Thursday, April 16, 2015

Another Classic...

A conversation between Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland:
"...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...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."
"...but are they all horrid? Are you sure they are all horrid?"

 The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons is one of those "horrid novels" mentioned (and mocked) by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. It's a classic Gothic novel of virtue vs. villainy and it is full of Gothic cliches. The main character, Matilda Weimar, is an orphan who must flee her guardian's questionable protection. She stumbles upon Castle Wolfenbach which is purportedly haunted. There she meets Victoria, the Countess of Wolfenbach, who has a scheming and evil husband and a dark secret of her own. In the first 48 pages alone there is an abduction, a mystery, a murder and even arson. Matilda's fate and Victoria's virtuous struggle to free herself from her villainous husband, along with romance and many declarations of love, take up the rest of the novel. But, as Eliza Parsons promises, Providence favors these "poor creatures" in the end.

This isn't the worst novel ever written, but it's not the greatest either. Still, I tried to enjoy it for what it is--one of those "horrid novels" that Jane Austen poked fun of, with damsels in distress, too many counts and countesses to count, overwrought situations, and more than enough moralizing. Towards the end, I found myself heartily agreeing with one of the characters when she exclaimed: "Let's have no more dismals; I declare these last five days have vapored me to death." But I got through it and completed another category in the 2015 Back to the Classics Challenge: read a classic novel written by a woman author. As a bookish bonus, it's also one more book checked off my TBR list.

Happy Reading!


  1. I haven't read this book but I have read a few other Gothic novels and thought they were fun. I've always been curious about the "horrid novels" in Northanger Abbey, though I've never tried any of them. Maybe one of the others will be better than this one.

    1. It wasn't awful...if you take it for what it is, it's kind of a fun read. Just not brilliant writing. But if you can laugh at it while you read it.... :)

  2. Good for you! I finally read Udolpho a few years ago to see what the heck Catherine and Isabella were on about, and liked it better than I thought I would, but it cured me of wanting to read gothic novels for awhile!

    I also read Lover's Vows during a reread of Mansfield Park, which was also a pretty interesting reading exercise.

    "...vapored to death" is a wonderful phrase, btw--made me smile.

    1. I know what you mean about Udolpho! I've never tried Lover's Vow...and it might be a long while before I do. :) It's funny what books are popular at different times, isn't it? What will our grandchildren think about what we read today?