, ,

“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 pocketbook. 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.

(Northanger Abbey)

With such a recommendation by Miss Austen, you may be sure that these are the books that will be flying off the library shelves this winter, these are the books that every would be heroine will want to have by her fireside.

The Gothic Heroine has read them all for you, and here brings you the low down  and, just like they do in the magazines, gives each of them stars. Which will you choose for Christmas?

Castle of Wolfenbach – A German Story (two Volumes), by Mrs Parsons. Minerva-press 1793
Mrs Parsons sets out her horrid intentions from the very first chapter, in which the heroine is immediately plunged into a haunted castle, she will encounter rattling chains and rumours of a mysterious, deserted  suite of rooms where no one has dared to venture for many years. Matilda alone will explore, candle held high, at the dead of night, where all others are too terrified to go, and her bravery is justly rewarded. Tales of kidnap, murder, night time flights and dramatic rescues make sure the pace never drops in this two volume thriller.

A novel that sets its plot on the importance of status, and proof of status in society  as Matilda, whose birth is surrounded in mystery, struggles to become accepted by the stuck up and bitchy young women in the high society circles she is forced to enter. Triumph and the reward of marriage await the heroine, as mysteries are revealed in this Gothic heroine’s battle to discover her true identity.

Clermont (four volumes), by Regina Maria Roche. Minverva-press, 1798

“This writer claims murders are her forte, for not content with such as are connected with the story, she details three instances at considerable length as episodes” – Critical Review

A heroine uncertain of her birth snatched from a happy life of rural solitude and plunged headlong into Parisian society; a hero prone to lurking in woods and ruins, to stalking and leaving fragments of poetry scattered around. This reminds us all too much of Udolpho. (We even meet another Lady Blanche for heaven’s sake). But although the Udolpho themes are there, this story survives on its own merit, and makes for highly entertaining reading.

Mrs Roche is particularly entertaining in her handling the comedic aspects in the characters of the domestics and peasant classes. I am still laughing over the scene in which  Madelaine and Lupin undertake a terrifying escape through the haunted forest.

Of the seven novels, Clermont most fits the bill in fulfilling our demands for horrors; castles, spectres and tombs. However, a number of disappointments are produced in the concluding, over–long chapter in which Mrs Roche tries to tie together all the loose ends that she has left hanging throughout the production and to provide logical explanations for any scene that might have led us to presume that the supernatural was at work.

The header for Volume 2 Chapter 6 says it all “let’s talk of graves and worms and epitaphs”, trim your candles and be quite prepared not to be able to put these volumes down all night

The Mysterious Warning (four volumes), by Mrs Parsons. Minerva-press, 1796

“An agreeable but most melancholy tale” – The British Critic

Tired of setting novels in the sublime landscapes of Germany, France and Italy, Mrs Parsons transports us to Turkey for scenes in this production. although the exotic Fatima turns out to be yet another German swindler and thief. The youngest son of Count Renaud, having made what is considered by his family, an inauspicious marriage, finds himself and his new wife ostracised from the family estates. However, he uncovers more skeletons in the closets of other family members than there may be in all of the ruinous castles in Germany; and in doing so he proves his own worth and earns the right to the family titles.

Packed with dramatic coincidences, intrigue and a not insignificant amount of horror, of the two titles Mrs Parsons has on the list this is the most satisfying and complete.

The Necromancer of the Black Forest (two volumes) by Lawrence Flammemberg, translated from the German by Peter Teuthold. Minverva-press 1794

I approached this translation cautiously after my  disappointment with Horrid Mysteries. I was, however, pleasantly surprised with this German story. A boy’s own adventure story, it is packed full of spirits, banditti and dramatic sword fighting, though sadly not a love interest in sight. This two volume tale races along with very little pause for breath.

We meet a whole village held in thrall by a ghostly cavalry that emerges nightly from the ruins of the castle on the hill, only the Necromancer of the title is able to commune with these spirirts and identify the casue of their unrest. Sometimes I sigh at the eagerness of some authors to explain away all their supernatural incidents too readily, and this is a prime example.

The moral of the tale is a warning to the reader to be wary of those who claim to be able to conjure the dead and to converse with spirits; salutary advice to the credulous streak that exists in all of us.

The Midnight Bell – A German Story Founded on Incidents in Real Life (three volumes) by Francis Lathom. H D Symonds, 1798

If your mother told you to “fly your home, to never see her again, and to ask no questions” what would you do? This is the instruction Alphonsus receives in the opening chapter of the Midnight Bell following the suspicious death of his father. Mr Lathom’s three volume “German Tale” follows the exploits of Alphonsus as he tries to rebuild his life following the shock of this dramatic expulsion from his home, as he makes his way, penniless, in the world.

It is a tale of the hero’s search for his identity as he tries to discover whether he has any hope of marriage to baron’s daughter Lauretta. Mysteries of birth and of murder and a heroine’s dramatic escape from a lightening hit tower all keep the novel alive in Mr Lathom’s inimitable style. So just who is ringing that Midnight Bell? An exciting story of love, haunting, kidnaps and secret banditti hideouts as truth and justice finally win out.

Avoid against suspicion is the moral of this tale; we suspect these adventures will keep you awake and too frightened to sleep long into the night.

The Orphan of the Rhine (four volumes) by Eleanor Sleath. Minerva-press, 1798

“A vapid and servile imitation of the creative genius of Mrs Radcliffe” – Critical Review

There are times when making or keeping to that fatal vow may be the wrong choice. A promise made on her mother’s deathbed leads Julia into a life of shame and hardship when the alternative might have been a good and happy marriage. Then, one dark and stormy night when a messenger from the castle commits an orphan child to her care. Julia’s life takes a dramatic new twist.

A tale packed full of heroines in search of identity, of evil Marcheses, mysterious marriages, monks and apparitions. Mrs Sleath maintains the excitement through all four volumes, never failing to thrill. Sometimes I just wonder whether the Critical Review was reading the same book, or is it that its reviewers have just become too staid, boring and male to appreciate modern literature? I was truly sorry when I reached Mrs Sleath’s final FINIS.

Horrid Mysteries (four volumes) by the Marquis of Grosse, translated from the German by P Will. Minerva-press, 1796

Had Miss Andrews’ father known that she was spending time reading Horrid Mysteries, and had he known the subject matter, then I am sure that he would have consigned it quickly to the parlour fire. I understand that Mr Shelley is a particular devotee of this work, but I sadly am not.

A man who sells his soul, or some portion of his existence, for a night of pleasure with a female of dubious reputation does not, in my eyes, a hero make. What follows is an account of how he attempts to rebuild his life following that event, with every attempt doomed to failure through the intervention of whatever secret society to whom he has become indebted. This results in a veritable confusion of narratives involving a sequential stream of affaires and mysterious deaths.

I was so overjoyed when I reached the conclusion of the fourth volume that I felt immediately induced to express my feelings in the form of a sonnet, a piece which only modesty and a lack of space prevent me from reproducing here.