The Adventures of Capt. Duncan, A Journey From Europe, Over The Arabian Deserts, To the British Settlements in India; Containing, Among Other Particulars, An Account Of The Perils he experienced in those terrific Regions, The Eccentric Humours of His Tartarian Guide, His Shipwreck, and Distresses In The War With Hyder Ally, &c.
Dubiously attributed to Mary Anne Radcliffe when published in 1802, this chapbook tracks a captain’s journey across what’s east of England
The Sadleir-Black Collection edition of The Adventures of
Capt. Duncan wears its history well. Despite its age, the book has
maintained its blue cover, bound by a thick string. Frayed and whittled down on
the sides, the cover sheets are thinner and frailer than the sheets containing
the book’s text, perhaps indicating that the covers have borne the brunt of the
wear and tear. The exterior cover notes an extravagant number of salesmen
across England responsible for the publishing of the book. The interior cover
recognizes this edition as the premium printing copy of the story, costing an
additional three pence, up to a total of nine. That distinction, as a premium
publication, likely enabled the cover’s survival, as this edition supplied a
superior set of craftsmanship and materials.
With regards to the pages, The Adventures of Capt. Duncan
is relatively short. Even amongst these few pages, they are uneven, jetting
outward or inward, indicating some combination of both uneven page-cutting and
the wear of centuries. The pages themselves are brittle, dry, and yellowed, yet
firmer than the cover. When turning the pages, they tend to crunch a bit and
move with rigidity.
Following the initial pages that note the book’s publication
information, there is an illustration of Captain Duncan in his armor. This
serves as a frontispiece, with the inelaborate title The Adventures of Capt.
Duncan. On the very next page, the expansive title takes up a full page,
declaring The Adventures of Capt. Duncan, A Journey From Europe, Over The
Arabian Deserts, To the British Settlements in India; Containing, Among Other
Particulars, An Account Of The Perils he experienced in those terrific Regions,
The Eccentric Humours of His Tartarian Guide, His Shipwreck, and Distresses In
The War With Hyder Ally, &c. This title uses an array of fonts, spacings,
and capitalizations on the page, ranging from robotic, direct fonts, to floral
and italicized fonts. On the cover, there is a similar mixing of fonts. There
are variations even among the spaces between the letters within words, as well
as the spacing between lines.
The rest of the book is not nearly as unique. The text itself is
fairly plain. There is little spacing between lines and a 1.5 to 2 centimeter
margin on the pages. The book is brief, at only thirty-six pages, in the style
of gothic chapbooks. The back cover of the book shares the same physical
qualities as the blue front cover: it is thin, fragile, and is more sparsely
populated with printed text.
The Adventures of Captain Duncan
was one of two installations in Radclife’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine
(Brown et al). The magazine’s publishers hoped the magazine would “contain an
elegant & chaste collection of Original Novels, Tales, Romances, Lives,
Memoirs, Voyages, Travels, &c. together with a judicious Selection from the
Writings of those Authors, whose works have in any degree excited public
notoriety” but after those first two issues, the project was abandoned (quoted
in Potter 64).
As a chapbook, The Adventures of Captain Duncan holds a
small place in the larger chapbook publishing landscape. From roughly the late
1790s to the early 1800s, Thomas Hurst published gothic chapbooks from his
office at 32 Paternoster Row. He was integral in many of the gothic chapbooks
published between 1798 and 1803, including The Adventures of Captain Duncan.
Hurst spearheaded the serial Radclife’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine,
and was also the exclusive seller in England, while the rest of the magazines
were sold in Scotland (Potter 64). Another gentleman, Thomas Brown, joined
Hurst in publishing Radcliffe’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine, as well as
The Marvelous Magazine (Potter 64–5).
As the eighteenth century turned to the nineteenth, chapbooks
were sold with practices that echo modern multi-level marketing schemes. The
primary distributor (Thomas Hurst, for example) would collect a group of
subordinates to sell the chapbooks, with the option to sell the books
individually or further distribute them to other sellers (Potter 67).
Booksellers’ advertisements in newspapers and such reveal an extensive network
of this wholesale distribution (Potter 67–8).
Mary Anne Radcliffe was billed as the writer, compiler, and
editor of Radclife’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine. Her name
immediately begets ambiguity with its similarities to the well-known Gothic
novelist Ann Radcliffe, but that is not where the issues end. Mary Anne
Radcliffe was certainly a real person. She was born Mary Clayton of Nottingham.
She was well educated, considering her status and gender (Brown et al). At the
mere age of fourteen, she married Joseph Radcliffe, giving her the fateful
Radcliffe name. Following her marriage, she dotted across England between
Edinburgh, London, and Nottingham (Brown et al). Mary Anne Radcliffe certainly
wrote as well. The works most clearly attributable to her are The Female
Advocate; or An Attempt to Recover the Rights of Women from Male Usurpation and
Memoirs … in Familiar Letters to Her Female Friend. Scholars have doubted
her other attributed works, however, which include an array of gothic novels as
well as translations of foreign novels (Brown et al).
Most modern scholarship focuses on Mary Anne Radcliffe’s larger
Gothic novels rather than her chapbooks, but they reveal a larger practice of
misattribution, where certain publishers attached Mary Anne Radcliffe’s name to
books in an attempt to sell more—relying on her proximity to Ann Radcliffe’s
name (Garside et al). Some of Mary Anne Radcliffe’s attributions are more
suspect than others. One such novel, Radzivil, was attributed to her
several years after publication. The Fate of Velina de Guidova, which is
a translation from Russian that is set in France, was attributed after an even
greater wait (Brown et al). Both novels focus on material entirely distinct
from The Female Advocate and point to a different author entirely (Brown
Radclife’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine
has fewer suspect circumstances but still exists within the context of those
other misattributions. The magazine correctly identifies Mary Anne Radcliffe’s
address and she was attributed at the time of publishing (Brown et al). Some modern
scholars are skeptical of Mary Anne Radcliffe being the true author or editor
of the pocket magazine, but it nevertheless holds a sharper connection than her
other attributions (Garside et al). Whether Mary Anne Radcliffe truly wrote and
edited for the magazine or someone else did, The Adventures of Captain
Duncan remains a valuable part of the history of chapbooks in England.
Point of View
The Adventures of Captain Duncan
switches between an unidentified third-person narrator and the first-person
narration of Captain Duncan, through what appears to be a set of direct
statements from Duncan. The third-person narrator functions as an interpreter
of those notes. Both styles delve into the captain’s emotions, but his
first-person interjections serve as sharper confirmations of the preceding
paraphrases of the narrator.
As the Captain became familiarised to his Tartar guide, he found him a fellow of infinite humour and much humanity, well acquainted with the world, and endeavoring all he could to alleviate the gloom that frequently clouded his countenance. One principal object with him seemed to be to impress the Captain with an idea of his high importance as a messenger belonging to the Sultan, and that his authority wherever he came was not to be disputed. “ Thus,” says Capt. Duncan, “ whenever we stopped at a Caravansera, he immediately called about him, in the name of the Sultan, for fresh horses, victuals, &c. And though the utmost submission was shown to his will, he nevertheless frequently exhibited his muscular powers by unmercifully belaboring all indiscriminately with his whip, and I was afraid to interfere, fearful that he might think it necessary to give me a flogging to avoid suspicion.” (15)
These two modes of narration function within the larger
historical implications of The Adventures of Captain Duncan, an
international story that has the power to shape English understandings of lands
and cultures beyond England. The reports of Captain Duncan thus operate as a
historical primary source within this fictional text. This adds a sense of
realism, because it seems as though these could be the words of a real man, who
had a real story, who is being studied by a real person. Additionally, several
times throughout the book, there are extended passages explaining local
customs, none more prominently than when the text explains that during Hajj, in
Mecca, the worshippers “enter the former [Masjid al-Haram], and, walking seven
times round the little building contained within it, say, ‘This is the house of
God and of his servant Abraham’” (10–11). These insights into other cultures
gain veracity the same way Captain Duncan’s own story does: through the book’s
presentation of his journals as a primary source within the narration.
Captain Duncan’s journey begins as any journey does: with a
departure. In May 1781, he receives word that he must go to India to help sort
out his father’s affairs. Duncan leaves his spouse and two daughters in
England. Rather than directly sail around the Cape of Good Hope, he travels
over land, across Europe and the Middle East en route to India. He dots between
European cities like Brussels, Venice, and Augsburg. In Augsburg, Duncan finds
himself in a church when a friar indulges him in drink, issuing vague religious
proclamations about his journey. The friar is welcoming, joyful, and telling
stories that keep Duncan enthralled before continuing his journey.
He reaches a fork in the road at Venice, deciding whether to travel directly through Syria or through Egypt. After opting for a boat ride to Egypt, he meets a young English woman he hopes to bring with him to India, but her guardian stops his pursuits. When he lands in Alexandria, he still heads through Syria, taking his longest stop at Aleppo. His journey is largely defined by the different British people he meets along his travels, and Aleppo is no different. Those expatriates offer comfort, refuge, and rescue to Duncan throughout his trek. He connects with a large, traveling caravan going towards Mecca; one large enough to withstand bands of robbers along their path. It eventually links up with a few more caravans, each boasting legions of soldiers and beasts to fortify their trip.
Once he reaches Mecca, he meets yet another woman who wants to run away, this one suffering in the clutches of an older husband. With their plan hatched, Captain Duncan is quite prepared to sneak away, but the British Consul hears of this scheme and shuts it down. Duncan even faces local legal trouble resultant from his infringement upon a legal marriage, but the Consul smuggles him out of town with a Turkish guide.
The captain quickly irritates the overbearing guide with his mocking of the guide’s sense of seriousness and superiority, leading to some scuffles over horses and such. He specifically objects further when the guide traffics several women via their traveling party, but to no avail. They eventually reach Mosul, where their partnership ends and the captain links up with an Armenian merchant to assist him in his travels. The merchant brings him to the last leg of his journey, where he boards a ship to take him to India.
However, calamity strikes and they misjudge the monsoon patterns of the waterway and condemn their ship to ruin. Despite battling the waters and waves, the ship collapses when a hurricane forms and the crewmates subsequently drift across the sea. They wash ashore at Hydernagur, where Indian locals, who do not take kindly to British colonizers, capture them.
When leader Hyder Ally finds out that Captain Duncan is the son of the renowned Colonel Duncan, he wishes to turn Captain Duncan to his side in the war. At first, it comes in bribes, where Hyder offers men and money, but it later comes in threats, where Hyder’s men temporarily hang and torture Captain Duncan, before eventually conceding.
Duncan has a British companion in these troubles, one Mr. Wall.
Mr. Wall came on this journey out of financial necessity; he was in love with a
woman, and his previously wealthy father had wasted his riches on some poor
investments, leaving him destitute and unable to wed. He came to India to try
to recoup some wealth, enough to get married. But Mr. Wall never returns to
England and dies in Hydernagur, shackled at the feet to the still-living
There is still another English expatriate, however, for General
Matthews marched into town to save Captain Duncan from his captors. After
gaining freedom, Duncan enlists as a negotiator between British and Jemadar
forces, who are an independent sect of forces who revolted from Hyder Ally’s
son, Tippoo Sahib. The British military wants Jemadar’s support to help gain a
valuable garrison to fight back against Sahib. Successful in these
negotiations, Captain Duncan continues on his journey, moving farther across
India before even venturing out to China. He finally returns to England some
three and a half years later.
Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. “Mary Ann Radcliffe: Writing.” Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Online, 2006. http://orlando.cambridge.org 3 November 2021.
P. D. Garside, with J. E. Belanger, A. A. Mandal, and S. A. Ragaz. “The English Novel, 1800–1829: Update 4 (June 2003–August 2003).” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text 12 (Summer 2004). http://www.romtext.org.uk/reports/engnov4/ 3 November 2021.
Potter, Franz J. Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and
Shilling Shockers, 1797–1830,
University of Wales Press, 2021.
Radcliffe, Mary Anne. The Adventures of Captain Duncan.
London, Hurst, 1802.
In Issac Crookenden’s 1806 chapbook, characters face betrayal, secret identities, romantic intrigues, incest, and other sinful subjects. The drama of these Sicilian nobles’ story prompts the narrator to interject with frequent lectures on morality.
Fatal Secrets is a small volume, only eighteen centimeters in length and eleven
centimeters in width. As the sole chapbook included in the rebinding, it is
quite slim. The cover is a solid tan paper, and the exterior is not decorated
by anything but the title of the chapbook. The title is found on a rectangle of
maroon leather with gold leaf stamping. “FATAL SECRETS / Issac Crookenden
/ 1806” is stamped into the leather. The material and quality of the cover
indicate the chapbook was rebound following its first publishing. Comparison to
other novels in the Sadleir-Black collection reveals that Sadleir likely
rebound the chapbook in a similar style with several other books of his before
selling his personal collection.
Upon opening the
book, the reader sees the creamy, relatively unworn paper that appears to have
been inserted during the rebinding. After turning these opening pages, the
first page of the original chapbook is revealed. It is in much worse condition
than the paper included in the rebinding. The first and last original page is
suede-colored with gray stains. In ink, someone has written “Fatal Secrets; Or,
Etherlinda de Salmoni” in a cursive script at the top of the page. The next
page is distinctively lighter than that of the first, but is made of a similar
thin, soft paper. The pulpy pages are worn, and in some cases have small tears
along their edges. They have the same grey stains as the darker pages, which
are absent on the pages inserted during the rebinding. Both types of pages have
signature marks. The original signature marks are printed onto the page, while
the newer pages have the signature marks penciled on. On a few of the 26
numbered pages, there are holes near the spine where they were threaded
together. The thread was likely removed during the rebinding.
After turning to the printed pages, the reader sees the first of two illustrations in the chapbook. The frontispiece is in black and white and depicts a dramatic scene from the story. Included in the illustration is a plaque on which is written “Fatal Secrets.” The caption also reveals the publishing date as November 1, 1806. The title page lists the author as “Issac Crookenden, Author of The Mysterious Murder, &c. &c.” This page also lists the complete title of the chapbook: “Fatal Secrets; Or, Etherlinda de Salmoni. A Sicilian Story.”Turning past the title page begins the story. The print is small but clear with the pages numbered at the top. The last of the two illustrations is on the final page of the story and is more of a closing drawing than an illustration of a scene. At the end of the original pages, there are several fly leaves which are the same as those added from the rebinding.
Fatal Secrets; Or,
Etherlinda de Salmoni. A Sicilian Story has four publicly
known copies according to WorldCat. At least three of these copies appear to be
of the same edition, namely those in the University of Virginia, Duke
University, and University of California, Los Angeles libraries. All available
sources refer to the edition published in 1806, so there was likely only one
edition. This edition was published by J. Lee, a publishing house on 24 Half
Moon Street, Bishopgate. Isaac Crookenden’s only works published by J. Lee, Fatal
Secrets and The Mysterious Murder; or, The Usurper of Naples, were
both published in 1806 (Potter 91). J. Lee published authors other than
Crookenden, including Sarah Wilkinson, another prolific chapbook author, and he
also published sensationalist pamphlets and other literature outside of gothic
chapbooks (Potter 91)
Fatal Secrets is just one of many of Crookenden’s works. He wrote at least ten gothic chapbooks, all under his name. Both his unabashed use of his own name and his frequent writings were very unusual in the world of gothic publishing (Potter 26). In fact, Crookenden was only second to Sarah Wilkinson in the number of gothic chapbooks published under his name (Potter 26). Over the course of twenty years, he regularly published his sensationalist chapbooks, all of them thirty-six pages each (Nevins 67). As the amount of money to be made from writing chapbooks was likely quite small and Crookenden was employed as a schoolteacher for part of his literary career, it is unlikely that he pursued this path with a mind for profit (Potter 26, 71–72). His work, however, was hardly original.
Scholarly analysis of Crookenden’s works largely focuses on one aspect of them: their plagiarism. He is accused of being “the most notorious counterfeiter of legitimate Gothic novels,” the “master counterfeiter of long Gothics,” and a plagiarist of “better-known English and German Gothics” (Tymn 59, Frank 19, Nevins 67). Crookenden was in no way unusual among his peers for abridging and even stealing more famous novels’ plots. What did make him notable, however, was the fact that he published this stolen work under his own name (Frank 143).
Fatal Secrets itself may be a plagiarized combination of Ann Radcliff’s A Sicilian Romance and The Italian (Frank 133). It certainly shares many popular Gothic tropes with the novels, including an imprisoned mother, evil father, hidden parentage, and possible fratricide (Nevins 303–5). Still, it is unclear whether Crookenden’s contemporaries recognized Fatal Secrets as plagiarism or cared whether it was so. There is little evidence for Fatal Secrets’s advertisement or subsequent reception. There do not appear to be any reprintings or adaptions. As of 2021, it is listed under both Amazon and AbeBooks, but neither website seems to sell any copies, digital or otherwise. Other than references to Crookenden’s plagiarism, Fatal Secrets is only mentioned in scholarship within lists of Gothic texts (Tracy 30). Fatal Secrets appears to have had neither significant scholarly nor cultural significance beyond its publishing. It blends into the fabric of the hundreds of gothic chapbooks published over several decades that briefly entertained their audience.
Point of View
Fatal Secrets is narrated in an omniscient third-person point of view, except
for a letter written in the first person. The narration is highly dramatic and
emotional, but clear. Sentences are lengthy and segmented. The narrator changes
between the present and backstory multiple times. The narrator frequently
interjects into the storytelling various direct addresses to the reader about
the morality of the characters’ choices and human nature. The narrator clearly
condemns some characters’ actions and portrays others as faultless heroes. The
dedication at the beginning of the chapbook states that these addresses are
meant to guide the reader’s personal morality.
Sample Passage of Third-Person
In the mean time, the degeneracy of his son, had a visible effect on the Marquis’s happiness; and at last precipitated him into those very vices for which the former had been excluded his paternal home. So inconsistent is human nature; and “so apt are we to condemn in others what we ourselves practise without scruple.”
The Marquis, as we have before observed, collecting his scattered property retired to a seat he had recently purchased in the vicinity of Beraldi Castle; but they lived such a secluded life, that altho’ Ricardo found them out by means of seeing Alicia accidentally, yet he little imagined it was his own parents who resided there. (35)
Sample Passage from the Letter:
I look round in vain to see my beloved Count? ah, how often do I fix my eye on the vacant spot where you used to sit, and strive to collect your every attitude, and those dear engaging features which shed such tender benevolence when I applied you to be my friend in my helpless state.—I told you that I had been the victim of a villain’s perfidy, you pitied my situation, and sheltered me in your castle.—Ah ! why did you so? for it was this kindness that begot gratitude in my soul, and gratitude soon ripened into love !—How often have you told me that you loved me, and not even Theodora herself should rival me in your heart*. (31)
Fatal Secrets’ narration fits the story it tells. The narrator’s
knowledge of all the characters’ motivations and past actions both make the
story clearer and serve its theatrical nature through the inclusion of dramatic
irony. Full of twists that evoke horror and disgust in the characters, the
black-and-white narrative descriptions simplify the quandaries it creates. The
clear narrative division between the heroes and the sinners provides the story
with a neat ending. The constant moralizing from the narrator is in clear
conflict with the shocking and obscene story it tells but allows for the story
to claim both sensationalist and righteous audiences.
Before the story
begins, Crookenden dedicates the chapbook to a “Madam *******.” Here he accounts his anonymization of her to
her assumed unwillingness to be associated with the story, but assures her that
he will use the depravity of his story to teach the reader of morality.
Fatal Secrets starts with Theodora de Beraldi worried about her husband’s delay
at one of his estates. She is comforted by Ricardo, the cousin of Count
Beraldi, who is staying with her and his cousin after being disowned by his
father for debauchery. While Ricardo comforts Theodora, she squeezes his hand
and he begins to believe that she is in love with him. He lusts after her and
is about to declare his intentions when her husband returns. Theodora, ignorant
of Ricardo’s feelings, is overjoyed at her husband’s return, but Count Beraldi
finds a letter in the Count’s library that reveals Count Beraldi is having an
affair. He leaves the letter for Theodora to find, and when she does, she falls
ill. At this time, Count Beraldi is away. Ricardo leaves under the guise of
finding the Count to make him return to his ill wife. In reality, he tasks a
group of robbers to capture the Count and leave him in the dungeon of one of
the Count’s estates. Having replaced all the servants of the estate with people
loyal to him, Ricardo takes control of the Count’s land and rules while his
wife is ill. Ricardo confesses his feelings for Theodora, who is horrified and
refuses him. He imprisons her and separates her from her son, Ormando. She
again falls ill, and, after being separated from her son for the final time,
dies having never granted Ricardo’s wishes.
Ricardo takes in
his lover’s daughter, Etherlinda, and raises her as the heir to Count Beraldi’s
estate. He also raises Ormando, but as an orphan under his care rather than the
true heir. Eventually, the two fall in love with each other. Ormando confesses
his feelings and Etherlinda returns them. Ricardo sends Ormando off to serve
him with the understanding that, if he returns and still loves Etherlinda, he
will have Ricardo’s blessing.
Etherlinda is the daughter of Alicia whom Ricardo seduced and bore Etherlinda out of wedlock. Alicia is the daughter of the Marquis Salmoni, but she concealed this from Ricardo out of shame. The Marquis lost much of his wealth to debauchery and moved to his only remaining land with his wife and daughter. Ricardo eventually stole Etherlinda away from Alicia and stopped providing for the mother of his child. Alicia then went to Count Beraldi (before he was imprisoned) and implored his assistance. The two began an affair, the same one that was revealed in the letter. Ricardo discovered that Alicia was the mistress of Count Beraldi after he imprisoned the Count. He was enraged by this and imprisoned her in a separate dungeon.
journey, he stops at a convent and is welcomed by a monk. This monk is Marquis
Salmoni, although Ormando does not know it. The Marquis became a monk after his
wife died of the grief caused by her missing daughter. When Ormando departs, he
accidentally leaves behind the letter Alicia wrote Count Beraldi. This letter
had been misplaced by Ricardo and was hidden for seventeen years before Ormando
found it. Ormando did not get a chance to read it before he dropped it, so he
is unaware of its contents. The Marquis died shortly after reading the letter
and learning of his daughter’s sin.
Later in his journey, Ormando is kidnapped by Ricardo’s robbers and taken to a castle. Here Ricardo reveals himself to Ormando, having closely watched him the entire time. Ricardo leads Ormando into the dungeon and tells him that if he does what he says he will be entitled to Etherlinda and Ricardo’s estates. Ormando is horrified when Ricardo commands him to kill Alicia, who has been kept in the dungeon for all these years. She reveals that she is Etherlinda’s mother and that Ormando is Count Beraldi’s son. She and Ricardo argue, and she reveals her last name to be de Salmoni. Ricardo realizes that Alicia is his sister and dies of shock. Alicia believed her brother to have been dead and is horrified by the revelation.
both Alicia and Count Beraldi from captivity. He is announced as the true heir
and marries Etherlinda. Etherlinda never finds out her true ancestry and bears
Ormando many children. Alicia is reunited with her daughter but then spends the
rest of her life at a convent, repenting.
Isaac Crookenden’s 1805 chapbook tells a tale of betrayal, terror, and romance. The shocking discovery of a skeleton in a castle dungeon is just one of its many twists.
This copy of The Skeleton; or, Mysterious Discovery, A Gothic Romance by Isaac Crookenden is a small collection of brittle and yellowed pages, delicately held together with a bit of thread and paste. The chapbook lacks binding, and the pages could potentially have been ripped from a larger volume containing an assortment of tales. Assembling these smaller stories into larger volumes was common practice at the time.
In its present state,The Skeleton resembles a small pamphlet. The book and its pages have a width of 9.5 centimeters and a height of 17.75 centimeters. In its entirety, the book consists of 38 pages, including a blank cover page, a page containing an illustrated frontispiece, an official title page, another blank page, and two pages reserved for an author’s introduction.
This version of the text was published in London in 1805. It was printed and published by A. Neil at the Sommers Town Printing Office. The address of the office is listed as No. 30 Chalton Street. The title page notes that the story is sold by “all other booksellers” as well as Sommers Town. On the book’s title page, the price is listed to be six-pence—fairly cheap for its time.
Currently, this copy has a card indicating the University of Virginia’s possession and ownership of the text attached to the blank first page that was likely added in the 1930s or 40s. This card indicates that the book was presented by Robert K. Black. The notecard also has a handwritten inscription indicating that the text has been microfilmed.
Following the blank first page with this card
is the second page containing a detailed frontispiece illustration of a man
standing in an elegant stone hall holding an open flame. His face expresses
shock as the flame illuminates a skeleton. Beneath the illustration is the text
“Adolphus discovers the Skeleton of the Baron de Morfield” as well as
publication information and attribution for the artwork. This is certainly the
biggest artwork included in the text; however, on page 6, there is a small
image of a rose to signify the end of the introduction.
There is no shortage of unique defects to the
text, making it one of a kind. Because of the lack of binding and seemingly
careless way it was removed from its original bound copy, the text is held
together loosely. The first ten pages are especially fragile and could easily
be separated from the rest. There is a small rip midway down the first blank
cover page. There are small stains throughout, but most noticeably on the
bottom of page 35 there is a dark splotch on the page with unknown origins. The
ink for the printed text has faded considerably in some parts of the book.
As well as defects,
there are other intentional printed indicators of the book’s era. There are
various letter/number combinations along the bottom of certain pages called
signature marks, indicating the proper folding of the paper for the printer.
They are as follows: A on page 3, B on page 15, B3 on page 19, C on page 27,
and C3 on page 21. The book may be considered difficult to read to a modern
reader on account of the printer’s use of the long S in which “s” look like
The Skeleton is a gothic chapbook written by Isaac
Crookenden. An edition of the chapbook is currently in the University of
Virginia’s Special Collections Library as a part of the Sadleir-Black
Collection of Gothic Fiction, where it was received as a gift. This chapbook
was published by A. Neil in 1805 and it originally sold for six-pence at a
variety of booksellers. This edition of the chapbook was published at the
Sommers Town Printing Office at No. 30 Chalton Street in London, near the
Crookenden was born
in 1777 in Itchenor, a village in West Sussex, England, as the youngest of nine
children. His father was a shipbuilder who experienced bankruptcy. Crookenden
overcame a presumably impoverished childhood to marry Elizabeth Pelham Fillery
in 1798, and had a son, Adolphus, in 1800. His educational experience is
alluded to in The Skeleton’s title page, on which he describes
himself as the “Late assistant at Mr. Adams’ Academy in Chichester.”
Crookenden’s status as a former schoolmaster indicates he was educated enough
to educate others. Franz Potter hypothesizes that perhaps he advertised his
former position as an educator in The
Skeleton to heighten the shock and scandal of his work—that someone
associated with children could conceive the horrors in the tale (71–2).
Crookenden published the chapbook Berthinia,
or, The Fair Spaniard in 1802, and nine other publications of the same
variety are known. His main genre was gothic, though he experimented with a
more purely romantic approach in 1808’s Venus
on Earth (Baines). While some of his works were published as late as 1824,
Crookenden died in Rotherhithe, Surrey in 1809 at just thirty-two (Potter 72).
Crookenden had an infamous reputation as one of the most prolific plagiarizing writers of the gothic genre. Frederick S. Frank describes Crookenden as “probably the most notorious counterfeiter of legitimate Gothic Novels” (“Gothic Romance” 59). His name is often mentioned alongside Sarah Wilkinson’s, and both authors have been said by Frank to pursue “lucrative careers of Gothic counterfeiting.” (“Gothic Chapbooks” 142). It should then come as no surprise that The Skeleton has no shortage of similarities to a gothic novel published in 1798 called The Animated Skeleton. While the author of the original work is unknown, Crookenden’s rendition of the story includes many borrowed plot points and thematic resemblances, mainly the discovery of a skeleton to incite terror. The key difference comes from the distinct castle settings and character names, as well as the fact that in The Animated Skeleton, the skeleton’s reanimation is found to be mechanized, whereas in Crookenden’s iteration, the skeleton is of a more supernatural variety (Potter 72). Frank notes that “Crookenden plundered the plot from The Animated Skeleton” (“Gothic Gold” 19). Frank, in a separate instance, also notes that The Skeleton “proves to be a refabrication of the anonymous Animated Skeleton of 1798 together with bits and pieces of the author’s extensive Gothic gleanings” (“Gothic Romance” 59)
WorldCat lists four
copies of the chapbook around the world, each with the same publication date of
1805. Along with the University of Virginia’s copy in Charlottesville,
Virginia, The Skeleton can be found
in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in the Rare Book/Special
Collections Reading Room. The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library’s Weston
Stacks in Oxford, United Kingdom holds a copy of the chapbook as well. The
Bodleian’s library catalog describes the binding as “sprinkled sheep” and
indicates that it is bound with seven other items. The Monash University
Library in Clayton, Australia holds the fourth and final of the catalogued
copies of The Skeleton.
Narrative Point of View
The Skeleton is mostly narrated in the third person, with
brief, occasional interjections of first-person narration providing commentary
on the actions or events taking place in the chapbook. The introduction is a
note to the reader in the latter style, condemning critics that call gothic
romance unrealistic and directly warning the reader not to judge a book by its
cover. Though the narrator often uses “we” when referring to their subjective
thoughts, the introduction is signed “Your humble servant, The AUTHOR.” The
story and action are presented in the third person, however, and the narrator
makes abundant use of commas, dashes, and semicolons to present a unique voice.
Letters are also included in the story, presented as written by the characters
within the chapbook.
Almira now observed two horsemen issue from the wood, and as they directed their course towards her, she soon discovered them to be hunters. As they approached nearer, she retired towards the cottage; when the foremost of them sprung off his horse, and coming up to her, “I hope, Madam,” said he, bowing, “I have not disturbed your meditations at this serene and tranquil hour.” While he was speaking, Almira had leisure to observe his dignified deportment, his engaging and affable manners, and his polite address. His full, dark, expressive eye spoke a language which Almira’s hear instantly interpreted, and which on discovering, she cast her’s on the ground. — To keep the reader no longer in suspense, this young man was no other than Rotaldo; and his attendant was the individual– we wish we could add, the virtuous– Maurice. (17)
This style of narration evokes the feeling of
being told a story by an unknown but still familiar voice. Because of certain
story elements including the castles, romance, and suspense in the chapbook,
this narration can resemble the style in which one tells a child a bedtime
story. The prolonged and choppy sentence structure with the variety of
punctuation could be read as mimicking an oral form of storytelling. The
interjected claims and commentary with the plural “we” serve to liven up the
story and engage the reader, providing breaks to clarify or emphasize
characterizations or actions that may seem less clear due to the brevity of a
chapbook. For example, because Maurice’s villainous nature is not able to be
developed over many pages in The
Skeleton, the narrator makes
sure to clearly telegraph his lack of virtue in the above paragraph. This
narration style makes the writing feel less stiff, and thus it has aged more
gracefully than some of its blander contemporaries.
On a stormy night, Lord Ellmont resides in
his castle with his two children. Lord Ellmont is a former warrior, now
committed to domesticity after nobly defending his castle for many years. His
twenty-two-year-old son, Rotaldo, embodies masculinity with a perfect heart,
while his seventeen-year-old daughter Elenora is described at length as
incredibly beautiful. The castle is located in Scotland and consists of a blend
of many different styles and forms of architecture. Though Lady Ellmont died in
childbirth, the castle always seems full on the birthdays of both children, and
it is a mirthful affair when Rotaldo’s birthday arrives.
At the base of the mountain that the castle
sits upon is the home of the peasant Viburn. He has a twenty-year-old son named
Adolphus who has heart as well as temper. One day, Rotaldo asks Adolphus to be
his sporting companion, but Adolphus mysteriously declines, hurting Rotaldo’s
feelings. Rotaldo still wishes for a friend and thinks he finds one in the form
of Maurice, an ugly and deceptive older peasant. Maurice is quickly taken by
Elenora’s beauty, but he fears he will be rejected by her or her family because
of his status. It is implied that his attraction to her is not entirely pure,
and he develops an unhealthy lust for her.
In a valley further from the castle is the
cottage of Volcome, an old peasant with only one surviving child. He was once
rich and of nobility but his family fell upon difficult times, and he was
exploited. He believes his brother was murdered under mysterious circumstances
long ago, and his sister-in-law died while giving birth to a nephew he never
got to meet. His wife also died, leaving him in charge of his
seventeen-year-old daughter Almira, who is described as beautiful as she is
innocent. One day, Rotaldo and Maurice come across their cottage and introduce
themselves while riding horses. Rotaldo is deep in thought riding back from
their cottage when a storm disturbs his horse and nearly flings him off a
cliff. A stranger appears and stops the horse, harming himself in the process.
The benevolent savior is revealed to be Adolphus, who Rotaldo invites back to
the castle to be treated for his injuries. However, Maurice fears Adolphus as
competition for Elenora. Adolphus says he declined Rotaldo’s earlier attempt at
companionship because he must tend to his parents, which Rotaldo dismisses and
graciously offers Adolphus and his family the castle and any assistance they
Adolphus and Elenora instantly connect, while
Rotaldo is overcome with passion for Almira and writes her a love letter.
Elenora receives a proposal from the miserable Baron de Morfield, but her
father knows she would be unhappy with him and declines on her behalf. Almira
receives Rotaldo’s letter and soon receives a visit from Rotaldo himself as
they confess their love. He visits her often, but one day he is returning to
the castle from her cottage when an assassin shoots at him. Rotaldo swiftly
draws his sword and fells the assassin who is revealed to be Maurice. Maurice
expresses remorse for his treachery and gives a cryptic warning about his plans
Returning home, Rotaldo finds his family in
distress. Adolphus has been captured and taken by enemies in the night by the
Baron de Morfield, and is imprisoned in a dungeon. As Adolphus ponders why he
deserves this fate, the narrator reveals the villainous motives of Maurice and
the Baron. It is revealed that Maurice planned to force himself upon Elenora
and then propose an elopement to save her honor. However, Adolphus overheard
this proposal and intervened. Maurice begged for forgiveness and Elenora found
him deserving; Adolphus, however, was less understanding. Maurice later swore
vengeance upon Adolphus, informing the Baron de Morfield that Elenora scorned
him for Adolphus. Maurice then forged a letter in Adolphus’s hand stating that
Adolphus has plans to kill Rotaldo and flee the castle.
Elenora and Rotaldo compare their experiences
with each other, and Adolphus’s innocence is revealed. They fear that they may
have been too late to save him from Maurice’s plans. In his dungeon cell,
Adolphus discovers a secret passage, in which he finds a bloodied dagger and is
shocked by a skeleton. Adolphus returns to his cell with a manuscript
supposedly written by the dead man. It reveals that the real Baron de Morfield
is the skeleton who had been forced to give up his estate though he had an
infant son and heir just after he was killed. The supposed Baron presently
interrogating and kidnapping Adolphus is a usurper.
At midnight, Adolphus is freed from his cell by a mysterious man. As they make their escape, the man turns and stabs the usurping Baron. The helper and Adolphus set out to return to the Ellmont castle. Back home, the Ellmonts despair, though Almira has now been taken into the castle after her father’s passing. Her relationship with Rotaldo as well as a friendship with Elenora provides them both great comfort as they fear Adolphus to be dead.
Adolphus is received with joyous welcomes
upon his return. Adolphus’s supposed father reveals he found Adolphus in the
woods nearly the same time the true Baron’s letter was datedmeaning Adolphus is
the true son of the Baron de Morfield. Almira reveals she is also of Morfield
descent, making her and Adolphus cousins. Almira’s father’s story about his
brother’s murder and sister-in-law’s unknown child all come together before the
group. The Ellmonts return to the Morfield castle and witness the usurping Baron
on his deathbed as Adolphus is yielded his claim to the castle. Adolphus then
marries Elenora as a baron and Rotaldo marries Almira. The story ends with
festivity and moralizes that “although villany may triumph for a time, yet, in
the end, Happiness must be finally united to Virtue.” (38)
The Fiery Castle, or, Sorcerer Vanquished: A Romance: Relating the Wonderful Adventures of a Female Knight, in Which Is Described Her Attack on Rudamore Castle, to Release a Lovely Maid, Detained There by a Sorcerer, and Glorious Victory Over the Guardian Demons of the Gate: With Her Achievements in the Temple of Illusion, in Which She Resists the Allurements of the Spirits, Releases Her Beloved Knight From the Dungeon of Torture, and Causes the Fatal End of the Sorcerer
This fantastical 1810 chapbook follows two knights through trial and tribulation as they attempt to rescue their loved ones from the grips of a lustful sorcerer, battling spirits and demons all the while dispelling enchanting illusions.
The Fiery Castle does not have a cover, but rather a nondescript worn page,
tinted yellow with scattered mysterious brown stains, separates the reader from
the book’s title. A flip into the string-bound chapbook reveals,
unsurprisingly, more brown stains. What is a surprise, though, is the
intricately drawn illustration that was hidden beneath the nondescript outer
page: with fine lines filled in with bright pink, yellow, orange, and blue
accenting the image, the illustration depicts a dame, accompanied by a knight
posed for combat against two black demons guarding a gate engulfed in flames.
Underneath, a simple caption reads: “See p. 7.” Clearly, this action-packed
scene occurs only five pages in—as the story begins on page two.
Across from this fascinating
illustration is an even more intriguing, albeit long, title: The Fiery
Castle, or, Sorcerer Vanquished: A Romance: Relating the Wonderful Adventures
of a Female Knight, in Which Is Described Her Attack on Rudamore Castle, to Release
a Lovely Maid, Detained There by a Sorcerer, and Glorious Victory Over the
Guardian Demons of the Gate: With Her Achievements in the Temple of Illusion,
in Which She Resists the Allurements of the Spirits, Releases Her Beloved
Knight From the Dungeon of Torture, and Causes the Fatal End of the Sorcerer—its
truncated title being, The Fiery Castle, or, Sorcerer Vanquished. With
varying fonts, text sizes, forms of capitalization, and embellishments
throughout, it is entirely likely that the publisher was actively trying to
capture and retain readers’ attention with this long title. There is no author
listed on the title page or anywhere in the chapbook.
The book itself, only twenty-eight
pages in length, was printed and published in London by a W. Mason and sold for
sixpence. Past the opening illustration, there is no decor in the rest of the
book aside from a single decorative border on the first page of the story, and
a small ink and quill depiction on the thirty-second page, informing the reader
that the novel is “Finis.” Flipping through the pages, the chapbook has all the
characteristics of a standard paperback: set margins, pagination, and an
easy-to-read font. There is but one outlier within this uniformly printed text
on page 22. A small, lowercase t in “the” seems to have fallen a step below its
fellow letters, resembling a subscript of sorts. Small printing quirks like
this are perplexing, but give the text a sense of craftsmanship.
The Fiery Castle measures roughly 0.3 cm thick, standing at 18.2 cm tall and
10.9 cm wide. The brittle yet cotton-like pages are held together by a single
strand of string, with the page reading “finis” almost finished itself, as it
hangs on for dear life. This book, littered with small folds, rips, blemishes,
and tinged with what can only be described as old age, shows all the signs of
having led a thrilling and entertaining life as a shilling shocker.
The Fiery Castle, or, A Sorcerer
Vanquished is one of many gothic novels in the
Sadleir-Black Collection. This edition was published in 1810, though there
appears to be at least one earlier version which is listed as the second
edition on WorldCat. This previous edition was published in 1802 by A. Young
located at 168, High Holborn, Bloomsbury. Although this version is indicated as
the second edition, there is no specific information on whether it is
distinctly separate from the first edition. One clear distinction that can be
asserted is that although the earlier edition was simply entitled: The Fiery
Castle, or, The Sorcerer Vanquished: An original romance, the 1810 edition
in the Sadleir-Black Collection has much more detail incorporated into the
title. Both chapbooks were sold for sixpence, or half a shilling, although they
were printed eight years apart.
While the novel’s original author is
unknown, The Fiery Castle (1810) was distributed by an experienced
publisher by the name of W. Mason. Mason’s primary operations were based at No.
21 Clerkenwell Green where he “published at least fifteen gothic pamphlets” and
he habitually “summarised the entire novel on the title page” (Potter 94). This
serves to explain the variance in the titles between the 1802 and 1810
At the time of publication, the
demand for gothic pamphlets was diminishing. and in its place, a “growing
marketplace for children’s toy books” emerged (Potter 98). W. Mason, however,
published The Fiery Castle presumably because gothic publications
remained well-received by readers to some extent. His decision to publish the
novel may be attributed to its plot, as it illustrates a hybrid between the
gothic and fairytale genres. Due to evolving public sentiment, The Fiery
Castle was written in a way that swapped out the “standard gothic villain,”
incorporating instead a sorcerer that is defeated by a heroine; this
demonstrates how “the gothic was absorbed into the growing market for
children’s stories” (Potter 98). Subsequently, the chapbook’s unconventional
plot may have been another motivating factor for W. Mason’s printing of The Fiery
Many of the chapbook’s physical
details, such as its decorative borders, margin size, font, and font size
appear standard across W. Mason’s publications. Another chapbook published by
Mason, entitled The Spirit of the Spirit, which has been scanned in its
entirety and uploaded digitally to HathiTrust, resembles The Fiery Castle
almost identically. Both texts’ layouts include a single illustration on the
page next to the title, with each title page utilizing the same fonts and
borders atop of the first page of the story.
W. Mason’s 1810 printing of The
Fiery Castle appears to be the last and latest edition of the novel, with
no further editions published. The novel does not have any modern editions
available for purchase, nor are there any digital copies online. As a result,
there have been no modifications to the story since there are no new editions,
nor has the text been adapted to different mediums like film.
The Fiery Castle has very limited recognition in academic scholarship, with
Franz Potter’s mention being the only noteworthy mention of the novel. This may
be attributed to what Potter describes in Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and
Shilling Shockers as the slow yet steady shift away from gothic literature
at the time that the book was distributed. Consequently, there is limited
additional information to be discovered regarding The Fiery Castle’s
Point of View
The Fiery Castle is narrated in third-person omniscient perspective, as the
narrator provides the context for each individual character, their thoughts, as
well as details on the events that are unfolding. Seamlessly switching from one
scene to the next, the narrator concisely illustrates both the emotions and
actions that encompass each character. The narration discloses details for a
wide array of characters, ranging from the most prominent of knights to the
most minute of spirits. While the narrator does not make any outright personal
interjections regarding the crimes that unfold in the plot, there is a notable
use of adjectives within the narration that appear to appraise the characters’
The fairy appeared, and, waving her invisible wand, extinguished the torch. The altar shook to its base, and Hymen and his attendant Cupids fled in dismay; the spirit found his power subdued, and his arts fettered. All presence of mind fled, in proportion as his fears arose, of meeting with the torments with which Rudamore was prepared to afflict him, for failing in his enterprise. The female knight saw, in a mirror which the fairy held to her view, the reflection of her girdle, which displayed again, in luminous letters, its sentence of “Be virtuous and conquer!” (26)
The narration clearly dissects each
aspect of the scene, including each character or group of characters—the fairy,
Hymen and the Cupids, the spirit, the female knight—within it and their
subsequent actions. This creates a plot that is transparent, as the catalyst of
the chain of events. In this case, the narrator is correlating the chaos that
ensues to the initial arrival of the fairy and her “waving her invisible wand,”
which in turn, impedes the efforts of Rudamore’s minions. Furthermore, the
narrator recounts the emotions of the characters, thus providing context for
their specific behaviors. By thoughtfully combining emotion and action in
narration, the characters’ own portrayals are made more robust. This is
illustrated in small points throughout the narration, such as the discussion of
the spirit’s motivations for misleading the female knight. The spirit’s drive
to deception is evidently grounded in his fear of “meeting with the torments
with which Rudamore was prepared to afflict him,” which the narrator makes
known by providing context. This thorough narration allows the reader to gain
further insight into key elements of the plot, while also providing explanation
for specific character choices.
The Fiery Castle opens with the protagonist, known only as the female
knight, seeing a young man in an enchanted mirror whom she falls in love with
at first sight. Her father is a powerful sorcerer and her mother, a fairy.
Receiving their permission, bestowed a set of weapons and armour engraved with
the message: “Be Virtuous and Conquer,” and endowed with courage, she sets out
on her journey (3). In the midst of her travels, she comes across a heartbroken
knight in the forest. He informs her that his beloved Dellaret has been
kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, Rudamore. The female knight offers her services,
thus the two set out on a journey to Rudamore’s castle.
Upon their arrival, the two knights
are faced with two demons that are guarding the gate. Raising their swords, the
gate is engulfed in flames to prevent their passage, and the heartbroken knight
once again feels despondent. The female knight’s mother comes to their aid,
declaring that “with this touch of my wand, your armour becomes adamant, and
your arms are changed to gold” (6). As a result, the knights successfully
defeat the demons and traverse through the flames. Hearing the commotion,
Rudamore opens the gate to investigate, the two knights storm past him, and
Rudamore flees further into the castle.
While the knights make their way
through the castle, Rudamore summons spirits and orders them to distract the
two trespassers. He intends to capture the two knights by conjuring his “Temple
of Love and Illusion,” which will entrap their senses and distract them from
fulfilling their quest (8). This illusion appeals to all five senses and the
spirits take on tantalizing human forms meant to distract them.
The knights find their way down to
the dungeons of the castle, observing and speaking to other imprisoned knights
that are also grieving the loss of their mistresses to Rudamore’s rapine. After
venturing through these cells, the knights arrive in a chamber filled with
pillaged weapons and the robes of the women whom Rudamore has conquered on
display. As this exploration unfolds, the knights are unknowingly walking
towards the illusion and are greeted by the impressive, yet hallucinatory
Temple of Love. Each is guided by enchanting servants to their own elevated
throne of marble while a procession of servants deliver glasses of wine to
them. Just as they are about to drink the liquid, the fairy interferes with the
procession, causing the servant to spill the goblet and preventing her daughter
from consuming this laced liquor. As the liquor spills onto the ground, a hemlock
grows in its place. Realizing the foul properties of the wine, the two knights
attempt to escape the temple. To prevent this from happening, two spirits
assume the facades of each knights’ respective lovers, tempting the knights
back into the grips of the illusion.
As the knight believes he is reunited with Dellaret, he worries that her being in the temple means she has sacrificed her virginity to Rudamore. Reassuring the knight of her chastity, the imposter delves into an elaborate tale explaining that she withstood both illusion and torture, attributing this mental fortitude to “my incessant thoughts of you, and the unshaken resolution to be ever faithful to my part of the mutual vows we have made to each other” (16). Hearing this, the knight laments that he does not have the skills necessary to rescue her from the clutches of Rudamore. Pretending that heaven has suddenly bestowed her with this idea, the imposter suggests that the pair can effectually escape so long as they marry each other “at the altar of Hymen,” because Rudamore is only tempted to keep maidens captive and their marriage would allow the knight and Dellaret to ensure she would no longer fulfill his desire for chastity (21). In reality, the spirit is carrying out Rudamore’s plans to trick the knight into marrying the imposter, as Rudamore brings the true Dellaret to witness the knight’s subsequent infidelity all in the hopes of swaying her resolve.
Rudamore forces Dellaret to watch
her beloved knight marry a woman, who from her perspective resembles an old
hag, and insists that he has been endeavoring this entire time to enlighten her
about the knight’s true character as well as the superficiality of his
proclaimed love for her. Justifying the torture he has been subjecting her to,
Rudamore claims this was all done out of love. After this, he offers to make
Dellaret his wife and empress, while Dellaret, both heart-broken and cornered,
asks for a day to consider his offer.
In the meantime, the knight and the
imposter consummate their illusory marriage while the female knight is also on
the verge of marrying her own imposter at the altar of Hymen. Yet again, her
mother interferes. Extinguishing the torch at the altar, the spirit loses his
powers and flees, allowing the fairy to explain to her daughter that she was
almost seduced by a wind spirit. Shocked by the revelation, the female knight
rests at a canopy. While the female knight is sleeping, Rudamore has been
consulting his book of destiny which informs him that his inevitable demise is
approaching. Desperate for self-preservation, Rudamore also reads in the book
that the female knight’s true love had embarked on a similar quest in search of
her, and that he nears the castle. Planning to use this knight as a bargaining
chip for his life, Rudamore kidnaps the man and imprisons him in the dungeon.
This wrongdoing is manifested in the female knight’s dream, and as a result,
she awakens and rushes to rescue him.
Dellaret, wandering around
contemplating her uncertain fate and exhausted from the day’s events, collapses
by chance into her knight’s arms while he is asleep. When the two wake up, the
knight is immensely confused by Dellaret’s irate reaction at her current
circumstances. Still believing the two are happily united, Dellaret unleashes
the truth exclaiming to him, “As you have deserted me, for such an ugly and
disgustful wretch, I will abandon you” (29). She flees to Rudamore, demanding
that he imprison the knight in exchange for the right to take her virginity.
This request is immediately granted, the knight is captured and subjected to
torture by Rudamore’s spirit, while the sorcerer forces himself upon Dellaret.
The female knight discovers Rudamore
just as he is taking advantage of Dellaret. As she is about to land a fatal
blow on the evil sorcerer, Dellaret pleads to the female knight that she end
her life first. Rudamore interrupts their discourse to plead for mercy,
offering to show the female knight where her lover and her companion are being
held captive. The three go to the dungeons and are brought face to face with
the two captured knights. The female knight attempts to slay Rudamore for his
crimes, however the fairy disrupts her daughter’s attempt. The fairy informs
her daughter that this is not adequate justice unless Rudamore first confesses
his devious schemes. Furthermore, it is made known that the two men cannot be
released from their bindings without Rudamore’s spells. The sorcerer feigns
repentance and releases the men while confessing his role in the manipulation of
the knight and Dellaret. Realizing Rudamore’s evil interference, Dellaret and
her knight immediately restore their love and faith in each other. As the
couples are reunited, Rudamore takes this as an opening to flee to his
chambers. To ensure Rudamore properly receives justice, the fairy leads her
daughter to him. The female knight slays Rudamore and the companions proceed to
live peacefully in the castle, which the fairy has restored to a glorious
In this 1800s chapbook by Sarah Wilkinson set in the South of France, follow Emma de Villeroy as she navigates her mysterious marriage, and the truth about her bloodline.
The White Cottage of the Valley is one chapbook bound in a collection of eighteen stories. The story itself is short, only twenty-one pages as compared to the over thirty-page length of the other stories in the book, but the text is quite dense. The text is small and close-set, and the margins between each line are thin. The book measures approximately 11cm x 18cm, allowing this chapbook to hold a lot of content. The margins of the pages vary, ranging from 0.8 cm to 1.6cm. The pages are quite thin, allowing you to see the text on the other side. Each page has the shortened title of the book, The White Cottage, printed across the top. This is uniform to every story in the book, making it easy to differentiate the separate works.
Before you begin reading the story, you are greeted with a frontispiece. The frontispiece, an illustration preceding the title page, is completely unique. Although the black outline is printed, the colors are hand painted with watercolors. You can see white space that the artist did not quite cover with color, as well as places where the colors overlap. The illustration depicts a woman clothed in red and white approaching the door of a hut where a woman and child wait. Below the illustration is a quote that relates to the part of the story the image is depicting: “Merciful Providence! Your Husband ill, & lying in that Hut.” Uniquely, the word “page” stands alone just below the quote, likely intended to list the page number where you could find this quote. However, there is no page number, and in fact this illustration does not relate at all to The White Cottage of the Valley, or to any story within this collection of chapbooks. It is possible that this was a misprint, or perhaps the story that relates to this illustration was removed from this book. The White Cottage of the Valley also does not contain page numbers, though it does include signature marks, which were used to guide bookbinders and make sure the pages were folded correctly and in the correct order. A2, B, C, and C2 appear on the first, seventh, eleventh, and thirteenth pages respectively.
The title page follows the frontispiece on the next page. The full title, The White Cottage of the Valley; or the Mysterious Husband: an Original, Interesting Romance,is printed vertically down the page, followed by the name of the author, Sarah Wilkinson. An excerpt from a poem is quoted just below, and below that the printer is listed. Finally, the price, sixpence, is printed at the very bottom of the page. The title page bleeds through almost completely to the other side of the paper, which is otherwise completely blank.
The cover of the chapbook collection follows a very popular binding technique of the time called half binding. The spine and two triangles on the corners of the front and back cover are brown leather, while the main cover is paper. The paper cover is decorated with another popular technique: marbling. This is a process in which different colors of oil paint are added to a tub of water, which the paper for the cover is then dipped in. The water forces the oil to spread, giving it a “marbled” look. The cover of this book is mostly beige, with marbling of dark blue. It is worse for wear, though, with quite a bit of the front worn off. The spine is also quite worn, with cracks appearing in the leather and tearing slightly at the top. Luckily, the book is in mostly good condition, with no large tears or extremely stained pages.
Sarah Wilkinson was a gothic writer active between 1799 and 1824. In that time, she penned approximately one-hundred short stories, including about thirty gothic works. The White Cottage of the Valley; or the Mysterious Husband is one of her lesser-known works. Unlike her more popular stories, which have well-documented and sometimes controversial histories, The White Cottage has very little written about it. This is likely due to the pure quantity of gothic chapbooks that Wilkinson penned, meaning only the most popular of them have been attended to by historians and literary scholars. The White Cottage has, however, been republished in the second volume of Gary Kelly’s 2002 Varieties of Female Gothic. This volume, titled Street Gothic, includes a number of gothic texts by female writers that Kelly suggests depict the change in the writing of the lower class. In the introduction to this volume, Kelly describes The White Cottage as “represent[ing] the revolution in cheap print of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that saw the creation of a commercialised novelty literature for the lower-class and lower middle-class readers” (xxiii). This is one of the only modern works that analyzes The White Cottage, rather than simply listing it as one of Wilkinson’s texts.
As often as Wilkinson is described as prolific, she is also described as a “hack” writer (Kelly xxi, Hoeveler 3). This is due to the fact that Wilkinson was on the cusp of poverty, writing “at the lowest end of the literary market” (Kelly xxi). Indeed, she wrote so much because she had to in order to make a living, not necessarily out of love for the craft. In 1803, she wrote to Tell-Tale Magazine, issuing a “warning [to] every indigent woman, who is troubled with the itch of scribbling, to beware of [her] unhappy fate.” (“The Life of an Authoress, Written by Herself” 28) Obviously Wilkinson had the desire to write, self-described as an “itch of scribbling,” but it was not an easy way to make a living.
Interestingly, the publisher of The White Cottage is also somewhat well-known. In 1810, Robert Harrild invented a new tool for inking typeface, called a composition roller. This was a much more efficient method than the previously used balls of hide (Anderson & McConnell). Conversely, the illustrator for the frontispiece for The White Cottage is completely unlisted and unknown. The White Cottage of the Valley originally included a frontispiece (printed in Kelly’s Varieties of Female Gothic) but this frontispiece is not present in the University of Virginia version, which may be due to Wilkinson’s lack of resources, or it is possible that there was a misprinting or a confusion when rebinding and a different frontispiece was accidentally placed there instead. All versions of the chapbook, however, have the title-page epigraph from Thomas Fitzgerald’s eighteenth-century poem “Bedlam.”
There was at least one printing of The White Cottage in the early nineteenth century, but the publication date is not precisely known because the work itself has no date listed. WorldCat and Google Books list the date as 1815, although this is likely inaccurate because the title page of The White Cottage lists Robert Harrild as residing at 20 Great Eastcheap in London at the time of printing, a location he did not move to until 1819. He moved once again in 1824, suggesting The White Cottage was likely published sometime between 1819 and 1824, not 1815 (Anderson & McConnell).
While it has never been officially said that Wilkinson pulled content from Elizabeth Meeke’s The Mysterious Husband: A Novel, there are a few obvious overlaps between the two stories. Most notably, the works share a partial title, a character named the Earl of Clarencourt (spelled Clarancourt in Meeke’s story), a theme of marrying for money rather than love, and a main character who leaves for France for the sake of his mental health. Since Meeke’s novel was published early in 1801, it is possible that Wilkinson read Meeke’s novel and incorporated ideas from it into her own chapbook. This would not be the first time Wilkinson took inspiration from another story, either: her 1820 novel, Castle of Lindenberg; or, The History of Raymond and Agnes, is heavily derived from Matthew Lewis’s popular story The Monk. This was not all that unusual at the time: Father Innocent, Abbot of the Capuchins; or, The Crimes of Cloisters (1805) and The Castle of Lindenberg; or The History of Raymond and Agnes (1798) were also borderline plagiarisms of the same popular work.
Narrative Point of View
The White Cottage of the Valley is narrated by an unnamed narrator who is never a character in the story. They narrate entirely in third person and past tense, except at the beginning of extended backstory when they momentarily switch to present tense and use “we” to refer to the narration. The narrator often acts as an omniscient storyteller, relating how the characters feel and react to each other. Through the narrator, we are given insight into the characters’ thoughts and feelings. The language the narrator uses is formal and antiquated.
She instantly summoned Alise and Anetta to her presence, that she might fully apprize them of the part they had to act before the stranger could converse them, and thus frustrate her intentions.
While she is conversing with her faithful domestics, we will look back a little to the events that preceded—the distress of mind into which the amiable Emma was now plunged.
Emma de Villeroy was a native of the southern part of France; she was the only child of a very respectable medical man, a descendant of a noble family. (4)
This method of omniscient storytelling allows readers access to what the characters are thinking, enabling readers to experience events more intimately with the characters. The narration also heightens the effect of the plot unfolding in real time by suggesting that Emma’s backstory can be provided during the period of time when “she is conversing with her faithful domestics” as if Emma is talking to her servants at the exact same moment that the narration is relaying her backstory. As a result, Emma, the third-person narration, and the readers are all waiting for the rest of Emma’s story to unfold in this moment.
The White Cottage of the Valley opens with its main character Emma crying because her husband has not come home. She eventually falls into a fitful sleep until late in the night, when the gate bell rings. Emma, convinced it is her husband, quickly answers it. It is not her husband, however, but a stranger asking for shelter out of the rain. Despite her reluctance, Emma allows him in and sets him up with a bed. The next morning, when she goes down to breakfast with her children, the stranger asks which of the two is hers. Emma, alarmed by this question, lies and says only Rosalthe is hers and that Adolphus is the child of her servant, Alise.
Here, the narrator backs up to talk a bit about Emma’s backstory. Emma de Villeroy is the daughter of a woman who married against the will of her parents. Emma’s grandparents were so against the marriage that her parents left and never contacted them again. The years passed, and eventually both of Emma’s parents died. On his deathbed, her father bid Emma to seek out her wealthy, noble grandparents because otherwise she would be left destitute. Unfortunately, he died before he could give any information about her grandparents, leaving Emma with no way to contact either of them. In cleaning out her parents’ house, Emma subsequently found a miniature of her mother and began to wear it on a necklace under her clothes.
One day, Emma met a young man named Adolphus Montreville who had taken a liking to her late father’s library so much that he wanted to purchase the books. When the two of them met, there was an immediate spark. Adolphus was very kind to Emma in a way that betrayed his emotions, but he never made any formal declarations of his passion. Eventually, Adolphus explained that his father, a greedy Earl, wants to marry him off to an heiress for the money. Adolphus expressed that while he has feelings for Emma, he cannot marry her publicly due to his father. Therefore, he suggested a private marriage. Emma accepted his proposal, without mentioning her wealthy grandparents. The next week, the pair were married. Almost immediately, however, Adolphus Montreville was called back to England. He promised to return as soon as possible, leaving a pregnant Emma with one of her parents’ servants, Alise.
Eventually, Emma had twins, Rosalthe and Adolphus, and travelled to Paris to meet her husband, still concealing their marriage. There, the pair attended an opera and Emma noticed a wealthy couple who she immediately believed to be her grandparents due to their resemblance to her late mother. She did not mention her suspicions to her husband, however, and eventually left France for Wales without any conclusion of this matter.
Two months after settling in a white cottage in the valley in Wales, Adolphus visited and he expressed to Emma his fears that their marriage had been discovered. The following night, he promises that he will be more explicit when he returns. However, after this visit, he does not come back.
This is where the beginning of the story picks up again. That night, the second one the stranger stays in the cottage, Emma and Rosalthe are kidnapped by Adolphus Montreville’s father, the Earl of Clarencourt. The earl accuses Emma of deceiving him by denying Adolphus as her son. He informs Emma that her husband is also his prisoner and gives Emma a paper urging her to sign it. The paper proposes this agreement: the earl intends to fake his son’s death so that his younger brother, Edward, can marry the heiress. Emma and her family will be banished, but Emma’s son, Adolphus, will be raised by the earl. If Emma and Adolphus Montreville do not sign this paper, they will forever be confined to Milbury castle as they are now.
Emma refuses to sign, making the earl angry and scaring Rosalthe in her arms. As Rosalthe clings to her, she pulls out the necklace Emma wears. The earl immediately recognizes it as a miniature of the daughter of the Marquis De Aubigne. When Emma tells him it was her mother’s, he realizes his mistake. He apologizes to Emma, and she and her husband are freed. Emma goes on to meet her grandparents, who accept her eagerly and apologize for their poor treatment of her mother. Emma inherits all of her grandparents’ wealth, and her family lives happily for the rest of their lives.
Kelly, Gary. “Introduction.” Varieties of Female Gothic, Volume 2: Street Gothic. Taylor & Francis, 2002, pp. vii–xxiii.
“The Life of an Authoress, Written by Herself,” Tale 57 in Tell-Tale Magazine (London: Ann Lemoine, 1803), p. 28 in The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835: Exhuming the Trade, by Franz Potter. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Wilkinson, Sarah Scudgell. The White Cottage of the Valley: Or the Mysterious Husband: An Original, Interesting Romance. Printed and Published by R. Harrild, n.d.
Set in Scotland, England, and Italy, Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson’s 1807 chapbook is a complicated tale of vengeance, violence, and long-lost love. And there’s a ghost!
At first glance, The Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors: A Gothic Story is nothing more than a small, nondescript book. It is bound in a spotless cardboard cover, with no title or images on the front or back. The spine has a small red rectangle in which The Castle Spectre or Family Horrors is written in gold writing. The chapbook is about 12 centimeters wide, 20 centimeters long, and 1 centimeter thick.
Upon opening the book, it is evident that it has been rebound. The pages inside are soft, yellowed, and worn. The edges are tattered and uneven and the pages are of different sizes. The frontispiece appears to have been glued to a blank page for structural support, as it was ripped and about two inches of the page is missing from the bottom. This page contains a colorful image of two knights in front of a red castle. They are holding blue shields with gold crosses and are wearing red skirts. Behind the knights is a woman in a pink dress; she is surrounded by what appears to be sunbeams and looks as if she is floating with her arm raised. Some of the colors go beyond the edge of the picture, indicating it may have been painted with watercolor. Beneath the image is a caption that says, “GERTRUDE rising from the Rubbish before the CASTLE”. Below the caption is a note about the print company.
The title page
contains the title, written as follows: “The // Castle Spectre; // or, //
Family Horrors: // A Gothic Story.” The words are all uppercase, except for “A
Gothic Story,” which is written in a more elaborate gothic typeface. Beneath
the title is a quote by Langhorne, and then a note on the publisher: “London:
// Printed for T. and R. Hughes, // 35, Ludgate-Street.” “London” is written in
the same gothic font, while the rest is again all capitalized. Beneath this is
the publishing date: 1807. The title page has a small, rather illegible phrase
written in pencil in the upper left corner, and a large stain on the right. The
back of the title page is blank, except for a small stamp in the bottom left
corner that says, “Printed by Bewick and Clarke, Aldergates-street.” It should
be noted that the name of the author is never mentioned.
On the first page of the text, the title is again printed, but this time as The Castle Spectre. The chapbook contains thirty-eight pages, and the page sizes vary slightly. The upper and lower margins range from about 1.5 centimeters to 2.5 centimeters. “Castle Spectre” is written on the top margin of every page, and there are page numbers in the upper corners. The text is small and tight, and the inner margin is very narrow. On the left pages, the words run almost into the spine. On some pages, the text is fading and in certain instances, can be seen through from the back of the page. The pages are speckled with light stains, but none that obscure much text. The bottom margins of a few pages contain signature marks, such as B3, C, and C3. These marks indicate how the pages should be folded together, as the book was printed on one large sheet and then folded and trimmed. This binding technique also explains why the pages vary in size. There are nine blank pages at the end of the book. These pages seem newer and are larger; they were likely added to make the book slightly thicker, as it is difficult to bind such a thin book.
An index card is
loosely placed in the front of the book, containing the title and publishing
information. It appears to be written in Michael Sadleir’s handwriting and was
likely used for cataloging purposes. The note indicates that the book was
originally unbound, but then mounted on modern board and engraved. This
explains the discrepancy between the wear of the cover and that of the pages.
“Louisiana” is written on the upper left corner; Sadleir presumably got the
book from someone who lived there. A line on the bottom of the card indicates his
belief that the plot was plagiarized, as he notes the book is “a theft of title
The Castle Spectre by Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson was
printed by Bewick and Clarke for T. and R. Hughes in 1807. According to Michael
Sadleir’s handwritten note, the copy in the University of Virginia
Sadleir-Black Collection was originally unbound and then rebound as a
stand-alone chapbook. It appears there is only one edition, the 1807 version,
but some other copies are bound in volumes with other chapbooks. According to
WorldCat, there are six copies of this edition located at Dartmouth Library,
Columbia University Library, and the National Library of Wales, among others.
As of 2021, there are no digital copies of the story, though GoogleBooks has
information about the title, author, and publishing company.
Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors: A Gothic Story is often misinterpreted
as being inspired by Matthew Gregory Lewis’s play The Castle Spectre.
Though part of the title is the same, the actual plot, characters, and setting
are entirely unrelated. The
confusion has arisen because Wilkinson published two chapbooks with similar
titles: The Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors: A Gothic Story in 1807 and
The Castle Spectre: An Ancient Baronial Romance; Founded on the Original
Drama of M. G. Lewis in
1820. This second text, The Castle Spectre: An Ancient Baronial Romance,
is in fact based upon Lewis’s play (as accurately suggested by the subtitle),
with the same characters, setting, and plot. By contrast, the 1807 chapbook, The
Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors, remains separate and unrelated except
for its similar main title.
Though the two Castle Spectre texts by
Wilkinson are entirely separate, they are frequently confused for one another.
For instance, Franz J. Potter notes in The History of Gothic Publishing
that Wilkinson “also adapted two versions of Matthew Lewis’s melodrama ‘The
Castle Spectre’ publishing The Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors (2.58)
in 1807 with Thomas Hughes, and The Castle Spectre; An Ancient Baronial
Romance, Founded on the Original Drama M. G. L. (2.57) in 1820 with John
Bailey” (119). In his section on the “Family Horrors” version of
Wilkinson’s chapbook, Frederick S. Frank notes that she “transformed Lewis’s Gothic drama, The
Castle Spectre [l-219], back into a Gothic novel” (171). Franz J. Potter
similarly states that this “Family Horrors” version was “founded on Lewis’s The
Castle Spectre. A Drama in Five Acts” (Gothic Chapbooks 39). Even an
article in UVA Today makes this common error, stating “Lewis’ work was
regularly plagiarized and used in this way, as it is in ‘The Castle Spectre,
or, Family Horrors: a Gothic Story,’ by Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson” (McNally).
that make the claim of a link between The Castle Spectre and Matthew
Lewis’s play cite Montague Summers’s Gothic Bibliography, which lists The
Castle Spectre by Sarah Wilkinson without specifying the subtitle or a
publication date. Summers’s entry reads: “Castle Spectre, The. By Sarah Wilkinson. Founded upon Matthew
Gregory Lewis’ famous drama, The Castle Spectre, produced at Drury Lane
on Thursday, December 14th, 1797” (268). Of the libraries that own The
Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors, many list M. G. Lewis as an author, and
these library catalogs frequently reference Summers’s Gothic Bibliography,
echoing his statement that the story is “Founded
upon Matthew Gregory Lewis’ famous drama ‘The castle spectre’.” Some
libraries note the link to Lewis’s play based upon The National Union
Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints, and this source also cites back to Summers’s Gothic
Bibliography. It is possible Summers’s entry for The Castle Spectre
was misunderstood to be about the “Family Horrors” version, when it was meant
to reference the “Baronial Romance” version, which specifically claims to be
founded upon Lewis’s play. Whatever the reason, this misunderstanding has
spurred many sources, including library catalogs, to erroneously note a
connection between the plot of Lewis’s The Castle Spectre play and
Wilkinson’s The Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors chapbook.
It should also be noted that some sources
discuss a similarity between the two distinct chapbooks Wilkinson wrote under
the titles The Castle Spectre. Diane L. Hoeveler, for instance, suggests
that Wilkinson was plagiarizing herself in these two chapbooks, indicating she
believes the plots to be “virtually identical and indicate how authors as well
as publishers had no qualms about ‘borrowing’ literary texts from others as
well as themselves” (14). Hoeveler writes, “Wilkinson’s The Castle Spectre:
An Ancient Baronial Romance is actually her second attempt to capitalize on
the popularity of Lewis’s 1797 drama The Castle Spectre”, naming as the
“other version” The Castle Spectre; or, Family Horrors: a Gothic Story
(14). Yet while it is true that Wilkinson used the same main title for two
different books, they are not “virtually identical”: the plots, characters’
names, and setting of the story have no similarities. A potential reason for
the similar titles was that Wilkinson used the phrase “Castle Spectre” precisely
because of its popularity at the time to attract readers, despite the “Family
Horrors” version being a unique story.
On a separate note, the title page of The Castle Spectre; or, Family
Horrors includes a portion of a poem by John Langhorne. It appears to be an
edited stanza from a longer poem entitled “Fable VII. The Wall-flower” from his
collection of poems, The Fables of Flora (Johnson 447). It is unclear
whether the poem was adapted by Wilkinson or the publishing company, but the
poem alludes to the idea of remembrance and telling the stories of the dead.
This theme reflects in the story of Gertrude’s death and Richard’s journey of
Narrative Point of View
Spectre is, for the most
part, narrated in the third person by an anonymous narrator who is not present
in the plot. There are a few occasions throughout the story when the narrator
speaks in first-person plural, referencing the history of the story and its
translations. The narration follows the knight, Sir Richard, throughout the
entire story, and much of the chapbook contains dialogue and interpolated tales
spoken by a variety of the characters with whom Richard interacts, such as
Douglas. The narrative focuses more on plot and less on characters’ thoughts,
and the sentences are often long and descriptive. There is a bit of insight
into Richard’s feelings, but the narrator does not discuss other characters’
emotions unless the characters reveal their feelings aloud in dialogue. There
is also an instance where Sir Richard and Sir Kenelm exchange letters, which
are printed within the text in quotation marks; both Sir Richard and Sir Kenelm
refer to themselves in the third person in their letters. At times when Elenora
(also known as Gertrude) appears as a ghost, she also refers to herself in the
third person during her tales.
The moon, emerging from a black cloud just as he entered, enabled him to ascertain he was in a grand spacious hall, in the centre of which stood a large banquetting table He seized an extinguished taper, which he with difficulty lighted by the friction of some wood he found on the hearth. He had now an opportunity to observe the place more accurately. The table was laden with viands, some in a putrid state, some mouldering to powder; and to his eager view appeared vases filled with the juice of the generous grape. In a corner of the apartment he beheld the body of a man extended in death on the floor, the boards of which were stained with congealed blood. A murder had been committed here but a short time before. The sight of this did not alarm him; he knew not fear, but emotions of pity rose in his breast, for the unfortunate object before him, and a desire to develope the mysteries of the place he was in, prevailed over ever other consideration. (6)
First-Person Plural Narration:
But we must not anticipate in our story too much, and the Scottish manuscript from whence we translate, mentions some transactions that will better appear hereafter. In the mean time we must observe that after much consultation on these transactions, Lord Mackworth advised Sir Richard to appoint a meeting with Sir Kenelm at midnight. (16)
Sample of Sir
Richard’s Third-Person Letter to Sir Kenelm Cromar:
Sir Richard, brother to Lady Gertrude, returning from the Holy Wars, finds his venerable father mouldering into dust, brought to the grave by grief for the untimely fate of a beloved daughter, whose fair fame was basely called into question, and her dear life sacrificed to lawless love. —Sir Kenelm must account for this, and inform Sir Richard what is become of a dear sister. For which purpose Sir Richard challenges Sir Kenelm to meet him, in single combat, near that castle-gate where he, Sir Kenelm, banquetting with his new bride, beheld the injured shade of Lady Gertrude, when, for a slight offence, he stabbed his cupbearer. Eight days hence, exactly at the hour of twelve, Sir Richard will be there, with two of his most trusty friends. (16)
Sample of Sir Henry
Mackworth’s Interpolated Tale:
At his return to Palestine, finding I was in confinement, his generosity and friendship made him hazard his life to rescue me from my confinement. He succeeded beyond our most sanguine expectations. We continued together some time. We had but one heart, one purse, and were a pattern of friendship throughout camp and country. Clemena was often the subject of our conversation. I ventured to hint the inclination I felt for her, from his description and the picture I had seen. ‘Alas!’ said he, ‘I dare not flatter you with the least hope of success; my sister has been educated in a convent, and ever been intended by our parents for a nun, their fortune being too small to support us both in a manner suitable to our rank…’ I remonstrated with Vertolini on the cruelty of secluding a beloved sister, for life, within the dreary walls of a convent… (33).
The various types of
narration in The Castle Spectre allow for a deeper exploration of
different characters’ actions and emotions, as well as greater detail on the
setting and history of the story. The Castle Spectre utilizes several
techniques to augment suspense. On numerous occasions, the names of the
characters Richard meets are not revealed until the end of that individual’s
story, and the reveals often occur casually amidst the dialogue or narrative
with little emphasis. The reveal of the characters’ names has a great impact on
the entire plot, and the narration’s nonchalant delivery augments the suspense
and adds an element of surprise. As a result, many key details and surprises
are revealed suddenly and without foreshadowing. Though the narrator does not
touch on characters’ feelings often, the dialogue provides greater insight into
the different characters’ personalities and emotions. Because so many different
plots are embedded into the chapbook, the story is both engaging and, at times,
confusing: the chapbook is extremely fast-paced because so much action is
packed into each sentence, and in some cases it is difficult to follow the story
and to distinguish who is speaking or who characters are because the plot jumps
back and forth in time or between the different story lines. The moments of
first-person plural narration detail the story as if it were true by discussing
the sources from which the story was translated. These moments where the
narrator speaks as “we” directly to the reader, along with the detailed setting
and long rambling sentences, all conspire to make the story oral in feel, as if
being told to a friend.
Spectre follows the knight
Sir Richard over a period of several years. The story begins on a stormy night
in the Scottish Highlands. Sir Richard is traveling to his father’s castle in
the Grampian Mountains after a four-year deployment to the Holy War in
Palestine. He seeks shelter to ride out the storm, but no one will take him in.
In a flash of lightning, he sees the turret of a castle; he sounds his bugle
numerous times with no response, so he dismounts his horse and tries the door.
By chance, the door is unlocked, and Richard enters the banquet hall of the
castle. With only the moon and occasional flash of lightning to guide him, the
knight explores. The hall is filled with food and drink that appears to have
been placed there recently. In the corner of the hall lies the dead body of a
man; the floor is soaked with congealed blood. Sir Richard vows to unravel the
mystery of the catastrophe that occurred.
Sir Richard tours
the rest of the castle, which is magnificently decorated in gothic splendor. No
one is to be found and all is silent. He comes upon a great bed, and as he is
exhausted from his journey, he jumps in and falls into a deep sleep. At one
o’clock, a bell rings and Sir Richard wakes to the curtains of the bed being
ripped open. Standing at the foot of the bed bathed in blue light is a veiled
woman in a white dress. As he approaches her, the woman’s veil falls off and a
stream of blood gushes from a wound in her side. Richard looks into the woman’s
face, and it is none other than his sister! He calls to the apparition “by her
name Elenora” (though later in the story she is referred to predominantly as
Gertrude, with no explanation given for the shift in name) (7). Elenora the
apparition stands, not speaking, while holding her hand over the seemingly
fresh wound in her side. After repeated prodding, Elenora explains the story of
her brutal murder in the castle, revealing that two years after Richard left,
she married the owner of this castle, and in a fit of frenzy he stabbed her
(while she was pregnant) and left her corpse in a rubbish pile. Left to rot
without a proper Christian burial, she haunts her murderer and his new wife.
The scene that Richard came upon in the banquet hall was the remnants of their
wedding, which was ruined when Elenora appeared and terrorized the guests.
Finally, with a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning, Elenora vanishes in a
swirl of blue flame.
Shocked and overcome
with emotion, Sir Richard decides to leave and avenge his beloved sister. He
lets his horse take the reins on the way to his father’s estate and does not
realize the horse has gone down the wrong road. They come upon a cottage where
he is treated with great hospitality. The owner, Douglas, tells the story of
his childhood and time as a soldier, where he saved the life of the “worthy
nobleman, under whose banners I had enlisted” and was thus assured protection
and this cottage (11). Douglas explains that the nobleman has died and his son
is at war; he fears thar if he does not return, Sir Kenelm Cromar will take
over his estates and leave Douglas and his family to live out their days in
poverty. During this story, Douglas reveals the name of his former nobleman to
be Duncan, and Sir Richard reveals that Duncan was his father! This means that
Sir Richard is the son who has now returned home; the Douglas family rejoices.
Douglas’s story also reveals that Sir Kenelm’s first wife was Elenora (now
predominately referred to as Gertrude in the story). Upon Gertrude and Kenelm’s
marriage, Ally (Douglas’s daughter) moved into the castle where Sir Kenelm
“began to take great liberties with her” (12). Douglas says Lady Gertrude is
now missing and so is Ally. Because of Gertrude’s ghost’s daily visits, Sir
Kenelm and his new wife have moved to his hunting lodge so the castle remains
uninhabited. Sir Richard thanks Douglas and promises him a life of friendship
When he finally
arrives home, the servants rejoice at the return of their young lord. They tell
the knight all that has happened and grieve for the good young lady Gertrude
and their master Duncan. Enraged, Sir Richard vows to avenge her and lay her
body to rest in a Christian burial. He seeks out his father’s friend, Lord
Mackworth, and tells the man the story. Richard decides to challenge Sir Kenelm to
single combat, with Mackworth’s assistance. As part of their agreement,
Mackworth wants Sir Richard to marry his daughter and Sir Richard agrees. Sir
Kenelm accepts Richard’s request, mentioning that though it is illegal to fight
in this manner, he will do it anyways to honor the memory of the venerable
Duncan. Meanwhile, Kenelm sends a letter to the king, requesting that he send
men and imprison Richard before the fight occurs. Instead, the king decides the
two men will have an impartial hearing at his court and he will support
whichever cause is more just.
It is now the night
of combat, and the marshal Lord Glencairn asks if any last-minute
accommodations can be made. Richard declines, unless Sir Kenelm will admit to
murdering Gertrude and surrender to public justice. Kenelm refuses, saying that
Gertrude abandoned him for a lover, and Richard is about to stab him in rage
when suddenly, they are both commanded prisoners and summoned to the king’s
court. Before they leave with the soldiers, the clock strikes one and in a
swirl of thunder and lightning, Gertrude appears. She shares her story and
explains that three times now she has prevented Kenelm from murdering his new
wife. She requests a proper burial, asks Mackworth to protect Richard, and
vanishes in a thick blue flame amidst a crack of lightning and tremendous peal
of thunder. Richard breaks the silence and tells the soldiers to bring them to
the court, so that he can share the full story in front of the king. The
hearing occurs, and Kenelm is found guilty and sent to prison; he later has a
public trial and is condemned to death. Gertrude’s remains are recovered and
she has a proper burial; all the churches in the surrounding area hold masses
in her honor and her final wish is granted.
goes home. He keeps his house open to serve his father’s tenants, and the
neighboring nobility congratulate him on his return from the war and for
bringing Kenelm to justice. Nevertheless, Sir Richard is unhappy; he mourns the
loss of his father and sister and misses his lost love Lady Jane. The story now
shifts back many years, before Richard went to the Holy Land. He fell in love
with Mackworth’s daughter, Jane, and she waited for him to return from the war.
In the four years of his absence, Jane denied many marriage offers from wealthy
prospects, one of them being Lord Glendour. Finally, Richard returns and they
are set to marry. We learn that two years before Richard left, Mackworth’s son
went to war and never returned. They mourned his death, and Mackworth received
Richard as a son and the heir to his estates and domains. As they prepare for
the wedding at the Mackworth estate, Richard returns to his familial castle,
and in his absence, an unfortunate event occurs. One evening, Jane is kidnapped
while on a walk through the gardens. Mackworth sends news to Richard, who vows
never to return until he finds his love. He searches for weeks with no sign of
Jane, until he comes across a hut offering refreshments to travelers. The man
inside mentions that a gagged woman and man had come through just before and
were on their way to Italy. Richard chases them to the river’s edge and
resolves to follow them. For years, he traverses all of Italy, hopelessly
searching convents for his lover. He falls ill and almost dies from grief, but
dreams of Jane and vows to recover and free her.
The story jumps back
in time to Jane’s kidnapping, and it is revealed that Lord Glendour, one of
Kenelm’s friends, fell madly in love with her and kidnapped Jane to be with
her. He requests her hand in marriage, but she refuses. She tricks him into
allowing her to pass the time in a convent in Italy, where she is watched over
by the Lady Abbess and not allowed to leave. Back in the present, Richard meets
an English man in the middle of Venice. They become friends and visit the man’s
villa. Richard recognizes someone in one of the family pictures and asks the
man to share the story of why he left England. The man says the story is long,
but he has written it down for his children and will one day give Richard a
copy to read. After months of visits, Richard reads the man’s story and is
surprised by the similarities between them. The man, Wentworth, was the eldest
son of a noble house in England. He fell in love with a peasant girl Louisa,
and though he was promised to marry a noble woman Anna, he runs away with his
lover. He fakes illness and tells his father he will go to the Holy War; Louisa
goes with him, and they marry and have a son and daughter. He returns from the
war and vows to sort out his betrothal to Anna. Leaving his wife and children
in the protection of her father, he goes back to his paternal castle. He sets a
plan for his brother, William, to marry Anna instead, and it works. Elatedly,
Wentworth returns to the cottage and is devastated to find Louisa and his
infant son missing. They were tricked by a letter claiming to be from him, and
Wentworth suspects his own father to have sent it. For five years, Wentworth
and his daughter travel the world, though nothing can make him forget Louisa.
Receiving word of his father’s ill health, he returns to England. On his death
bed, Wentworth’s father reveals he sent Louisa to a convent in Italy, but she
escaped. Wentworth and his daughter go back to Italy to search for her, but he
never finds Louisa. He lives like a recluse in his villa, and this is where Richard
reenters the story.
Richard again visits
Wentworth. The man reveals he is Richard’s uncle but used a fake family name so
that he may retire in peace, away from the nobility. Richard explains that
during his search for Jane, he saw Louisa and her son in the Pyrenees.
Together, Richard and Wentworth begin their journey to the mountains to find
the long-lost wife and son. They come across a cottage that Richard had visited
before and reunite with Louisa and the son. Wentworth, now revealed to be
called Sir George, decides to return to his family home in England. Richard
promises to join them, if they can spare a few weeks for him to search for
One night on his
return to the Italian villa, Richard sees two criminals attacking a man. He
intervenes, and they admit they were hired by Count Vertolini to kill him.
Richard and the man go back to his house, so they may speak safely. The young
man then explains his story: he came from England to fight in the Holy War and
had a father and sister at home who he had not heard from in years. During the
war, he became great friends with an Italian man, Vertolini, who had a sister
named Clemena. The man falls in love with her, but is then taken prisoner in
Palestine. Four years later, Vertolini bribed the soldiers and freed his
friend, and they carry on their travels together. The Italian man reveals his
sister is promised to a convent, so she cannot be with his friend despite his
love for her. They meet the sister in Italy, where he becomes even more
enamored. Clemena admits she does not want to join the convent, but it is
necessary for her honor. Vertolini vows to save her before she takes the veil,
and the siblings try in vain to convince their father to free her. The father,
Count Vertolini, refuses the young man’s wedding proposal, and advises him to
leave Italy immediately. It is now revealed that the young man is Sir Henry
Mackworth, Lord Mackworth’s long lost son and Jane’s brother.
Back in the present,
Richard and Henry plan to rescue Clemena. While at the convent, a girl hands
the knight a note telling him to return at midnight to find something of great
importance. He listens, and that night, finds Lady Jane at the convent! She
explains her story and begs him to free her. Richard and Henry return to the convent
to demand her release, but the Lady Abbess refuses. The next day, Henry
interrupts the veiling ceremony and saves Clemena from the convent. Richard
goes back to England with Henry and Clemena, where he hurries to find
Mackworth. Together, they apply to the king and receive his royal mandate to
imprison Lord Glendour. The king sends word to the Pope, and Mackworth and Sir
Richard go back to Italy to retrieve a freed Jane. With Richard’s lover in tow,
they return to England. Wentworth lives in his castle with his family, there
are numerous weddings, Glendour dies in a convent, and Sir Richard is blessed
with years of happiness with Jane, Henry, Wentworth, and the others. They all
live happily ever after.
Frank, Frederick S. “A Gothic Romance.” Horror
Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide, by Marshall B. Tymn, New
York City, R.R. Bowker, 1981.
In this 1803 chapbook, Charlotte Frances Barrett (Frances Burney’s niece) writes a tale of adventure, surprise, and horror in which the righteous queen must be rescued from an evil usurper.
The Round Tower, Or the Mysterious Witness: An Irish Legendary Tale of the Sixth Century, by C. F. Barrett, is a gothic chapbook in the Sadleir-Black Collection of the University of Virginia Special Collections Library. The book is thirty-six pages, has no cover, and measures 17.3cm by 10.7cm. The front of the book is blank, save for the faint traces of ink that have bled through from the illustration next to the inside title page. Once the book is opened, an illustration of two cavaliers gesturing towards a godlike figure is observed along with the words “Vaughan delin” and “Barlow sculp” under the bottom left and right corners respectively. The illustration combines both etching and engraving and was printed from a copper plate. Additionally, the words “Round Tower” are written under the center of the illustration in a three-dimensional font. The inside title page follows the illustration and the author’s name is printed in the middle of the page in all capital letters. Beneath the author’s name is listed Barrett’s other publication: Mary Queen of Scots, Sc., and the quote, “Murder! Most foul, and Treachery most vile.” Farther down the inner title page, after the author’s name and credentials, is the publishing information and the words “Printed for Tegg and Castleman.”
The book is held together by glue binding; however, it is
worn and has lost its effect, leading to the book’s fragility. The binding used
to be accompanied by stitching that adhered the book to its cover as
illustrated by the holes in the sides of the pages closest to the spine, but
the cover has since fallen off, which contributes to the book’s tattered
The pages of the text are yellowed, have the texture of
sandpaper, and are splotchy, due to a chemical reaction that has occurred
between the chemicals in the paper and the environment in which the book is
stored. Moreover, the pages get increasingly brown beginning at page 25, and
appear more weathered than the pages at the beginning and middle of the text.
On each page, the text is centered and situated between margins
that are slightly larger on the top and bottom than the left and right. Each
page has the words “THE ROUND TOWER” printed in the center of the top margin
and the page number in the bottom left corner right under the text. The text is
small, closely set, and sophisticated with a font that appears similar to Times
The Round Tower boasts markings made by potential
previous owners. The first and second occur on page 11. In the bottom margin is
a signature written in cursive, however, it has faded and is therefore
illegible. At the top of page 11 in the right-hand margin, the initials LB are
written in cursive, insinuating that the book was once owned by an individual
before coming into the Sadleir-Black Collection. Finally, there is a blotch of
blue ink two-thirds of the way down page 25.
The Round Tower, Or the Mysterious Witness: An Irish
Legendary Tale of the Sixth Century, by C. F. Barrett, was published by
Tegg and Castleman in London in 1803; this appears to be the only edition and
there are no digital copies. Interestingly, the book is a plagiarism of John
Palmer’s popular gothic novel, The Mystery of the Black Tower (Tymn 41).
This tale is set in the time period of Edward the III and depicts the life of
Leonard, a young boy who earns knighthood and must embark on an adventure to
save his love, Emma, from imprisonment in the Black Tower. Published in 1796, The
Black Tower was influenced by Don Quixote as well as Clara Reeve’s The
Old English Baron and is still billed as “among the finest historical
Gothic novels” (“The Mystery of the Black Tower (1796)”).
Plagiarisms were very common among chapbooks at this time.
Francesca Saggini suggests that The Round
Tower was also inspired by contemporary theatrical performances. Saggini
characterizes Barrett as a “prolific hack … who adapted to the page several
Gothic spectacles performed … at popular London venues” (120). The
frontispiece of The Round Tower depicts the dramaticism of the
appearance of the supernatural apparition and the animated reflections of the
onlookers, thus illustrating how the gothic genre was influenced by performance
yet also available to readers “at a cheap price and in the safety of their own
homes” (Saggini 122). The frontispiece is also displayed in Frederick Frank’s
article “Gothic Gold: The Sadleir-Black Gothic Collection”along with a
description of the work that describes the book as a thrilling “Macbethian
Gothic” that includes dramatized supernatural elements (18).
Charlotte Frances Barrett, author of The Round Tower,
produced pamphlets between 1800 and 1810 and authored stories including, as
compiled by Franz Potter: The Great Devil’s Tale; or, The Castle of Morbano
included in Canterbury Tales (1802), The Mysterious Vision; or,
Perfidy Punished in the New Collection of Gothic Stories (1801), a
translation of The Shipwreck, or, The Adventures, Love, and Constancy, of
Paul and Virginia (1800), Douglas Castle; or, The Cell of Mystery. A
Scottish Tale (1803) for Arthur Neil, and Laugh when You Can; or, The
Monstrous Droll Jester (1800) for Ann Lemoine (104-5n). Barrett was also
the niece of Frances Burney (1752–1840), well-known author of Evelina (1778)
and Cecilia (1782).
Thomas Tegg (1776–1846), who published The Round Tower, was
a bookseller and publisher in London who specialized in “reprints,
out-of-copyright publications, remainders, and cheap satirical prints” (“Thomas
Tegg”). He also published accounts of shipwrecks that included engraved folding
frontispieces (Weiss 60). Tegg and Castleman were prolific: “between 1802 and
1805, Tegg and Castleman co-published at least nineteen novelettes in
collaboration with Dugdale” (Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber 26). Potter calls Tegg
“the most prominent, if not notorious, publisher of gothic chapbooks and
pamphlets in the early nineteenth century” (59).
Point of View
The Round Tower is narrated by an omniscient narrator
who has insight into the thoughts and actions of each character. The story is
narrated in a venerable tone using lengthy sentences that are broken up by
punctuation. The narration primarily focuses on the emotions of the characters
and how they influence the characters’ dispositions and behaviors. Additionally,
the narrator relays the tale with great expressivity by contextualizing every
event in the story with dramatic and detailed descriptions.
Enraged at her firmness, Sitric seized the infant, and, drawing his poignard, he raised his arm in order to plunge it in the bosom of the latter, when, driven to desperation, she rushed on the perfidious Dane, and, wrestling the fatal weapon from him, would have plunged it in his heart, but at that moment the door of the dungeon flew open, and Cobthatch, attended by the vindictive Connora, rushed in, followed by several of the usurper’s guards. Appalled at the sudden appearance of her husband’s enemy, the poignard fell from the hand of Moriat, which Connora instantly seized, fearful (in despite of her lord’s neglect) lest in a paroxysm of despair Moriat might yet use it against his life. (19)
The narrator’s omniscience allows for multiple characters’
perspectives to be included in the relation of the book, which illustrates
their motives, ambitions, and values to add nuance and intricacy to the tale.
Likewise, the multitude of punctuation functions to provide the narrator with
inflection and gives the impression that the book is being told as a story. The
narrator’s emphasis on the characters’ feelings centers the driving force of
the plot around emotion and asserts its power as a motivating force behind the
characters’ actions. Furthermore, the descriptive and intensified manner in
which the book is narrated creates a theatrical tone that results in an
Cobthatch, King of Munster, is listening to music in an attempt to
calm his anxiety about the fact that he has unjustly obtained the throne by
killing his uncle, Laughair. He is then notified that Maon and Moriat, the son
of his murdered uncle and his wife, are still alive, and orders his associate,
Sitric, to ensure their execution. However, Maon and Moriat do not know the
other is alive.
Meanwhile, Moriat is in the mountains where she has been able to
secure lodging. One day when she is mourning the loss of Maon, who she thinks
is deceased, she carves his name into a nearby rock. While doing so, she is
startled by a man approaching her, but then realizes it is Kildare, her loyal
attendant. He recalls his experience venturing out to secure provisions and
tells Moriat the story of how he discovered Maon. He recollects that he heard a
groan and was convinced it was a ghost, but then realized it was Maon, who at
the time had drawn his sword with the intention of committing suicide. Kildare
caught the Lord before he impaled himself, and they embraced upon their
reunion. Maon immediately wanted to be shown to Moriat, but Kildare convinced
him the sudden shock would be too much for her to bear and convinced Maon to wait
until he could deliver the news.
Upon hearing that her husband is alive, Moriat waits the entire
night for his return with their child at her side, but Maon never shows.
Instead, Moriat is pursued and cornered by Cobthatch’s guards, who take her to
Sitric’s castle where she and her infant are detained in the dungeon. Sitric is
enamored by Moriat’s beauty and wants to spare her from death at the hand of
Cobthatch. He therefore goes to Cobthatch and makes up a story where he states
that Moriat refused to reveal Maon’s location and therefore, he stabbed her.
This satisfies the king, and he is happy to know he will not have to worry
about her raising suspicion. When Sitric returns to the dungeon where Moriat is
being held, he asks that in return for him sparing her life, she complies with
all his future demands. She responds that she will not break her marriage vows,
but that someday her son will be able to repay him. Sitric, infuriated by her
lack of compliance, chains her infant to the opposite wall. He returns the
following night, and when Moriat again refuses to comply, he gives her an
ultimatum that if she does not obey, both her and her baby’s life will suffer
In the meantime, Sitric’s wife, Connora, suspects that her husband
is devoted to another, and devises a plan to observe him. She disguises herself
and follows him to the dungeon where she overhears his conversation with
Moriat, thus confirming her suspicions. Sitric returns to visit Moriat and is
on the verge of stabbing her infant out of anger at her firmness, when Connora
and Cobthatch enter the room. Cobthatch, enraged at discovering that Moriat is
alive, demands that she and her baby be removed to the Round Tower.
While Moriat was captured, Kildare and Maon encountered troops, causing
a delay in their visit to reunite with her. When they venture out the next
morning, they see Sitric’s party in the distance and Kildare suggests they
retire to the cottage of a loyal friend, O’Brian, until they can gather a party
large enough to overpower Sitric’s army.
Once at the cottage, Kildare relates the adventures of Maon and
Moriat since the death of Laughair to O’Brian. He recalls that Laughair had
stayed at the castle of Cobthatch when he was murdered, and that Maon and
Moriat, being accused of the crime, fled to O’Brian’s cottage. Here they were
discovered, which resulted in Moriat fleeing to the mountains and Maon
embarking on a ship that was said to have capsized, leading Moriat to believe
In an effort to rescue Moriat, Maon resolves to enter Sitric’s
castle disguised as a friar and embarks on his journey. Once he arrives, Maon
encounters Sitric, who relates the story of Moriat’s captivity from the
perspective of her savior and offers to lead Maon to the Round Tower. The next day,
as Sitric leads Maon through the passageways, he decides to kill him.
Immediately before he stabs him, the ghost of Laughair appears and instructs
Sitric to lead Maon safely to the dungeon, or else he would face his vengeance.
Once at the door, Maon and Sitric discover Cobthatch attempting to rape Moriat,
leading Sitric to stab and kill him. Sitric then accuses Maon of the murder and
has him taken prisoner. Because of the death of Cobthatch, Sitric is crowned
Following Cobthatch’s murder, Sitric offers Moriat the freedom of
her husband and child if she agrees to have sex with him. At this moment,
Laughair’s ghost reappears and tells Moriat not to trust the tyrant, and she
complies with his instructions and holds firm.
Later that evening, Sitric discovers that Moriat has escaped,
accuses Maon of aiding her to freedom, and orders the execution of him and his
child. The moment before the axe is to execute Maon, Sitric tells him that if
he resigns his title to Moriat and tells him her location, Maon will be spared.
He refuses and at that moment, Kildare enters the courtyard with a band of
peasants and enters into combat with Sitric’s men. While Sitric is engaged in
fighting, Moriat stabs him, which causes his troops to disperse.
After the death of Sitric, Kildare presents to the nobles that
Maon should be king, and when asked for proof of his innocence, the ghost of
Laughair appears for the final time to declare that Maon is the rightful heir
of Munster, and he is crowned king.
Once Maon and Moriat are restored to the throne, Moriat retells
that she escaped because the ghost of Laughair led her to the cottage where
Kildare was staying. Once she arrived, Kildare had assembled an army of
peasants ready to restore the true king to power.
Maon and Moriat enjoy a life full of joy and peace together, and
his rule becomes known for its justice and serves as an example to other
Barrett, Charlotte Frances. The Round Tower,
Or the Mysterious Witness: An Irish Legendary Tale of the Sixth Century. London,
Tegg and Castleman, 1803.
Frank, Frederick. “Gothic Gold: The
Sadleir-Black Gothic Collection.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture,
vol. 26, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1997, pp. 287–312.
Loeber, Rolf, and Magda Stouthamer-Loeber.
“The Publication of Irish Novels and Novelettes: A Footnote on Irish Gothic
Fiction.” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text, 10th ed., e Centre
for Editorial and Intertextual Research, Cardiff, Wales, 2003, pp. 17–44. http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/romtextv2/files/2013/02/cc10_n02.pdf
Potter, Franz J. Gothic Chapbooks,
Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers: 1797–1830. University of Wales Press,
Saggini, Francesca. The Gothic Novel and
The Stage: Romantic Appropriations. Routledge, Taylor Et Francis Group,
Set in England and published in 1827, The Twin Sisters warns of the sexual improprieties of men, cautioning that men lead to the destruction of women, unless women are resilient in their actions.
The book containing The Twin Sisters; or, Two Girls of Nineteen: Being the Interesting Adventures of Sophia and Charlotte Melford. An Affecting Narrative by “Charlotte, one of the sisters” is a small 9.1cm by 14.15cm worn book. The book contains seventy-two pages total: pages three through forty-two detail the story of the twin sisters and the remaining thirty pages recount Orphan of the Castle: a Gothic Tale, or the Surprising History and Vicissitudes of Allan Fitz-Roberts, the Orphan Heir of the Castle of Lindisfarne by an unknown author.
This desaturated teal-colored hardcover book is discolored by light warm-brown staining. The discoloration is most exaggerated on the bottom edge of the book. The front cover has a thin crack halfway up the page, starting from the right side, tapering off until it reaches a cool dark-brown freckle near the middle of the book. This dark splotch is the most distinctive out of many, most likely unintentional, freckles splattering the cover, giving the book an aged appearance. There is also a 0.5cm in diameter distinctive stain in the upper left-hand corner, rimmed thinly with a warm dark-brown and filled with a cool-blue grey. The stain resembles a hippopotamus’s head with a small protrusion where the neck should be, giving the appearance of a small gourd.
The binding is exceedingly damaged. The book, bound similarly to modern hardcovers, has a cardboard-like substance acting as the base, wrapped in a colored paper to attach the front hardcover with the back. The desaturated orange-brown colored cardboard-like substance peaks from the corners of the book where the teal paper covering has worn through. The paper cover folds over the edges of the hardback and a rectangle of white paper, now discolored with age, pastes over it to secure it. Only severely degraded paper covers the spine. The spine is intact from the bottom until 8.2cm up from the bottom, where it is torn off completely until 11.5cm up from the bottom. A few centimeters of the paper remain attached, but only attached to the left edge of the spine. In the binding of the pages, some type of adhesive glue adhered each edge of the paper together with a thin bit of string threaded through all of the pages in three places near the center of the inner margin or gutter of the book. Each puncture falls one centimeter apart.
The paper, brittle and browned from age, has the most browning along its edges. On the first page, an 8 by 3cm rectangle-shaped discoloration appears in the middle of the page. A few of the pages are ripped, but only along the bottom edge, including the first page, resulting in a brown staining its negative on the third page. A few of the odd-numbered pages are marked below the text with signature marks used by a printer; the marks appear as a combination of letters and the number 2, ranging from A2 to D2 in The Twin Sisters. The Orphan of the Castle has more damage to the paper detailing its story than The Twin Sisters. The damage evokes the interaction between watercolor paint and salt, giving the pages a speckled appearance.
When looking at a standard spread of The Twin Sisters, the thirty-four lines of text are fully justified causing the spacing between words to be on average narrower than standard. The margins are consistent at 1cm on the bottom and outside edge with the top margin 1.5cm to leave adequate room for “The Two Girls” above the text on the left page, and “Of Nineteen” above the text on the right page. All of the pages are numbered, except for the first page of The Orphan of the Castle and the first three pages of the book: the title page, the blank back of the title page, and the first page of The Twin Sisters.
Beyond a mostly illegible scrawl of what appears to be the name “Mr. Wyllis” in the top left corner of the inside of the cover, and the University of Virginia Library bookplate, there are no illustrations, marginalia, or personal marks in the book. Neither is the title of either story listed anywhere apart from the title page and the first page of each respective story. On the opening page of each story, each of the titles is shortened from their full form inscribed in the title page to just the primary title, without its subtitle.
The title page attributes Charlotte Melford, the narrator of the story, as the author of The Twin Sisters; or, Two Girls of Nineteen: Being the Interesting Adventures of Sophia and Charlotte Melford. An Affecting Narrative; however, this is spurious, as the far-fetched story is a work of fiction. There are no other authors listed in any available copies of the book, except one WorldCat entry erroneously listing the publisher, Freeman Scott, as the author.
The copy held at the University of Virginia Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library was published in 1827 by Freeman Scott, with premises on the N.W. Corner of Tenth and Race Streets, Philadelphia. There was another publication of this story produced in London and “printed and sold by Dean & Munday, 35, Threadneedle Street” (as noted on its title page); this copy has been digitized and made available on Google Books, which lists the date at 1830, though this date is not shown anywhere on the scan of the book. The two copies are very similar in most regards but differ substantially in some ways. The Freeman Scott version is one of two stories in the chapbook, with the other being Orphan of the Castle, and The Twin Sisters accounts for pages 3 through 42; by contrast, the Dean and Munday edition was published alone and accounts for pages 8 through 36 of its book. The difference in page count is primarily due to what appears to be differences in margin size as well as page size; the body of the text is largely the same. There are, however, some discrepancies in the text, especially with punctuation. The two editions have very little consistency between their punctuations with over six changes between the two editions on the corresponding text of the first page of the Scott edition alone. Occasionally, there are also some changes in word choice: for instance, page six of the Scott edition uses “written” while the corresponding section of the Dean and Munday edition uses “wrote” on page nine. Or, later, in the same sentence, the Scott edition uses “house” while the Dean and Munday edition uses “home.” There are also some cases where there is an entire half of a sentence or full sentence present in the Dean and Munday edition that is missing in the Scott edition, such as the inclusion of “to go with her; my father she said, was visited by dissolute men in whose company it would be imprudent for us to mix” at the end of a sentence on page ten in the Dean and Munday edition but not the Scott edition. Perhaps most notably, the Dean and Munday edition includes an illustration of the scene where Charlotte is taken from her lodgings by the police as the frontispiece before the title page; this illustration is absent in the Scott edition.
WorldCat also lists several other editions with various publication years, all attributed to Charlotte Melford. For instance, WorldCat lists an 1821 edition that is twelve pages long and was published for wholesale and retail in New York at 386, Broadway, W. Grattan Printer by S. King, and sold at his bookstore. There is only one library with this 1821 edition: the University of Iowa Library.
WorldCat lists an 1823 edition that was published for wholesale and retail in New York by W. Borradaile. This copy is one of the earliest editions and does not have the attached Orphan of the Castle story. This version is thirty-six pages long and includes an illustration.
WorldCat also identifies an edition with an unspecified publication date in the 1800s, and Jstor lists the date for this version as somewhere between 1814 and 1837. This edition was printed in London “for the booksellers, and for J. Kendrew, Colliergate, York.” In the WorldCat entry, James Kendrew is listed as one of the named persons in the book twice alongside Sophia and Charlotte, even though he never appears in the book. This copy appears to be similar to the Dean and Munday edition as the story spans pages 8 through 36 and has a front plate illustration like the Dean and Munday edition; however, this version is listed as being one centimeter smaller (19cm compared to 20cm). The University of York Library, in the United Kingdom, is the only library with a copy of this edition. There is a scan of this book on Jstor, in the form of a photograph of each page spread, showing that it is very similar to the Dean and Munday version of the book as the punctuation and general length and spacing of the book appear to be consistent. There is however a difference in the fonts on the title page and the image on the page before. The image in this University of York version is not colored and depicts the sisters together before they depart on their trip to London. The covers of both books also appear to be a warm brown color, however, the image of the University of York version is more degraded than the image of the Dean and Munday edition available on Google Books. The Kendrew edition of the book most likely contains another story after it within the same physical book, since in the Jstor scan the last page of text is on the left, leaving the right page blank, allowing for the ink from the image on the back of the page to show through. Furthermore, visually, there appear to be numerous pages left in the book.
Fourteen libraries in the world, including the University of Virginia Library, have a copy of the 1827 Scott edition of this book according to WorldCat, with thirteen of the fourteen being in the United States and the last copy being in Canada. The copy of the Scott edition that is owned by the New York Public Library was digitized on January 19th, 2007 onto Google Books where it can be read for free. This copy is the exact same, textually, as the Scott edition owned by the University of Virginia; however, the cover and physical quality are distinct, since the New York Public Library version appears to be in better physical condition and has a harder warm-brown cover as opposed to the worn discolored teal of the University of Virginia version. There is an odd speckling on the first few pages of the New York digitized version that is absent in the physical University of Virginia version.
There is also another book about the sisters called The Sisters, or, Virtue Triumphant : Being the Eventful History of Sophia & Charlotte Melford, which is depicted as authored by Charlotte and Sophia Melford and available on Google Books; other library catalogues, including McGill Library’s Chapbook Collection, New York Public Library Catalogue, and WorldCat just list Charlotte Melford as the author. According to WorldCat, The Sisters, or, Virtue Triumphant was printed by Hodgson & Co. in London at No. 10, Newgate-Street, sometime between 1822 and 1824, indicating that this story predates most but not all editions of The Twin Sisters. From the frontispiece of The Sisters depicted on a scan from the McGill Library, the story appears similar to that of The Twin Sisters in that they share the same general plot points: the smugglers in the sisters’ room dressed as women, Charlotte being taken by the constables, Charlotte and the Colonel, and Sophia being turned to the street (The Sisters 1). The McGill Library catalog entry notes the book is written by Robert Cruikshank, but he is most likely the illustrator of the images.
There are newer publications of The Twin Sisters—with Kessinger Publishing, LLC republishing The Twin Sisters in 2010 and Forgotten Books republishing it in 2018—that can be purchased on several online websites such as Amazon, eBay, and Better World Books.
Narrative Point of View
Charlotte, one of the sisters, narrates The Twin Sisters in the first-person point of view. The narration of the plot is fast paced, with many brief summaries of long periods of time, oftentimes spanning several years, but, at the same time, Charlotte imbues the story with haughty, verbose language in some instances, giving it a formal feel. The chapbook is told in the past tense, making it seem like a story Charlotte is reflecting on and sharing with the readers rather than being more present in the action. This gives the narration a detached sense, which is compounded by the formal titles that she calls every character. She refers to everyone in the book, except her aunt Emma, Sophia, and Susan by their formal names, her close friends, her husband (she calls him Colonel Woodly or colonel), and even people whom she despises. Charlotte focuses primarily on her actions and interactions with people rather than going in-depth about her thought processes or feelings. There is minimal dialogue throughout the novel, with paraphrasing of dialogue more common.
The coach went on with rapidity, and I found in a short time that we had left town, and were proceeding along a road that appeared very dreary. I became seriously alarmed, though, to speak with justice of his lordship, he did not offer to take the least unbecoming liberty. He felt my hand tremble, and bade we dismiss my fears, that we were only going a little way beyond Bayswater, and were near our journey’s end. We stopped at a neat white house, the coachman was ordered to knock, but the summons was several times repeated with violence before the door was opened; nor was that done till a female demanded in a harsh discordant voice, who was there at such an hour? And discovered Lord Morden to be the intruder. (21)
It seems as though Charlotte is trying to prop herself up with the narration, since, by using her extensive vocabulary to create a more complex twist on a simple narrative, she is showing off her intelligence and education. She was born into a lower-class family but was given a genteel education by her aunt, so she is trying to use this education to distinguish herself from these lower classes and establish her place in the upper class of her husband. Relatedly, she refers to people in higher social classes than herself in more formal ways, regardless of her personal feelings about them, and calls people at or below her social class by their informal first names, indicating that they are beneath her. Charlotte distances herself from this story throughout her narration; the writing is closed off and impersonal in most instances, not demonstrating the emotions of terror, disgust, loneliness, and joy. She seems to breeze past her emotions, mentioning a slight hand tremble and feeling “seriously alarmed” but then immediately changing the subject or focusing on the actions of the scene rather than her perceptions of it, as though they are nothing. This generates the distance between the events of the story and the narration, and also functions as a form of protective emotional detachment.
Charlotte, one of the sisters, begins The Twin Sisters with the purpose of the story: a warning to the “fairer sex” about the “delusive arts” of men (2). The Twin Sisters then briefly describes the background of the sisters’ family, detailing the tragedy of their lives and history of issues with financial support. Their mother dies in a horseback riding accident, pushing their father into a grief-fueled sickness from which he eventually dies. His death leaves the girls penniless under the guardianship of their aunt until she too dies a few years later.
The girls receive a letter from Mrs. Mowbray, a friendly neighbor one summer, offering one of them a job as a nanny in London to a rich family, the Aspleys. Having no real opportunities, they accept and venture on their journey to London.
They stop for the night at a crowded inn and are forced to share a room with two other female travelers, who they later discover to be male smugglers in disguise. These men come into the rooms after their late dinner while Sophia is sleeping and while Charlotte is pretending to sleep. Charlotte overhears them consider raping her and her sister before they drunkenly fall asleep. Much to Charlotte’s relief, the smugglers’ coach arrives before they have the chance to hurt either of the sisters.
The rest of their trip to London is uneventful. Upon their arrival, they are summoned by Mrs. Mowbray to meet the wealthy Lady Aspley. On the advice of Mrs. Mowbray, she chooses Sophia for the nannying position, but Charlotte remains living with Mrs. Mowbray.
Charlotte becomes apprehensive as the company Mrs. Mowbray keeps acts more rudely and obscenely than how she expected people of their supposed standings to behave. When she questions Mrs. Mowbray about it, she just calls her a “pretty innocent rustic,” stating that this behavior is normal for townsfolk (16). In an attempt to confirm her apprehensions, Charlotte tries to visit Sophia to compare their experiences. Mrs. Mowbray informs her that is impossible as Lady Aspley’s household, along with Sophia, had moved to Margate so their sick child could sea-bathe. When Charlotte tries to leave anyway, she is stopped by Mrs. Mowbray and some of her servants. They lock Charlotte in her bedroom, causing her to realize she and Sophia were betrayed by Mrs. Mowbray.
From a servant, Susan, who brings her food, Charlotte finds out that Mrs. Mowbray is a sex trafficker, or rather a “procuress who was employed by (to use [the servants] own words) very great gentlemen to ensnare young girls” (17). The servant also informs Charlotte that a man named Lord Morden paid Mrs. Mowbray to set this trap specifically for her as he had taken a fancy towards her. After this revelation, Charlotte bribes Susan to help her escape; Charlotte sneaks out of the room, but faints from fear and wakes up in the arms of Lord Morden. He asks her to give him her affection and to live with him. Charlotte declines his offer, stating she is imprisoned because of him, so why would she want to be with him. When he offers to free her from Mrs. Mowbray, she agrees to go with him as, in her mind, it was better to be content with him than to live enslaved to the “vile” Mrs. Mowbray (21).
Lord Morden then takes her to the house of his former mistress, Matilda, whose life he ruined after taking her innocence, and asks her to watch over Charlotte for a few days. Charlotte is furious as she feels imprisoned again, so she asks to leave. Matilda, partly because of her jealousy towards Charlotte and Lord Morden’s relationship and partly because of her anger towards Lord Morden, agrees to let her go.
Charlotte flees Matilda’s house and finds shelter at a boarding house where she is subsequently falsely arrested for forgery the next day. The victim of the forgery, Mr. Newton, comes to identify her, but brusquely proclaims Charlotte’s innocence. He then offers to take Charlotte back to her room at the boarding house to collect her things. In the carriage ride, he solicits her for sex as he believes her to be a prostitute. Charlotte is horrified by the offer and demands to be let out of the coach. On his refusal, she starts screaming, causing the coach to stop to make sure everything is alright. Charlotte uses this chance to escape.
Charlotte stops at a toy store to rest from her vigorous dash away from the carriage. The owner, a nice old woman named Mrs. Brent, agrees to provide her room and board. Charlotte then gets a job as an English teacher with connections from her bank. Things seem to be looking her way, until one day Charlotte runs into Sophia on a walk. Sophia tells her that she should have yielded to Lord Morden as she would be safe from the danger of the world. Sophia then goes on to share her experiences in the time they were apart and how happy she is with her place in life. Mrs. Mowbray introduced Sophia to a wealthy man named Mr. Greville. He raped her, took her on as his mistress, and is now supporting her lavish lifestyle financially.
Some time passes before her next interaction with Sophia in the form of a letter asking for a meeting. Sophia looks like a wreck; Mr. Greville found a new mistress and abandoned her, forcing her into prostitution, but she still refused to accept Charlotte’s help. She says she is content and happy with her life, that she has time to repent after she retires.
Time passes and Charlotte falls in love with Mrs. Brent’s nephew, Colonel Woodly. Despite the fact that he likes her as well, she feels the marriage is one of unequals. She will sully his reputation with marriage and his mother would never agree to it. His mother, however, overhears this conversation and agrees immediately to the union. They marry and have a successful marriage with two children.
Three years after the marriage, Mrs. Brent arrives, announcing that she found Sophia passed out in the streets and took her in. Sophia had experienced all of the degradations that came with prostitution: she was abandoned by her pimp; sick, penniless, with nothing more than the clothes on her back. Charlotte then helps care for her physically and spiritually. She now lives a very pious, peaceful life in South Wales.
The Twin Sisters, or, Two Girls of Nineteen : Being the Interesting Adventures of Sophia & Charlotte Melford. An Affecting Narrative. London : Printed for the booksellers and for J Kendrew Colliergate York, pp. 1–17, https://jstor.org/stable/10.2307/community.29959877.
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).
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.
This story written by Mary Anne Radcliffe in 1802 follows a family left destitute after the French Revolution and their quest to start a new life. The only thing in their way is a string of murders.
The Secret Oath
or Blood-Stained Dagger, a Romance is the second story in volume one of The Entertainer. Seven
stories make up the volume, each containing seventy-two pages, except for The
Secret Oath (sixty-eight pages) and Frederic Staun, or the Revenge of Disappointment
(four pages). Each time a new story starts, the page numbers restart, with the
exception of Frederic Staun, or the Revenge of Disappointment, which
continues pagination from the previous story, The Secret Oath, to result
in a total of seventy-two pages. Each story has seventy-two pages
because it matches the method of folding used to bind books at this time. The
volume is bound in brown, acid-splattered leather and has gold lettering of The
Entertainer on the spine. The text block has blue speckles for decoration. The
Entertainer vol. 1 measures 18cm in height, 11cm in width, and 3cm in
In the front cover,
there is a handwritten table of contents and a list of exact duplicates also in
the Sadleir Black Collection. Overall, the pages of the book are in good
condition. All the text in The Secret Oath is readable apart from a
small hole with a diameter of about 0.5cm on page 61, but this does not affect
the overall understanding of the text. The pages inThe Secret Oath
or Blood-Stained Dagger, a Romance and Frederic Staun, or the Revenge of
Disappointment are a slightly darker brown than the rest of the stories.
This discoloration is caused by different types of paper used in the volume.
The pages in The
Secret Oath use a consistent font and single-spaced lines. The margins
differ due to folding techniques. The left-hand pages have side margins of 1cm
while the right-hand pages have side margins of 0.5cm. The top margin for a
page is either 1 or 2 cm. Each page has the title The Secret Oath on the
top. The margin at the bottom of all the pages is 1cm. At the bottom of some
right-hand pages, there are signature marks that indicate how the book should
be folded. They start with “Ii” and end with “Oo3”. On the last page of the
story, the word “Frederic” is present as a catch word for the book maker to
know which story goes next. Frederic Staun, or the Revenge of Disappointment
was added after The Secret Oath to make the section 72 pages for
At the start of The
Secret Oath, there is a title page that reads “The // Secret Oath // or //
Blood-Stained Dagger, // a Romance” with a black and white illustration
of a house in front of the woods. To the left of the title page, there is
another illustration depicting a character reaching for a dagger while looking
at a statue of a woman and her baby. This black and white illustration of a
woman bled on to the title page and can be seen in a faint brown outline.
This edition was
printed by J. H. Hart and published for Tegg and Castleman in London on
November 1, 1802. There is another edition of this chapbook in the University of
Virginia Special Collections Library printed by T. Plummer and published for T.
Hurst in London on November 1, 1802. The chapbook has many existing editions
both in libraries and as online scans. For instance, there is a version in
volume one of the second edition of The Marvelous Magazine published by
The author of The Secret Oath is not present on the title page or frontispiece. However, another chapbook entitled Monkish Mysteries; Or, the Miraculous Escape: Containing the History and the Villanies of the Monk Bertrand; The Detection of His Impious Frauds, and Subsequent Repentance and Retribution includes a printed note that says: “The whole written, adjusted and compiled solely for this work, by Mrs. Mary Anne Radclife, of Wimbledon in Surrey, author of the Secret oath, or blood-stained dagger” (Radcliffe Monkish Mysteries 2). This connects Mary Anne Radclife, usually spelled “Radcliffe,” to the The Secret Oath. There is another book in the University of Virginia Special Collections Library that includes the same note connecting Mary Anne Radcliffe to TheSecret Oath called The Adventures of Capt. Duncan, A Journey From Europe, Over the Arabian Deserts, to the British Settlements in India; : Containing, Among Other Particulars, an Account of the Perils He Experienced in Those Terrific Regions, the Eccentric Humors of His Tartarian Guide, His Shipwreck, and Distresses in the War With Hyder Ally, &C (Radcliffe Adventures 2).
Mary Anne Radcliffe was born in 1746 to James Clayton and Sarah née Bladderwick (Grundy). Her father died when she was four, and she was educated at Bar Convent in York, England. After fourteen years of life, she married Joseph Radcliffe, age thirty-five, in an elopement and had eight children with him throughout their marriage.
Her most known works include The Female Advocate (1799), Radcliffe’s New Novelist Pocket Magazine (1802), and Memoirs… in Familiar Letters to her Female Friend (1810). Some of these works are similar to The Secret Oath in the sense that they are sensationalized stories written for cheap entertainment, but others follow a feminist perspective on life and create arguments about more serious topics such as the shrinking job market for women and the risk of prostitution. Radcliffe was advertised in newspapers as an elegant entertainment writer, and her Radcliffe’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine was sold for six-pence at the time of its release (“Advertisements and Newspapers” 4). This magazine, which is more like a collection of stories, includes The Secret Oath. Radcliffe’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine was published by Thomas Hurst.
Grundy suggests that Radcliffe requested that her name remain out of some of
her pieces, but that this was not always respected. Specifically, Radcliffe’s
name was put on The Female Advocate despite her wish to remain
anonymous. This connected her to Radcliffe’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine and
other chapbooks. Her publisher was also known to switch published works
with a different author’s name to Radcliffe’s name after the first edition of a
book had been published. For example, The Mysterious Baron (1808) was
switched from Eliza Ratcliffe to Mary Anne Radcliffe after its initial print
(Grundy). The reason for these changes is unknown, but it is likely that the
publisher was using the similarities between Radcliffe’s name and the more
famous Ann Radcliffe, author of A Sicilian Romance (1790), to catch the
eye of readers. Another possibility is that Radcliffe used a false name for
some books in order to remain more anonymous.
having eight children and publishing many works focusing on topics from
thrilling murders to the issues of women, Radcliffe died of a health decline in
August of 1818 and is buried in Old Calton cemetery, Edinburgh (Grundy).
Narrative Point of View
The Secret Oath is narrated in third-person past tense. The
narrator is omniscient and never appears as a character in the text. The
narration focuses on characters’ actions and emotions and uses long sentences
separated by commas for each thought. The narrator does not focus on the
setting and does not use descriptive language to describe the environment. The
focus is on the actions of characters in the story and the feelings of each
They entered the old cabriolet, and after a rude journey arrived at Maschere, where they entered an Inn, and a surgeon was sent for to dress the Marquis’s wounds. – He pronounced it impossible to proceed on the journey without endangering his patient’s life ; in consequence of which, the Marchioness hired some apartments at a farm-house, on the road to Caffagiolo, contiguous to his surgeon. De Montfort had mental as well as bodily wounds to struggle with : he con-sidered himself as the murderer of Dorville–he, who had preserved his life, and illuminated the gloom of exile with the balm of friendship. – His daughter also felt a perpetual pang in the reflection that Dorville, whom she esteemed more than any man living, had been slain by her father’s hand ! (33–4)
demonstrates how the narrator focuses on the emotions and actions of each
character over any other aspect of the story. With its third-person point of
view, the narration takes away any bias that a first-person perspective would
have, but this does not take away all of the suspense. Omniscient narration
here gives an insight to all the characters’ feelings and experiences, which
tie into the universal knowledge of the narrator, but some details are left out
throughout the novel to maintain suspense. How a person is feeling is not left
a secret, but their fate is unknown until an action comes to determine it. This
stylistic choice keeps the story mysterious while also providing insight to
each character’s interiority.
A Secret Oath or
Blood-Stained Dagger, a Romance follows an ex-Marquis
named Albert de Montfort, his wife Madame de Montfort, and his daughter Serina.
The book describes how the family is forced to flee from Paris, France in 1792
during the French revolution. After fourteen years of poverty following their
escape, de Montfort accepts an invitation from his deceased father’s godson, M.
Dodier, to stay at his chateau until the family can get back on their feet. De
Montfort is hesitant to accept because M. Dodier received the de Montfort
family fortune after the death of Albert de Montfort’s father, and there is a
lack of trust between the two men. Serina convinces her father to accept the
invitation and the family moves to the chateau. The house is completely empty
except for Aquilina and Orsano Cormazzo, the mysterious caretakers of the
One day, de
Montfort comes home covered in blood after gambling with friends. He claims
that he was trying to save a dying man in the woods. Law enforcement accuses
him of the murder, and they discover evidence in Madame de Montfort and
Serina’s rooms that also connect them to the crime. De Montfort and his family
are taken to prison in a faraway town, but one by one they avoid their sentence
with the help of various people. Serina’s helper saves her under the condition
that she marry Argand, M. Dodier’s son. Next, Madame de Montfort is released
after the murder victim is revealed to have survived. She reunites with Serina
after hearing rumors of her location. De Montfort was the last to be released.
On the way to find his family, the living victim of the attack, Dorville,
offers to help find his wife and daughter because he feels bad that de Montfort
was sent to prison for no reason. De Montfort accepts, and eventually they find
Madame and Serina. De Montfort makes it clear that Serina will not be marrying
Argand because he does not want the man who took his family inheritance to take
his daughter too. M. Dodier kicks the family out of the chateau, and Dorville
offers to let the family stay in his mansion a few cities away.
through France to get to Dorville’s home. Dorville and Serina become close.
While staying in an apartment overnight, Serina wakes to a man in a black mask
holding a dagger above her heart. The masked man realizes he has the wrong
person and claims that if she keeps this visit a secret then her father may
live, but if she says anything he will kill her father and Dorville. Serina
swears the secret oath, and the man gives her an ebony crucifix with the word
“Remember!” carved on the back as a reminder of her promise (21).
After her visit by the mysterious man, Serina
goes to a church to confess. After she divulges her oath, the abbot demands
that she stay in the church for six months to pray in darkness. She has no
escape from her punishment and is brought to a garden to pray. In this garden,
a mysterious man helps her escape. Once the pair is over the wall, there is a
fight between new attackers and Serina’s helper. Serina’s helper reigns
victorious in the fight. However, Serina’s father was planning on saving her
too, and when he sees the man and Serina surrounded by bodies, de Montfort
attacks the man and kills him. Serina sees that her helper was Dorville. She is
extremely sad but must run from the church to avoid another imprisonment.
The family adopts the false name of Berthier to
protect their identity. With the help of an attorney named Cattivo, they
purchase an apartment and stay out of the public eye. Since the family has no
money, de Montfort uses a ring that he won while gambling as payment. Cattivo
takes a liking to Serina and demands her hand in marriage. The family says no,
and Cattivo threatens to blackmail the Berthiers unless Serina marries him.
They still say no, so Cattivo takes de Montfort to court and accuses him of
stealing the ring that was used to pay for the apartment. The ring is found to
belong to a Count Cuculli, a man de Montfort used to gamble with. The count
arrives at court, recognizes de Montfort as the accused “M. Berthier”, and
drops all charges because he trusts de Montfort’s integrity.
After de Montfort is released from jail, he
receives a note that he should go to the count’s mansion. De Montfort runs over
to the mansion and finds his wife and daughter. They tell de Montfort that the
count discovered a plot to hurt Serina. The count decided to keep watch over
their room while de Montfort was in jail awaiting release. Men came and
attacked the two ladies, but the count stabbed one attacker, who was later
revealed to be M. Dodier, and saved the women. Serina and Madame de Montfort
stayed with the count until de Montfort was released. They continue to stay
with the count as a family.
One day, Serina is basking in the sunlight when
Dorville appears and starts talking to her. He rambles about how he is married
to a sickly woman and how he was manipulated by another woman named Maria.
Serina is in near hysterics that he is alive, so they agree to meet the next
day and talk once she has calmed down. The next day, Dorville says that he
never left his home until now, so the man that de Montfort killed in the church
garden was not him. However, during this time, he was forced to marry a sickly
woman even though they did not love each other. Serina is crushed that Dorville
is married, but de Montfort is happy that Dorville is not dead and invites him
to stay with them in the count’s house.
After talking all night about Dorville’s
journey, the two men make connections about the past. During the time de
Montfort thought he was dead, Dorville visited the house of Monsieur Beaulieu,
a wealthy man with a much younger wife named Maria. Dorville was seduced by
Maria and almost fell for her. However, he realized that she only wanted his
money. Maria was known to have many men in her life, one of note being Cattivo.
He confessed that he loved Serina to get out of the relationship. After this
story is told, the men figure out that Maria is the person who is responsible
for the attacks on Serina. Her jealousy has made her vengeful. It is revealed
that she enlisted Cattivo to kill Serina. The men decide to go to the house of
Maria to confront her.
At the house, Dorville learns nothing from Maria. While they talk,
de Montfort witnesses the murder of Monsieur Beaulieu, Maria’s husband. De
Montfort is accused of the murder. Dorville pressures Maria to testify in court
on de Montfort’s behalf, and she agrees. She clears de Montfort’s name and
blames the murder on Cattivo, the attorney who sold the Montfort’s their old
apartment and who is also Maria’s lover. After Monsieur Beaulieu’s death, the
men bring the rest of the Montfort family to the house of Monsieur Beaulieu.
The motive behind some attacks is unclear until M. Dodier shows up to the house
and asks to confess his crimes. He suffers from a stab wound that was inflicted
a few days ago and fears that he will die. He admits that the entire plot to kill
de Montfort was based on revenge because de Montfort said that his son could
not marry Serina. He attempted to kill de Montfort in the woods of the chateau,
but he accidentally attacked Dorville. This left a witness to his crimes, so M.
Dodier tried to eliminate Dorville again, but this time he accidentally went to
Serina’s room. He was the masked man that made her swear the secret oath.
Before M. Dodier could say more, he died of the stab wound the count gave him
while protecting Serina. In the end, Maria tries to flee the country with
Cattivo to avoid imprisonment for her murder plot, but Cattivo murders Maria
because she accused him in the trial of her husband’s death. Serina and
Dorville get married after Dorville’s first wife died of sickness, and the
entire family moved to England in search of financial prosperity.
Grundy, Isobel. “Radcliffe, Mary Ann (b. c. 1746, d. in or after 1810), Writer.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 Sept. 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/37876. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.
Radcliffe, Mary Anne. The Adventures of Capt. Duncan, A Journey From Europe, Over the Arabian Deserts, to the British Settlements In India; : Containing, Among Other Particulars, an Account of the Perils He Experienced In Those Terrific Regions, the Eccentric Humors of His Tartarian Guide, His Shipwreck, and Distresses In the War With Hyder Ally, &C. London, T. Hurst, 1802. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, https://search.lib.virginia.edu/sources/uva_library/items/u4351511. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.
——. Monkish Mysteries; Or, the Miraculous Escape: Containing the History and the Villanies of the Monk Bertrand; :The Detection of His Impious Frauds, and Subsequent Repentance and Retribution. Nottingham, T. Hurst, 1802. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, https://search.lib.virginia.edu/sources/uva_library/items/u4351072. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.