On ebooks

Electronic texts, kindles and i-pads may be a suitable medium for dreary academic texts, for science fiction or for news; but romances lose their romance when reduced to mechanical strings of bits and bytes. How can one share the thrills of our Amelias and Emilys; respond to the terrors of their adventures or feel the warmth of their final reconciliation with the hero at the end of volume 3 when this is transmitted through a USB or flickering plastic page.

 Romances are meant to be read half bound, octavo in three volumes, if only that when our parents finally despair of our ever seeing sense then at least our dearest treasures may find a fitting, dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

… No such thing,’ cried he. ‘ The kiss was too much of a smacker for that : it rang through the pantry. But please the fates, she shall never darken my doors again. I have just discharged both herself and her swain ;

 …and what is better, I have ordered all the novels in the house to be burnt, by way of purification. As they love to talk of flames, I suppose they will like to feel them.’ He spoke, and ran raging out of the room.

 Adieu, then, ye dear romances, adieu for ever. No more shall I sympathize with your heroines, while they faint, and blush, and weep, through four half -bound octavos. Adieu ye Edwins, Edgars, and Edmunds ; ye Selinas, Evelinas, Malvinas ; ye inas all adieu I The flames will consume you all. The melody of Emily, the prattle of Annette, and the hoarseness of Ugo, all will be confounded in one indis- criminate crackle. The Casa and Castello will blaze with equal fury ; nor will the virtue of Pamela aught avail to save ; nor Wolmar delighting to see his wife in a swoon ; nor Werter shelling peas and reading Homer, nor Charlotte cutting bread and butter for the children.

 The Heroine – Eaton Stannard Barrett

“IT is very strange,” said uncle Ralph, with evident impatience and vexation, as he threw down on the table with great force a romance of the last century, “that a writer must use so many words, only to tell us, that a woman got up and sat down again! No, they must inform us in high-flown, poetic language, that she rose from her mossy couch, and then thoughtfully reseated herself, and resumed her pensive posture! and then, if the wind happened to blow her thin clothes about, and made her ribbons flutter and fly, we must be entertained through half a page with her silken scarf floating in the wind and the rude zephyr discomposing her light and nymph-like attire!”


“Come, come,” said Ralph, “a truce to novels, newspapers, and fables of every kind: here,” continued he, “I will set an example;” and at the same time he threw the volume, whose enthusiastic expressions had so much displeased him, into the fire.

WHILE the three brothers were viewing the blazing novel, Margaret, the youngest Miss Marsham, entered the parlour, and looking first at the table where she had left her book, and next at the grate, from whence a part of the boarded cover had just fallen, she uttered the exclamation of “O heavens! what sacrilegious hand has destroyed the recreative amusement of my leisure-hours, and impeded my itineration through the delightful labyrinths of imagination


The Reverend Mr. Marsham looked at his daughter with serious concern, and shook his head: “But what,” continued Margaret, “my ever revered, though too rigid parent, am I to do? there are seven volumes of that delightful work; and the set is spoiled by the fatal destruction of one; the whole seven must be paid for.”

Romance Readers and Romance Writers – Sarah Green

No – save the eBook for the mundane, every heroine deserves a moment of secret pleasure drawn from the dusty musty volumes of the circulating library, or this is what we should become:

>Dear creature! How much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will download the Italian and share it together. See 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 send you their names directly; here they are, on my Blackberry, I shall forward the list to you immediately, and then if I copy them to my pen drive I can give you a copy. They should really last us some time.”

 “Yes,; 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 blogged about every one of them. I wish you knew Miss Andrews, you would be delighted with her. She is webmaster at udolpho.com and is always in the chat room if you’d care to log in. I think her as beautiful as an angel, and I am so vexed with the men for not facebooking her! I scold them all amazingly about it.”

Our Lady’s Well

St Mary’s Well at Cefn Meiriadog is amongst my favourite sites to visit. A Holy Well, in medieval times a major site of pilgrimage, it was destoyed during the Reformation. At the time Henry VIII ordered the closure of the monasteries wells such as St Mary’s across Wales were broken up to attempt to end the cult of Holy and Healing Wells that were prevalent across Wales and much of the UK at the time.

The style of the wellhas been compared by many to that  of St Winefride’s Well at Holywell some twenty miles further north leading many to suppose they were built at the same time and possibly under the same sponsorship.  This is now consiidered not to be the case, the well here at Cefn being largely a Victorian reconstruction.

In the quiet backwaters of Wales, away from the political strife in London, people tried to cling to their beliefs. Sickness wasn’t reformed and wells continued to offer sought for cures against a number of illnesses.

The well chapel at Cefn Meiriadog was ruined during the reign of Henry VIII, but remained a consecrated site for Catholics in the area, and for over 100 years after, until the mid 17th century, clandestine marriages were celebrated here, a local Welsh Gretna Green.

The site was maintained and renovated during the 18th and 19th centuries by local landowners as a part of the landscape gardening craze which prized romantic and isolated ruins.

Poet Felicia Hemans (1793-1835),  mainly known now for her poem Casabianca, (The boy stood on the burning deck…) spent her youth living close to the new City of St Asaph and would have visited the well around this time. She wrote her ode Our Lady’s Well  in its honour.

FOUNT of the woods! thou art hid no more
From heaven’s clear eye, as in time of yore.
For the roof hath sunk from thy mossy walls,
And the sun’s free glance on thy slumber falls;
And the dim tree shadows across thee pass,
As the boughs are swayed o’er thy silvery glass;
And the reddening leaves to thy breast are blown,
When the autumn wind hath a stormy tone;
And thy bubbles rise to the flashing rain,—
Bright fount! thou art nature’s own again!

Fount of the vale! thou art sought no more
By the pilgrim’s foot, as in time of yore,
When he came from afar, his beads to tell,
And to chant his hymn at Our Lady’s Well.
There is heard no Ave through thy bowers,
Thou art gleaming lone midst thy water flowers!
But the herd may drink from thy gushing wave,
And there may the reaper his forehead lave,
And the woodman seeks thee not in vain,—
Bright fount! thou art nature’s own again!

Fount of the virgin’s ruined shrine!
A voice that speaks of the past is thine!
It mingles the tone of a thoughtful sigh
With the notes that ring through the laughing sky;
Midst the mirthful song of the summer bird,
And the sound of the breeze, it will yet be heard!—
Why is it that thus we may gaze on thee,
To the brilliant sunshine sparkling free?
’T is that all on earth is of Time’s domain,—
He hath made thee nature’s own again!

Fount of the chapel with ages gray!
Thou art springing freshly amidst decay;
Thy rites are closed and thy cross lies low,
And the changeful hours breathe o’er thee now.
Yet if at thine altar one holy thought
In man’s deep spirit of old hath wrought;
If peace to the mourner hath here been given,
Or prayer from a chastened heart to Heaven,—
Be the spot still hallowed while Time shall reign,
Who hath made thee nature’s own again!

all photos taken for The Gothic Heroine, March 2012
More at http://wellhopper.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/ffynnon-fair-st-marys-well-cefn-meiriadog/

still here

oh I am still here, just to let you know. I realise I have been very quiet lately, mainly because I am enthralled in Charles Palliser's The Quincunx, a massive beast of a book that is taking all of my time to get through.

Currently on page 700 of 1200, I hope to finish by the end of the month.

Published in 1985, the Quincunx is a pastiche of the great nineteenth century novel, out-dickensing Dickens with its wealth of characters and out-collinsing Collins with its complexity of plot It makes the train journeys morning and evening fly by, so is well recommended.

It does mean, however, that my trawl through the muddier realms of the gothic is suffering. Hopefully in April normal reading will be resumed.

I have also been spending quite a while researching and visiting locations for my Welsh Wells blog http://wellhopper.wordpress.com/

I leave you with an angel I found in Gresford churchyard whilst tracking down yet another well.

The Nocturnal Minstrel



The Nocturnal Minstrel was published by Minerva in 1810, demonstrating that Eleanor Sleath was clinging on to the gothic memes and traditions at a time when many others were finally abandoning them. This short, two volume novel, however,  does not read like a last desparate attempt to cling to a dying style, it is fresh and inventive, and apart from the overdrawn happy endings, maintains a high degree of mystery ands suspense. Apparently the gothic scholar D P Varma consider this to be Sleath’s best work, “both poetic and atmospheric, possessing a talismanic power.”

The novel revolves around the newly widowed Baroness Gertrude who becomes a gothic heroine whose fate we can become intensely involved in and whose fortitude we can admire throughout the novel.

Widowed at 25, she is left to rule over her husband’s remote Cumbria castle in the early part of the reign of Henry VII. Away from her family, and with very little society, her daily contacts are with the motley crew of the castle. A cruel and domineering head maid Winifred, who sets herself up as Gertrude’s chief confidante, whilst conspiring against her in the background, Motley the fool, a clown drawn straight from Shakespeare, with a ready turn of wit and never a straight answer. As often the fool is the most intelligent character in the castle. The faithful servants brave Edgar and bullied Ethelind provide the additional romantic interludes of the book.

There are also the range of suitors, eager for both Gertrude’s hand and her lands. Sir Reginald, the upper class twit, endlessly fawning around the baroness with poetry and music, ineffectual in pursuing his suit, and eventually to become the unexpected villain of the piece, and Earl Ormond, old enough to be her father, although he is actually promoted by her father as a suitable match, politically and financially rather than romantically. Her father in fact orders her to marry asserting that “he most certainly has a right to command”, to which Mrs Sleath, perhaps with a fleeting glance of an emerging feminism comments “language like this may seem harsh to the idea of a modern female, yet it seemed not so in ancient times of feudal authority”. It is perhaps encouraging that the Earl, on seeing Gertrude’s reluctance to accept her father’s commands is sensitive and realistic enough not to pursue his suit and almost to become the father figure that her real father never seems to offer.

From the outset of chapter 1 we are left in no doubt that it is the various hauntings of the castle that will drive the plot. From the Nocturnal Minstrel of the title, playing music in the woods outside Gertrude’s window each evening, the crashing and banging noises heard from the dead Baron’s chamber, echoing voices heard within the castle walls and eventually the armour clad ghost that appears first to reprimand Gertrude for rejecting Sir Reginald and later to cause the disappearance of the Earl. It is in this area that the full force of the gothic armoury is drawn out, from Otranto onwards we have it all.. The brave servant and the Earl who keep nightly watch in the haunted chamber only to have vanished by the morning, I was trying to spot the references, where have I read this scene before, on so many occasions.

Still, to her merit, Mrs Sleath restricted herself to two volumes, and in these volumes she presents a good story, well told. Additional volumes would have only presented unnecessary additional padding, indeed even in this case one and a half volumes was probably quite sufficient. Gertrude presents us with an admirable heroine, a little older and maybe a little wiser than many of the Emilys, the Laurettas and the Matildas of earlier novels, and her position as the head of an incongruous household, trying to keep control as the horrors enfold shows off all her strengths and weaknesses.  Certainly Gertrude has joined the ranks of my favourite gothic heroines, a character I can relate to on so many levels.

January reading list

Anon – Ashton Priory (Minerva 1792)

Jane Harvey – Anything But What You Expect (Henry Mozley, Derby 1819)

Eleanor Sleath – The Nocturnal Minstrel (Minerva, 1810)

A Moan


Horror! – the prices people are charging for second hand paperbacks.

I’ve been trying to collect together volumes by Charlotte Smith – my supposed reading project for the year, but fairly recent paperback editions are all £20 plus on both Abebooks and ebay. I think a lot of these recent paperback editions are from the US and quite high quality production.

I do tend to ignore all the print on demand people, they often give a price as though it’s for a complete novel and yet you end up paying for a single volume.

I have secured a copy of Desmond on ebay for £1.99 – it hasn’t arrived yet, but I’m ever hopeful, I’ve just seen a copy of Emmeline for £12 and, after all, I do have all year.

Turning detective


So, still on with Jane Harvey, and I know I’m like a one track record this week,  butl that’s how it goes.

Half way through the third and final volume of Any Thing But What You Expect and I have to admit, it’s almost quite exciting, I really am enjoying this volume.

But, anyway, yesterday I made an exciting, and probably astounding discovery.  Well, to be fair I’m sure it isn’t, but at least it interested me at the time, and I was very surprised that, after intensive research lasting  at least half an hour, no one else seems to have discussed the fact anywhere.

Now the title page of Any Thing &c describes Jane Harvey as being “the author of Monteith, Ethelia, Memoirs Of An Author, records of A Noble family &c &c”., however when I looked up  Monteith on that most invaluable of websites “British Fiction 1800 – 1829 Database” http://www.british-fiction.cf.ac.uk/index.html I find that  it is recorded as being written by a Mrs Rice. Montague Summers in his Gothic Bibliography also lists Mrs Rice as the author of Monteith, and doesn’t give a similar title under Miss Harvey’s works.

Finally, Monteith was printed in Derby by the same obscure printer as Any Thing, and it was published in 1805 which coincides with a lull in Jane Harvey’s publications. It doesn’t need to much of a stretch of the imagination to assume that Mrs Rice was actually a pseudonym of Jane Harvey. Either that, or a printer’s mistake, which solution I instantly discard as being to boring a solution and just so unlikely to ever happen.

I would love to discover that, in true fictional style,  she had a short and tempestuos marriage to a Mr Rice, or even that she was madly in love with a young Mr Rice and was trying out the name to see how it felt. Nothing in her on line biographies suggest that either was the case, but i shall continue to believe. Hmm – Mrs Rice’s other publication was The Deserted Wife in 1803. – now how suspicious is that !!!

Anyway, with Lord and Lady Lochcarron in Volume 3 of Any Thing parading around Dorsetshire and Hampshire under assumed names, why not let Jane Harvey do so too. That is the extent of my literary detectivism for this week.

What to expect?


Anyone who publishes a novel titled “Anything But What You Expect?” is probably setting themselves up for a fall. The title effectively guarantees plot twists and novelties, and thus we build these into our prior expectations, and leads us to continuously rty and second guess the author.

I suppose that now in the twenty first century we are used to  convoluted plots and shock endings, cinema and television drama depends upon them, and they have been raised to a sophistication unknown 200 years ago.Thus it is probable that Jane Harvey’s novel could never hope to live up to its title for a modern reader.

At present I am approaching the end of volume 2 (of 3). We have been presented by a fairly typical story of love and marriage, albeit the love interests and marriage partners do not always coincide. As so often love is a fault of the young, and marriage is a contract essential for the preservation of the noble family name and estates. We marry where our financial needs rather than our hearts dictate.

We are then given an abandoned bride, her new husband vanishes hours after the wedding and his whereabouts remain unknown for the best part of a complete volume. For once, it has been the groom that has been forced into the marriage, Cordelia did indeed love Lord Lochcarron, it was his heart that was elsewhere. Rumours abound that he has fled to meet up with Catherine, daughter of his father’s steward, his own true love; rumours even that they were already married and thus his wedding with Cordelia was bigamous and a sham.

In her earlier novels, Jane Harvey was much criticised with regard to the woodenness and lack of character of her main characters. Anything flows along at a much slower pace than her earlier adventures, and gives her much more time to flesh out the personalities of the cast. She tends to be wordy, sentences writhe around like snakes sometimes looking for their endings, but in general she does give us characters in whose destinies we can take an interest, rather than two dimensional actors propelled from dramatic event to dramatic event.

She is even able to throw in a reference to a key debates of the day, often glossed over in earlier novels, in allowing Catherine to say

“… he placed me in a boarding school in Surrey, where, at the expense of all that my father left me, both in principal and interest, i received what is frequently termed a first-rate female education; that is, i was taught to execute and display with facility, and in the most fashionable style, those acquirements which are usually called acomplishments; imagination was cultivated at the expense of judgment, and a spurious off-hand species of memory was so assiduously called forth and furnished, that I could easily make myself appear well-instructed in arts and sciences which I knew very little about.”

So – what to expect? Normally we all await the happy ending. lochcarron’s dissappearance will be explained away, fears of bigamy will be removed and he and Cordelia will live a happy life, the family estates secure and their children and grandchildren will gather around the fireside to hear of their exploits.

If that is the expected ending, and if we are encouraged to expect different, then maybe Catherine will turn out to be the abandoned daughter of a Count, her secret marriage to Lochcarron acknowledged and Cordelia left to live out her life, Miss Haversham like, ever the forgotten and jilted bride.

Oh, how much more entertaining and refreshing the latter ending might be, I dare you Miss Harvey to write it, but sadly I think that having once raised our expectations she will eventujally chicken out and lead us to a happy ending. But again, if we expect drama and unhappiness then a happy ending becomes Anything But What We Expect. Indeed the writer may find herself in a win-win situation.

If we expect the unexpected and the unexpected doesn’t happen….. – well clearly we find ourselves in the realms of a debate of higher logic.

Another Terrible Review


This from the Monthly Review of June 1812, considering Jane Harvey’s “Memoirs Of An Author”

A reader feels in an aukward predicament when a hero of romance and all his party are described as being ‘in convulsions of laughter,’ produced by jokes which do not cause him to ‘shew his teeth by way of smile;’ and this dilemma occurred to us rather frequently in perusing ‘The Memoirs of an Author.’ Some interest, however, is excited by the vicissitudes of the tale, though filial piety will not be promoted by the story of Dr. Ingleby and his children.—The author constantly employs the word were instead of was, and in many passages the effect of this mistake is almost ludicrous.

Curiously following that review not only did she fail to  curl up and die, she continued to write and publish.

Thick skinned, or just taking good advice and not reading her own reviews ?

Changing with the times


Currently reading Jane Harvey’s Anything But What You Expect, first published in 1819. We have discussed Harvey’s work before, her earlier works, published around the turn of the nineteenth century, such as Tynemouth Castle and Brougham Castle drew strongly on the local history of the North of England where she lived. Although not fully fledged Gothic novels, they certainly drew on Gothic themes, and the castle settings lent themselves to descriptions of the picturesque in true Radcliffean style.

It is interesting to note therefore that in the first volume of Anything But What You Expect she twice makes reference to “gothic”, but her use of gothic by this time is much more derogatory. She is now using gothic to represent both old fashionedness and to retsore an earlier notion of its being somewhat uncouth.

In both cases the expression is used by Lady Walpole, a middle aged widow to her newly discovered step-daughter Cordelia whilst discussing and directing her  conduct

In chapter 7, in discussing ideas on marriage she derides the ideas of romantic love so prevalent in the gothic novel

“I do not mean to insinuate that you had fallen in love with him – no well educated young person now cherishes such vulgar gothic notions – they are only solicitous to marry above their rank and expectations – when they do otherwise, they not only lessen their own respectability, but give cause to their unfortunate offspring through life to deplore a union which has called them into an existence replete with difficulties and degradations”

and in Chapter 6

“I cannot describe, my beloved girl, how much I am charmed by the display you have made of your good sense, good breeding, address and knowledge of the world, so greatly superior to what might have been expected from your youth and secluded education; nothing could have been more gothic, vulgar, illiberal and foolish than the appearance of remembering an old rusty family quarrel.”

By 1819, Harvey’s new novels would be in the hands of the daughters of those heroines of the 1790s who devoured the out pourings of Radcliffe, Roche and Sleath. As always,  the youth of the day were eager to rebel, and the entertainment their parents found cool and exciting was now dull and old fashioned. Whilst I am sure they would  not accept Lady Walpole’s views on the importance of fijnance over romance in selecting a husband, they could enjoy the allusion to the datedness of the romantic and chivalric ideals so prevalent in the gothic novels

Certainly Harvey in 1819 was using “gothic” to generate very different feelings to those that she would have expected  with her use of the same word some 20 years earlier.