Ghosts, Ghouls & All Things Gothic

>>Ghosts, Ghouls & All Things Gothic

Ghosts, Ghouls & All Things Gothic

2017-10-31T11:39:39+00:0031st October 2017|Library Blog|

Happy Halloween from Chawton House Library!

Detail from Chawton House Library’s 1863 illustrated edition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

“Your old Men murdered, your Mothers outraged, your Wives defiled, your Children danced, to the Yell of a brutal Soldiery, on the Point of the Spear, all Hell let loose, would scarce make up my History.”

“If you have Tears, prepare to shed them now.”

[Epigraph to Anon., The Bloody Hand, or, The Fatal Cup. A Tale of Horror! In the Course of which is described the Terrible Dungeons and Cells in the Prisons of Buonaparte (date unknown)]

1818 first edition of Jane Austen’s two posthumous novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion


We’ve been getting in touch with the ghoulish side of the collection in preparation for our 2018 exhibition on the Gothic, which will put Jane Austen’s satire on the genre, Northanger Abbey, in context, 200 years after it was published.

Ann Radcliffe’s Udolpho and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey

Austen is in good Gothic company on our shelves. We have a 6th edition of Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1791; first edition: 1764), often thought of as the first Gothic novel, and two editions of Clara Reeve’s response to Walpole’s novel, The Champion of Virtue (1777), later titled The Old English Baron (1780). We have the Knight family collection’s works of Byron—some of which demonstrate Gothic influence—alongside the sensational Gothic novel penned by his disgruntled former mistress, Caroline Lamb (Glenarvon, 1816). Coleridge, whose Gothic poem Christabel is said to have made Percy Shelley scream, makes an appearance with a beautiful illustrated 1863 edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, also part of the Knight collection. A large collection of Ann Radcliffe’s immensely popular Gothic novels attests to her influence. This includes The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), a favourite of Isabella and Catherine in Northanger Abbey. Radcliffe’s style and works are mentioned several times in Louisa Lushington’s 1821-22 fascinating manuscript journal too. Lushington had her own Gothic connections; she was the niece of the infamous Matthew Gregory Lewis, author of the intensely disturbing novel The Monk (1796).

Today however, we’ll be scaring ourselves silly leafing through the collection of cheap Gothic novellas, or bluebooks, that we have at Chawton House Library. Many of these refer to or downright plagiarise their better-known, more expensive, attributed brothers and sisters. For example, The Midnight Assassin: or, Confession of the Monk Rinaldi (c. 1802) is a pirated version of Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian. It nods to less salubrious influences too, however, when it takes its epigraph from Walpole’s shocking Gothic play about incest The Mysterious Mother (1791). The extraordinarily prolific Sarah Wilkinson’s Castle of Oravilla: or, The Romance of the Brown Mountains (c. 1814?) has a title designed to bring Walpole’s Otranto to mind. In addition to chapbooks, Wilkinson wrote several full-length novels, peppered with spectres, convents, fugitives and mysteries.

A selection of Gothic bluebooks held at Chawton House Library

Our favourite quotation for today is taken from an 1802 bluebook sometimes mistakenly attributed to Matthew Lewis, Tales of Terror!, and gives some important practical advice for dealing with ghosts, as follows:

‘The mode of addressing a ghost, is by commanding it, in the name of the Three Persons of the Trinity, to tell you who it is, and what is its business; this is may be necessary to repeat three times; after which it will, in a low and hollow voice, declare its satisfaction at being spoken to. It commonly enters into its narrative; which being completed, and its request or commands given, with injunctions that they be immediately executed, it vanishes away, frequently in a flash of light. Sometimes its departure is attended with delightful music.’

[Anon., ‘Prolegomena to the Terrors’ in Tales of Terror! Or, More Ghosts. Forming a Complete Phantasmagoria (1802)]

Frontispiece illustrations from three Gothic bluebooks. From left to right: The Midnight Assassin; The Castle of Oravilla; The Secret Oath: or Blood-Stained Dagger