Monkcliffe Abbey: A Tale of the Fifteenth Century, To which is added, Lopez and Aranthe; or, The Suicide. By the same author
Author: Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson
Publication Year: 1805
Book Dimensions: 11cm x 18.5cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .E575
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).
Baines, Paul. “Wilkinson, Sarah Scudgell (d. c. 1830), Writer.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/45868.
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.
Researcher: Grace C. Webb