With its twists and turns, this transatlantic tale recounts heartbreak, love, desire, and greed. Where one end is tied, another frays, keeping readers in suspense. There is no shortage of the gothic in this text.
The cover of The Commodore’s Daughter is 21.75 cm tall and 13.5 cm wide with a spine thickness of 1.5 cm. While the cover does not have a special design, the two corners and part of the spine have a softer and lighter leather than the rest of the book’s cover, which is a rougher and darker leather. There are three stories bound within this volume and the spine is decorated with gold lettering with the titles: Lucelle. — Julia St. Pierre. — Commodore’s Daughter.
The Commodore’s Daughter, by Benjamin Barker, begins approximately two-thirds of the way into this volume. The pages are clearly in excellent shape. The title page is plain and includes the title, author, and publication information: “PUBLISHED BY E. LLOYD, 12, SALISBURY-SQUARE, FLEET-STREET, AND SOLD BY ALL BOOKSELLERS.”The next page, which starts the text of the story, also includes a detailed picture and caption, as well as the word, “complete” handwritten lightly in pencil at the top of the page. The Commodore’s Daughter was originally published as a “penny dreadful” serial, which is when small cheap portions of the story were published at regular intervals and later bound together. “No. 1,” “No. 2,” etc. appear at the bottom corners of their respective pages (outside of the border created around the text) to indicate the start of a new section of the story. Though the sections were all printed, sold, and originally purchased separately, this version is “complete” because these sections have now been bound together.
The Commodore’s Daughter is sixty-eight pages long. The text is small, always surrounded by a decorative border, and relatively easy to read with decent-sized margins. This copy of The Commodore’s Daughter also shows an error made during printing. Though the final chapter appears to be Chapter XIX, this book does not have nineteen chapters, but rather, eighteen, with one entire chapter having been skipped due to misnumbering. The book leaps from Chapter XVII to Chapter XIX, which should have been correctly numbered as Chapter XVIII. This erroneous Chapter XIX is printed on the back of the page with Chapter XVII. Interestingly, the side of the page with Chapter XVII is much more pristine and in better shape than the other side, which must have been exposed at one point to different environmental conditions.
The Commodore’s Daughter was written by Benjamin Barker—an author who was no stranger to publishing, as he released nineteen other works under his name. Two publishers produced The Commodore’s Daughter—Frederick Gleason in Boston, Massachusetts in 1846, and Edward Lloyd in London in 1847—and versions of each are housed in the Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction.
The Lloyd and Gleason printings of The Commodore’s Daughter contain a few key differences. For instance, the 1846 Gleason printing (which is also available on Google Books) includes the alternate title, The Dwarf of the Channel, or, The Commodore’s Daughter. While both versions contain the same story content, the Gleason’s version prints the story in columns, and this copy also lacks the illustrations present in the Lloyd version. Lloyd’s 1847 printing also initially appeared serialized as a penny dreadful.
The Lloyd printing of The Commodore’s Daughter contains a preface dated December 1847. In this preface, “the Publisher” provides context for the story’s historical significance, characters, and plot, including the backstory and setting. The final sentence of the preface reads: “The moral of the tale is unexceptionable, and as the incidents do not violate probability, and the characters are so truly drawn, the Publisher anticipates a favourable reception for the work.”
Like much of gothic literature that has faded from view, The Commodore’s Daughter has not remained widely available and the publisher’s projected “favourable reception” was short-lived, if at all. However, there are a few notable online versions. In addition to digital copies of the Gleason printing available via Google Books, Historical Texts has a digitized version of the Lloyd edition. In 2010, the British Library Historical Print Editions released a reprinting of TheCommodore’s Daughter.
Benjamin Barker has a notable publishing history. Not only did he publish nearly twenty works under his name, but he also published under the pseudonym Egbert Augustus Cowslip. One of his most well-known works under this pseudonym was Zoraida; or The witch of Naumkeag! A Tale of the Olden Time. Another of Barker’s works published under his own name, Blackbeard, or, The Pirate of Roanoke, is listed on Amazon and, as of 2021, has several reviews including one with a complaint about its historical inaccuracies, which reiterates the preface of The Commodore’s Daughter regarding the accuracy of accounts of the American Revolution.
Narrative Point of View
The Commodore’s Daughter is narrated in the third person (and occasionally with first-person plural moments) by an unnamed omniscient narrator who does not appear in the text. The narration feels relatively modern, but still contains antiquated vernacular. The paragraphs and sentences are generally lengthy. Yet, there still are inconsistencies in the style, with some paragraphs being much longer or using more eloquent vocabulary than others. The narration describes the characters and their feelings matter-of-factly (and frequently through characters’ actions), and there is very little text dedicated to introspection. The narration also contains much more description than dialogue.
Premising that the following romance is founded upon facts, with the details of which many of our readers may possibly be acquainted, and that for particular reason, we shall claim the privilege and take the liberty of introducing our principal characters under fictitious names, we now proceed to open our story as follows… (1)
By performing that this fictional story is based on facts—a common gothic trope—the narrator effectively tells the story with increased credibility (and possibly more shock value, as well). The narrator seeks to communicate a story by establishing familiarity with the characters in the book without revealing their names, thus providing an even foundation to readers and inviting everyone to enjoy the story with shared knowledge provided by the narrator from the beginning. The use of the first-person plural “we” also gives a more rounded and less singular feeling to the narration, enabling the fictional story to mimic an actual recounting of events.
In the early days of the American Revolution, before the colonies had banded together to declare their own independence, an old and cunning man by the name of Henry Hartville desired a fortune that was supposed to be inherited by a girl named Nora. Through his meticulous planning, Henry was able to trick Nora into believing that she was his daughter, all the while finding the perfect suitor for her so that Henry could obtain this wealth. The story then asks what Henry Hartville’s plan is to arrive at his goal.
An older, “deformed” man named John Ellery, frequently described in the text as a “dwarf,” has taken under his wing a “maniac” girl, Helen Morton, whose parents died years prior. John Ellery is one day met by a man carrying a letter and a black crucifix, who leaves soon after handing him these mysterious items. Despite not knowing who this man is or who the person who wrote the letter could be, Mr. Ellery accepts the commands listed out to him on the letter without any hesitation. One of those commands being to seek Nora Hartville out to keep under his wing, which the story reveals later.
Luckily, Mr. Ellery met with a ship on its way to a New England port, carrying several passengers in its cabins. Since he is able to pilot the ship, Mr. Ellery is gratefully accepted by the captain to guide it to its destination. Mr. Ellery, however, begins to take notice of a peculiar passenger whom the captain dreaded and wanted jettisoned as soon as possible. Through a careful line of questioning, Mr. Ellery finally realizes what he had hoped to find——the girl on the ship is Nora Hartville, the one the letter instructed him to keep under his wing for the next few years.
Mr. Ellery, Helen Morton, and Nora Hartville all arrive at Mr. Ellery’s home and remain there for several months in peace, as Helen and Nora become closer in what Helen describes as a sisterhood. Unfortunately, the fateful night arrives soon enough, and Miles Warton, the man who brought the letter and the crucifix to Mr. Ellery so long ago, finally comes to collect Nora Hartville for the suitor that Henry Hartville had set up for her. Miles Warton was a criminal, so Mr. Ellery knew his arrival at the cottage meant something was wrong. Prior to their meeting, Mr. Ellery heard Nora’s objections to the forced marriage, for the girl had her heart set on another man, George Wellington. Both parties soon realize that this night will not go as planned. In a shocking turn of events, Warton is killed by none other than Helen Morton, as she defends her adoptive father from being harmed by the criminal.
Through many events to follow, George Wellington, who was originally deprived of his desire to see his love, Nora Hartville, meets up with a man named Edward Hale, Helen Morton’s former lover. It is revealed that once George and Edward work together in their search for their lovers, the cruel and conniving plans of Henry Hartville can be overturned.
Yet before their arrival, another surprising figure appears: the former wife of Mr. Ellery, whose name is Julia. Long ago, Julia (the original owner of the black crucifix) held a gun to her husband’s chest in a fit of hatred and demanded that he follow the orders of whoever bears the crucifix. Now, Julia seeks forgiveness for the trouble she has caused, and the old man gracefully accepts. Seeing that Mr. Ellery accepted her apology, Julia knows she can now rest, and she breathes her last breath at her former husband’s humble cottage.
Finally having come to peace with his life, Mr. Ellery travels with his daughters and their suitors (who have found his cottage after a long search) to the ship of a well-known commodore, where it is revealed that the villainous Henry Hartville is aboard the vessel. Cornered and seeing that all his plans have been foiled, Henry Hartville takes a pistol to his head and pulls the trigger, allowing for Edward Hale and Helen Morton to fulfill their love and Nora and George Wellington to do the same. Through much pain and sorrow, Mr. Ellery finally gets to live a happy life away from shame.
A tale of romance, resentment, and revenge, this 1804 chapbook tells the story of a noble family living in France as one brother’s evil corrupts the lives of those around him.
Maximilian and Selina, Or, The Mysterious Abbot. A Flemish Tale can be found in two collections in the Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. One copy is bound inside the collection Marvellous Magazine (volume III). Pencil notes (perhaps from Sadleir himself) on the inside cover of this copy indicate that this story can also be found in a volume called The Entertainer I, also in the Sadleir-Black Collection.
The printing of Maximilian and Selina bound in The Entertainer appears identical to the version bound in Marvellous Magazine; both sharethe same frontispiece and title page. The frontispiece shows a scene in which a man is being pushed out of a tower by someone else, while a woman watches in horror from behind. Each copy of Maximilian and Selina was published by Tegg and Castleman, but no author is indicated in either volume.
Marvellous Magazine appears very old and worn; the cover and first page are entirely detached from the rest of the book. The binding is plain and cracked. The cover is spotted leather with decorative swirling gold patterning on the spine and gold dots around the edge of the binding. The paper is medium- to lightweight and yellowed, displaying relatively small text. Before each story in the collection appears a black and white frontispiece illustrating a scene from the following pages. The entire book is 512 pages long and contains seven stories: six are exactly seventy-two pages long (including Maximilian and Selina), and one is eighty. The book is rather small, measuring only 4.3 x 10.4 x 18.1 cm.
Maximilian and Selina is available in several different editions at the University of Virginia Special Collections Library. The copies in the larger volumes The Entertainer and Marvellous Magazine are identical and will be discussed first. The story was first printed in 1804 for Tegg & Castleman. Thomas Tegg was a well-known printer who lived from 1776 to 1846. According to an obituary, the bookseller struggled in his childhood and early career, but he eventually established his own successful business and began to amass his fortune printing, buying, and selling books. He was elected Sheriff of London in 1846 but did not serve in that position due to failing health. After his death, his sons continued in their father’s path. Interestingly, Tegg’s youngest son was so stricken with grief at his father’s death that he died as well shortly after, and their bodies were buried in the family plot together on the same day (The Gentleman’s Magazine 650). There is an intriguing (albeit unintended) parallel in Maximilian and Selina: the Duke of Anjou arrives at the convent just as the death knell tolls for his daughter, and he immediately dies of the shock. Their bodies are carried back to the chateau together, where the sight of his dead father and sister drive Godfrey to madness.
The 1804 version of Maximilian and Selina is available within multiple collections of stories. The two held by the University of Virginia are Marvellous Magazine and The Entertainer. Maximilian and Selina appears identical in both volumes, with the same title page and frontispiece. The other printing is for Dean & Munday in 1820. The edition printed by Dean & Munday that is housed at the University of Virginia Library is disbound and has significant brown spotting on the title page. It looks similar to the Tegg & Castleman version, but the publishing information is different and the frontispiece is in color. Also, it is only thirty-six pages instead of seventy-two. The shorter length is because this version is an abridged version of the 1804 edition. The overall plot is similar but most of the frame narrative has been cut out, several characters are entirely deleted, the sequence in which the reader learns about events is different, and in abridging the text many plot points are deleted in a confusing way, without any transitions being added. The Dean & Munday printing has a catalogue slip in it which gives some basic publishing information, a description of the physical object, and part of an assessment by scholar Frederick Frank: “A confusing patchwork of obscure and opaque plots … Complexity and lucidity are not necessarily incompatible elements of style in horror fiction, but in this chapbook, the style is so dense as to render even the basic facts of the story a matter of hazardous speculation” (The First Gothics 233). The explanation on the slip for the frontispiece does not relate to the story. The scene shown is Edward pushing Godfrey out of the tower while Elgiva screams in horror, but the slip describes “ruffians throwing a screaming boy from the top of a tower.”
Another incorrect description of the frontispiece is found in Frederick Frank’s article “Gothic Gold.” The year and publishing information match the Tegg & Castleman version, but the article says that the chapbook is thirty-six pages, like the Dean & Munday printing. The frontispiece is shown in black and white above a brief description of the book: “About to be hurled from the turret by his malicious brother, Adolphus de Monvel, Maximilian’s doom seems sealed as a pathetic mother figure murmurs an ineffectual prayer unheard in the fallen and godless universe. The scene is the chapbook’s initial spectacular incident in a series of unremitting crises” (“Gothic Gold” 309). This description mentions real characters from the story, but neither Adolphus nor Maximilian were a part of this scene, and the female figure is most likely Elgiva, Godfrey’s wife. This is also one of the last events in the chapbook, not the first.
Frank gives another critical synopsis of Maximilian and Selina in his book The First Gothics. It lists the publishing information of the unabridged 1804 version. However, this synopsis also contradicts the events of both versions of the chapbook (the Tegg & Castleman printing, and the abridged one for Dean & Munday). It is also different than the description given for the frontispiece in Frank’s “Gothic Gold.” In The First Gothics, the frontispiece is said to show ruffians throwing Godfrey off a tower, instead of Maximilian being thrown by de Monvel, his “brother.” This synopsis covers the rest of the chapbook, with references to real characters and similar plot points, but multiple inaccuracies which completely change the story.
Maximilian and Selina is mentioned more briefly in several other scholarly works (Potter History of Gothic Publishing 75, Mayo 551, Hoeveler). Mayo explains that Marvellous Magazine and similar anthologies generally featured stories of a specified length. For example, the volume of Marvellous Magazine containing Maximilian and Selina contains stories all seventy-two pages in length, save one exception. This length limit often resulted in the butchering of Gothic classics as they were edited and amended to reach a precise page count (Mayo 367). This is one possibility to account for the incoherency of the shorter Dean & Munday printing compared to the original, which was twice as long.
Narrative Point of View
The main story within Maximilian and Selina is narrated by Maximilian, the Abbott, as he recounts his life to Sancho Orlando. He uses first-person narration which focuses on his own thoughts and feelings as the plot progresses. Since Maximilian is older when he is telling this story, he occasionally inserts future knowledge. Part of the story is the packet that Maximilian wrote based on Nerina’s deathbed explanation. This part is told in the third person, with a somewhat omniscient narrator. The final section is the tale told by Guiscardo to Sancho, in first-person narration from Guiscardo’s point of view. The language is similar in all three: archaic and formal. The packet is perhaps a bit more flowery in its prose than the oral stories.
To discover who this was, became at length the predominant desire of my soul, since, could I but confront him, I knew my innocence must triumph; but where to seek for information, which Selina only could give, and had refused, almost to distraction. At length a light seemed to break on my bewildered senses, and I fancied the whole discovery lay clear before me. On revolving the whole affair, as stated by the Duke, I was forcibly struck with that part where Selina charged me with neglect during her father’s absence; at the same time praising the kindness of her eldest brother, by whose attention she was wholly sustained, whilst Edward and myself chose to amuse ourselves apart. I had once been told by Edward, that Godfrey was my foe, and I now believed it; he alone could have poisoned his sister’s mind against me, and made her notice, a long past and seemingly forgotten act of prudence, as a want of affection for her, —Wild as this idea was, it became conclusive, and I madly formed the resolution of following the Duke and his son, and of accusing the latter. (28)
This paragraph is from the section narrated in Maximilian’s point of view. By describing his past self’s inner thoughts about Selina’s change of heart, Maximilian emphasizes his own perspective. At the time, Maximilian did not have any doubts about his conviction that Godfrey was sabotaging his relationship with Selina, which is why he rashly rode out into the night to follow him. However, now knowing that it was Edward who really betrayed him, he uses words including “I fancied,” “wild,” and “madly.” The narrator’s hindsight creates the feeling of an omniscient point of view, even though it is simply Maximilian in the future, narrating retrospectively.
The story begins with a wise old abbot named Maximilian. A Spanish knight named Sancho Orlando comes to seek his advice after killing his friend in single combat. After the Abbot listens to his story, he assures the knight that his friend’s death was not his fault, and that he has no need for such guilt. The knight asks the Abbot how he came to be a monk, and the body of the tale is what the Abbot tells Sancho in reply.
Godfrey, Duke of Anjou, is a kind and generous nobleman visiting his chateau in the countryside with his children. Maximilian is the same age at that point as the Duke’s younger son, Edward, and because his uncle, the prior at a local convent, is close friends with the Duke, Maximilian spends a lot of time with his children. Godfrey, the Duke’s elder son, is friendly, noble, and admirable, while Edward is horrible, jealous, and cruel, but Maximilian does not notice Edward’s faults until too late because of their friendship. Selina, the Duke’s daughter, is beautiful and kind, and Maximilian falls in love with her, but Edward is the only one who knows of their relationship.
Three years later, the Duke leaves the chateau to visit a dear friend on his deathbed. While he is gone Godfrey is in charge, and Edward advises his friend not to let Godfrey see him with Selina, since he would disapprove. When the Duke returns, he is accompanied by Elgiva de Valmont, his friend’s daughter, who is now his ward. She is even more beautiful than Selina, with whom she becomes close friends. Maximilian’s heart already belongs to Selina, but the two brothers compete fiercely for Elgiva’s affections. Godfrey proposes to Maximilian and Edward that they should all stop pursuing her, since over time without the pressure of their attention she would form her own opinion of which brother she loved. Edward agrees readily.
A few weeks pass in relative peace. Edward asks Maximilian to find out from Selina whether Elgiva prefers him or his brother, but Maximilian refuses because that would be dishonorable when Edward had already agreed to Godfrey’s proposal. Soon after, Maximilian realizes that since no one is aware of his love for Selina, she could be courted by other suitors, and decides to ask his uncle to speak with the Duke. It is decided by his uncle and the Duke that Selina should be promised in marriage to him in several years, if they still love each other, since they are so young to make such a commitment. Maximilian is overjoyed with this outcome. Godfrey is also happy about his sister and Maximilian’s union, meaning that Edward had lied about his disapproval.
Maximilian speaks with Edward while walking home. Edward believes that Godfrey has broken their agreement and said something to Elgiva to turn her against him, but Maximilian does not think he would do that. Edward is distraught and wishes to do something to repair Elgiva’s opinion of him, but Maximilian advises him to keep his distance and not to act rashly. After this conversation, Maximilian is troubled by the situation and his friend’s conduct.
Soon after, the Duke invites Maximilian to come to his other chateau with his family, but just before they leave, Maximilian’s uncle falls ill so he stays behind. The plan is for Maximilian to spend a month with the Duke’s family at the chateau as soon as his uncle recovers, to visit his father’s estate to settle some affairs, then return to the chateau.
When she must leave without him, both Maximilian and Selina are distraught. He takes care of his uncle for over two months, then departs to join them at the chateau. However, Selina is not happy to see him. She says that she has changed her mind after so much time apart; that she has forgiven him, but they should be friends. Maximilian leaves, troubled, and speaks with Edward. He discovers that while he was away, a suitor named de Monvel visited Selina, so Maximilian asks her about him. She insists that she has loved only Maximilian, but that she cannot forgive his perjury. He is confused because he has only been faithful. Maximilian goes to his paternal home as he had planned, where he is soon visited by a stranger, Adolphus de Monvel. Adolphus had come to him to find out if he had broken his engagement to Selina, which he vehemently denies. Adolphus easily accepts this, and leaves.
Now, king Philip of France is preparing to marry, so the Duke and Godfrey go to court for the wedding. Maximilian receives a letter from the Duke saying that Selina is angry with him because she was under the impression that he was gone so long because he was in love with a peasant girl and had eloped with her. She refused to tell anyone where she heard this, but the Duke asks Maximilian to return to the chateau in a month so they can explain the truth. Maximilian convinces himself that it was Godfrey who turned Selina against him, so he goes to court to confront him. He challenges Godfrey to single combat, but Godfrey refuses the fight without due cause. The two men scuffle, and Godfrey stabs Maximilian in the chest.
Maximilian wakes up in bed in the Duke’s apartments at court, where he finds out that the Duke and Godfrey have hastened to the country on account of important news. He is worried because he has no idea what has happened. Godfrey visits while Maximilian is recovering and the two reunite as friends with all forgiven. He lies about the news that made them leave, and Maximilian later finds out that they had really received word from Edward that Selina had disappeared but they hid it from him so his anxiety would not impede his recovery. Shortly after Godfrey’s visit, they find out that Selina had run away to join a convent, in secret because she knew her father would disapprove. Now she is seriously ill and has asked the nuns at the convent to notify her father so that he could see and forgive her before she dies. The Duke, Edward, and Elgiva set out for the convent while Godfrey is still out searching for his sister, but they arrive just after she dies. The Duke immediately dies as well from grief. Godfrey is plunged into madness when he arrives back at the chateau at the precise moment when a procession is carrying the bodies of his sister and father through the gates. It is presumed that Edward and Elgiva will marry, and that Edward will become duke since the older son is indisposed.
Elgiva remarks once that Selina had died because of “hypocrisy,” so Maximilian is set upon exacting revenge upon whoever was responsible (33). He visits the chateau to question Elgiva privately, but Edward spends the whole day with Maximilian so he does not have the chance to speak with her alone. After speaking with his uncle, he decides to join the Christian army on their crusades, and he is renewed by his conviction. He fights successfully with many other knights, crusading from Constantinople from Jerusalem. They lay siege to Jerusalem and defeat the city. After the crusades are over, he joins an organization called the knights of Saint John and spends twelve years in Jerusalem.
One day, he sees a man dressed as a pilgrim being dragged to the church to perform devotions and realizes that it is Edward. Edward confesses that he has committed heinous crimes including murder and is now trying to atone for his sins. His wife is living, but she is now the mistress of king Philip. Elgiva married Godfrey, but she has died, and Edward refuses to explain further. He remains in Jerusalem for some time, and Maximilian manages to piece together some of the story. Godfrey had regained his sanity and married Elgiva, but they both died and left Edward as the guardian of their child. Edward had married a noblewoman and they had a son, but she left him to become the concubine of king Philip.
Edward leaves Jerusalem without saying goodbye. Several years later, Maximilian returns to France on business for the knights of Saint John. While there, he decides to visit the duke’s old chateau, where he finds only servants. They tell him that Edward had been dead for some time, and that his son (now the Duke) was in the country with his wife. Maximilian is confused, because he had heard from Edward that Godfrey had left an heir to the title. A few days later Edward’s son comes to visit Maximilian, saying that he had heard that someone had come to the chateau looking for his father. The new Duke explains that Godfrey had a daughter, but she had descended into madness and died, so he was now the lawful successor. Maximilian then accompanies him to his palace to meet the duchess and stays with them for a month.
Late one night, a woman knocks on his door, requesting that he come to give religious comfort to a dying servant until a confessor can arrive from a distant convent. The dying woman recognizes him as Selina’s lover because she is Nerina, Elgiva’s old servant. She tells him about Edward and Selina’s past, and Maximilian writes all of it down in a packet when he returns to his room. She dies the next morning before he can speak with her again. He learned from her that Godfrey’s daughter (named Elgiva, after her mother) was alive and well, and certainly not an imbecile as the Duke had told him. The Duke had illegally married her (his cousin) but because of their close relation it was not an official union, and he had no claim to the estate unless she died.
When the Duke enters the room, Maximilian horrifies him by immediately asking where he had hidden Elgiva. The Duke begs Maximilian not to expose him, saying that he had fallen in love with his cousin, and they had married in secret. He had been planning on suing for a dispensation and met his current wife while on his way to do so. He fell in love with her and proposed, instead of returning to Elgiva. When he broke off his engagement with her, she went insane and died of a broken heart. Maximilian pronounces him guilty of her murder, and they agree upon appropriate penance for him to perform in exchange for Maximilian’s silence. Maximilian leaves the Duke and Duchess to visit his uncle’s old convent, where he decides to join the brothers. When the prior dies two years later, Maximilian succeeds him.
Maximilian then decides to return to the chateau to find out from Nerina’s brother Conrad, the servant in charge of its care, what truly happened to Elgiva. Conrad relates that after her parents died, Edward had raised Elgiva in ignorance of her right to the estates so that she would believe that she was dependent upon him. Therefore, Nerina and Conrad did as much as they could to advance her marriage to Edward’s son, the current Duke, believing that this was the only way in which she could claim her birthright. Nerina passed away while recovering from a broken leg and when Elgiva heard the news, she went mad with grief and died. Maximilian is convinced, because Conrad has confirmed the Duke’s story.
After finishing his story, the Abbot tells Sancho that even all these years later justice can still prevail, so he plans to tell the king the whole story. He gives Sancho the packet he wrote after Nerina’s deathbed explanation containing everything that happened to him, asking Sancho to read it then come back to visit him. The Abbot believes that Elgiva is alive, and that she may now receive her rightful inheritance when the matter comes to light. Sancho takes the packet home and in it he reads the story of Maximilian and Selina once more, starting from the point where Selina, Edward, Elgiva, Godfrey, and the former Duke all left for a different chateau without Maximilian. Here, the point of view stays with Maximilian, but it’s based on his written packet, no longer on his conversation with the knight.
The family is all together at the chateau. Selina mourns Maximilian’s absence, but she cheers up in a few days. Adolphus de Monvel visits and is instantly attracted to Selina, who is completely unaware. When he confesses his feelings to her, she is flattered that he chose her over the more beautiful Elgiva, but gently denies him. However, Adolphus takes her mild denial as encouragement and continues to pursue her. The second time that he declares his affections, she tells him about her engagement. Edward overhears this and does his best to convince his sister that Maximilian is being unfaithful. He tells Selina that Maximilian has run off with a peasant girl, and she is incredibly upset. The Duke resolves to have the matter investigated, which Edward knows would expose his lies, but he does not have a chance to look into it before he and Godfrey leave for the king’s wedding. Edward hears Elgiva trying to convince Selina not to become a nun and he realizes that this would be very advantageous for him, so he persuades her over time to run away and join a convent without telling their father and helps her leave the chateau unnoticed.
Once she reaches the convent, Selina falls ill from distress since she knows that she has caused her family worry. When she explains her situation to the nuns and asks for their help, the abbess sends a messenger to the chateau to inform the Duke of his daughter’s whereabouts and her regret. He immediately sets out to see her with Elgiva and Edward. Selina writes a letter to Elgiva explaining everything and asking her to beg the Duke to forgive her. Selina and the Duke both die, and Godfrey goes mad with grief. However, after ten years he recovers and marries Elgiva. Edward is bitter and upset because he has lost his chance to have everything he wanted. Elgiva and Godfrey live happily together in the chateau with Edward and Elgiva gives birth to their daughter. One day in a rage while Elgiva and Godfrey are on a walk, Edward attempts to murder the couple. When Godfrey discovers him, Edward begs his brother to kill him, but Godfrey says that he forgives Edward and they all return to the chateau. However, Edward is even more upset by their kindness. He plans on joining the army and prepares to leave.
One night, the three of them are sitting by a window when the two brothers decide to climb a tower for a better view. When they reach the top, Edward pushes his brother off the battlements. Elgiva dies of shock when she sees his corpse. Edward is left as the guardian to the young Elgiva and marries the Duchess. After his wife leaves him for the king, he becomes penitent, and he suffers much in the name of atonement. Eventually, he passes away, still trying to pay for his sins.
After he reads the packet, Sancho is travelling when he sees his friend Guiscardo sitting by a forest, deeply upset. Guiscardo tells Sancho that he is upset because he is now a criminal and explains why. Guiscardo and his wife Maddalena visited one of Guiscardo’s castles for a reprieve but when they arrived the servants said that the new inhabitant of the neighboring property, an Italian named Prince Appiani, was infringing upon Guiscardo’s land and treating Guiscardo’s servants horribly. Soon, Appiani sent a letter apologizing for his conduct and promising to visit the next day. In person, the prince was apologetic, kind, and charming, but Maddalena seemed distressed by his visits, although she was unsure why. One day while Guiscardo was out riding with Appiani, a group of masked men come to the castle and kidnap Maddalena. Guiscardo believes that they were hired by Appiani, so he rushes into the prince’s castle and draws his sword. The prince denies any involvement and orders his servants to search for her. The two men leave together to look for her, but they are unsuccessful.
One morning a stranger comes to see Guiscardo, saying that a woman had given him a letter to deliver to Guiscardo. It is from Maddalena, telling her husband that she plans to kill herself with opium but wanted Guiscardo to know that she was imprisoned in Appiani’s castle and that the prince was the one who kidnapped her. Guiscardo immediately goes to Appiani’s castle and stabs him while he sleeps. However, Guiscardo is now consumed with guilt over having killed a helpless man. Sancho promises that after he returns from a pilgrimage, he will speak with the Pope to obtain absolution for his friend.
Barnes, James J., and Patience P. Barnes. “Tegg, Thomas (1776–1846), publisher.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 September 2004. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/27102.
Frank, Frederick S. The First Gothics: A Critical Guide to the English Gothic Novel. Garland Publishing, 1987.
——. “Gothic Gold: The Sadleir-Black Gothic Collection.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, vol. 26, 1997, pp. 287–312.
Hoeveler, Diane Long. The Gothic Ideology: Religious Hysteria and Anti-Catholicism in British Popular Fiction, 1780–1880. University of Wales Press, 2014.
Maximilian and Selina: Or, The Mysterious Abbot. A Flemish Tale. London, Tegg & Castleman, 1804.
Mayo, Robert Donald. The English Novel In the Magazines, 1740–1815: With a Catalogue of 1375 Magazine Novels And Novelettes. Northwestern University Press, 1962.
Potter, Franz J. The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835: Exhuming the Trade. Macmillan UK, 2005.
——. Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers, 1797–1830. University of Wales Press, 2021.
“Thomas Tegg.” Collections Online | British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG48140.
“Thomas Tegg, Esq.” The Gentleman’s Magazine: and historical review. June 1846: 650.
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.
The Life, Sufferings, and Uncommon Vissisitudes of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy, Explaining her Birth on an Uninhabited Island, Where she Lived till she was Sixteen Years of age; The Misfortunes and Death of her Parents, and her Surprising Release from that Desolate Place by the Duke de Lancy, to Whom she was Afterwards Married: The dreadful Calamities she Experienced After – Till she Retired to a Monastry, There to end her Wretched Days.
This mock-autobiography published around 1805 to 1810 and written by an unknown author features a haunting, a murder, a birth, and an incestuous marriage—all in a remarkably short number of pages.
The Life, Sufferings, and Uncommon Vissisitudes of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy is a chapbook bound within the second volume of The Entertainer. The elegant binding is brown calf-skin leather with a decorative marbling effect. The marbling effect was produced by the sprinkling of acidic dye onto the leather binding. The volume’s title, The Entertainer, is written in gold text on the spine of the book.
The story is framed as a fictional autobiography, with no known author. Its shortened title The Dutchess de Lancy is seen at the top of each body page. There are thirty-eight pages in the chapbook, one title page and one with an illustration. The illustration is in black and white and appears to depict Thetis kneeling and holding her baby, looking up towards the ghost of her mother. The mother is radiating light and gesturing towards a cottage in the left of the picture. Underneath the image is a quote from the story, written in cursive, “Awe struck, I cast a look of inquiry towards the Spectre. “Grieve not my Thetis,” it exclaimed [sic] The crimes of the parents are expiated by the sufferings of their unfortunate children.” The second page, opposite the illustration, is the title page.
The title page shows the full, longer title of the book. The full title, with capitalization included, is THE LIFE, SUFFERINGS, AND UNCOMMON VISSISITUDES OF THETIS, Dutchess de Lancy, Explaining her birth on an uninhabited Island, where she lived till she was sixteen years of age; THE MISFORTUNES AND DEATH OF HER PARENTS, AND HER SURPRISING RELEASE FROM THAT DESOLATE PLACE BY THE DUKE DE LANCY, TO WHOM SHE WAS AFTERWARDS MARRIED: The dreadful Calamities she experienced after – till she retired to a Monastry, there to end her wretched Days. The font size and capitalization change multiple times on the title page for emphasis. Notable characteristics include a long s, which is a stylized s that appears to look like an f. The long s is not present in the other pages of the book. Underneath the title are the printers and booksellers, along with their addresses in London, England. At the very bottom of the page is the price of the chapbook: sixpence. The title, the list of printers and booksellers, and the price are all separated by decorative dividing lines.
The pages within the chapbook have quite typical formatting. The book is just over 18 cm tall, and the outside of the pages are browning and grey-spotted. The font is small, and there are line skips between paragraphs. The pages are aging, and some are torn. There are bookbinder symbols consisting of a letter and a number to indicate the page order to the bookbinder. Evidence of prior ownership can be found before the chapbook title page, on the inside of the front cover. On the left is the name “Emma Webb” handwritten in a fading, fancy script, and on the right are notes written by Michael Sadleir. He wrote a list of all the chapbooks contained within the volume alongside their bookseller and the publishing date. The Life, Sufferings, and Uncommon Vissisitudes of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy is the first chapbook in the volume, with the bookseller J. Ker. There is no publication date written, but the other books within the volume with known publication dates were published between 1800 and 1805.
There is little information about The Life, Sufferings, and Uncommon Vissisitudes of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy. There is no known author, editor, or illustrator for the chapbook. There is no scholarship written on the work, and it can be inferred that the chapbook was not widely sold or read. However, there is a decent amount of information on its publisher, John Ker—abbreviated J. Ker in his work. Ker started publishing in 1800 and published an estimated fifteen titles, thirteen of which were of the gothic genre (Potter 38). Multiple sources claim that he was likely the son of John Ker, the third Duke of Roxburgh, and was married to the gothic author Anne Ker (Potter 38, Steele 70). It is known that John Ker also published some of Anne Ker’s work and that her husband was indeed named John. The two also shared business and family connections, so while not proven, it is very likely that John Ker the publisher and Anne Ker’s husband are the same person (Steele 70).
John Ker published from 1800 to 1810 and collaborated with many popular booksellers. Stephen Elliot, along with Nathaniel and John Muggeridge, were the booksellers that Ker associated with the most (Potter 41). In Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy, both Elliot and the Muggeridges are listed as booksellers. Two other booksellers listed in Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy are T. Evans and Kemmish. Alongside their names, their addresses are also listed. The UCLA Library and the New York Public Library both allege that since “1805–1810 marks the span of time that T. Evans and Kemmish operated from these addresses,” Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy was likely released during these five years. This period of time—1805 to 1810—aligns with the timespan when Ker was in operation.
According to WorldCat, there are five copies of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy registered in various libraries across the world. The institutions that hold a physical copy are the University of Virginia, the British Library, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the University of California, Los Angeles. The British Library digitized their copy, and it can be found via the library’s website or on Google Books. All of the libraries except the Library of Congress mention that after Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy, the story Zelim and Almena follows. Zelim and Almena is unconnected plot-wise to the story of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy, but the two stories seem to have been printed and sold in conjunction. Mention of Zelim and Almena can also be found in the Catalogue of the Private Library of Mr. George S. Davis, written by George Davis himself. In this document, all the books that were in Davis’s private library are documented. Davis details a copy of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy that was bound with Sterne’s Maria and Zelim and Almena. He describes the story as “very curious” (Davis 190). This is the only documented review of the chapbook.
There are a few differences between the British Library’s copy and the University of Virginia’s copy of Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy. Instead of the illustration being opposite the title page at the front of the chapbook, the British Library’s version has the illustration opposite page 35. The British Library copy also has a more modern green hardback cover, in contrast to the copy at the University of Virginia, which has a spotted brown calf-skin leather cover. Despite these differences, the two copies are nearly identical, with the same font, bookbinder marks, and text on each page.
Narrative Point of View
Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy is narrated in the first person by the main character, Thetis. From the beginning, it appears as if Thetis is directly addressing the reader. However, on the final page, Thetis addresses the story to the Countess de Milleray. The Countess de Milleray is not mentioned in the chapbook at any other point, only on the last page in a footnote indicated by an asterisk. Thetis’s narration is intimate, fast-paced, and descriptive. Pages 13–21 are an interpolated tale told by Thetis’s mother, Jaqueline. Jaqueline’s long, uninterrupted dialogue is notable as the reader does not get any glimpse of Thetis’s thoughts or reactions.
Sample Passage of First-Person Narration:
During your* visit to the Convent a short time time [sic.] after my seclusion, I determined to disclose to you the real reasons of a conduct apparently so absurd: I have now been an inmate of these holy walls near twenty years – about six years since, I received a few lines, written by my beloved brother on his death bed, they were tranquil, and thanks to the Almighty, resigned; and he now sleeps in peace within the cemetery of his Convent – grief had broken the heart of the most amiable of men.
*The Countess de Milleray, to whom this narrative is addressed. (36)
Sample Passage of the Interpolated Tale:
“My sisters had bound my long glossy hair in bands round my head, fastening it on the top with bunches of flowers, in the manner of the Lacedeamonien women; this gave me a very singular appearance, and being different from the other girls made my person the more remarked.” (14)
The first-person point of view narrated by Thetis allows the reader to experience a first-hand account of Thetis’s inner thoughts and feelings. The narration choice makes the chapbook more intimate and realistic. While the Countess de Milleray is never mentioned in the book except for the final page, the reader is still able to get a sense of the relationship between Thetis and the Countess. Thetis reveals very personal information about what she experiences, detailing events that would be seen as shameful by society’s standards. However, Thetis is willing to describe these events in extreme detail, confessing her every thought and action candidly. The portion of the story where Jaqueline tells an interpolated tale includes none of Thetis’s thoughts. This section is very distinct from the rest of the novel as the reader is not told how Thetis feels about her mother’s story. This change in expression of Thetis’s thoughts causes a rift between this tale and the rest of the surrounding story. It removes Thetis from the narrative and brings the entire focus onto Jaqueline, Thetis’s mother.
Thetis, Dutchess de Lancy is a chapbook centered around the character, Thetis, and her eventful life. Thetis lives on a bountiful island which is deserted except for her mother and father. They tell her stories about their lives and she learns that they are on this island because of a shipwreck. One day, Thetis’s father becomes ill. Thetis is distressed and stays by his side as much as she can. When Thetis wakes up, she goes over to her father to find him no longer breathing. She looks towards her mother in confusion, as she does not understand what death means. They wrap Thetis’s father in woven grass and bury him. Thetis mourns her father’s passing.
Two years pass, and Thetis has worked through her grief. She has started to become the same joyous girl she once was. However, her mother remains somber. Thetis implores her mother to tell her why her spirits are down, and her mother agrees to tell Thetis a story. She reveals to Thetis that the man she called her father was not actually her father, but a man named Victor. She tells Thetis that her name is Jaqueline, and she is the youngest of six children in the Villenueve family from the town of Languedoc, France. They were a peasant family, but Jaqueline was spoiled more than her other siblings. She was given fancy clothes and accessories that rivaled the clothing of children from richer families, while her siblings had very little. One day, the young Marquis of the village decided to throw a coming-of-age celebration. The sixteen-year-old Jaqueline attended and caught the eye of a nobleman. They danced and flirted, and they developed sentiment towards each other. She gained the favor of both the nobleman and the Marquis, and her family was invited to fraternize with the nobility while the other peasants left.
After the party, the nobleman visited her residence and they conversed together, but were always under her mother’s supervision. One day, walking back from her grandmother’s, Thetis met the nobleman and the Marquis. They asked her if she would like to go on an outing with them. She was suspicious, so she refused and began to walk away. They started to pursue her and she ran, but they caught up to her. The nobleman lifted her in his arms and shoved her into a carriage, and they drove away.
She was taken to Paris by the nobleman, where she was given a room in a grand residence. Thetis resisted the sexual advances of the nobleman for a time, but she eventually gave in to his seduction. After many months, she became pregnant. Jaqueline was happy to have become pregnant, but the nobleman was angry. She did not see the nobleman again, and was informed by the Marquis that the nobleman is married with a wife and a son, and that he had left France for a distant settlement. When Jaqueline expressed concern for her parents, the Marquis told her that it was their fault for being punished as they were using Jaqueline to move upwards in society. Jaqueline was enraged by the nobleman and decided to get revenge. She bought tickets for a ship going to where the nobleman currently resided and was joined by her eldest sister. The beginning of the voyage was smooth, but a storm hit, and the ship sank. Jaqueline managed to survive and washed up on the island, while her sister died. Victor also washed up on the island and was the only other survivor. She went into labor, and Victor aided her. She had a baby girl, who they named Thetis. Jaqueline learned that Victor was the nobleman’s younger brother, and she told him her story.
Jaqueline finishes telling Thetis this story, and the pair go to sleep. The next day, Thetis’s mother, Jaqueline, is sick. She dies, and Thetis buries her and mourns for her. That night Thetis sleeps, but is awoken by a sigh. She sees her mother’s ghost, who beckons her to go outside. Thetis walks outside, but then faints. She is awoken by a French Duke standing over her. The Duke invites her to join him and his crew on their voyage to France. She agrees, and the two fall in love on the voyage. Once in France, the two marry, but Thetis feels uneasy. Her mother’s ghost appears to her again and tells her to beware. She is frightened, and the Duke tries to comfort her. Thetis soon becomes pregnant, and the Duke suggests that they take a trip to ease her worries.
The married couple, along with the Marquis and Marchioness de Beaufoy, visit Thetis’s mother’s village. They stay in the Chateau de Murat, welcomed by the Marquis who lives there. After a time, Thetis recounts her story to the Marquis of the Chateau de Murat and asks if he knows about her mother or the Villenueve family. The Marquis is alarmed by the question and rushes out to talk with the Marquis and Marchioness de Beaufoy and the Duke. The Marchioness enters and tells Thetis, “The crimes of the Parents shall be visited on the Children—that terrible denunciation is fulfilled” (32). She then proceeds to tell Thetis that the Duke, the man she is married to, is in fact her own brother. Thetis faints.
Thetis gives birth to a baby boy, and for three months she is bedridden. The only people she sees are the Marchioness and the attendants. After the three months have passed, Thetis feels a cold hand on her forehead while she is sleeping. It is her mother’s ghost, and she motions for Thetis to follow her and bring her child. Thetis follows the spectre into the village to a vine-covered cottage. The ghost stops, and then waves her hand towards her. Thetis looks down at her baby, who is now lifeless. “‘Grieve not, my Thetis,’ [the ghost] exclaimed, ‘the crimes of the parents are expiated by the sufferings of their unfortunate children’” (34). The ghost disappears, and Thetis remains in the same spot, grieving, until morning.
An old man exits the cottage and sees Thetis. He brings her and her dead child inside, and three women help her to sit down. Thetis tells the oldest woman her story, and the woman asks if her family name is Villenueve. Thetis says yes, and the old woman reveals that she is Jaqueline’s mother, and Thetis’s grandmother. The old man who first brought her in was her grandfather, and the two other women are her aunts. Thetis calls for the Marchioness, and she comes to the cottage. She explains to Thetis that the father of Thetis and the Duke was the nobleman who seduced Jaqueline. Thetis’s mother was Jaqueline, while the Duke’s mother was the nobleman’s wife.
The Duke is upset by his marriage to his half-sister, so he joins a convent of monks and takes his vows. Thetis likewise joins a convent and takes her vows. In the final portion of the story, Thetis addresses her writing to the Countess de Milleray. She says that she has lived in the convent for twenty years and feels her death approaching. She is writing out her story in hope of full pardon for her crime. “Thus, my dear Madam, have I opened my heart to you, and though you may not be able to esteem, yet grant your pity to the unfortunate Thetis” (36).
In this 1799 gothic novel, a young woman named Cordelia struggles with her father’s abandonment of her family, tries to improve her situation, and is ultimately faced with deceit and tragedy.
Cordelia, or a Romance of Real Life by Sophia King Fortnum is presented in leather binding with a marbled paper cover, giving it an elegant and high-quality appearance. The marbled decoration of the front would have been achieved by hand, using water and oil colors to create a unique design, and shows the care that was taken into the appearance of the book.
The spine is decorated with a few thin horizontal lines and has subtle embellishments surrounding the title, in capital letters, CORDELIA. The book still gives a refined impression, but its age shows with small fractures stemming from a substantial vertical crack down the spine and faded coloring of the cover. The top and bottom right corners of the paper cover appear worn off and torn, which could indicate the possible existence of leather, or another material, corners that came off at one point in its history. The book is 11 by 18 cm and 212 pages in length.
Inside, the pages are yellowed and occasionally darkly spotted on the tops and edges, which is referred to as foxing and is common in paper as it ages. This could possibly be due to oxidization, humidity, or other factors depending on the environments and conditions impacting the paper. The ink in the book is only somewhat faded and still easy to see, but brownish stains blemish many of the pages and one blue stain bleeds through page seven onto eight.
The pages alternate between two lengths and are curled slightly on all edges, leading to pages sticking together as they’re turned. Horizontal folds split the paper into thirds, showing that the paper could have been folded before it was bound in its leather and marbled paper dressings.
Opening the novel, the title is displayed on the second page as Cordelia, or a Romance of Real Life in fanciful font, and on the third page again. The author’s name appears below the title on the third page. Throughout the novel, on the tops of pages, the title is printed as CORDELIA.
The font of the story is prominent, and the lines of text are decently spaced apart. Wide margins, consisting of a larger bottom margin and thinner top margin, also make the text easy to read. As was common in printing at the time, the letter s in Cordelia is usually printed as a “long s,” which appear similar to f, and can cause some confusion for modern readers. Many of the pages feature letters and numbers at the bottoms. These signature marks are meant to indicate to the printer how to fold the pages in the correct order before binding them. Each chapter begins with a quote relevant to the chapter and a word or few words completely capitalized. The text’s format then continues generally uniformly, which fits in with the overall high-quality impression of the book.
Cordelia, or A Romance of Real Life was published in two volumes in 1799 by the Minerva Press and is
Sophia King Fortnum’s second novel (Summers 284). Fortnum was born around 1782
to John King and Deborah Lara, though she may have been born earlier and
misconstrued her age (Brown et al.). She was of Sephardic Jewish heritage, and
her father was a moneylender and radical political actor in England with a
notorious career known as the “Jew King” (Brown et al., Baines). Her parents
divorced in 1784 or 1785 after her mother took two of the children, possibly
including Fortnum, with her to Italy to try to prevent her father’s marriage to
the dowager countess of Lanesborough, an English noblewoman, and failed (Brown
et al., Endelman). Fortnum and her sister, Charlotte Dacre, author of Zofloya
and other gothic novels, published a collection of poetry together
dedicated to their father called Trifles of Helicon in 1798 (Brown et
al.). Fortnum married Charles Fortnum and began publishing under Sophia Fortnum
instead of Sophia King in 1801 (Brown et al.).
Fortnum published other gothic novels throughout
her career, as well as poetry. She was the author of Waldorf, or the Dangers
of Philosophy, A Philosophical Tale in 1798, The Victim of Friendship in
1800, The Fatal Secret: or, Unknown Warrior. A Romance of the Twelfth
Century in 1801, and her final novel, Victor Allen: a Novel in 1802
(Summers 86). Fortnum published much of her poetry in newspapers under the name
“Sappho” and published her only verse collection in 1804: Poems, Legendary,
Pathetic and Descriptive (Brown et al.). The date of Fortnum’s death after
these publications is unknown.
According to Montague Summers’s AGothicBibliography, the Minerva Press was owned by William Lane and was the “most famous publishing house which issued Gothic romances” (ix). Cordelia also had a French translation published by C. Chanin in Paris in 1800: Cordelia, ou la Faiblesse Excusable, histoire de la vie telle qu’elle est (Summers 284). A contemporary review of Cordelia by Tobias George Smollett called the novel a “gloomy tale” that was not “very probable in its incidents” or “interesting in its progress” (235–36). Smollett’s review also stated that the novel lacked an “attractive style” and called the “morality… inconsistent with the prevailing ideas of female virtue” (236). Editions of the first and second volumes of Cordelia were published by Gale Nineteenth Century Collections Online in 2017 and are available on Amazon, though the second volume is out of print.
Point of View
Cordelia, or a Romance of Real Life, is narrated in the first person by its protagonist, Cordelia.
Cordelia recounts the events of the story in retrospect, rarely describing
specific scenes and often summarizing her own judgements on situations and
people to convey what happened. Cordelia goes on tangents about her beliefs and
judgements within the text, saying she has “digressed” multiple times after
long-winded statements of her opinions (8, 50). The wording of sentences can be
lengthy, using many colons, semicolons, and commas, but the language is not
overly ornate, and it communicates ideas clearly.
The folly and conceit of this ridiculous couple forcibly excited my contempt; I easily developed the character of Mrs. Milner, whose brain was turned by wits, and pretended Literati. They found that by humouring her caprices, and flattering her ignorance, they should reap considerable advantages from her fortune and connections. Authors and philosophers swarmed at her table like butterflies; they praised her works, drank her wine, and dedicated poems to her. Mrs. Milner was therefore well pleased, and expended her fortune almost wholly among designing parasites, Democrats, and madmen, for I believe few who visited her were exceptions to this rule; as to the little conceited Citizen, he was a particular friend and almost totally governed her. As she was, however, a woman of rank and fortune, she did not meet with her deserved portion of contempt, but was in some measure countenanced by persons of fashion, and vitiated taste: for instance, titled profligates, romantic misses, and antiquated dowagers, who joined in her follies, and attended her levees, believing they by that means improved their manners and understanding. (48–50)
The narration overall emphasizes Cordelia’s
opinions and feelings and pays less attention to action and plot. One effect of
this style of first-person narration is that there is no objective view of the
story or characters. In the above passage, Mrs. Milner’s characterization is
completely based on Cordelia’s view of her. Cordelia states that Mrs. Milner
“pretended Literati” and people praised her only to gain something from her
“rank and fortune,” declaring her own “contempt” for Mrs. Milner (48, 49). She
frames Mrs. Milner as untalented and ignorant and others’ praise as insincere,
but there is no objective point of view to confirm this. The audience can only
rely on Cordelia’s perception of herself and others to judge characters’
intelligence or morality. Throughout Cordelia, Cordelia’s impressions of
others guide the framing of the story, and when her impressions prove to be
inaccurate, as with Lioni’s character, the effect is unpredictability.
The narrative of Cordelia, or A Romance of
Real Life, Volume I is told from the first-person perspective of Cordelia,
the protagonist of the story. The novel begins with Cordelia’s rantings and
criticisms of people’s disregard of religion and virtue in place of fame and
fortune. Cordelia admits to being susceptible to these kinds of romantic
notions at one point in her life and begins to tell her backstory. Cordelia’s
family consisted of her mother, her sister Rosina, and her brother Collville.
Her mother was married early in life to Mr. Arden, Cordelia’s father, but he
soon deserted her and their children to be with a woman named Lady Lindern. Mr.
Arden and Lady Lindern lived a luxurious life while Mr. Arden’s family was left
with no prospects and infrequent visits. Cordelia describes her mother as pale,
melancholy, and perpetually in love with Mr. Arden, believing he will return to
her someday. She describes herself as “a sort of ringleader” of her siblings,
and as the story starts, her father begins to favor her because of her apparent
“genius” (20, 22). Cordelia grows to love and respect her father despite his
cruel treatment of her family. However, she also becomes more dissatisfied with
her situation after seeing how Mr. Arden and Lady Lindern live.
Cordelia and her siblings want to leave England,
but because their mother still holds onto hope that Mr. Arden will return to
her, she is determined to stay. Cordelia wants to run away, but her mother
discovers this and tells her father. Mr. Arden gives Cordelia the opportunity
to work for a wealthy writer, Mrs. Milner, and become more involved in society
as an attempt to address her unhappiness with her situation. He orders her to
hide their familial relation, and she starts to work for Mrs. Milner. She finds
Mrs. Milner silly and untalented, but Cordelia does well and begins to interact
with more writers, philosophers, and other friends of Mrs. Milner. She becomes
more like them, calling herself “vain and ridiculous” in retrospect (54). One
day, Cordelia edits one of Mrs. Milner’s essays heavily, and Mrs. Milner finds
the rewrite insulting, reprimanding her. Cordelia leaves after this, abandoning
the post her father recommended her for. When her father finds this out, he
tells her that she has lost his good opinion and is an ungrateful daughter.
Cordelia tries to appeal to Lady Lindern’s sympathy and has an outburst about
her role in destroying her family. Lady Lindern is offended and tells Mr.
Arden. Cordelia receives a letter from her father telling her it is better if
they do not see each other, and she loses all hope of bettering her situation.
Cordelia decides to run away and fantasizes
about obtaining fame and fortune. With the help of her sister, Rosina, she gets
money together and leaves home. She eventually finds somewhere to stay, but her
hostess charges her a high price and drains her funds quickly. Throughout this
time, she tries to apply for jobs with theater companies but is denied. After
many rejections and having to seek the assistance of a family friend, Mrs.
Larlston, she gets news that her application to join a theater company was
accepted. At her new job, she meets Lucinda, who she is initially wary of but
becomes close friends with. Their work for the company is physically demanding
and pays very little, and Cordelia remains unhappy with her life. They
eventually meet a man named Count Victor Lioni and his younger companion
Charles Mandani. Cordelia is suspicious of Lioni but finds Mandani agreeable
and develops feelings for him. Lucinda tells Cordelia that Lioni is a childhood
friend and later tells her that they have gotten married.
Lucinda, Lioni, Mandani, and Cordelia go on a
trip to Italy and Cordelia is unsure of Mandani’s sentiments towards her.
Cordelia asks Mandani about Lucinda and Lioni’s marriage and he sees the idea
as ridiculous, revealing to Cordelia that Lioni and Lucinda are not married and
that Mandani perceives Cordelia to have loose morals. After Cordelia clears the
confusion about her morality, Mandani makes it seem like he intends to form a
serious union with her. Cordelia confronts Lioni about the lie of his and
Lucinda’s marriage, and the Count makes an advance towards her. After
Cordelia’s poor response to this, he tells her she and Mandani are his
captives. Cordelia sends a letter to Lioni asking him to let her leave, but he
refuses and reveals that Mandani is lying to her. Lioni gives Cordelia a pile
of papers and letters, which reveal that Mandani is married. According to the
letters, Mandani loved Lioni’s sister Olivia, but at sixteen, Olivia took her
vows in a convent. Mandani wanted to marry her and convinced her to run off to
France with him and elope. Olivia’s guilt over breaking her vows caused her to
leave him and move back to a convent. Lioni forgave Mandani, but if Mandani
ever forgot Olivia and moved on with another woman, Lioni promised to kill him
on behalf of his sister.
Cordelia cannot tell Mandani she knows about his
past and marriage, and the Count gives her money to leave and have a life away
from Mandani as a gesture of friendship. Cordelia overhears Mandani say that
Olivia is dead to him, and he loves only her now, but she knows they cannot be
together because of Lioni’s threat. She plans to leave for Switzerland and live
in peaceful and comfortable solitude with Lioni’s money, but before she can make
it, she encounters armed men who attack her and tie her up. She is confused and
terrified but then wakes up in what she thinks is a madhouse. She despairs and
adds “shrieks” to the “groans of lunacy,” but “Nature” eventually rescues her
by sending her into a “happy insensibility” (212).
Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. “Sophia King: Life & Writing.” Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge University Press Online, 2006. <http://orlando.cambridge.org>. 09 November 2021.
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)
A story of love and tragedy, this 1805 chapbook features plagiarized excerpts from Charlotte Smith’s 1789 novel Ethelinde.
The Affecting History of Caroline, or the Distressed Widow: A True
Tale is the fourth gothic story in a collection of four volumes. In the back of
the front cover of the collection, there is a note written in pencil that
states “4 Vol,” denoting there are four rebound volumes in the set. Notably,
none of the volumes have an author listed at the front.
The chapbook collection consists
of a front and back cover made of chipped, faded red-dyed paper, with the spine
of the book dyed green and highlighted by a black outline on the front and
back. Both sides are blank, leaving a polished but plain look. From the top of
the spine, there is a gold fabric label printed with the word, “ROMANCES”
bordered by a series of decorative black lines and dots arranged symmetrically.
Including the cover, the book is approximately 18 cm long, 10.5cm wide, and
1.4cm thick. Inside, the pages are evenly cut, but yellowed and worn.
Although the pages are very thin
and easy to flip through, their texture is rough like sandpaper. Without any
spots or signs of damage other than age, the book is in fairly good
The title page features the main
title, The Affecting History of Caroline,
settled at the top half of the page in large fine black font. The alternative
title, Distressed Widow, is italicized.
Underneath, outlined by a thin
horizontal line, is the subtitle, A True
Tale. The footer of the title page includes publishing information:
“London, published by S. Carvalho, 19 Castle Calley, White Chapel.” This is
followed by the chapbook’s individual sale price: sixpence. Then, at the very
bottom, there appears to be a misaligned line of text that cuts off past the
margins, plausibly additional publishing information.
Positioned at the center of the
title page is a small printed illustration of a woman in a red dress holding a
baby in a blanket. The illustration is painted over in watercolors, which gives
the image a glossy texture that stands out from the rest of the pages. There is
no caption for the illustration, but it is implied that the woman pictured is
the titular “Distressed Widow.”
Furthermore, there is a
frontispiece that consists of a full color spread of a woman and young girl
standing on a paved road while a smiling man appears to lead them to a
carriage. Similar to the title page illustration, this picture was hand-painted
in watercolor, which gives the page additional heavy weight in comparison to
other pages. The twentieth (and final) page of the story includes a printed
illustration of various household items at the bottom, such as two bowls.
Pagination of Caroline does not begin until page 4,
and the chapbook is twenty pages long. Every left page of the open book
includes the abbreviated title Caroline
in the header, with the page number listed above it. The markers for printing
sections B and C are located on pages three and fifteen, respectively, in the
center of the footer. These sections denote to the publisher when to fold the
pages so that the book is bound in the right order. The pagination continues to
another story, titled The Negro: An
Affecting Tale, which then closes its respective volume. Each of the four
rebound volumes has its own pagination, so they are not continuous among one another.
The Affecting History of Caroline: or, The Distressed Widow was
published in 1805. This twenty-five-page chapbook entered the Sadleir-Black
Gothic Collection at the University of Virginia as one of four chapbooks
rebound into a single volume, yet a digital copy of the chapbook as its own
isolated volume, with a front and back cover, is publicly available through
Duke University Library and HathiTrust.
There are few differences between
the University of Virginia and Duke copies of the text. One that stands out is
the alignment of the title page. Whereas the print of University of Virginia’s
copy is slightly tilted and thus parts of the text cut off at the bottom
margins, the print is fully aligned, listing details on publishing information,
“E. Billing, Printer, 187, Bermondsey Street.” Furthermore, the Duke copy has a
marbled cover, whereas the University of Virginia’s rebound copy uses a paper
cover. Otherwise, the pagination, font, publication date, and publishing
company are all the same. Furthermore, neither copy lists an author anywhere in
According to WorldCat, S.
Carvalho, the publishing company, was located in London and published other
novels between 1805 and 1831. Their other works followed a similar subject as The
Affecting History of Caroline: a woman’s reflection on her life, such as in
The Lady’s Revenge: a Tale Founded on
Facts (1817) and The History of Miss
Patty Proud (1820). Yet, throughout S. Carvalho’s legacy, there were no
other reprints of Caroline, nor any
known translations. However, in 2015, two publishing companies dedicated to
revitalizing old books, BiblioBazaar and FB&C Limited, reprinted the
original text in a new paperback edition. FB&C Limited would go on to
publish a hardcover edition of The
Affecting History of Caroline in 2018.
The Affecting History of Caroline is actually an excerpted
plagiarism of a Charlotte Smith novel, Ethelinde,
or the Recluse of the Lake, published in 1789. From the years 1789–1792,
multiple serialized magazines such as TheEuropean Magazine and London Review and Walker’s Hibernian
Magazine published an excerpt of Ethelinde
under the title, The Affecting History of
Caroline Montgomery. This story aligns almost exactly with The Affecting History of Caroline. In TheEuropean
Magazine, The Affecting History of
Caroline Montgomery was released in two parts, just one month apart from
each other. The first sixteen pages of the 1805 version of The Affecting History of Caroline match the first part of The Affecting History of Caroline Montgomery
word-for-word; there are plot variations in the second half of the two stories.
Perhaps what is most interesting is that all magazines cite the acclaimed author
Charlotte Smith and Ethelinde as the
source of their release of The Affecting History of Caroline Montgomery, bur
the 1805 version of The Affecting
History of Caroline does not make
To verify this link, one can
observe the stark similarities between The
Affecting History of Caroline, and an excerpt from Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde. The text of The Affecting History of Caroline from pages 1–16 aligns almost word-for-word with chapter
16 of Ethelinde (Smith 128–55). Differences
between the texts include formatting preferences, such as Ethelinde
using the long S that looks closer to an f, as well as spelling changes like
how The Affecting History of Caroline
uses “mamma” whereas Ethelinde spells
the same word as “mama.” The most stark difference is the textual context: in Ethelinde, Caroline Montgomery tells her
tale to the titular character, Ethelinde; in The Affecting History of Caroline, mentions of Ethelinde are
completely removed. This change is understandable, for if the intent of The Affecting History Caroline was to
present the plagiarized text as an original story, then any evidence of being
associated with plot elements from the world of Ethelinde needed to be
removed. Attempts at erasing ties to Ethelinde
are most noticeable following page 16 of The
Affecting History of Caroline. From just pages 16–18 of The Affecting History of Caroline, over
ten paragraphs of Ethelinde are skipped over, but these cuts are
presented as a seamless transition between not only paragraphs but sentences as
well (Smith 155–61). There are also noticeable changes in phrasing, such as the
line “Lord Pevensey took this opportunity of departing,” versus the line from Ethelinde, “Lord Pevensey took that
opportunity to depart” (Affecting History of Caroline 16, Smith 155).
It is not surprising that someone
would want to plagiarize Charlotte’s Smith’s work, for she was an illustrious
novelist during her time. From 1784 to 1806, Smith used her writing to support
her large family of twelve children as a single mother. She is known for
influencing the Romantic era, particularly for writing with an emphasis on
nature and human emotions. Although there are no reviews of The Affecting
History of Caroline, scholarship
does attend to Ethelinde (see Hawkins).
With this context in mind, it is understandable how the illegitimate chapbook The Affecting History of Caroline was
classified as a “Romance” when rebound, as it sits at the intersection of
gothic, romance, and Romantic literature.
Narrative Point of View
The Affecting History of Caroline is narrated in the first-person
singular voice of the titular character, Caroline, who delineates the events of
her childhood and upbringing. In The Affecting History of Caroline, the narrator focuses less on
descriptive language and more on singular plot-relevant events, however, this
pattern deviates in moments of intense emotion, such as when Caroline falls in
love. The sentence structure is dense, but direct, which allows for a clear
narrative to unfold. At times the narrator mentions the second person “you,” as
if retelling the story of her life to an unnamed individual.
I will not detain you with relating the various expedients for accommodation, which were in the course of the first month proposed by the relations of the family, who knew the tenderness the late lord Pevensey had for my mother; that he considered her as his wife, and that her conduct could not have been more unexceptionable had she really been so. Still lingering in France, and still visiting a house into which his cruelty had introduced great misery, the proceeding of lord Pevensey wore a very extraordinary appearance. My mother now continued almost entirely to her room; and Montgomery concealed from her his uneasiness at what he remarked; but to me he spoke more freely, and told me he was very sure his lordship had other designs that he suffered immediately to appear. In a few days the truth of this conjecture became evident. (15)
The narrator, Caroline, uses an
individualized first-person point of view to create an intimate and engaging
voice. Referring to an unnamed “you” implies the narration is directed at an
audience outside of Caroline’s world—hence, the story becomes an attempt at
reaching out to this world. The differentiation between “late lord” and “lord”
Pevensey establishes a clarity in the narrative that stands out from other
gothic works that utilize confusion and chaos as a tool for narration. This
easy-to-follow narration is ideal when communicating to an audience unfamiliar
with these past events, suggesting the implied audience is a stranger to
Caroline’s life and irrelevant to her past. Furthermore, the characters around
Caroline are characterized primarily by their actions in relation to Caroline,
such as the mother “continued almost entirely to her room,” and Montgomery, who
“spoke more freely,” rather than through a direct description of inward
thoughts or feelings. Interestingly, even their conversations only seem to
happen in summarized instances, with no direct dialogue. This means even the
conversations Caroline has every day are ultimately translated by Caroline’s
perspective, first, before being narrated. This limited point of view creates a
story tailored to Caroline’s perspective on her life, with all of her potential
bias, allowing for a deeper understanding of Caroline as a character.
The story of The Affecting
History of Caroline begins and
ends in Scotland. The titular character retells her life story from childhood
into adulthood with all of the trials and tribulations she faced along the way.
The first tragedy in Caroline’s life is the loss of her father, a Scottish
nobleman. He died as a casualty in a military campaign for Scotland’s
independence from Britain. At the time of his death, Caroline was an infant,
and her mother became a young single mother without anyone to support them. So,
they begin the story struggling in poverty with just the remaining money left
by Caroline’s father. Although the war her father fought in eventually ended,
she along with the rest of the Scottish community continued to struggle to
rebuild stability. Despite this, Caroline’s mother soon finds out that in
Caroline’s grandfather’s will, no money was allocated to her. Soon afterwards,
Caroline’s grandfather also passes away, but he only left money for Caroline’s
uncle from England. The death of the grandfather spurs Caroline’s mother to
migrate to England in hope of seeking assistance from her brother. At first,
Caroline’s uncle appears to be welcoming and kind to his sister and niece.
However, his wife is much more reserved, and repeatedly tells her husband not
to be so hospitable to Caroline and her mother. Although the husband agrees to
pay for a small home in London for Caroline and her mother to stay in, he soon
becomes too influenced by his wife and limits the funds for Caroline’s small
family, and so the girl and her mother must continue to struggle through
Caroline’s mother has no one to
comfort her, and so she also continues to grieve for her deceased husband. It
is in this state that she comes across a gentleman one day, named Pevensey, who
falls in love with her at first sight while she walks through town with
Caroline. The man orders a carriage to take Caroline and her mother home, and
then insists on accompanying them in the carriage. On the carriage ride home,
Pevensey admits that he is from the same noble lineage of Caroline’s father,
and this is how he knew of the widow beforehand. What was once curiosity,
however, has now turned into infatuation, and so he begins courting Caroline’s
Their romance appears to go quite
smoothly until Pevensey admits that he is actually already married. Granted, it
is an arranged marriage to a woman he despises, and no longer lives with, yet,
they are still married under the law. After revealing this, the man proposes to
have Caroline and her mother live with him, where they would no longer have to
live in a shabby home and instead build a family together. This proposal causes
Caroline’s uncle and auntie to see Caroline’s mother with a new form of respect,
and so they are receptive to the nobleman. Caroline’s mother, however, is still
haunted by the loss of her husband, and the fact that they can never truly be
married, so she deliberates before ultimately agreeing to fully love the man
and live with him.
Caroline and her mother adjust
well to their new lifestyle. Her mother gains a bit more peace of mind now that
she no longer feels like her brother’s burden, and Caroline is able to live a
more enriching childhood and gain a stellar education. Unfortunately, their joy
is soon cut short when the nobleman dies from disease while on a business trip.
Even worse, all of his property rights and wealth were passed on to his
brother, leaving Caroline and her mother in poverty once again. However, this
time, they are not alone. A friend of Pevensey, Mr. Montgomery, takes them
under his wing so that they no longer have to suffer. At this time, Caroline
falls in love with Mr. Montgomery. In a bittersweet display of love, they get
married the night before her mother also passes away from illness.
Then, finally, Caroline’s luck starts to turn for the better. Her husband wins a duel against Pevensey’s brother, who finally agrees to respect Caroline’s right to her step-father’s inheritance as retribution. In another turn of events, war returns to Caroline’s life via the conflict between France and England. Montgomery enlists in the English regiment, and Caroline leaves with him so that they are not separated. Eventually, though, they are separated as Montgomery gets more involved in the war. Meanwhile, Caroline becomes pregnant and eventually gives birth to a son. They do not reunite until the war finally ends, and then retire together to live with their new family in Paris.
Their marriage remains true and
fulfilling until Montgomery dies from illness, leaving Caroline as a single
mother, just as her mother once was. She decides to raise her son back in
Scotland, where they are able to spend the rest of their lives in peace.
Hartley, Cathy. A Historical Dictionary of British Women.
London: Europa Publications, 2005.
Hawkins, Anne. Romantic Women Writers Reviewed, Taylor
& Francis, Vol 5, Issue 2, 2020, pp.40–41.
Smith, Charlotte. Ethelinde, Or The Recluse of the Lake. T.
“The Affecting History of Caroline Montgomery.” The European Magazine, and London Review, 1790, pp. 353–58, 457–62.
“The Affecting History of
Caroline Montgomery.” Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Or, Compendium of Entertaining
Knowledge, vol.1, 1790, pp. 38–40
The Affecting History of Caroline; or, The Distressed Widow. A True
Tale. London, S. Carvalho, 1805.
The Affecting History of Caroline; or, The Distressed Widow. A True Tale. BiblioBazaar, 2015.
The Affecting History of Caroline; or, The Distressed Widow. A True
Tale. FB&C Limited, 2015.
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.