The Tale of Terror
by Edith Birkhead
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


A Study of the Gothic Romance



Assistant Lecturer in English Literature in the University of Bristol Formerly Noble Fellow in the University of Liverpool

London Constable & Company Ltd.



The aim of this book is to give some account of the growth of supernatural fiction in English literature, beginning with the vogue of the Gothic Romance and Tale of Terror towards the close of the eighteenth century. The origin and development of the Gothic Romance are set forth in detail from the appearance of Walpole's Castle of Otranto in 1764 to the publication of Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer in 1820; and the survey of this phase of the novel is continued, in the later chapters, to modern times. One of these is devoted to the Tale of Terror in America, where in the hands of Hawthorne and Poe its treatment became a fine art. In the chapters dealing with the more recent forms of the tale of terror and wonder, the scope of the subject becomes so wide that it is impossible to attempt an exhaustive survey.

The present work is the outcome of studies begun during my tenure of the William Noble Fellowship in the University of Liverpool, 1916-18. It is a pleasure to express here my thanks to Professor R.H. Case and to Dr. John Sampson for valuable help and criticism at various stages of the work. Parts of the MS. have also been read by Professor C.H. Herford of the University of Manchester and by Professor Oliver Elton of the University of Liverpool. To Messrs. Constable's reader I am also indebted for several helpful suggestions.—E.B.


December, 1920.



The antiquity of the tale of terror; the element of fear in myths, heroic legends, ballads and folk-tales; terror in the romances of the middle ages, in Elizabethan times and in the seventeenth century; the credulity of the age of reason; the renascence of terror and wonder in poetry; the "attempt to blend the marvellous of old story with the natural of modern novels." Pp. 1-15.


Walpole's admiration for Gothic art and his interest in the middle ages; the mediaeval revival at the close of the eighteenth century; The Castle of Otranto; Walpole's bequest to later romance-writers; Smollett's incidental anticipation of the methods of Gothic Romance; Clara Reeve's Old English Baron and her effort to bring her story "within the utmost verge of probability"; Mrs. Barbauld's Gothic fragment; Blake's Fair Elenor; the critical theories and Gothic experiments of Dr. Nathan Drake. Pp. 16-37.


The vogue of Mrs. Radcliffe; her tentative beginning in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, and her gradual advance in skill and power; The Sicilian Romance and her early experiments in the "explained" supernatural; The Romance of the Forest, and her use of suspense; heroines: The Mysteries of Udolpho; illustrations of Mrs. Radcliffe's methods; The Italian; villains; her historical accuracy and "unexplained" spectre in Gaston de Blondeville; her reading; style; descriptions of scenery; position in the history of the novel. Pp. 38-62.


Lewis's methods contrasted with those of Mrs. Radcliffe; his debt to German terror-mongers; The Monk; ballads; The Bravo of Venice; minor works and translations; Scott's review of Maturin's Montorio; the vogue of the tale of terror between Lewis and Maturin; Miss Sarah Wilkinson; the personality of Charles Robert Maturin; his literary career; the complicated plot of The Family of Montorio; Maturin's debt to others; his distinguishing gifts revealed in Montorio; the influence of Melmoth the Wanderer on French literature; a survey of Melmoth; Maturin's achievement as a novelist. Pp. 63-93.


The Oriental story in France and England in the eighteenth century; Beckford's Vathek; Beckford's life and character; his literary gifts; later Oriental tales. Pp. 94-99.


Godwin's mind and temper; the plan of Caleb Williams as described by Godwin; his methods; the plot of Caleb Williams; its interest as a story; Godwin's limitations as a novelist; St. Lean; its origin and purpose; outline of the story; the character of Bethlem Gabor; Godwin's treatment of the Rosicrucian legend; a parody of St. Lean; the supernatural in Cloudesley and in Lives of the Necromancers; Moore's Epicurean; Croly's Salathiel; Shelley's youthful enthusiasm for the tale of terror; Zastrozzi; its lack of originality; St. Irvyne; traces of Shelley's early reading in his poems. Pp. 100-127.


Jane Austen's raillery in Northanger Abbey; Barrett's mockery in The Heroine; Peacock's Nightmare Abbey; his praise of C.B. Brown in Gryll Grange; The Mystery of the Abbey, and its misleading title; Crabbe's satire in Belinda Waters and The Preceptor Husband; his ironical attack on the sentimental heroine in The Borough; his appreciation of folktales; Sir Eustace Grey. Pp. 128-144.


Scott's review of fashionable fiction in the Preface to Waverley; his early attempts at Gothic story in Thomas the Rhymer and The Lord of Ennerdale; his enthusiasm for Buerger's Lenore and for Lewis's ballads; his interest in demonology and witchcraft; his attitude to the supernatural; his hints to the writers of ghost-stories; his own experiments; Wandering Willie's Tale, a masterpiece of supernatural horror; the use of the supernatural in the Waverley Novels; Scott, the supplanter of the novel of terror. Pp. 145-156.


The exaggeration of the later terror-mongers; innovations; the stories of Mary Shelley, Byron and Polidori; Frankenstein; its purpose; critical estimate; Valperga; The Last Man; Mrs. Shelley's short tales; Polidori's Ernestus Berchtold, a domestic story with supernatural agency; The FACES Vampyre; later vampires; De Quincey's contributions to the tale of terror; Harrison Ainsworth's attempt to revive romance; his early Gothic stories; Rookwood, an attempt to bring the Radcliffe romance up to date; terror in Ainsworth's other novels; Marryat's Phantom Ship; Bulwer Lytton's interest in the occult; Zanoni, and Lytton's theory of the Intelligences; The Haunted and the Haunters; A Strange Story and Lytton's preoccupation with mesmerism. Pp. 157-184.


The chapbook versions of the Gothic romance; the popularity of sensational story illustrated in Leigh Hunt's Indicator; collections of short stories; various types of short story in periodicals; stories based on oral tradition; the humourist's turn for the terrible; natural terror in tales from Blackwood and in Conrad; use of terror in Stevenson and Kipling; future possibilities of fear as a motive in short stories. Pp. 185-196.


The vogue of Gothic story in America; the novels of Charles Brockden Brown; his use of the "explained" supernatural; his Godwinian theory; his construction and style; Washington Irving's genial tales of terror; Hawthorne's reticence and melancholy; suggestions for eery stories in his notebooks; Twice-Told Tales; Mosses from an Old Manse; The Scarlet Letter; Hawthorne's sympathetic insight into character; The House of the Seven Gables, and the ancestral curse; his half-credulous treatment of the supernatural; unfinished stories; a contrast of Hawthorne's methods with those of Edgar Allan Poe; A Manuscript found in a Bottle, the first of Poe's tales of terror; the skill of Poe illustrated in Ligeia, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, and The Cash of Amontillado; Poe's psychology; his technique in The Pit and the Pendulum and in his detective stories; his influence; the art of Poe; his ideal in writing a short story. Pp. 197-220.


The persistence of the tale of terror; the position of the Gothic romance in the history of fiction; the terrors of actual life in the Bronte's novels; sensational stories of Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu and later authors; the element of terror in various types of romance; experiments of living authors; the future of the tale of terror. Pp 221-228.

INDEX. Pp. 229-241


The history of the tale of terror is as old as the history of man. Myths were created in the early days of the race to account for sunrise and sunset, storm-winds and thunder, the origin of the earth and of mankind. The tales men told in the face of these mysteries were naturally inspired by awe and fear. The universal myth of a great flood is perhaps the earliest tale of terror. During the excavation of Nineveh in 1872, a Babylonian version of the story, which forms part of the Gilgamesh epic, was discovered in the library of King Ashurbanipal (668-626 B.C.); and there are records of a much earlier version, belonging to the year 1966 B.C. The story of the Flood, as related on the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh epic, abounds in supernatural terror. To seek the gift of immortality from his ancestor, Ut-napishtim, the hero undertakes a weary and perilous journey. He passes the mountain guarded by a scorpion man and woman, where the sun goes down; he traverses a dark and dreadful road, where never man trod, and at last crosses the waters of death. During the deluge, which is predicted by his ancestor, the gods themselves are stricken with fear:

"No man beheld his fellow, no more could men know each other. In heaven the gods were afraid ... They drew back, they climbed up into the heaven of Anu. The gods crouched like dogs, they cowered by the walls."[1]

Another episode in the same epic, when Nergal, the god of the dead, brings before Gilgamesh an apparition of his friend, Eabani, recalls the impressive scene, when the witch of Endor summons the spirit of Samuel before Saul.

When legends began to grow up round the names of traditional heroes, fierce encounters with giants and monsters were invented to glorify their strength and prowess. David, with a stone from his sling, slew Goliath. The crafty Ulysses put out the eye of Polyphemus. Grettir, according to the Icelandic saga, overcame Glam, the malevolent, death-dealing vampire who "went riding the roofs." Beowulf fearlessly descended into the turbid mere to grapple with Grendel's mother. Folktales and ballads, in which incidents similar to those in myths and heroic legends occur, are often overshadowed by terror. Figures like the Demon Lover, who bears off his mistress in the fatal craft and sinks her in the sea, and the cannibal bridegroom, outwitted at last by the artfulness of one of his brides, appear in the folk-lore of many lands. Through every century there glide uneasy spirits, groaning for vengeance. Andrew Lang[2] mentions the existence of a papyrus fragment, found attached to a wooden statuette, in which an ancient Egyptian scribe addresses a letter to the Khou, or spirit, of his dead wife, beseeching her not to haunt him. One of the ancestors of the savage were-wolf, who figures in Marryat's Phantom Ship, may perhaps be discovered in Petronius' Supper of Trimalchio. The descent of Bram Stoker's infamous vampire Dracula may be traced back through centuries of legend. Hobgoblins, demons, and witches mingle grotesquely with the throng of beautiful princesses, queens in glittering raiment, fairies and elves. Without these ugly figures, folk-tales would soon lose their power to charm. All tale tellers know that fear is a potent spell. The curiosity which drove Bluebeard's wife to explore the hidden chamber lures us on to know the worst, and as we listen to horrid stories, we snatch a fearful joy. Human nature desires not only to be amused and entertained, but moved to pity and fear. All can sympathise with the youth, who could not shudder and who would fain acquire the gift.

From English literature we gain no more than brief, tantalising glimpses of the vast treasury of folk-tales and ballads that existed before literature became an art and that lived on side by side with it, vitalising and enriching it continually. Yet here and there we catch sudden gleams like the fragment in King Lear:

"Childe Roland to the dark tower came. His word was still Fie, Foh and Fum, I smell the blood of a British man."

or Benedick's quotation from the Robber Bridegroom:

"It is not so, it was not so, but, indeed, God forbid that it should be so."

which hint at the existence of a hoard as precious and inexhaustible as that of the Nibelungs. The chord of terror is touched in the eerie visit of the three dead sailor sons "in earthly flesh and blood" to the wife of Usher's well, Sweet William's Ghost, the rescue of Tarn Lin on Halloween, when Fairyland pays a tiend to Hell, the return of clerk Saunders to his mistress, True Thomas's ride to Fairyland, when:

"For forty days and forty nights, He wade through red blood to the knee, And he saw neither sun nor moon, But heard the roaring of the sea."

The mediaeval romances of chivalry, which embody stories handed down by oral tradition, are set in an atmosphere of supernatural wonder and enchantment. In Malory's Morte d'Arthur, Sir Lancelot goes by night into the Chapel Perilous, wherein there is only a dim light burning, and steals from the corpse a sword and a piece of silk to heal the wounds of a dying knight. Sir Galahad sees a fiend leap out of a tomb amid a cloud of smoke; Gawaine's ghost, with those of the knights and ladies for whom he has done battle in life, appears to warn the king not to begin the fight against Modred on a certain day. In the romance of Sir Amadas, the ghost of a merchant, whose corpse the knight had duteously redeemed from the hands of creditors, succours him at need. The shadow of terror lurks even amid the beauty of Spenser's fairyland. In the windings of its forests we come upon dark caves, mysterious castles and huts, from which there start fearsome creatures like Despair or the giant Orgoglio, hideous hags like Occasion, wicked witches and enchanters or frightful beings like the ghostly Maleger, who wore as his helmet a dead man's skull and rode upon a tiger swift as the wind. The Elizabethan dramatists were fascinated by the terrors of the invisible world. Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, round whose name are clustered legends centuries old concerning bargains between man and the devil, the apparitions and witches in Macbeth, the dead hand, the corpse-like images, the masque of madmen, the tombmaker and the passing-bell in Webster's sombre tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi, prove triumphantly the dramatic possibilities of terror. As a foil to his Masque of Queens (1609) Ben Jonson introduced twelve loathly witches with Ate as their leader, and embellished his description of their profane rites, with details culled from James I.'s treatise on Demonology and from learned ancient authorities.

In The Pilgrim's Progress, Despair, who "had as many lives as a cat," his wife Diffidence at Doubting Castle, and Maul and Slaygood are the ogres of popular story, whose acquaintance Bunyan had made in chapbooks during his ungodly youth. Hobgoblins, devils and fiends, "sturdy rogues" like the three brothers Faintheart, Mistrust and Guilt, who set upon Littlefaith in Dead Man's Lane, lend the excitement of terror to Christian's journey to the Celestial City. The widespread belief in witches and spirits to which Browne and Burton and many others bear witness in the seventeenth century, lived on in the eighteenth century, although the attitude of the "polite" in the age of reason was ostensibly incredulous and superior. A scene in one of the Spectator essays illustrates pleasantly the state of popular opinion. Addison, lodging with a good-natured widow in London, returns home one day to find a group of girls sitting by candlelight, telling one another ghost-stories. At his entry they are abashed, but, on the widow's assuring them that it is only the "gentleman," they resume, while Addison, pretending to be absorbed in his book at the far end of the table, covertly listens to their tales of

"ghosts that, pale as ashes, had stood at the feet of the bed or walked over a churchyard by moonlight; and others, who had been conjured into the Red Sea for disturbing people's rest."[3]

In another essay Addison shows that he is strongly inclined to believe in the existence of spirits, though he repudiates the ridiculous superstitions which prevailed in his day;[4] and Sir Roger de Coverley frankly confesses his belief in witches. Defoe, in the preface to his Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions (1727) states uncompromisingly:

"I must tell you, good people, he that is not able to see the devil, in whatever shape he is pleased to appear in, he is not really qualified to live in this world, no, not in the quality of a common inhabitant."

Epworth Rectory, the home of John Wesley's father, was haunted in 1716-17 by a persevering ghost called Old Jeffrey, whose exploits are recorded with a gravity and circumstantial exactitude that remind us of Defoe's narrative concerning the ghostly Mrs. Veal in her "scoured" silk. John Wesley declares stoutly that he is convinced of the literal truth of the story of one Elizabeth Hobson, who professed to have been visited on several occasions by supernatural beings. He upholds too the authenticity of the notorious Drummer of Tedworth, whose escapades are described in chapbooks and in Glanvill's Sadducismus Triumphatus (1666), a book in which he was keenly interested. In his journal (May 25th, 1768) he remarks:

"It is true that the English in general, and indeed most of the men of learning in Europe, have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions, as mere old wives' fables. I am sorry for it; and I willingly take this opportunity of entering my solemn protest against this violent compliment which so many that believe the Bible pay to those who do not believe it."

The Cock Lane ghost gained very general credit, and was considered by Mrs. Nickleby a personage of some importance, when she boasted to Miss La Creevy that her great-grandfather went to school with him—or her grandmother with the Thirsty Woman of Tutbury. The appearance of Lord Lyttleton's ghost in 1779 was described by Dr. Johnson, who was also disposed to believe in the Cock Lane ghost, as the most extraordinary thing that had happened in his day.[5] There is abundant evidence that the people of the eighteenth century were extremely credulous, yet, in literature, there is a tendency to look askance at the supernatural as at something wild and barbaric. Such ghosts as presume to steal into poetry are amazingly tame, and even elegant, in their speech and deportment. In Mallet's William and Margaret (1759). which was founded on a scrap of an old ballad out of The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Margaret's wraith rebukes her false lover in a long and dignified oration. But spirits were shy of appearing in an age when they were more likely to be received with banter than with dread. Dr. Johnson expresses the attitude of his age when, in referring to Gray's poem, The Bard, he remarks:

"To select a singular event and swell it to a giant's bulk by fabulous appendages of spectres and predictions has little difficulty, for he that forsakes the probable may always find the marvellous. And it has little use; we are affected only as we believe; we are improved only as we find something to be imitated or declined." (1780.)

The dictum that we are affected only as we believe is open to grave doubt. We are often thrown into a state of trepidation simply through the power of the imagination. We are wise after the event, like Partridge at the play:

"No, no, sir; ghosts don't appear in such dresses as that neither... And if it was really a ghost, it could do one no harm at such a distance, and in so much company; and yet, if I was frightened, I am not the only person."[6]

The supernatural which persisted always in legends handed down from one generation to another on the lips of living people, had not lost its power to thrill and alarm, and gradually worked its way back into literature. Although Gray and Collins do not venture far beyond the bounds of the natural, they were in sympathy with the popular feelings of superstitious terror, and realised how effective they would be in poetry.

Collins, in his Ode on the Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands, adjures Home, the author of Douglas, to sing:

"how, framing hideous spells, In Sky's lone isle, the gifted wizard-seer Lodged in the wintry cave with Fate's fell spear Or in the depths of Uist's dark forests dwells, How they whose sight such dreary dreams engross With their own vision oft astonished droop When o'er the wintry strath or quaggy moss They see the gliding ghosts unbodied troop."

Burns, in the foreword to Halloween (1785), writes in the "enlightened" spirit of the eighteenth century, but in the poem itself throws himself whole-heartedly into the hopes and fears that agitate the lovers. He owed much to an old woman who lived in his home in infancy:

"She had ... the largest collection in the country of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, enchanted towers, dragons and other trumpery. This cultivated the latent seeds of poetry, but had so strong an effect on my imagination, that to this hour, in my nocturnal rambles, I sometimes keep a sharp look-out in suspicious places; it often takes an effort of philosophy to shake off these idle terrors."[7]

Tam o' Shanter, written for Captain Grose, was perhaps based on a Scottish legend, learnt at the inglenook in childhood, from this old wife, or perhaps

"By some auld houlet-haunted biggin Or kirk deserted by its riggin,"

from Captain Grose himself, who made to quake:

"Ilk ghaist that haunts auld ha' or chamer, Ye gipsy-gang that deal in glamor, And you, deep-read in hell's black grammar, Warlocks and witches."

In it Burns reveals with lively reality the terrors that assail the reveller on his homeward way through the storm:

"Past the birks and meikle stane Where drunken Charlie brak's neck-bane; And through the whins, and by the cairn Where hunters fand the murdered bairn And near the thorn, aboon the well Where Mungo's mither hanged hersell."

For sheer terror the wild, fantastic witch-dance, seen through a Gothic window in the ruins of Kirk-Alloway, with the light of humour strangely glinting through, has hardly been surpassed. The Ballad-collections, beginning with Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1705), brought poets back to the original sources of terror in popular tradition, and helped to revive the latent feelings of awe, wonder and fear. In Coleridge's Ancient Manner the skeleton-ship with its ghastly crew—the spectre-woman and her deathmate—the sensations of the mariner, alone on a wide, wide sea, seize on our imagination with irresistible power. The very substance of the poem is woven of the supernatural. The dream imagery is thrown into relief by occasional touches of reality—the lighthouse, the church on the cliff, the glimpses of the wedding, the quiet song of the hidden brook in the leafy month of June. We, like the mariner, after loneliness so awful that

"God himself Scarce seemed there to be,"

welcome the firm earth beneath our feet, and the homely sound of the vesper bell. In Christabel we float dreamily through scenes as unearthly and ephemeral as the misty moonlight, and the words in which Coleridge conjures up his vision fall into music of magic beauty. The opening of the poem creates a sense of foreboding, and the horror of the serpent-maiden is subtly suggested through her effect on Christabel. Coleridge hints at the terrible with artistic reticence. In Kubla Khan the chasm is:

"A savage place! as holy and enchanted As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted By woman wailing for her demon-lover."

The poetry of Keats is often mysterious and suggestive of terror. The description of the Gothic hall in The Eve of St. Agnes:

"In all the house was heard no human sound; A chain-drooped lamp was flickering by each door; The arras, rich with horseman, hawk and hound, Fluttered in the besieging wind's uproar; And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor;"

the serpent-maiden, Lamia, who

"Seemed at once some penanced lady elf, Some demon's mistress, or the demon's self;"

the grim story in Isabella of Lorenzo's ghost, who

"Moaned a ghostly undersong Like hoarse night-gusts sepulchral briers along."

all lead us over the borderland. In a rejected stanza of the Ode on Melancholy, he abandons the horrible:

"Though you should build a bark of dead men's bones And rear a phantom gibbet for a mast, Stitch shrouds together for a sail, with groans To fill it out, blood-stained and aghast; Although your rudder be a dragon's tail Long severed, yet still hard with agony, Your cordage, large uprootings from the skull Of bald Medusa, certes you would fail To find the Melancholy—"

Keats's melancholy is not to be found amid images of horror:

"She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die, And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips Bidding adieu."

In La Belle Dame sans Merci he conveys with delicate touch the memory of the vision which haunts the knight, alone and palely loitering. We see it through his eyes:

"I saw pale kings and princes too, Pale warriors, death-pale were they all: They cried—'La Belle Dame sans Merci Hath thee in thrall!'

"I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam With horrid warning gaped wide, And I awoke and found me here, On the cold hill's side."

From effects so exquisitely wrought as these it seems almost profane to turn to the crude attempts of such poets as "Monk" Lewis or Southey to sound the note of terror. Yet they too, in their fashion, played a part in the "Renascence of Wonder." Coleridge, fascinated by the spirit of "gramarye" in Buerger's Lenore, etherealised and refined it. Scott and Lewis gloried in the gruesome details and spirited rhythm of the ballad, and in their supernatural poems wish to startle and terrify, not to awe, their readers. Those who revel in phosphorescent lights and in the rattle of the skeleton are apt to o'erleap themselves; and Scott's Glenfinlas, Lewis's Alonzo the Brave and the Fair Imogene and Southey's Old Woman of Berkeley fall into the category of the grotesque. Hogg intentionally mingles the comic and the terrible in his poem, The Witch of Fife, but his prose-stories reveal his power of creating an atmosphere of diablerie, undisturbed by intrusive mockery. In the poem Kilmeny, he handles an uncanny theme with dreamy beauty.

From the earliest times to the present day, writers of fiction have realised the force of supernatural terror. In the Babylonica of Iamblichus, the lovers evade their pursuers by passing as spectres; the scene of the romance is laid in tombs, caverns, and robbers' dens, a setting remarkably like that of Gothic story. Into the English novel of the first half of the eighteenth century, however, the ghost dares not venture. The innate desire for the marvellous was met at this period not by the novel, but by oral tradition and by such works as Galland's translation of The Arabian Nights, the Countess D'Aulnoy's collection of fairy tales, Perrault's Contes de ma Mere Oie. Chapbooks setting forth mediaeval legends of "The Wandering Jew," the "Demon Frigate," or "Dr. Faustus," and interspersed with anecdotes of freaks, monsters and murderers, satisfied the craving for excitement among humbler readers.[8] Smollett, who, in his Adventures of Ferdinand, Count Fathom (1753), seems to have been experimenting with new devices for keeping alive the interest of a picaresque novel, anticipates the methods of Mrs. Radcliffe. Although he sedulously avoids introducing the supernatural, he hovers perilously on the threshold. The publication of The Castle of Otranto in 1764 was not so wild an adventure as Walpole would have his readers believe. The age was ripe for the reception of the marvellous.

The supernatural had, as we have seen, begun to find its way back into poetry, in the work of Gray and Collins. In Macpherson's Ossian, which was received with acclamation in 1760-3, the mountains, heaths and lakes are haunted by shadowy, superstitious fears. Dim-seen ghosts wail over the wastes. There is abundant evidence that "authentic" stories of ghostly appearances were heard with respect. Those who eagerly explored Walpole's Gothic castle and who took pleasure in Miss Reeve's well-trained ghost, had previously enjoyed the thrill of chimney corner legends. The idea of the gigantic apparition was derived, no doubt, from the old legend of the figure seen by Wallace on the field of battle. The limbs, strewn carelessly about the staircase and the gallery of the castle, belong to a giant, very like those who are worsted by the heroes of popular story. Godwin, in an unusual flight of fancy, amused himself by tracing a certain similitude between Caleb Williams and Bluebeard, between Cloudesley and The Babes in the Wood,[9] and planned a story, on the analogy of the Sleeping Beauty, in which the hero was to have the faculty of unexpectedly falling asleep for twenty, thirty, or a hundred years.[10]

Mrs. Radcliffe, who, so far as we may judge, did not draw her characters from the creatures of flesh and blood around her, seems to have adopted some of the familiar figures of old story. Emily's guardian, Montoni, in The Mysteries of Udolpho, like the unscrupulous uncle in Godwin's Cloudesley, may well have been descended from the wicked uncle of the folk tale. The cruel stepmother is disguised as a haughty, scheming marchioness in The Sicilian Romance. The ogre drops his club, assumes a veneer of polite refinement and relies on the more gentlemanlike method of the dagger and stiletto for gaining his ends. The banditti and robbers who infest the countryside in Gothic fiction are time honoured figures. Travellers in Thessaly in Apuleius' Golden Ass, like the fugitives in Shelley's Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne, find themselves in robbers' caves. The Gothic castle, suddenly encountered in a dark forest, is boldly transported from fairyland and set down in Italy, Sicily or Spain. The chamber of horrors, with its alarming array of scalps or skeletons, is civilised beyond recognition and becomes the deserted wing of an abbey, concealing nothing worse than one discarded wife, emaciated and dispirited, but still alive. The ghost-story, which Ludovico reads in the haunted chamber of Udolpho, is described by Mrs. Radcliffe as a Provencal tale, but is in reality common to the folklore of all countries. The restless ghost, who yearns for the burial of his corpse, is as ubiquitous as the Wandering Jew. In the Iliad he appears as the shade of Patroclus, pleading with Achilles for his funeral rites. According to a letter of the younger Pliny,[11] he haunts a house in Athens, clanking his chains. He is found in every land, in every age. His feminine counterpart presented herself to Dickens' nurse requiring her bones, which were under a glass-case, to be "interred with every undertaking solemnity up to twenty-four pound ten, in another particular place."[12] Melmoth the Wanderer, when he becomes the wooer of Immalee, seems almost like a reincarnation of the Demon Lover. The wandering ball of fire that illuminates the dusky recesses of so many Gothic abbeys is but another manifestation of the Fate-Moon, which shines, foreboding death, after Thorgunna's funeral, in the Icelandic saga. The witchcraft and demonology that attracted Scott and "Monk" Lewis, may be traced far beyond Sinclair's Satan's Invisible World Discovered (1685), Bovet's Pandemonium or the Devil's Cloyster Opened (1683), or Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft (1584) to Ulysses' invocation of the spirits of the dead,[13] to the idylls of Theocritus and to the Hebrew narrative of Saul's visit to the Cave of Endor. There are incidents in The Golden Ass as "horrid" as any of those devised by the writers of Gothic romance. It would, indeed, be no easy task to fashion scenes more terrifying than the mutilation of Socrates in The Golden Ass, by the witch, who tears out his heart and stops the wound with a sponge which falls out when he stoops to drink at a river, or than the strange apparition of a ragged, old woman who vanishes after leading the way to the room, where the baker's corpse hangs behind the door. Though the title assumes a special literary significance at the close of the eighteenth century, the tale of terror appeals to deeply rooted instincts, and belongs, therefore, to every age and clime.


To Horace Walpole, whose Castle of Otranto was published on Christmas Eve, 1764, must be assigned the honour of having introduced the Gothic romance and of having made it fashionable. Diffident as to the success of so "wild" a story in an age devoted to good sense and reason, he sent forth his mediaeval tale disguised as a translation from the Italian of "Onuphrio Muralto," by William Marshall. It was only after it had been received with enthusiasm that he confessed the authorship. As he explained frankly in a letter to his friend Mason: "It is not everybody that may in this country play the fool with impunity."[14] That Walpole regarded his story merely as a fanciful, amusing trifle is clear from the letter he wrote to Miss Hannah More reproving her for putting so frantic a thing into the hands of a Bristol milkwoman who wrote poetry in her leisure hours.[15] The Castle of Otranto was but another manifestation of that admiration for the Gothic which had found expression fourteen years earlier in his miniature castle at Strawberry Hill, with its old armour and "lean windows fattened with rich saints."[16] The word "Gothic" in the early eighteenth century was used as a term of reproach. To Addison, Siena Cathedral was but a "barbarous" building, which might have been a miracle of architecture, had our forefathers "only been instructed in the right way."[17] Pope in his Preface to Shakespeare admits the strength and majesty of the Gothic, but deplores its irregularity. In Letters on Chivalry and Romance, published two years before The Castle of Otranto, Hurd pleads that Spenser's Faerie Queene should be read and criticised as a Gothic, not a classical, poem. He clearly recognises the right of the Gothic to be judged by laws of its own. When the nineteenth century is reached the epithet has lost all tinge of blame, and has become entirely one of praise. From the time when he began to build his castle, in 1750, Walpole's letters abound in references to the Gothic, and he confesses once: "In the heretical corner of my heart I adore the Gothic building."[18] At Strawberry Hill the hall and staircase were his special delight and they probably formed the background of that dream in which he saw a gigantic hand in armour on the staircase of an ancient castle. When Dr. Burney visited Walpole's home in 1786 he remarked on the striking recollections of The Castle of Otranto, brought to mind by "the deep shade in which some of his antique portraits were placed and the lone sort of look of the unusually shaped apartments in which they were hung."[19] We know how in idle moments Walpole loved to brood on the picturesque past, and we can imagine his falling asleep, after the arrival of a piece of armour for his collection, with his head full of plans for the adornment of his cherished castle. His story is but an expansion of this dilettante's nightmare. His interest in things mediaeval was not that of an antiquary, but rather that of an artist who loves things old because of their age and beauty. In a delightfully gay letter to his friend, George Montagu, referring flippantly to his appointment as Deputy Ranger of Rockingham Forest, he writes, after drawing a vivid picture of a "Robin Hood reforme":

"Visions, you know, have always been my pasture; and so far from growing old enough to quarrel with their emptiness, I almost think there is no wisdom comparable to that of exchanging what is called the realities of life for dreams. Old castles, old pictures, old histories and the babble of old people make one live back into centuries that cannot disappoint one. One holds fast and surely what is past. The dead have exhausted their power of deceiving—one can trust Catherine of Medicis now. In short, you have opened a new landscape to my fancy; and my lady Beaulieu will oblige me as much as you, if she puts the long bow into your hands. I don't know, but the idea may produce some other Castle of Otranto."[20]

So Walpole came near to anticipating the greenwood scenes of Ivanhoe. The decking and trappings of chivalry filled him with boyish delight, and he found in the glitter and colour of the middle ages a refuge from the prosaic dullness of the eighteenth century. A visit from "a Luxembourg, a Lusignan and a Montfort" awoke in his whimsical fancy a mental image of himself in the guise of a mediaeval baron: "I never felt myself so much in The Castle of Otranto. It sounded as if a company of noble crusaders were come to sojourn with me before they embarked for the Holy Land";[21] and when he heard of the marvellous adventures of a large wolf who had caused a panic in Lower Languedoc, he was reminded of the enchanted monster of old romance and declared that, had he known of the creature earlier, it should have appeared in The Castle of Otranto.[22] "I have taken to astronomy," he declares on another occasion,

"now that the scale is enlarged enough to satisfy my taste, who love gigantic ideas—do not be afraid; I am not going to write a second part to The Castle of Otranto, nor another account of the Patagonians who inhabit the new Brobdingnag planet."[23]

These unstudied utterances reveal, perhaps more clearly than Walpole's deliberate confessions about his book, the mood of irresponsible, light-hearted gaiety in which he started on his enterprise. If we may rely on Walpole's account of its composition, The Castle of Otranto was fashioned rapidly in a white heat of excitement, but the creation of the story probably cost him more effort than he would have us believe. The result, at least, lacks spontaneity. We never feel for a moment that we are living invisible amidst the characters, but we sit aloof like Puck, thinking: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" His supernatural machinery is as undignified as the pantomime properties of Jack the Giant-killer. The huge body scattered piecemeal about the castle, the unwieldy sabre borne by a hundred men, the helmet "tempestuously agitated," and even the "skeleton in a hermit's cowl" are not only unalarming but mildly ridiculous. Yet to the readers of his day the story was captivating and entrancing. It satisfied a real craving for the romantic and marvellous. The first edition of five hundred copies was sold out in two months, and others followed rapidly. The story was dramatised by Robert Jephson and produced at Covent Garden Theatre under the title of The Count of Narbonne, with an epilogue by Malone. It was staged again later in Dublin, Kemble playing the title role. It was translated into French, German and Italian. In England its success was immediate, though several years elapsed before it was imitated. Gray, to whom the story was first attributed, wrote of it in March, 1765: "It engages our attention here (at Cambridge), makes some of us cry a little, and all in general afraid to go to bed o' nights." Mason praised it, and Walpole's letters refer repeatedly to the vogue it enjoyed. This widespread popularity is an indication of the eagerness with which readers of 1765 desired to escape from the present and to revel for a time in strange, bygone centuries. Although Walpole regarded the composition of his Gothic story as a whim, his love of the past was shared by others of his generation. Of this Macpherson's Ossian (1760-3), Kurd's Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762), and Percy's Reliques (1765), are, each in its fashion, a sufficient proof. The half-century from 1760 to 1810 showed remarkably definite signs of a renewed interest in things written between 1100 and 1650, which had been neglected for a century or more. The Castle of Otranto, which was "an attempt to blend the marvellous of old story with the natural of modern novels" is an early symptom of this revulsion to the past; and it exercised a charm on Scott as well as on Mrs. Radcliffe and her school. The Castle of Otranto is significant, not because of its intrinsic merit, but because of its power in shaping the destiny of the novel.

The outline of the plot is worth recording for the sake of tracing ancestral likenesses when we reach the later romances. The only son of Manfred—the villain of the piece—is discovered on his wedding morning dashed to pieces beneath an enormous helmet. Determined that his line shall not become extinct, Manfred decides to divorce Hippolyta and marry Isabella, his son's bride. To escape from her pursuer, Isabella takes flight down a "subterraneous passage," where she is succoured by a "peasant" Theodore, who bears a curious resemblance to a portrait of the "good Alfonso" in the gallery of the castle. The servants of the castle are alarmed at intervals by the sudden appearance of massive pieces of armour in different parts of the building. A clap of thunder, which shakes the castle to its foundations, heralds the culmination of the story. A hundred men bear in a huge sabre; and an apparition of the illustrious Alfonso—whose portrait in the gallery once walks straight out of its frame[24]—appears, "dilated to an immense magnitude,"[25] and demands that Manfred shall surrender Otranto to the rightful heir, Theodore, who has been duly identified by the mark of a "bloody arrow." Alfonso, thus pacified, ascends into heaven, where he is received into glory by St. Nicholas. As Matilda, who was beloved of Theodore, has incidentally been slain by her father, Theodore consoles himself with Isabella. Manfred and his wife meekly retire to neighbouring convents. With this anti-climax the story closes. To present the "dry bones" of a romantic story is often misleading, but the method is perhaps justifiable in the case of The Castle of Otranto, because Walpole himself scorned embellishments and declared in his grandiloquent fashion:

"If this air of the miraculous is excused, the reader will find nothing else unworthy of his perusal. There is no bombast, no similes, flowers, digressions or unnecessary descriptions. Everything tends directly to the catastrophe."[26]

But with all its faults The Castle of Otranto did not fall fruitless on the earth. The characters are mere puppets, yet we meet the same types again and again in later Gothic romances. Though Clara Reeve renounced such "obvious improbabilities" as a ghost in a hermit's cowl and a walking picture, she was an acknowledged disciple of Walpole, and, like him, made an "interesting peasant" the hero of her story, The Old English Baron. Jerome is the prototype of many a count disguised as father confessor, Bianca the pattern of many a chattering servant. The imprisoned wife reappears in countless romances, including Mrs. Radcliffe's Sicilian Romance (1790), and Mrs. Roche's Children of the Abbey (1798). The tyrannical father—no new creation, however—became so inevitable a figure in fiction that Jane Austen had to assure her readers that Mr. Morland "was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters," and Miss Martha Buskbody, the mantua-maker of Gandercleugh, whom Jedediah Cleishbotham ingeniously called to his aid in writing the conclusion of Old Mortality, assured him, as the fruit of her experience in reading through the stock of three circulating libraries that, in a novel, young people may fall in love without the countenance of their parents, "because it is essential to the necessary intricacy of the story." But apart from his characters, who are so colourless that they hardly hold our attention, Walpole bequeathed to his successors a remarkable collection of useful "properties." The background of his story is a Gothic castle, singularly unenchanted it is true, but capable of being invested by Mrs. Radcliffe with mysterious grandeur. Otranto contains underground vaults, ill-fitting doors with rusty hinges, easily extinguished lamps and a trap-door—objects trivial and insignificant in Walpole's hands, but fraught with terrible possibilities. Otranto would have fulfilled admirably the requirements of Barrett's Cherubina, who, when looking for lodgings demanded—to the indignation of a maidservant, who came to the door—old pictures, tapestry, a spectre and creaking hinges. Scott, writing in 1821, remarks:

"The apparition of the skeleton-hermit to the prince of Vicenza was long accounted a masterpiece of the horrible; but of late the valley of Jehosaphat could hardly supply the dry bones necessary for the exhibition of similar spectres."

But Cherubina, whose palate was jaded by a surfeit of the pungent horrors of Walpole's successors, would probably have found The Castle of Otranto an insipid romance and would have lamented that he did not make more effective use of his supernatural machinery. His story offered hints and suggestions to those whose greater gifts turned the materials he had marshalled to better account, and he is to be honoured rather for what he instigated others to perform than for what he actually accomplished himself. The Castle of Otranto was not intended as a serious contribution to literature, but will always survive in literary history as the ancestor of a thriving race of romances.

More than ten years before the publication of The Castle of Otranto, Smollett, in his Adventures of Ferdinand, Count Fathom, had chanced upon the devices employed later in the tale of terror. The tremors of fear to which his rascally hero is subjected lend the spice of alarm to what might have been but a monotonous record of villainy. Smollett depicts skilfully the imaginary terrors created by darkness and solitude. As the Count travels through the forest:

"The darkness of the night, the silence and solitude of the place, the indistinct images of the trees that appeared on every side, stretching their extravagant arms athwart the gloom, conspired, with the dejection of spirits occasioned by his loss, to disturb his fancy and raise strange phantoms in his imagination. Although he was not naturally superstitious, his mind began to be invaded with an awful horror that gradually prevailed over all the consolations of reason and philosophy; nor was his heart free from the terrors of assassination. In order to dissipate these agreeable reveries, he had recourse to the conversation of his guide, by whom he was entertained with the history of divers travellers who had been robbed and murdered by ruffians, whose retreat was in the recesses of that very wood."[27]

The sighing of the trees, thunder and sudden flashes of lightning add to the horror of a journey, which resembles Mrs. Radcliffe's description of Emily's approach to Udolpho. When Count Fathom takes refuge in a robber's hut, he discovers in his room, which has no bolt on the inside of the door, the body of a recently murdered man, concealed beneath some bundles of straw. Effecting his escape by placing the corpse in his own bed to deceive the robbers, the count is mistaken for a phantom by the old woman who waits upon him. In carrying out his designs upon Celinda, the count aggravates her natural timidity by relating dismal stories of omens and apparitions, and then groans piteously outside her door and causes the mysterious music of an AEolian harp to sound upon the midnight air. Celinda sleeps, too, like the ill-starred heroine of the novel of terror, "at the end of a long gallery, scarce within hearing of any other inhabited part of the house."[28] The scene in Count Fathom, in which Renaldo, at midnight, visits, as he thinks, the tomb of Monimia, is surrounded with circumstances of gloom and mystery:

"The uncommon darkness of the night, the solemn silence and lonely situation of the place, conspired with the occasion of his coming and the dismal images of his fancy, to produce a real rapture of gloomy expectation... The clock struck twelve, the owl screeched from the ruined battlement, the door was opened by the sexton, who, by the light of a glimmering taper, conducted the despairing lover to a dreary aisle."

As he watches again on a second night:

"His ear was suddenly invaded with the sound of some few, solemn notes, issuing from the organ which seemed to feel the impulse of an invisible hand ... reason shrunk before the thronging ideas of his fancy, which represented this music as the prelude to something strange and supernatural."[29]

The figure of a woman, arrayed in a flowing robe and veil, approaches—and proves to be Monimia in the flesh. Although Smollett precedes Walpole, in point of time, he is, in these scenes, nearer in spirit to Udolpho than Otranto. His use of terror, however, is merely incidental; he strays inadvertently into the history of Gothic romance. The suspicions and forebodings, with which Smollett plays occasionally upon the nerves of his readers, become part of the ordinary routine in the tale of terror.

Clara Reeve's Gothic story, first issued under the title of The Champion of Virtue, but later as The Old English Baron, was published in 1777—twelve years after Walpole's Castle of Otranto, of which, as she herself asserted, it was the "literary offspring." By eliminating all supernatural incidents save one ghost, she sought to bring her story "within the utmost verge of probability." Walpole, perhaps displeased by the slighting references in the preface to some of the more extraordinary incidents in his novel, received The Old English Baron with disdain, describing it as "totally void of imagination and interest."[30] His strictures are unjust. There are certainly no wild flights of fancy in Clara Reeve's story, but an even level of interest is maintained throughout. Her style is simple and refreshingly free from affectation. The plot is neither rapid nor exhilarating, but it never actually stagnates. Like Walpole's Gothic story, The Old English Baron is supposed to be a transcript from an ancient manuscript. The period, we are assured, is that of the minority of Henry VI., but despite an elaborately described tournament, we never really leave eighteenth century England. Edmund Twyford, the reputed son of a cottager, is befriended by a benevolent baron Fitzowen, but, through his good fortune and estimable qualities, excites the envy of Fitzowen's nephews and his eldest son. To prove the courage of Edmund, who has been basely slandered by his enemies, the baron asks him to spend three nights in the haunted apartment of the castle. Up to this point, there has been nothing to differentiate the story from an uneventful domestic novel. The ghost is of the mechanical variety and does not inspire awe when he actually appears, but Miss Reeve tries to prepare our minds for the shock, before she introduces him. The rusty locks and the sudden extinction of the lamp are a heritage from Walpole, but the "hollow, rustling noise" and the glimmering light, naturally explained later by the approach of a servant with a faggot, anticipate Mrs. Radcliffe. Like Adeline later, in The Romance of the Forest, Edmund is haunted by prophetic dreams. The second night the ghost violently clashes his armour, but still remains concealed. The third night dismal groans are heard. The ghost does not deign to appear in person until the baron's nephews watch, and then:

"All the doors flew open, a pale glimmering light appeared at the door from the staircase, and a man in complete armour entered the room: he stood with one hand extended pointing to the outward door."

It is to vindicate the rights of this departed spirit that Sir Ralph Harclay challenges Sir Walter Lovel to a "mediaeval" tournament. Before the story closes, Edmund is identified as the owner of Castle Lovel, and is married to Lady Emma, Fitzowen's daughter. The narration of the unusual circumstances connected with his birth takes some time, as the foster parents suffer from what is described by writers on psychology as "total recall," and are unable to select the salient details. The characters are rather dim and indistinct, the shadowiest of all being Emma, who has no personality at all, and is a mere complement to the immaculate Edmund's happiness. The good and bad are sharply distinguished. There are no "doubtful cases," and consequently there is no difficulty in distributing appropriate rewards and punishments at the close of the story—the whole "furnishing a striking lesson to posterity of the overruling hand of providence and the certainty of retribution." Clara Reeve was fifty-two years of age when she published her Gothic story, and she writes in the spirit of a maiden aunt striving to edify as well as to entertain the younger generation. When Edmund takes Fitzowen to view the fatal closet and the bones of his murdered father, he considers the scene "too solemn for a lady to be present at"; and his love-making is as frigid as the supernatural scenes. The hero is young in years, but has no youthful ardour. The very ghost is manipulated in a half-hearted fashion and fails to produce the slightest thrill. The natural inclination of the authoress was probably towards domestic fiction with a didactic intention, and she attempted a "mediaeval" setting as a tour de force, in emulation of Walpole's Castle of Otranto. The hero, whose birth is enshrouded in mystery, the restless ghost groaning for the vindication of rights, the historical background, the archaic spelling of the challenge, are all ineffective fumblings towards the romantic. The Old English Baron is an unambitious work, but it has a certain hold upon our attention because of its limpidity of style. It can be read without discomfort and even with a mild degree of interest simply as a story, while The Castle of Otranto is only tolerable as a literary curiosity. A tragedy, Edmond, Orphan of the Castle (1799), was founded upon the story, which was translated into French in 1800. Miss Reeve informs the public in a preface to a late edition of The Old English Baron that, in compliance with the suggestion of a friend, she had composed Castle Connor, an Irish Story, in which apparitions were introduced. The manuscript of this tale was unfortunately lost. Not even a mouldering fragment has been rescued from an ebony cabinet in the deserted chamber of an ancient abbey, and we are left wondering whether the ghosts spoke with a brogue.

When Walpole wrote disparagingly of Clara Reeve's imitation of his Gothic story, he singled out for praise a fragment which he attributes to Mrs. Barbauld. The story to which he alludes is evidently the unfinished Sir Bertrand, which is contained in one of the volumes entitled Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose, published jointly by J. and A.L. Aikin in 1773, and preceded by an essay On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror. Leigh Hunt, who reprinted Sir Bertrand, which had impressed him very strongly in his boyhood, in his Book for a Corner (1849) ascribes the authorship of the tale to Dr. Aikin, commenting on the fact that he was "a writer from whom this effusion was hardly to have been looked for." It is probably safe to assume that Walpole, who was a contemporary of the Aikins and who took a lively interest in the literary gossip of the day, was right in assigning Sir Bertrand to Miss Aikin,[31] afterwards Mrs. Barbauld, though the story is not included in The Works of Anne Letitia Barbauld, edited by Miss Lucy Aikin in 1825. That the minds of the Aikins were exercised about the sources of pleasure in romance, especially when connected with horror and distress, is clear not only from this essay and the illustrative fragment but also from other essays and stories in the same collection—On Romances, an Imitation, and An Enquiry into those Kinds of Distress which Excite Agreeable Sensations. In the preliminary essay to Sir Bertrand an attempt is made to explain why terrible scenes excite pleasurable emotions and to distinguish between two different types of horror, as illustrated by The Castle of Otranto, which unites the marvellous and the terrible, and by a scene of mere natural horror in Smollett's Count Fathom. The story Sir Bertrand is an attempt to combine the two kinds of horror in one composition. A knight, wandering in darkness on a desolate and dreary moor, hears the tolling of a bell, and, guided by a glimmering light, finds "an antique mansion" with turrets at the corners. As he approaches the porch, the light glides away. All is dark and still. The light reappears and the bell tolls. As Sir Bertrand enters the castle, the door closes behind him. A bluish flame leads him up a staircase till he comes to a wide gallery and a second staircase, where the light vanishes. He grasps a dead-cold hand which he severs from the wrist with his sword. The blue flame now leads him to a vault, where he sees the owner of the hand "completely armed, thrusting forwards the bloody stump of an arm, with a terrible frown and menacing gesture and brandishing a sword in the remaining hand." When attacked, the figure vanishes, leaving behind a massive, iron key which unlocks a door leading to an apartment containing a coffin, and statues of black marble, attired in Moorish costume, holding enormous sabres in their right hands. As the knight enters, each of them rears an arm and advances a leg and at the same moment the lid of the coffin opens and the bell tolls. Sir Bertrand, guided by the flames, approaches the coffin from which a lady in a shroud and a black veil arises. When he kisses her, the whole building falls asunder with a crash. Sir Bertrand is thrown into a trance and awakes in a gorgeous room, where he sees a beautiful lady who thanks him as her deliverer. At a banquet, nymphs place a laurel wreath on his head, but as the lady is about to address him the fragment breaks off.

The architecture of the castle, with its gallery, staircase and subterranean vaults, closely resembles that of Walpole's Gothic structure. The "enormous sabres" too are familiar to readers of The Castle of Otranto. The gliding light, disquieting at the outset of the story but before the close familiar grown, is doomed to be the guide of many a distressed wanderer through the Gothic labyrinths of later romances. Mrs. Barbauld chose her properties with admirable discretion, but lacked the art to use them cunningly. A tolling bell, heard in the silence and darkness of a lonely moor, will quicken the beatings of the heart, but employed as a prompter's signal to herald the advance of a group of black statues is only absurd. After the grimly suggestive opening, the story gradually loses in power as it proceeds and the happy ending, which wings our thoughts back to the Sleeping Beauty of childhood, is wholly incongruous. If the fragment had ended abruptly at the moment when the lady arises in her shroud from the coffin, Sir Bertrand would have been a more effective tale of terror. From the historical point of view Mrs. Barbauld's curious patchwork is full of interest. She seems to be reaching out wistfully towards the mysterious and the unknown. Genuinely anxious to awaken a thrill of excitement in the breast of her reader, she is hesitating and uncertain as to the best way of winning her effect. She is but a pioneer in the art of freezing the blood and it were idle to expect that she should rush boldly into a forest of horrors. Naturally she prefers to follow the tracks trodden by Walpole and Smollett; but with intuitive foresight she seems to have realised the limitations of Walpole's marvellous machinery, and to have attempted to explore the regions of the fearful unknown. Her opening scene works on that instinctive terror of the dark and the unseen, upon which Mrs. Radcliffe bases many of her most moving incidents.

Among the Poetical Sketches of Blake, written between 1768 and 1777, and published in 1783, there appears an extraordinary poem written in blank verse, but divided into quatrains, and entitled Fair Elenor. This juvenile production seems to indicate that Blake was familiar with Walpole's Gothic story.[32] The heroine, wandering disconsolately by night in the castle vaults—a place of refuge first rendered fashionable by Isabella in The Castle of Otranto—faints with horror, thinking that she beholds her husband's ghost, but soon:

"Fancy returns, and now she thinks of bones And grinning skulls and corruptible death Wrapped in his shroud; and now fancies she hears Deep sighs and sees pale, sickly ghosts gliding."

A reality more horrible than her imaginings awaits her. A bleeding head is abruptly thrust into her arms by an assassin in the employ of a villainous and anonymous "duke." Fair Elenor retires to her bed and gives utterance to an outburst of similes in praise of her dead lord. Thus encouraged, the bloody head of her murdered husband describes its lurid past, and warns Elenor to beware of the duke's dark designs. Elenor wisely avoids the machinations of the villain, and brings an end to the poem, by breathing her last. Blake's story is faintly reminiscent of the popular legend of Anne Boleyn, who, with her bleeding head in her lap, is said to ride down the avenue of Blickling Park once a year in a hearse drawn by horsemen and accompanied by attendants, all headless out of respect to their mistress.

Blake's youthful excursion into the murky gloom of Gothic vaults resulted in a poem so crude that even "Monk" Lewis, who was no connoisseur, would have declined it regretfully as a contribution to his Tales of Terror, but Fair Elenor is worthy of remembrance as an early indication of Walpole's influence, which was to become so potent on the history of Gothic romance.

The Gothic experiments of Dr. Nathan Drake, published in his Literary Hours (1798), are extremely instructive as indicating the critical standpoint of the time. Drake, like Mrs. Barbauld and her brother, was deeply interested in the sources of the pleasure derived from tales of terror, and wrote his Gothic stories to confirm and illustrate the theories propounded in his essays. He discusses gravely and learnedly the kinds of fictitious horror that excite agreeable sensations, and then proceeds to arrange carefully calculated effects, designed to alarm his readers, but not to outrage their sense of decorum. He has none of the reckless daring of "Monk" Lewis, who flung restraint to the winds and raced in mad career through an orgy of horrors. In his enchanted castles we are disturbed by an uneasy suspicion that the inhabitants are merely allegorical characters, and that the spectre of a moral lurks in some dim recess ready to spring out upon us suddenly. Dr. Drake's mind was as a house divided against itself: he was a moralist, emulating the "sage and serious Spenser" in his desire to exalt virtue and abase vice, he was a critic working out, with calm detachment, practical illustrations of the theories he had formulated, and he was a romantic enthusiast, imbued with a vague but genuine admiration for the wild superstitions of a bygone age. His stories exhibit painful evidence of the conflict which waged between the three sides of his nature. In the essay prefixed to Henry Fitzowen, a Gothic Tale, he distinguishes between the two species of Gothic superstition, the gloomy and the sportive, and addresses an ode to the two goddesses of Superstition—one the offspring of Fear and Midnight, the other of Hesper and the Moon. In his story the spectres of darkness are put to flight by a troop of aerial spirits. Dr. Drake knew the Gothic stories of Walpole, Mrs. Barbauld, Clara Reeve and Mrs. Radcliffe; and traces of the influence of each may be found in his work. Henry Fitzowen loves Adeline de Montfort, but has a powerful and diabolical rival—Walleran—whose character combines the most dangerous qualities of Mrs. Radcliffe's villains with the magical gifts of a wizard. Fitzowen, not long before the day fixed for his wedding, is led astray, while hunting, by an elusive stag, a spectral monk and a "wandering fire," and arrives home in a thunderstorm to find his castle enveloped in total darkness and two of his servants stretched dead at his feet. He learns from his mother and sister, who are shut in a distant room, that Adeline has been carried off by armed ruffians. Believing Walleran to be responsible for this outrage, Fitzowen sets out the next day in search of him. After weary wanderings he is beguiled into a Gothic castle by a foul witch, who resembles one of Spenser's loathly hags, and on his entrance hears peals of diabolical laughter. He sees spectres, blue lights, and the corpse of Horror herself. When he slays Walleran the enchantments disappear. At the end of a winding passage he finds a cavern illuminated by a globe of light, and discovers Adeline asleep on a couch. He awakes her with a kiss. Thunder shakes the earth, a raging whirlwind tears the castle from its foundations, and the lovers awake from their trance in a beautiful, moonlit vale where they hear enchanting music and see knights, nymphs and spirits. A beauteous queen tells them that the spirits of the blest have freed them from Horror's dread agents. The music dies away, the spirits flee and the lovers find themselves in a country road. A story of the same type is told by De La Motte Fouque in The Field of Terror.[33] Before the steadfast courage of the labourer who strives to till the field, diabolical enchantments disappear. It is an ancient legend turned into moral allegory.

In the essay on Objects of Terror, which precedes Montmorenci, a Fragment, Drake discusses that type of terror, which is "excited by the interference of a simple, material causation," and which "requires no small degree of skill and arrangement to prevent its operating more pain than pleasure." He condemns Walpole's Mysterious Mother on the ground that the catastrophe is only productive of horror and aversion, and regards the old ballad, Edward, as intolerable to any person of sensibility, but praises Dante and Shakespeare for keeping within the "bounds of salutary and grateful pleasure." The scene in The Italian, where Schedoni, about to plunge a dagger into Ellena's bosom, recoils, in the belief that he has discovered her to be his own daughter, is commended as "appalling yet delighting the reader." In the productions of Mrs. Radcliffe, "the Shakespeare of Romance Writers, who to the wild landscape of Salvator Rosa has added the softer graces of a Claude," he declares,

"may be found many scenes truly terrific in their conception, yet so softened down, and the mind so much relieved, by the intermixture of beautiful description, or pathetic incident, that the impression of the whole never becomes too strong, never degenerates into horror, but pleasurable emotion is ever the predominating result."

The famous scene in Ferdinand, Count Fathom, the description of Danger in Collins' Ode to Fear, the Scottish ballad of Hardyknute are mentioned as admirable examples of the fear excited by natural causes. In the fragment called Montmorenci, Drake aims at combining "picturesque description with some of those objects of terror which are independent of supernatural agency." As the curfew tolls sullenly, Henry de Montmorenci and his two attendants rush from a castle into the darkness of a stormy night. They hurry through a savage glen, in which a swollen torrent falls over a precipice. After hearing the crash of falling armour, they suddenly come upon a dying knight on whose pale features every mark of horror is depicted. Led by frightful screams of distress, Montmorenci and his men find a maiden, who has been captured by banditti. Montmorenci slays the leader, but is seized by the rest of the banditti and bound to a tree overlooking a stupendous chasm into which he is to be hurled. By almost superhuman struggles he effects his escape, when suddenly—there at this terror-fraught moment, the fragment wisely ends.

In The Abbey of Clunedale Drake experiments feebly and ineffectively with the "explained supernatural" in which Mrs. Radcliffe was an adept. The ruined abbey, deemed to be haunted, is visited at night as an act of penance by a man named Clifford who, in a fit of unfounded jealousy, has slain his wife's brother. Clifford, accompanied by his sister, and bearing a light, kneels at his wife's tomb, and is mistaken for a spectral being.

The Gothic tale entitled Sir Egbert is based on an ancient legend associated with one of the turrets of Rochester Castle. Sir Egbert, searching for his friend, Conrad, who had disappeared in suspicious circumstances, hears from the Knights Templars, that the wicked Constable is believed to hold two lovers in a profound and deathlike sleep. He resolves to make an attempt to draw from its sheath the sword which separates them and so restore them to life and liberty. Undismayed by the fate of those who have fallen in the quest, Sir Egbert enters the castle, where he is entertained at a gorgeous feast. When the festivities are at their height, and Sir Egbert has momentarily forgotten his enterprise, a terrible shriek is heard. The revellers vanish, and Sir Egbert is left alone to face a spectral corpse, which beckons him onward to a vault, where in flaming characters are inscribed the words: "Death to him who violates the mysteries of Gundulph's Tower." Nothing daunted, Sir Egbert amid execrations of fiends, encounters delusive horrors and at last unsheathes the sword. The lovers awake, and the whole apparatus of enchantment vanishes. Conrad tells how he and Bertha, six years before, had been lured by a wandering fire to a luxurious cavern, where they drank a magic potion. The story closes with the marriage of Conrad and Bertha, and of Egbert and Matilda, a sister of one of the other victims of the same enchanter.

In Dr. Drake's stories are patiently collected all the heirlooms necessary for the full equipment of a Gothic castle. Massive doors, which sway ponderously on their hinges or are forcibly burst open and which invariably close with a resounding crash, dark, eerie galleries, broken staircases, decayed apartments, mouldering floors, tolling bells, skeletons, corpses, howling spectres—all are there; but the possessor, overwhelmed by the very profusion which surrounds him, is at a loss how to make use of them. He does not realise the true significance of a half-stifled groan or an unearthly yell heard in the darkness. Each new horror indeed seems but to put new life into the heart of the redoubtable Sir Egbert, who, like Spenser's gallant knights, advances from triumph to triumph vanquishing evil at every step. It is impossible to become absorbed in his personages, who have less body than his spectres, and whose adventures take the form of a walk through an exhibition of horrors, mechanically set in motion to prove their prowess. Dr. Drake seems happier when the hideous beings are put to rout, and the transformation-scene, which places fairyland before us, suddenly descends on the stage. Yet the bungling attempts of Dr. Drake are interesting as showing that grave and critical minds were prepared to consider the tale of terror as a legitimate form of literature, obeying certain definite rules of its own and aiming at the excitement of a pleasurable fear. The seed of Gothic story, sown at random by Horace Walpole, had by 1798 taken firm root in the soil. Drake's enthusiasm for Gothic story was associated with his love for older English poetry and with his interest in Scandinavian mythology. He was a genuine admirer of Spenser and attempted imitations, in modern diction, of old ballads. It is for his bent towards the romantic, rather than for his actual accomplishments, that Drake is worthy of remembrance.


The enthusiasm which greeted Walpole's enchanted castle and Miss Reeve's carefully manipulated ghost, indicated an eager desire for a new type of fiction in which the known and familiar were superseded by the strange and supernatural. To meet this end Mrs. Radcliffe suddenly came forward with her attractive store of mysteries, and it was probably her timely appearance that saved the Gothic tale from an early death. The vogue of the novel of terror, though undoubtedly stimulated by German influence, was mainly due to her popularity and success. The writers of the first half of the nineteenth century abound in references to her works,[34] and she thus still enjoys a shadowy, ghost-like celebrity. Many who have never had the curiosity to explore the labyrinths of the underground passages, with which her castles are invariably honeycombed, or who have never shuddered with apprehension before the "black veil," know of their existence through Northanger Abbey, and have probably also read how Thackeray at school amused himself and his friends by drawing illustrations of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels.

Of Mrs. Radcliffe's life few facts are known, and Christina Rossetti, one of her many admirers, was obliged, in 1883, to relinquish the plan of writing her biography, because the materials were so scanty.[35] From the memoir prefixed to the posthumous volumes, published in 1826, containing Gaston de Blondeville, and various poems, we learn that she was born in 1764, the very year in which Walpole issued The Castle of Otranto, and that her maiden name was Ann Ward. In 1787 she married William Radcliffe, an Oxford graduate and a student of law, who became editor of a weekly newspaper, The English Chronicle. Her life was so secluded that biographers did not hesitate to invent what they could not discover. The legend that she was driven frantic by the horrors that she had conjured up was refuted after her death.

It may have been the publication of The Recess by Sophia Lee in 1785 that inspired Mrs. Radcliffe to try her fortune with a historical novel. The Recess is a story of languid interest, circling round the adventures of the twin daughters of Mary Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk. Yet as we meander gently through its mazes we come across an abbey "of Gothic elegance and magnificence," a swooning heroine who plays the lute, thunderstorms, banditti and even an escape in a coffin—items which may well have attracted the notice of Mrs. Radcliffe, whose first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne,[36] appeared in 1789. Considered historically, this immature work is full of interest, for, with the notable exception of the supernatural, it contains in embryo nearly all the elements of Mrs. Radcliffe's future novels.

The scene is laid in Scotland, and the period, we are assured, is that of the "dark ages"; but almost at the outset we are startled rudely from our dreams of the mediaeval by the statement that

"the wrongfully imprisoned earl, when the sweet tranquillity of evening threw an air of tender melancholy over his mind ... composed the following sonnet, which, having committed it to paper, he, the next evening dropped upon the terrace."

The sonnet consists of four heroic quatrains somewhat curiously resembling the manner of Gray. From this episode it may be gathered that Mrs. Radcliffe did not aim at, or certainly did not achieve, historical accuracy, but evolved most of her descriptions, not from original sources in ancient documents, but from her own inner consciousness. It was only in her last novel—Gaston de Blondeville—that she made use of old chronicles. Within the Scottish castle we meet a heroine with an "expression of pensive melancholy" and a "smile softly clouded with sorrow," a noble lord deprived of his rights by a villain "whose life is marked with vice and whose death with the bitterness of remorse." But these grey and ghostly shadows, who flit faintly through our imagination, are less prophetic of coming events than the properties with which the castle is endowed, a secret but accidently discovered panel, a trap-door, subterranean vaults, an unburied corpse, a suddenly extinguished lamp and a soft-toned lute—a goodly heritage from The Castle of Otranto. The situations which a villain of Baron Malcolm's type will inevitably create are dimly shadowed forth and involve, ere the close, the hairbreadth rescue of a distressed maiden, the reinstatement of the lord in his rights, and the identification of the long-lost heir by the convenient and time-honoured "strawberry mark." These promising materials are handled in a childish fashion. The faintly pencilled outlines, the characterless figures, the nerveless structure, give little presage of the boldly effective scenery, the strong delineations and the dexterously managed plots of the later novels. The gradual, steady advance in skill and power is one of the most interesting features of Mrs. Radcliffe's work. Few could have guessed from the slight sketch of Baron Malcolm, a merely slavish copy of the traditional villain, that he was to be the ancestor of such picturesque and romantic creatures as Montoni and Schedoni.

This tentative beginning was quickly followed by the more ambitious Sicilian Romance (1790), in which we are transported to the palace of Ferdinand, fifth Marquis of Mazzini, on the north coast of Sicily. This time the date is fixed officially at 1580. The Marquis has one son and two daughters, the children of his first wife, who has been supplanted by a beautiful but unscrupulous successor. The first wife is reputed dead, but is, in reality, artfully and maliciously concealed in an uninhabited wing of the abbey. It is her presence which leads to disquieting rumours of the supernatural. Ferdinand, the son, vainly tries to solve the enigma of certain lights, which wander elusively about the deserted wing, and finds himself perilously suspended, like David Balfour in Kidnapped, on a decayed staircase, of which the lower half has broken away. In this hazardous situation, Ferdinand accidentally drops his lamp and is left in total darkness. An hour later he is rescued by the ladies of the castle, who, alarmed by his long absence, boldly come in search of him with a light. During another tour of exploration he hears a hollow groan, which, he is told, proceeds from a murdered spirit underground, but which is eventually traced to the unhappy marchioness. These two incidents plainly reveal that Mrs. Radcliffe has now discovered the peculiar vein of mystery towards which she was groping in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne. From the very first she explained away her marvels by natural means. If we scan her romances with a coldly critical eye—an almost criminal proceeding—obvious improbabilities start into view. For instance, the oppressed marchioness, who has not seen her daughter Julia since the age of two, recognises her without a moment's hesitation at the age of seventeen, and faints in a transport of joy. It is no small tribute to Mrs. Radcliffe's gifts that we often accept such incidents as these without demur. So unnerved are we by the lurking shadows, the flickering lights, the fluttering tapestry and the unaccountable groans with which she lowers our vitality, that we tremble and start at the wagging of a straw, and have not the spirit, once we are absorbed into the atmosphere of her romance, to dispute anything she would have us believe. The interest of the Sicilian Romance, which is far greater than that of her first novel, arises entirely out of the situations. There is no gradual unfolding of character and motive. The high-handed marquis, the jealous marchioness, the imprisoned wife, the vapid hero, the two virtuous sisters, the leader of the banditti, the respectable, prosy governess, are a set of dolls fitted ingeniously into the framework of the plot. They have more substance than the tenuous shadows that glide through the pages of Mrs. Radcliffe's first story, but they move only as she deftly pulls the strings that set them in motion.

In her third novel, The Romance of the Forest, published in 1792, Mrs. Radcliffe makes more attempt to discuss motive and to trace the effect of circumstances on temperament. The opening chapter is so alluring that callous indeed would be the reader who felt no yearning to pluck out the heart of the mystery. La Motte, a needy adventurer fleeing from justice, takes refuge on a stormy night in a lonely, sinister-looking house. With startling suddenness, a door bursts open, and a ruffian, putting a pistol to La Motte's breast with one hand, and, with the other, dragging along a beautiful girl, exclaims ferociously,

"You are wholly in our power, no assistance can reach you; if you wish to save your life, swear that you will convey this girl where I may never see her more... If you return within an hour you will die."

The elucidation of this remarkable occurrence is long deferred, for Mrs. Radcliffe appreciates fully the value of suspense in luring on her readers, but our attention is distracted in the meantime by a series of new events. Treasuring the unfinished adventure in the recesses of our memory, we follow the course of the story. When La Motte decides impulsively to reside in a deserted abbey, "not," as he once remarks, "in all respects strictly Gothic," but containing a trap-door and a human skeleton in a chest, we willingly take up our abode there and wait patiently to see what will happen. Our interest is inclined to flag when life at the abbey seems uneventful, but we are ere long rewarded by a visit from a stranger, whose approach flings La Motte into so violent a state of alarm that he vanishes with remarkable abruptness beneath a trapdoor. It proves, however, that the intruder is merely La Motte's son, and the timid marquis is able to emerge. Meanwhile, La Motte's wife, suspicious of her husband's morose habits and his secret visits to a Gothic sepulchre, becomes jealous of Adeline, the girl they have befriended. It later transpires that La Motte has turned highwayman and stores his booty in this secluded spot. The visits are so closely shrouded in obscurity, and we have so exhausted our imagination in picturing dark possibilities, that the simple solution falls disappointingly short of our expectations. The next thrill is produced by the arrival of two strangers, the wicked marquis and the noble hero, without whom the tale of characters in a novel of terror would scarcely be complete. The emotion La Motte betrays at the sight of the marquis is due, we are told eventually, to the fact that Montalt was the victim of his first robbery. Adeline, meanwhile, in a dream sees a beckoning figure in a dark cloak, a dying man imprisoned in a darkened chamber, a coffin and a bleeding corpse, and hears a voice from the coffin. The disjointed episodes and bewildering incoherence of a nightmare are suggested with admirable skill, and effectually prepare our minds for Adeline's discoveries a few nights later. Passing through a door, concealed by the arras of her bedroom, into a chamber like that she had seen in her sleep, she stumbles over a rusty dagger and finds a roll of mouldering manuscripts. This incident is robbed of its effect for readers of Northanger Abbey by insistent reminiscences of Catherine Morland's discovery of the washing bills. But Adeline, by the uncertain light of a candle, reads, with the utmost horror and consternation, the harrowing life-story of her father, who has been foully done to death by his brother, already known to us as the unprincipled Marquis Montalt. La Motte weakly aids and abets Montalt's designs against Adeline, and she is soon compelled to take refuge in flight. She is captured and borne away to an elegant villa, whence she escapes, only to be overtaken again. Finally, Theodore arrives, as heroes will, in the nick of time, and wounds his rival. Adeline finds a peaceful home in the chateau of M. La Luc, who proves to be Theodore's father. Here the reader awaits impatiently the final solution of the plot. Once we have been inmates of a Gothic abbey, life in a Swiss chateau, however idyllic, is apt to seem monotonous. In time Mrs. Radcliffe administers justice. The marquis takes poison; La Motte is banished but reforms; and Adeline, after dutifully burying her father's skeleton in the family vault, becomes mistress of the abbey, but prefers to reside in a chalet on the banks of Lake Geneva.

Although the Romance of the Forest is considerably shorter than the later novels, the plot, which is full of ingenious complications, is unfolded in the most leisurely fashion. Mrs. Radcliffe's tantalising delays quicken our curiosity as effectively as the deliberate calm of a raconteur, who, with a view to heightening his artistic effect, pauses to light a pipe at the very climax of his story. Suspense is the key-note of the romance. The characters are still subordinate to incident, but La Motte and his wife claim our interest because they are exhibited in varying moods. La Motte has his struggles and, like Macbeth, is haunted by compunctious visitings of nature. Unlike the thorough-paced villain, who glories in his misdeeds, he is worried and harassed, and takes no pleasure in his crimes. Madame La Motte is not a jealous woman from beginning to end like the marchioness in the Sicilian Romance. Her character is moulded to some extent by environment. She changes distinctly in her attitude to Adeline after she has reason to suspect her husband. Mrs. Radcliffe's psychology is neither subtle nor profound, but the fact that psychology is there in the most rudimentary form is a sign of her progress in the art of fiction. Theodore is as insipid as the rest of Mrs. Radcliffe's heroes, who are distinguishable from one another only by their names, and Adeline is perhaps a shade more emotional and passionless than Emily and Ellena in The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. The lachrymose maiden in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, who can assume at need "an air of offended dignity," is a preliminary sketch of Julia, Emily and Ellena in the later novels. Mrs. Radcliffe's heroines resemble nothing more than a composite photograph in which all distinctive traits are merged into an expressionless "type." They owe something no doubt to Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe, but their feelings are not so minutely analysed. Their lady-like accomplishments vary slightly. In reflective mood one may lightly throw off a sonnet to the sunset or to the nocturnal gale, while another may seek refuge in her water-colours or her lute. They are all dignified and resolute in the most distressing situations, yet they weep and faint with wearisome frequency. Their health and spirits are as precarious as their easily extinguished candles. Yet these exquisitely sensitive, well-bred heroines alienate our sympathy by their impregnable self-esteem, a disconcerting trait which would certainly have exasperated heroes less perfect and more human than Mrs. Radcliffe's Theodores and Valancourts. Their sorrows never rise to tragic heights, because they are only passive sufferers, and the sympathy they would win as pathetic figures is obliterated by their unfailing consciousness of their own rectitude. In describing Adeline, Mrs. Radcliffe attempts an unusually acute analysis:

"For many hours she busied herself upon a piece of work which she had undertaken for Madame La Motte, but this she did without the least intention of conciliating her favour, but because she felt there was something in thus repaying unkindness, which was suited to her own temper, her sentiments and her pride. Self-love may be the centre around which human affections move, for whatever motive conduces to self-gratification may be resolved into self-love, yet, some of these affections are in their nature so refined that, though we cannot deny their origin, they almost deserve the name of virtue: of this species was that of Adeline."

It is characteristic of Mrs. Radcliffe's tendency to overlook the obvious in searching for the subtle, that the girl who feels these recondite emotions expresses slight embarrassment when unceremoniously flung on the protection of strangers. Emily, in The Mysteries of Udolpho, possesses the same protective armour as Adeline. When she is abused by Montoni, "Her heart swelled with the consciousness of having deserved praise instead of censure, and was proudly silent"; or again, in The Italian,

"Ellena was the more satisfied with herself because she had never for an instant forgotten her dignity so far as to degenerate into the vehemence of passion or to falter with the weakness of fear."

Her father, M. St. Aubert, on his deathbed, bids Emily beware of "priding herself on the gracefulness of sensibility."

Fortunately the heroine is merely a figurehead in The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). The change of title is significant. The two previous works have been romances, but it is now Mrs. Radcliffe's intention to let herself go further in the direction of wonder and suspense than she had hitherto ventured. She is like Scythrop in Nightmare Abbey, of whom it was said:

"He had a strong tendency to love of mystery for its own sake; that is to say, he would employ mystery to serve a purpose, but would first choose his purpose by its capability of mystery."

Yet Mrs. Radcliffe, at the opening of her story, is sparing in her use of supernatural elements. We live by faith, and are drawn forward by the hope of future mystifications. In the first volume we saunter through idyllic scenes of domestic happiness in the Chateau le Vert and wander with Emily and her dying father through the Apennines, with only faint suggestions of excitement to come. The second volume plunges us in medias res. The aunt, to whose care Emily is entrusted, has imprudently married a tempestuous tyrant, Montoni, who, to further his own ends, hurries his wife and niece from the gaiety of Venice to the gloom of Udolpho. After a journey fraught with terror, amid rugged, lowering mountains and through dusky woods, we reach the castle of Udolpho at nightfall. The sombre exterior and the shadow haunted hall are so ominous that we are prepared for the worst when we enter its portals. The anticipation is half pleasurable, half fearful, as we shudder at the thought of what may befall us within its walls. At every turn something uncanny shakes our overwrought nerves; the sighing of the wind, the echo of distant footsteps, lurking shadows, gliding forms, inexplicable groans, mysterious music torture the sensitive imagination of Emily, who is mercilessly doomed to sleep in a deserted apartment with a door, which, as so often in the novel of terror, bolts only on the outside. More nerve wracking than the unburied corpse or even than the ineffable horror concealed behind the black veil are the imaginary, impalpable terrors that seize on Emily's tender fancy as she crosses the hall on her way to solve the riddle of her aunt's disappearance:

"Emily, deceived by the long shadows of the pillars and by the catching lights between, often stopped, imagining that she saw some person moving in the distant obscurity...and as she passed these pillars she feared to turn her eyes towards them, almost expecting to see a figure start from behind their broad shaft."

Torn from the context, this passage no longer congeals us with terror, but in its setting it conveys in a wonderfully vivid manner the tricks of a feverish imagination. So exhaustive—and exhausting—are the mysteries of Udolpho that it was a mistake to introduce another haunted castle, le Blanc, as an appendix.

Mrs. Radcliffe's long deferred explanations of what is apparently supernatural have often been adversely criticised. Her method varies considerably. Sometimes we are enlightened almost immediately. When the garrulous servant, Annette, is relating to Emily what she knows of the story of Laurentina, who had once lived in the castle, both mistress and servant are wrought up to a state of nervous tension:

"Emily, whom now Annette had infected with her own terrors, listened attentively, but everything was still, and Annette proceeded... 'There again,' cried Annette, suddenly, 'I heard it again.' 'Hush!' said Emily, trembling. They listened and continued to sit quite still. Emily heard a slow knocking against the wall. It came repeatedly. Annette then screamed loudly, and the chamber door slowly opened—It was Caterina, come to tell Annette that her lady wanted her."

It is seldom that the rude awakening comes thus swiftly. More often we are left wondering uneasily and fearfully for a prolonged stretch of time. The extreme limit of human endurance is reached in the episode of the Black Veil. Early in the second volume, Emily, for whom the concealed picture had a fatal fascination, determined to gaze upon it.

"Emily passed on with faltering steps and, having paused a moment at the door before she attempted to open it, she then hastily entered the chamber and went towards the picture, which appeared to be enclosed in a frame of uncommon size, that hung in a dark part of the room. She paused again and then, with a timid hand, lifted the veil, but instantly let it fall—perceiving that, what it had concealed was no picture and, before she could leave the chamber, she dropped senseless on the floor."

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse