Parental Murder; or, the Brothers, an Interesting Romance; in which Virtue and Villainy are Contrasted, and Followed by Reward and Retribution.
Publisher: T. and R. Hughes
Publication Year: 1807
Book Dimensions: 11cm x 18cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.P345 1807
Set in the Italian countryside, this 1807 chapbook sees seemingly supernatural justice dealt after a deceitful and power-hungry prince murders his father, usurps the throne, and abducts his brother’s lover.
Parental Murder is anineteenth-century chapbook written by an unknown author. When the novel is opened past its first blank page, one is presented with an illustration on the second page, and the title page appears on the third. The bulk of the title page is dedicated to the novel’s full title and a brief description: “PARENTAL MURDER; OR, THE BROTHERS, AN INTERESTING ROMANCE; IN WHICH VIRTUE AND VILLAINY ARE CONTRASTED, AND FOLLOWED BY REWARD AND RETRIBUTION.” The title page indicates that the novel was printed for T. and R. Hughes by printers Lewis & Hamblin. A date at the bottom of the title page indicates that it was published in 1807. Interestingly, the title page makes no mention of the novel’s author.
The illustration on the second page is in black-and-white, depicting a scene from the main text. In the image, a woman clad in flowing white robes looks down upon a man lying dead on the ground, facing upward. The illustration is accompanied by a caption reading, “A fire-ball, impelled by the arm of unerring Omnipotence, laid the libertine dead at my feet. Page 27.” As suggested, this text appears in a passage on page 27.
The chapbook itself measures 11cm wide by 18cm tall. Stitching holes in each page’s inner margins suggest that the chapbook was originally bound, but this particular book has had its binding removed, and its first blank page serves as a kind of cover. The book’s paper is thin, brittle, yellowed, and very grainy—one feels pulp as they run their finger across each page. At its edges, the paper is frayed and rough. The book appears to have been printed on relatively cheap material, and this particular copy is especially well-worn; several of its pages are on the brink of coming apart from one another.
The chapbook is numbered as containing forty pages; however, counting from the novel’s blank first page, there are actually only thirty-eight pages. The novel’s first numbered page—page 8—appears only six pages in. Every page number thereafter is consecutive; if these two pages are missing, they must have been taken from before page 8. It is ultimately unclear if any pages actually are missing; no content appears to be omitted from these first pages. It is probable that either the two absent pages are blank or that page counting simply begins at an unusual number.
The blank first page—while devoid of print—does contain several ownership markings. The name “Sophia” is stamped identically three times near the top. Underneath, a partially-legible script indicates the name “Barbara Bounby” and the date range June 3rd to June 16th, 1810. (However, the specific days in June are somewhat unclear—the script is blotted and individual characters become difficult to decipher.) Near the bottom of the page, “Le” is written in a similar script with identical color.
After the main body of the text begins, the title of the book appears only in its abbreviated form: “PARENTAL MURDER; OR,” alongside “THE BROTHERS.” printed in the top margins of the left and right pages, respectively. Each page in the text’s main body has thin margins. The type is small, seriffed, and heavyset. The lines are short and tightly packed; the pages, while small, are dense. The body of the text contains no illustrations beyond the introductory frontispiece on the second page.
The body text is marked on two separate pages. First, on page 22, two x-marks made in pencil surround the phrase “of his heart.” Higher up on the same page, an (ostensibly accidental) pencil marking veers off the top edge. On page 31, the word “Regicide!” is underlined in pen. These two pages are the only two with obvious, visible annotations; the rest of the text is unmarked.
Very little information is available concerning the writing, publication, or reception of Parental Murder. Its author is anonymous—the only names listed in the chapbook are those of the publisher and printer. Published in London in 1807, it was apparently released to little fanfare: there are no records of Parental Murder being advertised or reviewed in any periodicals of its time. Furthermore, searches for contemporary literary criticism—or any other kind of secondary scholarship—on the chapbook yield few references.
There are, however, indications that Parental Murder did not go entirely unnoticed by the scholarly community. For instance: it is listed in the expansive Gothic Bibliography by Montague Summers, described simply as “Parental Murder. Chapbook. 1807” (457).A slightly more detailed listing appears in Douglass Thomson’s Gothic Writers: A Critical and Bibliographical Guide; his account includes the chapbook’s full subtitle, its city of publication, and the names of its editors (137). More interesting, however, is Parental Murder’s omission from Gothic Writers’ section on modern reprintings or updated editions. In this section, Thomson maintains a comprehensive list of reprintings, updated editions, and other reproductions of the works he tracks. From this, we can infer that Parental Murder was probably never reprinted or republished as a new edition. Thomson’s finding is consistent with searches across several online catalogs: in each case, no later editions of the chapbook appear. The available scholarly information on the chapbook, while relatively minute, suggests that only one edition has ever been published.
As previously noted, Parental Murder makes no indication of its author; it does, however, include the names of its printers and publishers. Before the body of the text, and once more at its close, the names and address of the books’ printmakers are listed: “Printed by Lewis & Hamblin, Paternoster-row” (Parental Murder 40). Similarly, the title page displays the name and address of the publishers: “Printed for T. and R. Hughes, 35, Ludgate-Hill, Corner of Stationers-Court” (Parental Murder 5). Biographical information on these figures is scarce; Lewis, Hamblin, and R. Hughes are all absent from searches for London printmakers or publishers active during 1807. A brief biographical entry for T. Hughes, however, does appear. The British Museum indicates that he was a British publisher and printmaker located at 35 Ludgate-Hill, consistent with the information in the chapbook. The page also indicates that this figure is “perhaps identical with T Hughes of Stationers’ Court” (“T Hughes”). Observing that the listed address in Parental Murder names both Ludgate-Hill and Stationers’ Court, we can confirm that these two figures likely both refer to the same printmaker.
The British Museum also notes that T. Hughes published several prints by George Cruikshank, a prominent illustrator of the time. Cruikshank was widely known for his political cartoons and illustrations for the likes of Charles Dickens, and his work remains prolific today. The uncredited illustration preceding Parental Murder is almost certainly unconnected to Cruikshank, however, as the chapbook’s publication in 1807predates Cruikshank’s rise as an illustrator in 1811.
Investigating the site of Parental Murder’s printing and publication places the chapbook at the center of the bustling London publishing and printmaking industries. Paternoster-row, the address attributed to printers Lewis and Hamblin, was a nexus of printmaking and principally occupied by “stationers and text-writers” (Thornbury chapter 23). The chapbook’s publishers, T. and R. Hughes, were situated at the corner of the nearby Stationers’ Court. Stationers’ Court is a small path that departs from Ludgate Hill Street and leads to the entrance of Stationers’ Hall (see this Ordnance Survey map to view the precise streets). Stationers’ Hall housed the Stationers’ Company, a government-chartered literary authority that extensively vetted and registered British publications: “almost every publication … was required to be ‘entered at Stationers’ Hall’” (Thornbury chapter 19). In this sense, the sites of Parental Murder’s printing and publication were both mere footsteps away from the epicenter of London publishing, pinning the chapbook’s production to the literal geographic center of a flourishing literary trade.
Narrative Point of View
Parental Murder features an anonymous, third-person narrator whose relationship to the text is left undefined. The novel’s prose is grandiose, long-winded, and, at times, almost breathless in nature: short and succinct sentences are often interposed with very long, grammatically complex ones. The narration shifts freely between making matter-of-fact observations on plot points and offering reflections on the inner thoughts, emotions, and secret motivations of the characters.
With malicious looks, Rabano saw that all the favours he had been suing for at the side of this lovely peerless maiden were unhesitatingly granted to his brother, and with such an arch plausibility of excuse, that it was impossible to refuse without exposing his disappointment and vexation. Romano afterwards danced with her, and the whisper every where ran, “What a figure! what grace! what sweetness!” “It must be so!” exclaimed Rabano inwardly; “I must—I will have her; and Zalarra shall decide upon the measures to be pursued!” (20)
Parental Murder’s willingness to freely transition between objective, plot-driven narration and inward, emotionally focused musings serves primarily to align its high-octane, action-packed storyline with a core thematic message about the supreme importance of virtue. Looking at plot events alone, the novel’s storyline traces out a familiar dramatic arc: the power-hungry, parricidal son whose sins catch up to him in the end. At the same time, the insights into characters’ private thoughts and motivations help to drive the thematic content: from these insights, it becomes clear that Romano is to be seen as virtuous, and his brother Rabano is not. In the passage above, Rabano’s inward exclamations of jealousy and lust serve to cement him as the iniquitous foil to his virtuous brother. Having established this characterization, when Romano ultimately triumphs, the narrator is able to assert that “virtue is the only true path to greatness, love, and glory!” (40). In this way, the intermingling narrative delivery of plot content and emotional content is key to presenting a compelling plot while also making a clear statement of theme.
Baretti is a powerful king who rules over an expansive dominion in Italy. He has two sons, Rabano and Romano. Romano, the younger brother, is the clear favorite of the two; he is revered by his parents for his virtuous character. In contrast, Rabano is power-hungry and ruthless. He resolves to conquer land for himself and sets his sights on the land of Ardini, a nearby ally. Baretti sees a learning opportunity: he supplies Rabano with men and armaments, hoping that brutal defeat will show Rabano to be incapable of leadership.
One day, Ardini’s men trespass on Baretti’s land, and Rabano seizes the opportunity to mount a retaliatory attack. But when it becomes clear that Rabano is interested in senseless brutality, Baretti and his men come to Ardini’s aid; their forces combined, Rabano will certainly suffer crushing defeat. Rabano, realizing this, develops a burning hatred for his father and resolves to get revenge. He enlists his trusted assistant Zalarra to disguise himself as a priest and sneak to Ardini’s camp, where Baretti is currently staying. Zalarra finds Baretti in the camp and tells him that Rabano is prepared to make a peace offering.
Baretti follows him to meet Rabano in an isolated dell. But when he arrives, Rabano gives his father an ultimatum: betray Ardini and aid in the conquest of his land, or be killed where he stands. Baretti realizes that the peace offering was a setup and begins to fight his assailants, but he is eventually overcome and stabbed. Baretti is buried in a prepared grave, and the assassins return home.
The next morning, Ardini’s camp is in a state of confusion. Without orders from Baretti, the supplementary forces will not go into battle—condemning Ardini to certain defeat at the hands of Rabano. They enact a short truce with Rabano while they search for Baretti—but find nothing.
Rabano takes the throne. He is shocked, however, when Zalarra finds Baretti’s grave unearthed and the body missing. Rabano is shaken by this discovery, but he rules as if nothing is wrong. He sends Romano on a mission to a neighboring chief, and he plans to throw a party to celebrate his ascension to power. Despite their strained relationship, Ardini is invited.
At the party, Ardini is accompanied by his beautiful daughter Miranda. When Rabano sees her, he is immediately enamored and resolves to make her his own. He asks her to dance, but she refuses. Suddenly, Romano bursts into the party. Romano explains that the hostile neighboring chief detained him, but he managed to escape and make his way home. Rabano promises to look into the matter later.
Romano catches glimpse of Miranda. He asks her to dance, and she gladly accepts. Rabano is incensed at seeing this, and he plans how he will win Miranda’s hand. Rabano pulls Miranda and Ardini into a private apartment. Ardini steps into a neighboring room to give them some privacy, but the door is shut on him and he finds himself trapped. Now alone with Miranda, Rabano urges her to marry him, but she confesses that she already loves Romano.
Unprompted, Miranda remarks that Rabano and Zalarra look suspiciously similar to two hooded figures she saw on the night of Baretti’s murder. That same night, she had planned a secret meeting with Romano—in the same isolated dell where Baretti was murdered. She arrived at the dell before the murderers, but when she heard them approaching, she hid behind a tree. She has not mentioned anything out of fear for herself and Romano.
Rabano cautions her to keep quiet. If her story got out, Romano could be in serious danger; he too was missing on the night of the murder. Miranda agrees and swears to stay silent. Rabano renews his attempts at courting her. When she refuses again, he forces her towards a hidden chamber.
Meanwhile, Ardini suspects foul play when he is not let out of the locked room. He escapes through a window, finds Romano, and explains that he fears for Miranda; the group heads for the castle’s private apartments. When a guard stops them, they slay him and rush upstairs just in time to catch Rabano forcing Miranda into the hidden chamber.
Miranda steals Rabano’s weapon and tries to stab him, but the blade breaks in two and fails to injure him. Soldiers alerted by Zalarra descend on the group and arrest Romano and Ardini for high treason. Until their trial, Miranda is to be detained in the hidden apartment, where Rabano persists in his attempts for her hand almost daily.
One night, Rabano sneaks into Miranda’s chamber while she is asleep and plants a kiss on her lips. He prepares to rape her, but a suit of armor steps off its pedestal and stands between them. It shouts: “Thy reign is short! At the trial, parricide, thou shalt behold me again” (30). The apparition scares Rabano off from his attempts to violate Miranda.
The night before the trial, Rabano and Zalarra get drunk together. Zalarra continues to give Rabano alcohol until he passes out on the floor. Zalarra also has an eye for Miranda; he steals the keys to her secret chamber, sneaks in, and kisses her while she sleeps. Before he can continue, however, a figure in black robes shouts “Regicide!” (31). The figure warns Zalarra to repent. Zalarra flees, wakes Rabano, but decides not to tell him about what he saw. Instead, Zalarra suggests they search the castle for any other apparitions. While searching, they discover that Miranda has escaped from her chamber. Their efforts to locate her are fruitless.
Secretly, Miranda was conveyed by a mysterious monk to a cottage outside of the castle through a hidden tunnel. In the cottage, she meets a former servant of Baretti, who promises to lead her to the chamber where the trial will be held, so she can expose Rabano and Zalarra. On the day of the trial, Ardini is tried first; he confesses to killing guards in pursuit of Rabano, but he expects that the detention of his daughter will justify his conduct. Romano is tried next. A priest steps up and testifies the dying confession of a deserting soldier named Afran, who had allegedly stumbled upon Romano burying Baretti’s body. He had pursued Romano, but Romano escaped, and Afran was mortally wounded in the struggle. He did, however, manage to grab a gorget bearing Romano’s name during the fight.
Romano explains that he was present at the dell on the night of the murder—but only to see Miranda. As he arrived, he saw a figure stab the victim. He was unable to reach the assassins in time, so he unearthed the body and resolved to carry it to a nearby house. The body was too heavy, however, so he instead brought it to a nearby cave. Afran, seeing Romano carry the body, mistook him for the assassin and attacked.
The judge is prepared to issue a death sentence for Romano when Miranda bursts in. She presents the cloak and banner Baretti wore on the night of his murder, which were found in Rabano’s strongbox. The courtroom descends into chaos until the aforementioned priest announces that he has one more piece of evidence—a piece of paper naming the murderer, given by Afran in his final moments. Zalarra snatches the paper from him and rips it to pieces. Chaos returns, and the priest suddenly blows a whistle. The room is instantly flooded with soldiers, and a figure appears at the head of the courtroom.
To everyone’s surprise, the figure is Baretti himself. He explains that he survived the assassination attempt. After being carried to the cave, he told Afran that Rabano was guilty. Since then, Baretti has been living in the cottage, disguised as one of his own servants.
The courtroom instantly condemns Zalarra and Rabano. The judge assigns both fiends formidable sentences. Rabano is confined to a cell at the top of a large tower, which eventually collapses and crushes him to death. Romano is declared the worthy successor to Baretti, and he reigns “with unabated splendor” (40).
“George Cruikshank.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 Sept. 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/George-Cruikshank.
Ordnance Survey. Director General of the Ordnance Survey, Chessington, Surrey, 1953. Map. https://maps.nls.uk/view/102904585.
Parental Murder. London, T. and R. Hughes, 1807.
Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. London, Fortune Press, 1964.
Thomson, Douglass H., et al. Gothic Writers: A Critical and Bibliographical Guide. Greenwood Press, 2002.
Thornbury, Walter. Old and New London: Volume 1. London, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1878. British History Online. 27 October 2020. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol1.
“T Hughes.” British Museum, www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG163433.
Researcher: Joe Kerrigan