The Secret Oath: Or Blood-stained Dagger, a Romance
Author: Mary Anne Radcliffe
Publisher: Tegg and Castleman
Publication Year: 1802
Book Dimensions: 11cm x 18cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.E575
This story written by Mary Anne Radcliffe in 1802 follows a family left destitute after the French Revolution and their quest to start a new life. The only thing in their way is a string of murders.
The Secret Oath or Blood-Stained Dagger, a Romance is the second story in volume one of The Entertainer. Seven stories make up the volume, each containing seventy-two pages, except for The Secret Oath (sixty-eight pages) and Frederic Staun, or the Revenge of Disappointment (four pages). Each time a new story starts, the page numbers restart, with the exception of Frederic Staun, or the Revenge of Disappointment, which continues pagination from the previous story, The Secret Oath, to result in a total of seventy-two pages. Each story has seventy-two pages because it matches the method of folding used to bind books at this time. The volume is bound in brown, acid-splattered leather and has gold lettering of The Entertainer on the spine. The text block has blue speckles for decoration. The Entertainer vol. 1 measures 18cm in height, 11cm in width, and 3cm in thickness.
In the front cover, there is a handwritten table of contents and a list of exact duplicates also in the Sadleir Black Collection. Overall, the pages of the book are in good condition. All the text in The Secret Oath is readable apart from a small hole with a diameter of about 0.5cm on page 61, but this does not affect the overall understanding of the text. The pages inThe Secret Oath or Blood-Stained Dagger, a Romance and Frederic Staun, or the Revenge of Disappointment are a slightly darker brown than the rest of the stories. This discoloration is caused by different types of paper used in the volume.
The pages in The Secret Oath use a consistent font and single-spaced lines. The margins differ due to folding techniques. The left-hand pages have side margins of 1cm while the right-hand pages have side margins of 0.5cm. The top margin for a page is either 1 or 2 cm. Each page has the title The Secret Oath on the top. The margin at the bottom of all the pages is 1cm. At the bottom of some right-hand pages, there are signature marks that indicate how the book should be folded. They start with “Ii” and end with “Oo3”. On the last page of the story, the word “Frederic” is present as a catch word for the book maker to know which story goes next. Frederic Staun, or the Revenge of Disappointment was added after The Secret Oath to make the section 72 pages for folding purposes.
At the start of The Secret Oath, there is a title page that reads “The // Secret Oath // or // Blood-Stained Dagger, // a Romance” with a black and white illustration of a house in front of the woods. To the left of the title page, there is another illustration depicting a character reaching for a dagger while looking at a statue of a woman and her baby. This black and white illustration of a woman bled on to the title page and can be seen in a faint brown outline.
This edition was printed by J. H. Hart and published for Tegg and Castleman in London on November 1, 1802. There is another edition of this chapbook in the University of Virginia Special Collections Library printed by T. Plummer and published for T. Hurst in London on November 1, 1802. The chapbook has many existing editions both in libraries and as online scans. For instance, there is a version in volume one of the second edition of The Marvelous Magazine published by T. Hurst.
The author of The Secret Oath is not present on the title page or frontispiece. However, another chapbook entitled Monkish Mysteries; Or, the Miraculous Escape: Containing the History and the Villanies of the Monk Bertrand; The Detection of His Impious Frauds, and Subsequent Repentance and Retribution includes a printed note that says: “The whole written, adjusted and compiled solely for this work, by Mrs. Mary Anne Radclife, of Wimbledon in Surrey, author of the Secret oath, or blood-stained dagger” (Radcliffe Monkish Mysteries 2). This connects Mary Anne Radclife, usually spelled “Radcliffe,” to the The Secret Oath. There is another book in the University of Virginia Special Collections Library that includes the same note connecting Mary Anne Radcliffe to The Secret Oath called The Adventures of Capt. Duncan, A Journey From Europe, Over the Arabian Deserts, to the British Settlements in India; : Containing, Among Other Particulars, an Account of the Perils He Experienced in Those Terrific Regions, the Eccentric Humors of His Tartarian Guide, His Shipwreck, and Distresses in the War With Hyder Ally, &C (Radcliffe Adventures 2).
Mary Anne Radcliffe was born in 1746 to James Clayton and Sarah née Bladderwick (Grundy). Her father died when she was four, and she was educated at Bar Convent in York, England. After fourteen years of life, she married Joseph Radcliffe, age thirty-five, in an elopement and had eight children with him throughout their marriage.
Her most known works include The Female Advocate (1799), Radcliffe’s New Novelist Pocket Magazine (1802), and Memoirs… in Familiar Letters to her Female Friend (1810). Some of these works are similar to The Secret Oath in the sense that they are sensationalized stories written for cheap entertainment, but others follow a feminist perspective on life and create arguments about more serious topics such as the shrinking job market for women and the risk of prostitution. Radcliffe was advertised in newspapers as an elegant entertainment writer, and her Radcliffe’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine was sold for six-pence at the time of its release (“Advertisements and Newspapers” 4). This magazine, which is more like a collection of stories, includes The Secret Oath. Radcliffe’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine was published by Thomas Hurst.
Isobel Grundy suggests that Radcliffe requested that her name remain out of some of her pieces, but that this was not always respected. Specifically, Radcliffe’s name was put on The Female Advocate despite her wish to remain anonymous. This connected her to Radcliffe’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine and other chapbooks. Her publisher was also known to switch published works with a different author’s name to Radcliffe’s name after the first edition of a book had been published. For example, The Mysterious Baron (1808) was switched from Eliza Ratcliffe to Mary Anne Radcliffe after its initial print (Grundy). The reason for these changes is unknown, but it is likely that the publisher was using the similarities between Radcliffe’s name and the more famous Ann Radcliffe, author of A Sicilian Romance (1790), to catch the eye of readers. Another possibility is that Radcliffe used a false name for some books in order to remain more anonymous.
After having eight children and publishing many works focusing on topics from thrilling murders to the issues of women, Radcliffe died of a health decline in August of 1818 and is buried in Old Calton cemetery, Edinburgh (Grundy).
Narrative Point of View
The Secret Oath is narrated in third-person past tense. The narrator is omniscient and never appears as a character in the text. The narration focuses on characters’ actions and emotions and uses long sentences separated by commas for each thought. The narrator does not focus on the setting and does not use descriptive language to describe the environment. The focus is on the actions of characters in the story and the feelings of each character.
They entered the old cabriolet, and after a rude journey arrived at Maschere, where they entered an Inn, and a surgeon was sent for to dress the Marquis’s wounds. – He pronounced it impossible to proceed on the journey without endangering his patient’s life ; in consequence of which, the Marchioness hired some apartments at a farm-house, on the road to Caffagiolo, contiguous to his surgeon. De Montfort had mental as well as bodily wounds to struggle with : he con-sidered himself as the murderer of Dorville–he, who had preserved his life, and illuminated the gloom of exile with the balm of friendship. – His daughter also felt a perpetual pang in the reflection that Dorville, whom she esteemed more than any man living, had been slain by her father’s hand ! (33–4)
This excerpt demonstrates how the narrator focuses on the emotions and actions of each character over any other aspect of the story. With its third-person point of view, the narration takes away any bias that a first-person perspective would have, but this does not take away all of the suspense. Omniscient narration here gives an insight to all the characters’ feelings and experiences, which tie into the universal knowledge of the narrator, but some details are left out throughout the novel to maintain suspense. How a person is feeling is not left a secret, but their fate is unknown until an action comes to determine it. This stylistic choice keeps the story mysterious while also providing insight to each character’s interiority.
A Secret Oath or Blood-Stained Dagger, a Romance follows an ex-Marquis named Albert de Montfort, his wife Madame de Montfort, and his daughter Serina. The book describes how the family is forced to flee from Paris, France in 1792 during the French revolution. After fourteen years of poverty following their escape, de Montfort accepts an invitation from his deceased father’s godson, M. Dodier, to stay at his chateau until the family can get back on their feet. De Montfort is hesitant to accept because M. Dodier received the de Montfort family fortune after the death of Albert de Montfort’s father, and there is a lack of trust between the two men. Serina convinces her father to accept the invitation and the family moves to the chateau. The house is completely empty except for Aquilina and Orsano Cormazzo, the mysterious caretakers of the property.
One day, de Montfort comes home covered in blood after gambling with friends. He claims that he was trying to save a dying man in the woods. Law enforcement accuses him of the murder, and they discover evidence in Madame de Montfort and Serina’s rooms that also connect them to the crime. De Montfort and his family are taken to prison in a faraway town, but one by one they avoid their sentence with the help of various people. Serina’s helper saves her under the condition that she marry Argand, M. Dodier’s son. Next, Madame de Montfort is released after the murder victim is revealed to have survived. She reunites with Serina after hearing rumors of her location. De Montfort was the last to be released. On the way to find his family, the living victim of the attack, Dorville, offers to help find his wife and daughter because he feels bad that de Montfort was sent to prison for no reason. De Montfort accepts, and eventually they find Madame and Serina. De Montfort makes it clear that Serina will not be marrying Argand because he does not want the man who took his family inheritance to take his daughter too. M. Dodier kicks the family out of the chateau, and Dorville offers to let the family stay in his mansion a few cities away.
They travel through France to get to Dorville’s home. Dorville and Serina become close. While staying in an apartment overnight, Serina wakes to a man in a black mask holding a dagger above her heart. The masked man realizes he has the wrong person and claims that if she keeps this visit a secret then her father may live, but if she says anything he will kill her father and Dorville. Serina swears the secret oath, and the man gives her an ebony crucifix with the word “Remember!” carved on the back as a reminder of her promise (21).
After her visit by the mysterious man, Serina goes to a church to confess. After she divulges her oath, the abbot demands that she stay in the church for six months to pray in darkness. She has no escape from her punishment and is brought to a garden to pray. In this garden, a mysterious man helps her escape. Once the pair is over the wall, there is a fight between new attackers and Serina’s helper. Serina’s helper reigns victorious in the fight. However, Serina’s father was planning on saving her too, and when he sees the man and Serina surrounded by bodies, de Montfort attacks the man and kills him. Serina sees that her helper was Dorville. She is extremely sad but must run from the church to avoid another imprisonment.
The family adopts the false name of Berthier to protect their identity. With the help of an attorney named Cattivo, they purchase an apartment and stay out of the public eye. Since the family has no money, de Montfort uses a ring that he won while gambling as payment. Cattivo takes a liking to Serina and demands her hand in marriage. The family says no, and Cattivo threatens to blackmail the Berthiers unless Serina marries him. They still say no, so Cattivo takes de Montfort to court and accuses him of stealing the ring that was used to pay for the apartment. The ring is found to belong to a Count Cuculli, a man de Montfort used to gamble with. The count arrives at court, recognizes de Montfort as the accused “M. Berthier”, and drops all charges because he trusts de Montfort’s integrity.
After de Montfort is released from jail, he receives a note that he should go to the count’s mansion. De Montfort runs over to the mansion and finds his wife and daughter. They tell de Montfort that the count discovered a plot to hurt Serina. The count decided to keep watch over their room while de Montfort was in jail awaiting release. Men came and attacked the two ladies, but the count stabbed one attacker, who was later revealed to be M. Dodier, and saved the women. Serina and Madame de Montfort stayed with the count until de Montfort was released. They continue to stay with the count as a family.
One day, Serina is basking in the sunlight when Dorville appears and starts talking to her. He rambles about how he is married to a sickly woman and how he was manipulated by another woman named Maria. Serina is in near hysterics that he is alive, so they agree to meet the next day and talk once she has calmed down. The next day, Dorville says that he never left his home until now, so the man that de Montfort killed in the church garden was not him. However, during this time, he was forced to marry a sickly woman even though they did not love each other. Serina is crushed that Dorville is married, but de Montfort is happy that Dorville is not dead and invites him to stay with them in the count’s house.
After talking all night about Dorville’s journey, the two men make connections about the past. During the time de Montfort thought he was dead, Dorville visited the house of Monsieur Beaulieu, a wealthy man with a much younger wife named Maria. Dorville was seduced by Maria and almost fell for her. However, he realized that she only wanted his money. Maria was known to have many men in her life, one of note being Cattivo. He confessed that he loved Serina to get out of the relationship. After this story is told, the men figure out that Maria is the person who is responsible for the attacks on Serina. Her jealousy has made her vengeful. It is revealed that she enlisted Cattivo to kill Serina. The men decide to go to the house of Maria to confront her.
At the house, Dorville learns nothing from Maria. While they talk, de Montfort witnesses the murder of Monsieur Beaulieu, Maria’s husband. De Montfort is accused of the murder. Dorville pressures Maria to testify in court on de Montfort’s behalf, and she agrees. She clears de Montfort’s name and blames the murder on Cattivo, the attorney who sold the Montfort’s their old apartment and who is also Maria’s lover. After Monsieur Beaulieu’s death, the men bring the rest of the Montfort family to the house of Monsieur Beaulieu. The motive behind some attacks is unclear until M. Dodier shows up to the house and asks to confess his crimes. He suffers from a stab wound that was inflicted a few days ago and fears that he will die. He admits that the entire plot to kill de Montfort was based on revenge because de Montfort said that his son could not marry Serina. He attempted to kill de Montfort in the woods of the chateau, but he accidentally attacked Dorville. This left a witness to his crimes, so M. Dodier tried to eliminate Dorville again, but this time he accidentally went to Serina’s room. He was the masked man that made her swear the secret oath. Before M. Dodier could say more, he died of the stab wound the count gave him while protecting Serina. In the end, Maria tries to flee the country with Cattivo to avoid imprisonment for her murder plot, but Cattivo murders Maria because she accused him in the trial of her husband’s death. Serina and Dorville get married after Dorville’s first wife died of sickness, and the entire family moved to England in search of financial prosperity.
“Advertisement and Notices.” Northampton Mercury, 28 Aug. 1802, 1–4. British Library Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/GR3218890636/BNCN?u=viva_uva&sid=bookmark-BNCN&xid=a13a0781. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.
Grundy, Isobel. “Radcliffe, Mary Ann (b. c. 1746, d. in or after 1810), Writer.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 Sept. 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/37876. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.
Radcliffe, Mary Anne. The Adventures of Capt. Duncan, A Journey From Europe, Over the Arabian Deserts, to the British Settlements In India; : Containing, Among Other Particulars, an Account of the Perils He Experienced In Those Terrific Regions, the Eccentric Humors of His Tartarian Guide, His Shipwreck, and Distresses In the War With Hyder Ally, &C. London, T. Hurst, 1802. Nineteenth Century Collections Online,
https://search.lib.virginia.edu/sources/uva_library/items/u4351511. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.
——. Monkish Mysteries; Or, the Miraculous Escape: Containing the History and the Villanies of the Monk Bertrand; :The Detection of His Impious Frauds, and Subsequent Repentance and Retribution. Nottingham, T. Hurst, 1802. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, https://search.lib.virginia.edu/sources/uva_library/items/u4351072. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.
——. The Secret Oath: Or Blood-stained Dagger, a Romance. London 2nd ed., vol. 1, Printed for T. Hurst, 1802. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, https://search.lib.virginia.edu/sources/uva_library/items/u835942. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.
——. The Secret Oath: Or Blood-stained Dagger, a Romance. London, Tegg and Castleman, 1802. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, https://search.lib.virginia.edu/sources/uva_library/items/u835019. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.
Researcher: D. Smith