Review of Francesca Saggini’s CRECS talk, ‘From The Vaults: Frances Burney and the Tragic Muse’, 13 Mar 2017

Many thanks to Jannat Ahmed (@PemberleyParade) for writing this review of our CRECS event, which took place on Monday 13 March 2017.

The Cardiff Romanticism and Eighteenth-Century Seminar recently had the pleasure of welcoming Professor Francesca Saggini (Università della Tuscia, Visiting Fellow at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge), author of Backstage in the Novel: Frances Burney and the Theater Arts, to present her new (never-before-presented) research on Frances Burney and the Tragic Muse. Discussing the neglect of Burney and her fellow female tragedians in most anthologies of eighteenth-century plays/drama, Saggini drew our attention to the contexts of Burney’s tragedies, and issued a call to take them more seriously. Continue reading


Monday 13 March 2017: Francesca Saggini, ‘From the Vaults: Frances Burney and the Tragic Muse’


Frances Burney is often best known as the writer of pioneering novels of manners that inspired Jane Austen, such as Evelina, or: The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World (1778). But she was also a playwright, who drew upon a rich tradition of tragic drama to reflect on her experiences at the court of George III and, more broadly, the ideological constraints that women faced in eighteenth-century society. In this talk, Francesca Saggini will discuss Burney’s ‘Tragic Muse’, and will more broadly reflect on the way that critical reception inflects our treatment of Burney and other late eighteenth-century dramatists.

Francesca Saggini is a Professor of English Literature at the Università della Tuscia and a Visiting Fellow at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. She has published extensively on Gothic fiction and the stage, the house in literature, and the fiction and drama of Frances Burney. Her most recent book is The Gothic Novel and the Stage. Romantic Appropriations (Pickering and Chatto-Routledge, 2015), which was awarded an Honourable Mention at the European Society for the Study of English Book Awards in 2016.

Please join us in Cardiff University’s Special Collections, in the basement of the Arts and Social Studies Library. The event starts at 5.30pm on Monday 13 March 2017. As usual, refreshments will follow after the presentations and discussion.

Attendance is free, but we would be grateful if you could register using our EventBrite link:

Gender in Gothic Fiction, by Ella Moseley


 We are delighted to be able to publish the first of the winning essays from our CRECS Essay Prize 2015/16: ‘Gender in Gothic Fiction’, by Ella Moseley, which was the winner in our Second-Year BA category.

Ella Moseley is a third-year English Literature undergraduate at Cardiff University. She is particularly interested in Romantic and Victorian literature, as well as modern crime fiction. She hopes to pursue a career in either journalism or law. 


Gender in Gothic Fiction


In the 1790s, due to the French Revolution, the debate concerning the nature, capacity, and role of women ‘acquired a new urgency’.[1] In France civil marriage and divorce were now permitted by law; some women even asked that they be granted the same political rights as men. Male anti-Jacobin writers sought to establish ‘progressive ideas’ about women with regard to ‘revolutionary terror and social breakdown’ – perhaps because they believed that the ‘fear of women stepping out of their traditional sphere’ made for effective propaganda.[2] In light of this statement, it appears that crosscurrents of sex and gender, biology and genre, are ‘crucial to an understanding of gothic writing’.[3] For example, Female Gothic and Male Gothic are arguably two distinct types that correspond to the categories of ‘terror gothic’ and ‘horror gothic’. Such categories are epitomised in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) respectively.[4]  Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1798), however, parodies Radcliffe’s use of gothic conventions ‘whilst relying on them for her novel’s shape’.[5] Each text, regardless of the gender of the author, has the potential to challenge or subvert the patriarchal authority inherent within eighteenth-century society.[6]


Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho arguably disrupts ‘unquestioning acceptance of an upper-middle-class patriarchal order’.[7] Radcliffe introduces Montoni as ‘a man […] with features manly and expressive, but whose countenance exhibited […] a haughtiness of command’.[8] He possesses ‘an aggressive masculinity’ that renders him hostile towards women whom he deems as a form of ‘disposable property’.[9] Unlike Lewis’s Ambrosio, Montoni does not indulge in emotions of high passion as in doing so he risks indulging in aspects of male sentimentality. His characterisation is rather contradictory: as a gothic villain, he needs to be cruel; but as an example of non-sentimental masculinity, he must embody values of reason and moderation.[10] The manliness that Montoni manifests belongs to an older tradition of masculinity that presents emotionality as feminine, shameful and a deviation from self-control.[11] He sees femininity as a lamentable excess to be contained. This perception becomes apparent when he endeavours to give Emily a conventional lecture on female deportment:

You should learn and practise the virtues, which are indispensable to a woman – sincerity, uniformity of conduct and obedience. (p.270)

Montoni’s use of language could be seen to stress ‘the duty of a woman’s submission to paternal regulations’[12]; however, it is worth remembering that the author was a female and so could be mocking the strict regulations that women were subject to. Interestingly the idea of female submission is subverted in an exchange between Montoni and Count Morano. Montoni cannot comprehend Morano’s reluctance to use force on Emily. Montoni exclaims to Morano: ‘this submission is childish! – speak as becomes a man, not as the slave of a pretty tyrant’ (p.200). Here it is Morano that is portrayed as the submissive individual, at the mercy of Emily the ‘pretty tyrant’. Radcliffe’s subversion of traditional power dynamics questions eighteenth-century patriarchal authority.

Despite Montoni’s oppressive nature, Emily is awestruck by a display of ‘Italian music and Italian expression’ set beneath ‘the enchantments of the Venetian moonlight’ (p.177). Emily begins to wonder what life would be like as a ‘sea-nymph’: Emily is no longer the ‘pensive, sorrowing wanderer’; instead that role is given to a male, subject to her enchantment, in what is a clear subversion of conventional gender roles.[13] Emily writes a poem of her imaginings called ‘The Sea-Nymph’, allowing her to take ‘control of her own fate or story’.[14] In this poem, Emily speaks of ‘prov[ing] [her] charmful pow’r’ (p.179). Emily recognises her need to ‘prove’ her abilities highlighting the fact that she is aware of the speculation of female inferiority. However, the poem ends with Emily-as-sea-nymph appropriating her femininity to ‘hush the sailor’s fearful groan’ (p.181), subverting the stereotype of the silenced female. Emily’s imaginings could be read as an ‘escape from the tyranny of patriarchal authority’ to another mode of being that ‘gives her control of her own sexuality’ excluding both marriage ‘and all forms of pecuniary advantage’.[15] Emily’s envisioned ‘escape’ thus highlights her wishes to defy the patriarchal authority that she is subject to.

In the ‘Sea-Nymph’, Radcliffe parallels Emily’s sensibility with freedom, assertiveness and transgression of propriety; however Emily’s transgressive behaviour in the poem is undermined by her moral perfection.[16] On his deathbed, St Aubert (Emily’s father), asks that she burn some papers hid at La Valée without reading them. However on doing so, Emily is distracted by a vision of ‘the countenance of her dead father’ (p.103) and thus unintentionally disobeys her father’s instructions. Emily, ‘reanimated with a sense of her duty’, goes on to say:

I have given a solemn promise […] to observe a solemn injunction, and it is not my business to argue but to obey. Let me hasten to remove the temptation that would destroy my innocence. (p.103)

The lexis of submission evoked through the terms ‘obey’ and ‘injunction’ parallels that of the many conduct-books that were around at the time. For example, Dr John Gregory’s A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters speaks of the importance of the ‘consciousness of doing your duty’.[17] Emily’s sense of morality overrides her desire to transgress her father’s wishes and read the papers, highlighting that although Emily may want to break free from patriarchal restraints, her sense of duty as a daughter prevents her from doing so.

By the end of the novel however, as if to reverse the ‘cumulative tendency’ of gothic plots concerning domestic violence (encapsulated when Annette voices to Madame Montoni ‘I suppose the Signor has been beating my lady’ (p.306)), the novel ultimately legitimises such discipline of women by presenting it as justified.[18] It attempts to eradicate all the stories of suffering women and to refigure them about men instead. The ‘brief history of LAURENTINI DI UDOLPHO’ (p.655) arguably rationalises the patriarchal discipline of women by presenting it as ‘deserved’.[19] Whilst on her deathbed ‘Sister Agnes’ revealed herself to be Laurentini; but through this ‘history’ the reader discovers the crime that drove her to insanity was murder. The ‘brief history’ dramatically re-genders ‘almost all the guilt and suffering’ in the novel.[20] For example, no longer a victim of Montoni’s greed, Laurentini is now a murderess who ‘conducted her scheme with deep dissimulation’, hoping to estrange ‘the affectations of the Marquis from his wife’ (p.658). While the Marquis, who actually committed the murder, is presented as sympathetic: subject to ‘a deep dejection’ that ‘hung over him ever after’ (p.659). In deflating Montoni, and faulting Emily for believing in ‘the power of men when it is actually women who have the power and tendency to harm’, Radcliffe has arguably dealt ‘a pro-feminist blow’.[21] However, far from liberating, this criminalisation of women and collapse of masculine power merely conceals the male to female violence throughout the novel and thus reaffirms notions of patriarchy.


In Northanger Abbey, under the cover of parodying Gothic fiction (in particular Radcliffe’s Udolpho) and so appearing to be ‘inoffensive’, Jane Austen could arguably be taking a satiric swipe at the ‘the literary and social patriarchy’ of the time.[22] At the age of ten, Northanger Abbey’s heroine Catherine Morland, was ‘noisy and wild’ and ‘hated confinement and cleanliness’.[23] As Mary Wollstonecraft approved in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Catherine had been brought up to be ‘fond of all boys’ plays’ (p.15).[24] However from fifteen to seventeen ‘almost pretty’ Catherine was ‘in training for a heroine’ (p.17). Catherine becomes aware of the importance of sensibility for women and a ‘new feminine but superficial awareness governs her reading’[25]:

she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives. (p.17)

The repeated use of the term ‘so’ not only mocks the ‘conventions of the Sentimental novel’, but also Dr Johnson’s popular concept that novels and other literary works should serve as ‘lectures of conduct’, as well as the expectation that women should ‘conform to a didactic paradigm’.[26] Here Northanger Abbey could be seen as a challenge and reply to those that would belittle women’s intelligence, underestimate their reading, restrict their education and seek to impose stereotyped expectations and responses.[27]

There are multiple passages throughout the novel that ‘satirize dominant assumptions by men about women’s intellectual powers and education’.[28] Chapter fourteen sees the narrator give a mock approval of Catherine’s ignorance in the practice of drawing:

She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind, is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can. (p.106)

Austen parodies with satiric intent the sort of conduct-book discourse that publicised such moralistic and sexist beliefs seriously. For example in Dr Gregory’s A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters he tells women that ‘if [they] happen to have any learning, keep it a profound secret, especially from the men’.[29] Austen could also arguably be parodying Emily’s moral perfection mentioned previously (of which also parallels A Father’s Legacy): Emily ‘hastens to remove the temptation that would destroy [her] innocence’ (p.103) behaving as one of the ‘sensible’ people mentioned by Austen’s narrator. Both Radcliffe and Austen appropriate familiar eighteenth-century discourses, through their allusion to conduct-book literature, in ways which question and challenge ‘official’ patriarchal values.[30]

Following Henry Tilney’s ‘lecture on the picturesque’, Catherine goes on to predict that ‘something very shocking indeed, will soon come out of London’ (p.107). Henry’s sister (Eleanor) is mistaken and assumes that Catherine is referring to the possibility of riots and rebellion in London. Henry then goes on to correct his ‘stupid sister’ by saying to her:

My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland is talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy-six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and lantern – do you understand? (p.108)

Henry’s use of phrases such as ‘my dear Eleanor’ and ‘- do you understand?’ suggest a very patronising tone, one that wouldn’t be ill-suited if used to address a young child. The nature of Henry’s response alludes to Mary Wollstonecraft’s point about the ‘false system of education’ which was perpetuating in women what she called a ‘barren blooming’.[31] The juxtaposition of the term ‘barren’ with ‘blooming’ shows Wollstonecraft insinuating the redundancy of women’s supposed ‘education’ due to its lack of quality. Despite Henry’s obvious playfulness in clearing up his sister’s ‘confusion’, shown through Henry’s fictionalisation of the ‘riot’ in a mock-historical report, Henry is made to speak from the position of male superiority which ‘his education, profession, broader experience and relative independence […] have bestowed’.[32] He expects and does in fact gain amusement at Catherine and Eleanor’s expense. Thus the power is shifted into ‘the camp of the male preceptor’ meaning that Austen’s ‘feminism’ is uncertain.[33]

Henry responds to Catherine in a similar manner after realising the outcome of her overindulgence in the realm of Gothic fiction. Upon first meeting Henry’s father, General Tilney, Catherine attributes his ‘air and attitude’ (p.176) to that of Montoni; thus presenting him as a verified version of Radcliffe’s villain: ‘different, but also disturbingly similar’.[34] After discovering the absurd conceptions entertained by Catherine concerning the sincerity of his father, Henry protests:

Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions that you have entertained. […] Remember the country and age in which we live. […] – Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? […] Could they be perpetuated […] in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing; where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting? (p.186)

Henry’s response is arguably a ‘transformed repetition of his mock rebuke’ to Eleanor about the ‘riot’ in her mind (p.108).[35] The pleasure Henry takes in feeling superior to Catherine undercuts his perceptions; while Catherine’s presumptions are slightly bizarre, it is not irrational to assume that a concealed murder could occur in Christian England, or to assume that women are always safe. [36] Both of Henry’s responses to the two girls are ironic. Each depends largely on the reader’s ideological knowledge regarding the late eighteenth- century riots in the English Midlands and elsewhere, and to the ‘repressive practices’ circulated in response to fear of domestic Jacobinism.[37] However Catherine soon realises that, ‘in suspecting General Tilney of either murdering or shutting up his wife, she had scarcely sinned against his character, or magnified his cruelty’ (p.230). As in Udolpho, after all the misapprehensions have been cleared, Catherine (like Emily) still has something to fear: ‘patriarchal tyranny’.[38] Rather than an exaggeration of the father’s familial role, Northanger Abbey provides ‘a sober reconsideration’ – the father may be able to dampen the spirits of his family, may ‘interfere in their marital plans’ due to ‘snobbish ambition’, but the children can always ‘assert their rationality’; they are not his passive victims.[39]


The Monk arguably defines itself against Udolpho: the positive visionary aspects of sensibility that are so prominent in Radcliffe’s text are almost absent. Cynical statements made by the narrator ‘place women in inferior and passive roles as objects of male desire’; thus making it difficult to argue that The Monk is ‘potentially subversive of patriarchal roles governing women’s sexuality’.[40] The opening scene of The Monk is that of a church ‘thronged with auditors’ in which ‘the Women came to show themselves, the Men to see the Women’.[41] Due to the full capacity of the church Leonella and her niece Antonia struggle to find a seat. Upon expressing her wish to return home, Antonia’s ‘tone of unexampled sweetness’ (p.9) is heard by two cavaliers: Don Christoval and Don Lorenzo. They longed to behold the face to which the voice belonged however ‘this satisfaction was denied them’:

Her features were hidden by a thick veil; but struggling through the crowd had deranged it sufficiently to discover a neck which for symmetry and beauty might have vied with the Medicean Venus. (p.9)

The veil epitomises Lewis’s use of the Male Gothic; a genre that: presupposes ‘a masculine subject dazzled by actual, or self-produced stimuli with a tendency to an eroticisation figured through the female body’.[42] Both Christoval and Lorenzo are the masculine subjects, dazzled by actual stimuli (Antonia). Their objectification of Antonia through the allusion to the ‘Medicean Venus’ not only subjects her to an ‘active male gaze’[43] but eroticises her through reference to the statue (commonly depicted as having one hand covering her genitalia). The apparent focus on Antonia’s physical ‘beauty’, aligned with that of a statue, assigns her to the inferior role as an object of male desire.

The inset narrative of the ‘Bleeding Nun’ provides us with Antonia’s antithesis:

Beatrice de las Cisternas took the veil at an early age […] But no sooner did her warm and voluptuous character begin to develop, than She abandoned herself freely to the impulse of her passions. (p.173)

It culminates with Otto von Lindenberg, Beatrice’s lover, plunging the dagger ‘still reeking of his Brother’s blood’ (p.175) into Beatrice’s bosom after she has used it to kill her former lover The Baron (Otto’s brother). The narrative portrays Beatrice as a passionate and ‘uncontrollable female’ – everything that Antonia is not.[44] The juxtaposition between Antonia and Beatrice provides a ‘double image of the veil’: while Beatrice appears penetrated and bloody, Antonia ‘remains fixed within the discourse of modesty’.[45] Thus, once dead, Beatrice becomes the female principle that haunts the patriarchal symbolic order. The antithesis present between Beatrice and Antonia recalls one seen between Emily and Laurentini in Udolpho, also by means of a ‘veil’. Toward the end of Udolpho the reader discovers that ‘had [Emily] dared to look again’ she would have discovered that the figure beneath the veil ‘was not human, but formed of wax’ (p.662). The image is actually ‘a wax memento mori of indeterminate sex’; it is Emily ‘who engenders it through projection’.[46] However as Emily ‘explicitly identifies her situation with Laurentini’s’, she finds herself in the ‘object’ position that the veil creates ‘for those who wear it’.[47] This is a classic example of Radcliffe’s endorsement of the Female Gothic, a genre that: presupposes a female subject position disciplined through a male presence; however whereas in Lewis’s use of the Male Gothic the subjects (Christoval and Lorenzo) adopted the gaze, here the subject (Emily) is also the object of that gaze. Both cases present the endorsement of patriarchy by presenting the female characters as objects of the gaze.

The concept of uncertain, indeterminate sex manifests itself in the character of Rosario/Matilda. In the ‘Abbey-Garden’ Rosario reveals her ‘true’ identity to Ambrosio, exclaiming ‘’I am a Woman! […] I am Matilda’’ (p.50/1). Matilda’s masking of her supposed ‘true’ identity could allude to the chapter epigraph in Radcliffe’s Udolpho (p.670): a quotation from Milton’s Comus. Comus was a popular masquerade figure during the eighteenth-century and by the 1770’s it was ‘common practice for women to appear in male attire at masquerades’, perhaps demonstrating where Lewis found his inspiration for Matilda.[48] Whilst in the garden Matilda asks Ambrosio to pick her a flower as ‘a token of [his] regard’ (p.71); however on doing so he utters ‘ a piercing cry’ having been bitten by ‘A Serpent’ that was ‘concealed among the roses’ (p.71). Lewis’s ‘Serpent’ parallels that of the Garden of Eden, presenting Ambrosio as an Eve figure in what is a clear subversion of traditional gender roles and thus partriarchy. This subversion is arguably more poignant as it occurs in the Monastery garden – one that possesses context of patriarchal education (a monastery being one definition of fatherly austerity).[49]

The danger of female power and unpredictability that unsettles the patriarchal order is personified through Matilda. She ‘exploits Ambrosio’s weakness for the feminine through his own “feminine” side, his inherent carnality’.[50] At this point Matilda appears as dominant stating that she ‘shall seize every opportunity to excite [Ambrosio’s] desires’ (p.89). However Matilda does refer to herself as ‘prey’, presenting herself as a victim as well as a seductress: she must conform to the conventions of sensibility in order to tempt Ambrosio into sleeping with her.[51] After ‘satisfying his desires’ (p.84) by sleeping with Matilda, Ambrosio’s response to her sexual and intellectual dominance is ‘to pursue a “feminine” ideal of chastity and submissiveness’ in the form of Antonia.[52] Although Ambrosio’s encounter with Matilda initially appears to be subverting traditional gender power dynamics, he then undermines this, reaffirming male dominance by pursuing and raping Antonia, an endorsement of the feminine ideal.


Feminist writers claim that ‘Gothic fantasy has been appropriated differentially by men and women’.[53] Yet while male and female authors may appear to deal with matters differently, the outcome seems to be the same. For example, although at times Radcliffe and Austen appear to challenge ‘official’ patriarchal codes, they are still ultimately confined by the restrictions of their sex as both The Mysteries of Udolpho and Northanger Abbey endorse the reaffirmation of patriarchal structures. However, The Monk is predominately concerned with the fear of female sexuality, and Lewis deals with this anxiety in a manner typical of a male of the era: he presents women as weaker in the binary opposition of Male/Female, thus asserting patriarchal authority. In each text, traditional patriarchal values are questioned at some point; however ultimately, the restrictions and attitudes of eighteenth-century society prevent these texts from fully proclaiming the subversion of patriarchal values.


Primary Texts

Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2003)

Lewis, Matthew, The Monk (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)

Radcliffe, Ann, The Mysteries of Udolpho (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)


Secondary Sources

Castle, Terry, Watch Out! Boss Ladies: Essays on Women, Sex, and Writing (New York: Routledge, 2002)

Gregory, John, A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters (London: W Strahan, T Cadell, 1774)

Howard, Jacqueline, Reading Gothic Fiction: A Bakhtinian Approach (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994

Johnson, C.L., Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790’s – Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen (London: University of Chicago Press Ltd, 1995)

Miles, Robert, Gothic Writing, 1750-1820: A Genealogy (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2002)

Stafford, William, English Feminists and Their Opponents in the 1790’s: Unsex’d and Proper Females (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002)

Watt, James, Contesting the Gothic: Fiction, Genre, and Cultural Conflict, 1764-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Williams, Anne, The Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic (London: The University of Chicago Press Ltd, 1995)

Internet Sources and Websites

Bondhus, Charlie, ‘Sublime Patriarchs and the Problems of the New Middle Class in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian’, Gothic Studies, 12.1 (2010), 13-32. Available at [accessed 2 April 2016].




[1] William Stafford, English Feminists and Their Opponents in the 1790’s: Unsex’d and Proper Females (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), p.1.

[2] Stafford, English Feminists, p.2.

[3] Robert Miles, Gothic Writing, 1750-1820: A Genealogy (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2002), p.7.

[4] Jacqueline Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction: A Bakhtinian Approach (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p.57.

[5] Linda Hutcheon,A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms’, quoted in Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.147.

[6] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.105.

[7] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.7.

[8] Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.23. All further references are to this edition and are given parenthetically in the body of the essay.

[9] Claudia L Johnson, Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790’s – Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen (London: University of Chicago Press Ltd, 1995), p.103.

[10] Johnson, Equivocal Beings, p.103.

[11] Johnson, Equivocal Beings, p.103.

[12] Johnson, Equivocal Beings, p.103.

[13] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p. 136.

[14] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p. 136.

[15] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p. 136.

[16] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.138.

[17] John Gregory, A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters (London: W Strahan, T Cadell, 1774), p.22.

[18] Johnson, Equivocal Beings, p.113.

[19] Johnson, Equivocal Beings, p.113.

[20] Johnson, Equivocal Beings, p.114.

[21] Johnson, Equivocal Beings, p.115.

[22] Hutcheon, ‘A Theory of Parody’, quoted in Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.147.

[23] Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2003), p.16. All further references are to this edition and are given parenthetically in the body of the essay.

[24] Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, quoted in Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.163.

[25] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.163.

[26] Samuel Johnson, ‘Johnson: Prose and Poetry’, quoted in Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.163.

[27] Howard, Reading Gothic, p.174.

[28] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.168.

[29] Gregory, A Father’s Legacy, p.26.

[30] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.170.

[31] Wollstonecraft, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, quoted in Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.177.

[32] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.177.

[33] Miles, Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, p.138.

[34] Miles, Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, p.142.

[35] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.167.

[36] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.167.

[37] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.167.

[38] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.166.

[39] Miles, Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, p.144.

[40] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.8.

[41] Matthew Lewis, The Monk (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.7. All further references are to this edition and are given parenthetically in the body of the essay.

[42] Miles, Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, p.47.

[43] Miles, Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, p.47.

[44] Anne Williams, The Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic (London: The University of Chicago Press Ltd, 1995), p.119.

[45] Miles, Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, p.158.

[46] Miles, Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, p.72.

[47] Miles, Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, p.72.

[48] Aileen Ribeiro, ‘Dress Worn at Masquerades in England’, quoted in Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.140.

[49] Miles, Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, p.153.

[50] Williams, The Art of Darkness, p.117.

[51] Miles, Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, p.159.

[52] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, p.201.

[53] Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction,

CRECS Essay Prize Winners

In 2015/16, we established the CRECS Essay Prize, an annual award open to undergraduate and MA students registered in Cardiff’s School of English, Communication and Philosophy. The prizes are intended to reward the most impressive student essays addressing English Literature of the eighteenth century and Romantic period over the academic year. They are also intended to facilitate engagement with the field of eighteenth-century and Romantic studies, and to encourage the winners to consider further study in this area.

We are delighted to be able to announce the winners for 2015/16: Ella Moseley (second-year BA), Alexander Diggins (third-year BA), and Charlotte Pruce (MA). Congratulations to all three of our winners! We are also delighted to be able to publish Ella and Alexander’s essays on this blog, with their permission. Please see the following blog posts.

We will be running the prize again in the 2016/17 academic year, and we hope that all English Literature students taking modules in our period will be inspired to take part. There is no need to enter your work, as all eligible essays will automatically be entered for the prize. Good luck!




‘[T]his beautiful city’: ‘Narrative and Nation’’s Field Trip to Bath


Blog post by Jannat Ahmed (@PemberleyParade). Photo credits to Caitlin Coxon (@CoxonCaitlin), Jo Daniel (@JFDMID), Anthony Mandal (@CardiffBookHistory) and Sophie Coulombeau (@SMCoulombeau). We are very grateful to the School of English, Communication and Philosophy’s Teaching Enhancement Fund for meeting the costs of this trip and ensuring an accessible learning experience for all students on the module.

This year, the MA Narrative and Nation cohort, led by Dr Sophie Coulombeau and Professor Anthony Mandal, had the wonderful opportunity and pleasure to go on a field trip to Bath. Our psychogeographic exploration of the town sought to consolidate the project of the module: to understand the relationship between narrative and nationhood. But, as it happens, we managed to achieve much more!

After passing multiple heritage plaques within minutes of arriving, our exploration proper began at South Parade, on the River Avon, where we were treated to a reading by Sophie of Frances Burney’s letter describing the very house we were stood beside.


15319185_10211391688936288_3505660210449507354_nThe house, occupied by the Thrales, was home to Burney for her time there. We learnt that Burney occupied one of the rooms overlooking the river and, in the surreal manner that psychogeography anticipates, we could see her very view across the water. Of the writers we considered, she was one of the most sympathetic towards and most enchanted by Bath, especially in contrast to Horace Walpole. However, we also learnt her trip was cut short due to the Gordon riots, which was intriguing because it gives a lively, political history to a now more statically preserved town.

Next, we were guided to the resting place of Frances Burney. Her grave, and a memorial commemorating Reverend George Austen, Jane Austen’s father, share a graveyard at Walcot Church. Situated in the middle of a busy intersection, the sobering knowledge that Burney’s memorial had been moved so that her body was lost under our feet led to a fruitful conversation about the bodies and resting places of other long eighteenth-century writers, namely Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley.



We then soldiered on to the Museum of Bath Architecture whose administrator extraordinaire had kindly opened the museum for us. The museum was also the Countess of Huntington’s chapel. This chapel, we learnt, was a site where abolitionists and freed slaves spoke to congregations. Unsurprisingly, in terms of architecture, the museum itself was abundantly useful! To see the amount of skill and craft that went into the construction of a typical Bath house, its exteriors and its interiors, was invaluable. The choices of finish and style, the wallpaper, the plasterwork, and even the doors, were ample. Learning of the stress put on the nature of furnishings and function in the long eighteenth century helped make Elizabeth Elliot’s anxiety about refraining ‘from new-furnishing the drawing-room’ in Austen’s Persuasion more understandable, if not any less amusing.


Following this, we made our way to a coffee shop where, pertinently for Cardiff University’s eighteenth-century enthusiasts, we talked politics and power and learnt that we would briefly be meeting Dr Stephen Gregg from Bath Spa University. This meeting was my personal highlight of the trip because, in true literature-student fashion, we had an impromptu reading of Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Stephen outside the Assembly Rooms. He later pointed out the location of the easily-missed circulating library on Milsom Street, which is also the street where Anne encounters Admiral Croft.



After a quick view of the situation of Westgate Buildings, the home of Anne Elliot’s friend, Mrs Smith, and an education on the lay of the land suggesting rank, (because the higher parts of Bath were furthest away from the river where there really was ‘foul air’ as Sir Walter Elliot puts it) we made our way to Bath Street and the site of what was once White Hart Inn. Bath Street, the place where William Elliot is seen with Mrs Clay, was notorious for unseemly liaisons and would have been recognised by Austen’s readership as such. We then paused at Hall & Woodhouse for lunch.


After lunch, we spent an hour or so seeing Bath on our own. In this time, Caitlin and I visited Bath Abbey, Sally Lunn’s, the Christmas Markets (unavoidable, of course, as they were right beside the Abbey), and bookshops. We then all made our way to The Crescent to see a candlelit and festive No. 1 Royal Crescent which was absolutely fascinating. In fact, we might have stayed longer there if we could. Our interest was focused on the day-to-day lives of a Georgian household, and it was rather eye-opening. We learnt about Georgian custom and convention in the dining room: the Georgians used nutmeg graters at the table; while in the parlour, we learnt about the luxury of carpets; and in the bedrooms, the changing fashion of its inhabitants due to the hair powder tax. Our final stop No. 1 Royal Crescent’s kitchen which was perhaps the most delightful, refreshing part of the trip because we learnt that maggot-ridden, stale and otherwise decaying food was the norm, hence the need for nutmeg graters to disguise the taste. Our trip ended here with a group photo.


Our walking tour through the town of Bath exemplified the rich materiality, the politics and the broad nature of eighteenth-century notions of nation. In all the bustle of Bath, the field trip asserted the importance and uniqueness of place in constructions of nation in narrative and above all, its physical reality. Bath’s preservation is best experienced in person, because as Burney says, Bath holds ‘more luxury for the Eye’ than I could hope to illustrate.








SNACKS & SOCIABILITY: A CRECS MIXER (Monday 21 November, 5.30pm)

*An evening of chit-chat*
Monday 21 November
Room 0.43, John Percival Building, Cardiff University
Please join us for a CRECS social mixer, designed to generate communication and foster collaboration across different disciplines and levels of study at Cardiff University and beyond. We welcome staff and students – at any level – who  have an interest in literature, history, philosophy, politics or music of the period 1680-1840. We also welcome staff and students from other higher education institutions who are interested in working closely with the CRECS community on projects of any kind. Over wine, soft drinks and snacks we will facilitate informal discussions about the work we are currently undertaking, and consider how we might work together over coming years to strengthen our research and teaching community. No preparation is necessary.

If you are intending to attend, we would be grateful if you could register at

Chick Lit and Cosy Crime: The Problem of Genre in Eighteenth-Century and Contemporary Fiction

This blog post is from Jannat Ahmed (@PemberleyParade), a Masters student in English Literature at Cardiff University. Her research interests include the authorship and readership of the eighteenth-century novel, the popular novel of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, fanfiction culture, and postcolonial and feminist theory. She hopes to pursue a doctorate investigating the relationship between the girl reader, the woman writer and the male critic in British literature.

The journalist Caitlin Moran believes that culture precedes politics in motivating change in society, and I agree. Yet it seems to me that the importance of ‘low’ culture, particularly in terms of genre fiction, is often overlooked. Despite its prevalence, critics and reviewers sometimes engage in an unfortunately token relationship with genres such as romance and crime fiction. Rightfully so, perhaps, one might say, when much of these fictions are reproduced, predictable texts that follow a traditional plot-line. However, much as critics may tire of them, cultural phenomena such as film and television franchises, sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes all operate on a mass level of reproduction. Why is this? What lies behind this money-making machine? What does it mean for the audience? And when and how did the traditional plot-line come into being? I think it is worth interrogating the construction of literary genre against these cyclical, recognisable narratives.

Since I am focusing on the novel tradition, let us first consider the beginnings of the novel. The novel in Britain, as we know it today, has traditionally been thought to originate with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, first published in 1719, which, with its focus on resourcefulness and investigation, we might see as a predecessor of the crime fiction novel. Equally, the amatory fiction (novels or novellas, as we might see them today) written before and contemporary with Robinson Crusoe, by authors like Eliza Haywood, also set the stage for future fictional prose writing. Haywood’s amatory fiction can be seen here as a predecessor to modern romantic fiction. Both these narratives have set a precedent for genres to come. These narrative types came to fruition later in the long eighteenth century with novels like Frances Burney’s Evelina, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and William Godwin’s Caleb Williams. These novels are now read as romantic and crime narratives whose characteristics would later become well-worn tropes. Their authors produced, created and emboldened the grand narratives that both crime and romantic fiction embody today.

‘Literary’ fiction – the type found on university reading lists today –  is often focused on the unusual, the new, and the original; sometimes it explores the act of finding the terror in the mundane (see Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy), or the mundane in the terror (see Don DeLillo’s Falling Man). Not all contemporary literature does or should fit under this description, but postmodernist and modernist influences persist in our approach to appreciating literature at the cost of genre fiction. We savour “difficult” realist texts, taboo topics and the extreme. And yet, these same themes do appear in cosy crime and chick lit. While lauded modernist texts of the twentieth and postmodernist texts into the twenty-first century explore taboo and its extremes, crime fiction and romantic fiction do the same – with little critical recognition. The only difference is that a taboo is no longer taboo because it fits the context. The murderous instincts and perverted crimes of a serial killer are to be expected in crime genre fiction.

But what exactly does genre expectation mean? In one respect, fiction can be measured on a scale of familiarity. We might read fiction to discover something new, different and unfamiliar (as with many modernist texts), or to satisfy a pre-existing familiar interest (such as rereading crime and romantic fiction). Postmodern literature is sensitive to its use of cliché as well as aware of its own literary forerunners, which it works to undermine and rework. Crime fiction and romantic narratives are aware of tropes in a different manner; their authors often work towards expectation rather than against it. The anomalies of genre fiction, such as The End of the Affair as a crossover between romantic and crime fictions, are those which may find their way onto literature courses. The idea of a natural evolution of novel content in terms of crossover and reworking must be taken into consideration, but it is still the case that crime and romantic fiction have persisted as distinct genres to this day, with resounding success.

While genre is often difficult to pin down in literary fiction because of an unfamiliar amalgamation of tropes, types and themes, in genre fiction the unfamiliar lies within the text,  rather than outside it. In other words, the characters within genre fictions are unaware of the plotline they will inevitably follow, but the reader is not. I make this differentiation because it places centre stage the reader’s desire for affirmation. A dramatic irony is often at play when we read these types of novels, or consume these types of narratives. Why do we place our expectations in these fictions in this way? Perhaps now, more than ever, it relates to a nostalgic desire to believe in a grand narrative, even if this is confined to the expectation of executing justice (in crime fiction) or finding a life-partner (in romance). We might read the culture of reboots, remakes and sequels in this vein. We replace our own grand narratives with fictional ones, which brings us to a whole other topic. Is the grand narrative in chick lit and cosy crime a residue of T.E. Hulme’s reading of Romanticism as ‘spilt religion’? Why is it these specific genres that persist?

It is no coincidence that these  “trashy” chick lit or cosy crime novels are often referred to, in their adherence to expectations, as “guilty pleasures”. (This reasoning also applies to popular music and chick flicks.) These texts are guilty pleasures because they reveal a naïve, unrealistic, idealised version of life. And idealism provides the perfect relief from the “difficult” texts of contemporary fiction. These fictions are difficult precisely because they seem closer to reality, in that they often do away with a grand narrative. But this doesn’t mean that genre fiction therefore has no literary importance. The ‘ideal’ and the ‘real’, as narrative constructs, both have value. Indeed, this is where the novel tradition began, with Robinson Crusoe’s desire to execute justice in a faraway land, and Haywood’s (sometimes surreal) explorations of love and partnership. Love and justice, it seems, are our inherited and enduring grand narratives, and literature finds multiple ways to explore and interrogate them.

2016/17 CRECS Programme now available

We are delighted to announce our programme for the forthcoming academic year, 2016-2017. Events are usually held on Mondays, begin at 5.15pm, take place in Cardiff University’s Special Collections or the John Percival building and are followed by a drinks reception. Information about each event will be publicized on the CRECS blog in advance. All are welcome, but we warmly encourage undergraduates and MA students to attend in order to learn more about our research into the eighteenth century and Romantic period .

Founding members of CRECS are Dr Melanie Bigold, Dr James Castell, Dr Sophie Coulombeau, Alison HarveyProf. Anthony Mandal, Dr Jane Moore and Prof. Garthine Walker. You can contact any of us with questions about the programme.

We are currently looking for under- and postgraduate students from Cardiff University to join the CRECS team, assist with organising events and help us to manage our blog and social media. Please get in touch with one of us if you would like to be involved! Continue reading

Report on ‘Valentines CRECS: How romantic were the Romantics?’, 8 Feb 2016

In the week of Valentine’s Day, the CRECS audience assembled to hear husband-and-wife team Professor John Strachan (Romantic scholar and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Bath Spa University) and Dr Jane Moore (Reader in Romanticism at Cardiff University) address some burning questions about romance in the Romantic era. What can literary men and women of the period teach us about courtship, marriage, sex and love?  Can they tell us how to be a good husband or a good wife?  Or offer examples of how not to be? And what of same-sex partnerships?  Jane represented the views of women writers of the period, including Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Letitia Elizabeth Landon; while John sifted the love lives of Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and John Keats. Continue reading

Leverhulme Lecture by Tim Stretton: Stepmothers at Law in the Long 18th Century, 29 Feb 2016

Stepmothers at Law in the Long Eighteenth Century

Tim Stretton, St Mary’s University, Nova Scotia

Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor, Cardiff University

A Leverhulme Lecture supported by the Cardiff Romanticism and Eighteenth-Century Seminar (CRECS) and the School of History, Archaeology and Religion (SHARE)

Monday 29 February 2016, 5.15pm
Room 2.01, John Percival Building, Cardiff University

CRECS is delighted to host a public lecture from Tim Stretton, Professor of History at St Mary’s University, Nova Scotia. Come along on Monday 29 February to hear about his current research on the cultural image and legal status of the stepmother in Britain over the long eighteenth century—a topic that will appeal to all historians and literary scholars interested in intersections between law, gender, and kinship. In Tim’s own words:

The focus of my research is the legal position of married women in the English past, tracing the Common Law idea of ‘coverture’ over many centuries, prior to the dismantling of most of its effects between the 1870s and 1925. Under coverture, most of a wife’s legal autonomy was ‘covered’ by her husband’s, so that she could not independently hold or enjoy property, and without his permission she could not enter into contracts, take part in lawsuits or write a will. This curtailing of a married woman’s legal independence was more severe than under any other comparable legal regime in Europe. And yet in practice a number of women managed to wield power, use equitable devices such as trusts to maintain control of property, and make use of legal exceptions to evade coverture’s worst effects.

Against this backdrop of harsh rules and a more flexible reality, the figure of the stepmother provides an interesting case study for examining female autonomy, male fears, and the cultural (as well as legal and economic) effects of law.

In this paper I will reflect on some of the practical problems stepmothers faced; the fears that they raised in heirs and other family members (seen in the curious English rule excluding ‘half bloods’ from inheriting from their ‘full blood’ siblings) and some of the undercurrents that might help explain (or complicate) broad changes in attitudes to stepmothers over time.

As ever, the lecture will be followed by an opportunity to ask the speaker questions and engage in debate, and also by a wine reception. We hope you can make it!

For more details, please email Dr Sophie Coulombeau (