Event Report: ‘The Gothic Women Writers of the Minerva Press’

Beth Brigham (Northumbria University)

Twitter: @bethany_brigham

The PGR/ECR workshop ‘The Gothic Women Writers of the Minerva Press’ took place on 10th March 2022 as part of the Gothic Women Project’s series of online events. The workshop spotlighted the largely overlooked gothic women writers of William Lane’s Minerva Press and provided an opportunity to discuss the central concerns of Minerva Press scholarship. My thanks go to the Gothic Women team for supporting the development and running of the workshop and to Colette Davies (University of Nottingham) and Fern Pullan (Leeds Beckett/Opera North) for their invaluable contributions as panellists.

Workshop flyer

When I was asked to run a workshop as an associate of the Gothic Women Project, the Minerva Press immediately sprang to mind. During the 1790s, Lane’s Press published as much as one third of all novel titles in London, and while the amount of gothic fiction Lane actually produced is often overestimated, Minerva Press gothic undoubtedly forms an integral part of the history of women’s writing, gothic studies, print and book history, and studies in Romanticism.1 The rise in scholarly attention around the Minerva Press in the last ten years, as noted by Elizabeth Neiman and Christina Morin, also reflects an increasing drive to de-canonise and de-colonise Romantic literature, a drive similarly reflected by the Gothic Women event series.2 For example, Morin’s paper on the literary impact of Minerva’s Irish gothic novelists as part of the ‘Gothic Revolutions’ seminar particularly exemplified the essential work that can be done around the Minerva Press, despite its reputation for producing cheap, lowbrow fiction.

However, a large amount of Minerva Press gothic fiction remains in obscurity and the novelists attached to the Press rarely receive individual scholarly attention. Indeed, the poor critical contemporary reception of Minerva Press fiction has endured in modern scholarship, while Minerva’s gothic has traditionally been devalued as part of a feminine sub-genre.3 It is clear that, as Deborah McLeod states, ‘to look at the gothic is to look at the very core of the perceptions and assumptions surrounding the Press’.4 The workshop was thus an opportunity to address these perceptions and assumptions through a discussion of how and why the Minerva Press’ gothic women writers should be reclaimed. Most importantly, the workshop raised the question: why reclaim them now?

The three papers given by the panel responded to the main questions and concerns of the workshop through a range of different approaches. In my paper, I discussed the possible identity (or identities) of the gothic writer ‘Mrs Carver’ in order to suggest that authorial obscurity or anonymity should be taken as an opportunity for greater scholarly interpretation rather than a limit on it. Colette’s paper then explored literary constructions of the gothic novelist through an extract from Anna Maria Bennett’s The Beggar Girl (1797) in order to interrogate the cultural perception that Minerva’s women writers were unskilled hack writers. Ending our panel, Fern’s discussion of the petitions made to the Royal Literary Fund highlighted the inequalities between male and female writers that allowed Minerva’s gothic women authors to earn so little while their writing was so popular.

Minerva Press imprint

Outcomes

It became clear when pulling the workshop together that even identifying early-stage researchers working on or interested in the Minerva Press, especially Minerva Press gothic, could be challenging. As the workshop was attended by around forty PGRS/ECRS, the event was therefore a valuable opportunity to bring together a community of researchers with a shared interest in the Minerva Press, women’s writing, and of course, the gothic.

Following the panel, the discussion section of the workshop focused on the practicalities of working on Minerva Press fiction. The foremost issue raised by this discussion was the limited accessibility of the texts themselves. Many researchers currently working on Minerva Press texts have never physically handled an original edition and are limited to using modern reprints, digitised editions and microfilm versions, many of which are low-quality. The workshop thus presented an important opportunity to share these experiences, offer useful tips, and exchange knowledge of useful archives and databases with Minerva Press holdings. As most of these holdings are based in either the UK or America, the workshop highlighted a clear demand for Minerva Press related events that allow for a transatlantic knowledge exchange.

The attached resource list was created as a result of the workshop and includes a bibliography of scholarship that may be useful for those working on the Minerva Press, alongside a list of archives/holdings and useful online databases:

Biography

Beth is a postgraduate researcher at Northumbria University, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Her thesis places eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gothic fiction within the history of medical professionalisation and reform, exploring how medical appropriations of the gothic reshaped cultural conceptions of the body, particularly during the bodysnatching era. Beth is an associate of the Gothic Women Project and a recent recipient of the British Association for Romantic Studies’ Stephen Copley Research Award. Her forthcoming chapter on the Minerva Press novel The Horrors of Oakendale Abbey (1797) is due to be published in an edited volume with Manchester University Press.


References

  1. Deborah Anne McLeod, ‘The Minerva Press’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Alberta, 1997), p.13.
  2. Neiman, E.A., & Morin, C., ‘Re-evaluating the Minerva Press: Introduction’, Romantic Intertextualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780-1840, 23 (Summer 2020), 11-23 (p.12).
  3. McLeod, p.86.
  4. McLeod, p.59.

Charlotte Dacre’s Gothic Portrait

Rose Mckean (University of York)

Hours of Solitude (1805) is a lesser-known work in the corpus of Charlotte Dacre, best known as the author of the transgressive Gothic novel Zofloya (1806). Published in the wake of the commercial success of her best-selling debut novel, Confessions of the Nun of St. Omer (1805), this two-volume collection of poetry continued to establish Dacre as an accomplished, though often controversial voice of the early nineteenth-century Gothic. A myriad of Gothic apparitions feature in this volume, from skeleton priests to elfin kings, but perhaps the most intriguing Gothic ‘character’ to be introduced appeared in the form of a portrait, a portrait that could be unveiled upon turning the first page of the book:

Anon. “Rosa Matilda.” Found in Hours of Solitude. vol.i. London: Printed by D. N. Shury, Berwick Street, Soho. 1805. Accessed at the V&A Art Library. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Though little is known of its precise origin, this intriguing illustration epitomises the complex and multi-layered play with authorial persona that Dacre participated in throughout her career. Dacre has become known for her elusive and at times confounding authorial voice, as exemplified by the narrator of Zofloya, whose moralising interjections often contradict the narrative impulse of her text. With a great deal of biographical detail either hidden or unrecovered, Dacre remains at least partly shrouded in mystery, and yet here we are confronted with her likeness, staring darkly out of the page.

The frontispiece authorial portrait was a long-standing tradition of the British book trade that became common practice over the course of the seventeenth century. As Janine Barchas has demonstrated, frontispiece portraits were often a copy of a pre-existing portrait, reflecting all “the visual conventions of the painted portrait” and its “complexities of iconography and composition”, but of course in miniature.1 Such portraits were frequently drawn in profile so as to mimic a miniature or a bust, enclosed within a masonary frame, accompanied by a Greek or Latin inscription, and surrounded by a number of symbolic objects that signified artistic status. This was usually an image that created an illusion of depth, as if readers could open their book to discover an embedded object within it pages. Dacre’s portrait radically departs from many of these conventions. The masonry frame is abandoned for a simple lined square upon a blank page, and the subject is positioned to confront the reader directly with her gaze, a form of trompe l’oeil (an illusion of depth) that prevents her image from becoming a flattened entirely. The female author’s frontispiece came with its own gendered implications, presenting a process of literal ‘objectification,’ and granting the public a sense of intimacy with and ‘access’ to her body that echoed the sentimental mode of the ivory miniature. However, the unconventional direction of Dacre’s gaze denies the reader the power of looking without being looked at.

In order to fully comprehend the complexity of this image we must also pay attention to the name that takes the place of a Latin or Greek inscription: Rosa Matilda, a pseudonym that was first used in Dacre’s debut novel The Confessions of the Nun of St. Omer. The title page, which was located next to the frontispiece, actually credits the work to Charlotte Dacre, introducing readers to a new name and identifying her as the author “better known by the name of Rosa Matilda.”2 With this apparent ‘unveiling’, Charlotte Dacre became an authentic authorial identity behind a previously held ‘disguise’, a trick that continued to confuse critics for many years. However, as the research of Ann Jones and Lisa M. Wilson has demonstrated, this was actually a double pseudonym, concealing the maiden name ‘King’ which was inherited from her father, the banker Joseph King, who was himself known by a nominal persona of “Jew king” within London society.3 By appearing to expose herself within Hours of Solitude Dacre/King created a sense of authenticity and public access that was ultimately illusionary, allowing Charlotte King to reside at a safe distance.

The Rosa Matilda pseudonym carries a number of literary inferences. Its structure echoes the Della Cruscan writers of the 1780s, who employed self-consciously false pseudonyms, such as “Anna Matilda” (Hannah Cowley) and “Laura Maria” (Mary Robinson), who engaged with an overtly feminine mode of sensibility within their poetry. Dacre even speaks to a Della Cruscan poet directly, in her ode “To The Shade of Mary Robinson” – a writer whose significant contributions to the Gothic romance during the 1790s, such as Vancenza; or, the Dangers of Credulity (1792) and The False Friend, a Domestic Story (1799), have often been overshadowed by her earlier work. However, the link most commonly drawn by Gothic scholars is to the demonic double disguise of Rosario/Matilda found in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, a self-consciously ‘false’ being who repeatedly tempts the novel’s central anti-hero, Ambrosio. Matilda first appears to Ambrosio as a portrait, which he gazes upon with “wonder” and “adoration” as the likeness of the demon is disguised within the iconography of the virgin Madonna.4 Lewis positions Matilda both as an “object of temptation” and an active subject who participates in the creation of her own disguise: as she later informs Ambrosio, she “caused [her] portrait to be drawn” and to be sent to Ambrosio herself.5 The portrait is then animated within Ambrosio’s “lustful” dream, symbolically foreshadowing Matilda’s transformation from image to embodied woman, as she “started from the Canvas, [and] embraced him affectionately”, effectively transgressing the boundary of the frame.6

Dacre frequently encouraged the intertextual associations between her work and Lewis’s, even dedicating her first novel to the controversial author. However, the parallels between these portraits have rarely been acknowledged. Through the art of the illustration, “Rosa Matilda” appears to us once more as an enticing object, a self-consciously false Gothic ‘masquerade’ that gestures both towards feminine simplicity and demonic duality. Draped in a revealing white muslin dress, foregrounded upon a natural landscape and bearing a miniature portrait of an obscured male figure upon her chest, the image recalls all the feminine conventions of late eighteenth-century neo-classical portraits, which were often reproduced in miniature. And yet, when accompanied by her sentimental/demonic pseudonym, the authenticity of this vision of femininity is undermined, instead creating a distinctly Gothic sense of duality.

The enduring image of the Gothic portrait can be traced back to the genre’s origins, where Walpole’s ghostly portrait first sighed an animating breath and exited its frame. The terror of these representations often originate from their disruption of our expectations of portraiture, a dislocation of the relationship between copy and original as the immanent figure who we believe to be buried somewhere beneath the surface of the image, is re-animated, unveiled or even allowed to walk off the page. Dacre’s illustrated portrait is no exception to this pattern. With its penetrating gaze, this likeness conceals as much as it reveals, simultaneously satisfying public desire to discover the figure behind ‘Rosa Matilda’ and thwarting it. Though we may be lured into a false sense of intimacy with the figure before us, Dacre’s portrait signifies her absence as much as her presence within the text. Of the many ghostly and empty figures that haunt the pages of Hours of Solitude, Dacre herself is perhaps the most elusive.

Biography

Rose Mckean is the recent recipient of an MA from the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of York. Her research interests include women’s writing of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the art of book illustration, and Gothic chapbook literature.


References

  1. Janine Barchas. “Prefiguring Genre: Frontispiece Portraits from Gulliver’s Travels to Millenium Hall.” Studies in the Novel. 51:1 2019. 119
  2. Charlotte Dacre. Hours of Solitude. London: Printed by D.N. Shury, Berwick Street, Soho, 1805. 1
  3. Lisa M Wilson. Female Pseudonymity in the Romantic “age of personality”: The Career of Charlotte King/Rosa Matilda/Charlotte Dacre, European Romantic Review, 9:3 1998. 409; Jones, Ann H. Ideas and Innovations: Best Sellers of Jane Austens Age. New York: AMS, 1986
  4. Matthew Lewis. The Monk. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 32
  5. Matthew Lewis. The Monk. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 53
  6. Matthew Lewis. The Monk. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 53

The Year of Gothic Women Logo

Melanie Bonsey (University of Sheffield)

In this post, I explain the imagery drawn upon for the Year of Gothic Women logo. Inspired by Mary Shelley’s own resilience in the face of adversity, I look to the symbolism of the myrtle flower in her historical romance, Valperga, and its associations with the agency of her female protagonist, Euthanasia dei Adimari.

Valperga is the title of Mary Shelley’s 1823 historical romance charting the life of fourteenth-century military leader, Castruccio Castracani degli Antelminelli. Crucially, though, it is named for the Castle Valperga, the ancestral home of Castruccio’s betrothed: the female protagonist, Euthanasia. When Castruccio’s army conquers Florence and seizes the Castle Valperga as part of a relentless campaign to secure power in the turbulent Guelph-Ghibeline conflict of fourteenth-century Northern Italy, Euthanasia sacrifices her relationship with Castruccio, and her personal safety, to uphold the political and ideological ethics by which she lives.

Euthanasia is a righteous and highly-principled character, foregrounded by association in the title of the novel, and a prominent figure throughout the narrative as a whole. The novel features a closing frame narrative that reveals the narrative to be reconstructed from a found manuscript entitled the ‘Chronicles of Euthanasia’, raising questions about perceived authorship and control of the typical historical record. Indeed, I would argue that Euthanasia’s character is more developed and human – as well as humane – than Castruccio’s; as a narrative construct, her character is rounded, fleshed out in a way Castruccio’s is not. As the novel progresses, Castruccio’s character is diminished: he becomes a historical figure defined by military exploits with limited dimensionality. Euthanasia’s character, on the other hand, becomes increasingly multi-dimensional. Ultimately, she is cast as an author herself, the creator of the overarching historical record of her times. She is a character that has implicitly transcended the boundaries of the work of fiction; an entity that oversees and looks on in perpetuity, rather than a character that is confined to the text.

Euthanasia as a character is representative of female strength, resilience, and determination, and she provides a great starting point as inspiration for the Year of Gothic Women visual.

The encircling wreath of myrtle in the main logo signifies the essence of what makes Euthanasia an important character, which is why I chose to build a logo around it. And while it may seem reductive to encode Euthanasia’s importance within floral imagery, there is power and resilience in the shrub that protects and envelops an area of the castle gardens Euthanasia considers her personal sanctuary.

The reader is introduced to Euthanasia’s myrtle-swathed retreat for the first time in Chapter 12. It is Euthanasia’s haven; a peaceful and calming area within the castle grounds.  Later, this retreat becomes the point of weakness that allows Castruccio’s army to breach the Castle Valperga. Foreshadowing the violation of this haven, one evening Euthanasia is sitting peacefully in her enclave when Castruccio appears on a rocky rift above to share the news of his latest military victory:

She looked up; and, gazing earnestly, perceived Castruccio, with one hand grasping a myrtle shrub, leaning from the summit of the precipice.

“Euthanasia! – Victory!” he cried.

“Victory and security!” she repeated with a deep sigh of joy.

“And glory, and the blessings of Heaven!” he replied. She answered, but he was far above, and could scarcely hear the words she spoke; he threw another sprig of myrtle, and said, “To-morrow!” and retreated. She continued to look upwards to the spot where he had leaned; the rustling of the leaves was still – the myrtles that had bent as he leaned upon them, slowly upraised themselves – yet still she thought that she heard his voice, until the murmuring of the near stream recalled her to herself, and told her how moveless everything else was.1

Myrtle is an evergreen shrub representing community, the Garden of Eden, and marriage. Greco-Roman associations connect myrtle with victory from bloodless battles, as opposed to laurel, which was also used in recognition of military triumph. The plant has ‘many, layered meanings—youth, virginity (before marriage), fertility, innocence, immortality, fidelity—but, above all, love.’2 Castruccio crushes and plucks myrtle, throws it, leans on it, and the shrub must recover following his damaging presence. Euthanasia is the myrtle upon which he inflicts harm. She is aligned with love, immortality, innocence, fidelity and bloodless victory; by contrast, he is aligned with a destructive force opposing these things.

‘The myrtles… slowly upraised themselves’

Crucially, the myrtle shrubs recover by themselves, encoding the measured resistance and independence the reader perceives in the character of Euthanasia. In this way, the myrtle also represents the strength and resilience of Mary Shelley herself. By 1823, when Valperga was first published, Mary Shelley had suffered through the deaths of three of her four children, as well as the death of her husband, Percy. She had experienced intense turbulence within the central relationships of her life, including growing up without her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, who died shortly after giving birth to her.

The myrtle in my Year of Gothic Women logo represents female strength and perseverance. In spite of all the trauma she experienced, Mary Shelley slowly upraised herself and endeavoured to continue. It also embodies the concept of female authorship, and reinsertion of the suppressed voices into the typical historical record, through association with the character of Euthanasia.


Commentary

Images 1 and 2: In this idea for cover art for Valperga, the female form is integral; it is merged with the mountainous Italian landscape, and part of the terrain in which the castle sits. Rather than dominating the landscape, the form exists in synergy with its surroundings, which is indicative of Euthanasia’s regard and respect for her native region. The female profile is echoed on the horizon and a hand from the primary figure reaches up towards it. This slightly jittery and fragmented second visage evokes a character called Beatrice: a prophetess who is abandoned, exploited and abused. Euthanasia comforts and supports Beatrice through her final sufferings.

Images 3 and 4: Image 3 features the same facial profile, though with a greenish and deathly hue. This image describes the moment in the closing frame narrative when Euthanasia’s tragic fate is imagined by the narrator:

She was never heard of more; even her name perished. She slept in the oozy cavern of the ocean; the seaweed tangled with her shining hair; and the spirits of the deep wondered that the earth had trusted so lovely a creature to the barren bosom of the sea.3

Image 4 makes use of the same haunting female form but features a garish white floating shape. This white shape stands for what is allegedly the only remaining clue that Euthanasia was on the ship that sank: a white silk handkerchief. I have exercised artistic license here; according to the closing frame narrative, the handkerchief is found tangled in the cordage of the shipwreck rather than in the ocean. However, as a visual, the eerie white shape floating above the corpse contributes, for me, to the poignancy and tragedy of Euthanasia’s death.


  1. Mary Shelley, Valperga, in The Complete Novels of Mary Shelley: Frankenstein, The Last Man, Valperga, The Fortunes of Perkins Warbeck, Lodore & Falkner (Kindle e-book: E-artnow, 2018), loc. 15041-49.
  2. Julia Blakely, ‘Myrtle: The Provenance and Meaning of a Plant,’ 28 June 2018, https://blog.library.si.edu/blog/2018/06/28/myrtle-the-provenance-and-meaning-of-a-plant/#.YC5ZOi2l0dU. Date of access: 7th December 2021.
  3. Valperga, loc. 19547.

Biography

Melanie Bonsey is a part-time PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield. Her research focus is the relationships between authorship and identity, the Gothic frame narrative and historiography. An education professional with fifteen years’ experience teaching English at secondary level, she now designs and advises on curricula, programmes of learning, and delivery in the FE sector. Being a first-generation student herself, she is passionate about creating opportunities for society’s less-advantaged learners to progress and succeed on pathways to higher education. Melanie has always enjoyed artistic pursuits; she recently began producing digital imagery inspired by the literature she studies, of which the designs for the Year of Gothic Women are an example.

The Gothic Women team would like to thank Melanie Bonsey once again for designing such a stunning and richly appropriate, thought-provoking logo for our project.

Conversation vs Monstrous Categorisation in Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent

Sean Aldrich O’Rourke (University of Limerick)

Twitter: @Sean_A_ORourke

Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent is a profoundly strange text; in an oeuvre so often focused on building a utopian future for Ireland, Edgeworth writes this novel of feminine imprisonment, of an estate going to ruin, and of a great family brought low. Such Gothic tropes emerge due to categorisation, a force which in this text becomes an unconventional Gothic monster, a foe which arises to strangle the utopian potential of conversation. 

Maria Edgeworth by John Downman (1750-1824)

Maria Edgeworth’s depictions of the conditions under which conversations succeed or fail in fraught colonial settings emerge naturally from and powerfully comment on her socio-political context. The proliferating salons and conversational spaces available to her class in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries1 as well as her personal experience of the tumultuous Ireland of this period all perhaps underly the creation of her four Ireland-set novels: Castle Rackrent (1800), Ennui (1809), The Absentee (1812), and Ormond (1817). In these novels, conversation acts as a central force in creating and maintaining a sustainable future for the island and the disparate groups living within its frequently unstable, colonial framework. The utopian goal of Edgeworthian conversation might be best articulated by philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, whose vision of ethics involves encountering another person face-to-face and placing the other above oneself as a moral imperative, recognizing one’s responsibility to this other and responding to their need.2 It also requires recognition of what Levinas calls the “Infinity” in another which “refers to the unmasterable quality of human expression”.3 Placing the other above oneself begets recognition of that infinity which cannot be contained within one’s own powers of representing or categorising the other.

When one character encounters another in conversation in Edgeworth’s Ireland-set novels, there is a possibility for ethical relation. This possibility is realized in the later three novels in which characters from Ireland’s disparate social strata and communities respond to others as opposed to categorising and exerting mastery over them. For example, Ormond, the titular character of Edgeworth’s final Ireland-set novel, learns to converse among Ireland’s diverse communities, becoming an ideal landowner who can respond to the needs to his tenants; in the building of such a utopia through conversation and ethical relation, such characters ensure the monster’s threat is never realised and stave off a recurrence of events like the 1641 Rebellion, a foundational event in the cultural memory of Edgeworth’s class which was recorded in gory detail by the 1641 Depositions: recorded witness testimonies of the events of this uprising.4 Ethical relation in these texts, achieved by characters like Ormond, allows for a more harmonious and integrated Ireland than such historical events might predict. 

However, her first Irish novel Castle Rackrent depicts the cultural and class-based categorization that arises, like an atavistic Gothic literary monster, to disrupt such integration. Gothic monsters, like rapacious Catholic clergymen or revivified bloodsucking aristocrats, can function as what Jarlath Killen calls atavistic elements in Gothic texts that might rupture the present and end the future by disrupting an Enlightenment narrative.5 In a similar manner, such categorization which monstrously emerges through the voices of interlocutors in Castle Rackrent, prevents ethical relation, killing conversation’s beneficial power and disrupting the narrative arc towards the integrated, Edgeworthian, Irish utopia promised in those later novels.

Such disruption occurs in the meeting between our narrator Thady, the native-Irish caretaker of the Rackrent estate, and the Jewish wife of the estate’s owner. Thady says he is proud that the Rackrent family is “one of the most ancient in the kingdom. Everybody knows this is not the old family name, which was O’Shaughlin related to the kings of Ireland”.6 Seamus Deane speaks of how renderings of dialect in Dracula can function as an indication of familiarity with history.7 Such familiarity is carried on and exemplified by Thady’s vernacular voice, forged in his upbringing as a cloistered native-Irish servant on this estate. This familiarity with regional history is both displayed in his dialect and patterns his rhetoric, forming his relations with others he meets: he claims for example, that “Everybody knows” that Rackrent “is not the old family name”. The historical and regional solipsism that has been woven into his voice creates a limited category as to who among those he encounters is “everybody” and who lacks valid subjectivity.8

This solipsism strangles the potential to ethically relate to this Jewish wife when he encounters her: she asks about “a pile of black bricks” near the bog, and Thady thinks to himself “Where have you lived, my lady, all your life, not to know a turf stack when you see it”,9 rendering her as unacceptably alien, falling outside what he could call “everybody”. Further, he confines her within the term “heretic blackamoor,”10 underlining her foreign, invalid subjectivity and thus linguistically applying his categorising rhetoric to her in this encounter rather than speaking with and responding to her.

Yet on a cultural and linguistic level, as Mary Jean Corbett states, the Jewish wife is codified as higher on the imperial hierarchy than Thady because she is configured linguistically as more English than Thady: when Thady speaks of the estate’s bog “allyballycarricko’shaughlin” with familiarity, such comic-Irish phrasing prompts laughter in the wife.11 She also mocks what her husband calls trees, stating “may be they are what you call trees in Ireland, my dear… but they are not a yard high, are they?” which mocks the environment that so defines Thady’s sense of subjectivity as deficient. Crucially, her mocking comment is phrased with what would be considered at the time more proper, English diction than Thady’s assurance to her that “we would not part with the bog … upon no account at all”.12 English, colonialist categorisation is tied to her voice, patterning her relation to Thady’s vernacular voice and his environment, and thus preventing her from responding ethically to him. Therefore, harmful categorisation cuts both ways in their meeting: as Corbett states, both fail “to perceive their own subordination to English patriarchal rule while still accruing certain benefits from it”.13 They model the stratification that oppresses both, invalidate each other’s voice by condescendingly categorising one another rather than responding to one another, and ultimately fail to recognize the ethical demand of the other. Solipsistic, colonialist categorisation rises on their voices and murders the possibility of improvement through ethical relation in conversation. 

In an especially Gothic touch, this wife is eventually imprisoned in the Rackrent estate by her husband, seemingly with Thady’s approval, because her husband desires control of her wealth and because she refuses to eat pig meat – she becomes something to be categorised as other and mastered rather than responded to ethically. She ultimately escapes the estate once her husband dies, the meeting of her and the occupants of the estate having produced no community. The possibility of ethical relation has been effectively killed by categorisation, leaving in its place the terrible cruelty and avarice that drives relationships on the estate.

Castle Rackrent, after many such failed encounters, ends in the dissolution of Rackrent ownership of the estate and promises a future where conversation has been corrupted, its only remaining practical uses being powerless sentimentality and the exercise of greed. Ethical relation fails and no utopia, where the horrors of 1641 might be averted, can be formed; categorisation fulfils its role as Gothic monster, disrupting this narrative of progress towards utopia and potentially enabling horrific consequences. And, unlike Dracula or Hyde, it remains undefeated at the end of the narrative, promising to continue thwarting utopia in a stratified, nineteenth-century century Ireland.

Biography:

Sean is an Irish Research Council award holder and PhD student working in the field of Irish Gothic Literature at the University of Limerick. He is currently researching the fiction of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu under the supervision of Dr Christina Morin. 


References:

  1. Such conversational spaces of the period are illustrated by Amy Prendergast in Literary Salons Across Britain and Ireland in the Long Eighteenth Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and by Jon Mee in Conversable Worlds: Literature, Contention, and Community 1762 to 1830 (Oxford University Press, 2011).
  2. Emmanuel Levinas, Time and the Other and Additional Essays, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Duquesne University Press, 1987), p. 158.
  3. Bettina Bergo, “Emmanuel Levinas,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2017 (Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2017), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/levinas/.
  4. These depositions have been digitized and have been made available online by Trinity College Dublin. They can be found here: https://1641.tcd.ie/
  5. Jarlath Killeen, Gothic Literature 1825-1914 (University of Wales Press, 2009), p. 113.
  6. Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent and Ennui, ed. Marilyn Butler (Penguin Books, 1992), p. 66.
  7. Seamus Deane, Strange Country: Modernity and Nationhood in Irish Writing since 1790 (Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 92.
  8. In Maria Edgeworth’s Irish Writing: Language, History, Politics (St. Martin’s Press, 1997)Brian Hollingworth makes a persuasive argument that Edgeworth renders such regional dialects to ascribe an intellectual and moral lack to those characters who use them, perhaps indicating another barrier to her utopic vision: a barrier drenched in the linguistic stratification common to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century linguistic theory. And yet such lack is found in characters further up on the linguistic hierarchy as we will soon see. Indeed, Edgeworth’s fiction has a complex relationship with stratification. Her utopias do still contain hierarchies that are mutable but still present, and yet strict categorization as we see here becomes a potentially ruinous act – it’s a tension in her novels that perhaps stems from her own position as a moderate reformer.
  9. Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent and Ennui, p. 77.
  10. Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent and Ennui, p. 77.
  11. Mary Jean Corbett, “Another Tale to Tell: Postcolonial Theory and the Case of Castle Rackrent,” Criticism 36, no. 3 (2018), 396-397.
  12. Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent and Ennui, pp. 77-8.
  13. Corbett, “Another Tale to Tell: Postcolonial Theory and the Case of Castle Rackrent”, p. 397.

Gothic Subjectivity in Charlotte Smith’s ‘Elegiac Sonnets’

Rayna Rosenova (Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski)

There is an evocative scene in one of Charlotte Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets, in which a mass of bones, “[w]ith shells and sea-weed mingled” (9), is lashed on the waves by the raging wind, which thus “breaks the silent sabbath of the grave” (8). The speaker, “doom’d – by life’s long storm opprest” (13), is gazing on the “village dead” (7), envying their incognizance of life’s adversities and their “gloomy rest” (14) – a rest that the speaker constantly longs for. The sonnet is the much cited “Sonnet Written in the Churchyard of Middleton in Sussex”, the title revealing Smith’s indebtedness to the Graveyard poets. The poem is also illustrative of how Smith employed Gothic aesthetics in Elegiac Sonnets to represent the inner conflicts which haunt her wandering melancholy speaker: that is, the Gothic conventions in many of the sonnets seek to verbalize the rupture within the self, defined by an acute sense of loss and despair, which is mirrored in the external world.

Charlotte Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets (1784-1800) was a growing collection of sonnets and other poems, which Smith continued to expand until it grew into two volumes upon its last edition. In addition to experimenting with the sonnet form and injecting it with an elegiac mood, the sonnets present a plethora of voices. The collection includes sonnets voiced by Smith’s melancholy wanderer, sonnets ventriloquizing Petrarch and Werther, sonnets penned by characters in Smith’s novels, and sonnets addressed to specific people. The variety of voices thus presents a gestalt image of analogous states of subjectivity. Jacqueline Labbe has argued that through the various voices in the sonnets Smith explores the different roles that women occupied, performing what Labbe calls “gendered stances”. Unsurprisingly, however, period readers tended to attribute the speakers’ pain and melancholy to the vicissitudes in Smith’s personal life. As a contemporary reviewer wrote: “We cannot … forbear expressing a hope that the misfortunes she so often hints at, are all imaginary”.

‘On some wide fragment of the rocky shore’, illustration from Elegiac Sonnets, by Charlotte Smith. The sixth edition, with additional sonnets and other poems. London: Printed by R. Noble, for T. Cadell, 1792.

This representation of what appears to be pathological suffering – autobiographical or not – has wider purchase. It tropes the sonnets’ wandering melancholy as a Gothic subject, with their speakers embodying the type of Gothic subjectivity that Diane L. Hoeveler defines as “a need to suffer and … the desire to create a record of wounded experiences”. Indeed, Hoeveler designates the Gothic as “one of the premier modern discourses of pain”, and that is how it functions here.


Many of the spaces that the sonnets’ main subject traverses are inherently gothicized – the speaker is constantly wandering the Sussex region, thus creating a perpetual cyclical movement, with repetition reinforcing the sense of alienation from nature, society, and self. The rural moonlit setting, nightingales, woods, brooks, rocks and seascapes offer no comfort, instead creating a space in which inner tension is dramatized, while the sonnet’s fixed form formally reinforces the sense of impasse that the speaker conveys. Abstract notions are personified as the horrors which the speaker cannot escape: the “pale spectre Care” (XXXVI. 14) haunts her, while phrases such as “troubled breast” (IV. 6), “a breaking heart” (V. 8), “the tortured bosom’s pain” (VIII. 9), “an heart like mine that bleeds” (LXXXIV. 11), “heartless pain” and “blank despair” (XLIII. 8), constantly reiterate inner terrors. Hence, reality is spectralized; in a typically Romantic vein, the landscape is haunted by the happy memories of care-free childhood, now lost forever, as well as by oppressive present emotion. Enacting a continuous cycle of pain without end, both the textual space of the sonnets and the spaces that the subject roams become spectral, featuring “haunts forlorn” (VI. 2), “glens and haunted stream” (L. 8), and “hollow sighs” (XXXII. 3). Christopher Stokes has argued that the sonnets focusing on the River Arun paint a picture of “spectral places and liminal spaces” that mirror the fractured selfhood of Smith’s subject, which he calls a “non-I”. According to Stokes, Smith’s “lorn subject” feels at home inhabiting such a haunted, uncanny space.

Indeed, rather than fleeing scenes of danger, the speaker seeks them purposefully as a means of catharsis: scenes “black and gloomy, like my cheerless breast” (LXXXI. 3), scenes where “Strange sounds are heard and painful melodies, / As of night-wanderers, who their woes bewail” (XXXII. 7-8), and “the chill horrors of the howling blast” (LXVII. 4) provide security rather than posing threat. As the speaker intimates in Sonnet XII, “the wild gloomy scene has charms for me, / And suits the mournful temper of my soul” (6-9). The sonnets iterate that it is only in death (“There’s no oblivion—but in death alone! (V. 14)) that the speaker (“A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,” VI. 9) could find peace from the “painful path of pointed thorn” (VI. 4). Smith’s lyrical subject continually enacts the insurmountable pain of wishing for oblivion and lamenting the burden of experience: “happiness” has “no second Spring” (II. 14) and is regarded as “a false fleeting meteor” (XXXV. 7). By extension, life is “The spot where pale Experience hangs her head, / O’er the sad grave of murder’d Happiness!” (XLVII. 7-8).

Smith’s gothicization of the locale of her familiar South Downs turns it into a canvas for the suffering that haunts her speaker, which even the cyclical movement of time and the seasons could not remedy. Haunted by the exigencies of existence, Smith’s melancholy wanderer is in turn transformed into a spectral figure, restlessly roaming.

‘Queen of the Silver Bow’ illustration from Elegiac Sonnets, by Charlotte Smith. The sixth edition, with additional sonnets and other poems. London: Printed by R. Noble, for T. Cadell, 1792.

Biography:

Rayna Rosenova is lecturer in English literature at the Department of English and American Studies, Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski (Bulgaria). Her research interests include the long eighteenth century, women’s writing, Romantic poetry, and Gothic literature. She has published articles on Mary Robinson, Charlotte Smith, and John Keats.

References:

[1] See Stuart Curran (ed.), The Poems of Charlotte Smith (Oxford University Press, 1993), xxiii. All citations from Elegiac Sonnets are from this edition.

[2] Jacqueline M. Labbe, Charlotte Smith: Romanticism, Poetry, and the Culture of Gender (Manchester University Press, 2003), 3-5. [1] Review of “Sonnets, by Mrs. Charlotte Smith”, The Gentleman’s Magazine v.59, 1786, pp. 333-334, at 333.

[3] Diane Long Hoeveler, “The Secularization of Suffering: Toward a Theory of Gothic Subjectivity”, The Wordsworth Circle, vol. 35, no. 3, 2004, pp. 113-117, at 113.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Christopher Stokes, “Lorn Subjects: Haunting, Fracture and Ascesis in Charlotte Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets”, Women’s Writing, vol.16, no. 1, 2009, pp. 143-160, at 148, 145. [1] Ibid. 149.

Soundscapes in Radcliffe and Shelley

Lucie Ratail (Université de Lorraine)

Twitter: @LRatail

Fear relies on expectation and suspense. In sonic terms, gothic fear relies on a keynote of silence upon which events may stand out as extremely sonorous. This quiet sublayer is what Matthew Lewis called “Universal silence” in The Monk,[1]what may be interpreted as an impression of silence constructed from a multitude of slight noises; for example, Edgar Allan Poe’s depiction of madness triggered by small noises that amplify their impact on the human psyche.[2] In film, the stressful sounds of gothic became popular tropes, with frightening noises interrupting the uncanny[3] silence of a place, or otherworldly appearances breaking in on the lively songs of innocent victims. Examples may be seen in the Harry Potter films, each time the hero arrives in a place where he is not supposed to be: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxXaGPwI-DQ. In film, of course, music naturally plays an important role, since it is not only intradiegetic [The Others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kfEJUb_PU8], but also extradiegetic, and emphasises the impact of silence on the characters while enhancing the viewers’ suspense.

But what of the history of gothic and sound? Around 200 years ago, Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley made use of gothic conventions, using silences to highlight meaningful events of their novels through sounds. With creaking doors, rattling chains, uncanny sounds, animal barks, cries and yells, their stories took on the prototypical gothic soundscape[4] to develop their own sound signatures. Radcliffe’s sound strategies are numerous: they revolve around ideas of (Burkean) sublimity and beauty, and highlight the importance of noise and music in both happiness and melancholy. Songs announce death near St Clare’s convent, and melancholy characters sing a lot, either when imprisoned, thinking about loss, or before the calm Italian sea. Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) mixes Romantic lyricism with first-person aural narratives and a strong quest for realism. Shouts and yells are perceived in full force as the creature assumes increasing power, and nature echoes the strength of its emotions, in all its “imperial[ity]”[5]. Actual music and several scenes of close listening show the impact of speech and music on characters. Places resonate with characters’ emotions, who in turn vibrate[6] as if turned into musical instruments and tuned in to their surroundings.:

one by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my being: chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose.[7]

Matt Foley has identified a “timbral” gothic, and timbral sublime[8] – a sublime triggered by voices – and this feature is enhanced in Frankenstein through the evolution of the creature’s voice, which changes from an unlearned, listening and romantic newborn into a sublime, knowledgeable and sonorous orator. The power of the creature’s voice reverberates through time and space, ringing in Victor’s ears after the end of speech, and permeating all the places in which his creator might take refuge. Voice becomes both tool and weapon, and silence ultimately symbolizes not only the absence of sound, but also the removal of voice and cancelling of speech through death: “the sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard.”[9]

An Avalanche in the Alps, a sublime landscape painting by Philip James De Loutherbourg (1803)

When terror does not arise from visible sources, acoustics and acousmatic[10] sounds present themselves as terrifying. These techniques are both applied in Shelley’s and Radcliffe’s novels. Whether indoors or outdoors, unexpected, invisible sounds and sound sources frighten characters and readers, turning corridors into labyrinths of speaking tubes guiding characters yet enabling their oppressors to monitor them. Gothic castles, like panopticon prisons,[11] help the villains track their victims, damsels in distress hide from sound sources, and secondary characters pass on messages or mislead other people:

Thus she sat, trembling and hesitating, when a distant murmur broke on the silence, and grew louder and louder, till she distinguished voices and steps approaching. She then rose to go, but the sounds came along the only passage, by which she could depart, and she was compelled to await in the hall, the arrival of the persons, whose steps she heard.[12]

When outdoors, “picturesque sounds”[13] paint the – in turn beautiful, in turn sublime – decor to the readers’ ears and eyes while raising the characters’ minds to “enthusiasm and poetry”.[14] In The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Emily regularly composes songs and poems in such instances, while Shelley’s creator and creature experience the humbling realization of Nature’s superior power in the iconic storm and icequake scenes: “The wind arose; the sea roared; and, as with the mighty shock of an earthquake, it split, and cracked with a tremendous and overwhelming sound.”[15]

Whether imagined (as in Udolpho) or real (as in Frankenstein)[16], landscape depictions revolve on strong visual and sonorous evocations:

The deep silence of these solitudes was broken only at intervals by the scream of the vultures, seen cowering round some cliff below, or by the cry of the eagle sailing high in the air; except when the travellers listened to the hollow thunder that sometimes muttered at their feet.[17]

Following the fashion of their time, both authors painted resounding pictures of stormy and sublime landscapes recalling the most emblematic paintings of Salvator Rosa, Philip-James De Loutherbourg, J.M.W. Turner and Charles Nodier. These women’s pictures, however, came to life through paper, echoing aurally and in full sound in their readers’ ears.

A single article cannot develop in length the various sound strategies used by both of these Gothic women writers. However, studying gothic soundscapes may open new horizons, helping readers tune in to the scenes described and discover new, aural, ways to read.


Rocky landscape with a hunter and warriors
, Salvator Rosa (1652)

Lucie Ratail is a teacher at Université de Lorraine (Metz, France) and a PhD candidate in British literature. She studies sounds, noises and music in British gothic novels of the turn of the nineteenth century. Her thesis, under the supervision of Pr. Lawrence GASQUET, compares prototypical gothic soundscapes and the specific sound signatures of some of the most famous gothic novels, among which Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. She is also the writer of several articles on Edgar Allan Poe and on gothic soundscapes, and was in charge of a research project entitled “Time Effects: Perception and Representation of Speed.”


[1] Matthew Lewis, The Monk [1796], Oxford: OUP, 2008.

[2] See notably E.A. Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Tel-Tale Heart”, Selected Tales, London: Penguin Books, 1994, pp. 76-95, 251-266, 267-272

[3] On gothic sounds and on sounds of the uncanny, see Isabella Van Elferen, Gothic Music: The Sounds of the Uncanny, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012.

[4] “Soundscape” was coined and developed by R.M. Schafer in The Soundscape. Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, Rochester, VT: Destiny, 1994.

[5] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein [1818], London: Penguin Books, 2003. p. 99.

[6] This recalls the 18th-century understanding of anatomy and of body fibers. Terry Castle develops this idea in The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny, Oxford: OUP, 1995.

[7] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, p. 49.

[8] Matt Foley, “‘My voice shall ring in your ears’: The Acousmatic Voice and the Timbral Sublime in the Gothic Romance”, Horror Studies 7.2 (Oct. 2016), pp. 173-188.

[9] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, p. 45.

[10] See Pierre Schaeffer, Treatise on Musical Objects, translated by C. North and J. Dack, Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2017.

[11] Cf. Jeremy Bentham’s description of the panopticon prison.

[12] Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho [1794], London: Penguin, 2001, p. 299.

[13] Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, p. 72.

[14] Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, p. 10.

[15] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, p. 211.

[16] Ann Radcliffe never went in the Alps and never visited the landscapes she described, contrary to Mary Shelley.

[17] Ann Radcliffe, Udolpho, p. 44.

They are what they eat: Celebrating Food in Gothic Literature

Ella Buchan (Co-author of A Gothic Cookbook)

Twitter: @agothiccookbook

It doesn’t seem like much: a yolk-yellow sponge, dotted with caraway seeds and swaddled in paper. Yet this seed cake, hitherto hidden in a locked drawer, is presented like the rarest treasure. To famished Jane and her dying friend, Helen, nibbling on the cake is like feasting on “nectar and ambrosia”.

The scene, in Chapter 8 of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, sees the young girls taking tea with Miss Temple, a caring yet ultimately powerless presence at Lowood school. The cake is a small act of kindness whose meaning is amplified in the context of a cold, cruel world in which children are given scant food and, often, nothing to eat at all.

It sets the scene for many important aspects of the novel, not least Jane’s humble yet grimly determined character. It also demonstrates the important role of food in Gothic literature, where much meaning can be found in small shadows, fleeting footsteps and an unsettling sense that something is Not Quite Right. The food in such scenes might pass the reader by, barely noticed, seemingly soft as whipped cream, insignificant as a crumb. For my co-author, Alessandra (Allie) Pino, and me, however, every morsel has something to say.

I’m a food journalist and Allie is a PhD candidate at the University of Westminster, researching food and anxiety in Gothic literature. The idea for A Gothic Cookbook came about when we realised there really wasn’t anything quite like it: a book that focuses on a diverse range of classic and contemporary texts, studying their edible symbolism and motifs and bringing the stories to life with recipes and illustrations.

Each of 13 chapters focuses on a specific novel or short story, with an essay discussing the food imagery followed by around half a dozen recipes inspired by the text. The cookbook is illustrated throughout with original hand-drawings by our artist, Lee Henry.

Frankenstein illustration by Lee Henry

Our chapter on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, for example, has recipes for the entire Manderley afternoon tea spread, from “dripping crumpets” (can’t you see them now?) to 1930s-inspired fillings for “sandwiches of an unknown nature”. In Jane Eyre, Mrs Poole keeps a “private bottle” of gin and occasionally, presumably driven to despair by her lonely existence as Bertha’s gatekeeper, takes “a drop over-much”. We’ve created a buttercream-filled gin and tonic cake (dubbed “Bertha’s Escape”) in her honour. The Jane Eyre chapter also has recipes for seed cake and a wine-based hot negus, with which Jane is greeted upon arrival at Thornfield.

Gin and tonic cake

A chapter dedicated to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein includes a savoury bread pudding, with layers of bread baked in a mustardy custard with wine-caramelised onions and a satisfyingly browned cheesy top. It’s based on the “shepherd’s breakfast” that the creature devours, “which consisted of bread, cheese, milk, and wine; the latter, however, I did not like”.

Some food writing is so subtle or fleeting that one could argue any meaning is subconscious; it isn’t always clear whether the author intended it to be significant in terms of the plot or character development. Nevertheless, each meal and morsel tells us something about the time and place, and the social status and mental and emotional state of the characters.

Du Maurier’s food writing is particularly evocative. Her description of afternoon tea at Manderley, served daily on the dot of half past four, would surely make any reader crave a crumpet. Yet it’s much more than just a mouthwatering account. The lavish spreads overwhelm the unnamed narrator, whose sense of displacement is heightened by the fact that, ultimately, all of this is in service of a ghost. The spreads signify excess and waste, contrasting with the badly carved cold cuts the narrator chewed miserably in Monte Carlo, and with the simple tea of “two slices of bread and butter each” she and Maxim nibble on in exile.

Manderley afternoon tea illustration by Lee Henry

In case the reader were in any doubt, the narrator describes the silver teapot as “monstrous”, struggles to pour the tea while engulfed in steam, and only enjoys eating when no one is looking: Bath Oliver biscuits, purloined from the kitchen with an apple, and mouthfuls of leftover scones.

Our narrator’s attitude switches after the fateful ball, where tables groan under wobbly displays of chicken in aspic and platters heaped with lobster mayonnaise. Again, there’s a warning: a “salmon lady” who stabs maniacally at her food. Instead of fleeing Manderley, the second Mrs de Winter attempts to take control. She eschews leftovers (no longer concerned about food waste) and scolds Mrs Danvers for serving cold cuts from the ball. SHE is Mrs de Winter now, and this simply will not do. This interloper decides to wrest control of the menus and the kitchen.


Recipe: Manderley-worthy crumpets from A Gothic Cookbook

“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, floury scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier cousin, bursting with peel and raisins.”

Manderley afternoon tea spread

For A Gothic Cookbook, a celebration of food in the genre, we’ve recreated the entire afternoon spread as described by the narrator in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca – including “those dripping crumpets”.

Afternoon tea is a daily ritual in Manderley. It’s served at “half past four” on the dot, with a frigid sort of fuss and a stiff formality that contrasts with the crackle of the fire and the array of toasty, typically comforting baked goods being served. You might want to serve yours in a more relaxed manner, or devour it with an abandon the second Mrs de Winter reserves for some sneaky Bath Oliver biscuits.

Anyway, back to the crumpets. We can see them now, can’t you? Inflating upwards and bubbling away on the griddle, then flipped – at just the right moment – to gild their tops. This recipe, based on using one egg, makes a good batch of crumpets. If you’re not inclined to eat the lot within a few days, they can be frozen and defrosted before toasting. Though we suspect you might never find out, because homemade crumpets are a treat destined to be greedily devoured.

Makes 10-12 crumpets

Ingredients

  • 25g butter
  • 300g plain flour
  • 4tsp baking powder
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 500ml milk, warmed
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Sunflower or rapeseed oil, for greasing

Method

  1. Melt the butter and set aside.
  2. Sieve the flour into a large bowl with the baking powder and salt, and stir to combine.
  3. Make a well in the middle and pour in the butter, stirring. Do the same with the egg and, finally, the milk, adding the latter slowly and stopping when the batter is the consistency of a thick custard or just-melted ice cream. Decant some or all into a large jug.
  4. Grease a griddle or heavy-bottomed frying pan with a little oil and grease inside your crumpet rings, too – these are usually sold in packs of four, so just use what you have (and what fits on your griddle or in your pan) and you can cook the crumpets in batches.
  5. Heat the pan or griddle, with the crumpet rings, on medium-low and pour batter into the rings, so each is around a third full. They will rise up and begin to bubble.
  6. Once they’re bubbling well and the batter looks quite solid, carefully remove the rings (use tongs or pot holders) – give them a wiggle if they’re being stubborn. Quickly, and carefully, flip the crumpets with a spatula.
  7. Wait a minute or so, then remove and set aside. Continue until all the batter is finished, greasing the griddle/pan and crumpet rings between each batch.
  8. To serve, toast lightly on each side and smother with butter, jam or anything else you fancy.

A Gothic Cookbook is signed with crowdfunding publishers Unbound, which means we need to raise the initial costs before it goes into production. You can help bring it to publication by pledging for a copy of the book, artwork and other merchandise from cocktail booklets to dinner party kits, here: https://unbound.com/books/a-gothic-cookbook/

How Mary Shelley found Creativity in Chaos

Dr Hannah Moss (University of Sheffield)

Twitter: @HannahMoss86

A sixteen year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin sits at her mother’s grave, secretly scribbling down the beginnings of a ghost story as she reads Eliza Parson’s The Castle of Wolfenbach (1793). So begins the 2017 film Mary Shelley. Directed by Haifaa al-Mansour and written by Emma Jensen, this opening scene conveys the thrill and excitement held by Gothic novels of the 1790s, with Mary Shelley’s reading shown to have an almost instantaneous influence upon her own writing. It’s a suitably Gothic setting, foregrounding the idea of repetition through a female line of inheritance, and yet imitation is soon cast aside as an undesirable trait.

Elle Fanning as Mary Shelley, Mary Shelley (2017)

When Godwin later questions his daughter’s originality, and sends her to Scotland to free her imagination and find her own voice, she throws her old notebook of childhood scribblings onto the fire to be consumed by the flames. This symbolic act is designed to devalue the Radcliffian Gothic of old and herald in a new era by positioning Mary Shelley as the originator of a new style. However, to see her literary rebirth as a simple case of ‘out with the old and in with the new’ is to misunderstand Mary Shelley’s creative process, which very much saw the value in reading and responding to others.

The film received mixed reviews, with an approval rating of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes justified by the comment: ‘Mary Shelley smooths out its subject’s fascinating life and fails to communicate the spark of her classic work.’[1] With Romantic Studies re-evaluating the idea of the lone creative genius, as seen with Anna Mercer’s monograph The Collaborative Literary Relationship of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (2019), it’s time to place Mary Shelley’s literary output in relation to ‘Gothic Women’, such as Ann Radcliffe. To do so is not to dim her ‘spark’, so to speak, but to cast the light further and learn more about the influences operating within Romantic era literary culture.

We only have to turn to the 1831 preface to Frankenstein to read what creativity in fact meant to Mary Shelley:

Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself.[2]

Here, Mary Shelley describes her creative process in terms of imitation; the idea that ‘the materials must, in the first place, be afforded’ suggests that invention emerges by reusing what has been done before, but in a new way. Recalling her childhood habit of imitation, Shelley states: ‘Everything must have a beginning, to speak in Sanchean phrase, and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.’[3] The Gothic tradition provides that link as Shelley not only read and enjoyed Ann Radcliffe’s work, but specifically refers to The Italian (1797) in her novel The Last Man (1826).

In her diary entry for Sunday 27 November, 1814 Mary Shelley recorded that she had read Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian, describing a whole day spent reading and talking as ‘a very happy day indeed.’[4] By the time Shelley returns to Radcliffe’s novel to make reference to it in The Last Man, Lionel Verney’s own reading experience is recalled with fondness when, wandering around the ruins of Rome, he remembers how his ‘boyish blood had thrilled’ whilst reading the novel.[5] However, as Angela Wright has observed in her important study, Mary Shelley (2018), ‘The pleasure and carefree nature of that reading is inscribed here as something that is definitively in the past.’[6] Far from casting aside the literary works of her predecessors, Mary Shelley demonstrates our inherent desire to communicate through the arts, particularly through allusion to artistic precedent.

In The Last Man, a group of travellers visiting Naples in 1818 enter the Sibyl’s cave, with one of them piecing together the mosaic-like fragments they find to become the nameless editor of Lionel’s words. In contrast to the silent editorship of Margaret Walton Saville in Frankenstein, The Last Man explicitly comments upon the active role of the ‘decipherer’ through an artistic analogy which argues the case for creativity emerging from the reuse of existing materials:

Sometimes I have thought, that, obscure and chaotic as they are, they owe their present form to me, their decipherer. As if we should give to another artist, the painted fragments which form the mosaic copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration in St Peter’s; he would put them together in a form, whose mode would be fashioned by his own peculiar mind and talent.[7]

Both The Italian and The Last Man also present artistic heroines who paint copies. I propose that these copies should not be overlooked as a passive female accomplishment, but rather seen as a means of ascribing value to women’s artistic output by acknowledging the space for creativity within established bounds. In The Last Man Perdita surrounds herself with ‘copies of the finest pictures of Raphael, Correggio, and Claude, painted by herself’.[8] Being taught to paint by Princess Evadne means that Perdita has access to the prestigious art collection housed at Windsor castle so that she can learn from the Old Masters as she hones her talent, and her copies of the finest paintings demonstrate her ability and show her taste as a connoisseur.

Portrait identified to be Shelley, attributed to Richard Rothwell circa 1844 (Bodleian Library collection)

Copying is also a political act of selection and interpretation that can reveal someone’s character: their anxieties, hopes and beliefs. Where Lionel sees the copies as a means of blocking out the political turmoil of the outside world, Perdita does not. The fact that her imagination is free to roam whilst she is not reveals the limitations she faces, and her final lament that a career would have given meaning to her life beyond being the wife of Raymond invites us to question the lack of opportunities available to women.

As we look ahead to the year of Gothic Women and mark 2023 bicentenary of Ann Radcliffe’s death, it’s time to reconsider what is too often overlooked as imitative practice and explore what the reuse of ideas can tell us about the nature of creativity and Romantic-era literary culture.

Hannah Moss is an Early Career Research Associate at The University of Sheffield. Her PhD thesis, entitled ‘Sister Artists: The Artist Heroine in British Women’s Writing, 1760-1830’, analyses the ways in which women writers, including Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley, respond to one another as they use the artist heroine as a means to intervene in the cultural debates surrounding women’s work. Hannah is co-editor of the forthcoming Edinburgh Companion to Jane Austen and the Arts and a Special Issue of Women’s Writing on the topic of ‘Women Writers and the Creative Arts in Britain, 1660-1832’.


Subscribe below to read more posts in the coming weeks from members of our rapidly expanding network! Some of these will be scholarly takes on Gothic women, while others will approach their writings creatively. 

We’re particularly keen to showcase the innovative work of PGRs, ECRs, and independent scholars. Would you like to pitch us a blog? Email us at gothicwomenproject@gmail.com 


  • [1] Rotten Tomatoes: Mary Shelley (2017) – Rotten Tomatoes [accessed 06/08/21].
  • [2] Mary Shelley, ‘1831 Preface to Frankenstein’, in Frankenstein: 1818 text, ed. by Marilyn Butler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 8.
  • [3] Ibid. In framing her thoughts as a ‘Sanchean phrase’, Shelley refers to the wise and witty proverbs spoken by Sancho Panza in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1605). This act in itself, therefore, positions her work in relation to her literary predecessors.
  • [4] Mary Shelley, Diary entry for Sunday 27 November 1814, in The Journals of Mary Shelley, ed. by Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert, Vol. 1: 1814-1822 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p. 48.
  • [5] Mary Shelley, The Last Man, ed. by Morton D. Paley (Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 2008), p. 462. 
  • [6] Angela Wright, Mary Shelley (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2018), p. 104.
  • [7] Shelley, The Last Man, p. 6.
  • [8] Shelley, The Last Man, p. 51.