Oh, what a tease and a disappointment to title a novel Ashton Priory, to provide us with a Gothic residence, and then to fail to support it with even a single ghostly sigh or mysterious stranger. At least that is where we stand at the end of volume 1, and little inidcation that things might improve henceforth.

The author, distinguished only by the recognition that they have previously presented the world with novels such as Powis Castle and Benedicta, instead gives us a tolerable comedy of manners; in which the central heroine, Charlotte, a young orphan with considerable private means (£25000) is passed around the families of her various impecunious guardians in a vain attempt to speedily marry her off to their own advantage. Suitors old enough to be at least her father, and suitors who like to believe that the desirable qualities in a heroine should be “domestication and ignorance”, are presented and rejected. A guardian who seems to have learned her lingusitic skills from Mrs Malaprop provides the comic interludes.

Mrs (and I’m sure it is a Mrs) Anon does provide us with the following standard cut and paste Gothic description to keep us hanging on

Ashton Priory had formerly been appropriated to religious retirement. the gothic air of the building clearly revived an idea of the gloom of the twelfth or thirteenth century, somewhere about which period it was doubtless erected; yet, duarble as was then the architectural taste, it had, ere now, shared the fate of many structures in this kingdom of similar antiquity, had not successive proprietors from time to time, added such repairs and supplementary erections as suited either their choice or convenience; insomuch, that this venerable fabric, in its present state, exhibited an appearance which would puzzle the best connoisseur in architecture to determine form which of the orders it ought ot receive a denomination. The centre was manifestly Gothic, as the pointed arhces of the windows and front dorrs fully expressed. This with some gloomy apartments of smaller dimensions, vaulted passages, and long resounding ailes, composed the body of the building, which with a sort of pious respect, wass surrounded by some additions of a more modern aspect. Here was a balcony supported by Doric pillars, there a Venetian window ornamented by Corinthian capitals, emblazoned escutcheons, boars heads, flying serpants, &c exhibited an almost endless variety.

This most extraordinary pile was situated in a deep valley, closely surrounded by hills, as though the very light of the sun had been an indulgence too great for the mortified beings who once inhabited there to enjoy, while the croaking of rooks, the dashing of a waterfall, and the gloom of overhanging woods, seemed well calculated to sooth the melancholy, which, in the ideas of monkish superstition constituted that divine principle whose real existance dissipates every mental gloom, and diffuses serenity and joy through all the powers of the soul.

Gothic it may not be, but as light entertainment it is enjoyable, and Miss Charlotte Ovenbury has another two volumes to endure before, I’m sure, she finds a most suitable suitor.

Ashton Priory by the author of Benedicta and Powis Castle was published in 1792 by William Lane at the Minerva Press.

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