The Horrible Revenge: Or, The Assassin of Solitary Castle
Publisher: J. Fairburn
Publication Year: 1828
Book Dimensions: 11.43cm x 19.05cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-BLack Collection: PZ2 .H665 1828
A tale of violence, vengeance, and forbidden love, this 1828 chapbook was almost entirely plagiarized from Eliza Parsons’ 1796 “The Mysterious Warning.”
The Horrible Revenge: Or, The Assassin of Solitary Castle, is a chapbook of 24 pages that was published in 1828 by J. Fairburn. Although the book is only 24 pages, the text on each page is very closely set and typed in a small font on pages measuring 11.43 centimeters wide by 19.05 centimeters tall, making it possible for a lot of content to be packed within every page. The margins are quite wide, however, with approximately 2.54 centimeter margins on every side, allowing the text to be packed into tight boxes while leaving plenty of space on the rest of the page. Aside from its short length, one of the most noticeable aspects of this copy is its poor physical condition. The book is practically falling apart and lacks a front or back cover, indicating that it may have been cut from a collection of stories and stored on its own.
Though the pages were once held together by a thin string that was stab-sewn through the paper, the string has since degraded and unraveled, so the pages are barely held together. The pages themselves, due to the novel being about 200 years old, also carry great risk of easily being bent, torn, and otherwise damaged. Due to the age of the novel, the pages are yellowed, thin, and cottony, though the paper also has a brittle quality to it that makes it risky to bend the pages, lest they break off. The pages are also stained in places with tiny black dots of an unknown origin, suggesting either that the typewriter that printed the book was very cheap, or that the pages simply grew stained with age and sloppy care before reaching the Sadleir-Black Collection.
Despite the novel’s poor physical condition, the interior’s text and illustrations are in fact, quite well-preserved. All the pages, including the original colored illustration still tucked safely within the first page, remain intact. The illustration is one of the most striking parts of this copy, as its vibrant colors set it apart from the black and yellowed pages that comprise the rest of the novel. The illustration, captioned “The Horrible Revenge,” depicts the climax of the story on page 19, showing a family consisting of a small child in well-made yellow clothing, a woman in a pinkish dress with a long veil, and a man with yellow and blue clothing very similar to the child’s against the left wall looking on in horror as they observe a murder of a maid on the right. Blood from a stab wound in her chest stains her white apron and blue dress a reddish-pink, and she looks in surprise and horror at the dagger impaling her.
On the right side of the illustration, with the maid, an angry man dressed in clothes of many colors stabs her with an outstretched arm, looking intensely upon her stab wound as she swoons and falls backwards. Oddly enough, the blood staining the maid’s apron is a sort of pink, resembling the dress of the woman on the left, though the red decorating the murderer’s skirt is closer to a dark red, indicating that the painter may have had a color that was closer to blood red and decided not to use it. On the page adjacent to the illustration, there is a strange mark resembling an ink stamp without any particular shape. However, on closer inspection, one can identify that the ink mark on the next page is an imprint from the ink of the illustration that rubbed off over time. Because of this, it appears that the book had not been opened for a very long time.
Aside from the mark of the illustration’s ink, there is one more mark that is unique to this particular copy. On the very first title page, the word “Adventure” is written in pencil, possibly by a librarian or someone who wanted to categorize their books. The word “Adventure” is not smudged or faded, though it is very light, suggesting that it may have been written fairly recently. Other than that, there are no other marks of personal ownership. The bleeding of the ink from the illustration also indicates that the book has not been opened in a very long time. The ink stains on the pages, quality of paper, and the bleeding through of the illustration’s ink all posit that The Horrible Revenge was made very cheaply. The price, sixpence, which is listed in place of an author’s name, also indicates that it was made very cheaply, and therefore was not meant to garner attention as a literary work. Despite all of the evidence that points to The Horrible Revenge being a book of little worth or merit, the fact that it is decently preserved is a wonder in itself. The content of this short story is worth all the gentle care that must be given when reading, though caution is advised when handling such a delicate work of literature.
The Horrible Revenge is a chapbook that was published anonymously with the only other information on the first page being the publisher’s name (J. Fairburn), the city in which it was made (London, England), and the price (sixpence). The copy in the Sadleir-Black Collection lacks a front or back cover, suggesting that it may have been cut from a collection of stories and stored on its own. The price of the book, very cheap at only sixpence, is the last thing written on the very first page underneath a horizontal line, emphasizing the information’s importance. The book’s anonymous author, ragged condition, and emphasis on low price all posit that The Horrible Revenge was not a classic with great literary merit. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.
The Horrible Revenge is a controversial chapbook published by J. Fairburn in 1828, which gained infamy by being a plagiarism of a subplot in Eliza Parsons’ The Mysterious Warning: Or, A German Tale. In The Mysterious Warning, Frederick, the main character, uncovers the memoir of a man named The Solitary, also known as Baron S, after his sudden death. The Horrible Revenge is, in fact,is a direct extraction of text from Parsons’ first and second volumes of her novel, with very short added original sections, such as an abrupt ending, in which Baron S dies suddenly and the prisoners return to their friends with the help of a kind traveler. In The Mysterious Warning, the story of the prisoners and tower, the part that was plagiarized, is all in a memoir discovered by the main character after he finds and releases the prisoners. This memoir is what was published verbatim as The Horrible Revenge.
Although the name of an author is not given, there is a name written on the first page: J. Fairburn. John Fairburn, a publisher famous for printing and producing “cheap caricatures and popular prints,” made Gothic novels and subplots of Gothic novels more accessible to the masses via plagiarism and mass production of small, easy to understand subplots (“John Fairburn (Biographical Details)”). The Horrible Revenge was published in 1828, when Gothic fiction as a genre was beginning to be mocked for its cheapness. In addition, because The Horrible Revenge was published as a direct plagiarism, or re-print of the subplot of a respected Gothic novel, it was not given any attention as a literary work (Potter 128–9). This is evident in the lack of reviews and information about the novel online and in archives, and why very few copies of the book exist. There are no advertisements for The Horrible Revenge, and the only mentions of the title are in The History of Gothic Publishing; Exhuming the Trade by Franz J. Potter, describing either the corruption of the Gothic market through chapbooks, or the impact the novel itself had on an author named Sarah Wilkinson (128–9). Although The Horrible Revenge was a direct plagiarism, such extractions of Gothic novel subplots exist, such as Father Innocent, Abbot of the Capuchins; Or, the Crimes of the Cloisters which was a direct plagiarism of sections of Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, focusing on Ambrosio and Matilda (Hoeveler 186). Hence, it was not notorious enough to get bad publicity in its time, and is unfortunately lumped in with the rest of the trashy chapbooks of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries by modern experts on the rise and fall of the Gothic, who describe the rise of plagiarisms and short stories as causing the transformation of the Gothic genre from respected literature to “a laughing-stock” (Potter 2). However, The Horrible Revenge did end up, as stated by Potter, inspiring a chapbook author named Sarah Wilkinson to write a chapbook called The Wife of Two Husbands, which displays similar themes of forced marriage, betrayal, and cruel revenge (Potter 128).
Parson’s 1796 text, The Mysterious Warning, located in the Houghton Library of Harvard University, comes with a frontispiece in black and white. The illustration in The Horrible Revenge is eerily similar to Parson’s frontispiece in composition, characters, and setting. In the 1796 frontispiece, Eugenia, Eugenia’ husband Count M, and their two-year-old child watch in horror as a powerful man, Baron S, stands cloaked in a fancy outfit and a feathered hat, arms outstretched as he lets a jug of water fall to the ground.
The Sadleir-Black Collection’s copy of The Horrible Revenge alsocomes with a colored illustration of a similar scene, depicting Baron S standing with his arms outstretched, his knife in Eugenia’s conspirator, Agnes’, chest as Eugenia, Count M, and their two-year old child observe in horror. The similarities are uncanny. The poses of the main character figures are exactly the same in the two illustrations, with the only difference in The Horrible Revenge’s version being the knife in Baron S’s hand.
The outfits of the main characters are also uncannily similar, along with the poses of the Count, Eugenia, and child. The illustration in The Horrible Revenge is striking in its vibrant colors, but the potentially unintentional blending of colors in addition to the cheapness of the ink, evidenced by a rubbing on the very next page, posits that it was made cheaply, as in the company most likely did not hire a professional artist to ink and color the piece. The similarities between the two illustrations are many, and considering that The Horrible Revenge is a verbatim plagiarism of The Mysterious Warning, it is no wonder that the illustrations at the front of the book share as many similarities as the stories do.
The Horrible Revenge is a work of literature made to be very similar to Eliza Parson’s The Mysterious Warning, from the plot to the illustrations to the very words themselves. The Horrible Revenge by itselfis a fantastic story of love, marriage, revenge, and cruelty, but it is worthwhile to note that the Sadleir-Black Collection also holds Eliza Parson’s The Mysterious Warning in several volumes, all of which are in good condition. If one wishes to read The Solitary’s memoir by itself, The Horrible Revenge is an excellent option, as it is a quick read and carries nearly the exact same content as the memoir in The Mysterious Warning. However, if one has the time and is curious enough to understand the overarching plot and circumstances behind the writing of the memoir, or simply prefers to read the original novel, The Mysterious Warning is available and highly recommended to read.
Narrative Point of View
The Horrible Revenge is narrated in Baron S’s point of view in the first-person past tense, similar to the style of a personal journal. Baron S, the narrator and protagonist, occasionally makes emotionally charged comments from his place in the present about events in the past, using very powerful language and italics to emphasize his feelings. Most of the insights from this narrator are based on his own feelings rather than the feelings of other characters, except for the occasional guess at the emotional state of other characters by their facial expressions. As a result, the narration is heavily biased from the narrator’s perspective, as is illustrated in the following passage.
When she raised her head, never shall I forget the moment that decided my future destiny and ruined my peace for ever! When she turned her eyes upon me, Heavens! what were my sensations! until that luck-less hour a stranger to the captivating charms of beauty, a blaze of charms dressed in the fascination of tears and sorrow, and which conveyed a thousand tender ideas to a susceptible heart: She held out one of her lovely hands, “Save him, O, save my father!” she cried in a voice of the softest melody, “or pierce my bosom also!—– O, the remembrance of that moment of delight pregnant with years of ceaseless misery! O, beautiful, false, enchanting, destructive charmer! Woman, vile abandoned woman! but I will be calm, am I not revenged? Yes, and that satisfaction shall attend me to my grave! Let me proceed…” (3)
The first-person narrative style of The Horrible Revenge puts readers in the situation of Baron S, thus inviting readers to better comprehend the emotions he feels when writing about events, while also seeing their impact on him from an originally unspecified time in the future; it is later revealed that the memoir was written eight years after the events of the story took place. Though Baron S is a madman, a fact made clear from the very beginning with his unsubtly ominous outbursts, the first-person perspective allows readers to view events from his perspective and potentially sympathize with his plight.
The fact that the first-person narrative is in the past tense also serves to trivialize the other characters’ emotions by either coding them as irrelevant past events or completely ignoring their existence. As an example, Baron S remembers how Eugenia looked at him for the first time as she was crying over her father, but the main emphasis of his narration is on her beauty and her voice, not the emotions she was going through as she desperately tries to save her father’s life. This is consistent even at the end of the story, when Baron S carries out his revenge by putting his victims through intense physical and emotional distress. Moreover, the narrative during those sections focuses more heavily on the satisfaction he feels while enacting revenge on his victims, and ignores the strong emotions the victims feel toward Baron S as he turns away from their anguished cries. During those climactic sections, the narrative also further trivializes the other characters’ emotions by using parenthesis to describe a character’s tone of voice and his own, such as in passages like “I had no assistant (answered she firmly),” or “It is well, (cried I, enraged at her perverseness),” as if they were stage directions for actors in a play (19). This dangerous combination of narrative elements not only makes the other characters’ pain and suffering seem trivial when compared to the anguish Baron S felt at events such as Eugenia’s betrayal, but by allowing readers to get more deeply into Baron S’s head, the narrative also makes it possible to feel the same satisfaction as he does when he enacts cruel revenge on his unfortunate victims.
Baron S, otherwise known as “The Baron” or “Baron S***” is a bankrupt baron with ambitions of power and pleasure who, since he cannot afford other pleasures, finds joy in nothing but controlling his servants. He lives a lonely life for five years until he hears shrieks coming from a forest on his property and decides to investigate. He discovers a carriage surrounded by several banditti, and two victims: a young woman named Eugenia and her dying father. Out of newfound love for Eugenia, he saves her father’s life and allows the two to stay at his castle for several weeks until the father can recover. In that time, he and the father, named Count Zimchaw, become very close and make plans for Baron S and Eugenia to wed. However, Eugenia is very cold to her new suitor, and when her father announces to everyone that she will be wed to him, she breaks down and cries that she absolutely cannot marry him. Hurt and confused by her negative response, the two men grow very angry, and the Count later assures Baron S that Eugenia will be married to him no matter what.
Eugenia later calls Baron S to her apartment and explains that because she has already sworn her heart to another man, she cannot marry him. Baron S tells her that she must marry him because he has her father’s blessing, to which she responds by begging her father, who walks in during the conversation, to rescind his blessing. Count Zimchaw is very upset with her for her ungratefulness and the fact that her lover is Count M***, the son of his greatest enemy, and tells Eugenia that she absolutely must marry Baron S or face the consequences. Eugenia reluctantly agrees, but defiantly states that although she will perform her duties and be a good wife, she will never give Baron S her heart. This inflames Baron S’s anger and makes him want to possess her even more. The two get married, but Eugenia asks to spend the rest of the wedding day in her apartment, alone. Afraid of offending his new wife even more, Baron S indulges her and allows her to stay in her apartment until supper time. When supper comes, he discovers that Eugenia has fled the castle. He immediately sends out a search party, but after days of searching, no intelligence of her arrives. A nursemaid named Agnes finds two letters in Eugenia’s room, addressed to Baron S and Count Zimchaw. The letters greatly enrage the Count and the Baron, so much so that they become confined to their beds with fever for several weeks. After about three months of grief, Count Zimchaw returns to his home country, but not before officially declaring Baron S to be his heir.
Baron S, after several months of wallowing in misery at his estate, journeys to Count Zimchaw’s home country of Suabia after receiving a letter written in the good Count’s final moments. He arrives the very day the Count dies, and occupies himself by riding circles around Count M’s estate. One day while riding, he runs into his rival, and the two have a heated stare-off while Count M waxes tragically about Eugenia. Baron S contemplates killing Count M, but after realizing that Eugenia is not with him, and that he cannot possibly kill someone when he is outnumbered by servants and dogs, he decides to spare the wretched man’s life.
After his fateful encounter with Count M, Baron S receives his fortune from Count Zimchaw’s inheritance, and goes back to his estate for four years to stew in his desire for revenge; letting it consume him. During this time, he hires a servant named Peter, who he holds in high esteem since he is the only servant able to withstand his horrible temper. After the Baron’s castle and possessions catch on fire, he decides to journey to Suabia to find Eugenia and finally get revenge. When he arrives, he discovers a large castle called the Solitary Castle; appropriately named because no one in the nearby village knows who lives inside. Baron S meets a man named Arnulph in the village, who was a former servant of his and it now a new servant of the Solitary Castle family. He seizes Arnulph, demanding to know who his master is, and Arnulph reveals that Eugenia and Count M have been living in Solitary Castle for the past three years and now have a two-year-old daughter. He also reveals that many years ago, Agnes, the housekeeper who found the letters in Eugenia’s room, married him and asked that he find Eugenia a well-hidden place to live. However, Arnulph is sick of living such a solitary life, and with a bit of prodding via harsh threats from the Baron, agrees to assist his captor in carrying out revenge. Baron S’s plan for revenge, which he tells to Arnulph, is to tie up the happy couple and carry Eugenia off after forcing the Count to resign all of his husband’s rights to her. The next day, the party heads to the castle.
After binding and gagging a servant as soon as he busts down the Solitary Castle doors, Baron S kicks down Eugenia’s door, two pistols brandished in his hands, and ties her, the Count, and Agnes up with rope. He promises Arnulph that he will release his wife the next morning, and orders him to lock them all in separate rooms. However, for a split second, he notices Arnulph’s expression, full of sympathy for the women and child. The Baron is attacked by paranoia, so after Arnulph locks the prisoners up, Baron S asks him to help open a broken window. While Arnulph’s back is turned, Barons S stabs him in the back and front with a glass shard, killing him instantly. Baron S then takes it upon himself to drag all the live prisoners together in one room with Peter’s help, while remaining unmoved by their tears of distress. He asks Eugenia who helped her to escape, to which she responds that she will never tell. Suspecting Agnes, he takes her as a hostage and demands she tell him how she helped Eugenia escape. Agnes replies that she will never tell, and that she is not afraid to die to protect her mistress. Delighting in cruel irony, he cuts her off mid-sentence by thrusting his dagger into her chest in front of the other prisoners, killing her instantly. Peter, terrified by the display, asks where Arnulph is. Baron S then realizes that Peter is suspicious of him too, and murders him by leading him to a dark laundry room and stabbing him in the back. Baron S feels a bit of remorse after killing Peter, but decides to ignore it and creates a scheme to prolong the lives of his prisoners in order to make them suffer as much as he did. Three months pass as he sticks to this plan, but instead of time calming his anger, he states that time only seemed to make it stronger.
Eugenia’s child falls very ill with a fever, which does not summon any sympathy from the Baron. Instead, he is satisfied at the success of his plan in making his prisoners suffer. He states that they will now know a fraction of the suffering he went through when Eugenia ran away from him, and refuses to give the child any water as it begs and begs. The child dies of fever and Eugenia loses her sanity, begging for music and a soft bed or anything to make up for her child’s loss. Eventually, Baron S drags the body of the child out while she is not looking, and she and the Count beg for death. Baron S scoffs, stating that the death of his prisoners would rob him of his perfect vengeance. It is then revealed that Baron S, who had been writing this story as a memoir, had been keeping up this plot for eight whole years. He details his cruel treatment of the prisoners, examples including threatening the still insane Eugenia with a stick when she spoke against him, and taunting the Count daily. Here he ends his memoir. However, it is revealed that he dies of a sudden stroke soon after writing it, and a kind traveler just so happens to find Solitary Castle and free the prisoners, saving them from a horrible death and returning them to their friends and family who thought they were dead.
Hoeveler, Diane Long. “Gothic Adaptation, 1764–1830.” The Gothic World, edited by Glennis Byron and Dale Townshend, London, Routledge, 2013, 185–98.
The Horrible Revenge: Or, The Assassin of Solitary Castle. London, J. Fairburn, 1828.
“John Fairburn (Biographical Details).” Britishmuseum.org. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=125596
Potter, Franz J. The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800-1835: Exhuming the Trade. Hampshire, England and New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Researcher: Julia A. Treubert