Giveaway Winner Announced for The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance, by Ann Radcliffe (2008)30 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a copy of the Oxford Worlds Classics edition of The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe. The winner drawn at random is Miss Kathleen who left a comment on August 12, 2011.

Congratulations Kathleen! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by August 24th, 2011. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Thanks to our reviewer Br. Paul who helped me understand the novel a bit better, and to all who left comments, but especially to Henry Tilney for his enthusiastic recommendation of the book.

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance, by Ann Radcliffe – A Review

The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance, by Ann Radcliffe (2008)Guest review by Br. Paul Byrd, OP

A deranged nun cloistered away in a convent hidden in the forests of southern France tells the story of when she used to be a beautiful, love-crazed noblewoman, the climax of which is her confession to persuading a married man to poison his wife—and that is just one of the many bizarre twists of Ann Radcliffe’s exciting classic Gothic tale, The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance,¹ the novel that inspired Jane Austen’s Gothic parody Northanger Abbey. It was because of Austen’s praise of Radcliffe’s novel, that I purchased Udolpho as summer reading—and how could I not, when sensible Mr. Tilney had this to say of it:

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days — my hair standing on end the whole time” (Ch. 14).

Udolpho is the story of the worst year in Emily St. Aubert’s life. Her mother dies, then her father dies, and she ends up in the care of an aunt with about as much sympathy and tenderness as the hideous Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park. This same aunt blocks Emily’s marriage plans to Valancourt, the man she loves, and takes her to Italy to live under the power of the tyrannical Montoni, the handsome fiend the aunt has just married. The narrator says, “As the carriage-wheels rolled heavily under the portcullis, Emily’s heart sunk, and she seemed, as if she was going into her prison; the gloomy court, into which she passed, served to confirm the idea, and her imagination, ever awake to circumstance, suggested even more terrors, than her reason could justify” (210). In fact, Emily’s fears are quite justifiable. While some of the subsequent terrors, seemingly supernatural, are eventually explained, the real dangers are horrific enough. Indeed, one of the most frightening scenes has nothing to do with ghostly apparitions, mysterious voices, veiled images, and haunting music—Radcliffe’s favorite tricks—rather it has to do with two drunken men chasing after Emily through the dark passages of the castle, competing to get to her first (398).

Not surprising, the vulnerability of women is a major theme of Udolpho—a theme cleverly symbolized by a bedroom door that cannot be locked from the inside (217-218). Radcliffe exposes not only the violence of men against women, but also the social system that limited women’s decision-making power over their own futures. There is no better symbol of this than the tragic character of the marchioness, forced by her father to marry a man she did not love for the sake of money, only to be poisoned by that same man when she was falsely suspected of committing adultery (606-607). In contrast, the strength of women is also highlighted in the novel, mainly through the portrayal of women as virtuous, rational human beings, as with Emily and several of the female side characters, such as the nuns and the female servants who care for Emily. Even the two villainous female characters—Laurentini di Udolpho and Madame Montoni—have conversions. Indeed, the former  exclaims: “What are riches—grandeur—health itself, to the luxury of a pure conscience, the health of the soul; and what sufferings or poverty, disappointment, despair—to the anguish of an afflicted one!” (596).

The above points to the most important theme of the novel, virtue rewarded, a common religious theme in novels of the Georgian Era. Udolpho is an important historical text, precisely because of the way it handles the subject of religion. Although the novel is set in 1584, in Catholic France and Italy, it has tale-tell signs of Eighteenth Century anti-Catholic British prejudice. Catholic devotions are frequently labeled superstitious (29-30, 84, and 194), and the regulated life of monks and nuns is condemned by one character as pretentious and stifling to real prayer (436, 439). There are also interesting touches of Rationalism’s emphasis on self-control (7, 539, 596), typical of the Anglicanism of Radcliffe’s time, and Romanticism’s emphasis on the power of nature to help the human person experience transcendence (8, 224, 436), a combination which reminds one of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park.

Some of the less brilliant elements to the novel include the interspersion of poetry throughout the story, the interruption of the central plot by subplots, and the flatness of the characters, even the heroine. The mixing of poetry with prose in Udolpho is distracting, especially since the quality of it is not as high as that of the prose. The subplots, while tied in with the main plot eventually, are rather fantastic in subject and action. That said, they help sustain the agonizing pace that Radcliffe establishes from the beginning. These stories are designed to tantalize the reader’s imagination and keep the pages turning, which they do quite well, but they nevertheless seem to derail the main storyline. As for flatness in characters, that may be allowed for minor characters, but when the entire cast is flat, there is a problem. Even Emily, with all her tears, sighs, fainting spells, and prayers, lacks depth and development—though she is not without her moments of triumph, particularly in the wonderfully written scene in which she defends herself against Montoni when the latter attempts to bully her into a marriage with an Italian nobleman she despises (183-191).

At times, Udolpho is grossly melodramatic and sentimental, overly and simplistically pious; but despite these limitations and failings, Radcliffe’s novel is a wonderfully entertaining story, vividly described, with a roller-coaster plot that keeps the reader on the edge—a mix of the real and the imagined, with characters you love to hate, and others you would hate to see lose—all of which makes Radcliffe the rightful mother of a genre of literature that encompasses works ranging from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.  And lest we forget, Udolpho is also an interesting piece of Christian art, designed, like a parable, to teach its readers a simple biblical premise: “though the vicious can sometimes pour affliction upon the good, their power is transient and their punishment certain…innocence, though oppressed by injustice, shall, supported by patience, finally triumph over misfortune!” (620).

[1] Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2004.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance, by Ann Radcliffe
Oxford University Press, USA (2008)
Trade paperback (736) pages
ISBN: 978-0199537419

Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win a copy of Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance, by Ann Radcliffe by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about this Gothic novel, or why you would take Henry Tilney’s excellent advice (or Br. Paul’s) and read it. Deadline to comment is midnight PT, Wednesday, August 17th, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, August 18th, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Br. Paul Byrd, OP is a solemnly professed friar of the Dominican Order of Preachers. Originally from Covington, KY, he earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Thomas More College and his master’s degree in theology from Aquinas Institute of Theology. In the fall of 2011, he will begin classes in the masters of writing and publishing program at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.  He is the author of the Dominican Cooperator Blog

© 2007 – 2011 Br. Paul Byrd, Austenprose

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Net: Issue No 10

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.” Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

April 19-25, 2010

Hot News of the Week:

Austenesque author Laurie Viera Rigler’s addiction to Jane Austen has inspired two best selling books: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. Now she can add an original comedy web series on Babelgum.com to her Janeite accolades. Read all about  Sex and the Austen Girl on her blog and tune in next month for the first episode! Congrats Laurie. Brava!

Noteworthy:

Brooding Brontës replace Jane Austen as the bonnet drama remakes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights return to the BBC and Film4 in the UK next season. Jane considered too tame and the Brontës are right for the times!

Interview of Austenesque author Amanda Grange (Mr. Darcy’s Diary, et all) at Dark Angel Review & Writing Blog about her experience getting published for the first time.

The Republic of Pemberley continues its group read of Pride and Prejudice through May 23rd, 2010

Great deal on bargain priced editions of Amanda Grange’s Austen Heroes Series at Amazon.co.uk & Amazon.com

Get local with Jane — news from AustenBlog on local Austen events

Julie at Austenonly discusses the new quilt exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and ties in Jane Austen and her famous quilt that reside at Chawton Cottage.

Interview of Skylar Hamilton Burris, Austenesque author of Conviction at Austenesque Reviews

Jane Austen’s World discusses activitist Caroline Norton and a Woman’s Legal Rights in the 19th-century

JASNA members watch for the spring issue of JASNA News in your mailbox this week. News on the Annual General Meeting in Portland in October, a great book review by Diana Birchall of The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet and part three of Jane Goes Digital by Mags of AustenBlog

Entertainment:

Just for fun: video mashup of Iron Man vs. Bridget Jones!

Inside news on the new indie movie Pride and Prejudice (2010) currently being filmed in Colorado at Pride and Prejudice 2005 Blog

Anil Kapoor’s Aisha the new Bollywood modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma starring his daughter Sonam Kapoor in the title role is set for an August 6th, 2010 release in India

Announcements:

Preview of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine’s May/June 2010 issue

Austenesque author Beth Pattillo’s new book The Dashwood Sisters Tell All: A Novel with Sense and Sensibility

GirleBooks announces a new print edition of The Sylph, by Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire with foreword by Heather Carrol of  The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Gude to the 18th-century. Join the group read of The Sylph that begins on May 1st.

The paperback edition of Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler goes on sale on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 just in time for summer beach reading.

The restored & remastered DVD edition of Pride and Prejudice 1995 goes on sale on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010. Huzzah! Now we can see the dripping Darcy emerging from the pond with more clarity and finer detail then every before!

Check out the new cover of Bespelling Jane Austen a new Austen inspired paranormal novel featuring four novellas from authors Mary Balogh, Janet Mullany, Susan Krinard, and Colleen Gleason. Very classy!

Book/Movie Reviews:

Until next week, happy Jane sighting

Laurel Ann

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Net: Issue No 9

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.” Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

April 12th – 18th, 2010

Hot News of the Week:

New author Jenni James of Northanger Alibi, a modern retelling of Northanger Abbey influenced by Twilight, lands the Austenesque book publicity coup of the decade! Wow. This might be a first for Austen on TV.

Noteworthy:

Author and Janeite Catherine Delors features Jane Austen’s juvenilia The History of England and directs us to the original manuscript viewable online at The British Museum website.

The beautiful new hardback editions of Penguin Classics are featured in a Elle Decor article including Jane Austen’s Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Interview of Monica Fairview, author of The Darcy Cousins at Austenprose. Swag contest ends 23 April 2010.

Author Jane Odiwe of Austen Sequels Blog features a preview of the new debut novel First Impressions, by Alexa Adams.

Regency Mourning Fashions in England by Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World is featured in the Suite 101.com online repository of insightful writers and informed readers.

Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe’s favorite Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho that they read together in Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey is highlighted on Jane Greensmith’s blog Reading, Writing, Playing in a great post on The Gothic Novel.

Shameless self promotion here, but Maria Grazia has interviewed moi for her lovely blog Fly High. Leave a comment and enter a chance to win your choice of selected Austenesque books. Ends 25 April, 2010.

Another interview of note is of Vera Nazarian, author of Mansfield Park and Mummies at Jane Austen’s World.

Vote for your favorite Pride and Prejudice book cover from my top ten favorites. As of today, there is a dead tie between White’s Publishings lovely new release showing a graphic rep of Regency dancers from the waist down and the classic cover design by Hugh Thomson for the 1894 peacock edition of P&P.

Deb at Jane Austen in Vermont blog posts info on Soethby’s The English Country House auction results. Oh my. Beautiful Regency-era items, but the prices Lousia!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane invented baseball since she mentioned it in her novel Northanger Abbey. Doubtful? Read further proof in the third installment of posts by Mags at AustenBlog.

Entertainment:

British actor Elliot Cowan (Mr. Darcy in Lost in Austen 2009) opens in The Scottish Play in London next week. Read about the lore and superstition behind the Shakespeare play that we dare not mention.

The Jane Austen Story opened at Winchester Cathedral on 10 April, 2010. Read more about this new exhibit spotlighting Jane Austen’s burial place and life in Hampshire that will run until 20 September 2010.

The Los Angeles Times Book Festival has always been a lively affair and this year one of the guest speakers is author/editor Susannah Carson of the Austen anthology A Truth Universally Acknowledged that we reviewed and enjoyed. Jane Austen Today has a featured article on the the LA  festival which makes me homesick for outdoor book fairs that I frequented while I lived in California. *sigh*

New Austenesque Book Announcements:

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly — 16 Sep 2010

Book Reviews:

Until next week, happy Jane sighting.

Laurel Ann

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Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Gothically Inspired: Day 19 Giveaway

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days – my hair standing on end the whole time.” Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14 

Even though Northanger Abbey has often been touted as the least popular of Jane Austen’s six major novels in readership and sales, I have long adored it for its burlesque humor and charming characterization of hero Henry Tilney. It has always been a puzzle to me why others did not bond with it, and felt it has never gotten a fair shake. The fact that the 1986 movie adaptation of it was really odd and not a true representation of the story or characters did not help matters either. So when PBS premiered the new Andrew Davies adaptation of Northanger Abbey (2007) last January on Masterpiece Classic, I was thrilled with the possibility that it could generate a new audience for my dark horse. 

When it aired, the reception was mixed by the public and critics. I was enchanted even though it was much too short at 90 minutes and unfortunately, much had been cut out of the story. On the positive side, it was energetic and great fun and Austen’s intensions were treated much more reverently than the previous effort in 1986, so it was step in the right direction. 

One of the benefits to being a bookseller is that I see the immediate impact on the public from television and movies as viewers seek out novelizations or related books. One weekend shortly after the PBS airing of Northanger Abbey, I had an interesting encounter with a new fan as I assisted a retirement aged woman in locating a long list of titles on an assortment of subjects, none of which was Austen or Austen inspired. Her husband joined us after a few minutes with a joyous look on his face, obviously pleased that he located the title that he had wanted to purchase. “I found it” (he holds up the cover and shows it to his wife who looks surprised but annoyed). “Oh what is it now?” she bellowed. (she had selected about six books to his one) “The Mysteries of Udolpho! They had it featured as a staff rec.” He exclaimed. (I am a silent smiling observer of their husband wife acerbic discourse, and then the wife turns to me) “My husband just loved that Jane Austen movie on television, and now he wants to know why that young girl was hooked on that book.” (She points at the book cover. He smirks at her and says coldly) “Her name was Catherine Morland dear.” 

Ok, that made my day! 

Even after ten months, this story makes me smile. In a way that some objected to, the new Northanger Abbey movie did reach people in a positive way inspiring them to read Austen’s gentle parody and the Gothic fiction mentioned in the novel such as The Mysteries of Udolpho and the other ‘horrid novels’ listed in the Northanger Canon. One of my customers even quoted Henry Tilney’s great line about “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Talk about Gothically inspired! Now that gentle readers, made my entire year!

Further reading

  • Read my review of Northanger Abbey (2007)
  • Read a review of Northanger Abbey (2007) at Jane Austen’s World
  • Read about the Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey
  • Purchase The Mysteries of Udolpho

 

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 19 Giveaway

 

Penguin Classics – The Mysteries of Udolpho (2001) 

By Ann Radcliffe introduction by Jacqueline Howard 

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of the Penguin Classics – The Mysteries of Udolpho

(US residents only) 

Upcoming event posts

Day 20 – Oct 30          Group Read NA Chapters 29-31

Day 21 – Oct 31          Go Gothic Wrap-up

The Sunday Salon: Preview of Oxford World’s Classics: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe: Day 16 Giveaway

Her present life appeared like the dream of a distempered imagination, or like one of those frightful fictions, in which the wild genius of the poets sometimes delighted. Reflection brought only regret, and anticipation terror. How often did she wish to “steal the lark’s wing, and mount the swiftest gale,” that Languedoc and repose might once more be hers! The Mysteries of Udolpho, Chapter 22

Welcome to The Sunday Salon as we discover new books and offer a review or two. Today as we continue to explore Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, I thought it quite timely of Oxford University Press to redesign and release their 1998 edition of Ann Radcliffe’s, The Mysteries of Udolpho during the Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey event here at Austenprose. Readers will kindly recall that it is one of the Gothic novels that character Isabella Thorpe recommends to her new impressionable friend, and our heroine in the making, Catherine Morland. After she quickly devours the book it ‘Gothicizes’ her view of the world, coloring her perception of real-life experiences. Having not read Udolpho myself, I am more than a bit curious about what it contains and have moved it to the top of my book queue on my nightstand. Here is an overview from the publisher’s description. 

A best-seller in its day and a potent influence on Austen, Sade, Poe, and other purveyors of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Gothic horror, The Mysteries of Udolpho remains one of the most important works in the history of European fiction. After Emily St. Aubuert is imprisoned by her evil guardian, Count Montoni, in his gloomy medieval fortress in the Appenines, terror becomes the order of the day. With its dream-like plot and hallucinatory rendering of its characters’ psychological states, The Mysteries of Udolpho is a fascinating challenge to contemporary readers. 

First published in 4 volumes by G. G. and J. Robinson of London in 1794, Mrs. Radcliffe was paid the handsome sum of £500 for her manuscript which would be worth approximately £28,015.00 today or about $44,580.06 in US funds. This amount is impressive, even for a modern day author. I dare say that Jane Austen would have been happy with that sum for her novel Northanger Abbey instead of the £10 that she originally received from Crosby & Co in 1803, only to see it languish on their shelves unpublished for six years before she bought it back. Happily, this novel did not experience such a winding publication history, was an immediate best seller, and has never been out of print. This edition includes an interesting and enjoyable introduction and explanatory notes by Terry Castle, an 18th-century literature authority and Professor of English Literature at Stanford University, textural notes, a select bibliography, and a chronology of Ann Radcliffe. Here is an excerpt from Prof. Castle’s introduction to entice you. 

Perhaps no work in the history of English fiction has been more often caricatured – trivialized, misread, remade as hearsay – than Ann Radcliffe’s late eighteenth-century Gothic classic The Mysteries of Udolpho. Some readers, indeed, will know Radcliffe’s novel only as hearsay: as that delightfully ‘horrid’ book – full of castles and crypts and murdered wives – pressed upon Catherine Morland, the gullible young heroine of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817), by her Bath friend Isabella Thorpe. After consuming the book in a great reading binge, the impressionable Catherine begins to see the everyday world around her as a kind of Gothic stage-set against which friends and acquaintances metamorphose – absurdly – into outsized Radcliffean villains and victims. The results are amusing: Northanger Abbey remains one of the great spoofs on reading-as-hallucination. But Udolpho itself is mere pretext – the intertextural cliché, or thing already known, upon which Austen builds her chic comedy of misapprehension.  Prof. Terry Castle (vii)

Mayhap Ms. Castle neglected to remember some of Mr. Shakespeare’s works before she crowned Udolpho the most caricatured, trivialized or remade in the history of English literature — but I will overlook the slight! Udolpho is a significant literary achievement, remarkably innovative for its time and profoundly influential even today. It takes a “stout heart” and “nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry” to tackle its 693 pages, and I plan to work away at it as I can over the next few months. I hope to be totally Gothicized!

Further reading

  • Read about The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • Read about authoress Ann Ward Radcliffe
  • Read about the ‘Northanger Canon’ at Jane Austen in Vermont
  • Read about the ‘Horrid’ novels in Northanger Abbey by James Jenkins
  • Read about the Long Publishing History of Northanger Abbey at Jane Austen’s World
  • Check out this biography on Ann Radcliffe, The Mistress of Udolpho, by Rictor Norton

 

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 16 Giveaway

Oxford Word’s Classics edition of The Mysteries of Udolpho (2008)

By Ann Radcliffe 

Oxford University Press (2008). The new re-designed edition includes a full unabridged text of The Mysteries of Udolpho, an introduction by Terry Castle and loads of great supplemental material. A nice compact medium sized edition with textural notes, biography and chronology on the author, and explanatory notes 

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of The Mysteries of Udolpho (2008), by Ann Radcliffe

 (US residents only) 

Upcoming event posts
Day 17 – Oct 27          Guest Blog – Gothic Classics Volume 14
Day 18 – Oct 28          Group Read NA Chapters 25-28
Day 19 – Oct 29          NA & MU Resources
Day 20 – Oct 30          Group Read NA Chapters 29-31

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Guest Blogger James Jenkins of Valancourt Books Chats About Horrid Novels: Day 12 Giveaway

Please join us today as James Jenkins, Gothic fiction authority and publisher of Valancourt Books chats with us today about the Gothic novels that influenced Jane Austen to write her novel Northanger Abbey, and the seven “horrid novels” recommended by her character Isabella Thorpe to our young heroine in the making Catherine Morland. 

” ‘Valancourt? and who was he?’ cry the young people. Valancourt, my dears, was the hero of one of the most famous romances which ever was published in this country. The beauty and elegance of Valancourt made your young grandmammas’ gentle hearts to beat with respectful sympathy. He and his glory have passed away. Ah, woe is me that the glory of novels should ever decay… Inquire at Mudie’s, or the London Library, who asks for ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ now? Have not even ‘The Mysteries of Paris’ ceased to frighten? Alas! our best novels are but for a season…” – William Makepeace Thackeray 

“Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”

“Have you, indeed! How glad I am! – What are they all?”

“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”

“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”

“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them.” – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey 

As can be seen from the two quotes above, from two of the greatest novelists in English, the Gothic genre was tremendously popular and influential in late 18th and early 19th century England.  I am grateful to Laurel Ann for the opportunity to contribute to her blog my thoughts on the Gothic genre, its popularity in Austen’s time, and its continued relevance today.  And, of course, since this is primarily a blog about Jane Austen, I will give a brief introduction to the “horrid novels” mentioned in Northanger Abbey

Brief Overview of the Gothic in Austen’s Era 

The Gothic novel was hugely popular in Jane Austen’s time.  Although it has its roots in Shakespearean plays like Hamlet and Macbeth as well as earlier sources, the Gothic novel really began with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764).  In Otranto, the tyrant Prince Manfred is anxious to continue his family’s rule of Otranto, but his plans are strangely thwarted when his son is inexplicably found crushed to death beneath a giant black helmet.  Left with no son to continue his line, Manfred engages in a series of black deeds, attempting to divorce his wife and rape his son’s fiancée, but is ultimately defeated by a curse, with the principality going to its true owner, the peasant Theodore. 

But although Otranto was extremely popular (and remains so – it has rarely, if ever, been out of print), it did not of itself touch off the explosion of Gothic literature.  It was not till The Old English Baron (1778) appeared and gained popularity that the Gothic became a viable genre.  And some years later, the greatest exponent of Gothic fiction, Ann Radcliffe, made her debut in 1789 with The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, and went on in the 1790s to pen the runaway bestsellers The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, which Austen refers to in Northanger Abbey.  Radcliffe’s popularity and influence cannot be overstated.  The extent of her readership can perhaps be best compared to that of another female Gothic author who came almost exactly two centuries later, J. K. Rowling.  As Radcliffe’s novels flew off the shelves, a number of other writers imitated her methods and wrote hundreds of Gothic novels, most of them derivative, but some, like M. G. Lewis’s The Monk (1796), showing remarkable talent and imagination.  The Gothic continued to be the dominant genre in popular fiction through the first two decades of the 19th century, gradually petering out around the time Austen’s Northanger Abbey was finally published in 1818.  Most scholars consider Charles Robert Maturin’s extravagant masterpiece Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) to mark the end of the Gothic genre, although in reality the Gothic did not die: it merely adapted into new genres-penny dreadfuls like Varney the Vampyre (1847) and the later Victorian sensation and detective novels by authors like Le Fanu, Wilkie Collins, and Richard Marsh. 

“Valancourt” and Valancourt Books 

What is strange, though, is that despite the incredible popularity of Gothic novels in their own day and the resurgence of scholarly interest in the Gothic in the late 20th century, the vast majority of these works remained out of print and accessible only on microfiche or in a few rare book collections.  Fans and students of the Gothic novel could obtain Radcliffe’s works and a small handful of other Gothics in editions from Oxford University Press or Penguin, but after reading these few texts, it was impossible to find others.  It is for this reason that I founded Valancourt Books: to restore access to these wonderful books at affordable prices.  The press is named after Valancourt, the hero of Radcliffe’s Udolpho (and also the name of my cat), and is also inspired by the Thackeray quote above.  We believe that the great novels of the past still have the power to thrill and interest modern readers and should remain in print.  The press was founded in late 2004 and now has nearly 70 titles in print, including not only Gothic novels, but also rare sensation and supernatural novels from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The Northanger Abbey Horrid Novels 

Until early in the 20th century, critics assumed that Austen had invented the titles of the “horrid novels” in order to satirize similarly (and extravagantly) titled Gothic novels.  How was it possible only 80 years or so after Austen’s death that the world could have forgotten that the horrid novels had ever existed?  It has to do partly with the way in which popular fiction was created and consumed in Austen’s time.  Few people at that time could afford to purchase their own books, so most people subscribed for a small fee to a circulating library, which stocked all the current popular fiction, just as our free public libraries do today.  While today most books are published in a single volume, in Austen’s time, novels were divided up over three or four volumes (or sometimes as many as seven!).  This enabled multiple borrowers at a circulating library to be reading the same novel at the same time.  We know this is how Austen herself read the horrid novels, for she writes in her journal that, “Father is reading the Midnight Bell, which he has got from the library, and mother sitting by the fire.”  Presumably she read it after he had finished.  But unfortunately, the horrid novels, like other popular fiction of the period, were passed from hand to hand so many times and were constructed of fairly flimsy materials, such that the books were literally read to pieces and discarded. 

However, in the early 20th century, it was discovered that the horrid novels really existed, and Michael Sadleir was the first to acquire the complete set, when he finally tracked down the most elusive of the seven, Eleanor Sleath’s The Orphan of the Rhine (1798).  In the 1920s, Montague Summers attempted to republish the whole set, but only two of the novels ever appeared.  In 1968, Devendra Varma oversaw an edition of the seven novels, published by the Folio Press and now virtually unobtainable.  Valancourt Books is now in the process of republishing these seven elusive works; five have already appeared. 

Critics have differed on Austen’s purpose in selecting these seven novels for mention in Northanger Abbey.  Most critics argue that she was simply ridiculing them.  I think, though, this is a short-sighted view.  If she had merely wanted to express disdain for trashy novels, she could have picked, for example, a truly bad novel like The Animated Skeleton (1798).  In fact, the novels she chose are among the best and most interesting of the Gothic novels.  In some respect, then, we can see Austen as an early literary critic, in singling out the Gothic novels she and her father had read and enjoyed. 

Without further ado, the following are the horrid novels.  The first five are in print in scholarly editions from Valancourt Books; the final two will appear in 2009. 

Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) by Eliza Parsons 

Parsons was comparatively old when she began publishing.  She was driven to write to support her family after her husband died prematurely when his business failed.  She churned out novels and plays in great quantity, including the important early Gothic Castle of Wolfenbach.  In Wolfenbach, young Matilda Weimar’s lecherous uncle tries to rape her, so she flees and takes up residence in a haunted castle.  The castle turns out not to be haunted, after all: the supposed ghost is the Countess of Wolfenbach, shut up for eighteen years by her murderous husband.  As the novel unfolds, both women must avoid their cruel persecutors, and Matilda must uncover her own true parentage so she can marry her lover. 

Clermont (1798) by Regina Maria Roche 

Roche was an Irish novelist who was often compared-not usually favourably-with Radcliffe.  In Clermont, Madeline Clermont lives with her reclusive and mysterious father until she goes to live for a time with his old friend, the Countess de Merville.  But her happiness quickly turns to terror when ruffians attack the gentle Countess, and Madeline is assaulted in a gloomy crypt. And to make matters worse, a sinister stranger appears, threatening to reveal the bloody truth of Clermont’s past unless Madeline marries him. Can she avoid the snares of her wily pursuers, solve the mystery of her father’s past, and win the love of her dear De Sevignie? 

The Mysterious Warning (1796) by Eliza Parsons 

The good old Count Renaud is dead, and his will makes the degenerate Rhodophil his heir, disinheriting his other son Ferdinand, who has married against his father’s wishes. Rhodophil promises to share his new riches with his younger brother and his wife Claudina, but Ferdinand hears a mysterious voice from beyond the grave, warning him to flee his brother and his wife to save himself from sin and death! 

Ferdinand obeys the supernatural warning and sets out to find fortune and adventure. In the course of his quest he will encounter a recluse in a ruined castle with a horrible secret, find himself captured and imprisoned by the Turkish army, and encounter one of Gothic literature’s most depraved female characters, the monstrous Fatima. 

The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest (1794) by “Peter Teuthold” 

The Necromancer is a translation of various German stories, spliced together, and consists of a series of interconnected tales, all centering on the enigmatic figure of Volkert the Necromancer. Filled with murder, ghosts, and dark magic, and featuring a delirious and dizzying plot that almost defies comprehension, The Necromancer is one of the strangest horror novels ever written. “For magniloquent descriptions of ‘horrid’ episodes, for sheer stylistic fervour in the handling of the supernatural, the work can rank high among its contemporaries.” Michael Sadlier

 

The Midnight Bell (1798) by Francis Lathom 

Young Alphonsus Cohenburg enters his mother’s bedroom and finds her covered in blood. She tells him his uncle has murdered his father, and orders him to flee Cohenburg castle forever to save his own life! A disconsolate exile, Alphonsus wanders the earth seeking the means of survival, first as a soldier, then a miner, and finally as sacristan of a church, where he meets the beautiful Lauretta. They wed and establish a home together, and everything seems to promise them a happy future. But their domestic tranquillity is shattered, when a band of ruffians kidnaps the unfortunate Lauretta! Alphonsus must solve the mystery of Lauretta’s disappearance and the riddle of his mother’s strange conduct. And when he hears that ghosts inhabit Cohenburg castle, tolling the great bell each night at midnight, the mystery only deepens…. 

One of the most prolific authors of the time, and arguably the first queer novelist, Lathom is a fascinating figure who has been unfortunately neglected. 

Horrid Mysteries (1796) by Karl Grosse 

Perhaps the best description of this novel is that of Professor Fred Frank, who wrote, “Certainly no novel to survive from the Gothic period is stranger, darker, or more precipitously irrational than Horrid Mysteries.  Its convolutions of plot are matched by a grim potency of style as found in the memorable descriptions of Elmira’s enforced containment in a coffin during one of her three deaths.”  As Sadleir wrote, it is “a strange, wild work, dealing unashamedly in the supernatural, written with a lurid if inconsequent power…certainly it is the most defiantly fantastic of any novel of the period.” 

The Orphan of the Rhine (1798) by Eleanor Sleath 

Sleath is perhaps the most mysterious of the Northanger novelists.  Virtually nothing is known of her, except that she published five novels, all of them rather long, in addition to a children’s book called Glenowen; or, The Fairy Palace (1814), which has been called the first sustained fantasy story for children in English.  

In Orphan of the Rhine, the young orphans Laurette and Enrico set out for the Castle of Elfinbach to solve the mystery of their parentage.  Heavily influenced by Radcliffe, and consisting of a number of inset narratives, Orphan was summed up by Sadleir as “a strangely attractive absurdity, which excites a sort of sugary fascination over the reader.” 

James Jenkins

Valancourt Books 

Thanks James for a great introduction to Gothic fiction and its influence on author Jane Austen. I am looking forward to the publication next year of the last two novels in the ‘Northanger Horrid Novels’, Orphan of the Rhine and Horrid Mysteries. Readers will be interested to know that you can also purchase the other three Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey, The Italian through Valancourt books, and The Monk and The Mysteries of Udolpho published by Oxford Univeristy Press. 

Further Reading

  • Visit Valancourt Books
  • Read my post “All They All Horrid?” on the Gothic novels in Northanger Abbey
  • Read about the ‘Northanger Horrid Novels’, at Wikipedia
  • Read about The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho by Margaret (Mags) Sullivan
  • Check out The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction (2002)  

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 12 Giveaway

The Mysterious Warning

by Eliza Parsons, Valancourt Books (2007) 

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of Eliza Parson’s The Mysterious Warning, published by Valancourt Books (2007) (US residents only) 

Upcoming event posts
Day 13 – Oct 21          Group Read NA Chapters 18-21
Day 14 – Oct 22          Book Review – OWC NA
Day 15 – Oct 23          Group Read NA Chapters 22-24
Day 16 – Oct 26          Book Preview – OWC Udolpho