The Tale of Terror eBook

Edith Birkhead
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 261 pages of information about The Tale of Terror.

There is little doubt that the Gothic Romance primarily made its appeal to women readers, though we know that Mrs. Radcliffe had many men among her admirers, and that Cherubina of The Heroine had a companion in folly, The Story-Haunted Youth.  It is remotely allied, as its name implies, to the mediaeval romances, at which Cervantes tilts in Don Quixote.  It was more closely akin, however, to the heroic romances satirised in Mrs. Charlotte Lennox’s Female Quixote (1752).  When the voluminous works of Le Calprenede and of Mademoiselle de Scudery were translated into English, they found many imitators and admirers, and their vogue outlasted the seventeenth century. Artamene ou le Grand Cyrus, out of which Mrs. Pepys told her husband long stories, “though nothing to the purpose, nor in any good manner,” is to be found, with a pin stuck through one of the middle leaves, in the lady’s library described by Addison in the Spectator, Mrs. Aphra Behn, in Oroonoko and The Fair Jilt, had made some attempt to bring romance nearer to real life; but it was not until the middle of the eighteenth century, when the novel, with the rise of Richardson, Fielding, Smollett and Sterne, took firm root on English soil, that the popularity of Cassandra, Parthenissa and Aretina was superseded.  Then, if we may trust the evidence of Colman’s farce, Polly Honeycombe, first acted in 1760, Pamela, Clarissa Harlowe and Sophia Western reigned in their stead.  For the reader who had patiently followed the eddying, circling course of the heroic romance, with its high-flown language and marvellous adventures, Richardson’s novel of sentiment probably held more attraction than Fielding’s novel of manners.  Fielding, on his broad canvas, paints the life of his day on the highway, in coaches, taverns, sponging-houses or at Vauxhall masquerades.  Every class of society is represented, from the vagabond to the noble lord.  Richardson, in describing the shifts and subterfuges of Mr. B—­and the elaborate intrigue of Lovelace, moves within a narrow circle, devoting himself, not to the portrayal of character, but to the minute analysis of a woman’s heart.  The sentiment of Richardson descends to Mrs. Radcliffe.  Her heroines are fashioned in the likeness of Clarissa Harlowe; her heroes inherit many of the traits of the immaculate Grandison.  She adds zest to her plots by wafting her heroines to distant climes and bygone centuries, and by playing on their nerves with superstitious fears.  Since human nature often looks to fiction for a refuge from the world, there is always room for the illusion of romance side by side with the picture of actual life.  Fanny Burney’s spirited record of Evelina’s visit to her vulgar, but human, relatives, the Branghtons, in London, is not enough.  We need too the sojourn of Emily, with her thick-coming fancies, in the castle of Udolpho.

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The Tale of Terror from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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