Jane Harvey’s The Castle of Tynemouth was first published in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1806, with a second edition in 1830.It followed two previous “Castle” novels, Minerva Castle and Warkfield Castle, both dated 1802, and amongst her later works was Brougham Castle (1816), all rooted firmly in the Gothic tradition.
Harvey was born in 1776 in North East England; she was baptized in Gateshead and was interested in the culture and history of the region. The Harveys ran a circulating library in Tynemouth. She seems to have been concerned with women’s issues and worker’s rights. Her first published work, a Sentimental Tour of that city, appeared as by “A Young Lady” (1794). Harvey wrote in many different genres over the course of her literary career, including poetry and children’s literature in the form of verse and tales.
The Castle of Tynemouth opens, unusually, with a chapter on the history of the region lifted directly from Brand’s History of Newcastle and Hutchinson’s View of Northumberland, both credited in the author’s introduction. The intention appears to be to furnish the proceeding narrative with the pretence of a genuine historical setting. The novel is actually set in 1492. The action begins in Northumberland, and moves briefly to France as the central characters are militarily involved in the siege of Boulogne, before returning to Tynemouth for the dramatic finale.
The story itself opens in true Female Gothic style, motherless Rosetta, brought up by her father in the relative seclusion of Wooler Park in North Northumberland for sixteen years, moves into society when her father is appointed the governor of Tynemouth Castle. She and her brother are forced to leave the rural tranquillity of their childhood and face the world at a military garrison actively preparing for action in Henry VIIs actions against France, directly mirroring England’s war with Napoleon’s France at the time of the novel’s publication. In contrast to many Gothic novels, although Rosetta is motherless, she is fully aware and comfortable in her position in society, and in many ways the heroine’s journey is not a traditional Female Gothic search for identity.
The first volume sets up a number of love interests and triangles. The traditional mechanisms of Gothic are introduced, as we encounter the castle and abbey, mysterious priests, underground tunnels, strange appearances and disappearances. The storm at sea, which threatens to kill off virtually the entire cast in the fourth chapter may be dramatic but adds nothing to the plot. Even contemporary critics highlighted the lack of depth in the development of the main characters, and they remain rigidly two dimensional despite the many traumas to which they are subjected. The most developed is probably Mrs Creswell, the Earl’s superstitious housekeeper, who maintains the necessary references to ghosts and strange legends at every opportunity. Miss Harvey is, however, of the Radcliffe school of explained supernatural, and every ghost that Mrs Creswell, and others, have chance to discover is eventually explained in the breathless final chapters.
There is a curious counterpoint between the commonplace and the exotic. Many of the Gothic novels of the 1790s were set in continental Europe, the exotic settings, which most readers would never have seen allowed the writers’ descriptive imaginations free reign, and also allowed the introduction of glamorous foreign characters, both good and bad. The setting of The Castle of Tynemouth is much more familiar, and Harvey tries to inject local colour into the narrative by referring to places and landmarks that would be well known to her readers. As such the novel tries to be more of a true historical account than an exotic romance. Despite this, Harvey feels it necessary, perhaps as a duty to her readers to introduce the exotic, and by moving temporarily to Paris, she allows French and Italian Marquises to enter the plot. The Count’s new Italian bride permits a little continental mystery and intrigue which would have been difficult to match if he had travelled to York or Edinburgh in search of a new wife.
The second volume revolves around the new Countess of Wooler, an Italian widow whom the Earl meets and rapidly marries in Paris. This section is very much rooted in fairy story rather than Gothic, with the new Countess playing the wicked stepmother to Rosetta’s Snow White and Rapunzel. The Grimm’s brothers family friendly versions of these stories were published shortly after Castle of Tynemouth, but much racier and violent versions of these popular stories were commonplace throughout the 17th and 18th century, and printed versions were freely available from the mid 18th century. We can almost imagine the new countess doing her “mirror mirror on the wall” speech as she arrives in Tynemouth to find herself upstaged by her beautiful young new daughter-in-law. The countess very quickly acts to try to remove Rosetta from the castle, but when attempts to marry her off to a very unsuitable match fail, Rosetta finds herself imprisoned in a tall tower, from which she is eventually able to escape by means of a rope ladder tied to two chairs.
The Castle of Tynemouth ends, in true Gothic style with a breathless ending chapter which tries to tie up all the loose ends, explain the back stories of several minor characters, to explain the supposedly supernatural events and to ensure that everyone is in a position to marry their appropriate partner. A prime example is the treatment of Orpheline, the love interest of Rosetta’s brother Ida. Throughout the volume she is cast as an orphan, adopted as a travelling companion by Madame de Montandre. Clearly, with her unknown background, Ida is unable to contemplate marrying her, but when we learn at the close that she is in fat the daughter of Father Vincent, who turns out to be the Marquis of Morzonico, the whole question of proposal and marriage is suddenly opened up and soon concluded. The story of Orpheline, compressed into three paragraphs, could in itself be written as a complete novel.
In short, The Castle of Tynemouth is a typical provincial novel of its time. It was printed and circulated in Newcastle and probably rarely strayed far from the region. It provided a story containing the full range of Gothic tools to be deployed and presented as a piece of local history. It is driven along by a succession of remarkable coincidences and dramatic events, at the end of which we really don’t know much more about the leading characters than we did at the outset. Apparently Harvey’s character development improved in her later works. Still, by the fact that it was reprinted 24 years later should indicate that, at least in the north east, it gained a respectable level of popularity.
Finally, on a historical note, the 1830 edition includes a list of subscribers to the edition. Of the 120 listed it is perhaps surprising to note that they are split precisely equally between male and female. As since the late 18th century it had been perfectly respectable for women to subscribe to libraries and books in their own right, we must assume that the men were subscribing for their own purposes. Maybe it was out of an interest in local history, and several of the names have military ranks attached, or maybe it gives the lie to the notion that only women read the romances.