With its twists and turns, this transatlantic tale recounts heartbreak, love, desire, and greed. Where one end is tied, another frays, keeping readers in suspense. There is no shortage of the gothic in this text.
The cover of The Commodore’s Daughter is 21.75 cm tall and 13.5 cm wide with a spine thickness of 1.5 cm. While the cover does not have a special design, the two corners and part of the spine have a softer and lighter leather than the rest of the book’s cover, which is a rougher and darker leather. There are three stories bound within this volume and the spine is decorated with gold lettering with the titles: Lucelle. — Julia St. Pierre. — Commodore’s Daughter.
The Commodore’s Daughter, by Benjamin Barker, begins approximately two-thirds of the way into this volume. The pages are clearly in excellent shape. The title page is plain and includes the title, author, and publication information: “PUBLISHED BY E. LLOYD, 12, SALISBURY-SQUARE, FLEET-STREET, AND SOLD BY ALL BOOKSELLERS.”The next page, which starts the text of the story, also includes a detailed picture and caption, as well as the word, “complete” handwritten lightly in pencil at the top of the page. The Commodore’s Daughter was originally published as a “penny dreadful” serial, which is when small cheap portions of the story were published at regular intervals and later bound together. “No. 1,” “No. 2,” etc. appear at the bottom corners of their respective pages (outside of the border created around the text) to indicate the start of a new section of the story. Though the sections were all printed, sold, and originally purchased separately, this version is “complete” because these sections have now been bound together.
The Commodore’s Daughter is sixty-eight pages long. The text is small, always surrounded by a decorative border, and relatively easy to read with decent-sized margins. This copy of The Commodore’s Daughter also shows an error made during printing. Though the final chapter appears to be Chapter XIX, this book does not have nineteen chapters, but rather, eighteen, with one entire chapter having been skipped due to misnumbering. The book leaps from Chapter XVII to Chapter XIX, which should have been correctly numbered as Chapter XVIII. This erroneous Chapter XIX is printed on the back of the page with Chapter XVII. Interestingly, the side of the page with Chapter XVII is much more pristine and in better shape than the other side, which must have been exposed at one point to different environmental conditions.
The Commodore’s Daughter was written by Benjamin Barker—an author who was no stranger to publishing, as he released nineteen other works under his name. Two publishers produced The Commodore’s Daughter—Frederick Gleason in Boston, Massachusetts in 1846, and Edward Lloyd in London in 1847—and versions of each are housed in the Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction.
The Lloyd and Gleason printings of The Commodore’s Daughter contain a few key differences. For instance, the 1846 Gleason printing (which is also available on Google Books) includes the alternate title, The Dwarf of the Channel, or, The Commodore’s Daughter. While both versions contain the same story content, the Gleason’s version prints the story in columns, and this copy also lacks the illustrations present in the Lloyd version. Lloyd’s 1847 printing also initially appeared serialized as a penny dreadful.
The Lloyd printing of The Commodore’s Daughter contains a preface dated December 1847. In this preface, “the Publisher” provides context for the story’s historical significance, characters, and plot, including the backstory and setting. The final sentence of the preface reads: “The moral of the tale is unexceptionable, and as the incidents do not violate probability, and the characters are so truly drawn, the Publisher anticipates a favourable reception for the work.”
Like much of gothic literature that has faded from view, The Commodore’s Daughter has not remained widely available and the publisher’s projected “favourable reception” was short-lived, if at all. However, there are a few notable online versions. In addition to digital copies of the Gleason printing available via Google Books, Historical Texts has a digitized version of the Lloyd edition. In 2010, the British Library Historical Print Editions released a reprinting of TheCommodore’s Daughter.
Benjamin Barker has a notable publishing history. Not only did he publish nearly twenty works under his name, but he also published under the pseudonym Egbert Augustus Cowslip. One of his most well-known works under this pseudonym was Zoraida; or The witch of Naumkeag! A Tale of the Olden Time. Another of Barker’s works published under his own name, Blackbeard, or, The Pirate of Roanoke, is listed on Amazon and, as of 2021, has several reviews including one with a complaint about its historical inaccuracies, which reiterates the preface of The Commodore’s Daughter regarding the accuracy of accounts of the American Revolution.
Narrative Point of View
The Commodore’s Daughter is narrated in the third person (and occasionally with first-person plural moments) by an unnamed omniscient narrator who does not appear in the text. The narration feels relatively modern, but still contains antiquated vernacular. The paragraphs and sentences are generally lengthy. Yet, there still are inconsistencies in the style, with some paragraphs being much longer or using more eloquent vocabulary than others. The narration describes the characters and their feelings matter-of-factly (and frequently through characters’ actions), and there is very little text dedicated to introspection. The narration also contains much more description than dialogue.
Premising that the following romance is founded upon facts, with the details of which many of our readers may possibly be acquainted, and that for particular reason, we shall claim the privilege and take the liberty of introducing our principal characters under fictitious names, we now proceed to open our story as follows… (1)
By performing that this fictional story is based on facts—a common gothic trope—the narrator effectively tells the story with increased credibility (and possibly more shock value, as well). The narrator seeks to communicate a story by establishing familiarity with the characters in the book without revealing their names, thus providing an even foundation to readers and inviting everyone to enjoy the story with shared knowledge provided by the narrator from the beginning. The use of the first-person plural “we” also gives a more rounded and less singular feeling to the narration, enabling the fictional story to mimic an actual recounting of events.
In the early days of the American Revolution, before the colonies had banded together to declare their own independence, an old and cunning man by the name of Henry Hartville desired a fortune that was supposed to be inherited by a girl named Nora. Through his meticulous planning, Henry was able to trick Nora into believing that she was his daughter, all the while finding the perfect suitor for her so that Henry could obtain this wealth. The story then asks what Henry Hartville’s plan is to arrive at his goal.
An older, “deformed” man named John Ellery, frequently described in the text as a “dwarf,” has taken under his wing a “maniac” girl, Helen Morton, whose parents died years prior. John Ellery is one day met by a man carrying a letter and a black crucifix, who leaves soon after handing him these mysterious items. Despite not knowing who this man is or who the person who wrote the letter could be, Mr. Ellery accepts the commands listed out to him on the letter without any hesitation. One of those commands being to seek Nora Hartville out to keep under his wing, which the story reveals later.
Luckily, Mr. Ellery met with a ship on its way to a New England port, carrying several passengers in its cabins. Since he is able to pilot the ship, Mr. Ellery is gratefully accepted by the captain to guide it to its destination. Mr. Ellery, however, begins to take notice of a peculiar passenger whom the captain dreaded and wanted jettisoned as soon as possible. Through a careful line of questioning, Mr. Ellery finally realizes what he had hoped to find——the girl on the ship is Nora Hartville, the one the letter instructed him to keep under his wing for the next few years.
Mr. Ellery, Helen Morton, and Nora Hartville all arrive at Mr. Ellery’s home and remain there for several months in peace, as Helen and Nora become closer in what Helen describes as a sisterhood. Unfortunately, the fateful night arrives soon enough, and Miles Warton, the man who brought the letter and the crucifix to Mr. Ellery so long ago, finally comes to collect Nora Hartville for the suitor that Henry Hartville had set up for her. Miles Warton was a criminal, so Mr. Ellery knew his arrival at the cottage meant something was wrong. Prior to their meeting, Mr. Ellery heard Nora’s objections to the forced marriage, for the girl had her heart set on another man, George Wellington. Both parties soon realize that this night will not go as planned. In a shocking turn of events, Warton is killed by none other than Helen Morton, as she defends her adoptive father from being harmed by the criminal.
Through many events to follow, George Wellington, who was originally deprived of his desire to see his love, Nora Hartville, meets up with a man named Edward Hale, Helen Morton’s former lover. It is revealed that once George and Edward work together in their search for their lovers, the cruel and conniving plans of Henry Hartville can be overturned.
Yet before their arrival, another surprising figure appears: the former wife of Mr. Ellery, whose name is Julia. Long ago, Julia (the original owner of the black crucifix) held a gun to her husband’s chest in a fit of hatred and demanded that he follow the orders of whoever bears the crucifix. Now, Julia seeks forgiveness for the trouble she has caused, and the old man gracefully accepts. Seeing that Mr. Ellery accepted her apology, Julia knows she can now rest, and she breathes her last breath at her former husband’s humble cottage.
Finally having come to peace with his life, Mr. Ellery travels with his daughters and their suitors (who have found his cottage after a long search) to the ship of a well-known commodore, where it is revealed that the villainous Henry Hartville is aboard the vessel. Cornered and seeing that all his plans have been foiled, Henry Hartville takes a pistol to his head and pulls the trigger, allowing for Edward Hale and Helen Morton to fulfill their love and Nora and George Wellington to do the same. Through much pain and sorrow, Mr. Ellery finally gets to live a happy life away from shame.
The Life, Sufferings, and Uncommon Vissisitudes of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy, Explaining her Birth on an Uninhabited Island, Where she Lived till she was Sixteen Years of age; The Misfortunes and Death of her Parents, and her Surprising Release from that Desolate Place by the Duke de Lancy, to Whom she was Afterwards Married: The dreadful Calamities she Experienced After – Till she Retired to a Monastry, There to end her Wretched Days.
This mock-autobiography published around 1805 to 1810 and written by an unknown author features a haunting, a murder, a birth, and an incestuous marriage—all in a remarkably short number of pages.
The Life, Sufferings, and Uncommon Vissisitudes of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy is a chapbook bound within the second volume of The Entertainer. The elegant binding is brown calf-skin leather with a decorative marbling effect. The marbling effect was produced by the sprinkling of acidic dye onto the leather binding. The volume’s title, The Entertainer, is written in gold text on the spine of the book.
The story is framed as a fictional autobiography, with no known author. Its shortened title The Dutchess de Lancy is seen at the top of each body page. There are thirty-eight pages in the chapbook, one title page and one with an illustration. The illustration is in black and white and appears to depict Thetis kneeling and holding her baby, looking up towards the ghost of her mother. The mother is radiating light and gesturing towards a cottage in the left of the picture. Underneath the image is a quote from the story, written in cursive, “Awe struck, I cast a look of inquiry towards the Spectre. “Grieve not my Thetis,” it exclaimed [sic] The crimes of the parents are expiated by the sufferings of their unfortunate children.” The second page, opposite the illustration, is the title page.
The title page shows the full, longer title of the book. The full title, with capitalization included, is THE LIFE, SUFFERINGS, AND UNCOMMON VISSISITUDES OF THETIS, Dutchess de Lancy, Explaining her birth on an uninhabited Island, where she lived till she was sixteen years of age; THE MISFORTUNES AND DEATH OF HER PARENTS, AND HER SURPRISING RELEASE FROM THAT DESOLATE PLACE BY THE DUKE DE LANCY, TO WHOM SHE WAS AFTERWARDS MARRIED: The dreadful Calamities she experienced after – till she retired to a Monastry, there to end her wretched Days. The font size and capitalization change multiple times on the title page for emphasis. Notable characteristics include a long s, which is a stylized s that appears to look like an f. The long s is not present in the other pages of the book. Underneath the title are the printers and booksellers, along with their addresses in London, England. At the very bottom of the page is the price of the chapbook: sixpence. The title, the list of printers and booksellers, and the price are all separated by decorative dividing lines.
The pages within the chapbook have quite typical formatting. The book is just over 18 cm tall, and the outside of the pages are browning and grey-spotted. The font is small, and there are line skips between paragraphs. The pages are aging, and some are torn. There are bookbinder symbols consisting of a letter and a number to indicate the page order to the bookbinder. Evidence of prior ownership can be found before the chapbook title page, on the inside of the front cover. On the left is the name “Emma Webb” handwritten in a fading, fancy script, and on the right are notes written by Michael Sadleir. He wrote a list of all the chapbooks contained within the volume alongside their bookseller and the publishing date. The Life, Sufferings, and Uncommon Vissisitudes of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy is the first chapbook in the volume, with the bookseller J. Ker. There is no publication date written, but the other books within the volume with known publication dates were published between 1800 and 1805.
There is little information about The Life, Sufferings, and Uncommon Vissisitudes of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy. There is no known author, editor, or illustrator for the chapbook. There is no scholarship written on the work, and it can be inferred that the chapbook was not widely sold or read. However, there is a decent amount of information on its publisher, John Ker—abbreviated J. Ker in his work. Ker started publishing in 1800 and published an estimated fifteen titles, thirteen of which were of the gothic genre (Potter 38). Multiple sources claim that he was likely the son of John Ker, the third Duke of Roxburgh, and was married to the gothic author Anne Ker (Potter 38, Steele 70). It is known that John Ker also published some of Anne Ker’s work and that her husband was indeed named John. The two also shared business and family connections, so while not proven, it is very likely that John Ker the publisher and Anne Ker’s husband are the same person (Steele 70).
John Ker published from 1800 to 1810 and collaborated with many popular booksellers. Stephen Elliot, along with Nathaniel and John Muggeridge, were the booksellers that Ker associated with the most (Potter 41). In Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy, both Elliot and the Muggeridges are listed as booksellers. Two other booksellers listed in Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy are T. Evans and Kemmish. Alongside their names, their addresses are also listed. The UCLA Library and the New York Public Library both allege that since “1805–1810 marks the span of time that T. Evans and Kemmish operated from these addresses,” Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy was likely released during these five years. This period of time—1805 to 1810—aligns with the timespan when Ker was in operation.
According to WorldCat, there are five copies of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy registered in various libraries across the world. The institutions that hold a physical copy are the University of Virginia, the British Library, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the University of California, Los Angeles. The British Library digitized their copy, and it can be found via the library’s website or on Google Books. All of the libraries except the Library of Congress mention that after Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy, the story Zelim and Almena follows. Zelim and Almena is unconnected plot-wise to the story of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy, but the two stories seem to have been printed and sold in conjunction. Mention of Zelim and Almena can also be found in the Catalogue of the Private Library of Mr. George S. Davis, written by George Davis himself. In this document, all the books that were in Davis’s private library are documented. Davis details a copy of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy that was bound with Sterne’s Maria and Zelim and Almena. He describes the story as “very curious” (Davis 190). This is the only documented review of the chapbook.
There are a few differences between the British Library’s copy and the University of Virginia’s copy of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy. Instead of the illustration being opposite the title page at the front of the chapbook, the British Library’s version has the illustration opposite page 35. The British Library copy also has a more modern green hardback cover, in contrast to the copy at the University of Virginia, which has a spotted brown calf-skin leather cover. Despite these differences, the two copies are nearly identical, with the same font, bookbinder marks, and text on each page.
Narrative Point of View
Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy is narrated in the first person by the main character, Thetis. From the beginning, it appears as if Thetis is directly addressing the reader. However, on the final page, Thetis addresses the story to the Countess de Milleray. The Countess de Milleray is not mentioned in the chapbook at any other point, only on the last page in a footnote indicated by an asterisk. Thetis’s narration is intimate, fast-paced, and descriptive. Pages 13–21 are an interpolated tale told by Thetis’s mother, Jaqueline. Jaqueline’s long, uninterrupted dialogue is notable as the reader does not get any glimpse of Thetis’s thoughts or reactions.
Sample Passage of First-Person Narration:
During your* visit to the Convent a short time time [sic.] after my seclusion, I determined to disclose to you the real reasons of a conduct apparently so absurd: I have now been an inmate of these holy walls near twenty years – about six years since, I received a few lines, written by my beloved brother on his death bed, they were tranquil, and thanks to the Almighty, resigned; and he now sleeps in peace within the cemetery of his Convent – grief had broken the heart of the most amiable of men.
*The Countess de Milleray, to whom this narrative is addressed. (36)
Sample Passage of the Interpolated Tale:
“My sisters had bound my long glossy hair in bands round my head, fastening it on the top with bunches of flowers, in the manner of the Lacedeamonien women; this gave me a very singular appearance, and being different from the other girls made my person the more remarked.” (14)
The first-person point of view narrated by Thetis allows the reader to experience a first-hand account of Thetis’s inner thoughts and feelings. The narration choice makes the chapbook more intimate and realistic. While the Countess de Milleray is never mentioned in the book except for the final page, the reader is still able to get a sense of the relationship between Thetis and the Countess. Thetis reveals very personal information about what she experiences, detailing events that would be seen as shameful by society’s standards. However, Thetis is willing to describe these events in extreme detail, confessing her every thought and action candidly. The portion of the story where Jaqueline tells an interpolated tale includes none of Thetis’s thoughts. This section is very distinct from the rest of the novel as the reader is not told how Thetis feels about her mother’s story. This change in expression of Thetis’s thoughts causes a rift between this tale and the rest of the surrounding story. It removes Thetis from the narrative and brings the entire focus onto Jaqueline, Thetis’s mother.
Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy is a chapbook centered around the character, Thetis, and her eventful life. Thetis lives on a bountiful island which is deserted except for her mother and father. They tell her stories about their lives and she learns that they are on this island because of a shipwreck. One day, Thetis’s father becomes ill. Thetis is distressed and stays by his side as much as she can. When Thetis wakes up, she goes over to her father to find him no longer breathing. She looks towards her mother in confusion, as she does not understand what death means. They wrap Thetis’s father in woven grass and bury him. Thetis mourns her father’s passing.
Two years pass, and Thetis has worked through her grief. She has started to become the same joyous girl she once was. However, her mother remains somber. Thetis implores her mother to tell her why her spirits are down, and her mother agrees to tell Thetis a story. She reveals to Thetis that the man she called her father was not actually her father, but a man named Victor. She tells Thetis that her name is Jaqueline, and she is the youngest of six children in the Villenueve family from the town of Languedoc, France. They were a peasant family, but Jaqueline was spoiled more than her other siblings. She was given fancy clothes and accessories that rivaled the clothing of children from richer families, while her siblings had very little. One day, the young Marquis of the village decided to throw a coming-of-age celebration. The sixteen-year-old Jaqueline attended and caught the eye of a nobleman. They danced and flirted, and they developed sentiment towards each other. She gained the favor of both the nobleman and the Marquis, and her family was invited to fraternize with the nobility while the other peasants left.
After the party, the nobleman visited her residence and they conversed together, but were always under her mother’s supervision. One day, walking back from her grandmother’s, Thetis met the nobleman and the Marquis. They asked her if she would like to go on an outing with them. She was suspicious, so she refused and began to walk away. They started to pursue her and she ran, but they caught up to her. The nobleman lifted her in his arms and shoved her into a carriage, and they drove away.
She was taken to Paris by the nobleman, where she was given a room in a grand residence. Thetis resisted the sexual advances of the nobleman for a time, but she eventually gave in to his seduction. After many months, she became pregnant. Jaqueline was happy to have become pregnant, but the nobleman was angry. She did not see the nobleman again, and was informed by the Marquis that the nobleman is married with a wife and a son, and that he had left France for a distant settlement. When Jaqueline expressed concern for her parents, the Marquis told her that it was their fault for being punished as they were using Jaqueline to move upwards in society. Jaqueline was enraged by the nobleman and decided to get revenge. She bought tickets for a ship going to where the nobleman currently resided and was joined by her eldest sister. The beginning of the voyage was smooth, but a storm hit, and the ship sank. Jaqueline managed to survive and washed up on the island, while her sister died. Victor also washed up on the island and was the only other survivor. She went into labor, and Victor aided her. She had a baby girl, who they named Thetis. Jaqueline learned that Victor was the nobleman’s younger brother, and she told him her story.
Jaqueline finishes telling Thetis this story, and the pair go to sleep. The next day, Thetis’s mother, Jaqueline, is sick. She dies, and Thetis buries her and mourns for her. That night Thetis sleeps, but is awoken by a sigh. She sees her mother’s ghost, who beckons her to go outside. Thetis walks outside, but then faints. She is awoken by a French Duke standing over her. The Duke invites her to join him and his crew on their voyage to France. She agrees, and the two fall in love on the voyage. Once in France, the two marry, but Thetis feels uneasy. Her mother’s ghost appears to her again and tells her to beware. She is frightened, and the Duke tries to comfort her. Thetis soon becomes pregnant, and the Duke suggests that they take a trip to ease her worries.
The married couple, along with the Marquis and Marchioness de Beaufoy, visit Thetis’s mother’s village. They stay in the Chateau de Murat, welcomed by the Marquis who lives there. After a time, Thetis recounts her story to the Marquis of the Chateau de Murat and asks if he knows about her mother or the Villenueve family. The Marquis is alarmed by the question and rushes out to talk with the Marquis and Marchioness de Beaufoy and the Duke. The Marchioness enters and tells Thetis, “The crimes of the Parents shall be visited on the Children—that terrible denunciation is fulfilled” (32). She then proceeds to tell Thetis that the Duke, the man she is married to, is in fact her own brother. Thetis faints.
Thetis gives birth to a baby boy, and for three months she is bedridden. The only people she sees are the Marchioness and the attendants. After the three months have passed, Thetis feels a cold hand on her forehead while she is sleeping. It is her mother’s ghost, and she motions for Thetis to follow her and bring her child. Thetis follows the spectre into the village to a vine-covered cottage. The ghost stops, and then waves her hand towards her. Thetis looks down at her baby, who is now lifeless. “‘Grieve not, my Thetis,’ [the ghost] exclaimed, ‘the crimes of the parents are expiated by the sufferings of their unfortunate children’” (34). The ghost disappears, and Thetis remains in the same spot, grieving, until morning.
An old man exits the cottage and sees Thetis. He brings her and her dead child inside, and three women help her to sit down. Thetis tells the oldest woman her story, and the woman asks if her family name is Villenueve. Thetis says yes, and the old woman reveals that she is Jaqueline’s mother, and Thetis’s grandmother. The old man who first brought her in was her grandfather, and the two other women are her aunts. Thetis calls for the Marchioness, and she comes to the cottage. She explains to Thetis that the father of Thetis and the Duke was the nobleman who seduced Jaqueline. Thetis’s mother was Jaqueline, while the Duke’s mother was the nobleman’s wife.
The Duke is upset by his marriage to his half-sister, so he joins a convent of monks and takes his vows. Thetis likewise joins a convent and takes her vows. In the final portion of the story, Thetis addresses her writing to the Countess de Milleray. She says that she has lived in the convent for twenty years and feels her death approaching. She is writing out her story in hope of full pardon for her crime. “Thus, my dear Madam, have I opened my heart to you, and though you may not be able to esteem, yet grant your pity to the unfortunate Thetis” (36).
Isaac Crookenden’s 1805 chapbook tells a tale of betrayal, terror, and romance. The shocking discovery of a skeleton in a castle dungeon is just one of its many twists.
This copy of The Skeleton; or, Mysterious Discovery, A Gothic Romance by Isaac Crookenden is a small collection of brittle and yellowed pages, delicately held together with a bit of thread and paste. The chapbook lacks binding, and the pages could potentially have been ripped from a larger volume containing an assortment of tales. Assembling these smaller stories into larger volumes was common practice at the time.
In its present state,The Skeleton resembles a small pamphlet. The book and its pages have a width of 9.5 centimeters and a height of 17.75 centimeters. In its entirety, the book consists of 38 pages, including a blank cover page, a page containing an illustrated frontispiece, an official title page, another blank page, and two pages reserved for an author’s introduction.
This version of the text was published in London in 1805. It was printed and published by A. Neil at the Sommers Town Printing Office. The address of the office is listed as No. 30 Chalton Street. The title page notes that the story is sold by “all other booksellers” as well as Sommers Town. On the book’s title page, the price is listed to be six-pence—fairly cheap for its time.
Currently, this copy has a card indicating the University of Virginia’s possession and ownership of the text attached to the blank first page that was likely added in the 1930s or 40s. This card indicates that the book was presented by Robert K. Black. The notecard also has a handwritten inscription indicating that the text has been microfilmed.
Following the blank first page with this card
is the second page containing a detailed frontispiece illustration of a man
standing in an elegant stone hall holding an open flame. His face expresses
shock as the flame illuminates a skeleton. Beneath the illustration is the text
“Adolphus discovers the Skeleton of the Baron de Morfield” as well as
publication information and attribution for the artwork. This is certainly the
biggest artwork included in the text; however, on page 6, there is a small
image of a rose to signify the end of the introduction.
There is no shortage of unique defects to the
text, making it one of a kind. Because of the lack of binding and seemingly
careless way it was removed from its original bound copy, the text is held
together loosely. The first ten pages are especially fragile and could easily
be separated from the rest. There is a small rip midway down the first blank
cover page. There are small stains throughout, but most noticeably on the
bottom of page 35 there is a dark splotch on the page with unknown origins. The
ink for the printed text has faded considerably in some parts of the book.
As well as defects,
there are other intentional printed indicators of the book’s era. There are
various letter/number combinations along the bottom of certain pages called
signature marks, indicating the proper folding of the paper for the printer.
They are as follows: A on page 3, B on page 15, B3 on page 19, C on page 27,
and C3 on page 21. The book may be considered difficult to read to a modern
reader on account of the printer’s use of the long S in which “s” look like
The Skeleton is a gothic chapbook written by Isaac
Crookenden. An edition of the chapbook is currently in the University of
Virginia’s Special Collections Library as a part of the Sadleir-Black
Collection of Gothic Fiction, where it was received as a gift. This chapbook
was published by A. Neil in 1805 and it originally sold for six-pence at a
variety of booksellers. This edition of the chapbook was published at the
Sommers Town Printing Office at No. 30 Chalton Street in London, near the
Crookenden was born
in 1777 in Itchenor, a village in West Sussex, England, as the youngest of nine
children. His father was a shipbuilder who experienced bankruptcy. Crookenden
overcame a presumably impoverished childhood to marry Elizabeth Pelham Fillery
in 1798, and had a son, Adolphus, in 1800. His educational experience is
alluded to in The Skeleton’s title page, on which he describes
himself as the “Late assistant at Mr. Adams’ Academy in Chichester.”
Crookenden’s status as a former schoolmaster indicates he was educated enough
to educate others. Franz Potter hypothesizes that perhaps he advertised his
former position as an educator in The
Skeleton to heighten the shock and scandal of his work—that someone
associated with children could conceive the horrors in the tale (71–2).
Crookenden published the chapbook Berthinia,
or, The Fair Spaniard in 1802, and nine other publications of the same
variety are known. His main genre was gothic, though he experimented with a
more purely romantic approach in 1808’s Venus
on Earth (Baines). While some of his works were published as late as 1824,
Crookenden died in Rotherhithe, Surrey in 1809 at just thirty-two (Potter 72).
Crookenden had an infamous reputation as one of the most prolific plagiarizing writers of the gothic genre. Frederick S. Frank describes Crookenden as “probably the most notorious counterfeiter of legitimate Gothic Novels” (“Gothic Romance” 59). His name is often mentioned alongside Sarah Wilkinson’s, and both authors have been said by Frank to pursue “lucrative careers of Gothic counterfeiting.” (“Gothic Chapbooks” 142). It should then come as no surprise that The Skeleton has no shortage of similarities to a gothic novel published in 1798 called The Animated Skeleton. While the author of the original work is unknown, Crookenden’s rendition of the story includes many borrowed plot points and thematic resemblances, mainly the discovery of a skeleton to incite terror. The key difference comes from the distinct castle settings and character names, as well as the fact that in The Animated Skeleton, the skeleton’s reanimation is found to be mechanized, whereas in Crookenden’s iteration, the skeleton is of a more supernatural variety (Potter 72). Frank notes that “Crookenden plundered the plot from The Animated Skeleton” (“Gothic Gold” 19). Frank, in a separate instance, also notes that The Skeleton “proves to be a refabrication of the anonymous Animated Skeleton of 1798 together with bits and pieces of the author’s extensive Gothic gleanings” (“Gothic Romance” 59)
WorldCat lists four
copies of the chapbook around the world, each with the same publication date of
1805. Along with the University of Virginia’s copy in Charlottesville,
Virginia, The Skeleton can be found
in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in the Rare Book/Special
Collections Reading Room. The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library’s Weston
Stacks in Oxford, United Kingdom holds a copy of the chapbook as well. The
Bodleian’s library catalog describes the binding as “sprinkled sheep” and
indicates that it is bound with seven other items. The Monash University
Library in Clayton, Australia holds the fourth and final of the catalogued
copies of The Skeleton.
Narrative Point of View
The Skeleton is mostly narrated in the third person, with
brief, occasional interjections of first-person narration providing commentary
on the actions or events taking place in the chapbook. The introduction is a
note to the reader in the latter style, condemning critics that call gothic
romance unrealistic and directly warning the reader not to judge a book by its
cover. Though the narrator often uses “we” when referring to their subjective
thoughts, the introduction is signed “Your humble servant, The AUTHOR.” The
story and action are presented in the third person, however, and the narrator
makes abundant use of commas, dashes, and semicolons to present a unique voice.
Letters are also included in the story, presented as written by the characters
within the chapbook.
Almira now observed two horsemen issue from the wood, and as they directed their course towards her, she soon discovered them to be hunters. As they approached nearer, she retired towards the cottage; when the foremost of them sprung off his horse, and coming up to her, “I hope, Madam,” said he, bowing, “I have not disturbed your meditations at this serene and tranquil hour.” While he was speaking, Almira had leisure to observe his dignified deportment, his engaging and affable manners, and his polite address. His full, dark, expressive eye spoke a language which Almira’s hear instantly interpreted, and which on discovering, she cast her’s on the ground. — To keep the reader no longer in suspense, this young man was no other than Rotaldo; and his attendant was the individual– we wish we could add, the virtuous– Maurice. (17)
This style of narration evokes the feeling of
being told a story by an unknown but still familiar voice. Because of certain
story elements including the castles, romance, and suspense in the chapbook,
this narration can resemble the style in which one tells a child a bedtime
story. The prolonged and choppy sentence structure with the variety of
punctuation could be read as mimicking an oral form of storytelling. The
interjected claims and commentary with the plural “we” serve to liven up the
story and engage the reader, providing breaks to clarify or emphasize
characterizations or actions that may seem less clear due to the brevity of a
chapbook. For example, because Maurice’s villainous nature is not able to be
developed over many pages in The
Skeleton, the narrator makes
sure to clearly telegraph his lack of virtue in the above paragraph. This
narration style makes the writing feel less stiff, and thus it has aged more
gracefully than some of its blander contemporaries.
On a stormy night, Lord Ellmont resides in
his castle with his two children. Lord Ellmont is a former warrior, now
committed to domesticity after nobly defending his castle for many years. His
twenty-two-year-old son, Rotaldo, embodies masculinity with a perfect heart,
while his seventeen-year-old daughter Elenora is described at length as
incredibly beautiful. The castle is located in Scotland and consists of a blend
of many different styles and forms of architecture. Though Lady Ellmont died in
childbirth, the castle always seems full on the birthdays of both children, and
it is a mirthful affair when Rotaldo’s birthday arrives.
At the base of the mountain that the castle
sits upon is the home of the peasant Viburn. He has a twenty-year-old son named
Adolphus who has heart as well as temper. One day, Rotaldo asks Adolphus to be
his sporting companion, but Adolphus mysteriously declines, hurting Rotaldo’s
feelings. Rotaldo still wishes for a friend and thinks he finds one in the form
of Maurice, an ugly and deceptive older peasant. Maurice is quickly taken by
Elenora’s beauty, but he fears he will be rejected by her or her family because
of his status. It is implied that his attraction to her is not entirely pure,
and he develops an unhealthy lust for her.
In a valley further from the castle is the
cottage of Volcome, an old peasant with only one surviving child. He was once
rich and of nobility but his family fell upon difficult times, and he was
exploited. He believes his brother was murdered under mysterious circumstances
long ago, and his sister-in-law died while giving birth to a nephew he never
got to meet. His wife also died, leaving him in charge of his
seventeen-year-old daughter Almira, who is described as beautiful as she is
innocent. One day, Rotaldo and Maurice come across their cottage and introduce
themselves while riding horses. Rotaldo is deep in thought riding back from
their cottage when a storm disturbs his horse and nearly flings him off a
cliff. A stranger appears and stops the horse, harming himself in the process.
The benevolent savior is revealed to be Adolphus, who Rotaldo invites back to
the castle to be treated for his injuries. However, Maurice fears Adolphus as
competition for Elenora. Adolphus says he declined Rotaldo’s earlier attempt at
companionship because he must tend to his parents, which Rotaldo dismisses and
graciously offers Adolphus and his family the castle and any assistance they
Adolphus and Elenora instantly connect, while
Rotaldo is overcome with passion for Almira and writes her a love letter.
Elenora receives a proposal from the miserable Baron de Morfield, but her
father knows she would be unhappy with him and declines on her behalf. Almira
receives Rotaldo’s letter and soon receives a visit from Rotaldo himself as
they confess their love. He visits her often, but one day he is returning to
the castle from her cottage when an assassin shoots at him. Rotaldo swiftly
draws his sword and fells the assassin who is revealed to be Maurice. Maurice
expresses remorse for his treachery and gives a cryptic warning about his plans
Returning home, Rotaldo finds his family in
distress. Adolphus has been captured and taken by enemies in the night by the
Baron de Morfield, and is imprisoned in a dungeon. As Adolphus ponders why he
deserves this fate, the narrator reveals the villainous motives of Maurice and
the Baron. It is revealed that Maurice planned to force himself upon Elenora
and then propose an elopement to save her honor. However, Adolphus overheard
this proposal and intervened. Maurice begged for forgiveness and Elenora found
him deserving; Adolphus, however, was less understanding. Maurice later swore
vengeance upon Adolphus, informing the Baron de Morfield that Elenora scorned
him for Adolphus. Maurice then forged a letter in Adolphus’s hand stating that
Adolphus has plans to kill Rotaldo and flee the castle.
Elenora and Rotaldo compare their experiences
with each other, and Adolphus’s innocence is revealed. They fear that they may
have been too late to save him from Maurice’s plans. In his dungeon cell,
Adolphus discovers a secret passage, in which he finds a bloodied dagger and is
shocked by a skeleton. Adolphus returns to his cell with a manuscript
supposedly written by the dead man. It reveals that the real Baron de Morfield
is the skeleton who had been forced to give up his estate though he had an
infant son and heir just after he was killed. The supposed Baron presently
interrogating and kidnapping Adolphus is a usurper.
At midnight, Adolphus is freed from his cell by a mysterious man. As they make their escape, the man turns and stabs the usurping Baron. The helper and Adolphus set out to return to the Ellmont castle. Back home, the Ellmonts despair, though Almira has now been taken into the castle after her father’s passing. Her relationship with Rotaldo as well as a friendship with Elenora provides them both great comfort as they fear Adolphus to be dead.
Adolphus is received with joyous welcomes
upon his return. Adolphus’s supposed father reveals he found Adolphus in the
woods nearly the same time the true Baron’s letter was datedmeaning Adolphus is
the true son of the Baron de Morfield. Almira reveals she is also of Morfield
descent, making her and Adolphus cousins. Almira’s father’s story about his
brother’s murder and sister-in-law’s unknown child all come together before the
group. The Ellmonts return to the Morfield castle and witness the usurping Baron
on his deathbed as Adolphus is yielded his claim to the castle. Adolphus then
marries Elenora as a baron and Rotaldo marries Almira. The story ends with
festivity and moralizes that “although villany may triumph for a time, yet, in
the end, Happiness must be finally united to Virtue.” (38)
A story of love and tragedy, this 1805 chapbook features plagiarized excerpts from Charlotte Smith’s 1789 novel Ethelinde.
The Affecting History of Caroline, or the Distressed Widow: A True
Tale is the fourth gothic story in a collection of four volumes. In the back of
the front cover of the collection, there is a note written in pencil that
states “4 Vol,” denoting there are four rebound volumes in the set. Notably,
none of the volumes have an author listed at the front.
The chapbook collection consists
of a front and back cover made of chipped, faded red-dyed paper, with the spine
of the book dyed green and highlighted by a black outline on the front and
back. Both sides are blank, leaving a polished but plain look. From the top of
the spine, there is a gold fabric label printed with the word, “ROMANCES”
bordered by a series of decorative black lines and dots arranged symmetrically.
Including the cover, the book is approximately 18 cm long, 10.5cm wide, and
1.4cm thick. Inside, the pages are evenly cut, but yellowed and worn.
Although the pages are very thin
and easy to flip through, their texture is rough like sandpaper. Without any
spots or signs of damage other than age, the book is in fairly good
The title page features the main
title, The Affecting History of Caroline,
settled at the top half of the page in large fine black font. The alternative
title, Distressed Widow, is italicized.
Underneath, outlined by a thin
horizontal line, is the subtitle, A True
Tale. The footer of the title page includes publishing information:
“London, published by S. Carvalho, 19 Castle Calley, White Chapel.” This is
followed by the chapbook’s individual sale price: sixpence. Then, at the very
bottom, there appears to be a misaligned line of text that cuts off past the
margins, plausibly additional publishing information.
Positioned at the center of the
title page is a small printed illustration of a woman in a red dress holding a
baby in a blanket. The illustration is painted over in watercolors, which gives
the image a glossy texture that stands out from the rest of the pages. There is
no caption for the illustration, but it is implied that the woman pictured is
the titular “Distressed Widow.”
Furthermore, there is a
frontispiece that consists of a full color spread of a woman and young girl
standing on a paved road while a smiling man appears to lead them to a
carriage. Similar to the title page illustration, this picture was hand-painted
in watercolor, which gives the page additional heavy weight in comparison to
other pages. The twentieth (and final) page of the story includes a printed
illustration of various household items at the bottom, such as two bowls.
Pagination of Caroline does not begin until page 4,
and the chapbook is twenty pages long. Every left page of the open book
includes the abbreviated title Caroline
in the header, with the page number listed above it. The markers for printing
sections B and C are located on pages three and fifteen, respectively, in the
center of the footer. These sections denote to the publisher when to fold the
pages so that the book is bound in the right order. The pagination continues to
another story, titled The Negro: An
Affecting Tale, which then closes its respective volume. Each of the four
rebound volumes has its own pagination, so they are not continuous among one another.
The Affecting History of Caroline: or, The Distressed Widow was
published in 1805. This twenty-five-page chapbook entered the Sadleir-Black
Gothic Collection at the University of Virginia as one of four chapbooks
rebound into a single volume, yet a digital copy of the chapbook as its own
isolated volume, with a front and back cover, is publicly available through
Duke University Library and HathiTrust.
There are few differences between
the University of Virginia and Duke copies of the text. One that stands out is
the alignment of the title page. Whereas the print of University of Virginia’s
copy is slightly tilted and thus parts of the text cut off at the bottom
margins, the print is fully aligned, listing details on publishing information,
“E. Billing, Printer, 187, Bermondsey Street.” Furthermore, the Duke copy has a
marbled cover, whereas the University of Virginia’s rebound copy uses a paper
cover. Otherwise, the pagination, font, publication date, and publishing
company are all the same. Furthermore, neither copy lists an author anywhere in
According to WorldCat, S.
Carvalho, the publishing company, was located in London and published other
novels between 1805 and 1831. Their other works followed a similar subject as The
Affecting History of Caroline: a woman’s reflection on her life, such as in
The Lady’s Revenge: a Tale Founded on
Facts (1817) and The History of Miss
Patty Proud (1820). Yet, throughout S. Carvalho’s legacy, there were no
other reprints of Caroline, nor any
known translations. However, in 2015, two publishing companies dedicated to
revitalizing old books, BiblioBazaar and FB&C Limited, reprinted the
original text in a new paperback edition. FB&C Limited would go on to
publish a hardcover edition of The
Affecting History of Caroline in 2018.
The Affecting History of Caroline is actually an excerpted
plagiarism of a Charlotte Smith novel, Ethelinde,
or the Recluse of the Lake, published in 1789. From the years 1789–1792,
multiple serialized magazines such as TheEuropean Magazine and London Review and Walker’s Hibernian
Magazine published an excerpt of Ethelinde
under the title, The Affecting History of
Caroline Montgomery. This story aligns almost exactly with The Affecting History of Caroline. In TheEuropean
Magazine, The Affecting History of
Caroline Montgomery was released in two parts, just one month apart from
each other. The first sixteen pages of the 1805 version of The Affecting History of Caroline match the first part of The Affecting History of Caroline Montgomery
word-for-word; there are plot variations in the second half of the two stories.
Perhaps what is most interesting is that all magazines cite the acclaimed author
Charlotte Smith and Ethelinde as the
source of their release of The Affecting History of Caroline Montgomery, bur
the 1805 version of The Affecting
History of Caroline does not make
To verify this link, one can
observe the stark similarities between The
Affecting History of Caroline, and an excerpt from Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde. The text of The Affecting History of Caroline from pages 1–16 aligns almost word-for-word with chapter
16 of Ethelinde (Smith 128–55). Differences
between the texts include formatting preferences, such as Ethelinde
using the long S that looks closer to an f, as well as spelling changes like
how The Affecting History of Caroline
uses “mamma” whereas Ethelinde spells
the same word as “mama.” The most stark difference is the textual context: in Ethelinde, Caroline Montgomery tells her
tale to the titular character, Ethelinde; in The Affecting History of Caroline, mentions of Ethelinde are
completely removed. This change is understandable, for if the intent of The Affecting History Caroline was to
present the plagiarized text as an original story, then any evidence of being
associated with plot elements from the world of Ethelinde needed to be
removed. Attempts at erasing ties to Ethelinde
are most noticeable following page 16 of The
Affecting History of Caroline. From just pages 16–18 of The Affecting History of Caroline, over
ten paragraphs of Ethelinde are skipped over, but these cuts are
presented as a seamless transition between not only paragraphs but sentences as
well (Smith 155–61). There are also noticeable changes in phrasing, such as the
line “Lord Pevensey took this opportunity of departing,” versus the line from Ethelinde, “Lord Pevensey took that
opportunity to depart” (Affecting History of Caroline 16, Smith 155).
It is not surprising that someone
would want to plagiarize Charlotte’s Smith’s work, for she was an illustrious
novelist during her time. From 1784 to 1806, Smith used her writing to support
her large family of twelve children as a single mother. She is known for
influencing the Romantic era, particularly for writing with an emphasis on
nature and human emotions. Although there are no reviews of The Affecting
History of Caroline, scholarship
does attend to Ethelinde (see Hawkins).
With this context in mind, it is understandable how the illegitimate chapbook The Affecting History of Caroline was
classified as a “Romance” when rebound, as it sits at the intersection of
gothic, romance, and Romantic literature.
Narrative Point of View
The Affecting History of Caroline is narrated in the first-person
singular voice of the titular character, Caroline, who delineates the events of
her childhood and upbringing. In The Affecting History of Caroline, the narrator focuses less on
descriptive language and more on singular plot-relevant events, however, this
pattern deviates in moments of intense emotion, such as when Caroline falls in
love. The sentence structure is dense, but direct, which allows for a clear
narrative to unfold. At times the narrator mentions the second person “you,” as
if retelling the story of her life to an unnamed individual.
I will not detain you with relating the various expedients for accommodation, which were in the course of the first month proposed by the relations of the family, who knew the tenderness the late lord Pevensey had for my mother; that he considered her as his wife, and that her conduct could not have been more unexceptionable had she really been so. Still lingering in France, and still visiting a house into which his cruelty had introduced great misery, the proceeding of lord Pevensey wore a very extraordinary appearance. My mother now continued almost entirely to her room; and Montgomery concealed from her his uneasiness at what he remarked; but to me he spoke more freely, and told me he was very sure his lordship had other designs that he suffered immediately to appear. In a few days the truth of this conjecture became evident. (15)
The narrator, Caroline, uses an
individualized first-person point of view to create an intimate and engaging
voice. Referring to an unnamed “you” implies the narration is directed at an
audience outside of Caroline’s world—hence, the story becomes an attempt at
reaching out to this world. The differentiation between “late lord” and “lord”
Pevensey establishes a clarity in the narrative that stands out from other
gothic works that utilize confusion and chaos as a tool for narration. This
easy-to-follow narration is ideal when communicating to an audience unfamiliar
with these past events, suggesting the implied audience is a stranger to
Caroline’s life and irrelevant to her past. Furthermore, the characters around
Caroline are characterized primarily by their actions in relation to Caroline,
such as the mother “continued almost entirely to her room,” and Montgomery, who
“spoke more freely,” rather than through a direct description of inward
thoughts or feelings. Interestingly, even their conversations only seem to
happen in summarized instances, with no direct dialogue. This means even the
conversations Caroline has every day are ultimately translated by Caroline’s
perspective, first, before being narrated. This limited point of view creates a
story tailored to Caroline’s perspective on her life, with all of her potential
bias, allowing for a deeper understanding of Caroline as a character.
The story of The Affecting
History of Caroline begins and
ends in Scotland. The titular character retells her life story from childhood
into adulthood with all of the trials and tribulations she faced along the way.
The first tragedy in Caroline’s life is the loss of her father, a Scottish
nobleman. He died as a casualty in a military campaign for Scotland’s
independence from Britain. At the time of his death, Caroline was an infant,
and her mother became a young single mother without anyone to support them. So,
they begin the story struggling in poverty with just the remaining money left
by Caroline’s father. Although the war her father fought in eventually ended,
she along with the rest of the Scottish community continued to struggle to
rebuild stability. Despite this, Caroline’s mother soon finds out that in
Caroline’s grandfather’s will, no money was allocated to her. Soon afterwards,
Caroline’s grandfather also passes away, but he only left money for Caroline’s
uncle from England. The death of the grandfather spurs Caroline’s mother to
migrate to England in hope of seeking assistance from her brother. At first,
Caroline’s uncle appears to be welcoming and kind to his sister and niece.
However, his wife is much more reserved, and repeatedly tells her husband not
to be so hospitable to Caroline and her mother. Although the husband agrees to
pay for a small home in London for Caroline and her mother to stay in, he soon
becomes too influenced by his wife and limits the funds for Caroline’s small
family, and so the girl and her mother must continue to struggle through
Caroline’s mother has no one to
comfort her, and so she also continues to grieve for her deceased husband. It
is in this state that she comes across a gentleman one day, named Pevensey, who
falls in love with her at first sight while she walks through town with
Caroline. The man orders a carriage to take Caroline and her mother home, and
then insists on accompanying them in the carriage. On the carriage ride home,
Pevensey admits that he is from the same noble lineage of Caroline’s father,
and this is how he knew of the widow beforehand. What was once curiosity,
however, has now turned into infatuation, and so he begins courting Caroline’s
Their romance appears to go quite
smoothly until Pevensey admits that he is actually already married. Granted, it
is an arranged marriage to a woman he despises, and no longer lives with, yet,
they are still married under the law. After revealing this, the man proposes to
have Caroline and her mother live with him, where they would no longer have to
live in a shabby home and instead build a family together. This proposal causes
Caroline’s uncle and auntie to see Caroline’s mother with a new form of respect,
and so they are receptive to the nobleman. Caroline’s mother, however, is still
haunted by the loss of her husband, and the fact that they can never truly be
married, so she deliberates before ultimately agreeing to fully love the man
and live with him.
Caroline and her mother adjust
well to their new lifestyle. Her mother gains a bit more peace of mind now that
she no longer feels like her brother’s burden, and Caroline is able to live a
more enriching childhood and gain a stellar education. Unfortunately, their joy
is soon cut short when the nobleman dies from disease while on a business trip.
Even worse, all of his property rights and wealth were passed on to his
brother, leaving Caroline and her mother in poverty once again. However, this
time, they are not alone. A friend of Pevensey, Mr. Montgomery, takes them
under his wing so that they no longer have to suffer. At this time, Caroline
falls in love with Mr. Montgomery. In a bittersweet display of love, they get
married the night before her mother also passes away from illness.
Then, finally, Caroline’s luck starts to turn for the better. Her husband wins a duel against Pevensey’s brother, who finally agrees to respect Caroline’s right to her step-father’s inheritance as retribution. In another turn of events, war returns to Caroline’s life via the conflict between France and England. Montgomery enlists in the English regiment, and Caroline leaves with him so that they are not separated. Eventually, though, they are separated as Montgomery gets more involved in the war. Meanwhile, Caroline becomes pregnant and eventually gives birth to a son. They do not reunite until the war finally ends, and then retire together to live with their new family in Paris.
Their marriage remains true and
fulfilling until Montgomery dies from illness, leaving Caroline as a single
mother, just as her mother once was. She decides to raise her son back in
Scotland, where they are able to spend the rest of their lives in peace.
Hartley, Cathy. A Historical Dictionary of British Women.
London: Europa Publications, 2005.
Hawkins, Anne. Romantic Women Writers Reviewed, Taylor
& Francis, Vol 5, Issue 2, 2020, pp.40–41.
Smith, Charlotte. Ethelinde, Or The Recluse of the Lake. T.
“The Affecting History of Caroline Montgomery.” The European Magazine, and London Review, 1790, pp. 353–58, 457–62.
“The Affecting History of
Caroline Montgomery.” Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Or, Compendium of Entertaining
Knowledge, vol.1, 1790, pp. 38–40
The Affecting History of Caroline; or, The Distressed Widow. A True
Tale. London, S. Carvalho, 1805.
The Affecting History of Caroline; or, The Distressed Widow. A True Tale. BiblioBazaar, 2015.
The Affecting History of Caroline; or, The Distressed Widow. A True
Tale. FB&C Limited, 2015.
In this 1799 chapbook set in England during the Middle Ages, a conflict over religion between a priest and a baron, and an enchanted suit of armor result in betrayal, exile, and magic.
Kilverstone Castle, or, The Heir Restored: A Gothic Story is the second of twelve stories, bound together in the same volume. The name of the author does not appear on any of the story’s thirty-three pages.
The cover is stained, and has completely detached from the book pages, but the binding on the side is still intact. The pages are very fragile, and the cover has detached. The book is bound with leather, and has an endband made of red thread at the top and bottom for decorative purposes.
The book’s paper is very brittle and has yellow stains covering it. The binding along the side of the book has the word “tracts” carved into it. A “tract” signifies a chapter or short story, which suggests that someone specifically chose to bind these stories together, either due to similar themes or simply to have them all in one place. The word “Prethy” is also written in elaborate cursive on the opening page, which suggests a previous owner signed their copy.
There are illustrations on the title and final page of the book, with the one on the title page depicting two men dueling in front of a woman fainting, and the one on the final page depicting a tree. The title page also contains the name of the book’s printer and publisher.
One of the most unique characteristics of this volume, however, is the typeface. The margins and type are both very small. Within the text, the letter “s” appears frequently shaped like a letter “f” (this was known as a long S or medial S), except in words that have two “s” in a row, in which case only the first “s” is a long S while the second “s” is the round s that has since become standard.
According to the WorldCat database, there are ten different editions of Kilverstone Castle. The editions slightly vary in title, with most including the phrase Kilverstone Castle, or, the Heir Restored, a Gothic Story and some also including Founded on a Fact which happened at the dawn of the Reformation.
WorldCat lists all of these editions as having been published in 1799, except for one which is listed as having been published in 1800. The edition of the text in the University of Virginia Special Collections library does not have a publishing date inscribed on it, and the call number lists publication as 1802. However, in his Gothic Bibliography, Montague Summers claims that the text was published in 1799. Franz Potter’s Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks, and Shilling Shockers, 1797–1830 gives the same year (21). An edition of the text on Google Books has “1799” printed on the title page.
While the text has no known author, Kilverstone Castle was published by Ann Lemoine. Lemoine was a prolific publisher of gothic texts, and Potter states that Kilverstone Castle was the first work she published, a collaboration with Thomas Hurst. He goes on to note, “Lemoine effectively dominated the chapbook market by publishing at least 99 Gothic chapbooks over thirteen years, 28 percent of the whole number” (Gothic Chapbooks 21). Potter also says that Kilverstone Castle “capitalised on the widespread success of The Castle of Lindenberg and the continued interest in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto” (Gothic Chapbooks 47). In The History of Gothic Publishing, Potter notes that Kilverstone Castle was one of the Gothic bluebooks available at William Booth’s Circulating Library in Norwich (70). Though no advertisements for the text have been found in newspapers from the nineteenth century, this suggests that it was not in total obscurity either.
Narrative Point of View
Kilverstone Castle uses a third-person omniscient narrator, who knows the inner thoughts of all the characters. The narrator provides a lot of description of the setting and the material objects the characters interact with. However, the narrator does not explain all characters’ thoughts and motivations. The narrator uses long sentences, and refers to aristocratic characters by their title more often than their actual name, with the exception of Mervil.
He prefaced it with the most solemn asseverations of truth, respect, and esteem for his patron. “My regard for you, my lord, makes me jealous of every injury done to your honor; and it becomes a duty in me to apprise you of every danger which besets you. Be not shocked, my friend, by a discovery in which your happiness is in imminent peril. Your Jessalind is inconstant!” (12)
The omniscient narrator not revealing each character’s motivation adds to the mystery of the story. If the narrator of this passage had been able to state that Polydore was lying about Jessalind committing adultery, significant tension during the scene in the bathhouse would have been lost. Polydore in this passage also puts more emphasis on Mervil’s title than the narration usually does, suggesting that they are not really friends. In other passages throughout the story, when the narrator describes objects in great detail, such as the onyx cross, this is done to humanize the objects and give them a role in the story.
Kilverstone Castle begins by telling the reader about Lord Audley, Baron of Kilverstone in Lincolnshire. He is a virtuous man who is getting older, but he has a son, Mervil, who will be a great successor. Audley lives before the Reformation but holds ideas contrary to those of the Church. This brings him into conflict with Father Peter, who is the Abbot of Croyland and runs the monastery in the village. Peter has many opportunities to take revenge on Audley, due to the supreme influence of the Church at the time. Father Peter goes to Lord Wentworth, in a place where Audley holds lands, with a forged order from the Monastery of St. Crowle to prosecute a claim on the estates.
Audley soon dies, and his son is called away from his travels at the news of his father’s death. The trial about his father’s lands is still happening at the King’s court, and he walks around his mansion considering it. He soon hears his ancestor’s armor rumble, and, when he walks over to it, sees a light from inside. He finds a small onyx cross and puts it on; the cross then starts to bleed, and the armor shakes.
Father Peter shows up, planning to assassinate Mervil. Peter pretends to mourn Audley, and Mervil believes him. Soon the amulet starts to bleed again. Peter is shocked, and briefly feels guilt for attempting to kill Mervil, but it soon fades. As Peter turns to leave, the dagger which he planned to kill Mervil with falls onto the floor. Mervil is shocked, and realizes the amulet was warning him about Peter’s treachery.
It is revealed that Wentworth has led a wild life, and that the churchmen manipulated him. He has made large donations to the monastery. He had gifted Father Peter’s monastery with Audley’s lands. Even with Audley dead, Peter still wants his lands. Since Mervil is so young, and Peter’s whole claim is based in forgery, Peter wants to kill Mervil before he has an heir who could challenge Peter for the Audley lands.
One day, while out hunting, Mervil meets a strange hermit. The hermit says he knows Mervil, and warns him that bad things await him.
Mervil eventually gets married to a local nobleman’s daughter, Jessalind. One day, however, his friend Polydore tells him she is being unfaithful with his friend, Ironside. Polydore tells Mervil to catch Jessalind and Ironside at the bath. Mervil goes there, and though he does not want to doubt his wife, he trusts his friend and the amulet had predicted disaster. He sees Jessalind and Ironside meet, and in a rage stabs Ironside. However, Ironside tells him that nothing was going on and that his and Jessalind’s meeting was accidental.
Mervil realizes that Polydore has lied to him, and that this was instigated by the church. As a murderer, Mervil’s lands are given to Wentworth. Mervil also reveals that Jessalind is pregnant. He decides to run into the woods and live as an unknown. Jessalind wakes up after fainting, sees Ironside dying, and calls out for her husband who has run away.
Some peasants carry Ironside to a shepherd, who says it is possible his wound is not fatal. Soon Wentworth’s officers show up at Audley’s estate after hearing what happened, and force Jessalind out. On the same night, a horrible storm is happening, and Wentworth’s officers flee the Audley castle because they think the storm was caused by evil spirits.
Jessalind befriends a shepherd who knew old Lord Audley. She is able to sell some jewels and go home to Normandy, but her father has left for a war.
The monks celebrate Mervil’s downfall, but Father Peter does not want to risk going near the enchanted armor again. Polydore, who was working for Father Peter, is now stuck with him while Peter shuts himself up in his cell.
Mervil eventually meets an old man at a shepherd’s house. He tells him everything, and the old man tells him that sometimes good things can come from bad. Eventually, Mervil tells the shepherd he is going to leave and find a place to retire and do penance. The shepherd tells him that the Hermitage of Norban is close to them, and Mervil seems to recognize the name and panics. The shepherd tells Mervil to stay the night, and his son will walk the six-hour journey with Mervil in the morning. Mervil then asks the shepherd to tell him the story of the hermit.
The hermit was from Normandy and was a member of Croyland Abbey. He did not leave the world entirely, but was famous for his ability to heal, to prophesize, and for his wisdom. He went into the mountains because he was upset at the sins of others in Croyland. Towards the end of his life, he gets a visitor, and on his deathbed, tells the herdsmen that it is his brother, and his coming means the hermit will die. He leaves a crucifix and says his heir will wear it in the seventh generation, and he will be the guardian of his friends for seven ages to come.
The amulet on Mervil’s neck is glowing once the story finishes. In the morning, he goes looking for where the hermit lived. Mervil finds the hermit’s remains, and decides to stay until he can give the hermit last rites. Mervil stays for some months in the Hermitage, with the shepherd and his sons often visiting.
Mervil eventually becomes famous, and fears he will be discovered. One night, he has a vision of Ironside’s ghost, giving him information about Jessalind. One day, a man shows up, and he realizes it is Ironside. Ironside tells him everyone believes Mervil committed suicide, and that while searching for him, a storm took out Wenthorth. Wentworth’s son refused to give Audley’s lands to the monastery. Ironside then tells him how he was tricked by Polydore, and that Father Peter poisoned Polydore because he knew Peter’s secrets. He then tells him that Jessalind is with her father in Normandy.
Ironside then tells him that Geoffrey, Wentworth’s son, is in open rebellion against the crown. He says Jessalind’s father might come with them to ask about his daughter’s possessions. Mervil says he cannot go until he has fulfilled the hermit’s last request. They leave with the hermit’s urn, and Mervil places it in the vault of his ancestors.
Mervil and Ironside eventually join up with the royal army. Ironside is shot in the arm and forced to retreat during a battle, and Mervil follows to help him. The crucifix Mervil is wearing helps to save the king when he is surrounded by rebels. Ironside dies of his wounds after asking Mervil to look after his daughter.
Mervil reaches the monastery of Crowle, and finds it in ruins. It had been destroyed by royal mandate, and all its possessions confiscated. His own mansion is mostly destroyed, except for the gallery where he first got the amulet.
A wedding is going to take place in a few days. During the wedding, Mervil’s amulet catches the eye of the bride. The bride faints, and the dagger she was going to use to stop the marriage falls out of her hair. It is revealed that the bride is Jessalind. The strange youth, referred to as the Bloody Knight, is revealed to be their son. In the end, Leo, the Bloody Knight, marries Ironside’s daughter Elvira.
Kilverstone Castle. London. Printed for Ann Lemoine. 1799.
Potter, Franz J. Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers, 1797–1830. University of Wales Press, 2021.
——. The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835 : Exhuming the Trade. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. The Fortune press, 1941.
In this 1800s chapbook by Sarah Wilkinson set in the South of France, follow Emma de Villeroy as she navigates her mysterious marriage, and the truth about her bloodline.
The White Cottage of the Valley is one chapbook bound in a collection of eighteen stories. The story itself is short, only twenty-one pages as compared to the over thirty-page length of the other stories in the book, but the text is quite dense. The text is small and close-set, and the margins between each line are thin. The book measures approximately 11cm x 18cm, allowing this chapbook to hold a lot of content. The margins of the pages vary, ranging from 0.8 cm to 1.6cm. The pages are quite thin, allowing you to see the text on the other side. Each page has the shortened title of the book, The White Cottage, printed across the top. This is uniform to every story in the book, making it easy to differentiate the separate works.
Before you begin reading the story, you are greeted with a frontispiece. The frontispiece, an illustration preceding the title page, is completely unique. Although the black outline is printed, the colors are hand painted with watercolors. You can see white space that the artist did not quite cover with color, as well as places where the colors overlap. The illustration depicts a woman clothed in red and white approaching the door of a hut where a woman and child wait. Below the illustration is a quote that relates to the part of the story the image is depicting: “Merciful Providence! Your Husband ill, & lying in that Hut.” Uniquely, the word “page” stands alone just below the quote, likely intended to list the page number where you could find this quote. However, there is no page number, and in fact this illustration does not relate at all to The White Cottage of the Valley, or to any story within this collection of chapbooks. It is possible that this was a misprint, or perhaps the story that relates to this illustration was removed from this book. The White Cottage of the Valley also does not contain page numbers, though it does include signature marks, which were used to guide bookbinders and make sure the pages were folded correctly and in the correct order. A2, B, C, and C2 appear on the first, seventh, eleventh, and thirteenth pages respectively.
The title page follows the frontispiece on the next page. The full title, The White Cottage of the Valley; or the Mysterious Husband: an Original, Interesting Romance,is printed vertically down the page, followed by the name of the author, Sarah Wilkinson. An excerpt from a poem is quoted just below, and below that the printer is listed. Finally, the price, sixpence, is printed at the very bottom of the page. The title page bleeds through almost completely to the other side of the paper, which is otherwise completely blank.
The cover of the chapbook collection follows a very popular binding technique of the time called half binding. The spine and two triangles on the corners of the front and back cover are brown leather, while the main cover is paper. The paper cover is decorated with another popular technique: marbling. This is a process in which different colors of oil paint are added to a tub of water, which the paper for the cover is then dipped in. The water forces the oil to spread, giving it a “marbled” look. The cover of this book is mostly beige, with marbling of dark blue. It is worse for wear, though, with quite a bit of the front worn off. The spine is also quite worn, with cracks appearing in the leather and tearing slightly at the top. Luckily, the book is in mostly good condition, with no large tears or extremely stained pages.
Sarah Wilkinson was a gothic writer active between 1799 and 1824. In that time, she penned approximately one-hundred short stories, including about thirty gothic works. The White Cottage of the Valley; or the Mysterious Husband is one of her lesser-known works. Unlike her more popular stories, which have well-documented and sometimes controversial histories, The White Cottage has very little written about it. This is likely due to the pure quantity of gothic chapbooks that Wilkinson penned, meaning only the most popular of them have been attended to by historians and literary scholars. The White Cottage has, however, been republished in the second volume of Gary Kelly’s 2002 Varieties of Female Gothic. This volume, titled Street Gothic, includes a number of gothic texts by female writers that Kelly suggests depict the change in the writing of the lower class. In the introduction to this volume, Kelly describes The White Cottage as “represent[ing] the revolution in cheap print of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that saw the creation of a commercialised novelty literature for the lower-class and lower middle-class readers” (xxiii). This is one of the only modern works that analyzes The White Cottage, rather than simply listing it as one of Wilkinson’s texts.
As often as Wilkinson is described as prolific, she is also described as a “hack” writer (Kelly xxi, Hoeveler 3). This is due to the fact that Wilkinson was on the cusp of poverty, writing “at the lowest end of the literary market” (Kelly xxi). Indeed, she wrote so much because she had to in order to make a living, not necessarily out of love for the craft. In 1803, she wrote to Tell-Tale Magazine, issuing a “warning [to] every indigent woman, who is troubled with the itch of scribbling, to beware of [her] unhappy fate.” (“The Life of an Authoress, Written by Herself” 28) Obviously Wilkinson had the desire to write, self-described as an “itch of scribbling,” but it was not an easy way to make a living.
Interestingly, the publisher of The White Cottage is also somewhat well-known. In 1810, Robert Harrild invented a new tool for inking typeface, called a composition roller. This was a much more efficient method than the previously used balls of hide (Anderson & McConnell). Conversely, the illustrator for the frontispiece for The White Cottage is completely unlisted and unknown. The White Cottage of the Valley originally included a frontispiece (printed in Kelly’s Varieties of Female Gothic) but this frontispiece is not present in the University of Virginia version, which may be due to Wilkinson’s lack of resources, or it is possible that there was a misprinting or a confusion when rebinding and a different frontispiece was accidentally placed there instead. All versions of the chapbook, however, have the title-page epigraph from Thomas Fitzgerald’s eighteenth-century poem “Bedlam.”
There was at least one printing of The White Cottage in the early nineteenth century, but the publication date is not precisely known because the work itself has no date listed. WorldCat and Google Books list the date as 1815, although this is likely inaccurate because the title page of The White Cottage lists Robert Harrild as residing at 20 Great Eastcheap in London at the time of printing, a location he did not move to until 1819. He moved once again in 1824, suggesting The White Cottage was likely published sometime between 1819 and 1824, not 1815 (Anderson & McConnell).
While it has never been officially said that Wilkinson pulled content from Elizabeth Meeke’s The Mysterious Husband: A Novel, there are a few obvious overlaps between the two stories. Most notably, the works share a partial title, a character named the Earl of Clarencourt (spelled Clarancourt in Meeke’s story), a theme of marrying for money rather than love, and a main character who leaves for France for the sake of his mental health. Since Meeke’s novel was published early in 1801, it is possible that Wilkinson read Meeke’s novel and incorporated ideas from it into her own chapbook. This would not be the first time Wilkinson took inspiration from another story, either: her 1820 novel, Castle of Lindenberg; or, The History of Raymond and Agnes, is heavily derived from Matthew Lewis’s popular story The Monk. This was not all that unusual at the time: Father Innocent, Abbot of the Capuchins; or, The Crimes of Cloisters (1805) and The Castle of Lindenberg; or The History of Raymond and Agnes (1798) were also borderline plagiarisms of the same popular work.
Narrative Point of View
The White Cottage of the Valley is narrated by an unnamed narrator who is never a character in the story. They narrate entirely in third person and past tense, except at the beginning of extended backstory when they momentarily switch to present tense and use “we” to refer to the narration. The narrator often acts as an omniscient storyteller, relating how the characters feel and react to each other. Through the narrator, we are given insight into the characters’ thoughts and feelings. The language the narrator uses is formal and antiquated.
She instantly summoned Alise and Anetta to her presence, that she might fully apprize them of the part they had to act before the stranger could converse them, and thus frustrate her intentions.
While she is conversing with her faithful domestics, we will look back a little to the events that preceded—the distress of mind into which the amiable Emma was now plunged.
Emma de Villeroy was a native of the southern part of France; she was the only child of a very respectable medical man, a descendant of a noble family. (4)
This method of omniscient storytelling allows readers access to what the characters are thinking, enabling readers to experience events more intimately with the characters. The narration also heightens the effect of the plot unfolding in real time by suggesting that Emma’s backstory can be provided during the period of time when “she is conversing with her faithful domestics” as if Emma is talking to her servants at the exact same moment that the narration is relaying her backstory. As a result, Emma, the third-person narration, and the readers are all waiting for the rest of Emma’s story to unfold in this moment.
The White Cottage of the Valley opens with its main character Emma crying because her husband has not come home. She eventually falls into a fitful sleep until late in the night, when the gate bell rings. Emma, convinced it is her husband, quickly answers it. It is not her husband, however, but a stranger asking for shelter out of the rain. Despite her reluctance, Emma allows him in and sets him up with a bed. The next morning, when she goes down to breakfast with her children, the stranger asks which of the two is hers. Emma, alarmed by this question, lies and says only Rosalthe is hers and that Adolphus is the child of her servant, Alise.
Here, the narrator backs up to talk a bit about Emma’s backstory. Emma de Villeroy is the daughter of a woman who married against the will of her parents. Emma’s grandparents were so against the marriage that her parents left and never contacted them again. The years passed, and eventually both of Emma’s parents died. On his deathbed, her father bid Emma to seek out her wealthy, noble grandparents because otherwise she would be left destitute. Unfortunately, he died before he could give any information about her grandparents, leaving Emma with no way to contact either of them. In cleaning out her parents’ house, Emma subsequently found a miniature of her mother and began to wear it on a necklace under her clothes.
One day, Emma met a young man named Adolphus Montreville who had taken a liking to her late father’s library so much that he wanted to purchase the books. When the two of them met, there was an immediate spark. Adolphus was very kind to Emma in a way that betrayed his emotions, but he never made any formal declarations of his passion. Eventually, Adolphus explained that his father, a greedy Earl, wants to marry him off to an heiress for the money. Adolphus expressed that while he has feelings for Emma, he cannot marry her publicly due to his father. Therefore, he suggested a private marriage. Emma accepted his proposal, without mentioning her wealthy grandparents. The next week, the pair were married. Almost immediately, however, Adolphus Montreville was called back to England. He promised to return as soon as possible, leaving a pregnant Emma with one of her parents’ servants, Alise.
Eventually, Emma had twins, Rosalthe and Adolphus, and travelled to Paris to meet her husband, still concealing their marriage. There, the pair attended an opera and Emma noticed a wealthy couple who she immediately believed to be her grandparents due to their resemblance to her late mother. She did not mention her suspicions to her husband, however, and eventually left France for Wales without any conclusion of this matter.
Two months after settling in a white cottage in the valley in Wales, Adolphus visited and he expressed to Emma his fears that their marriage had been discovered. The following night, he promises that he will be more explicit when he returns. However, after this visit, he does not come back.
This is where the beginning of the story picks up again. That night, the second one the stranger stays in the cottage, Emma and Rosalthe are kidnapped by Adolphus Montreville’s father, the Earl of Clarencourt. The earl accuses Emma of deceiving him by denying Adolphus as her son. He informs Emma that her husband is also his prisoner and gives Emma a paper urging her to sign it. The paper proposes this agreement: the earl intends to fake his son’s death so that his younger brother, Edward, can marry the heiress. Emma and her family will be banished, but Emma’s son, Adolphus, will be raised by the earl. If Emma and Adolphus Montreville do not sign this paper, they will forever be confined to Milbury castle as they are now.
Emma refuses to sign, making the earl angry and scaring Rosalthe in her arms. As Rosalthe clings to her, she pulls out the necklace Emma wears. The earl immediately recognizes it as a miniature of the daughter of the Marquis De Aubigne. When Emma tells him it was her mother’s, he realizes his mistake. He apologizes to Emma, and she and her husband are freed. Emma goes on to meet her grandparents, who accept her eagerly and apologize for their poor treatment of her mother. Emma inherits all of her grandparents’ wealth, and her family lives happily for the rest of their lives.
Kelly, Gary. “Introduction.” Varieties of Female Gothic, Volume 2: Street Gothic. Taylor & Francis, 2002, pp. vii–xxiii.
“The Life of an Authoress, Written by Herself,” Tale 57 in Tell-Tale Magazine (London: Ann Lemoine, 1803), p. 28 in The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835: Exhuming the Trade, by Franz Potter. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Wilkinson, Sarah Scudgell. The White Cottage of the Valley: Or the Mysterious Husband: An Original, Interesting Romance. Printed and Published by R. Harrild, n.d.
Set in Scotland, England, and Italy, Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson’s 1807 chapbook is a complicated tale of vengeance, violence, and long-lost love. And there’s a ghost!
At first glance, The Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors: A Gothic Story is nothing more than a small, nondescript book. It is bound in a spotless cardboard cover, with no title or images on the front or back. The spine has a small red rectangle in which The Castle Spectre or Family Horrors is written in gold writing. The chapbook is about 12 centimeters wide, 20 centimeters long, and 1 centimeter thick.
Upon opening the book, it is evident that it has been rebound. The pages inside are soft, yellowed, and worn. The edges are tattered and uneven and the pages are of different sizes. The frontispiece appears to have been glued to a blank page for structural support, as it was ripped and about two inches of the page is missing from the bottom. This page contains a colorful image of two knights in front of a red castle. They are holding blue shields with gold crosses and are wearing red skirts. Behind the knights is a woman in a pink dress; she is surrounded by what appears to be sunbeams and looks as if she is floating with her arm raised. Some of the colors go beyond the edge of the picture, indicating it may have been painted with watercolor. Beneath the image is a caption that says, “GERTRUDE rising from the Rubbish before the CASTLE”. Below the caption is a note about the print company.
The title page
contains the title, written as follows: “The // Castle Spectre; // or, //
Family Horrors: // A Gothic Story.” The words are all uppercase, except for “A
Gothic Story,” which is written in a more elaborate gothic typeface. Beneath
the title is a quote by Langhorne, and then a note on the publisher: “London:
// Printed for T. and R. Hughes, // 35, Ludgate-Street.” “London” is written in
the same gothic font, while the rest is again all capitalized. Beneath this is
the publishing date: 1807. The title page has a small, rather illegible phrase
written in pencil in the upper left corner, and a large stain on the right. The
back of the title page is blank, except for a small stamp in the bottom left
corner that says, “Printed by Bewick and Clarke, Aldergates-street.” It should
be noted that the name of the author is never mentioned.
On the first page of the text, the title is again printed, but this time as The Castle Spectre. The chapbook contains thirty-eight pages, and the page sizes vary slightly. The upper and lower margins range from about 1.5 centimeters to 2.5 centimeters. “Castle Spectre” is written on the top margin of every page, and there are page numbers in the upper corners. The text is small and tight, and the inner margin is very narrow. On the left pages, the words run almost into the spine. On some pages, the text is fading and in certain instances, can be seen through from the back of the page. The pages are speckled with light stains, but none that obscure much text. The bottom margins of a few pages contain signature marks, such as B3, C, and C3. These marks indicate how the pages should be folded together, as the book was printed on one large sheet and then folded and trimmed. This binding technique also explains why the pages vary in size. There are nine blank pages at the end of the book. These pages seem newer and are larger; they were likely added to make the book slightly thicker, as it is difficult to bind such a thin book.
An index card is
loosely placed in the front of the book, containing the title and publishing
information. It appears to be written in Michael Sadleir’s handwriting and was
likely used for cataloging purposes. The note indicates that the book was
originally unbound, but then mounted on modern board and engraved. This
explains the discrepancy between the wear of the cover and that of the pages.
“Louisiana” is written on the upper left corner; Sadleir presumably got the
book from someone who lived there. A line on the bottom of the card indicates his
belief that the plot was plagiarized, as he notes the book is “a theft of title
The Castle Spectre by Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson was
printed by Bewick and Clarke for T. and R. Hughes in 1807. According to Michael
Sadleir’s handwritten note, the copy in the University of Virginia
Sadleir-Black Collection was originally unbound and then rebound as a
stand-alone chapbook. It appears there is only one edition, the 1807 version,
but some other copies are bound in volumes with other chapbooks. According to
WorldCat, there are six copies of this edition located at Dartmouth Library,
Columbia University Library, and the National Library of Wales, among others.
As of 2021, there are no digital copies of the story, though GoogleBooks has
information about the title, author, and publishing company.
Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors: A Gothic Story is often misinterpreted
as being inspired by Matthew Gregory Lewis’s play The Castle Spectre.
Though part of the title is the same, the actual plot, characters, and setting
are entirely unrelated. The
confusion has arisen because Wilkinson published two chapbooks with similar
titles: The Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors: A Gothic Story in 1807 and
The Castle Spectre: An Ancient Baronial Romance; Founded on the Original
Drama of M. G. Lewis in
1820. This second text, The Castle Spectre: An Ancient Baronial Romance,
is in fact based upon Lewis’s play (as accurately suggested by the subtitle),
with the same characters, setting, and plot. By contrast, the 1807 chapbook, The
Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors, remains separate and unrelated except
for its similar main title.
Though the two Castle Spectre texts by
Wilkinson are entirely separate, they are frequently confused for one another.
For instance, Franz J. Potter notes in The History of Gothic Publishing
that Wilkinson “also adapted two versions of Matthew Lewis’s melodrama ‘The
Castle Spectre’ publishing The Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors (2.58)
in 1807 with Thomas Hughes, and The Castle Spectre; An Ancient Baronial
Romance, Founded on the Original Drama M. G. L. (2.57) in 1820 with John
Bailey” (119). In his section on the “Family Horrors” version of
Wilkinson’s chapbook, Frederick S. Frank notes that she “transformed Lewis’s Gothic drama, The
Castle Spectre [l-219], back into a Gothic novel” (171). Franz J. Potter
similarly states that this “Family Horrors” version was “founded on Lewis’s The
Castle Spectre. A Drama in Five Acts” (Gothic Chapbooks 39). Even an
article in UVA Today makes this common error, stating “Lewis’ work was
regularly plagiarized and used in this way, as it is in ‘The Castle Spectre,
or, Family Horrors: a Gothic Story,’ by Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson” (McNally).
that make the claim of a link between The Castle Spectre and Matthew
Lewis’s play cite Montague Summers’s Gothic Bibliography, which lists The
Castle Spectre by Sarah Wilkinson without specifying the subtitle or a
publication date. Summers’s entry reads: “Castle Spectre, The. By Sarah Wilkinson. Founded upon Matthew
Gregory Lewis’ famous drama, The Castle Spectre, produced at Drury Lane
on Thursday, December 14th, 1797” (268). Of the libraries that own The
Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors, many list M. G. Lewis as an author, and
these library catalogs frequently reference Summers’s Gothic Bibliography,
echoing his statement that the story is “Founded
upon Matthew Gregory Lewis’ famous drama ‘The castle spectre’.” Some
libraries note the link to Lewis’s play based upon The National Union
Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints, and this source also cites back to Summers’s Gothic
Bibliography. It is possible Summers’s entry for The Castle Spectre
was misunderstood to be about the “Family Horrors” version, when it was meant
to reference the “Baronial Romance” version, which specifically claims to be
founded upon Lewis’s play. Whatever the reason, this misunderstanding has
spurred many sources, including library catalogs, to erroneously note a
connection between the plot of Lewis’s The Castle Spectre play and
Wilkinson’s The Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors chapbook.
It should also be noted that some sources
discuss a similarity between the two distinct chapbooks Wilkinson wrote under
the titles The Castle Spectre. Diane L. Hoeveler, for instance, suggests
that Wilkinson was plagiarizing herself in these two chapbooks, indicating she
believes the plots to be “virtually identical and indicate how authors as well
as publishers had no qualms about ‘borrowing’ literary texts from others as
well as themselves” (14). Hoeveler writes, “Wilkinson’s The Castle Spectre:
An Ancient Baronial Romance is actually her second attempt to capitalize on
the popularity of Lewis’s 1797 drama The Castle Spectre”, naming as the
“other version” The Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors: a Gothic Story
(14). Yet while it is true that Wilkinson used the same main title for two
different books, they are not “virtually identical”: the plots, characters’
names, and setting of the story have no similarities. A potential reason for
the similar titles was that Wilkinson used the phrase “Castle Spectre” precisely
because of its popularity at the time to attract readers, despite the “Family
Horrors” version being a unique story.
On a separate note, the title page of The Castle Spectre; or, Family
Horrors includes a portion of a poem by John Langhorne. It appears to be an
edited stanza from a longer poem entitled “Fable VII. The Wall-flower” from his
collection of poems, The Fables of Flora (Johnson 447). It is unclear
whether the poem was adapted by Wilkinson or the publishing company, but the
poem alludes to the idea of remembrance and telling the stories of the dead.
This theme reflects in the story of Gertrude’s death and Richard’s journey of
Narrative Point of View
Spectre is, for the most
part, narrated in the third person by an anonymous narrator who is not present
in the plot. There are a few occasions throughout the story when the narrator
speaks in first-person plural, referencing the history of the story and its
translations. The narration follows the knight, Sir Richard, throughout the
entire story, and much of the chapbook contains dialogue and interpolated tales
spoken by a variety of the characters with whom Richard interacts, such as
Douglas. The narrative focuses more on plot and less on characters’ thoughts,
and the sentences are often long and descriptive. There is a bit of insight
into Richard’s feelings, but the narrator does not discuss other characters’
emotions unless the characters reveal their feelings aloud in dialogue. There
is also an instance where Sir Richard and Sir Kenelm exchange letters, which
are printed within the text in quotation marks; both Sir Richard and Sir Kenelm
refer to themselves in the third person in their letters. At times when Elenora
(also known as Gertrude) appears as a ghost, she also refers to herself in the
third person during her tales.
The moon, emerging from a black cloud just as he entered, enabled him to ascertain he was in a grand spacious hall, in the centre of which stood a large banquetting table He seized an extinguished taper, which he with difficulty lighted by the friction of some wood he found on the hearth. He had now an opportunity to observe the place more accurately. The table was laden with viands, some in a putrid state, some mouldering to powder; and to his eager view appeared vases filled with the juice of the generous grape. In a corner of the apartment he beheld the body of a man extended in death on the floor, the boards of which were stained with congealed blood. A murder had been committed here but a short time before. The sight of this did not alarm him; he knew not fear, but emotions of pity rose in his breast, for the unfortunate object before him, and a desire to develope the mysteries of the place he was in, prevailed over ever other consideration. (6)
First-Person Plural Narration:
But we must not anticipate in our story too much, and the Scottish manuscript from whence we translate, mentions some transactions that will better appear hereafter. In the mean time we must observe that after much consultation on these transactions, Lord Mackworth advised Sir Richard to appoint a meeting with Sir Kenelm at midnight. (16)
Sample of Sir
Richard’s Third-Person Letter to Sir Kenelm Cromar:
Sir Richard, brother to Lady Gertrude, returning from the Holy Wars, finds his venerable father mouldering into dust, brought to the grave by grief for the untimely fate of a beloved daughter, whose fair fame was basely called into question, and her dear life sacrificed to lawless love. —Sir Kenelm must account for this, and inform Sir Richard what is become of a dear sister. For which purpose Sir Richard challenges Sir Kenelm to meet him, in single combat, near that castle-gate where he, Sir Kenelm, banquetting with his new bride, beheld the injured shade of Lady Gertrude, when, for a slight offence, he stabbed his cupbearer. Eight days hence, exactly at the hour of twelve, Sir Richard will be there, with two of his most trusty friends. (16)
Sample of Sir Henry
Mackworth’s Interpolated Tale:
At his return to Palestine, finding I was in confinement, his generosity and friendship made him hazard his life to rescue me from my confinement. He succeeded beyond our most sanguine expectations. We continued together some time. We had but one heart, one purse, and were a pattern of friendship throughout camp and country. Clemena was often the subject of our conversation. I ventured to hint the inclination I felt for her, from his description and the picture I had seen. ‘Alas!’ said he, ‘I dare not flatter you with the least hope of success; my sister has been educated in a convent, and ever been intended by our parents for a nun, their fortune being too small to support us both in a manner suitable to our rank…’ I remonstrated with Vertolini on the cruelty of secluding a beloved sister, for life, within the dreary walls of a convent… (33).
The various types of
narration in The Castle Spectre allow for a deeper exploration of
different characters’ actions and emotions, as well as greater detail on the
setting and history of the story. The Castle Spectre utilizes several
techniques to augment suspense. On numerous occasions, the names of the
characters Richard meets are not revealed until the end of that individual’s
story, and the reveals often occur casually amidst the dialogue or narrative
with little emphasis. The reveal of the characters’ names has a great impact on
the entire plot, and the narration’s nonchalant delivery augments the suspense
and adds an element of surprise. As a result, many key details and surprises
are revealed suddenly and without foreshadowing. Though the narrator does not
touch on characters’ feelings often, the dialogue provides greater insight into
the different characters’ personalities and emotions. Because so many different
plots are embedded into the chapbook, the story is both engaging and, at times,
confusing: the chapbook is extremely fast-paced because so much action is
packed into each sentence, and in some cases it is difficult to follow the story
and to distinguish who is speaking or who characters are because the plot jumps
back and forth in time or between the different story lines. The moments of
first-person plural narration detail the story as if it were true by discussing
the sources from which the story was translated. These moments where the
narrator speaks as “we” directly to the reader, along with the detailed setting
and long rambling sentences, all conspire to make the story oral in feel, as if
being told to a friend.
Spectre follows the knight
Sir Richard over a period of several years. The story begins on a stormy night
in the Scottish Highlands. Sir Richard is traveling to his father’s castle in
the Grampian Mountains after a four-year deployment to the Holy War in
Palestine. He seeks shelter to ride out the storm, but no one will take him in.
In a flash of lightning, he sees the turret of a castle; he sounds his bugle
numerous times with no response, so he dismounts his horse and tries the door.
By chance, the door is unlocked, and Richard enters the banquet hall of the
castle. With only the moon and occasional flash of lightning to guide him, the
knight explores. The hall is filled with food and drink that appears to have
been placed there recently. In the corner of the hall lies the dead body of a
man; the floor is soaked with congealed blood. Sir Richard vows to unravel the
mystery of the catastrophe that occurred.
Sir Richard tours
the rest of the castle, which is magnificently decorated in gothic splendor. No
one is to be found and all is silent. He comes upon a great bed, and as he is
exhausted from his journey, he jumps in and falls into a deep sleep. At one
o’clock, a bell rings and Sir Richard wakes to the curtains of the bed being
ripped open. Standing at the foot of the bed bathed in blue light is a veiled
woman in a white dress. As he approaches her, the woman’s veil falls off and a
stream of blood gushes from a wound in her side. Richard looks into the woman’s
face, and it is none other than his sister! He calls to the apparition “by her
name Elenora” (though later in the story she is referred to predominantly as
Gertrude, with no explanation given for the shift in name) (7). Elenora the
apparition stands, not speaking, while holding her hand over the seemingly
fresh wound in her side. After repeated prodding, Elenora explains the story of
her brutal murder in the castle, revealing that two years after Richard left,
she married the owner of this castle, and in a fit of frenzy he stabbed her
(while she was pregnant) and left her corpse in a rubbish pile. Left to rot
without a proper Christian burial, she haunts her murderer and his new wife.
The scene that Richard came upon in the banquet hall was the remnants of their
wedding, which was ruined when Elenora appeared and terrorized the guests.
Finally, with a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning, Elenora vanishes in a
swirl of blue flame.
Shocked and overcome
with emotion, Sir Richard decides to leave and avenge his beloved sister. He
lets his horse take the reins on the way to his father’s estate and does not
realize the horse has gone down the wrong road. They come upon a cottage where
he is treated with great hospitality. The owner, Douglas, tells the story of
his childhood and time as a soldier, where he saved the life of the “worthy
nobleman, under whose banners I had enlisted” and was thus assured protection
and this cottage (11). Douglas explains that the nobleman has died and his son
is at war; he fears thar if he does not return, Sir Kenelm Cromar will take
over his estates and leave Douglas and his family to live out their days in
poverty. During this story, Douglas reveals the name of his former nobleman to
be Duncan, and Sir Richard reveals that Duncan was his father! This means that
Sir Richard is the son who has now returned home; the Douglas family rejoices.
Douglas’s story also reveals that Sir Kenelm’s first wife was Elenora (now
predominately referred to as Gertrude in the story). Upon Gertrude and Kenelm’s
marriage, Ally (Douglas’s daughter) moved into the castle where Sir Kenelm
“began to take great liberties with her” (12). Douglas says Lady Gertrude is
now missing and so is Ally. Because of Gertrude’s ghost’s daily visits, Sir
Kenelm and his new wife have moved to his hunting lodge so the castle remains
uninhabited. Sir Richard thanks Douglas and promises him a life of friendship
When he finally
arrives home, the servants rejoice at the return of their young lord. They tell
the knight all that has happened and grieve for the good young lady Gertrude
and their master Duncan. Enraged, Sir Richard vows to avenge her and lay her
body to rest in a Christian burial. He seeks out his father’s friend, Lord
Mackworth, and tells the man the story. Richard decides to challenge Sir Kenelm to
single combat, with Mackworth’s assistance. As part of their agreement,
Mackworth wants Sir Richard to marry his daughter and Sir Richard agrees. Sir
Kenelm accepts Richard’s request, mentioning that though it is illegal to fight
in this manner, he will do it anyways to honor the memory of the venerable
Duncan. Meanwhile, Kenelm sends a letter to the king, requesting that he send
men and imprison Richard before the fight occurs. Instead, the king decides the
two men will have an impartial hearing at his court and he will support
whichever cause is more just.
It is now the night
of combat, and the marshal Lord Glencairn asks if any last-minute
accommodations can be made. Richard declines, unless Sir Kenelm will admit to
murdering Gertrude and surrender to public justice. Kenelm refuses, saying that
Gertrude abandoned him for a lover, and Richard is about to stab him in rage
when suddenly, they are both commanded prisoners and summoned to the king’s
court. Before they leave with the soldiers, the clock strikes one and in a
swirl of thunder and lightning, Gertrude appears. She shares her story and
explains that three times now she has prevented Kenelm from murdering his new
wife. She requests a proper burial, asks Mackworth to protect Richard, and
vanishes in a thick blue flame amidst a crack of lightning and tremendous peal
of thunder. Richard breaks the silence and tells the soldiers to bring them to
the court, so that he can share the full story in front of the king. The
hearing occurs, and Kenelm is found guilty and sent to prison; he later has a
public trial and is condemned to death. Gertrude’s remains are recovered and
she has a proper burial; all the churches in the surrounding area hold masses
in her honor and her final wish is granted.
goes home. He keeps his house open to serve his father’s tenants, and the
neighboring nobility congratulate him on his return from the war and for
bringing Kenelm to justice. Nevertheless, Sir Richard is unhappy; he mourns the
loss of his father and sister and misses his lost love Lady Jane. The story now
shifts back many years, before Richard went to the Holy Land. He fell in love
with Mackworth’s daughter, Jane, and she waited for him to return from the war.
In the four years of his absence, Jane denied many marriage offers from wealthy
prospects, one of them being Lord Glendour. Finally, Richard returns and they
are set to marry. We learn that two years before Richard left, Mackworth’s son
went to war and never returned. They mourned his death, and Mackworth received
Richard as a son and the heir to his estates and domains. As they prepare for
the wedding at the Mackworth estate, Richard returns to his familial castle,
and in his absence, an unfortunate event occurs. One evening, Jane is kidnapped
while on a walk through the gardens. Mackworth sends news to Richard, who vows
never to return until he finds his love. He searches for weeks with no sign of
Jane, until he comes across a hut offering refreshments to travelers. The man
inside mentions that a gagged woman and man had come through just before and
were on their way to Italy. Richard chases them to the river’s edge and
resolves to follow them. For years, he traverses all of Italy, hopelessly
searching convents for his lover. He falls ill and almost dies from grief, but
dreams of Jane and vows to recover and free her.
The story jumps back
in time to Jane’s kidnapping, and it is revealed that Lord Glendour, one of
Kenelm’s friends, fell madly in love with her and kidnapped Jane to be with
her. He requests her hand in marriage, but she refuses. She tricks him into
allowing her to pass the time in a convent in Italy, where she is watched over
by the Lady Abbess and not allowed to leave. Back in the present, Richard meets
an English man in the middle of Venice. They become friends and visit the man’s
villa. Richard recognizes someone in one of the family pictures and asks the
man to share the story of why he left England. The man says the story is long,
but he has written it down for his children and will one day give Richard a
copy to read. After months of visits, Richard reads the man’s story and is
surprised by the similarities between them. The man, Wentworth, was the eldest
son of a noble house in England. He fell in love with a peasant girl Louisa,
and though he was promised to marry a noble woman Anna, he runs away with his
lover. He fakes illness and tells his father he will go to the Holy War; Louisa
goes with him, and they marry and have a son and daughter. He returns from the
war and vows to sort out his betrothal to Anna. Leaving his wife and children
in the protection of her father, he goes back to his paternal castle. He sets a
plan for his brother, William, to marry Anna instead, and it works. Elatedly,
Wentworth returns to the cottage and is devastated to find Louisa and his
infant son missing. They were tricked by a letter claiming to be from him, and
Wentworth suspects his own father to have sent it. For five years, Wentworth
and his daughter travel the world, though nothing can make him forget Louisa.
Receiving word of his father’s ill health, he returns to England. On his death
bed, Wentworth’s father reveals he sent Louisa to a convent in Italy, but she
escaped. Wentworth and his daughter go back to Italy to search for her, but he
never finds Louisa. He lives like a recluse in his villa, and this is where Richard
reenters the story.
Richard again visits
Wentworth. The man reveals he is Richard’s uncle but used a fake family name so
that he may retire in peace, away from the nobility. Richard explains that
during his search for Jane, he saw Louisa and her son in the Pyrenees.
Together, Richard and Wentworth begin their journey to the mountains to find
the long-lost wife and son. They come across a cottage that Richard had visited
before and reunite with Louisa and the son. Wentworth, now revealed to be
called Sir George, decides to return to his family home in England. Richard
promises to join them, if they can spare a few weeks for him to search for
One night on his
return to the Italian villa, Richard sees two criminals attacking a man. He
intervenes, and they admit they were hired by Count Vertolini to kill him.
Richard and the man go back to his house, so they may speak safely. The young
man then explains his story: he came from England to fight in the Holy War and
had a father and sister at home who he had not heard from in years. During the
war, he became great friends with an Italian man, Vertolini, who had a sister
named Clemena. The man falls in love with her, but is then taken prisoner in
Palestine. Four years later, Vertolini bribed the soldiers and freed his
friend, and they carry on their travels together. The Italian man reveals his
sister is promised to a convent, so she cannot be with his friend despite his
love for her. They meet the sister in Italy, where he becomes even more
enamored. Clemena admits she does not want to join the convent, but it is
necessary for her honor. Vertolini vows to save her before she takes the veil,
and the siblings try in vain to convince their father to free her. The father,
Count Vertolini, refuses the young man’s wedding proposal, and advises him to
leave Italy immediately. It is now revealed that the young man is Sir Henry
Mackworth, Lord Mackworth’s long lost son and Jane’s brother.
Back in the present,
Richard and Henry plan to rescue Clemena. While at the convent, a girl hands
the knight a note telling him to return at midnight to find something of great
importance. He listens, and that night, finds Lady Jane at the convent! She
explains her story and begs him to free her. Richard and Henry return to the convent
to demand her release, but the Lady Abbess refuses. The next day, Henry
interrupts the veiling ceremony and saves Clemena from the convent. Richard
goes back to England with Henry and Clemena, where he hurries to find
Mackworth. Together, they apply to the king and receive his royal mandate to
imprison Lord Glendour. The king sends word to the Pope, and Mackworth and Sir
Richard go back to Italy to retrieve a freed Jane. With Richard’s lover in tow,
they return to England. Wentworth lives in his castle with his family, there
are numerous weddings, Glendour dies in a convent, and Sir Richard is blessed
with years of happiness with Jane, Henry, Wentworth, and the others. They all
live happily ever after.
Frank, Frederick S. “A Gothic Romance.” Horror
Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide, by Marshall B. Tymn, New
York City, R.R. Bowker, 1981.
In this 1803 chapbook, Charlotte Frances Barrett (Frances Burney’s niece) writes a tale of adventure, surprise, and horror in which the righteous queen must be rescued from an evil usurper.
The Round Tower, Or the Mysterious Witness: An Irish Legendary Tale of the Sixth Century, by C. F. Barrett, is a gothic chapbook in the Sadleir-Black Collection of the University of Virginia Special Collections Library. The book is thirty-six pages, has no cover, and measures 17.3cm by 10.7cm. The front of the book is blank, save for the faint traces of ink that have bled through from the illustration next to the inside title page. Once the book is opened, an illustration of two cavaliers gesturing towards a godlike figure is observed along with the words “Vaughan delin” and “Barlow sculp” under the bottom left and right corners respectively. The illustration combines both etching and engraving and was printed from a copper plate. Additionally, the words “Round Tower” are written under the center of the illustration in a three-dimensional font. The inside title page follows the illustration and the author’s name is printed in the middle of the page in all capital letters. Beneath the author’s name is listed Barrett’s other publication: Mary Queen of Scots, Sc., and the quote, “Murder! Most foul, and Treachery most vile.” Farther down the inner title page, after the author’s name and credentials, is the publishing information and the words “Printed for Tegg and Castleman.”
The book is held together by glue binding; however, it is
worn and has lost its effect, leading to the book’s fragility. The binding used
to be accompanied by stitching that adhered the book to its cover as
illustrated by the holes in the sides of the pages closest to the spine, but
the cover has since fallen off, which contributes to the book’s tattered
The pages of the text are yellowed, have the texture of
sandpaper, and are splotchy, due to a chemical reaction that has occurred
between the chemicals in the paper and the environment in which the book is
stored. Moreover, the pages get increasingly brown beginning at page 25, and
appear more weathered than the pages at the beginning and middle of the text.
On each page, the text is centered and situated between margins
that are slightly larger on the top and bottom than the left and right. Each
page has the words “THE ROUND TOWER” printed in the center of the top margin
and the page number in the bottom left corner right under the text. The text is
small, closely set, and sophisticated with a font that appears similar to Times
The Round Tower boasts markings made by potential
previous owners. The first and second occur on page 11. In the bottom margin is
a signature written in cursive, however, it has faded and is therefore
illegible. At the top of page 11 in the right-hand margin, the initials LB are
written in cursive, insinuating that the book was once owned by an individual
before coming into the Sadleir-Black Collection. Finally, there is a blotch of
blue ink two-thirds of the way down page 25.
The Round Tower, Or the Mysterious Witness: An Irish
Legendary Tale of the Sixth Century, by C. F. Barrett, was published by
Tegg and Castleman in London in 1803; this appears to be the only edition and
there are no digital copies. Interestingly, the book is a plagiarism of John
Palmer’s popular gothic novel, The Mystery of the Black Tower (Tymn 41).
This tale is set in the time period of Edward the III and depicts the life of
Leonard, a young boy who earns knighthood and must embark on an adventure to
save his love, Emma, from imprisonment in the Black Tower. Published in 1796, The
Black Tower was influenced by Don Quixote as well as Clara Reeve’s The
Old English Baron and is still billed as “among the finest historical
Gothic novels” (“The Mystery of the Black Tower (1796)”).
Plagiarisms were very common among chapbooks at this time.
Francesca Saggini suggests that The Round
Tower was also inspired by contemporary theatrical performances. Saggini
characterizes Barrett as a “prolific hack … who adapted to the page several
Gothic spectacles performed … at popular London venues” (120). The
frontispiece of The Round Tower depicts the dramaticism of the
appearance of the supernatural apparition and the animated reflections of the
onlookers, thus illustrating how the gothic genre was influenced by performance
yet also available to readers “at a cheap price and in the safety of their own
homes” (Saggini 122). The frontispiece is also displayed in Frederick Frank’s
article “Gothic Gold: The Sadleir-Black Gothic Collection”along with a
description of the work that describes the book as a thrilling “Macbethian
Gothic” that includes dramatized supernatural elements (18).
Charlotte Frances Barrett, author of The Round Tower,
produced pamphlets between 1800 and 1810 and authored stories including, as
compiled by Franz Potter: The Great Devil’s Tale; or, The Castle of Morbano
included in Canterbury Tales (1802), The Mysterious Vision; or,
Perfidy Punished in the New Collection of Gothic Stories (1801), a
translation of The Shipwreck, or, The Adventures, Love, and Constancy, of
Paul and Virginia (1800), Douglas Castle; or, The Cell of Mystery. A
Scottish Tale (1803) for Arthur Neil, and Laugh when You Can; or, The
Monstrous Droll Jester (1800) for Ann Lemoine (104-5n). Barrett was also
the niece of Frances Burney (1752–1840), well-known author of Evelina (1778)
and Cecilia (1782).
Thomas Tegg (1776–1846), who published The Round Tower, was
a bookseller and publisher in London who specialized in “reprints,
out-of-copyright publications, remainders, and cheap satirical prints” (“Thomas
Tegg”). He also published accounts of shipwrecks that included engraved folding
frontispieces (Weiss 60). Tegg and Castleman were prolific: “between 1802 and
1805, Tegg and Castleman co-published at least nineteen novelettes in
collaboration with Dugdale” (Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber 26). Potter calls Tegg
“the most prominent, if not notorious, publisher of gothic chapbooks and
pamphlets in the early nineteenth century” (59).
Point of View
The Round Tower is narrated by an omniscient narrator
who has insight into the thoughts and actions of each character. The story is
narrated in a venerable tone using lengthy sentences that are broken up by
punctuation. The narration primarily focuses on the emotions of the characters
and how they influence the characters’ dispositions and behaviors. Additionally,
the narrator relays the tale with great expressivity by contextualizing every
event in the story with dramatic and detailed descriptions.
Enraged at her firmness, Sitric seized the infant, and, drawing his poignard, he raised his arm in order to plunge it in the bosom of the latter, when, driven to desperation, she rushed on the perfidious Dane, and, wrestling the fatal weapon from him, would have plunged it in his heart, but at that moment the door of the dungeon flew open, and Cobthatch, attended by the vindictive Connora, rushed in, followed by several of the usurper’s guards. Appalled at the sudden appearance of her husband’s enemy, the poignard fell from the hand of Moriat, which Connora instantly seized, fearful (in despite of her lord’s neglect) lest in a paroxysm of despair Moriat might yet use it against his life. (19)
The narrator’s omniscience allows for multiple characters’
perspectives to be included in the relation of the book, which illustrates
their motives, ambitions, and values to add nuance and intricacy to the tale.
Likewise, the multitude of punctuation functions to provide the narrator with
inflection and gives the impression that the book is being told as a story. The
narrator’s emphasis on the characters’ feelings centers the driving force of
the plot around emotion and asserts its power as a motivating force behind the
characters’ actions. Furthermore, the descriptive and intensified manner in
which the book is narrated creates a theatrical tone that results in an
Cobthatch, King of Munster, is listening to music in an attempt to
calm his anxiety about the fact that he has unjustly obtained the throne by
killing his uncle, Laughair. He is then notified that Maon and Moriat, the son
of his murdered uncle and his wife, are still alive, and orders his associate,
Sitric, to ensure their execution. However, Maon and Moriat do not know the
other is alive.
Meanwhile, Moriat is in the mountains where she has been able to
secure lodging. One day when she is mourning the loss of Maon, who she thinks
is deceased, she carves his name into a nearby rock. While doing so, she is
startled by a man approaching her, but then realizes it is Kildare, her loyal
attendant. He recalls his experience venturing out to secure provisions and
tells Moriat the story of how he discovered Maon. He recollects that he heard a
groan and was convinced it was a ghost, but then realized it was Maon, who at
the time had drawn his sword with the intention of committing suicide. Kildare
caught the Lord before he impaled himself, and they embraced upon their
reunion. Maon immediately wanted to be shown to Moriat, but Kildare convinced
him the sudden shock would be too much for her to bear and convinced Maon to wait
until he could deliver the news.
Upon hearing that her husband is alive, Moriat waits the entire
night for his return with their child at her side, but Maon never shows.
Instead, Moriat is pursued and cornered by Cobthatch’s guards, who take her to
Sitric’s castle where she and her infant are detained in the dungeon. Sitric is
enamored by Moriat’s beauty and wants to spare her from death at the hand of
Cobthatch. He therefore goes to Cobthatch and makes up a story where he states
that Moriat refused to reveal Maon’s location and therefore, he stabbed her.
This satisfies the king, and he is happy to know he will not have to worry
about her raising suspicion. When Sitric returns to the dungeon where Moriat is
being held, he asks that in return for him sparing her life, she complies with
all his future demands. She responds that she will not break her marriage vows,
but that someday her son will be able to repay him. Sitric, infuriated by her
lack of compliance, chains her infant to the opposite wall. He returns the
following night, and when Moriat again refuses to comply, he gives her an
ultimatum that if she does not obey, both her and her baby’s life will suffer
In the meantime, Sitric’s wife, Connora, suspects that her husband
is devoted to another, and devises a plan to observe him. She disguises herself
and follows him to the dungeon where she overhears his conversation with
Moriat, thus confirming her suspicions. Sitric returns to visit Moriat and is
on the verge of stabbing her infant out of anger at her firmness, when Connora
and Cobthatch enter the room. Cobthatch, enraged at discovering that Moriat is
alive, demands that she and her baby be removed to the Round Tower.
While Moriat was captured, Kildare and Maon encountered troops, causing
a delay in their visit to reunite with her. When they venture out the next
morning, they see Sitric’s party in the distance and Kildare suggests they
retire to the cottage of a loyal friend, O’Brian, until they can gather a party
large enough to overpower Sitric’s army.
Once at the cottage, Kildare relates the adventures of Maon and
Moriat since the death of Laughair to O’Brian. He recalls that Laughair had
stayed at the castle of Cobthatch when he was murdered, and that Maon and
Moriat, being accused of the crime, fled to O’Brian’s cottage. Here they were
discovered, which resulted in Moriat fleeing to the mountains and Maon
embarking on a ship that was said to have capsized, leading Moriat to believe
In an effort to rescue Moriat, Maon resolves to enter Sitric’s
castle disguised as a friar and embarks on his journey. Once he arrives, Maon
encounters Sitric, who relates the story of Moriat’s captivity from the
perspective of her savior and offers to lead Maon to the Round Tower. The next day,
as Sitric leads Maon through the passageways, he decides to kill him.
Immediately before he stabs him, the ghost of Laughair appears and instructs
Sitric to lead Maon safely to the dungeon, or else he would face his vengeance.
Once at the door, Maon and Sitric discover Cobthatch attempting to rape Moriat,
leading Sitric to stab and kill him. Sitric then accuses Maon of the murder and
has him taken prisoner. Because of the death of Cobthatch, Sitric is crowned
Following Cobthatch’s murder, Sitric offers Moriat the freedom of
her husband and child if she agrees to have sex with him. At this moment,
Laughair’s ghost reappears and tells Moriat not to trust the tyrant, and she
complies with his instructions and holds firm.
Later that evening, Sitric discovers that Moriat has escaped,
accuses Maon of aiding her to freedom, and orders the execution of him and his
child. The moment before the axe is to execute Maon, Sitric tells him that if
he resigns his title to Moriat and tells him her location, Maon will be spared.
He refuses and at that moment, Kildare enters the courtyard with a band of
peasants and enters into combat with Sitric’s men. While Sitric is engaged in
fighting, Moriat stabs him, which causes his troops to disperse.
After the death of Sitric, Kildare presents to the nobles that
Maon should be king, and when asked for proof of his innocence, the ghost of
Laughair appears for the final time to declare that Maon is the rightful heir
of Munster, and he is crowned king.
Once Maon and Moriat are restored to the throne, Moriat retells
that she escaped because the ghost of Laughair led her to the cottage where
Kildare was staying. Once she arrived, Kildare had assembled an army of
peasants ready to restore the true king to power.
Maon and Moriat enjoy a life full of joy and peace together, and
his rule becomes known for its justice and serves as an example to other
Barrett, Charlotte Frances. The Round Tower,
Or the Mysterious Witness: An Irish Legendary Tale of the Sixth Century. London,
Tegg and Castleman, 1803.
Frank, Frederick. “Gothic Gold: The
Sadleir-Black Gothic Collection.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture,
vol. 26, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1997, pp. 287–312.
Loeber, Rolf, and Magda Stouthamer-Loeber.
“The Publication of Irish Novels and Novelettes: A Footnote on Irish Gothic
Fiction.” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text, 10th ed., e Centre
for Editorial and Intertextual Research, Cardiff, Wales, 2003, pp. 17–44. http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/romtextv2/files/2013/02/cc10_n02.pdf
Potter, Franz J. Gothic Chapbooks,
Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers: 1797–1830. University of Wales Press,
Saggini, Francesca. The Gothic Novel and
The Stage: Romantic Appropriations. Routledge, Taylor Et Francis Group,
Set in England and published in 1827, The Twin Sisters warns of the sexual improprieties of men, cautioning that men lead to the destruction of women, unless women are resilient in their actions.
The book containing The Twin Sisters; or, Two Girls of Nineteen: Being the Interesting Adventures of Sophia and Charlotte Melford. An Affecting Narrative by “Charlotte, one of the sisters” is a small 9.1cm by 14.15cm worn book. The book contains seventy-two pages total: pages three through forty-two detail the story of the twin sisters and the remaining thirty pages recount Orphan of the Castle: a Gothic Tale, or the Surprising History and Vicissitudes of Allan Fitz-Roberts, the Orphan Heir of the Castle of Lindisfarne by an unknown author.
This desaturated teal-colored hardcover book is discolored by light warm-brown staining. The discoloration is most exaggerated on the bottom edge of the book. The front cover has a thin crack halfway up the page, starting from the right side, tapering off until it reaches a cool dark-brown freckle near the middle of the book. This dark splotch is the most distinctive out of many, most likely unintentional, freckles splattering the cover, giving the book an aged appearance. There is also a 0.5cm in diameter distinctive stain in the upper left-hand corner, rimmed thinly with a warm dark-brown and filled with a cool-blue grey. The stain resembles a hippopotamus’s head with a small protrusion where the neck should be, giving the appearance of a small gourd.
The binding is exceedingly damaged. The book, bound similarly to modern hardcovers, has a cardboard-like substance acting as the base, wrapped in a colored paper to attach the front hardcover with the back. The desaturated orange-brown colored cardboard-like substance peaks from the corners of the book where the teal paper covering has worn through. The paper cover folds over the edges of the hardback and a rectangle of white paper, now discolored with age, pastes over it to secure it. Only severely degraded paper covers the spine. The spine is intact from the bottom until 8.2cm up from the bottom, where it is torn off completely until 11.5cm up from the bottom. A few centimeters of the paper remain attached, but only attached to the left edge of the spine. In the binding of the pages, some type of adhesive glue adhered each edge of the paper together with a thin bit of string threaded through all of the pages in three places near the center of the inner margin or gutter of the book. Each puncture falls one centimeter apart.
The paper, brittle and browned from age, has the most browning along its edges. On the first page, an 8 by 3cm rectangle-shaped discoloration appears in the middle of the page. A few of the pages are ripped, but only along the bottom edge, including the first page, resulting in a brown staining its negative on the third page. A few of the odd-numbered pages are marked below the text with signature marks used by a printer; the marks appear as a combination of letters and the number 2, ranging from A2 to D2 in The Twin Sisters. The Orphan of the Castle has more damage to the paper detailing its story than The Twin Sisters. The damage evokes the interaction between watercolor paint and salt, giving the pages a speckled appearance.
When looking at a standard spread of The Twin Sisters, the thirty-four lines of text are fully justified causing the spacing between words to be on average narrower than standard. The margins are consistent at 1cm on the bottom and outside edge with the top margin 1.5cm to leave adequate room for “The Two Girls” above the text on the left page, and “Of Nineteen” above the text on the right page. All of the pages are numbered, except for the first page of The Orphan of the Castle and the first three pages of the book: the title page, the blank back of the title page, and the first page of The Twin Sisters.
Beyond a mostly illegible scrawl of what appears to be the name “Mr. Wyllis” in the top left corner of the inside of the cover, and the University of Virginia Library bookplate, there are no illustrations, marginalia, or personal marks in the book. Neither is the title of either story listed anywhere apart from the title page and the first page of each respective story. On the opening page of each story, each of the titles is shortened from their full form inscribed in the title page to just the primary title, without its subtitle.
The title page attributes Charlotte Melford, the narrator of the story, as the author of The Twin Sisters; or, Two Girls of Nineteen: Being the Interesting Adventures of Sophia and Charlotte Melford. An Affecting Narrative; however, this is spurious, as the far-fetched story is a work of fiction. There are no other authors listed in any available copies of the book, except one WorldCat entry erroneously listing the publisher, Freeman Scott, as the author.
The copy held at the University of Virginia Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library was published in 1827 by Freeman Scott, with premises on the N.W. Corner of Tenth and Race Streets, Philadelphia. There was another publication of this story produced in London and “printed and sold by Dean & Munday, 35, Threadneedle Street” (as noted on its title page); this copy has been digitized and made available on Google Books, which lists the date at 1830, though this date is not shown anywhere on the scan of the book. The two copies are very similar in most regards but differ substantially in some ways. The Freeman Scott version is one of two stories in the chapbook, with the other being Orphan of the Castle, and The Twin Sisters accounts for pages 3 through 42; by contrast, the Dean and Munday edition was published alone and accounts for pages 8 through 36 of its book. The difference in page count is primarily due to what appears to be differences in margin size as well as page size; the body of the text is largely the same. There are, however, some discrepancies in the text, especially with punctuation. The two editions have very little consistency between their punctuations with over six changes between the two editions on the corresponding text of the first page of the Scott edition alone. Occasionally, there are also some changes in word choice: for instance, page six of the Scott edition uses “written” while the corresponding section of the Dean and Munday edition uses “wrote” on page nine. Or, later, in the same sentence, the Scott edition uses “house” while the Dean and Munday edition uses “home.” There are also some cases where there is an entire half of a sentence or full sentence present in the Dean and Munday edition that is missing in the Scott edition, such as the inclusion of “to go with her; my father she said, was visited by dissolute men in whose company it would be imprudent for us to mix” at the end of a sentence on page ten in the Dean and Munday edition but not the Scott edition. Perhaps most notably, the Dean and Munday edition includes an illustration of the scene where Charlotte is taken from her lodgings by the police as the frontispiece before the title page; this illustration is absent in the Scott edition.
WorldCat also lists several other editions with various publication years, all attributed to Charlotte Melford. For instance, WorldCat lists an 1821 edition that is twelve pages long and was published for wholesale and retail in New York at 386, Broadway, W. Grattan Printer by S. King, and sold at his bookstore. There is only one library with this 1821 edition: the University of Iowa Library.
WorldCat lists an 1823 edition that was published for wholesale and retail in New York by W. Borradaile. This copy is one of the earliest editions and does not have the attached Orphan of the Castle story. This version is thirty-six pages long and includes an illustration.
WorldCat also identifies an edition with an unspecified publication date in the 1800s, and Jstor lists the date for this version as somewhere between 1814 and 1837. This edition was printed in London “for the booksellers, and for J. Kendrew, Colliergate, York.” In the WorldCat entry, James Kendrew is listed as one of the named persons in the book twice alongside Sophia and Charlotte, even though he never appears in the book. This copy appears to be similar to the Dean and Munday edition as the story spans pages 8 through 36 and has a front plate illustration like the Dean and Munday edition; however, this version is listed as being one centimeter smaller (19cm compared to 20cm). The University of York Library, in the United Kingdom, is the only library with a copy of this edition. There is a scan of this book on Jstor, in the form of a photograph of each page spread, showing that it is very similar to the Dean and Munday version of the book as the punctuation and general length and spacing of the book appear to be consistent. There is however a difference in the fonts on the title page and the image on the page before. The image in this University of York version is not colored and depicts the sisters together before they depart on their trip to London. The covers of both books also appear to be a warm brown color, however, the image of the University of York version is more degraded than the image of the Dean and Munday edition available on Google Books. The Kendrew edition of the book most likely contains another story after it within the same physical book, since in the Jstor scan the last page of text is on the left, leaving the right page blank, allowing for the ink from the image on the back of the page to show through. Furthermore, visually, there appear to be numerous pages left in the book.
Fourteen libraries in the world, including the University of Virginia Library, have a copy of the 1827 Scott edition of this book according to WorldCat, with thirteen of the fourteen being in the United States and the last copy being in Canada. The copy of the Scott edition that is owned by the New York Public Library was digitized on January 19th, 2007 onto Google Books where it can be read for free. This copy is the exact same, textually, as the Scott edition owned by the University of Virginia; however, the cover and physical quality are distinct, since the New York Public Library version appears to be in better physical condition and has a harder warm-brown cover as opposed to the worn discolored teal of the University of Virginia version. There is an odd speckling on the first few pages of the New York digitized version that is absent in the physical University of Virginia version.
There is also another book about the sisters called The Sisters, or, Virtue Triumphant : Being the Eventful History of Sophia & Charlotte Melford, which is depicted as authored by Charlotte and Sophia Melford and available on Google Books; other library catalogues, including McGill Library’s Chapbook Collection, New York Public Library Catalogue, and WorldCat just list Charlotte Melford as the author. According to WorldCat, The Sisters, or, Virtue Triumphant was printed by Hodgson & Co. in London at No. 10, Newgate-Street, sometime between 1822 and 1824, indicating that this story predates most but not all editions of The Twin Sisters. From the frontispiece of The Sisters depicted on a scan from the McGill Library, the story appears similar to that of The Twin Sisters in that they share the same general plot points: the smugglers in the sisters’ room dressed as women, Charlotte being taken by the constables, Charlotte and the Colonel, and Sophia being turned to the street (The Sisters 1). The McGill Library catalog entry notes the book is written by Robert Cruikshank, but he is most likely the illustrator of the images.
There are newer publications of The Twin Sisters—with Kessinger Publishing, LLC republishing The Twin Sisters in 2010 and Forgotten Books republishing it in 2018—that can be purchased on several online websites such as Amazon, eBay, and Better World Books.
Narrative Point of View
Charlotte, one of the sisters, narrates The Twin Sisters in the first-person point of view. The narration of the plot is fast paced, with many brief summaries of long periods of time, oftentimes spanning several years, but, at the same time, Charlotte imbues the story with haughty, verbose language in some instances, giving it a formal feel. The chapbook is told in the past tense, making it seem like a story Charlotte is reflecting on and sharing with the readers rather than being more present in the action. This gives the narration a detached sense, which is compounded by the formal titles that she calls every character. She refers to everyone in the book, except her aunt Emma, Sophia, and Susan by their formal names, her close friends, her husband (she calls him Colonel Woodly or colonel), and even people whom she despises. Charlotte focuses primarily on her actions and interactions with people rather than going in-depth about her thought processes or feelings. There is minimal dialogue throughout the novel, with paraphrasing of dialogue more common.
The coach went on with rapidity, and I found in a short time that we had left town, and were proceeding along a road that appeared very dreary. I became seriously alarmed, though, to speak with justice of his lordship, he did not offer to take the least unbecoming liberty. He felt my hand tremble, and bade we dismiss my fears, that we were only going a little way beyond Bayswater, and were near our journey’s end. We stopped at a neat white house, the coachman was ordered to knock, but the summons was several times repeated with violence before the door was opened; nor was that done till a female demanded in a harsh discordant voice, who was there at such an hour? And discovered Lord Morden to be the intruder. (21)
It seems as though Charlotte is trying to prop herself up with the narration, since, by using her extensive vocabulary to create a more complex twist on a simple narrative, she is showing off her intelligence and education. She was born into a lower-class family but was given a genteel education by her aunt, so she is trying to use this education to distinguish herself from these lower classes and establish her place in the upper class of her husband. Relatedly, she refers to people in higher social classes than herself in more formal ways, regardless of her personal feelings about them, and calls people at or below her social class by their informal first names, indicating that they are beneath her. Charlotte distances herself from this story throughout her narration; the writing is closed off and impersonal in most instances, not demonstrating the emotions of terror, disgust, loneliness, and joy. She seems to breeze past her emotions, mentioning a slight hand tremble and feeling “seriously alarmed” but then immediately changing the subject or focusing on the actions of the scene rather than her perceptions of it, as though they are nothing. This generates the distance between the events of the story and the narration, and also functions as a form of protective emotional detachment.
Charlotte, one of the sisters, begins The Twin Sisters with the purpose of the story: a warning to the “fairer sex” about the “delusive arts” of men (2). The Twin Sisters then briefly describes the background of the sisters’ family, detailing the tragedy of their lives and history of issues with financial support. Their mother dies in a horseback riding accident, pushing their father into a grief-fueled sickness from which he eventually dies. His death leaves the girls penniless under the guardianship of their aunt until she too dies a few years later.
The girls receive a letter from Mrs. Mowbray, a friendly neighbor one summer, offering one of them a job as a nanny in London to a rich family, the Aspleys. Having no real opportunities, they accept and venture on their journey to London.
They stop for the night at a crowded inn and are forced to share a room with two other female travelers, who they later discover to be male smugglers in disguise. These men come into the rooms after their late dinner while Sophia is sleeping and while Charlotte is pretending to sleep. Charlotte overhears them consider raping her and her sister before they drunkenly fall asleep. Much to Charlotte’s relief, the smugglers’ coach arrives before they have the chance to hurt either of the sisters.
The rest of their trip to London is uneventful. Upon their arrival, they are summoned by Mrs. Mowbray to meet the wealthy Lady Aspley. On the advice of Mrs. Mowbray, she chooses Sophia for the nannying position, but Charlotte remains living with Mrs. Mowbray.
Charlotte becomes apprehensive as the company Mrs. Mowbray keeps acts more rudely and obscenely than how she expected people of their supposed standings to behave. When she questions Mrs. Mowbray about it, she just calls her a “pretty innocent rustic,” stating that this behavior is normal for townsfolk (16). In an attempt to confirm her apprehensions, Charlotte tries to visit Sophia to compare their experiences. Mrs. Mowbray informs her that is impossible as Lady Aspley’s household, along with Sophia, had moved to Margate so their sick child could sea-bathe. When Charlotte tries to leave anyway, she is stopped by Mrs. Mowbray and some of her servants. They lock Charlotte in her bedroom, causing her to realize she and Sophia were betrayed by Mrs. Mowbray.
From a servant, Susan, who brings her food, Charlotte finds out that Mrs. Mowbray is a sex trafficker, or rather a “procuress who was employed by (to use [the servants] own words) very great gentlemen to ensnare young girls” (17). The servant also informs Charlotte that a man named Lord Morden paid Mrs. Mowbray to set this trap specifically for her as he had taken a fancy towards her. After this revelation, Charlotte bribes Susan to help her escape; Charlotte sneaks out of the room, but faints from fear and wakes up in the arms of Lord Morden. He asks her to give him her affection and to live with him. Charlotte declines his offer, stating she is imprisoned because of him, so why would she want to be with him. When he offers to free her from Mrs. Mowbray, she agrees to go with him as, in her mind, it was better to be content with him than to live enslaved to the “vile” Mrs. Mowbray (21).
Lord Morden then takes her to the house of his former mistress, Matilda, whose life he ruined after taking her innocence, and asks her to watch over Charlotte for a few days. Charlotte is furious as she feels imprisoned again, so she asks to leave. Matilda, partly because of her jealousy towards Charlotte and Lord Morden’s relationship and partly because of her anger towards Lord Morden, agrees to let her go.
Charlotte flees Matilda’s house and finds shelter at a boarding house where she is subsequently falsely arrested for forgery the next day. The victim of the forgery, Mr. Newton, comes to identify her, but brusquely proclaims Charlotte’s innocence. He then offers to take Charlotte back to her room at the boarding house to collect her things. In the carriage ride, he solicits her for sex as he believes her to be a prostitute. Charlotte is horrified by the offer and demands to be let out of the coach. On his refusal, she starts screaming, causing the coach to stop to make sure everything is alright. Charlotte uses this chance to escape.
Charlotte stops at a toy store to rest from her vigorous dash away from the carriage. The owner, a nice old woman named Mrs. Brent, agrees to provide her room and board. Charlotte then gets a job as an English teacher with connections from her bank. Things seem to be looking her way, until one day Charlotte runs into Sophia on a walk. Sophia tells her that she should have yielded to Lord Morden as she would be safe from the danger of the world. Sophia then goes on to share her experiences in the time they were apart and how happy she is with her place in life. Mrs. Mowbray introduced Sophia to a wealthy man named Mr. Greville. He raped her, took her on as his mistress, and is now supporting her lavish lifestyle financially.
Some time passes before her next interaction with Sophia in the form of a letter asking for a meeting. Sophia looks like a wreck; Mr. Greville found a new mistress and abandoned her, forcing her into prostitution, but she still refused to accept Charlotte’s help. She says she is content and happy with her life, that she has time to repent after she retires.
Time passes and Charlotte falls in love with Mrs. Brent’s nephew, Colonel Woodly. Despite the fact that he likes her as well, she feels the marriage is one of unequals. She will sully his reputation with marriage and his mother would never agree to it. His mother, however, overhears this conversation and agrees immediately to the union. They marry and have a successful marriage with two children.
Three years after the marriage, Mrs. Brent arrives, announcing that she found Sophia passed out in the streets and took her in. Sophia had experienced all of the degradations that came with prostitution: she was abandoned by her pimp; sick, penniless, with nothing more than the clothes on her back. Charlotte then helps care for her physically and spiritually. She now lives a very pious, peaceful life in South Wales.
The Twin Sisters, or, Two Girls of Nineteen : Being the Interesting Adventures of Sophia & Charlotte Melford. An Affecting Narrative. London : Printed for the booksellers and for J Kendrew Colliergate York, pp. 1–17, https://jstor.org/stable/10.2307/community.29959877.
Set in a secluded castle in 1517 northern England, Sarah Wilkinson’s 1805 chapbook includes romance, jealousy, friendship, and mystery.
Monkcliffe Abbey, A Tale of the Fifteenth Century, To which is added, Lopez and Aranthe; or, The Suicide. By the same author was published in 1803 by Kaygill & Adcock, and written by Sarah Wilkinson. It was printed by W. Glindon in Haymarket, London, and sold for sixpence. The extant copy was originally printed as a chapbook, but later rebound into a collection of similar stories entitled The Entertainer, vol. 4. A handwritten table of contents, including titles, authors, and publishers, is included on the front endpaper. Page numbers are not included; due to the separate origins of each story, the numbers (along with fonts, margin sizes, and layouts) restart with each new chapbook. This volume of The Entertainer contains six chapbooks and sixteen unique stories, including Canterbury Tales.
This copy is bound in a kind of thick cardboard material, covered with paper, and decoratively mottled in black and brown, protected by a clear plastic jacket for use in the library. It measures approximately 18.5 centimeters long by 11 centimeters wide. The spine is embossed in gold with the title, The Entertainer, which appears nowhere else in the book, and with embellishments on the spine’s edges and middle. This copy was bound with twine and glue, which is now quite delicate. The edges of the cover and spine are somewhat broken in, especially on the bottom of the spine, where the cardboard cover is beginning to crack off. Inside, the paper is yellowed and thin, but not brittle. Although the paper is discolored, it is not frequently stained—some small, splattered marks appear at intervals. The paper has an almost fabric-like texture, and is delicate while maintaining flexibility. Some pages are torn and folded, likely accidentally—none are dog-eared or torn completely out. In this copy, Monkcliffe Abbey is printed in a small serif font, with margins of two centimeters at top and bottom and one centimeter on the sides. Page numbers are found on the top outside corner of each page, printed in the same serif as the prose. The story is twenty-two pages long. The title page of the Monkcliffe Abbey chapbook lists the full title, including the addition of The Suicide. Every other instance of the title’s printing abbreviates it to only Monkcliffe Abbey, both on the first page of the story and in the handwritten table of contents. The author’s name is written as “S. Wilkinson” on the title page and in the table of contents, and as “Sarah Wilkinson” on the first page of the story. The title page also includes two illustrations, a larger one representing two women discovering a monk, and a smaller one under the title, with a man, right arm raised, walking up to a woman playing a sort of lute. The larger image has created a shadow of itself on the title page opposite. In the front of the book, an address card is inserted. Formal script on the front reads “Mrs. M.T.H. Sadler,” with an address included on its bottom left corner. The back reads “Oswick the Outlaw,” which has been handwritten in blue ink.
Monkcliffe Abbey is one of Sarah Wilkinson’s lesser-known gothic stories, frequently left unmentioned in lists of her work and life achievements. There are two copies available through the library system at the University of Virginia. One of these copies, primarily discussed here, was published by “Kaygill, etc.” in London, in 1805, and rebound into a collection of gothic novels at a later date. The other was printed across the Atlantic, by James Oram in New York City, two years later. The full novel is also available online through scans of the collection America’s Historical Imprints. This online version is the later, American printing. There does not appear to be much discrepancy between the two copies, other than the specifics of their publication and their titles: the version published in New York by James Oram is entitled Monkcliffe Abbey, or, the History of Albert, Elwina, and Adeline, while the one published in London by Kaygill uses Monkcliffe Abbey: A Tale of the Fifteenth Century instead.
Monkcliffe Abbey is very rarely mentioned, either in collections of gothic works or works by Sarah Wilkinson, who was a prolific author of the genre. One exception can be found in The Gothic Ideology: Religious Hysteria and Anti-Catholicism in British Popular Fiction, 1780–1880, where Diane Hoeveler discusses the text’s use of the abbey as a gothic trope:
“Sarah Wilkinson’s ‘Monkcliffe Abbey’ (1805) is an example of a chapbook that uses the abbey in order to dwell on the usurpation theme. Very specifically dated to 1517, the action begins the year that Sir Archibald Barnett retires to the former Carthusian abbey in the north of England with his wife and two daughters Adeline and Elwina… The abbey is the setting for a traditional romance between the daughters and their suitors, one of whom is fleeing a friend turned foe who disguises himself as a cowled monk in order to inhabit one of the ‘haunted’ wings of the abbey (Wilkinson, 2009: 185). An architectural description of the abbey suggests the antiquarian investment in the theme by a writer as simple and straightforward as Wilkinson. The ruined abbey functions in this chapbook as little more than a picturesque setting, but it possesses considerably more ideological freight in a work by such a writer as Nathan Drake.” (218–19)
The story is also mentioned in Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression by Kenneth Graham, in a list of Gothic illustrations. The illustration from Monkcliffe Abbey is the same title page engraving found in its London-printed edition, of “Adeline and Elwina in the typical Gothic situation of startled discovery” (Frank 287). This illustration is reprinted in Franz Potter’s collection of gothic chapbooks, many written by Sarah Wilkinson, Literary Mushrooms: Tales of Horror and Fiction from the Gothic Chapbooks, 1800–1830.
Narrative Point of View
Monkcliffe Abbey is narrated in the third person, past tense, and without a framing story. The narrator is never mentioned or alluded to within the novel. The text is fairly straightforward, but sentences are lengthy and full of information. The narration focuses equally on dialogue, action description, and omniscient insight into the characters’ inner thoughts and feelings.
Elwina presently observed that the hand writing was the same—with the paper she had found in the chapel.—she was struck with horror and astonishment, when she reflected, that, perhaps, this victim of sorrow ere now had died through grief; or, perhaps, had committed some rash deed!—But, fearful of indulging her thoughts in this dismal place,—she deposited the paper with the picture on the shelf,—and returned with emotions of sorrow. (18)
One striking aspect of this narration is its use of punctuation. Especially in the above, quite active example, the exaggerated, slicing punctuation marks create a sense of quickness, motion, and finality. Throughout the text, this visual aspect—literally slicing between sentence fragments—is seen in more active scenarios, mirroring the choppy, frightened thoughts of the characters and creating a fast-paced feel.
The time for Albert’s departure being arrived, he claimed a gift from each of the ladies. Adeline presented him with a scarf of her own work, which he instantly bound round his bosom: Elwina presenting him with a ring from her finger; and, in a faultering voice, besought him to remember her father.—There was something so tender and pathetic in her manner, that it touched the strings of Albert’s heart,—at once with pity and respect for the lovely maiden. (15)
In more tender or calm scenes, such as this second example, the use of dashes has been reduced, although not completely halted. The more flowery, emotional, and flowing language of the second example serves to slow down the scene, emphasizing the tender and soft qualities of the characters in that moment. Even though the story is narrated in the third person, the omniscience of the narrator and the careful use of punctuation creates a sense of immersion.
Monkcliffe Abbey tells the story of a family living in seclusion in a sixteenth-century abbey according to the wishes of Sir Archibald Barnett, a retired warrior, and his wife, Lady Barnett. Along with their two young daughters and a small domestic staff, they live completely shut off from the outside world; no one is allowed to enter, and those who inhabit are only allowed to travel a short distance from the grounds of the abbey. Adeline Barnett, the eldest sister, is beautiful, but obscenely vain and arrogant. The younger sister, Elwina, is fair and sweet, and her generous character outshines her physical appearance. The girls enjoy walking in the country surrounding the abbey, and on one of their walks, they discover a knight lying in a puddle of his own blood. They frantically find help at a nearby cottage, and they return to the abbey while the knight is treated. After they explain the situation to their parents, Sir Archibald leaves for the cottage, only to discover the knight to be Albert de Clerville, a family friend. He brings Albert back to the abbey to recover in peace. Once Albert is well, he tells the whole family the story of his injury. His friend, Edward Barry, held a jealous grudge over Albert for his acquaintance with the beautiful Duchess Sophia Clifford. After dueling Barry multiple times and denying the requests of Lord Clifford to marry his daughter, he left the Clifford estate. On his journey, a helmeted knight stabbed him in the heart.
While walking home one night, Elwina is startled by the figure of a hooded monk walking slowly in front of her. After running home, she is too agitated to explain her situation, and faints. The next day, Albert and Elwina decide to explore the chapel within the abbey, when the head servant, Margaret, rushes in to declare Lady Barnett dead of “an apoplectic fit” (14). As Elwina and Adeline are talking that evening, they see guards rushing towards the abbey. Sir Archibald is arrested due to apparent treasonous acts, and is taken to jail. Albert is left to plan the funeral of Lady Barnett and to watch over the house, but once the funeral is over, he leaves.
Elwina is taking a walk some time later when, distracted, she wanders into an abandoned cell block in the abbey. To her surprise, someone appears to be living in one of the cells. She heads back to the chapel, and there finds the same monk she had seen before. He calls out to her, and they run into each other, falling and hitting their heads on the stone floor. Once Elwina wakes, she finds Margaret, and they investigate the cell together. There, the supposed monk reveals himself to be the knight Edward Barry, who believes he killed Albert after stabbing him in the heart. Elwina is unsure whether Albert is dead or alive, but to her relief, Albert returns to the abbey with Sir Archibald, no longer incarcerated, who has been given the title “Earl of Monkcliffe.” Adeline gets married to an unnamed man, and once Albert realizes his feelings for Elwina, they are married as well. The story ends with Elwina and Albert staying at Monkcliffe Abbey, in “a pattern of domestic virtues” (22).
Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, editors. “Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson.” Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge University Press Online, 2006. <http://orlando.cambridge.org/>. Accessed 10 November 2021.
Frank, Frederick S. “Illustrations from Early Gothic Novels.” Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression, edited by Kenneth Graham. AMS Press, 1989, pp. 270–87.
Hoeveler, Diane Long. “Ruined Abbeys: Justifying Stolen Property and the Crusade against Superstition.” The Gothic Ideology: Religious Hysteria and Anti-Catholicism in British Popular Fiction, 1780–1880, University of Wales Press, 2014, pp. 197–246.
Potter, Franz J., editor. Literary Mushrooms: Tales of Horror and Fiction from the Gothic Chapbooks, 1800–1830. Zittaw Press, 2009.
Wilkinson, Sarah Scudgell. Monkcliffe Abbey, a Tale of the Fifteenth Century. Kaygill Etc., 1805.
Wilkinson, Sarah Scudgell. Monkcliffe Abbey, or, the History of Albert, Elwina and Adeline, to which is added, Lopez and Aranthe, or, The Suicide ; also, the beautiful little tale of the Abbey of Clunedale. James Oram, 1807.