At last, the first lady of the Gothic makes a long-overdue debut on the blog. The last of her novels to be published in Ann Radcliffe’s lifetime, The Italian: or the Confessional of the Black Penitents was written in response to Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796). Whereas Lewis’s novel employed a panoply of demons, ghosts and gore that bordered on camp, Radcliffe’s more subtle account of the machinations of the evil Father Schedoni puts into practice her preference for terror (the sublime stimulation of the nervousness or anxiety that foreshadows horrific events) over horror (the abject revulsion that inevitably greets the horrific reality of catastrophes and abominations directly observed). Presented in the form of an assassin’s confession, the resultant psychological drama is amongst the best the genre (and Radcliffe) has to offer.
Here are two vampire stories from the early nineteenth century. Fans of horror fiction will not need to be told about the famous ghost story contest between the giants of Romantic literature that gave rise to Polidori’s tale (just in case they do, however, Polidori’s own ‘Introduction’ provides this!)
Polidori was secretary to Lord Byron, whose unfinished ‘fragment’ of a vampire story is said to have been the inspiration for Polidori’s more famous attempt. Both tales were first published in 1819.
The Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) is a Gothic novel in the Ann Radcliffe mould. Written by Eliza Parsons (1739-1811) for the Minerva Press, it has since become notorious as one of the ‘horrid novels’ discussed by the protagonists of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818). However, recent critical work on the ‘Northanger novels’ has not only rescued them from obscurity, but also revealed them to be historically important works in their own right.
Parsons wrote to support her family after the death of her husband, and found a ready market in the customers of William Lane’s circulating library. Lane’s Minerva Press provided the library’s subscribers with a steady flow of thrilling Gothic fictions to fulfil their appetite for tales involving imperilled young ladies, haunted castles and mysterious pasts – not to mention playing to anti-French, anti-Catholic sentiments and a terror of social subversion, which was sweeping through Britain in the wake of the French revolution.
The text used as the basis for this e-book is from the Celebration of Women Writers project. My thanks to Mary Mark Ockerbloom for allowing me to use her HTML edition.
The Castle of Wolfenbach, edited and introduced by Diane Long Hoeveler (Valancourt Books, 2006)
This is a compendium of late-eighteenth-century Gothic ballads, published in 1887 and comprising the contents of two collections: the anonymous Tales of Terror (1801) and M.G. Lewis’s collection, Tales of Wonder (1800). The style and subject matter of the poems will be familiar to all readers of Gothic literature from this period, being full of maidens in distress, brave knights, medieval trappings, ecclesiastical ruins and an array of ghosts, demons, goblins and sprites. Some of the pieces are not for the faint-of-heart – the word ‘gore’ appears twenty times across the two collections! Indeed, Lewis’s writing approaches knowing self-parody at times and his approach is often as blackly comic as it is horribly gruesome. There is more than a hint of this in the image above – James Gillray’s cartoon “Tales of wonder!” (1802) – which lampoons the presumed reading public to which Lewis (pictured below) catered. For an insightful analysis of the cartoon, see the first chapter of E.J. Clery’s The Rise of Supernatural Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 1995). The illustration at the bottom of the post depicts a scene from Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Glenfinlas’, which Lewis included in Tales of Wonder.
Textually, these volumes have proved notoriously problematic for scholars. Henry Morely, who edited this compilation for his ‘Universal Library’ series provides an introduction which, while charming in its biographical details, is entirely spurious in its description of the tales’ bibliographical history. I have used Morley’s texts, which are by far the most conveniently available in the public domain, but have corrected the dates of the individual collections. For a useful discussion of the tales and their publishing history, see Douglass H. Thomson’s annotated edition of Sir Walter Scott’s related Apology for Tales of Terror (1799), with which the anonymous Tales of Terror (1801) is often confused, as well as Thomson’s essay on the tales, ‘Mingled Measures: Gothic Parody in Tales of Wonder and Tales of Terror‘.
Lewis, M.G., Tales of Wonder, edited by Douglass H. Thomson (Broadview Press, 2009)
If anyone knows of a critical edition of Tales of Terror, I would love to hear from you, so that I can add the details to this post – see the contact form at the top of the blog.