of enchantments

well, there are enchanted pies and there are non enchanted pies.

This just goes to show how gothic fiction really does range from the sublime to the ridiculous:

The company assembled at the proper time, and were seated in due form and order, Lady de Morney at the head and Elwyn at the bottom of the table; when having helped most of the party, Camelford requested him to send him a slice of a large raised pie, which made a distinguished figure. Bertha cried out with a well-affected terror, “Don’t touch it; I am sure ’tis enchanted; I saw the crust move.”
“Child, (cried Lady de Morney,) what do you mean?”
“What i say madam, for indeed it was lifted up.”
“Take care what you are about, Elwyn, (said Camelford,) or by God you may cut off the head of a conjurer, who has jumped into the pie in honour of your feast.”
“Supposing we l;et De Clavering dissect him, “said De Willows;) he is undoubtedly the best hand at cutting up his own species.”
De Clavering, who suspected some joke, cautiously raised yup one side of the crust, when , to the astonishment of the party, out jumped a squirrel. Happy in having regained its liberty, it sprang across the table, and immediately made its way into Edeliza’s pocket, where it was accustomed to run for shelter. She was shocked at the danger from which her favourite had escaped…..

That is the first, and probably the last time we meet Edeliza’s “favourite” in the story.


Bungay Castle by Elizabeth Bonhote. Minerva Press 1796

Happy 250th

Happy Birthday Ann Radcliffe

No special stamps, no coins or banknotes, no BBC retrospective, no street parties (well very few)

But we’re keeping the day here – celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Queen of Gothic’s birth.

Happy birthday Ann.

Coincidence? … never

Another  example from the “let’s pretend there’s a perfectly logical solution to that amazing scene at the end of the last chapter” school.

“To avoid the too often repeated subterfuge of the romantic historian, in straining every natural incident to produce amazing revolutions and critical (not to say impossible) events, it will be necessary to trace those which brought together the two beings involved, as it were, in similar circumstances, so far, at least, as the vindictive and cruel spirits of their merciless persectutors could effect; and to do this, we must advert to the situation in which we left Gustavus, as ell as touch upon those scenes in which he had formerly borne an active part.”

and yes, that is all a single sentence!  From Swedish Mysteries by Anna Maria Mackenzie, Minerva Press, 1801.

How much more important it sounds to be a romantic historian rather than a mere novelist.

Studies in Gothic Fiction Vol 3(1)

Just discovered that the latest edition of that admirable online journal Studies in Gothic Fiction has appeared.

I must admit to having been rather quiet here in recent months, having  escaped briefly from the castle to pursue other burning interests, however the mysterious discovery of this volume has drawn me back into my rightful home.

There is no indication on the website as to when it was published, so for all I know I am presenting old news; but I find there are all of eight fascinating articles, all lovingly presented in pdf form, and find that sufficiently exciting to put before my readers.

I have, so far,  printed off Jessica Rich’s contribution on “Propriety, Property and Passion: The Emergence of the Undisciplined Woman from the Mysteries of Udolpho to Zofloya” and Christina Nation’s “A Re-examination of the Feminine in The Monk” for reading on the train tonight.

The remainder shall surely follow. They are undoubtably equally noteworthy, and the only reason I haven’t included the full contents herewith is that the website wouldn’t allow me to cut and paste the list in, and I’m just way too busy/lazy to sit here typing them all into this post.

My only gripe is that there is no biographical information provided concerning the authors, nor anything to indicate their particualr experience or expertise. I assume google shall have to come to the rescue here, though its a shame to have to resort to such means.

Link to the website here.

In the same vain, after an even longer absence than myself, RAVON – Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net has also burst forth with a new edition!

Another link

That is, for now, the end of the news. All you need to know about the weather is that it is raining presently.

Oh! Blood, blood, blood!

Just taking a sneaky peek at another of Mrs Smith’s books – the Caledonian Bandit

In a short, breathless opening chapter, that reads much like one of the more exciting episodes of Hollyoaks, she has managed to kill off, mainly to untimely deaths, five characters, whilst allowing a sixth to survive a near drowning.

We have lost Alexander, the favourite son of Lord Duncaethal. In love with and beloved by the mysterious, beautiful orphan Agnes, though unwillingly betrothed to the haughty heiress of Cathlode, he dies in battle.

Lord Duncaethal hardly outlives him, falling ill through the upset and succumbing soon after.

Not long after, the mysterious, beautiful orphan Agnes herself falls from her horse and doesn’t recover.

The first born son of Alexander’s twin sister Mabel and her husband Lord Bosmara dies suddenly at the age of six months

He is followed shortly afterwards by Mabel, dying in childbirth as she brings Matilda into the world.

It is Matilda, fifteen years later who is plucked from almost certain death in a raging torrent by Donald, another mysterious orphan brought up by peasants in the forest. 

The next chapter carries the heading “Oh! Blood Blood Blood” . Enthralling stuff! I wonder if anyone will be left by the time we reach Volume 2.

Catherine Smith (1811) The Caledonian Bandit, or The Heir of Duncaethal – A Romance of the Thirteenth Century.. Minerva Press.

A little more on names

It is one of those truisms, and one I apologise that I have often repeated, that to be a real heroine one must have a name that ends in the letter “a”. We all remember how Cherry in Mr Barrett’s novel “The Heroine” did not find her true vocation until she changed her name to Cherubina.

So I have a little problem here. I am presently entranced by Mrs Smith’s “The Venetian Sorceress” and true to form the beautiful, yet mysterious, heroine carries the name Rosalina. However, and here I struggle, the hero – or would be hero – is unfortunate enough to be named Rosalva. Even now, and I am at the start of the second volume, each time I read that name I think briefly to myself  “Rosalva, who’s she?” until I realise it is he.

When Rosalina begins to fall in  love with him, as I’m sure she must, this name issue really might become a problem. Are we going to experience shades of The Importance of Being Earnest here, I so hope not. But seriously Mrs Smith, and no – it isn’t that Mrs Smith, naming is important and you really must try harder next time. 

Still, i can forgive her a little, as the train reached my stop this morning I was just reading the following paragraph

On reaching the building, he was greatly surprised at not finding it, as he expected, the humble dwelling of the forest labourer, but the dilapidated remains of an ancient structure resembling a religious house or castle. He was astonished for he never knew that the wood contained such a place; and from the sombre appearance it exhibited, thought it might be the retreat of ruffians. the taper, that still shed its faint beams from a Gothic window over the broken portico served the purpose of shewing the entrance to this desolated ruin, and giving it a still more gloomy look.

The time for my journey home can’t come soon enough!

Catherine Smith (1815) Barozzi, or the Venetian Sorceress. A Romance of the Sixteenth Century.  Minerva Press.

Just too cheap and easy?

I’ve just noticed that Amazon are selling a single Kindle download of five of Mrs Radcliffe’s novels for just £1.28!

That’s right, you get

  • The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne
  • Romance of the Forest
  • A Sicilian Romance
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho and
  • The Italian

That’s everything excepting good old Gaston de Blondeville for less that the price of a cup of tea.

Whilst obviously good value, I feel just a little despair that anyone can contemplate giving these great novels away for practically nothing. I remember when I first read Radcliffe that some of these were actually unobtainable, anywhere, not even for ready money. Actually finding reading copies was almost half the adventure. We have to be thankful that publishing has moved on and brought these novels back to life. The specialist publishers (and even the print on demand people, although I quite loathe them really)  have done magnificent work in the last ten years digging up these lost novels, re-editing and republishing them.

So how does this virtually giving away Radcliffe help? Will it spread the demand so that the market for Gothic spreads and the niche publishers specialising in reprints of One Handed Monks, Castle Spectres and Haunted Forests too will see a growth in demand and trade?

Sadly I very much doubt it, once again I’m sure Amazon are seeing the price of everything and the value of nothing. I’m sure Mrs R would be  turning a little in her grave at the thought of her works reduced to a £1 download, if anyone deserves to hear the rattling of chains through the corridors at night then surely it is the people who put this little package together.

Latest crits

This a brief review of Isabella Kelly’s new four volume novel “The Secret”, from The Monthly Review of October 1806

Those who delight in useless mysteries and unnecessary horrors may perhaps be gratified by reading these volumes: but, in our judgment, the contemplation of such stories is attended with worse consequences than the mere waste of time. It tends to produce a sickly and irritable state of mind, gives a temporary shock even to intellects that are sound and healthy, but enervates and permanently diseases those which are weak.

I seem to remember being told that television or video games produced a similar effect. There’s always some one around to spoil one’s enjoyment.



Reviewing made simple

Currently set to play on my lovely little kindle is Matthew (Monk) Lewis’s The Bravo of Venice.

Here is a (very) brief review from Flowers of Literature in 1806

“This is a romance which Mr. Lewis states to have been translated by him from the German. It is quite in Mr. L.’s style, has been dramatised under the title of Rugantino, and the edition before us is the fifth; so that anything we could say about it would be superfluous, neither be supposed to enhance or depreciate it in the public opinion.”

Now, even I could write reviews like that, I wonder if it paid well.


Selling Out

This really is absolutely my last post on the subject of Kindles. The topic is so old hat by now and I realise  it’s like discussing whether it’s safe for trains to exceed 25 miles an hour, or whether having a television set is liable to lead me down the slippery slope to eternal damnation.

 So after all the usual declarations that you’d never catch me alive with one of those instruments of Satan in my hands, I am forced to declare that I have finally sold out. There it sits now on my desk, snug it its little blue leatherette case.

 Through the powers of google, and by finding the magic powers to translate pdfs into documents with some outlandish new file extension, I find I can now slip all four volumes of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Lives of the British Saints into my bag – all at the same time. So maybe they don’t have those luxurious green leather bindings with the titles in gold lettering, but they are still a treasure that no one should need to travel without.

 Though selling out is really the key. At the end of it all, it was economics that forced me to take this drastic step.

 Item    Mrs Carver – The Horrors of Oakendale Abbey  print edition £29.95, kindle £5.50

Item    Francis Lathom – Astonishment!                       print £29.99, kindle £5.50

Item    Eleanor Sleath – Pyranean Banditti                  print £34.99 Kindle £4.50

Item   Matthew Lewis – The Bravo of Venice                print £14.40, Kindle – Free

&c &c.

Much as I may have preferred the weight of the paper volumes in my hands, turning the pages one by one as I think of the horrors inside; rather than, as I still do, regularly skipping randomly through the novel as i casually and inadvertently press too hard on the wrong part of the screen. Much as I would love to see these volumes shining forth from my bookshelves as I climb the stairs, it is economics, pure and simple, that have driven me to this state. The damned thing has already paid for itself, and , if I hope to pursue more heroines through their dark and perilous adventures then I never had any real alternative.

So yes, it’s time to get over myself and embrace the technology. These devices are here, if not to stay, at least to pave the way for future technologies to infiltrate their way into our reading habits. I am already eagerly anticipating the day when I can buy a machine that projects the pages onto a pair of spectacles so that I can continue reading as I walk through the town, becoming as socially and spatially unaware of my surroundings as all those who currently find it impossible to move outside without having music piped into their ears.