Maximilian and Selina: Or, the Mysterious Abbot. A Flemish Tale.
Publisher: Tegg & Castleman
Publication Year: 1804
Book Dimensions: 10.4cm x 18.1cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.M356 1802
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 share the 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.
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Researcher: Grace S. Saunders