On this day in 1823, seminal Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe died. Described as ‘the great enchantress of that generation’, her influence on Gothic literature cannot be overstated. To mark the day, we are sharing an article written on a unique Gothic manuscript within our collection by Tina Baxter of Georgian Dining…
Having spent considerable time on the contents of this book, transcribing and making sense of the story as a whole, I never considered viewing the journal as a physical object. What might it tell us about the writer? Also could it possibly provide a date of when it was written?
When visiting Chawton House I am often the only researcher in the library. It is a pleasure to meet academics and researchers from different universities and countries and on my last visit we had a ‘full house.’ One of the Visiting Fellows happened to be researching books as physical objects.
After a day or so of serious focus we began to communicate and share some small details of what we were doing at Chawton. I was pleased and delighted that Emily was keen to examine the book I was working on. It was insightful, producing no answers but theories to work on and explore, which is what we like!
The item measures approximately 16cms (6 1/4” ‘in old money’) by 19cms (7 1/2”). It consists of 328 pages – I know this for a fact, as I finished the transcription of the whole on Tuesday 23rd November 2022 at 6.30pm.
The journal (as I will call it for now) is bound in calfskin and has some stains and scratches on the cover. It has been conserved at some point and the binding repaired. There is no embossed title or name on the cover or spine.
The writer in the Preface says ‘these volumes were never intended for publick inspection’. The journal, we assume, is a record of the life of a certain young woman and her travails, adventures, and encounters over a period of years. The Preface also states ‘being wrote by the Heroine at the earnest request and for the perusal of a Friend …’
The book is made up of quires (nested sheets of paper – in groups of 8 leaves), quarto in size. Premade notebooks were available at the time but we can assume that this was not the case with this journal. The paper was made for writing as opposed to printing and is likely to have been purchased from a stationer. As a lady of ‘the middling sort’, Theodora may have had paper ordered in and kept a stock at home. However, there is more than one watermark on the quires, indicating that the quires may have been bought singly at different times.
We agreed that Theodora took up her pen and began to write on the quires prior to their being bound in the cover. This is proven by the simple fact that the writing goes close to the centre edge (gutter) of the paper but is not bound into the stitches. The journal appears to be written by an educated amateur. For example, the title has been written then scraped or rubbed out. Also, the title page is on the verso rather than the established manner of being on the recto—the title page is on the left page, rather than the right. We felt that Theodora had probably forgotten to do this first and that this was an afterthought rather than a forethought! They are bound into the book of course but not a full quire.
The writing paper has different watermarks, but one came to the fore and Emily was able to provide a picture of this watermark from Philip Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography (Oak Knoll Press, 1995), p. 75.James Whatman of Turkey Mill produced some of the laid paper used in the journal. The discovery of this watermark gave us an indication that the paper was produced between 1770-1790.
Closely examining the paper, you can see the wires (vertical lines) and the chains (horizontal). I am sure many of us who have had the pleasure of handling paper from the 18th century or before will have seen them before. J Whatman also developed woven paper in England which was much prized for printing, drawing and painting, and which would ultimately replace laid paper.
Our closer investigation of the actual journal and how it was put together has given us an idea of how Theodora set about writing her story. It was not written in one go, ‘so justly merited from their many Drafts …’ [Preface] – 300 plus pages is a lot to write in one sitting. The writing itself also indicates when she may have come back to her manuscript, the colour of ink, the size and shape of the letters, when she used a new quill (nib). Her emotions are also on occasion apparent in the writing, especially when retelling scenes of great distress, as indicated by erratic pen-work during those passages.
Where do we go from here? The transcript needs to be read over several times, mainly to transcribe some of the writing which was not easily read first time while typing up. Also, there are no chapters, paragraphs, and few full stops so time is required to make it more coherent to the contemporary reader.
While the provenance of the actual Journal requires some research, we can now assume that it was likely written between 1770-1790s. This puts us a little closer to discovering who Theodora Constantia Harcourt is.
Tina Baxter (avid transcriber of C18th texts)