‘Northanger Abbey’: What’s on Isabella and Catherine’s reading list?
“Dear creature! How much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”
“Have you, indeed! How glad I am! What are they all?”
“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocketbook. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”
“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”
“Northanger Abbey’s” Catherine and Isabella formed a veritable book club, bonding over “horrid” books. What are these books about? (Bonus: Some of these are available free online!)
The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794): In Ann Radcliffe’s classic novel, Emily St. Aubert falls for Valencourt, a mysterious handsome stranger. But she is forced to live with her aunt and hard-hearted uncle in her uncle’s gloomy castle — and must stave off the efforts of an brigand who aims to make her his own.
The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797): Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic romance — the last of her novels published in her lifetime — centers on two lovers, Vincentio di Vivaldi and Elena di Rosalba, who find their love tested when an evil monk (yes, evil) is hired by Vincentio’s mother to tear them apart. The monk, Schedoni, will go to any lengths to break up the lovers. Professor Nick Groom, editor of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of “The Italian”, says the novel is “one of the most suspenseful novels written in English.”
The Castle of Wolfenbach (1793): Eliza Parson’s tale follows Matilda, a young woman who runs away after her uncle attacks her. She finds herself at the Castle of Wolfenbach, where she discovers the Countess, who has been held hostage by her husband for 19 years.
Clermont (1798): In Regina Maria Roche’s novel, innocent heroine Madeline lives a secluded life with her father, Clermont. When Madeline goes to live with a rich Countess to receive an education, a stranger offers her a choice: Marry him, or her father’s mysterious past is revealed. Roche also wrote “The Children of the Abbey” — a title that may sound familiar: Harriet namechecks it in “Emma.”
The Mysterious Warning (1796): Eliza Parson’s story features some familiar tropes: The disinherited Ferdinand hears a voice warning him to leave his brother and his wife. Later he comes upon a haunted castle, is kidnapped and meets femme fatale Fatima — all before he returns home to uncover the secret between his brother and his wife.
The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest (1794): Karl Friedrich Kahlert wrote this collection of lurid stories about ghosts and magic — all connected by Volkert the Necromancer, who has seemingly come back from the dead. The tales are framed as stories within a story or as epistolary stories, a format similar to that of other Gothic novels, including Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
The Midnight Bell (1798): In Francis Lathom’s novel, Alphonsus Cohenburg is exiled from his home after he discovers his uncle has killed his parents. On his journey, Alphonsus becomes a soldier (and later a miner) and then falls in love with a woman who is later kidnapped by bandits.
The Orphan of the Rhine (1798): Eleanor Sleath’s novel follows Julie de Rubine, a woman raising her out-of-wedlock son in seclusion when she agrees to care for an orphan with — wait for it — a mysterious past. When she grows up, the orphan, Laurette, aims to find her parents. The story also includes a kidnapping, a lecherous marchese and a gloomy castle.
Horrid Mysteries (1796): Carl Grosse’s novel centers on Marquis of Grosse, who becomes enmeshed in a secret society that revels in mayhem and world domination.