during the nineteenth century. The novel does not explicitly state who the illustrator is, but underneath the black and white image, the names Rhodes Sculp and Craig Pinx are printed in a tiny font. There are several other digitized books online with a similar illustration style on the cover and the name Rhodes Sculp written underneath. 

The frontispiece for Don Algonah: Or the Sorceress of Montillo

The book was printed by J. Cundee, a British printer located at Albion Press, Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row in London. The book was originally printed in English as a chapbook. A chapbook is a small inexpensive booklet containing short literature. There is a third edition printed the same year, 1802, and it is the second story in volume I of The Marvellous Magazine and Compendium of Prodigies. The entire magazine comprises of four volumes and each volume consists of many gothic stories from the nineteenth century. All four volumes were published individually between 1802 and 1804. In the version of Don Algonah that appears in The Marvellous Magazine, the story is the same and there is a new illustration of an owl on the front title page. 

The entire text was digitized by the Internet Archive in 2017 with funding from University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Alternates. The digital version includes an image of the vignette design on the front and back cover that is missing from the copy in the University of Virginia Special Collections Library. The book has also been reprinted multiple times in the twenty-first century. There are hardcover and paperback copies available to be ordered online through Amazon. These newer versions shortened the title to just Don Algonah. The space where the author’s name is usually written, just has “Algonah (Don, fict. name.).” 

It is unknown whether or not the book sold well or poorly. A short snippet of the work was included in the Georgia Courier, a weekly newspaper for Albany, Doughtry County Georgia. On June 7, 1827 pages 13–16 of the book were printed in two columns of the newspaper and left to be continued (Georgia Courier). Michael Kelly, a playwright who produced dozens of works between 1797 and 1821, composed a play called Algonah, which was performed in Drury Lane, London on April 30, 1802 (“Reminiscences of Michael Kelly”). There are no details on the play in The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, but it appeared the same year as Don Algonah: Or the Sorceress of Montillo.

Although this book has been reprinted, digitized, and well preserved, this work has not been referenced frequently within academic scholarship. William Whyte Watt wrote a book published in 1932, called Shilling Shockers of the Gothic School: A Study of Chapbook Gothic Romances. In this book, Watt analyzes different gothic works including, Don Algonah: Or the Sorceress of Montillo (29). 


Narrative Point of View

Don Algonah: the Sorceress of Montillo is narrated in the third person for the majority of the text. There are also some interpolated tales in the middle of the story when some characters, such as D’Antares and Marano, share their past experiences. In these interpolated tales, the stories are told in first-person narration. During these moments when the character is sharing his own story, the narration focuses more on how that character feels as he relives his past experiences. When the characters finish telling their stories, the narration switches back to the third-person narrative. In both the interpolated tales and the third -person narration, there is a lot of dialogue between multiple characters.

Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:

The Inquisitors themselves saw it, and looked terrified. –“Tell what the chamber contained!” exclaimed the Suprema, “or the rack shall force it from you!” –“I know nothing of the chamber alluded to,” replied the Don, hardily. “You deny also,” said the Suprema, “any knowledge of your two wives?” –“I do,” said Algonah. A sigh was heard from the corpse of Amaranta. (66) 

Sample Passage of an Interpolated Tale told by D’Antares:

“Marano, every day more enraptured with the portrait, sought for the original every where: lamenting the singularity of his fate, which precluded him from knowing if his mistress were old or young, dead or alive. Quitting Grenada in about a fortnight after this adventure, we entered the inn yard of a village in Andalusia. — Here a travelling fortune-teller, mounted on a tub, was amusing the gaping countrymen with his nostrums and gestures. Observing us to smile, he turned to us and said, ‘Senors. I know that which one or both of you would give the world to know; mark that, Senors!’ Marano immediately whispered me that the speech applied to himself, and, continued he, ‘I will have this man to sup with us when the villagers are gone.’” (10)

The third-person narration stretches across multiple plots and characters. As the passage above indicates, this narration frequently relies on dialogue to express different characters’ emotions. Within this overarching third-person narration, the many personal tales told by the characters means that the narration jumps between different characters’ storylines, which can be disorienting. During the characters’ interpolated tales, they sometimes leave open questions that will not be answered until other characters relay their own separate experiences in the future. The interpolated tales span across a large period of time so they feel fast-paced, and they focus on specific characters, thus developing more individual complexity. 


Summary

On the day of a grand festival in Madrid, Duke d’Axala hosts a large celebration and invites every wealthy family. Don Algonah and his daughter Aramenta arrive at the party at midnight. Olivaro immediately notices Aramenta and expresses to his friend, Marquis d’ Antares, his admiration for the girl. Marquis d’Antares proceeds to tell Olivario that Aramenta’s father is forcing her to live in a convent, leaving Olivaro in sadness.

This page shows the thread binding the pages together

Later that night, a fire erupts in a saloon and Olivaro runs to the scene to find Aramenta trapped in the building, so he saves her and carries her to a garden. When Aramenta awakes, she confirms to Olivario that she is retiring from the world to live a life of monastic seclusion. Before Olivaro can respond, Algonah appears and orders Aramenta to leave with him. When Olivaro is leaving the garden, he meets Marquis d’ Antares again, who asks Olivaro to follow him. When they both arrive at Marquis d’ Antares home, he tells Olivaro a story. 

Marquis d’ Antares tells a story about his adventures with his close friend, Marano de Pinato. One day, the two men were on a small boat exploring Grenda when it suddenly began to storm. They lost sight of Grenada as the skies became dark, and they came across a ruined Moorish castle and decided to use it for shelter. As they look around the castle, Marano finds a dagger rusted with blood and he decides to preserve it because he believes it is the blood of an innocent soul. When the rain stops, they find out their boat had been destroyed by the storm. Marano tells Marquis d’ Antares that the same agent that led them to the castle will guide them back to Grenada. Marano says his belief in magic is confirmed by an event that happened to him nine months ago, and he proceeds to tell Marquis d’ Antares the story. 

Marano’s story begins with him foraging for food for his comrades. During his search, he sees a lame soldier and Marano asks him why he is straggling behind his comrades. The soldier says that he has received a deadly blow in his heart and that Marano was the only person who could save him. The soldier asks Marano to swear to avenge his wound or a terrible fate will fall upon his house. Marano agrees and the wounded soldier disappears. Marano says that the dagger they found in the castle reminded him of this story. 

The two friends wait in the castle until the next morning to find that the castle had been partly destroyed by a fire ordered by Philip to prevent resistance from the Moors. Marano also finds a small portrait of a beautiful woman. He proclaims his admiration for the woman in the portrait, and Marquis d’ Antares tells him that the lady is wearing a Moorish dress which means she most likely died from the cruel edict of Philip’s orders. The two men safely travel back to Grenada on foot. 

This page shows discolorations on the margins

Marano becomes obsessed with the woman in the portrait and tries to find her everywhere. When the two friends leave Grenada for Andalusia, they meet a fortune teller, Rimanez. Marano shows Rimanez the portrait and asks him if the woman lives. Rimanez says the woman is gone forever and quickly leaves, but Marano and Marquis d’ Antares do not believe him. The two friends continue on their journey to Tolosa, where Marano complains about superstitious activities. One night a pale soldier appears at Marquis d’ Antares bedside and asks him to follow him into the woods. Marquis d’ Antares agrees and the soldier orders Marquis d’ Antares to observe something hidden in the branches of a tree. Suddenly, Marquis d’ Antares hears two men approach the tree and the wounded soldier disappears. The two men under the tree talk about losing a dagger to two travellers in a Moorish castle and a dreadful deed they committed. Marquis d’ Antares hears this and jumps out of the tree and stabs one of the murderers, Perez. The other man, Pedro, shoots Marquis d’ Antares with a pistol and escapes. 

Two sisters, Clementia and Aramenta, find the wounded Marquis d’ Antares and takes him to the Castle of Montillo for assistance. Marano comes to the castle and tells his injured friend that he is the nephew of Don Algonah, the castle’s leader. Marquis d’ Antares learns from Marano that Algonha’s first wife, Juliana, died. He married his second wife, Lady Cleona, around the time of Philip’s persecution of the Moors. She also died, leaving a daughter, Amaranta. Vertola, an old stewardess living in the castle, sees Marano’s small portrait and says that it is Lady Juliana. Vertola tells the two friends about Lady Juliana’s suspicious death. On the day her coffin was screwed, Lucilia, Juliana’s maid, saw Juliana kneeling in her old bedroom. Algonah caught Lucilla and carried her to her chamber. After Lucilla told Vertola this story, he never heard from her again. Vertola continues to talk about Algonah’s second wife. Lady Cleona was married to Count Alvarez and had a daughter with him. Algonah was a friend of Count Alvarez and fell in love with Cleona. The edict of Philip at the time tried to exile Moorish families, so Don Alvarez attempted to escape to Algnoah’s castle, disguised as a soldier. Unfortunately, Don Alvarez was murdered along the way by assassins. Algonah then transported the Countess and her daughter to Grenada. Shortly after, he married Lady Cleo in his castle. During the wedding reception, the figure of a murdered Alvarez threatened Algonah. The first daughter of Lady Cleona was sent to Grenada by Algonah, and was reported to have died. 

During Marquis d’ Antares stay at the castle, he begins to feel affection towards one of Algonah’s daughters, Clementia. When Algonah arrives home to his castle, the two men decide to see what was in the chambers of the castle. As Marquis d’ Antares is travelling across the stairs, he hears Algonah and the assassin, Pedro, conducting a plan to keep the two friends at the castle for a few days longer so that Pedro could assassinate them. The next morning, the two men immediately leave the Castle of Montillo. Marquis d’ Antares and Marano say their sad goodbyes and separate to leave for their individual homes. 

When Marquis d’ Antares finishes his story, Olivaro tells Marquis d’ Antares that they will free Clementia and Amaranta from Algonah. Marquis d’ Antares is excited to hear this and he visits the palace of Count de Bellara where Aramenta is staying and requests to speak to her. He tells her about Olivaro’s plans to marry her so she can be free. Right after Marquis d’ Antares leaves, Algonah confuses Marquis d’ Antares as Aramenta’s lover. He is so upset that he orders his daughter to be sent to the convent that night. When Olivaro hears of this news he asks his cousin Emelina to help Amarenta escape, who agrees to enter the convent to help her cousin. Olivaro requests Amarenta to meet him in the garden for her escape. When the day arrives for the two lovers to meet, Amarenta and Emelina meet Olivaro in the garden. Before they could escape, Amarenta is stabbed by Pedro hiding in the bushes. Pedro tries to escape and Olivaro chases after him. Algonah is waiting outside the convent and accidentally stabs Pedro, mistaking him for Olivaro. Before Algonah could plunge the sword again, Marano fires a pistol at Algonah. Olivaro rushes back to Amaranta, where she dies in his arms. The Inquisition appears at the murder scene and arrests everyone. 

The final page of the story shows some rips and holes

Marano tells his story about finally finding his mistress, Seraphino, after he and Marquis d’ Antares went on their separate ways. Seraphino was a slave in a castle owned by Lady Juliana’s brother, Solyman. Marano expresses his love to Seraphino, and he finds out that Seraphino is Count Alvarez’s daughter who was sent to Grenada and sold as a slave. Rimanez and Lady Cleo also arrive at Solyman’s castle and the conjurer explains how he was hired by Algonah to kill Lady Cleona. He pitied the lady, so he spread a rumor that she had drowned and then confined her in a castle for all these years. Marano, Rimanez, Seraphino, and Lady Cleo are travelling together when they find Lady Juliana locked in the eastern chamber of the Montillo castle. Juliana explains how Algonah was the only person who knew about the secret passage. Her maid and old stewardesses were also locked up because they found out Algonah had buried a wax figure in her coffin. The group then set off to Madrid. 

During the examination, all of Algonah’s past wrongdoings are revealed. Algonah stabs himself with a dagger and dies. During the trial, a sorceress also revealed that the soldier who was haunting Marano was Count Alvarez, and he wanted his remains to be buried. 

After the trial ends, Marano performs the funeral rites for the remains of Count Alvarez and buries his daughter Amarnata beside him. Algonah’s widows get to choose which apartments of the castle they want to live in. Clementia and Marquis d’ Antares are reunited again and Marama is happily in love with Seraphino. After Amaranta is respectfully buried, Emelina consents to marry Olivaro. The three friends and their relatives live the rest of their lives in happiness. 


Bibliography

Don Algonah: Or the Sorceress of Montillo. A Romantic Tale. London: Printed for T. Hurst, 1802.

“Don Algonah, Or the Sorceress of Montillo: A Romantic Tale.” Georgia Courier, 7 June 1827.

The Marvellous Magazine and Compendium of Prodigies. London: Printed for T. Hurst, 1802. 

“Reminiscences of Michael Kelly, of the King’s Theatre, and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Including a Period of nearly Half a Century; with Original Anecdotes of Many Distinguished Persons, Political, Literary, and Musical.” The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, vol. 7, no. 28, 1825, pp. 475-498.

Watt, William Whyte, 1912-. Shilling Shockers of the Gothic School: a Study of Chapbook Gothic Romances. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932.


Researcher: Helen Lin

Statira

Statira

Statira: Or, The Mother; A Novel

Author: [Mrs. Showes]
Publisher: Minerva Press
Publication Year: 1798
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 11cm x 18cm
Pages: 200
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .S53 S 1798


This 1798 novel written by Mrs. Showes examines the strength of marital versus motherly love in the face of jealousy and deception.


Material History

The marble paper cover of Statira with quarter leather binding

A copy of Statira; Or, the Mother. A Novel by the “Author of Interesting Tales” is found in the Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction at the University of Virginia. The title and author of the novel appear as stated above on the title page. However, the University of Virginia library catalog has listed the author as Mrs. Showes. There is no indication on the book itself that the author of Statira; Or, the Mother is a woman.

The cover of Statira holds no markings other than this shortened title stated on the spine in gold lettering. The cover is merely an abstract pattern made of marbled paper, a decorative technique that dates back to 118 CE and was commonly used for book binding in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries due to its simple and inexpensive method of production involving only water, ink, and paper. The book is held together sturdily by quarter sheep binding that can be identified by the grain patterns on the leather. However, a descriptive insert in this copy, likely placed by Michael Sadleir himself, states that the book is bound by quarter calf leather. To have “quarter” binding is to have leather that extends across the spine as well as a small portion of the front and back covers. The descriptive insert is comprised of an index card and handwriting in pen, including all of the information stated on the title page such as the official title, the author’s pseudonym, the publisher “Minerva Press,” and the dedication “for William Lane, 1789.” The official dedication on the title page reads, “For William Lane Leadenhall-Street.”

This insert was written by the book collector Michael Sadleir

This copy of Statira is evidentially aged, but remains in good condition. Vertical seams along the leather binding indicate that it has been read more than once. The pages between the front and back covers are thin, brittle, and yellowed, but all pages are present and untorn.

The print of the text appears to be an average size and font, corresponding to the text one would find in a twenty-first century printed book. However, this copy utilizes the “long s” form of the lowercase letter S. This is not uncommon to find in books printed in the eighteenth century. A “long s” resembles an f without the midline. It was derived from the appearance of written text, in which cursive writing sometimes altered the appearance of the s depending on its location in a word and the surrounding letters to which it would be connected. Therefore, an s at the beginning of a word almost always appears normally, while some appear in the form of a long s in the middle of a word. This copy of Statira includes no illustrations of any kind. Both the fourth and fifth chapters in this edition of are labeled “CHAP. IV.,” though this is the only indication of a printing error. The tops and bottoms of the pages also include notations that are not found in contemporary books. These notations involve a lettering and numbering system that may appear as “B2”, “B3”, “C1”, etc. The purpose of this system is to serve as a map that informs the printer of how the pages should be arranged in the physical production of the book.


Textual History

Statira: Or, The Mother was written by Mrs. Showes and published in 1798 by the Minerva Press. Mrs. Showes previously released a collection titled Interesting Tales that was translated from German and published anonymously in 1797 by Minerva Press. This volumecontained multiple short stories including “Biography of a Spaniel,” “The Mask,” “The Florist,” “The Robber,” “The April Fool,” and “The Idiot.” Statira lists the authorship as “by the author of Interesting Tales.”

The title page of Statira

It was not uncommon for fictional works by female authors to be published anonymously in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Minerva Press, founded by William Lane in 1780, was the largest fiction publishing company from the time of its founding until the early 1800s. The company is well known for its role in giving a voice to women by routinely publishing their work. The Minerva Press published more literature written by female authors than any other publisher at this time (Peiser). The attention given to female authors by this company likely explains the vast amount of anonymously published work that they released. Each novel printed by The Minerva Press in the year 1785 was published anonymously, as were half of the novels in the year 1800 (Engar).

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, gothic fiction grew increasingly popular among the public. These novels would commonly include a female protagonist, castles, romance, a villain, and supernatural elements. Recognizing the popularity of such stories, Minerva Press primarily printed gothic literature. However, the repetitive nature of the works released by the company was received with some criticism, along with the quality of the printed stories. One review of a Minerva production posted in the August 1797 edition of Monthly Mirror states “If we merely apprize our readers that there exists a novel bearing the title above mentioned, we think we shall do sufficient honour to the Wanderer of the Alps [1796], and the author ought to thank us for not proceeding any further” (Engar).

Statira falls within the classic pattern described above that some deemed monotonous. The novel features a female protagonist, a castle setting, romance, and a villain. Even so, the book seems to have received respectable reviews. The London periodical The Critical Review, or, Annals of Literature, published in April of 1799, included a review of Statira. The review stated, “This volume contains two novelettes, nearly of the same length, founded on the passion of jealousy. That which is entitled Statira is the more instructive; the other is extravagant and feeble. They seem to have been translated from German” (473). The archival digital copy of Statira on Eighteenth Century Collections Online appears to be the same edition that is found in the University of Virginia Sadleir-Black collection. This review is the only indication that there may be an alternative edition of Statira which was originally printed in German.


Narrative Point of View

Statira is told from the third-person point of view by an omniscient narrator who is not characterized in the novel. The narrator communicates the thoughts and feelings of every character in the story, and uses these elements to both enrich and advance the plot. The language used by the narrator is eloquent yet straightforward, often utilizing compound sentences in which many ideas are connected by colons, semicolons, or commas. The narrator also utilizes an active voice, seemingly guiding the reader’s interpretation of the events in the novel.

Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:

But let no one censure the Count of Countess with precipitation or asperity; for the former was not a barbarian, although he may appear so at first sight—he was an unhappy misguided man, a tool in the hands of a villain that used the power he has over him for the basest purposes; and let those that are inclined to blame in credulity, remember, that a sickly constitution often occasions a debility of understanding, and that apathy and peevishness, the usual attendants of illness, naturally render the weakened mind   susceptible and suspicious, open to fraud, and inclined to jealousy; and that the fawning sycophant who makes a proper use of such opportunities, seldom fails gaining his purpose. This may be offered as some excuse for the Count’s conduct, but surely much more may be said in the Countess’s favour. A patient endurance of unmerited injuries, although it may be suffered long, will weary at last, and is always limited to a certain point; but tried beyond that, the weaker sex often exceeds the stronger in stability and resolution. (59)

While dialogue and verbal expression are often used as tools to understand characters, this passage demonstrates the role of the narrator to convey the characters’ perspectives in the absence of conversation. However, the limited dialogue in Statira does not prevent the reader from understanding the characters’ thoughts and feelings due to the role of the third person omniscient narrator. The narrator conveys the characters’ thoughts and feelings in a manner that provides the reader with a complete picture of the events taking place by offering multiple perspectives. For example, this excerpt offers a possible justification for each of the characters’ actions in light of their impending separation.

This novel also includes an interpolated found in chapter eight, when the third person omniscient narrator is replaced by Clara as she is asked to recount the story of a beautiful woman in a painting.

Sample Passage from Interpolated Tale:

“If you know her story Clara, I wish you would relate it to us; —by doing so you will oblige my friend and me.” “I will do so with pleasure; but it is long, and I fear will tire your patience. However if you are disposed to listen to me, I will satisfy your curiosity.” They seated themselves near the gate, and Clara related as follows.


“That beautiful woman was daughter to Baron Kirchberg, who lived some centuries ago, in the unfortunate times of the feuds that subsisted amongst the Nobles of Switzerland.” (81–82)

Clara’s narrative continues for the duration of the chapter, describing the story of a young man and woman who ultimately separate due to jealousy and misunderstanding despite being very much in love. In Statira, the Count and the Countess experience very similar issues that result in their separation. One effect, then, of the interpolated tale in this chapter is that it invites parallels between the two stories. Additionally, the fact that this story is shared between characters allows the Count to hear and interpret this story in the context of his own life.


Summary

Statira: Or, The Mother recounts the story of a dedicated wife and mother in the face of jealousy and deception. The novel introduces the female protagonist, Statira, as a beautiful young woman who is sought after by many esteemed men. She respectfully denies their affection because she is in love with Count Harton. When the couple turns thirty the two marry, eventually having two daughters and a son. They are exceptionally happy in their domestic life for many years, until a deep sadness overcomes Statira upon the death of her parents. Just as she starts to recover from her depression a year later, the Count falls gravely ill. While his physical health ultimately improves, his mental health remains deteriorated. The Countess spends her days accompanying him in his gloom, trying relentlessly to lift his spirits.

Here, the narrator introduces the novel’s primary antagonist: Count Harton’s servant and presumed friend, a man by the name of Murden who aims to undermine Statira’s efforts. Murden has long dreamed of gaining control of the Count’s property and wealth. The servant has always envied Statira and viewed her as a threat to his agenda. He seizes the opportunity presented by Count Harton’s reduced state to eliminate Statira as a threat and establish himself as Harton’s primary companion. Murden’s plan is to convince the Count of Statira’s infidelity and encourage the Count to indulge in an extended trip to Italy. Murden successfully plants suspicion in Harton’s mind regarding his wife’s loyalty by insinuating that she is having relations with another servant, a man she does indeed respect as he is a close family friend who once saved her parents from a carriage crash.  This jealousy builds until the Count publicly and aggressively accuses his wife of her nonexistent crime.

This page shows the use of the long s in print, as well as the letter D which illustrates the system that informs the printer of how pages should be arranged in the production of the book

A ruined reputation, along with a now dysfunctional domestic life, puts Statira in a state of misery and total isolation. Despite her attempts to convince her husband of the truth, he remains resentful and cold towards her. Resigned and distraught, she flees the estate with her eldest daughter. Her abandonment is received poorly, seemingly confirming her guilt, and Harton demands a divorce. Recognizing that there is no chance of finding love between her and her husband again, the divorce is finalized. Devastatingly, she loses custody of her children and is left entirely alone. The Countess initially returns to her hometown, but later decides to explore Europe. She never returns, and few people receive letters from her. The Count promptly departs for his planned trip to Italy, leaving his children with a distant relative.

On his way to Italy, the Count visits his friend’s sister, who is a nun at a convent in Switzerland. During his visit, he inquires about a painting of a woman hanging on the wall. The nun tells him the woman’s unfortunate story in its entirety. Idela was the daughter of a Baron by the name Kilchberg, and deeply in love with her husband Henry Toggenburg. In a battle with Kilchberg and Toggenburg’s enemy, Henry was captured and arranged to be executed. Idela resolved to find her husband, determined to either rescue him, die with him, or die for him. With elaborate disguise and deception, she took his place as prisoner accepting that she would either die in his place or be granted mercy. Fortunately, she was shown grace and convinced her husband’s executioner to show him forgiveness. Despite this demonstration of love and sacrifice, a simple misunderstanding one year later caused Henry to question Idela’s faithfulness. In a fit of rage and jealousy, he attempted to murder her. Upon realizing his error, he begged her for forgiveness, but Idela declared that she was no longer his. She spends the remainder of her life in the convent where Harton now sits, considering for the first time the possibility of his wife’s innocence.

The Count returns from his trip to find his estate in shambles and that he is in great debt.  Murden has since passed away, but the Count deduces that Murden was in fact deceitful as his wife suggested. He also receives a letter from his relative reporting that his children have smallpox and are close to death. Harton rushes to his children’s side, and joyfully finds them in better health thanks to the unremitting care of their new governess, Madame Laborde. The Count, wishing to thank Madame Laborde, learns that she has since contracted smallpox and is near death according to the physicians. The Count enters her room regardless and finds none other than Statira, who composed a new identity in the hopes of filling out her role as a mother to her children. She dies of her illness later that evening, joyful that she gets to claim her children in front of her husband in her final moments. Count Harton spends his days lamenting her loss and coping with the severity of his transgression.


Bibliography

Engar, Ann W. “The Minerva Press; William Lane.” The British Literary Book Trade, 1700–1820, edited by James K. Bracken and Joel Silver, Gale, 1995. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 154. Literature Resource Center.

Peiser, Megan. “Review Periodicals and the Visibility of William Lane’s Minerva Press.” Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, 26 Sept. 2016. http://rs4vp.org/review-periodicals-visibility-william-lanes-minerva-press-megan-peiser-university-missouri/

Showes, Mrs. Interesting Tales. London, Minerva Press, 1797.

Showes, Mrs. Statira; Or, The Mother. A Novel. London, Minerva press, 1798.

“Statira, or the mother. A novel, by the author of interesting tales.” 1799. The Critical review, or, Annals of literature Vol. 25, 1799: 473.


Researcher: Janie Edwards