The Convent Spectre

The Convent Spectre

A Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter

Author: Unknown
Publisher: T. and R. Hughes
Publication Year: 1808
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 11cm x 17.5cm. 
Pages: 36
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .C667 1808

In this chapbook published in 1808, two characters meet in a convent and realize, through a tale of mystery and suspense, that they have more in common than they thought.

Material History

The Convent Spectre‘s cover page shows the typical look of bluebooks

The novel, The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter, is a gothic text published in 1808 in London. The more common title is simply The Convent Spectre, evident due to the fact that this shortened title and the date are the only text that appear on the front cover. The title page inside the front cover displays the full name. There is no official author listed for this text and there are no markings of a potential author in the book.  

This work is only 36 pages and does not contain any chapters. The 11cm by 17.5cm chapbook simply consists of a binding, frontispiece, title page, and the text of the story. The Convent Spectre was printed as a bluebook. These were cheap pamphlets of short gothic stories, many of which were essentially plagiarized versions of longer gothic novels. They were called bluebooks because the cover was a thin piece of plain blue paper. Although one of the first descriptions that comes to mind for this novel from a contemporary perspective is that it is unique, in the early nineteenth century it would have been considered extremely commonplace to own bluebooks. The binding paper on this particular copy is more teal than blue, which could be the effects of weathering, or it may have just been printed with slightly greenish paper. Despite flimsy binding, the book has been preserved relatively well for the past 200 years, which leads to the conclusion that it may not have been frequently read before ending up in the Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. The front cover is extremely plain. The title and the date of publication on the cover appear to be handwritten. Everything about the publication highlights its inexpensiveness. 

The one illustration in this entire book, the frontispiece, is surprisingly detailed considering the overall quality of the publication. This black and white image fills the entire page. However, as opposed to the multiple pictures that might be featured in a longer gothic text, this bluebook only contains one. On the title page there is in an epigraph of a quote from Shakespeare. 

Overall, the book is extremely fragile. The edges of each page are worn away slightly, but none of the pages have been damaged enough so that the text is illegible. The paper itself feels like the material of a coffee filter and has a slightly yellowish tint. There are stains on some of the pages, and one particular stain appears to be from coffee or some dark drink and is noticeable on multiple of the pages. Additionally, the binding is very worn and fragile. The top of it is coming undone but the lower half is still together. Essentially, the book seems to have gone through some wear and tear but considering how delicate the book is as whole suggests that each previous owner of the pamphlet has tried to keep it in good shape. 

The title page and frontispiece of The Convent Spectre

The layout of each page maximizes the amount of text that could fit in a 36-page pamphlet; there are small margins and small text. Each page contains the title and page number at the top, and some of the pages have marking such as “A2”, “B3”, and “C1” on the bottom. This was a common convention during the gothic time period because it helped the publishers ensure they bound the pages in the correct order. One sheet of text would come out of the printer in eight rectangular pages, front and back, to make sixteen pages of text on each sheet, and then be folded to fit into the binding. 

Conclusively, this small, delicate book is a typical, cheap publication of a gothic story. Its simplicity and compactness are both a unique contrast to some gothic texts which come in multiple volumes and with many pictures, but yet commonplace for the average worker in the nineteenth century to own. It is incredible that a such fragile object is still able to be analyzed to this day. 

Textual History

There is no known author for The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter, which results in a significantly ambiguous history. This copy of the chapbook was printed by T. Plummer for T. and R. Hughes (located at 35 Ludgate Street in London) (see also Summers 283). T. and R. Hughes was one of many publishing companies in London at the time, but printed primarily gothic texts during the early 1800s.

The final page of the chapbook lists the printer information

There are only three other copies of this chapbook known in the world: one at Princeton University, one at the University of Oxford, and one at the National Library of Wales. Michael Sadleir, the man who donated a large portion of the gothic texts at University of Virginia, owned the copy that is now at Princeton as well. According to their library catalogs, the copies at Princeton and Oxford have the exact same publisher, year, engravings, dimensions, and bluebook cover, which means it is probable that this story was only ever printed once: in London in 1808. It appears that each copy has the same quote from Shakespeare on the title page because both Princeton and Oxford library catalogs mention it in their notes section. This quote reads, “Some unborn sorrow, ripe in fortune’s womb, Now coming towards me, grieves my utmost soul” which comes from Richard II and sets the mood for the novel. Hubert J. Norman was tagged to be someone of importance for the copy in Oxford, but it is unclear what the relation is. According to the Oxford University Library’s catalog entry, it looks like this chapbook may have originally been printed with multiple other stories, all bound together. The Oxford catalog lists two possible bindings for this particular copy; one that is bound with thirteen other chapbooks and titled “Pamphlets” and one that is bound with eleven other chapbooks and is titled “Romances”. The Oxford copy also has a signature which is “A-C6”, which could have a connection to the signature that is on the copy in the Sadleir-Black collection, but it is uncertain.  

Although there does not appear to be any connection to other gothic novels, there is a significant connection between this chapbook and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The main character in this play is named Don Pedro, which is the name of the protagonist in The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter. There are also many parallels between the two characters. In Much Ado About Nothing Don Pedro becomes the middle man between all of the events and displays dramatic irony by being oblivious to the connection between characters. This is extremely similar to the role the character Don Pedro plays in The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter. This connection is evidence that this chapbook was influenced by at least one of Shakespeare’s plays. Furthermore, the Shakespearean quote on the title page is not from this play, but rather from Richard II. Therefore, it is probable the author of this chapbook was significantly influenced by Shakespeare’s plays, and perhaps used ideas from many of them to compose this work. 

Interestingly enough, there does not appear to be a single literary review on The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter. It appears the work did not sell very well after being printed considering the fact that there are only four known copies in the world and that there are no literary reviews on it. There are also no online versions of the text. This story does not appear to have ever been translated. Furthermore, there are no other texts associated with it, such as a prequel or sequel. 

Narrative Point of View

The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter is narrated from a third-person omniscient point of view, but is nearly entirely limited to the experiences of Don Pedro and Theodore. The narration presents the thoughts and emotions of these two characters to the reader, but does not grant the same access to other characters. A significant amount of the book is taken up by Don Pedro recounting the story of his life to Theodore, which is immediately followed by Theodore explaining the events of his life. Similarly, the nobleman also tells his own narrative. Therefore, a large part of the chapbook feels like it is in first person, but in reality, there are just many extremely long quotations from the three characters in the book that share their story. The language includes a lot of description of the different locations in the story, even though the book is rather short.

Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration: 

After having performed the offices for the dead, Theodore returned to the convent, deeply affected in his mind at the awful scene he had just left.  Entering now the chamber of Don Pedro, whom he found alone, he related to him every particular concerning this terrible confession.  He then took from his pocket the picture of his daughter, which the dying marquis had given him, and put it into the hands of Don Pedro, who immediately knowing it by its strong resemblance, exclaimed— “Gracious providence ! ’tis she.  This is a true likeness of that unfortunate unknown, of whose terrible fate I was myself a melancholy witness ; whose cruel death in my chamber I have related to you, and whose interment cost me so much anxiety and distress.” (35–36)

Sample Passage of Don Pedro recounting his personal story:

I went to the bed, but what was my amazement,  when opening the curtains I found this unhappy creature in a frightful posture.  I took her by the hand and called her;  but alas ! she was dead and cold as ice. (11)

This passage from the book comes at the very end of the story. Through the narration, it is revealed that Theodore is highly distressed, and from Don Pedro’s exclamation it is evident that he is extremely surprised that Theodore’s daughter is the same woman he encountered. Furthermore, he reveals that the daughter has caused him distress. This is a prime example of the way the story combines dialogue and third-person narration to reveal the characters’ emotions throughout the story. When the narration is more inside Don Pedro’s mind, then the dialogue reveals Theodore’s thoughts. Therefore, the third-person omniscient point of view allows us to see Don Pedro and Theodore’s thoughts through both the narration and the dialogue. This narrative style echoes the central plot in which these two characters have overlapping life stories, but they do not know it until the end of the book. 


This story begins with the introduction of the character Don Pedro on a rainy, windy night. He is inside the church of St. Michael’s monastery where he finds a man consumed in prayer, who is introduced as Theodore. Don Pedro, highly distressed, proclaims to Theodore that he is responsible for the murder of someone. Theodore tells Don that he believes he is not a bad man and tries to console him. Although the specifics are not yet revealed, it is evident that something significant happened in Don Pedro’s life which has encouraged him to seek refuge in a monastery. After a few days, Don Pedro decides to reveal his life’s events that led him to the monastery because he feels like he owes Theodore an explanation of why he was so agitated the night they met. 

Don Pedro was born in Mantua, where he was best friends with his cousin, Marquis de Palmyrin. The Marquis ended up marrying a widely adored woman who becomes the Marchioness. Despite his attempts to suppress his emotions, Don Pedro soon found himself in love with the Marchioness. He decided it was best if he left the Palace de Palmyrin, where they were all living, in order to remain loyal in his friendship with the Marquis. Before leaving, he takes a small picture of the Marchioness. For a period of time after Don Pedro’s departure from the palace, the Marchioness refused to engage in conversation with the Marquis about him because she was secretly in love with Don Pedro as well. The Marquis perceived her disregard for his close friend as hatred for Don Pedro, so the Marquis forced the Marchioness to write Don Pedro a letter saying that she wished for his return to the palace. When Don Pedro received this letter, he was extremely troubled and one night went to a friend’s house for consolation. On his return home that night, he ran into a woman asking for his help. Because the woman appeared so pitiful and in need of help, he decided to let her stay at his house for the night. The woman, wearing fancy clothing but covered in dirt, refused to reveal her identity and take off her veil. The next morning, Don Pedro finds the woman lifeless in her room: suicide. 

This page shows how the text is formatted on the pages of this bluebook

This event convinces Don Pedro to make the journey back to the Palace de Palmyrin and take the body of the woman with him in a suitcase. Along the way, he stops at an inn with a servant and ventures about a mile from the inn to bury the body in a cave. Immediately after the burial, a man from the inn, referenced as the hermit, appears in the cave. The pair are worried that the hermit witnessed them burying the body and, therefore, the pair tries to escape. Don Pedro and his servant narrowly escape the hermit and hide in the surrounding woods. While attempting to make it back to the inn, the hermit sees them again. This time, they end up in a small town after escaping the pursuit of the hermit. They meet friendly people who provide them with mules so that they can get back to the inn and finish their journey back to the palace. 

Back at the palace, Don Pedro soon has an encounter with the Marchioness in which he expresses his love for her after all of this time. She declares she never wants to see him again. Don Pedro obeys this request for a significant period of time, but one night, when Don Pedro thinks everyone is asleep, he sneaks into the Marchioness’s room and kisses her. She does not refuse because it is dark and she thinks he is the Marquis. However, soon the Marquis walks in and chases Don Pedro, who he cannot instantly identify, out of the house. Don Pedro gets away, but in the process drops the picture of the Marchioness he took when he first left the palace. This picture is used as evidence that the Marchioness’s infidelity was with Don Pedro. The Marquis returns to the Marchioness and kills her in his rage and jealousy. Don Pedro returns to the palace and finds the Marchioness dead and screams in despair, which is heard by other women of the palace who come running and immediately assume the murderer is Don Pedro. These events cause Don Pedro to flee to the church, which is when he finds Theodore. 

Theodore, after taking in this whole story, understands and begins telling the story of his life to Don Pedro. One day during his childhood, a girl was brought to see him by her mother after hearing how accomplished Theodore was in school. This girl’s name was Emilia and the two ended up falling in love and getting married. Emilia died ten months after the marriage while giving birth to their child, who Theodore named Emilia in her honor. In Emilia’s teenage years, she met a nobleman who sent Theodore a letter proclaiming his desire to marry her. When Emilia received word of this, she hastily declined the offer and told her father the man who sent the letter was not to be trusted. Furthermore, she was already profoundly in love with a man named Mortimer. The nobleman soon sent Theodore another letter expressing that he was determined to marry Emilia and that Mortimer’s life was in danger if his desire was not fulfilled. Theodore became extremely anxious due to this situation and decided to put Emilia in a convent. Mortimer soon grew very sad and one day left his home and never returned. Emilia ceased communication with her father. Theodore turned to religion to find peace and escape guilt. Right after Theodore ends his story, he is summoned by a monk and immediately after the ghost of the woman who committed suicide in Don Pedro’s home appears in front of him and thanks him profusely for his kindness. 

Don Pedro is on the verge of committing to the monastery until, one day, he discovers a distressed-looking lady in the church who ends up fainting in his arms. This lady turns out to be the Marchioness de Palmyrin. Surprised by the Marchioness still being alive, he schedules a meeting with her at the Palace de Palmyrin. In this meeting, he learns that the women who blamed Don Pedro for her attempted murder saved her and that the Marquis de Palmyrin left the castle immediately, joined the army, and died from a battle wound. The two decide they want to marry, which provokes Don Pedro to tell Theodore he has changed his mind and wants to leave the monastery. During this conversation, Theodore is summoned to assist a dying man who has entered the church. The man begins to tell Theodore he has many sins on his conscious and asks Theodore to read a letter which describe all of them. The letter reveals to Theodore that this man is the nobleman who wanted to marry his daughter and who also murdered Mortimer. After killing Mortimer, the nobleman had taken a letter Mortimer wrote to Emilia out of his pocket and sent it to Emilia because it describes a way to help her escape the convent. On the planned night, the cloaked nobleman picked up Emilia. When Emilia realized he was not the right man, she became incredibly distressed and fell ill, so the nobleman brought her to Naples to get better. He tried to convince her to live a happy, married life with him, but instead she escaped the place she is held hostile. 

Soon after Theodore finishes reading the letter, the nobleman dies and Theodore immediately relates this whole story to Don Pedro, and when Theodore shows Don Pedro a picture of his daughter, Emilia, Don Pedro realizes it is the same woman who killed herself in his house. Right after the pair figure out this coincidence, the ghost of Emilia appears, which causes Theodore to faint. These events lead Don Pedro to be convinced to leave the monastery right away and marry the Marchioness, and in the end, the couple lives happily ever after. 


The Convent Spectre, or Unfortunate Daughter library catalog entry. Princeton University Library Catalog.

The Convent Spectre, or Unfortunate Daughter library catalog entry. University of Oxford Library Catalog.

The Convent Spectre; or Unfortunate Daughter. London, T. and R. Hughes, 1808.

Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. Fortune Press, 1969.

Researcher: Lindsay Grose

The Comet

The Comet

The Comet

Author: Eaton Stannard Barrett
Publisher: C. Barber (printer)
Publication Year: 1808
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 12.5cm x 21.5cm
Pages: 86
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .B377 C 1808

Eaton Stannard Barrett, a satirist who also wrote a comic gothic novel, composed this satirical newspaper specifically for Joseph Stockdale, one of his publishers, in 1808.

Material History

First title page, with Barrett’s name added in pencil

The edition of The Comet that is held in the Sadleir-Black collection at the University of Virginia does not possess a front or back cover—it is simply a collection of pages bound by string and a glue of some sort. When receiving the text from the archive, it comes wrapped in two envelopes. The first is a thick parchment material that is dyed in a green-blue hue. Once you unfold the leaflets of this envelope, the second envelope is attached on the inside and the text can be removed from there.

The author’s name, Eaton Stannard Barrett, is not explicitly printed anywhere in this edition. Rather than claiming the work under his name, he identifies himself as “the author of All the Talents,” which was another piece of literature that he had written previously. A prior reader of this work added Barrett’s full name in pencil on the cover title page. In addition, the same reader (as suggested by the similar handwriting styles) wrote in an almost illegible script under the title something that seems to be, “The Comet; a mock newspaper.” The letter “a” and the word “newspaper” are both very much unambiguous, but the handwriting of the word “mock” is too unclear to be sure.

Unlike many of the other gothic texts in this collection, The Comet does not contain any illustrations except for two minimalistic line drawings of signs that look similar to headstones on pages 15 and 17. One is placed within the paragraph and the other is placed at the end of the letter with the valediction, “I am, Sir, &c A Member of the Antiquarian Society.” Otherwise, the work is very consistent in its layout with wide spacing and clear text.

Line drawing on page 15; a similar one—reading “XXI Miles to London”—appears on page 17.

As for the condition of the physical pages, the work is truly delicate. The pages are quite worn and are an almost yellow mustard color. Some of the sheets are made with thicker paper than others. It feels as though each sheet was made out of a cottony material, but if you observe closely there are fine pieces of brown wood chipping contained within each individually cut page. In reference to the trimming of the pages, some are actually cut incorrectly or unevenly. Specifically, on page 61, the bottom corner is folded into itself so as to hide that it was mistakenly cut to be bigger than the rest of the pages. When unfolded, the corner juts out widely and has numerous tears. The text on this page is slightly faded, as well.

If you are to skim quickly through the 81 pages in their entirety, you will notice that many of the pages do have stains that they have acquired over time. It is difficult to tell what they are from, but it can be discerned that multiple spots are from the natural oils occurring on human skin. Since this piece has been handled numerous times, there is no doubt that it has withstood damage from naturally occurring elements. Although, it is very easily recognized that this script is in impressive condition for being originally published in 1808.

Textual History

The Comet was first published in 1808 specifically for Joseph Stockdale, one of Barrett’s publishers, as a kind of personal satirical newspaper. The text was published in the form of a book but was written in the style of a newspaper.

Second title page featuring fake edition number and pricing, as well as the cast list for the play, “The Cabal.”

Barrett at the time was not extraordinarily popular for his literature, but in later years he would gain a bit more recognition. Although, within the same year as this work’s printing, a second edition of The Comet was produced, with minor changes. There is no preface in either edition of the text, but there is a title page that has the title of the work centered in both editions.

Within the first edition, below the title, there is a subheader in Latin of, “Bellum Erit Quia Fulsit Cometa” which translates to: There will be war because the comet burned/gleamed. This is most likely a reference to the irreverent, satirical, and political humor utilized throughout the text. Beneath those two headers, there is an edition number of “1,234,567,890” and a price of “000.” Directly after this, the text begins. There are no prequels or sequels to this publication found in archival databases.

With its initial publication, there were no perceived reviews for The Comet because of its publication as a personal gift. That being said, there were no advertisements for it, either.  Despite The Comet not being translated into any other languages because it was published for one individual Englishman, Barrett had two of his total of 121 works published in German. Through research of Barrett’s name within interlibrary systems, there is rarely any mention of The Comet. On specific lists, it does not even appear as one of his published works. His more popular works consisted of The Heroine, or: Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader (1813), My Wife, What Wife? (1815), and his most popular piece of poetry, Woman (1810). Taking this into account, there are no modern day reprintings of the text because of its little known popularity. As of 2017, there is a result for the text if you search it on Amazon, but it only says “out of print—limited availability,” and you cannot order it. There is, however, a microfilm version of the text available at specific libraries. There have been pdf files uploaded online through Vanderbilt University of the original text that is held in the Sadleir-Black Collection at the University of Virginia. Paragraph

Page 61, where the corner was cut too large for the page

The Comet does not have any known influence on any other piece of literature. There have also not been any adaptations of the text. Academic research surrounding Barrett’s satirical newspaper is conclusive of knowing very little about his personal life. Despite the assistance of interlibrary databases and archives, there is no information regarding scholarly articles written about The Comet. The overwhelming majority of articles surrounding Barrett’s name were about his comic gothic work, The Heroine, or: Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader.

Narrative Point of View

The narrative style of The Comet is quite unique because of the format of the text. Through the setup being a sort of submission style, each portion has the potential to be a completely dissimilar style than the next. For example, some pieces are “letters to the editor” that are written as first-person accounts, whereas others are stories told in the third person. An overarching similarity in the narration style across the pieces is the substantial usage of convoluted phrases. These may be difficult to understand at times; nevertheless, they are used very frequently.

Sample Passage from “Madame Catalani”:

The profligacy of public taste was never more evidently evinced than in the plaudits heapt upon this miserable quaverer. What though she has the finest voice in the world, and fifteen hundred inflexions in it? What though she has the finest taste, the finest execution, and the most perfect knowledge of her art, still she is not worth listening to; inasmuch as her shake is often too rapid, and she sometimes begins a song before the fiddlers have ended the prelude. Besides, the body of her voice ascending gradually through the regions of interminable sound, forms a motley mixture of light and shade, forged by the red-hot finger of art, and embracing the flowery labyrinths of the affectuoso, instead of the blue-eyed drapery of the unsophisticated gamut. (21)

The section, “Madame Catalani,” is a review on a singer and actress, and through the use of the third person, the illustration of the Madame herself is very vivid. The overuse of complicated terms does serve as a setback for this passage because it potentially obscures meaning, particularly if readers feel as though they cannot fully understand the satire at work in the newspaper. The impact that this kind of narration has on the rest of the newspaper is that it reflects the kind of performance review section that a typical newspaper would have, but it does so in a way that is meant to be entertaining. Through this medium, The Comet is crafting an image of a play that others have not seen but are able to imagine through this specific recount of events and character description.

Sample Passage from a “Letter to the Editor”:

Sir, I resume my pen to apprize you, that at length my wretchedness is complete. My pamphlet on Bonaparte is no more—it is as if it never had been. Molly, Sir, my wife Molly, has given it to the cook to light the fire with; and just now, when I went to dinner, I found a sheet of it wrapped round a Maintenon cutlet—yes, by the heavens, round a greasy Maintenon cutlet, the worst, without exception, that ever was eaten. I recognized the writing instantly. Bonaparte himself first stared me in the face, and on nearer inspection, I discovered the misconduct of Ministers, half of Copenhagen, and commerce lying in the agonies of death. Lord bless me, what a groan I gave. But Ministers are entirely to blame: for they have secreted so much paper, that at present this article is hardly to be had, and Opposition, have employed almost a whole session in endeavouring to make them restore it.


In this letter, the author (who styles himself “Miserabilissimus”) writes about how he strongly dislikes his wife. Through its usage of a first-person account and letter format, this passage serves as a parallel to modern “Letters to the Editor” sections of newspapers. The interesting twist on this piece is that it has nothing to do with the fictional newspaper’s material in the slightest way. Often letters to editors are responses to previous editions or are asking for advice, but in this example “Miserabilissimus” is just complaining about how difficult his wife is and about how he is grieving over his things being destroyed. This makes the whole idea amusing because it is making fun of those individuals who write to newspapers asking for advice; the suggestion, in this letter, is that these letter-writers are never sincerely interested in advice, since this writer very overtly does not care for advice and just wants a forum for airing his grievances.


The Comet is a fictional newspaper that consists of satirical pieces, play reviews, and advertisements. It does not follow a linear story line in the slightest. It begins with a list of characters that are in the play known as “The Cabal.” These characters names are Cavendish, Auckland, Buckingham, Adair, and Lauderdale. Immediately after this, advertisements are made for products such as “paniatreuotic pills” and “Du Bosc’s Patent Face-Pairing” (4, 5). Interestingly enough, none of these advertisements have any impact on the rest of the newspaper.

A two-page spread of fake advertisements

There is a letter to the editor included, as well. The author of this letter describes how miserable he is because of his wife and he signs it Miserabilissimus (14). As for the introduction of the play into the newspaper, the play itself is not actually included. Rather, there is a review of the acting portrayed in “The Cabal” (22). There is a “poet’s corner” included that is comprised of poor, satirical poetry (43).

The final page of The Comet

After this, there are two sections laid out for “foreign” and “domestic” news (26, 30). The reviews, news, and poet’s sections do not have credited authors but the responses to the “letters to the editors” have an array of authors.

The most interesting piece of this newspaper is that it does not make much sense. The wording is extraordinarily dense and filled with superfluous adjectives. Barrett references himself as being a poor writer and seems to reflect wholly on inside jokes with the newspaper’s audience (which was, in reality, only one reader). The end of the text depicts a narrative of “The British Imperial Parliament” where the men that are narrating are attempting to communicate on political issues (51). This then leads into the section titled “House of Commons,” where a second narrative ensues about political issues, as well (62). The issues are not very specific. This is a very strange break in the structure of the text, which does not seem to be leading to a narrative style ending. The ending also comes at a very abrupt point. Barrett actually includes “The End” after the “House of Commons” piece, despite the fact that most editors do not end their newspapers with “The End” (86).


Barrett, Eaton Stannard. The Comet. London, 1808.

Researcher: Caetlin McFadden

The Imaginary Adultress

The Imaginary Adultress

The Imaginary Adultress

Author: Unknown
Publisher: Corri and Co.
Publication Year: 1808
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 2 volumes, each 11.4cm x 17.7cm
Pages: vol. 1: 169, vol. 2: 183
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .I435 1808

This 1808 novel takes place in thirteenth-century France and includes pirates, slavery, lost children, and the machinations of a very devious husband on an unsuspecting wife.

Material History

Front Cover of The Imaginary Adultress

The Sadleir-Black Collection’s copy of The Imaginary Adultress is, at first glance, not much to behold. The book exists in two volumes of identical size and nearly identical physical appearance, so for the sake of this report one can assume that any description applies to both volumes. The book is small, about the length and width of a person’s hand. The dimensions are 11.4 cm by 17.7cm for the binding, and slightly smaller for the pages. However unassuming it may seem, it is evident that the book has been well-read and studied, as the front cover dangles from the spine by a few threads. The overall appearance of the book is worn, tattered, and faded.

The text remains wrapped in its original binding. The front and back consist of marbled paper, a technique in which cardboard and recycled paper are covered in a layer of paper dyed in colorful ink. What is unique about The Imaginary Adultress is that most of the marbling has faded or rubbed away, revealing the text of the recycled paper underneath. The black words rise to the surface horizontally over the faded green, brown, and grey swirls. The front cover appears to be formed from a recycled Bible, as one of the few legible phrases in the mass of text once-hidden under marbling is “And the angel of God.” On the back cover, the recycled paper bleeds through the marbled paper too, and appears to be a chart of numbers.

The spine is bound with brown leather, now cracked and peeling in decay. A stripe of dark red leather sits near the top, stamped with a texture that has not faded over the years. Two gold bands separate the red leather from the brown on both ends. Gold text printed onto the red leather reads:



The only outer difference between the volumes is a faint number 1 and 2 stamped into the spines under the red stripe. The second volume is in worse physical condition. The front cover has completely separated from the spine, but the marbled effect is better preserved.

Half-title page for The Imaginary Adultress

Gently opening the cover reveals a yellowed first page. The edges of the paper throughout the books are stained almost black, and the discoloration penetrates about a half inch into the page. Some pages (96-121 in volume 1) are stained with light brown dots almost like freckles or spots of mold, hundreds on each page. These spots are due to the books having been stored somewhere damp. Multiple other pages are stained from liquid, or are creased.

The half-title page displays a black title surround by wavy lines: THE Imaginary Adultress. It is worth noting that the second volume includes a flyleaf in the front of the book, and that this copy of the first volume does not. It is possible that this page is missing. Turning the page again unveils the full title page, which reads “The Imaginary Adultress. In Two Volumes.”

The next line indicates that this is in fact the first volume. Underneath the title is the name of the printer “E. Thomas,” and the address of the publisher, “Corri, and Co. No. 15, Little Newport-Street, Leicester-Square; and Colburn, Conduit-Street, New Bond-Street.” At the bottom of the page the date of publication is repeated, “1808.” No author is named.

The next page is the first of the story, and the words “The Imaginary Adultress” take up the top half of the page. The text begins with a drop cap, “O” and then the word “FANATICSM” followed by an exclamation point. The remaining text follows correct punctuation and capitalization.

The margins are a little over a half an inch on the sides, and a little less than an inch rom the bottoms and top of the page. Though beginning on the second page of the text, the page number appears in the top margin. In the bottom margins of some pages, there are capital letters A-F in the first novel, and numbers. For example, on page 153 of the first novel, the bottom margin contains the code “H 3”. These letters and numbers exist as instructions from the printer to the book binder on how to fold and assemble the pages, which were printed in long sheets. The typeface is quite large, and the words are loosely set on the page with large spaces in between them. Each line contains roughly six to seven words, and many words split with hyphens. There is about half a line of spacing in between each line. Overall this gives the effect of a large amount of “white space” on the page.

Sample of Unknown Annotation, Inside Back Cover, Volume 2 “The plot of this book is almost ______ in its absurdity-–the three husbands being the same man.”

The book contains no illustrations of its contents, but under the title on the first page of text, there is an intricate line design. On the final page of the second volume, there is another intricate illustration of a line, but entwined with vines and holding a banner which reads: “FINIS.”

On the inside cover and back pages of the first volume, and the back page of the second volume, there are notes written in pencil. The handwriting is in cursive and difficult to transcribe.

On the inside front cover is written:
     Old Novel
     [unreadable word]
     [unreadable character or letter]

Farther down the page is written slanted and a small drawing: 

On the inside back cover, there are page numbers (27-28, 56, 150) written alongside notes about the text. The person who wrote this could have been a student, professor, or scholar studying the novel within the Sadleir-Black collection, or it could be the handwriting of the original owner. The second volume has more page numbers and notes inscribed into the inside back cover.

Textual History

The first edition of The Imaginary Adultress was published and printed in 1808, in both English and a German translation. No later editions were published until 1987­–1990 by a publisher “Stuttgart: Belser” in English. More recently, both volumes of the first edition of the novel have been digitized as a part of the Corvey Collection within the Gale database, “Nineteenth Century Collections Online: European Literature, 1790-1840.” Because of this, the book is now available for purchase on Amazon; as of 2017, listed prices were paperback for $13.95 and hardcover for $23.95.

Title page for The Imaginary Adultress

There is no author listed in the either volume, and no information available on who the author might be. The specific publishing information given on the second page of the first volume is:
   Printed by E. Thomas, Golden-Lane Barbican;
   For Corri, and Co No. 15, Little Newport-Street
   Leicester-Square; and Colburn, Conduit Street,
   New Bond-Street.

The Imaginary Adultress appears in multiple British periodicals from 1807 to 1808. In The Athenaeum, the novel is mentioned in the section “Monthly List of New Publications” under the heading “Novels, &c.” The advertisement reads, “The Imaginary Adultress.  2 vols. 12 mo. 7s. boards.” (“Monthly List of New Publications” 68). These abbreviations explain that the novel exists in two volumes, and was printed on large sheets of paper which were folded twelve times, then sliced into pages. The amount of times the paper was folded is relevant because it expresses the small size of the novel. The “7s” indicates that the book cost seven shillings, and “boards” references that the covers were constructed out of cardboard. Other novels in the list range from five shillings to twenty shillings in price, so it is fair to assume that The Imaginary Adultress was not an expensive read. This same line of advertising is repeated in another periodical, Universal Magazine, under “New Publications.” The advertisement offers only the title, while other novels in the list include short descriptions of their plot or backgrounds on the author. The only other information given in the advertisement is: “2 vols. 8s.” (“Books Published November 1807” 448). In yet another monthly periodical, the price is listed as eight shillings (“List of New Publications in December” 578). In 1808, seven shillings would be roughly 29.54 pounds in England in 2017.

The Imaginary Adultress is referenced in a dissertation by Sister Mary Muriel Tarr published in 1946 titled Catholicism in Gothic Fiction. Her analysis takes offense at the novel’s assertion that Catholicism is a type of “fanaticism” and states that the novel is “flagrantly antagonistic” of the Catholic faith (20).

Narrative Point of View

The Imaginary Adultress is written in a frame narrative, that begins in the first person with an anonymous narrator, who asserts that he or she is retelling the story of a thirteenth-century manuscript. Throughout much of the novel, the narration is third person limited, and retrospective, with occasional commentary from a first-person narrator. The third-person narration spins long sentences with many clauses, blending archaic rhetoric with a stream-of-consciousness-like romantic style. The first-person narrator, in brief asides, interjects lamentations on the fate of the characters.

Sample Passage:

And the happy hut which she had inhabited three months with the tender Bernard. The flowers were there still; and my chronicle pretends, that Clemence did not behold them again without a lively emotion, and that this emotion was all to the profit of love, for in such moments, the heart feels itself more indebted to love, than to Hymen. Hymen in fact, is but a name, love is every thing; it is love alone that gives a value to every favor which Hymen censures. Be this as it may, my chronicler, who appears to be very accurate in his calculations, pretends to have discovered some connection between this journey to the mountain, and the birth of a brother to little Louis, which Clemence brought into the world the following spring. I do not take the liberty to follow him in these singular details; I merely relate the facts as I have found them. (160-61)

This passage contains both narrative styles that are present in the novel. It begins in the narrative style that persists through most of the novel, the third person. With this perspective, our heroic protagonist Clemence, and her beaux, Bernard, are described from an outsider’s view, as the narrator omnisciently reflects on their actions and the plot of the novel. Doing so holds the potential of distancing the reader from the story. Still, even in the first sentence here, the narrative style breaks and references a “chronicle,” which can be assumed to mean the manuscript from which the first-person narrator is extrapolating. At first, this seems to be the author grasping at a semblance of legitimacy for the tale. The chronicle is personified with the verb “pretends,” and again in a different sentence, “my chronicler…pretends.”  This insinuates that the manuscript is not an objective account of history, and that our narrator must take control of the drama into his or her own hands. Thus, the three-hundred-page anecdote is neither reality nor myth, but some muddled in-between filtered through two personal lenses.

The intrigue continues, since the plot from the manuscript which our first-person narrator chooses to censor, contains the mere suggestion of sex. (This theme of covering up sex continues throughout both volumes.) The first-person-narrator reveals that the original manuscript “discovered some connection” between the young couple moving in together after marriage and “the birth.” However, the narrator simultaneously refuses to acknowledge this to be true! “I do not take the liberty to follow him in these singular details.” The conception that a young married couple could produce a child is deemed too scandalous by the narrator, and creates a stiflingly conservative tone for the novel. By “merely” relating “the facts,” our narrator wants the audience to believe that there is no credible connection between two young, married people living together and pregnancy. The narrator comes off as absurd, and begs the question: did the author really think that readers did not know about sex? Or was this simply in keeping with the socially prescribed nineteenth century formality to refrain from even alluding to copulation?  Either way, doing so risks alienating the modern reader by reinforcing a form of repressive sexual ignorance.


The opening page of text in volume 1, featuring a line illustration and drop cap

The Imaginary Adultress: Volume 1 begins with a narrator introducing the story as a tale discovered in a thirteenth-century manuscript. The narrator affirms that the story will take place in the beginning of the thirteenth century, in France.

The story begins by recounting the history of the “Albijenses,” a faith under a man called Peter Valdo that broke off from the “Church of Rome” to take over and become the principal faith of the south of France. The Pope concluded to call the French to take up arms against the people of Lyons, inciting a religious civil war. In Alby, the city where the religious sect began, the church forced a violent inquisition on the residents under a brutal seneschal. Two wealthy residents, Sire de Lautrec and Beatrice de Trincavel, whose fifteen year old daughter Clemence was desired as the queen of the Albijenses, were imprisoned.

To save her parents, Clemence offers her hand in marriage and her family’s fortune to the seneschal in return for their release from prison. The seneschal agrees and releases Lautrec and Beatrice into the mountains, under the condition that they never see their daughter again. Clemence soon becomes pregnant. Her husband plots to become the Governor of Alby by assassinating the current Governor, Simon de Montfort. However, his plot is foiled when De Montfort intercepts a letter, and the Governor has the seneschal hanged. Clemence flees in the night, under fear of her own death. She resolves to find her parents.

In her flight, she hears a mysterious voice and finds a note which tells her to head to Black Mountain. It is there she finds her parents. They confess to each other the sufferings that have passed. The three live comfortably in a cavern in the woods, and Clemence delivers her child, a son named Louis. One day, while De Lautrec is in the neighboring town selling wood, he sees two inquisition men from Alby. Startled and afraid of being recognized, De Lautrec quickly leaves town and attempts to return home unfollowed. Louis is stolen from his cradle at the opening of the cavern, and a note left in his place which says that Louis was taken for Clemence’s safety, and that she is discovered, and must flee to the Valley of Andorre. The three immediately quit the cave and on their journey come across a mutilated corpse, who De Lautrec recognizes as the man who he saw in the market and must have revealed the family’s location.

Once arrived in the Valley of Andorre, the family meets and stays with many families of shepherds in the region. Surrounded by happy couples, Clemence feels lonely and wishes for love. The family lives in a cottage owned by an elderly widow, who wishes for her son Bernard to marry Clemence when he returns from being a soldier. The widow convinces De Lautrec to let Clemence lead the sheep up the mountain in the spring with her son. During the spring festival, Bernard arrives and meets Clemence. They are infatuated with one another, and the widow, father, and entire valley support their coupling. After dancing together, Bernard drops to one knee and offers a bouquet of primroses to Clemence and formally declares his love for her.  Later Bernard tells De Lautrec that in his travels he passed through Alby, and De Lautrec inquires on the status of the town. Then, Bernard sings a love song for the father and widow, which Clemence overhears. She muses that she is fated to suffer and not experience love, but that the safety of her parents is her only consolation.

De Lautrec and Beatrice want to protect Clemence from marrying Bernard, but understand that circumstances do not allow them to leave the Valley. They slowly come to terms with the union of the young couple, and their acceptance of a forever pastoral life.

The young couple ascends the mountain with the sheep, and returns to the cottage of the widow and the parents once a week. After three months in the mountains together, Bernard confesses his love for Clemence again, and she attempts to refuse on the basis of her terrible past, but he implores her to discuss it with her parents before disavowing him. Clemence confesses to her parents that she feels guilt for feeling love. De Lautrec assures her that she can marry Bernard. But Clemence worries that Bernard will spurn her when he finds out she is a widow and a mother. The parents assure her of Bernard’s devotion, and permit her to tell him the story of their family’s struggle

In returning to the mountain, Clemence tells the sad story of her life to Bernard, who weeps and venerates her for her acts of filial piety. He swears to be hers forever, and to be the father of Louis if the boy is returned. The couple descends the mountain and marry in the parish church, then return to their cottage on the mountain as husband and wife. Clemence soon births another son. However, Clemence mourns the absence of Louis. The volume acknowledges that she spends two more years in the valley, but ends on a cliffhanger: that she will be torn from her happiness in the valley.

The second volume begins two years after the end of the first. They valley is threatened by a group of Moorish pirates who are pillaging through the Pyrenees. The young men of the Valley fight the pirates, commanded by Bernard. Bernard dies in battle, or so the fleeing soldiers tell Clemence. Clemence sprints to the scene of the battle and collapses. Upon awaking, she is surrounded by the pirates, who capture her and decide to sell her into slavery. They disembark by ship for Valentia.

Clemence is bought as an attendant for a rich man, Abdulla’s daughter, Fatima. Fatima eventually marries and moves in with her husband, Zaboul. He begins a harem in their home, so Fatima returns to her father. Zaboul avows the slave women and Fatima wishes to return, but “Arabian” law says she must marry another man and be repudiated by him before she may return to Zaboul. Zaboul chooses a Christian slave as the potential husband, and promises his freedom, if he marries Fatima and treats her like a sister. Fatima is married, but before the night, begs her father to save her from sleeping with the slave. Abdulla decides that another woman will take Fatima’s place, but must be drugged asleep so as to not reveal the family secret. Clemence is chosen and drugged and planted in the bedroom. Abdulla also drugs the slave husband to make him more sexual. Clemence is raped without her knowledge during the night. The next day Abdulla sells her to the slave merchants, who are unable to sell her because she grows very sick.

One day a man in the mosque across from the slave merchant’s tent is being spit on and cursed by the Muslims, until he repent his heresies. Later the same man approaches the tent and buys Clemence, takes her to his home and nurses her back to health. The man is revealed to be a doctor and philosopher, Averroës. The book explains that his rival, Zoar, had accused him of heresy.

Averroës regards Clemence as his daughter, and she tells him the sad story of her life. Averroës swears to return her to her family. Clemence is again pregnant. The benefactor tells Clemence that he has learned news that her native Alby has been freed of its tyrants, and that there is no more religious persecution in her home. Averroës sends a slave of his to deliver a letter to Clemence’s parents. The journey takes a long time, and Clemence delivers her third child, a son who she regards with indifference. Averroës implores Clemence to leave the boy with him, so that he may raise the boy as his own son.

The slave returns with a letter from De Lautrec, who asserts that the parents are settled back in their home in Alby, where the son of the tyrant Simon, Henry, is now ruler (but does not share the views of his father). De Lautrec discloses that the son of Bernard was left in the care of the old widow, but who is now unable to be found.

Page 183 of Volume 2, Illustration of intricate line entwined with vines, holding a banner which reads: “FINIS.”

Averroës bids his slave to deliver Clemence to her parents, and the two soon depart for Alby. First, she travels to the Valley to search for her son, but he and the widow are nowhere to be found. Clemence reunites with her parents in Alby, and continues to search for her sons, but in vain. Prince Henry asserts that he and Clemence shall be married, to the surprise of her and the parents. They decide to flee to the Valley of Andorre, if the prince should disregard her refusal. The night after refusing him, Clemence finds on her pillow a note written in the same handwriting as the letter that directed her to her parents and the letter left behind after Louis was taken. The note implores her to meet and consider Henry. Clemence and her parents head to the villa where they meet the slave of Averroës, who has returned with a gift for Clemence from his master. The slave guides them through the woods, but upon passing through the wood, she appears to have been transported to the Valley of Andorre. The cottages of the widow, and the Shephard’s hut are built before her, along with Bernard, the Widow, and her child. Bernard reveals that after the battle, he was captured by the pirates and sold into slavery in Valentia, just as Clemence had. It is then that Averroës’s gift for Clemence is revealed, her son who she left in the old man’s care. Clemence is mortified, but there is a letter around the boy’s neck which reveals that soon after she departed for Alby, the widow arrived to pay Clemence’s ransom. The letter also reveals that this child is the son of Bernard, because it was Bernard who impregnated the drugged Clemence that nuptial night. However, Bernard awoke from his stupor and recognized Clemence, and attempted in vain to wake her from her drugged state. Bernard was then transported back to France and sold.

Clemence is then guided to the villa, to meet Henry. But it is her husband Bernard! Bernard has been Henry, and her secret benefactor, the entire time. He also presents to Clemence her first son, Louis, and confesses that he bribed the seneschal to lay with her during their wedding nights. Therefore, all three of Clemence’s children are of Henry (Bernard).

The couple returns to the cottages, and Henry explains his story. The woman who pretended to be his mother was his childhood nurse. While she travelled to Cordova to find Clemence, Henry travelled to Italy to have Clemence’s first and second marriages dissolved by the Pope. Louis had been raised in safety by a friend. The couple is married and retires to De Montfort with De Lautrec and Beatrice.


“Books Published November 1807.” Universal Magazine, vol. 8, issue 48 (Nov. 1807): 447­–49.

The Imaginary Adultress. London, Corri and Co., 1808.

“List of New Publications in December.” Monthly Magazine, or, British Register, vol. 24, (1808): 577­­­­–78.

“Monthly List of New Publications.” The Athenaeum: A Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information, vol. 3, issue 13 (Jan. 1808): 65­–69.

Tarr, Mary Muriel. “Catholicism in Gothic Fiction: A Study of the Nature and Function of Catholic Materials in Gothic Fiction in England (1762–1820).” 1946. Catholic University of America, Dissertation.

Researcher: Willow Cosenza