Fatal Secrets; Or, Etherlinda de Salmoni. A Sicilian Story.
Author: Issac Crookenden
Publisher: J. Lee
Publication Year: 1806
Book Dimensions: 18 cm x 11 cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.C76 F 1806
In Issac Crookenden’s 1806 chapbook, characters face betrayal, secret identities, romantic intrigues, incest, and other sinful subjects. The drama of these Sicilian nobles’ story prompts the narrator to interject with frequent lectures on morality.
Fatal Secrets is a small volume, only eighteen centimeters in length and eleven centimeters in width. As the sole chapbook included in the rebinding, it is quite slim. The cover is a solid tan paper, and the exterior is not decorated by anything but the title of the chapbook. The title is found on a rectangle of maroon leather with gold leaf stamping. “FATAL SECRETS / Issac Crookenden / 1806” is stamped into the leather. The material and quality of the cover indicate the chapbook was rebound following its first publishing. Comparison to other novels in the Sadleir-Black collection reveals that Sadleir likely rebound the chapbook in a similar style with several other books of his before selling his personal collection.
Upon opening the book, the reader sees the creamy, relatively unworn paper that appears to have been inserted during the rebinding. After turning these opening pages, the first page of the original chapbook is revealed. It is in much worse condition than the paper included in the rebinding. The first and last original page is suede-colored with gray stains. In ink, someone has written “Fatal Secrets; Or, Etherlinda de Salmoni” in a cursive script at the top of the page. The next page is distinctively lighter than that of the first, but is made of a similar thin, soft paper. The pulpy pages are worn, and in some cases have small tears along their edges. They have the same grey stains as the darker pages, which are absent on the pages inserted during the rebinding. Both types of pages have signature marks. The original signature marks are printed onto the page, while the newer pages have the signature marks penciled on. On a few of the 26 numbered pages, there are holes near the spine where they were threaded together. The thread was likely removed during the rebinding.
After turning to the printed pages, the reader sees the first of two illustrations in the chapbook. The frontispiece is in black and white and depicts a dramatic scene from the story. Included in the illustration is a plaque on which is written “Fatal Secrets.” The caption also reveals the publishing date as November 1, 1806. The title page lists the author as “Issac Crookenden, Author of The Mysterious Murder, &c. &c.” This page also lists the complete title of the chapbook: “Fatal Secrets; Or, Etherlinda de Salmoni. A Sicilian Story.”Turning past the title page begins the story. The print is small but clear with the pages numbered at the top. The last of the two illustrations is on the final page of the story and is more of a closing drawing than an illustration of a scene. At the end of the original pages, there are several fly leaves which are the same as those added from the rebinding.
Fatal Secrets; Or, Etherlinda de Salmoni. A Sicilian Story has four publicly known copies according to WorldCat. At least three of these copies appear to be of the same edition, namely those in the University of Virginia, Duke University, and University of California, Los Angeles libraries. All available sources refer to the edition published in 1806, so there was likely only one edition. This edition was published by J. Lee, a publishing house on 24 Half Moon Street, Bishopgate. Isaac Crookenden’s only works published by J. Lee, Fatal Secrets and The Mysterious Murder; or, The Usurper of Naples, were both published in 1806 (Potter 91). J. Lee published authors other than Crookenden, including Sarah Wilkinson, another prolific chapbook author, and he also published sensationalist pamphlets and other literature outside of gothic chapbooks (Potter 91)
Fatal Secrets is just one of many of Crookenden’s works. He wrote at least ten gothic chapbooks, all under his name. Both his unabashed use of his own name and his frequent writings were very unusual in the world of gothic publishing (Potter 26). In fact, Crookenden was only second to Sarah Wilkinson in the number of gothic chapbooks published under his name (Potter 26). Over the course of twenty years, he regularly published his sensationalist chapbooks, all of them thirty-six pages each (Nevins 67). As the amount of money to be made from writing chapbooks was likely quite small and Crookenden was employed as a schoolteacher for part of his literary career, it is unlikely that he pursued this path with a mind for profit (Potter 26, 71–72). His work, however, was hardly original.
Scholarly analysis of Crookenden’s works largely focuses on one aspect of them: their plagiarism. He is accused of being “the most notorious counterfeiter of legitimate Gothic novels,” the “master counterfeiter of long Gothics,” and a plagiarist of “better-known English and German Gothics” (Tymn 59, Frank 19, Nevins 67). Crookenden was in no way unusual among his peers for abridging and even stealing more famous novels’ plots. What did make him notable, however, was the fact that he published this stolen work under his own name (Frank 143).
Fatal Secrets itself may be a plagiarized combination of Ann Radcliff’s A Sicilian Romance and The Italian (Frank 133). It certainly shares many popular Gothic tropes with the novels, including an imprisoned mother, evil father, hidden parentage, and possible fratricide (Nevins 303–5). Still, it is unclear whether Crookenden’s contemporaries recognized Fatal Secrets as plagiarism or cared whether it was so. There is little evidence for Fatal Secrets’s advertisement or subsequent reception. There do not appear to be any reprintings or adaptions. As of 2021, it is listed under both Amazon and AbeBooks, but neither website seems to sell any copies, digital or otherwise. Other than references to Crookenden’s plagiarism, Fatal Secrets is only mentioned in scholarship within lists of Gothic texts (Tracy 30). Fatal Secrets appears to have had neither significant scholarly nor cultural significance beyond its publishing. It blends into the fabric of the hundreds of gothic chapbooks published over several decades that briefly entertained their audience.
Narrative Point of View
Fatal Secrets is narrated in an omniscient third-person point of view, except for a letter written in the first person. The narration is highly dramatic and emotional, but clear. Sentences are lengthy and segmented. The narrator changes between the present and backstory multiple times. The narrator frequently interjects into the storytelling various direct addresses to the reader about the morality of the characters’ choices and human nature. The narrator clearly condemns some characters’ actions and portrays others as faultless heroes. The dedication at the beginning of the chapbook states that these addresses are meant to guide the reader’s personal morality.
Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:
In the mean time, the degeneracy of his son, had a visible effect on the Marquis’s happiness; and at last precipitated him into those very vices for which the former had been excluded his paternal home. So inconsistent is human nature; and “so apt are we to condemn in others what we ourselves practise without scruple.”
The Marquis, as we have before observed, collecting his scattered property retired to a seat he had recently purchased in the vicinity of Beraldi Castle; but they lived such a secluded life, that altho’ Ricardo found them out by means of seeing Alicia accidentally, yet he little imagined it was his own parents who resided there. (35)
Sample Passage from the Letter:
I look round in vain to see my beloved Count? ah, how often do I fix my eye on the vacant spot where you used to sit, and strive to collect your every attitude, and those dear engaging features which shed such tender benevolence when I applied you to be my friend in my helpless state.—I told you that I had been the victim of a villain’s perfidy, you pitied my situation, and sheltered me in your castle.—Ah ! why did you so? for it was this kindness that begot gratitude in my soul, and gratitude soon ripened into love !—How often have you told me that you loved me, and not even Theodora herself should rival me in your heart*. (31)
Fatal Secrets’ narration fits the story it tells. The narrator’s knowledge of all the characters’ motivations and past actions both make the story clearer and serve its theatrical nature through the inclusion of dramatic irony. Full of twists that evoke horror and disgust in the characters, the black-and-white narrative descriptions simplify the quandaries it creates. The clear narrative division between the heroes and the sinners provides the story with a neat ending. The constant moralizing from the narrator is in clear conflict with the shocking and obscene story it tells but allows for the story to claim both sensationalist and righteous audiences.
Before the story begins, Crookenden dedicates the chapbook to a “Madam *******.” Here he accounts his anonymization of her to her assumed unwillingness to be associated with the story, but assures her that he will use the depravity of his story to teach the reader of morality.
Fatal Secrets starts with Theodora de Beraldi worried about her husband’s delay at one of his estates. She is comforted by Ricardo, the cousin of Count Beraldi, who is staying with her and his cousin after being disowned by his father for debauchery. While Ricardo comforts Theodora, she squeezes his hand and he begins to believe that she is in love with him. He lusts after her and is about to declare his intentions when her husband returns. Theodora, ignorant of Ricardo’s feelings, is overjoyed at her husband’s return, but Count Beraldi seems troubled.
Ricardo later finds a letter in the Count’s library that reveals Count Beraldi is having an affair. He leaves the letter for Theodora to find, and when she does, she falls ill. At this time, Count Beraldi is away. Ricardo leaves under the guise of finding the Count to make him return to his ill wife. In reality, he tasks a group of robbers to capture the Count and leave him in the dungeon of one of the Count’s estates. Having replaced all the servants of the estate with people loyal to him, Ricardo takes control of the Count’s land and rules while his wife is ill. Ricardo confesses his feelings for Theodora, who is horrified and refuses him. He imprisons her and separates her from her son, Ormando. She again falls ill, and, after being separated from her son for the final time, dies having never granted Ricardo’s wishes.
Ricardo takes in his lover’s daughter, Etherlinda, and raises her as the heir to Count Beraldi’s estate. He also raises Ormando, but as an orphan under his care rather than the true heir. Eventually, the two fall in love with each other. Ormando confesses his feelings and Etherlinda returns them. Ricardo sends Ormando off to serve him with the understanding that, if he returns and still loves Etherlinda, he will have Ricardo’s blessing.
Etherlinda is the daughter of Alicia whom Ricardo seduced and bore Etherlinda out of wedlock. Alicia is the daughter of the Marquis Salmoni, but she concealed this from Ricardo out of shame. The Marquis lost much of his wealth to debauchery and moved to his only remaining land with his wife and daughter. Ricardo eventually stole Etherlinda away from Alicia and stopped providing for the mother of his child. Alicia then went to Count Beraldi (before he was imprisoned) and implored his assistance. The two began an affair, the same one that was revealed in the letter. Ricardo discovered that Alicia was the mistress of Count Beraldi after he imprisoned the Count. He was enraged by this and imprisoned her in a separate dungeon.
On Ormando’s journey, he stops at a convent and is welcomed by a monk. This monk is Marquis Salmoni, although Ormando does not know it. The Marquis became a monk after his wife died of the grief caused by her missing daughter. When Ormando departs, he accidentally leaves behind the letter Alicia wrote Count Beraldi. This letter had been misplaced by Ricardo and was hidden for seventeen years before Ormando found it. Ormando did not get a chance to read it before he dropped it, so he is unaware of its contents. The Marquis died shortly after reading the letter and learning of his daughter’s sin.
Later in his journey, Ormando is kidnapped by Ricardo’s robbers and taken to a castle. Here Ricardo reveals himself to Ormando, having closely watched him the entire time. Ricardo leads Ormando into the dungeon and tells him that if he does what he says he will be entitled to Etherlinda and Ricardo’s estates. Ormando is horrified when Ricardo commands him to kill Alicia, who has been kept in the dungeon for all these years. She reveals that she is Etherlinda’s mother and that Ormando is Count Beraldi’s son. She and Ricardo argue, and she reveals her last name to be de Salmoni. Ricardo realizes that Alicia is his sister and dies of shock. Alicia believed her brother to have been dead and is horrified by the revelation.
Ormando releases both Alicia and Count Beraldi from captivity. He is announced as the true heir and marries Etherlinda. Etherlinda never finds out her true ancestry and bears Ormando many children. Alicia is reunited with her daughter but then spends the rest of her life at a convent, repenting.
“‘The Absolute Horror of Horrors’ Revised: A Bibliographical Checklist of Early-Nineteenth-Century Gothic Bluebooks.” Romantic Textualities, 29 Jan. 2013, http://www.romtext.org.uk/reports/cc09_n03/.
Crookenden, Isaac. Fatal Secrets: Or, Etherlinda De Salmoni. A Sicilian Story. J. Lee, 1806.
Frank, Frederick S. Gothic Writers: A Critical and Bibliographical Guide, edited by Douglass H. Thomson, and Jack G. Voller, Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 2001.
Nevins, Jess. The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana. Monkeybrain, 2005.
Potter, Franz J. Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers, 1797–1830, University of Wales Press, 2021.
Tracy, Ann B. The Gothic Novel 1790–1830: Plot Summaries and Index to Motifs, University Press of Kentucky, 2014.
Tymn, Marshall B. Horror Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide. Rr Bowker Llc, 1981.
Researcher: Chloe Fridley