There’s nothing like a good ghost story. Just ask Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Moreland.
“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, Chapter 6
Catherine is the one desperately hoping all the novels are horrid – and who can blame her? Things that go bump in the night, mysterious rattles, and ominous clinks and clanks are just the prescription for a good case of gooseskin. And Dearest Jane lists six stories to set the Gothic mood.
Meaning “horrible, causing horror” is from c. 1600, from Latin horridus “bristly, prickly, rough, horrid, frightful, rude, savage, unpolished,” and from horrere “to bristle with fear, shudder.”
Of the seven horrid novels Isabella recommends to Catherine, The Castle of Wolfenbach was the most famous and widely read in its time. It has all the classic frightening tropes of the huge drafty and doom-ridden mansion, innocent heroine in danger, a scandalous family secret, and a final showdown between good and evil. Written by Eliza Parsons, it was published in 1793, and the world as this English novelist would know it was in turmoil. The French were beheading their king and queen – and with the start of the Terror that year, pretty much anyone else who opposed Robespierre – as well as starting fights with many other European countries. Those upstart Colonials had left the fold but still tormented their ancestors with growing exploration of the seas and lands of the world under their own independent flag and government. Russia and the Turks kept tangling.
No wonder an author felt inspiration to write of the perils of the innocent versus outright evils, both seen and unseen.
But it all begins with those darn noises.
“What will become of me, unhappy as I am, where can I fly? who will receive a poor unfortunate, without family or friends? The little money I have will be soon exhausted, and what is to be the fate of poor Albert, who has left all to follow me!” Overcome with sorrow, she wept aloud. When, turning her eyes to the window, she saw a light glide by from the opposite wing, which her room fronted, and which Bertha had informed her was particularly haunted. At first she thought it was imagination; she arose and placed her candle in the chimney; curiosity suspended sorrow – she returned and seated herself at the window, and very soon after she saw a faint glimmering light pass a second time; exceedingly surprised, but not terrified, she continued in her situation: she saw nothing further. She at length determined to go to rest, but with an intention to visit every part of the house the following day. She got into bed, but could not sleep. About twelve o’clock she heard plainly a clanking of chains, which was followed by two or three heavy groans; she started up and listened, it was presently repeated, and seemed to die away by gentle degrees; soon after she heard a violent noise, like two or three doors clapping to with great force. Though unaccustomed to fear she could not help trembling. ~The Castle of Wolfenbach, Volume One
Poor Matilda. Your story’s barely started and already the eeriness descends. Wasn’t it enough that you only ended up here because you have the mother of all creepy uncles (excuse the mixing of my metaphors, if you please):
From this time my uncle’s behaviour was to me unaccountable he was for ever seeking opportunities to caress me, his language was expressive of the utmost fondness, he praised my person in such glowing colours as sometimes filled me with confusion. In short, madam, not to tire you, within three months after his return I began to be extremely uneasy at freedoms I scarce knew how to repulse. One morning after dressing I went into the garden, a thing unusual with me at that hour, and going round a serpentine walk, which led to a summer house, I thought I heard voices there; I stopt at the back of it, which, as well as the front, had a door that opened into the garden, and plainly heard Agatha’s voice, saying, “I tell you, Sir, there is no other way, send Albert off for a few days, or turn him off at once, for he loves Miss Matilda as if she were his own child, and therefore we must get rid of him; but you are so long settling your mind – get into her room at night when she’s asleep, I’ll take care nobody comes there, or tell her roundly at once you are not an uncle to her – I would not longer stand upon ceremony.”
Eew. Just eew. Because of her uncle’s unnatural affections, Matilda fled and became the guest of the Count of Wolfenbach – it’s his titular castle. After meeting a mysterious lady and her servant, all manner of evil breaks out in more noises, murder, and fire; Matilda hikes up her skirts and leaves for France. It’s there, while staying with the Marquis de Melfort, that Matilda learns more of the mysterious lady of the castle, Countess Wolfenbach, who had been held prisoner in her marriage for nineteen. Not even the caretaker’s wife knew of her existence.
A short time after I received a very melancholy letter. “Pity me, my dear sister, for I am miserable – I cannot deny my attachment to the most deserving of men: he has been rejected with contempt by my father, and yesterday I was commanded to receive Count Wolfenbach as my destined husband! I hate, I detest him – he is morose, savage, sneering, revengeful – Alas! what am I saying? this man may be my husband O, my dear sister, death is far preferable to that situation.”
That Count of Wolfenbach was a peach, but let’s not forget about Matilda’s uncle. He discovers her in France…but she’s also discovered by a love interest. A doomed-to-be-unrequited love interest, that is. He’s also a Count, a younger Count, named de Bouville, and not that Count, named Wolfenbach. Here’s where taking notes helps keep it all straight.
This was enough for the unhappy girl – down she dropt, and had not the Count [de Bouville] been attentive to her motions, and caught her in his arms, she must have fallen to the ground. Every body was alarmed, and crowded round her, the Marchioness particularly so; she was carried into another room, the Count still supporting her, and followed by his sister. It was some time before she returned to life. The first objects that struck her, was the Count holding her in his arms, the Marchioness on her knees, applying salts, and Mademoiselle De Bouville pressing her hand. ‘O, madam!’ cried she, eagerly and trembling, ‘he is come he is come.’ ‘Compose yourself, my love,’ said the Marchioness, ‘no one is come that can hurt you.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ answered she, hardly knowing what she said, ‘ ’tis he, he will carry me of, he will take me from you.’
Her friend still endeavoured to sooth and calm her spirits. The Count and his sister were surprised; they saw there was some mystery, but forbore any enquiries.
It was some time before she was perfectly restored: they urged her to return to the company – she felt a repugnance, ‘I fear that Miss – ‘ ‘Fear nothing, madam,’ interrupted the Count; ‘you have friends who will protect you with their lives.’ She looked at him with an expression of gratitude, but said nothing. She arose, and with feeble steps attended her friends into the saloon.
Mademoiselle De Fontelle officiously came to congratulate her return. The amiable De Bancre felt real concern, and expressed it with feeling, and without exaggeration.
Matilda, sensible of the kindness of her friends, and ashamed of the observation she had attracted, tried to acquire new spirits; but it was an endeavour only; her eyes were incessantly turned towards the door, she dreaded every moment she should see her uncle enter, and nothing could exceed her joy when the evening closed and they were seated in the Marquis’s carriage.
‘O, madam! O, Sir! ’tis assuredly my uncle – he will know where I am, and tear me from you.’ ‘Do not afflict yourself, my dear Miss Weimar,’ answered the Marquis; ‘if it should be him, he shall prove his pretensions before he gets any footing here, much less take you from our protection.’
Poor Matilda thanked him with a grateful heart, and retired to her bed, but not to sleep: her mind was greatly disturbed, ‘What a poor creature I am,’ cried she; ‘no father, brother, or protector, not even the clothes I wear my own property; if this man, this uncle claims, who can dare detain me? What are the evils which may befall me – whatever becomes of me, I will not embroil my friends. Happy, happy Miss De Bouville!’ said she, ‘you have a mother, a brother to protect you! Such a brother! what an amiable man! O, I never knew my wretchedness ’till now, that I am humbled to the dust!’ Under these melancholy impressions she past the night, and when morning came was in a high fever.
One thing the perceptive reader notes very quickly is Matilda’s predilection for falling ill with fevers at the slightest bit of personal turmoil. Since we know this is a Gothic drama, we can predict many such turmoils, and thus many such fevers. It’s somewhat of a paradox in her character, because she has the fortitude of an ox concerning rattling midnight chains and the bloody murder of servants, but the mere mention of her uncle’s name or sight of a handsome Count de Bouville ushers in the vapors. Her newfound friends – the Marquis and Marchioness de Melfort – support and protect her, and so decide to depart for London; Matilda expresses a desire to adjourn to a convent but is persuaded otherwise upon learning they are to meet Mrs. Courtney, whom the Countess of Wolfenbach has proclaimed in letters to be her protectoress. But there’s a surprise, and Matilda recognizes the Countess as the mysterious lady she stumbled upon when investigating the spooky tower at Wolfenbach castle. Unfortunately the Count also discovered that innocent meeting:
“Wretch,” cried he, “you have broken your oath with me, and therefore mine is no longer binding – prepare to die.” Despair had given me courage – I was no longer the poor weak creature he had entangled some years before; my spirits returned, “Strike, barbarian, and complete your crimes, I fear not death, it will free me from all the miseries you have heaped upon me; but I will not suffer under imputed guilt – I have broke no vows, I have kept the fatal oath you extorted from me in the hour of terror.” “How dare you persist in falsehoods,” cried he; “you have had a woman here – you see and converse with Joseph daily; dare you deny those charges?” “I do not,” answered I, “but still I have preserved my faith; the woman came here by accident, unawed by the terrors Joseph and I endeavoured to inspire, but she knew not who I was, nor any thing relative to my situation, and goes from hence in a few days: as to Joseph, the poor fellow, when he brings my provisions, enters into a little chat with Margarite, and sometimes I speak to him, and where is the mighty crime? You must know your diabolical secret is too well kept, or I need not be here in your power.” He paused a few minutes, then withdrew to the window, and spoke to the man in a low tone; they came again towards me, and I expected instant death, but they locked the doors, and stopping the mouth of poor Margarite, dragged her out of the room, still locking the door after them. The apprehensions I was under for that poor creature, overcame the courage I assumed, and I swooned; how long I was deprived of my senses, I know not, but I recovered by cold water they threw in my face. “O, what have you done with my poor nurse?” “She is safe from betraying secrets,” replied he: “come, madam, put on your clothes, and I shall bestow you safely too.” “If you design my death,” said I, “let me die here.” “Do as I command,” cried he, furiously, “or I shall carry you off as you are.” I threw on my clothes, as well as my terror would permit; meantime he broke the locks of my cabinet, although he could have had the keys, took out what valuables belonged to me; and then taking me between them, they led me through a long subterraneous passage, till we came out through a thicket to the skirts of the wood; it was but faint star light; I saw two horses fastened; I was immediately put upon one, though I made some resistance expecting they intended carrying me into the thick part of the wood, and murder me there, – and I still think it was so designed. The man held me fast; we passed a small cottage, but all was quiet, and soon after entered another part of the wood, when suddenly the Count’s horse fell and threw him over his head; he lay motionless; the man who held me rode up to him; he did not move. “I must see what hurt he has,” cried he; and jumping off, left me on the horse; at the same instant I gave him a kick, and the animal set off full speed through the wood. I must inevitably have been killed, had it pursued its way through the thickets, but providentially he made towards the road, and being tired, slackened his pace. Unable any longer to support the fatigue; my head giddy, and dreadfully galled with the saddle, I slipped off on a small hillock, on one side, and lay quite exhausted, expecting every moment to be overtaken and murdered. I had been there but a few minutes before a carriage appeared, with two or three horsemen; I uttered a cry; the carriage stopt – a servant came up, “Who are you – what is the matter?” said he. I replied, feebly, “An unfortunate woman, escaped from being murdered, for God sake save me.” The man went to the carriage, it drew up, the door was opened, and I was put in. The sudden joy added to the terror and fatigue I had gone through overpowered my senses, and I fainted….
Volume Two begins here, and we learn the unstoppable and immoral uncle has followed the party to England…along with the young Count de Bouville. Two ladies are especially discontent with this, as they have designs on the young Count themselves – Madame de Fontelle and Mrs. Courtney. When her uncle stirs up enough trouble with the authorities to exert guardianship over Matilda, the young Count professes mad love and proposes. It’s all too much for our soon-to-be-feverish heroine. It’s a scene surprisingly reminiscent of the first proposal dialogue exchanged between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, for all its “despite our disparate circumstances in station” and “in situations such as this it is the established mode to express a sense of obligation.” Matilda even hid from the Count, as did Elizabeth from Darcy.
She so carefully shunned him, that it was not easy to find her alone; but the morning, when it was intended to return in the evening to London, chance afforded him an opportunity. The Marchioness, Matilda, and the Count were in the garden; the Marquis came to them and requested to speak a few words to his Lady; She disengaged her arm from her companion, and went with him to the house. Matilda turned with an intention to follow; the Count took her hand, ‘Let me entreat you, madam, to pursue your walk; I wish to speak a few words, on an affair of consequence, that will not detain you long from your friends.’ She trembled, and without speaking, suffered him to conduct her to an alcove at the bottom of the garden. They were both seated for a minute before he could assume courage to speak, at length, ‘I believe from the first hour I had the happiness of being introduced to you, my admiration was very visible, but it was that admiration which a beautiful person naturally inspires, I knew not then it was your least perfection. Your story, which the Marquis related, convinced me you had every virtue which should adorn your sex, joined with a courage and perseverance, through difficulties which might do honor even to ours. Since I have been admitted a visitor in this house, I have been confirmed in the exalted opinion I entertained of your superiority to most women, and under this conviction I may justly fear you will condemn my presumption, in offering myself and fortune to your disposal.’ ‘How, my Lord,’ cried Matilda, recovering from her confusion, and interrupting him, ‘do you consider who and what I am? ‘Yes, madam,’ replied he, ‘I have already told you, I think you one of the most perfect of your sex, and as to any other consideration ’tis beneath my notice: if you will deign to accept of me, it shall be the study of my life to make you amends for the injustice of fortune, who blindly bestows her favors on the unworthy.’ ‘You will pardon me, my Lord,’ said she, ‘for interrupting you a second time, but I cannot suffer you to proceed in error; I entreat you, therefore to hear me with patience, and believe that the sentiments I express are the genuine feelings of my heart, from which no persuasions, no temptations shall ever make me depart. I acknowledge, with a grateful mind, the honor you offer me is far beyond any expectations I can ever form in life, and such as affords me both pride and pleasure, that I am not deemed unworthy your esteem. At the same time, although you can generously resolve to forego the respect you owe to yourself and family, my duty to myself obliges me to remember it: without family and connexions, without even a name -perhaps the offspring of poor, or still worse, of infamous parents, brought up and supported by charity; shall I intrude myself into a noble family, contaminate its lustre, reflect indelible disgrace on the author of my undeserved elevation, and live despised and reproached, as the artful creature who had taken advantage of your generosity and compassion? No, my Lord, permit me to say on such terms I never would condescend to be the wife of a prince. I shrink at my own littleness; I am in a state of obligation for my support, but I never will incur my own contempt, by deserving it from others. My mind is indeed, I hope, superior to my situation: I will preserve a rectitude of principles under every evil that may befall me; those principles impel me to avow, with the greatest solemnity in the face of heaven, that under the disgraceful circumstances in which my fate seems enveloped, I never will be yours.’ ‘Hold, hold, madam,’ cried the Count, endeavouring to interrupt her, ‘great God! what have you vowed!’ ‘What duty to myself and you required of me,’ said she; ‘and now, my Lord, let this subject never be renewed. If it can afford you any consolation,’ added she, softened by the disorder and distress of his appearance, ‘be assured, my Lord, that as I never can be yours, I never will be another’s; and if my happiness is as dear to you as yours will ever be to me, you will from this moment cease to think of me but as an unfortunate girl, deprived of all power to return obligations, and therefore with too much pride and spirit to receive them, but from this worthy family, where I conceive it no disgrace to hold myself dependent.’
As she ended these words she rose. ‘Stop one moment, madam,’ exclaimed the Count; ‘unless you would drive me to madness, afford me one gleam of hope, distant as it may be: your cruel vow precludes me from bliss, yet tell me, too lovely Matilda, that you do not hate me, that if -‘
‘Ah ! Sir,’ said she, involuntarily, ‘hate you ! Heaven is my witness, that did my birth and rank equal yours, it would be my glory, to accept your hand; but as there exists not a possibility of that, I beseech you to spare me and yourself unnecessary pain; from this instant determine to avoid me, and I will esteem you as the most exalted of men.’
Without giving him time to reply, she darted like lightning towards the house, leaving him overwhelmed with admiration, grief, and despair.
Of course she woke up ill the next morning.
Tormented all night by the distress of her situation, she arose unrefreshed, pale, feeble and agitated.
And with the return of the desire to depart for a convent in France, especially since Madame de Fontelle had been secretly gadding about England, spreading lies and rumors all and sundry about Matilda, and ruining her reputation before anyone even knew who on earth she was. Plus Mrs. Courtney now has a tendre for the young Count, since he was polite to her; despite his embarrassing public displays of affection for Matilda, Mrs. Courtney resolved to have him fall and of course that must mean he’s in rapturous love with her forthwith.
Mrs Courtney was good-natured, not from principle but constitution; she hated trouble of any sort, therefore bore any thing, rather than have the fatigue of being out of humour; she was polite and friendly, where she had no temptation to be otherwise; in short, she had many negative virtues, without any active ones. Such was Mrs Courtney, when she appeared in this book first. All men were indifferent alike, ’till she saw the engaging Count; a few interviews decided her fate; she found she loved to excess, and hated Matilda in proportion; she discovered his partiality in her favor, long before it was publicly known, and fought to recommend herself to his notice, by paying attention to his favorite; but finding all her endeavours ineffectual, she began to dislike the innocent object of her jealousy, and was casting about in her mind how to get rid of her, when Matilda unexpectedly declared her intention of going into a convent. The Count’s subsequent behaviour, his public declaration and protestations, were mortifying circumstances, ’tis true, but she depended upon time, absence, and her own endeavours, to conquer a passion he could not but look upon as hopeless. The Countess, so many years secluded from the world, at first felt only the warmest gratitude to Mrs Courtney and her brother, for their generous protection; but the polite attention, the mark’d kindness of Lord Delby, inspired her with the most perfect esteem for him, -and though, from the melancholy circumstances which attended her early prepossession, her heart was dead to love, she yet experienced all that partiality in his Lordship’s favor which her heart was capable of feeling.
Meanwhile, all is well at the convent, and Matilda gets on famously with the Mother Superior. The Marquis receives a letter from the German government stating evil Count Wolfenbach is dying and wishes to make amends to his wife, so they depart. That’s the lurking uncle’s cue to bring his incestuous self to the convent and demand Matilda accompany him by boat to Germany. But first, pirates!
“You are now safe in my possession,’ said he [her uncle]. ‘I am sorry you made force necessary; but you must be convinced ’tis now in vain to contend with me.” Matilda sat stupidly gazing at him; but the vessel beginning to move, she turned very sick: without any female on board to assist her, she was compelled to let him place her on the bed; and then requesting to be alone, he retired, and left her to her own very painful reflections.
All hope of assistance from the Marquis was now at an end; she knew not the place of her destination; she saw no probability of escaping from Mr Weimar; yet she felt an unconquerable repugnance to become his wife -a man capable of such duplicity and cruelty; ‘O, no!’ cried she, weeping, ‘sooner will I plunge into a watery grave than unite myself for life to a man I must hate and despise.’ She continued extremely sick and ill. They had been two days at sea, when she was alarmed by an uncommon noise over her head; voices very loud, and every thing in much agitation: soon after she heard the firing of guns, and Mr Weimar entered with an air of distraction. ‘I am undone,’ cried he, ‘unfortunate girl; you have been my ruin and your own, but I will prevent both.’ He instantly drew a large case knife, stabbed her and then himself. At the same instant a number of strange men burst into the cabin, Weimar’s friend with them. The Turks, (for they were taken by a Barbary Corsair) highly enraged with the bloody scene before them, were about to dispatch Weimar, who lay on the floor, when Matilda faintly cried, ‘Spare him, spare him.’ One of them who understood French, stopped their hands: he ordered him to be taken care of, and approached Matilda, who, growing faint with loss of blood, could with difficulty say, ‘My arm.’ The clothes being stript off, it was found the wound was indeed through her arm, which being laid across her breast, received the blow which he was in too much confusion to direct as he intended. The humane Turk soon staunched the blood; and having with him necessaries for dressing wounds, he sent on board his own ship for them, and a person who could apply them. He requested the lady to make herself easy, no insult should be offered to her person. Meantime Weimar was carried on board the Turkish vessel, and carefully guarded. His wound was a dangerous one, and the person who drest it gave but little hopes of his life; it continued however in a fluctuating state ’till their arrival at Tunis.
Matilda was out of all danger, but a prey to the most dismal apprehensions of what might befall her.
I placed my bets on Matilda developing a fever here…but no! Instead her rotten uncle confesses from his sickbed that Matilda is actually the daughter of Countess Bernitti, who to this day lives with all her family in Italy. And since the corsair is coincidentally unhappy in his piratical profession, he promises to deliver Matilda to her mother. She writes a letter to her friends, the Marquis and Marchioness, and they happen to relay its contents to the lovelorn Count de Bouville; he has managed to escape both Mrs. Courtney and Madame de Fontelle by removing to Bath, where not even the waters have relieved his anguished heart. I recommend he take a fever.
Ah! thought he, where is the modest retiring sweetness of Matilda? Where those unaffected charms -those natural graces of her deportment? Never shall I meet with a woman that I can admire or love, after knowing that lovely girl, whose very virtues preclude my happiness. He was in one of these reveries when the letter from the Marquis was delivered to him. The happiness of his friends gave him infinite delight; but how changed were his emotions on reading the postscript: his rage exceeded all bounds; he determined to leave Bath instantly. ‘I will hunt the villain through the world,’ cried he; ‘I will find her, if she is on earth, and no power shall ever take her from me again. O, Matilda! too scrupulous girl, you have undone us both, and ruined my peace for ever.’ He called his servants, and ordered the necessary arrangements for leaving Bath that night.
It’s to be a continental pursuit instead!
It would be tedious to follow the Count thro’ his journey. He made all possible enquiries through the different towns, without obtaining any information. He arrived at Mr Weimar’s; they had not heard from him since he left England. Disappointed and mortified, he went from Switzerland to Vienna, and from thence to the villa of the Countess. He was received with transport. The Countess eagerly exclaimed, ‘She is found, we have a letter -O, such good news !’
The Count had hardly patience to go through the ceremony of introduction, before he begged to know the good news!
The Marchioness had two days before received the letter Matilda had written from Tunis -she gave it him to read.
Matilda had briefly given an account of her voyage and arrival at Tunis, the civilities of the captain, and dangerous state of Mr Weimar. She mentioned, that she had reason to suppose she was descended from a noble family, in Naples; that a short time would relieve her doubts; and, at any rate, she would write again, if not join them, in a very little while.
Lovers, who are ever industrious to torment themselves, would perhaps, like the Count, have conjured up a thousand fears to distract their minds. ‘Is this all your good news?’ cried he, ‘alas! I see little to depend upon here; “she has hopes” she belongs to some noble family, -a scheme of that villain Weimar’s, to keep her easy ’till he recovers; besides, what dependence can be placed on a corsair? Ah! if these are all your hopes of safety, they are small indeed.’
Wait – it seems he’s contemplating a fever after all! Something must distract him because despite his dogged quest for his One True Love, all his friends manage to get to Matilda first. It’s a somewhat anticlimactic scene for our poor hero.
They were just seated at the dinner-table when the Count De Bouville’s name was announced. The Marchioness gave a cry of joy; the knife and fork dropped from Matilda’s hand, and it was with difficulty she kept her seat when he entered the room. The Marquis introduced him to the strangers as his particular friend: as they had never heard his name mentioned, they received him with the politeness due to that recommendation only: but when he advanced to Matilda she changed colour, and trembled so violently as to attract her mother’s observation, although she was too attentive just then to speak, for the Count’s agitations were visibly greater than hers; he bowed upon her hand and said a few words, but they were not intelligible. The Marquis hurried him through the rest of the company, and then placed him between Lord Delby and himself, saying, ‘Now, if you please, let us have our dinner; I put a negative to all compliments and question for this hour to come -’tis plain we are all very glad to see each other.’
Yes, we must suffer through several pages of dinner and surreptitious looks, bedtime ruminations, an entire evening of sleep, and morning ablutions before we get to the predictable denouement.
The Count seized this moment to know his doom. He besought her attention for a few moments, briefly ran over the affair between Mrs Courtney and him, as a mere Bagatelle, without wounding the lady’s consequence. His distress and pursuit of her through France, Switzerland, Germany, from thence to Tunis and back again. He described the fervency of his love and the tortures of suspence; called upon her in the tenderest manner, to remember the time when she had said, ‘If her rank and fortune equalled his, she would, with pleasure, give him her hand.’ “And now, madam,” added he “that hour so much wished for by you, though of little consequence in my estimation, when thrown into the scale with unequaled merit and dignity of mind; that hour is arrived, deign, my beloved Matilda, to tell me, if I still can boast a share in your esteem; tell me, if I may presume to hope, that, however changed your situation, your heart, faithful to your other friends, has not withdrawn itself from him who lives only for you, and depends on you for happiness or misery in extreme?”
Matilda endeavoured to assume a composure she did not feel, for after the conversation with her mother she thought she was not at liberty to act for herself. Being silent a few moments she replied, “Believe me, Sir, my heart is still unchanged, still the same grateful and affectionate sentiments predominate in my mind: the Count De Bouville possesses my esteem, if possible, more than ever, for my obligations to him are increased; but -I have a mother; no longer mistress of my own destiny, she must determine for me. I will not scruple to confess, that it will be to me the happiest moment of my life, if my duty and affection to her coincide with your wishes.”
And they all lived happily ever after, in Paris.
Thus, after a variety of strange and melancholy incidents, Matilda received the reward of her steadiness, fortitude, and virtuous self-denial. A consciousness of performing her several duties ensured her happiness; and when she wrote her beloved Mother St Magdalene the happy conclusion of her adventures, “From you,” said she, “I learned resignation, and a dependence on that Being who never forsakes the virtuous; from you I learned never to despair; to your precepts and prevention I am indebted for not taking the veil; and I trust, called into an elevated situation, I shall ever remember the unfortunate have claims upon the hearts of those whom God has blessed with affluence; and that, through your means, reserved to experience every blessing of life, I shall feel it my duty, by active virtues, to extend, to the utmost of my abilities, those blessings to others less fortunate than myself.”
I agree with the author’s verdict of virtuous self-denial, but I can’t quite commend our heroine for steadiness or fortitude. Her situation swung wildly like a storm-tossed sea (she was on the run somewhere and from someone for nearly half the story), and fortitude denotes some strength of character that I just can’t fathom in Matilda. I will allow that she endured her trials, but had she a bit more backbone I would have liked her more.
I can’t help but declare this to be a thoroughly horrid (as in its modern definition meaning disagreeable) horrid novel. Perhaps it loses a bit in the distance between the 18th and 21st centuries, but as I prefer suspense and implications over gore and obvious gags, I had hopes it would be one for the keeper shelf. Alas, it was not meant to be.
And I wonder at the title of this story, as the castle barely figured in the first dozen pages of the novel.
That flibbertigibbet Isabella Thorpe let me down in her recommendation.
- Vocabulary word taken from the Online Etymological Dictionary.
- For a brief summary of the plot and a list of characters, the Wikipedia page for The Castle of Wolfenbach does nicely.
- Quotes from The Castle of Wolfenbach, taken from A Celebration of Women Writers from the University of Pennsylvania. Unless you have a masochistic streak, or need some help with insomnia, I’d read the full text of something else and stick to my summation. Just #ReadaRegency instead!
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