This little-known Gothic novel was published anonymously at Maidstone in 1846 by J.V. Hall and Son (presumably for the Christmas market). A curious mixture of the Gothic narratives of Ann Radcliffe and the ‘silver fork’ novels so popular in the 1840s, it tells the story of a persecuted heroine whose happy marriage to the handsome young heir of Beaulieu Abbey is threatened by the appearance of the terrible spectre of the Black Monk. Meanwhile, her companion and childhood friend, Cecilia Herbert, has to deal with the sufferings of her mad half-sister. Eventually, the supernatural elements of the novel are rationalised in Radcliffian fashion – but not before a sensational family secret has been revealed.
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.
This selection of tales by ‘B.’, ‘D.N.J.’ and another anonymous writer appeared in Magdalene College Magazine and the Cambridge Review between 1911 and 1920. The identity of the writers is not known, but the tales themselves are so reminiscent of the style originated by M.R. James (scholarly protagonist, haunted objects, strange old texts) that they must have been acquainted with James’s circle of friends, colleagues and admirers at Cambridge. Unknown for many years, they were reprinted in Ghosts & Scholars magazine in the 1980s and 1990s. They are now available at the Ghosts & Scholars online archive and I extend my grateful thanks to Rosemary Pardoe for permission to reprint the material here.
When the Door is Shut and other ghost stories by ‘B.’, ed. Rosemary Pardoe (Haunted Library, 1986)
The Moon-Gazer and one other, ed. Rosemary Pardoe (Haunted Library, 1988)
The main online resource page for all things related to M.R. James and his circle, it contains a fascinating array of stories, articles, bibliographies and other material. Click on the individual story links in the archive page for more information about the authorship and publication history of the stories of ‘B.’, ‘D.N.J.’ and the anonymous author of ‘An Old MS.’