Stories of the Ship

Stories of the Ship


Author: Unknown
Publisher: W. Harris
Publication Year: 1807
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10.5cm x 18cm
Pages: 36
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .S736 1807

A collection of stories related to the sea and sailors, this 1807 chapbook includes humorous anecdotes as well as adventurous tales of heroic resilience.

Material History

Stories of the Ship is a short chapbook of thirty-six pages, written in English. The book’s dimensions are 10.5cm in width and 18cm in length.

Upon first glance, Stories of the Ship lacks a cover. The first page, before the book is opened, is completely devoid of any printed marking and allows for easy observation of the remnants of paper binding at the spine. This is typical of chapbooks in that due to their small size they were often rebound into one’s personal collection after being bought; it is probable that when sold, the book possessed a paper cover.

On the interior of the first page, the first of two illustrations within the pages of this text is found. Depicted in the foreground is a black dog and a Caucasian man gazing at one another. The man is taking refuge from the sea on the floating remnants of a wooden ship, which is exploding in the background. No other living beings, aside from the man and dog, exist in the picture. Notably, there is a slight brown discoloration in the paper under the man’s leftmost leg (from the reader’s point of view). Exactly beneath the image, very small italicized text reads: “Rarlow sculp”. Below this, in larger cursive text, the picture is captioned: “Explosion of a Dutch Ship.” Even further below, in the same small italicized text as right under the image, is a reference to the publisher that says “London. Published by W. Harris August 22nd 1807.”

The title page for Stories of the Ship

To the right is the second illustration, centered amongst various fonts and formats that fill the length of the second page. From top to bottom, the second page begins with the title, completely capitalized: “STORIES OF THE SHIP.” Succeeding the title is a semicolon that transitions the reader into the subtitle, which spans the next few lines, reading: “OR, THE BRITISH SEAMEN’S PLEASING COMPANION: ILLUSTRATED IN A Series of Curious and Singular ADVENTURES.” It should be noted that the font size of “OR, THE” is significantly smaller than that of the title, and occupies its own line. “IN A” shares these same characteristics. Both “BRITISH SEAMAN’S” and “Series of Curious and Singular” are italicized and fill their own respective lines. “PLEASING COMPANION:” and “ADVENTURES.” share the same physical characteristics as the title, but are respectively in a slightly smaller font size. Similarly, they also occupy their own lines. Following this are two sets of horizontal double lines that serve as dividers, within which is a four-line rhyme. Beneath the second divider is the aforementioned illustration, depicting in black ink what appears to be a wooden ship (in the foreground) in contact with an iceberg (in the background). Also in the foreground, to the right of the ship, are three polar bears. Even further beneath the illustration, which bears no caption, is a reference to the place of publication and sale (“London”), the publisher (“Printed for W. HARRIS, 96, High-Street, Shadwell :”), the merchants (“And sold by T. Hughes, Ludgate-Street ; Champante and Whitrow, Aldgate ; A. Cleugh, and T. Soutter, Ratcliff-Highway ; S. Elliott, High-Street, Shadwell ; Wilmot and Hill, and A. Kemmish, Borough; and J. Mackenzie, Old Bailey.”), the price (“PRICE SIX-PENCE.”), and lastly, beneath a long and flat diamond divider, the printer (T. PLUMMER, PRINTER, SEETHING-LANE. 1807.”). There is no explicit reference anywhere in these first few pages, nor anywhere else in the text, to the author.

On the next page (behind that which first mentions the title), there is a page that is blank save for “Entered at the Stamp-Office.” between a singular line right above and below. Beneath is a square outline, slightly discolored, that might have at some point been a stamp. However, there is nothing distinguishable to indicate anything more than that. As for the rest of the book, the size of the font remains constant, as do the margins, which are generally a 1.5cm indent from the outside of the page, although it is important to note that songs and poetry are more indented than the rest of the text. Page numbers appear on the top of the pages, in the outermost corners. The title of the chapbook, Stories of the Ship., is also centered, in all capital letters, at the top of every page. Pages 17 through 20 are approximately 0.75cm shorter than the rest at the bottom. There are some brown stains throughout the pages of the book, but they are very small and irregular. The book ends with “FINIS.”, and the last page of the story is also the last page of the book. At the very bottom of the page, there is another reference to the printer, T. Plummer.

Textual History

There is not substantial information on the history of Stories of the Ship. The author remains unknown; however, the publisher, printer, and booksellers are divulged on the title page. The chapbook was published on August 22nd, 1807 for William Harris and printed by Thomas Plummer, both who practiced in London. This book is likely the original and only publication and edition. There are only three copies worldwide, located at the University of Virginia, The Mariners’ Museum Library, and within the New York Public Library System. Stories of the Ship has not been digitized or reprinted since 1807; neither has it appeared in any scholarly works, which is likely due to its apparent inconsequentiality in the literature and society of its time.

The publisher, William Harris, at 96, High-Street, Shadwell, also worked as a bookbinder and was active from 1802 until 1822 (Cowie 118). Stories of the Ship seems to be the only work for which he served as publisher. The printer, Thomas Plummer, was active from 1798 until 1836 and printed many chapbooks and a couple of works related to sea fiction. The booksellers include Thomas Hughes (a. 1807–1833), Champante and Whitrow (wholesale stationers, fl. 1784–1801), Alexander Cleugh (a. 1785–1811), Thomas Soutter, S. Elliott, Wilmot and Hill, Ann Kemmish (fl. 1800), and Joseph Mackenzie (a. 1806–1807). All are located in London, and S. Elliott and Thomas Hughes are named to be some of the most frequent sellers of well-known author Anne Ker’s bluebooks. However, there is no information on the popularity or public opinion on Stories of the Ship.

The frontispiece for Stories of the Ship

There are two illustrations within the first couple pages of the book. The first, a frontispiece, is captioned by a reference to the British printmaker and engraver Inigo Barlow, reading “Rarlow sculp,” as in Barlow sculpture. Notably, the name is misspelled; however, the font and phrase match the captions of many of his other illustrations. He was active most prominently around 1790. The frontispiece image depicts a scene from the first story within the book, “Affecting Narrative of a Dutch Sailor,” in which a Dutch ship explodes. It is likely that the author derived inspiration from an actual event that occurred earlier in the year 1807. The disaster took place in Leiden, Holland, in which a wooden ship, carrying hundreds of barrels of gunpowder, exploded, resulting in fatalities, injuries, and destruction (Reitsma 1). The incident was eventually attributed to the neglect of the crew. This scenario is very similar to the plot of “Affecting Narrative of a Dutch Sailor,” in which not the ship but instead the protagonist is Dutch, and this ship is not in town, but rather out at sea. Another potential source of inspiration for the author is the municipality and castle of Ortenberg, which shares a name with the aforementioned Dutch sailor protagonist. Ortenberg (the town) is located not far from the Black Forest, and the castle, built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, is located just above the town. Again, however, these connections are not certain.

There is an entry for a book entitled Songs of the Ship (for 1807), or, the British Seamen’s Cheerful Songster in John Stainer’s book cataloguing his collection of English song books. The details under this entry match the publisher, publication year, and page length of Stories of the Ship; however, the description, which reads “containing a valuable collection of the newest and most celebrated Sea-Songs, sung at all Places of public amusement, To which are added, a Collection of Toasts and Sentiments” is uncharacteristic of Stories of the Ship, which implies likelihood of an accompanying songbook by the same author (Stainer 79).

Narrative Point of View

The first (and longest) story of the chapbook Stories of the Ship has the most complex narrative point of view within the book, but is predominantly told in first person by a Dutch sailor. Despite its narrative complexity, the story is told in a concise and objective manner, as it recounts a past adventure. Though not necessarily of the same form, all other stories in this book maintain a similar condensed style. However, the stories within the book vary in narrative point of view. Sometimes identified, sometimes anonymous, the narrators speak either in first or third person as well as in either present or past tense. The third-person narrators within this book tend to be objective and omniscient, acting as observers to their narratives, while the first-person narrators are necessarily more limited in their narration even as they function as characters within the story themselves.

Sample of First-Person Narrator from “The Dolphin, a droll Story”:

The dame now grinned with passion, but Joe perceiving she quickened her pace, snatched up the rod and net, and made the best of his way, still pointing to the sign as he passed under it, with his mother at his heels. She’ll not look up for a guinea, thought I. No more she did, and hobbling on at a pretty quick pace, was soon out of sight. (16)

Sample of Third-Person Narrator from “An Irish Sailor’s Opinion of Matrimony, a laughable Tale”:

The steward (for he was captain’s steward) was of a disposition that required but little invitation, particularly from a friend. He ate heartily, drank free, and cracked his joke. (25)

Overall, the narrative style is plot- and action-based. It is also non-personal, and in this lack of emphasis on emotion, it becomes easy to focus on and follow the swift narrative style of so many of the sections. Notably, the lack of emotional emphasis exists even when the form is more personal, as occurs in the last story of the book, written in the form of a letter. Additionally, despite the disparity of content and narrative style, there is a surprising lack of confusion derived from these constant switches. This is likely because of the storytelling style and introduction of many of the narrators, as can be seen in the aforementioned excerpts. In “Affecting Narrative of a Dutch Sailor,” the dominant narrator is introduced by another, as if the story is being passed along repeatedly, and has eventually made its way into this book. This embedded narrative style is seen in the opening of “Affecting Narrative of a Dutch Sailor,” which reads as follows:

You know, said Ortenberg, (for that was his name), that I left Holland clandestinely. The ship in which I went, was destined to sail for Batavia; the captain was an honest fellow, and had promised to procure me a place in the counting-house of one of his friends at Java. (3)

The story begins with an implied third-person narrator; however, beyond this first sentence there is no narrative point of view other than that of the first-person narration by Ortenberg, the main character.

In other instances, there is an objective narrator that infrequently uses first person, as their role within the story is limited. Such is the case in “The Dolphin, a droll Story,” excerpted above. This casual approach to the narratives encourages an element of humor as well as insinuates that the book is perhaps meant to be read aloud.


Stories of the Ship is a collection of short stories and anecdotes; the length of each section ranges from a few lines to multiple pages. The following summaries, listed in the order they appear within the chapbook, will reflect these inconsistencies in length. Additionally, the capitalization and punctuation within titles reflect their printing in the book.

Affecting Narrative of a Dutch Sailor

This story is told by a sailor named Ortenberg, who recalls “the Explosion of the Ship in which he was, and his miraculous preservation” (3). This ship experiences smooth sailing until an alarm is raised regarding a fire in the hold; a huge endeavor is made to extinguish the fire, but the efforts prove fruitless. There is no land or ship in sight, and general panic aboard the ship heightens. Most everyone steals away on boats, and the captain and Ortenberg attempt to chase them down in the ship, but success is again just out of reach. Shortly thereafter, the oil-casks catch fire, and it is not long before the entire ship explodes.

Upon returning to his senses, Ortenberg discovers himself to be the only survivor and laments his circumstances. He and his dog are reunited. Ortenberg then catches sight of the longboat, which had once accompanied the ship, a great distance away. As dawn rises the following day, the boat is near, and he is able to join those aboard who had escaped the ship before its calamity. Ortenberg is appointed captain of the longboat. They journey on, eventually run out of food, and are forced to resort to eating Ortenberg’s dog. Meanwhile, the people grow doubtful that land is near, and Ortenberg is given three days to discover land, or a plan of cannibalism will unfold. As a storm clears from the sky, land and a Dutch fleet are revealed. The story ends with the weary survivors being rescued and fed.

A British Seaman’s Humanity

Narrated in first-person by “a Gentleman,” this story recounts the gentleman opening a subscription at a library for a crazy old cottager who had lost her sailor lover (13). An English sailor, upon hearing her story, laments her tale in a series of metaphors comparing the woman to a ship. As the sailor departs the library, a Bond-street lounger insults him behind his back. The sailor overhears this comment and defends himself as a sailor under a commendable and honorable king, simultaneously attacking the honor of the lounger and leaving him looking like a fool.

The Dolphin, a droll Story

Told by an anonymous first-person narrator, begins with a mother chastising her son, Joe, for not catching enough fish. She proudly declares that she will do much better than he has, and will even catch a dolphin. The woman casts her line into deep and muddy water, and somehow her rod snaps. She then pulls the line in only to find that she had pulled in a stone. Having made a fool of herself (broken rod, muddy dress, and all), Joe pokes fun at her predicament.

Remarkable Instance of the Affection of a Bear for her Cubs, extracted from Commodore Phipps’ Voyage

Narrated in third-person, this tale begins with three bears, a mother and two cubs, making their way over ice towards ships nearby where a sea-horse had been killed. Feasting on the sea-horse, the bears are shot by the sailors, killing the cubs, and wounding the mother. Though in pain, the mother bear presents more meat to her cubs, hoping in vain that they are alive. They remain unmoving and she “endeavor[s] to raise them up” with no success (17). Moaning all the while, she walks away but returns repeatedly, and when she realizes they are dead, growls towards the ship, to which they respond by shooting her dead.

Adventures of Arthur Douglas, the little Scotsman, and Tom Reefem, an English Tar, an affecting Story

This story unfolds with Tom, an experienced sailor, offering aid to a despairing Arthur, who has run away from home to travel the world. Tom, taking pity on Arthur, feeds him, but not before Arthur has mistaken the returning Tom for a ghost. After eating, Arthur’s suspicions of Tom wane in favor of gratitude. Tom introduces Arthur to the captain, whose approval is contrasted by that of a London trader, who sentences Arthur to return to his parents. Arthur, despairing, is given an opportunity by the captain to work aboard his ship. He works under Tom, who he grows to love as a father, and after a few years, returns to England having become well-learned. However, just before docking, war has been declared against France, and Tom and Arthur are wounded in a fight against the French. Arthur, however, proves valiant in further engagements and is appointed midshipman by an admiral. Tom continues to accompany Arthur in his new role, and their friendship is well known.

An Irish Sailor’s Opinion of Matrimony, a laughable Tale

Narrated in third-person, this is a conversation between shipmates Patrick and Thomas. Thomas wants their captain to be married, but Patrick wholeheartedly disagrees with the notion, indicating that marriage is too confining. Thomas responds by advocating the absence of danger in marriage; Patrick refutes that indeed there is danger, most prominently in the form of jealousy, but also in marriage’s other passions and complexities.

This page shows the formatting used to separate stories and anecdotes.
Nocturnal Illumination

Also told by a third-person narrator, this anecdote describes a “finical lieutenant” asking for a light, which he calls a “nocturnal illumination” to be put out, and when he is misunderstood, he complains of the sailor’s stupidity (28). The boatswain, to whom the lieutenant speaks, translates the command into the words of a sailor, and the job is completed.

Anecdote of Admiral Haddock

In which a dying admiral leaves his son a small fortune devoid of dirty money.

Anecdote of a Sailor and Quaker

In which an English sailor attempts to instigate a Quaker to violence, to which the Quaker squeezes and shakes but does not strike the sailor into submission.

The Press-Gang

In which a gang accosts a gentleman, claiming they need him to teach their guards manners.

Extraordinary Instance of Bravery

This is a story of a hero who first sneaks aboard an enemy French ship and attempts to pull down their colors, while holding off, successfully, several attackers. He then saves a fellow countryman’s life, and shortly thereafter narrowly escapes death with a fractured leg, but continues to fight on his knees. After, he is doing well in the hospital. 

The Admiral’s Escutcheon

In which an admiral’s home is mistaken for an alehouse by a sailor, who asks for a cup of ale. The admiral then orders his servant to bring one to the sailor, and tells him that he might pay the next time he comes by.

King Charles II and the Sailor

This is a correspondence between Jack, “the best seamen in [the] navy,” headed for the gallows as a result of stealing, and King Charles Rex, who saves him from the gallows (32). 

A Sailor’s Frolic

This anecdote tells of a sailor endeavoring for “every tub [to] stand upon its own bottom” (32).

Wapping Ball

An anecdote about colliers at a ball who aim to level themselves with well-clothed sailors.

Account of the Battle of Trafalgar

A letter from a sailor by the name of Jack Handspike to his landlord regarding his experience in the Battle of Trafalgar. He begins by commending Lord Nelson but quickly transitions to the onset of the battle, during which Jack injures two of his fingers and ends up cutting them off and wrapping them so that he is able to captain a gun on the main-deck until the British victory. He then asks for several items to be bought for his wife, Sall, and reassures that although he is injured, and that he will be well recompensed for his service to the country. The letter ends with a song celebrating the death of Lord Nelson.


“Ann Kemmish”  The British Museum, The Trustees of the British Museum,

“Champante and Whitrow.” The British Museum, The Trustees of the British Museum,

“Cleugh, Alexander” [WorldCat Identities],

Cowie, George. The Bookbinder’s Manual: Containing a Full Description of Leather And Vellum Binding : Also, Directions for Gilding of Paper & Book-edges, And Numerous Valuable Recipes for Sprinkling, Colouring, & Marbling : Together With a Scale of Bookbinders’ Charges : a List of All the Book And Vellum Binders In London, &c., &c. 5th ed. London: William Strange, 18501859.

“Harris, William” [WorldCat Identities],

“Inigo Barlow.” The British Museum, The Trustees of the British Museum,

“Hughes, Thomas”  [WorldCat Identities],

“Mackenzie, Joseph” [WorldCat Identities],

“Plummer, Thomas” [WorldCat Identities],

Reitsma, H.J., and A. Ponsen. “THE LEIDEN DISASTER OF 1807.” Icon, vol. 13, 2007, pp. 1–18.

“Soutter, Thomas” [WorldCat Identities],

Stainer, John. Catalogue of English Song Books Forming a Portion of the Library of Sir John Stainer: With Appendices of Foreign Song Books, Collections of Carols, Books On Bells, &c. London: Printed for private circulation by Novello, Ewer, 1891.

Steele, John Gladstone. “Anne and John Ker.” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text, no. 12, 2204. 

Stories of the Ship OR, THE BRITISH SEAMEN’S PLEASING COMPANION: ILLUSTRATED IN A Series of Curious and Singular ADVENTURES. William Harris, 1807.

Researcher: Lauren Smits

The Three Ghosts of the Forest

The Three Ghosts of the Forest

The Three Ghosts of the Forest, A Tale of Horror. An Original Romance.

Author: Unknown
Publisher: D. N. Shury
Publication Year: 1803
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10.2cm x 16.5cm
Pages: 34
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .T565 1803

In this 1803 chapbook, jealousy, secrecy, kidnapping, and murder erupt as Orlando pursues romance with Isabella, Octavia, and Adela—three sisters.

Material History

At first glance, this book looks very frail and worn. With dimensions of 10.2cm x 16.5cm and a thickness of about 0.5cm, it is very small and thin. The cover is completely blank, and it is only yellowed paper (there is no kind of leather or hardback cover on the front). Also, there is no back cover of the book, it is just a piece of paper with writing from the beginning of another story.

The title page for Three Ghosts of the Forest

The title of this particular gothic book has a few different forms. Because the frail cover of the book is blank, the first place where the title appears is on the backside of the cover. In this location, the title is Three Ghosts of the Forest. The font of the title is relatively large, and it is fancy because the letters are outlined in black but have no color on the inside of the letters. The only other information on this page is the illustration as well as the artists’ names under the illustration. On the title page, which faces the inside of the cover, the title of the book is printed as The Three Ghosts of the Forest, A Tale of Horror. An Original Romance. The font here is solid black and much larger. The title page features a short four-line poem, and some decorations are present on the title page which include black lines separating the different parts of the title and separating the poem from the list of publishers underneath. It also includes the city of publication, London, and the year it was published, 1803. The decorative black line also appears below the word “finnis” on page 34. Once again, on the first page of the text, the title reads The Three Ghosts of the Forest. While this book has a title printed within it several times, it lacks an author’s name. This component does not appear anywhere throughout the book.

The novel also contains a frontispiece illustration. It is a black and white picture of two women wearing long white dresses, and they are surrounded by trees and grass. There is no caption beneath this picture, but the shorter version of the title is written underneath it. The artists’ names, however, appear underneath the illustration.

One of the most compelling parts of this book is a piece of patchwork that one of the original owners glued onto the back of the title page. There must have been a rip on this page, so somebody took the liberty to paste a fragment of a piece of paper over the rip. The patch has cursive handwriting in ink on it, and it is amazing to think that somebody wrote that so long ago. Other than the University of Virginia Special Collections Library stamp on the front of the book, this is the only mark of ownership.

This page features a hole over what appears to be the word “virtue”

This book has a relatively small font just because the book itself has such small dimensions, but it is not difficult to read the text. The text is not particularly closely set. Surprisingly, the margins of this book vary by page. Sometimes, as on page 5, the margins are much thinner on the right side than on the left, although on page 27 for example the margins are extremely crooked. As a result, the text is slanted on the page. This is a great example of the book’s individuality; every copy probably does not have the same margins since the printer that was used obviously printed some of the pages crooked.

This fragile book lacks a strong binding. The binding is paper, and it is held together by strings. There are no decorations on the outside of the book, and what would be the back binding is just the first few sentences of another different story. The book’s paper is very worn and yellowed. Many of the pages are stained with dark spots. The paper is thin and brittle, and page 13 actually has a hole in it which impends the reader from seeing one of the words.

Textual History

This book has an epigraph on the title page in the form of a short four-line poem. This poem appears to be original to this story, and it functions to give the reader an idea of some of the story’s themes. The narrator of the poem wants to escape his conscience because it will not let him forget some of the worst things he has ever done. This is relevant to the story since Orlando regrets his crimes so deeply by the end of the book.

Illustration showing Isabella’s ghost warning Adela about Orlando

There is little information available about the contemporary reception of The Three Ghosts of the Forest. However, the work does appear in several modern examinations of Gothic literature. One example of this book appearing in a twentieth-century work is Ann B. Tracy’s The Gothic Novel 1790–1830: Plot Summaries and Index to Motifs (1981). This resource provides a summary of the story, as well as summaries of many other gothic stories from the same time period, all organized alphabetically (177–81). It is interesting to note that despite the alphabetical organization, The Three Ghosts of the Forest also has thematic links with its surrounding stories. The summary featured before The Three Ghosts of the Forest is of a book called Tales of the Dead that also features ghosts. The book that is summarized after The Three Ghosts of the Forest is called Rosalind de Tracy; while this summary does not include ghosts, it includes elements similar to The Three Ghosts of the Forest such as marriage problems and death.

The Three Ghosts of the Forest also appears in Toni Wein’s 2002 work, British Identities, Heroic Nationalisms, and the Gothic Novel, 1764–1824. Wein comments on the unlikeliness of Isabella being able to escape her captivity because a servant accidentally left the door open. She also mentions the anonymous author’s message that indulgence and absence of religion make for a terrible person, as well as the message that wealth has too much influence on people and that it can keep good people from seeing the wrongdoings of evil people (161­–2). Something that is extremely interesting is the fact that in this source, the gothic book that is discussed on the next page is called Tales of the Dead, which is the exact same book that The Three Ghosts of the Forest was grouped with in Tracy’s work. According to Wein, Tales of the Dead also includes themes of economic corruption (163).

The Three Ghosts of the Forest is also featured in Franz J. Potter’s The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835. This 2005 work provides information regarding the publishing of many gothic books, but it only mentions The Three Ghosts of the Forest once. Surprisingly, this source states that the author of The Three Ghosts of the Forest is named Alexander Thomson. No other references of the book in other sources mention an author, and there is no author listed anywhere within the actual book, so it is unclear where this information originates. The History of Gothic Publishing also states that the book was “repackaged…into blue-book format” in 1803 (54).

There is a contemporary digital copy of this book, which can be found with the full text on Google Books. It features the same exact image that is on the hard copy of the book in the Sadleir-Black Collection. It even includes the first three pages of the story The Miraculous Preservation of Androcles which is exactly what the UVA Library’s copy includes at the end of the text. A difference between the two copies of these books is that the online version includes red stamps on some of the pages that say “British Museum 1560,” indicating its unique history of ownership.

Narrative Point of View

The Three Ghosts of the Forest includes both first- and third-person narration. The book is narrated in the third person for most of the first twenty-two pages of the book, and then it is narrated in the first person until the second paragraph of page thirty-three. After that, the remaining page is narrated again in the third person. The third-person narrator is anonymous and does not appear in the text. The narration in the third-person sections feels very emotionless and detached because, at some points, the narrator simply states the plot points. At other times, though, the anonymous narrator provides the reader with the characters’ emotions and processes of reasoning. The interpolated first-person narrative, which begins on page twenty-two is marked by a title, “The Confession of Orlando.” Orlando is the first-person narrator, and he gives more insight into his own feelings and reasons for his actions while explaining his point of view from his death bed. His narration feels very straightforward, as he is confessing and finally providing important information to help the reader understand the plot of the story.

Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:

The affrighted ruffians fled, leaving the wretched Octavia, unknowing whether she would live or die, in the forest—but she died in great agony about an hour later. (16)

Sample Passage of First-Person Narration:

I was left heir to a plentiful fortune, but the indulgence I had long enjoyed now led me to associate with what are called men of spirit; but never having met with any enlightened character to warn me of my evil, to shun those men of spirit that I thought wise, but were totally living under the idea of their own self knowledge and protection, having no knowledge of God, so that I was living like a wild man of the woods. (22–23)

The third-person narration is significant to the story because it has a way of distancing the characters from the reader. The description of Octavia’s death is very brief and abrupt. The absence of any of her last thoughts or wishes makes it difficult for the reader to empathize with her or mourn her death as a character. On the other hand, Orlando’s first-person narration allows readers to understand precisely how he is feeling. There is a heavy emphasis on circumstances and fate versus free will in his portion of the story. He appears to have a lack of agency which is caused by his circumstance that he is surrounded by ungodly men. Attributing his poor decisions to fate, he does not even consider the possibility of taking control and seeking out godly men who can help him change his ways. Octavia, while also lacking agency due to the fact that she is killed, does not get to have a long first-person narrative before her death. Readers are only given the in-depth perspective of the single male character in the story rather than also getting the perspective of one of the many female characters. This suggests that although both female and male characters lack agency, only the male character is important enough—and has enough agency as a storyteller—to give a testimony before death.


This story begins with an introduction of a few of the main characters. The Baron Arnhalt lives in the Chateau, and he has three daughters: Isabella, Octavia, and Adela. He plans to leave an equal share of his fortune to each of his daughters when he dies, and if any of them were to die unmarried, he would leave that portion to his nephew, Orlando. Orlando is also a wealthy man, and he wishes to marry one of the three daughters. Isabella is the oldest daughter, who has very good manners and is described as being “noble” (A2). Octavia is the second oldest daughter; she is artful, witty, and pretty. Adela, the youngest of the three, is described by the narrator as being very similar to Isabella, with an almost identical personality. Their father dies when Isabella is eighteen, and Orlando does not know which daughter he prefers yet.

Orlando starts to visit the Chateau much more frequently after the death of his uncle. He is able to rule out Adela as a possible suitor because she is being educated in a convent and he has not seen her in several years. He likes Isabella the best, but although she likes him as a person, she does not like him romantically. Octavia, though, is in love with him, and she wishes he would see her the way he sees Isabella.

This page features a handmade patch

Octavia makes friends with Orlando, and she tells Orlando that she will try to convince Isabella to accept his offers of marriage, but Octavia is not as innocent as she appears to be. Isabella had previously been in love with a man named Honorio, but he started to prefer Octavia. Isabella is such a good person that she encourages them to be together despite her love for Honorio.

Soon after, Honorio and Octavia are married. Once Isabella knows Honorio is with Octavia instead of her, she falls in love with a man who does not have much money. Honorio is not happy being Octavia’s husband, and they do not live together happily. Three months after their wedding, he is accidentally killed in the forest by ruffians. He hates being with Octavia so much that very soon after their wedding he made his will and left her basically nothing. The story returns to the present moment when Octavia assumes that now that she is a widow, Orlando will pursue her, but he still fancies Isabella.

One day, Orlando gets so fed up by the fact that Isabella does not love him that he and Octavia arrange for a group of people to kidnap her when she is outside alone to get some fresh air. Isabella finds herself in a furnished room with heavy bars on the doors and windows to prevent her escape. She is given anything that she wants or needs, and after a week of being kidnapped, she has nothing to complain about other than the fact that she wonders why she was taken away and wishes to be back at home. She also worries about how Octavia is doing not knowing where her sister is, when in fact Octavia is partly the reason for her kidnap. On the sixth day of her kidnapping, a disguised man comes into the room. He tells Isabella that she can be freed if she agrees to be his mistress, and he gives her three days to decide. After the three days have passed, he returns, and when he speaks this time, Isabella realizes that it is the voice of her cousin Orlando. He throws off his disguise, and she cannot believe he did such a thing to her. She scolds him and asks if he understands God’s laws, and after her speech, Orlando tells her that Octavia has him under her spell and that she is the reason he did this. He also tells Isabella that Octavia wants her to suffer and wants to take her fortune. Isabella is devastated by this news. She tells Orlando that if all her suffering is Octavia’s fault, she’ll return home and forget that he kidnapped her, but he tells her she must stay and be his mistress. Orlando leaves the room, reasoning that he will either keep her there until she dies unmarried or convince her to marry him, so either way he can receive her fortune.

News of Isabella’s disappearance has reached Adela’s convent. She decides to return home rather than take the veil. When Adela returns, Orlando sees how similar she is to Isabella and develops feelings for her. Whenever he thinks of releasing Isabella, he decides against it since Adela, his new object of affection, would surely hate him for doing that to her sister.

Octavia, still annoyed that Orlando does not love her, decides to threaten to tell Adela all that he has done. Octavia and Orlando agree to meet the next day at Orlando’s castle. Orlando then arranges for four men to stop Octavia on her way to his castle and take her to a distant convent and force her to take the veil. As Octavia is walking to the castle, a storm rolls in, and as she approaches the spot where Honorio was killed, the four men jump at her and one of them accidentally pierces her with his sword as she tries to escape. As this happens, Honorio’s ghost appears and says that his death had been avenged, with the same sword that killed him.

The same night, Isabella escapes from Orlando’s castle when a servant accidentally leaves the door open. As she runs through the woods, a robber comes out from behind a tree and takes everything she has, stabbing her to death afterwards.

When Adela hears of the deaths of her two sisters, she has to be carried to her bed and spends the next two weeks in a frenzied state of mind. When Orlando hears the news, he is not shocked about Octavia, but he is surprised to hear of Isabella’s death. Rather than dwell on depressing thoughts, he decides to go see Adela and try to win her hand in marriage. Adela agrees to marry him after the time of mourning has passed, not knowing of his involvement in her sisters’ lives.

One day, after Adela visited Orlando, he was walking Adela home just after sunset and the ghost of Octavia appeared. Octavia’s ghost tells Orlando that his time is near and then disappears. Orlando leads a distressed Adela to the end of the forest, but before they get out, Isabella and Honorio’s ghosts appear as well. Honorio looks angrily at Orlando, while Adela follows Isabella’s ghost away from Orlando. Once they arrive at the bank of a small river, Isabella’s ghost tells Adela not to marry Orlando because he has murder on his conscience. After that, the ghost disappears. Although she feels torn because she loves Orlando, Adela decides never to see him again and runs home.

The next day, Orlando wakes up with a terrible sickness, and he fears that Octavia’s ghost’s prediction is coming true. Adela only agrees to go visit Orlando because it is his dying request. When she gets there, she’s shocked at his sickly appearance and he starts telling her his confession of all the evil that he has done.

He starts his story at the beginning of his life, talking about how he was spoiled as a child and how his parents died when he was eighteen, leaving him a fortune. He lived an indulgent life, spending most of his inheritance and blaming his bad character on the unreligious people that he surrounded himself with. When Adela’s father died, he figured he should marry one of his daughters in order to gain their third of the fortune. He tells the story of how he loved Isabella and how he and Octavia conspired to get Octavia and Honorio together. Orlando became friends with Honorio and would always talk to him about how great Octavia was and how awful Isabella was, leading Honorio to marry Octavia. However, shortly after being married, Octavia told Orlando how terrible it was being married to someone who did not actually love her, and she requested that Orlando get rid of Honorio somehow. Orlando sent hired ruffians to kill Honorio, but afterwards, the guilt consumed him. Octavia did not regret it at all, and she expected to become rich by inheriting Honorio’s fortune. Although, as we already know, he left her nearly nothing in his will. Octavia then worried about the fact that Isabella was to marry a poor man, because she knew he would not want Isabella to keep helping Octavia financially. For this reason, Orlando says Octavia convinced him to kidnap Isabella. He felt very guilty after this and after acting odd around Octavia, they both knew that they were not on the same side anymore. One day, after Octavia left his house, an anonymous man requested to speak to Orlando about something urgent. He told Orlando that Octavia planned to poison him when they met the next day, so Orlando decided to hire the same ruffians from Honorio’s death to kidnap Octavia and take her to a convent. The ruffians return, though, to report to him that they had accidentally killed her and that they saw Honorio’s ghost. With both Octavia and Isabella dead, Orlando figured he could now pursue Adela without anything getting in his way. Octavia’s ghost haunted him constantly, saying she would not rest until he was dead.

Finished with his story, Orlando tells Adela to be happy that she escaped a terrible sister as well as a marriage with a terrible man. He begs God for mercy, and Adela cries for him. Happy to receive her pity, he finally dies. At his funeral, Adela thinks of how she wishes to escape this wicked world, so she decides to go live in the convent, donating one third of her fortune to the convent and the other two thirds to those she thought worthy. Whoever she donates the final two thirds of her fortune to remains ambiguous in the text.


Potter, Franz J. The History of Gothic Publishing, 18001835, Exhuming the Trade, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

The Three Ghosts of the Forest, A Tale of Horror. An Original Romance. London, D. N. Shury, 1803.

Tracy, Ann B. The Gothic Novel 1790–1830: Plot Summaries and Index to Motifs, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2014.

Wein, Toni. British Identities, Heroic Nationalisms, and the Gothic Novel, 17641824, Palgrave, 2002.

Researcher: Julia Wright