A Recipe for a Gothic Novel

By Katherine Bowers

Terrorist Novel Writing,” an anonymous essay that appeared in The Spirit of the Public Journals for 1797 (Volume 1), closes with the following recipe for creating a gothic novel in the style of popular author Ann Radcliffe, “should any of [the journal’s] female readers be desirous of catching the season of terrors, she may compose two or three pretty volumes”:

Take – An old castle, half of it ruinous.

A long gallery, with a great many doors, some secret ones.

Three murdered bodies, quite fresh.

As many skeletons, in chests and presses.

An old woman hanging by the neck; with her throat cut;

Assassins and desperados quant. suff.

Noises, whispers and groans, three-score at least.

Mix them together, in the form of three volumes, to be taken at any of the watering-places before going to bed.              PROBATUM EST.

 

Catherine Morland reading Udolpho, from the 1833 Bentley edition of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (Image credit: public domain, digitized by ebooks@Adelaide)
Catherine Morland reading Udolpho, from the 1833 Bentley edition of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (Image credit: public domain, digitized by ebooks@Adelaide)

This satirical piece plays with generic expectation to amuse readers. The recipe, a familiar domestic literary genre, has its own conventions: “Take–“; “Mix…”; “[T]o be taken.” The genre requires specificity: here, the castle is not just old, but must be also half ruined. The old woman is not only hanging, but her throat must also have been cut. Smaller words from the recipe lexicon appear to describe the precise arrangement of ingredients needed for this three-volume novel. The murdered bodies are not only meticulously quantified, but also specified as to quality, “quite fresh.” As the recipe continues, features of the Gothic novel that might normally be considered exceptional or unquantifiable are multiplied and quantified: assassins, desperados, noises, whispers and groans. When enumerated thus, such features become mundane… and funny.

The recipe formula exposes the formulaic quality of gothic novels, and such gothic recipes appeared regularly in journals in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Mixing these ingredients together, as gruesome as they are, always produces the same result, a fact attested to by the Latin postscript PROBATUM EST, a testimony that the recipe has been tested, and will work the same each time. The three volumes of the novel produced are objects for consumption, not artistic works. They are untitled and interchangeable.

The first wave of gothic novels published in Great Britain in the late eighteenth century introduced eager readers—most often young ladies—to a long list of terror-inducing conventions: ruined castles, haunted monasteries, incestuous abductions, demonic pacts, tortured corpses, and horrible secrets. The first gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), lent the genre its name and featured a unique story line with alarming mysterious events such as death by giant helmet crushing. In the preface to The Old English Baron (1778), another early gothic novel that features a plot with a stolen inheritance, a rightful heir, and a ruinous castle, author Clara Reeve acknowledges her debt to Walpole. She sets out to “fix” Walpole’s errors, creating a new work, yet still describing her novel as “the literary offspring of The Castle of Otranto.” As this example demonstrates, a growing genre is naturally imitative.

Death by giant helmet! Illustration from the 1824 edition of Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (Image credit: Creative Common license, University of St. Andrews Library Special Collections, Fle PR1297.E23).
Death by giant helmet! Illustration from the 1824 edition of Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (Image credit: Creative Common license, University of St. Andrews Library Special Collections, Fle PR1297.E23).

My research examines the influence of these gothic novels on Russian literature, decades after their original publication in Great Britain. As Orest Somov’s “Plan for a Novel à la Radcliffe,” published in May 1816 in the Kharkov Democrat, demonstrates, Russian critics also turned to a recipe text to satirize gothic novels:

 

 Robbers, an underground prison,

A tower, half a dozen owls;

Gleaming through ravines the moon has risen,

Wolves are baying, the wind howls;

Awful dreams torment my heroes

Fiery dragons, flying griffins from myth;

Fear, horror after them flows…

There you have it, a novel à la Radcliffe!

Somov’s “Plan” and the anonymous recipe above rely on the same methods for producing humor through mundanely quantifying atmospheric pieces. The ubiquity of the gothic genre’s typical props, settings, and tropes meant that critics considered them formulaic and unoriginal. These recipes suggest that creating novels in this vein is a matter of following a basic plan, implying that Radcliffe’s novels are imitative and easily reproduced.

However, while critics complained, the novels with their improbable plots and excessive horrors were widely popular, demonstrating that literary merit and public taste are not necessarily the same. Ann Radcliffe’s novels, in particular, were reprinted in multiple new editions each year; less than a decade after its original publication, by 1803, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), her most famous, had already been printed in five new editions in Britain. In early nineteenth-century Russia, her name on a cover was enough to make a best seller, and a number of books she did not write were attributed to her, including translations of Matthew Lewis’s novel The Monk (1796) and original novels written by Russian translators, who could produce new gothic novels faster than they could translate them.

Radcliffe was the most-read writer in late eighteenth-century Britain, and exercised influence, even abroad, years after her death. In the 1860s, Fyodor Dostoevsky, for example, recalls his childhood love for Radcliffe’s novels: “I used to spend the long winter hours before bed listening (for I could not yet read), agape with ecstasy and terror, as my parents read aloud to me from the novels of Ann Radcliffe. Then I would rave deliriously about them in my sleep.” This quote and others like it make me wonder: Are the critics right when they say that gothic novels are all basically the same? How can a repeated reading experience produce such a powerful effect? Even if gothic novels are formulaic, to have such an impact on a reader years afterward demonstrates their influence, so why were critics so reluctant to take them seriously? Can genre fiction ever be considered great literature?

Thinking about these gothic recipes, there’s more to them than just a demonstration of the formulaic nature of the genre. Recipes may produce the same result each time, but a recipe is repeated when the results are delicious. And when a novel is good, we devour it… or savor it, like a tasty meal. As even the “Terrorist Novel Writing” author acknowledges, three-volume novels of terror taken before bed in a leisurely way can be very pleasant indeed.

Katherine Bowers is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. She specializes in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian literature and culture. Currently she is working on a book about the influence of gothic fiction on Russian realism.

[1] Cited and translated in: Alessandra Tosi, Waiting for Pushkin: Russian Fiction in the Reign of Alexander I (1801-1825) (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), 84-85.

[2] Fedor Dostoevskii, Zimnie zametki o letnikh vpechetleniiakh, in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 30 tomakh (Moscow: Nauka, 1972-1990), Volume 5, 46. Translated by David Patterson, in Fyodor Dostoevsky, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1997), 1-2.

The wrong trousers? Common folk in striped clothes as readers of early modern recipes.

By Tillmann Taape

 When trying to make historical sense of printed medical recipe collections, one tricky but important question always recurs: who did the author and/or publisher think would be likely to read and benefit from their books? In my own research, which focuses on the works of the surgeon-apothecary Hieronymus Brunschwig (introduced here and here), this question is particularly intriguing because these books were among the first medical books to be printed in German.

Of course, like many authors of the time, Brunschwig gives us some clues in the text of his works. He often addresses his instructions, especially medical recipes, to the ‘common man’ or the ‘layman’ who might not be able to afford certain remedies, or who might simply live too far away from the next larger town with a pharmacy shop. In addition to these textual hints, I want to take a different approach to the question of readers by making use of the numerous woodcuts illustrating Brunschwig’s works. Commissioned from an unknown artist by Brunschwig’s publisher, Johann Grüninger, these images are a striking element of the books.

Title illustration from Brusnchwig's  Small book of distillation. © Wellcome Images
Title illustration from Brunschwig’s Small book of distillation (1500). © Wellcome Images

One thing which immediately strikes the eye when looking at these images is the prevalence of people dressed in striped clothes. Take, for example, the title page of Brunschwig’s Small book of distillation, published in 1500. We see a group of people busily harvesting herbs and stoking furnaces to distill medicinal waters, and both of the men are dressed in conspicuously striped doublets and trousers. In fact, throughout Brunschwig’s works most of the people doing any kind of manual work are shown wearing stripes, for example the person pounding ingredients in an apothecary’s mortar shown below. Surely, I thought, it must be significant that the majority of medicine-makers – Brunschwig’s ‘common men’ – are depicted in this manner.

An apothecary or apprentice mixing medicine, from Brunschwig's Cirurgia (1497). © Wellcome Images
An apothecary or apprentice mixing medicine, from Brunschwig’s Cirurgia (1497). © Wellcome Images

As it turns out, striped clothing had fairly wide-ranging connotations in the early-modern German lands. The fashion of tight-fitting, striped trousers had been brought to Germany from the Northern Italian courts by the new imperial infantry, the so-called lansquenets, towards the end of the fifteenth century. The striped fashion was particularly popular among the middling sort: citizens of free imperial towns, artisans, and even wealthy farmers and landowners. They constituted a growing and increasingly self-aware middle layer of society, sandwiched between poorer day-labourers who did not own any property, and the wealthy urban patriciate or landed gentry.

In the literature of the time, notably social satire in the tradition of Sebastian Brant’s famous Ship of Fools (1497), this newly significant social group came to be represented by the figure of the ‘striped layman.’ His striped clothing marked him out as being ‘half and half’ or in-between – in terms of wealth, social status, and most importantly, education. Literate in the vernacular but not in Latin, the half-educated ‘striped layman’ was to become a central figure in the visual rhetoric of Protestant pamphlets during the Reformation. Martin Luther wrote for an audience of precisely this kind of person: although not a Latinate scholar of theology, the striped layman sought salvation in his own reading of Scripture in the vernacular, without learned clergy as an intermediate. [1]

A teacher lecturing students, from Brunschwig's Cirurgia (1497). © Wellcome Images
A teacher lecturing students, from Brunschwig’s Cirurgia (1497). © Wellcome Images

Brunschwig’s works depict a similarly confident self-educated striped layman in the context of medicine. This is nicely summed up in the large woodcut above, which appears in all of Brunschwig’s works. The teacher, identified by his fur-lined scholar’s robe and seated at a lectern, is lecturing from a large book. It is angled towards him, so that only he can see its contents, demonstrating the scholar’s authority over text-based learned medicine. Among his students, we see a young man dressed in stripes, and while his peers listen demurely with hat in hand, this striped chap is confidently gesticulating as if arguing a point of his own. What is more, he is holding a rolled-up piece of paper in one hand, perhaps a sheet of notes or even a medical recipe. While this striped layman does not command large tomes of medical learning, the picture suggests that he is literate and familiar with some of medicine’s written forms. He even appears capable of holding his own in a discussion with a scholar.

The figure of the striped layman, with its connotations of middling status and education, is thus a very plausible visual cognate to Brunschwig’s readership of middling ‘common men.’ As if to vindicate this choice of intended audience and its visual representation, the physician Lorenz Fries, from the neighbouring town of Colmar, addressed his Mirror of Medicine (1518) specifically to ‘striped laypeople’ who want to learn about medicine – and published it with Grüninger in Strasbourg.

[1] On the visual metaphor of the striped, see Schmid Blumer, Verena. Ikonographie und Sprachbild: Zur reformatorischen Flugschrift “Der gestryfft Schwitzer Baur”. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2004.

Renewing Old Text: A Recipe in The Art of Limming (1573)

By Carrie Griffin

The anonymously-authored treatise entitled The Art of Limming (STC 24252), first printed in London in 1573 (‘In Flete strete … at the signe of the Hande & starre by Richard Tottill’)[1] is comprised of just twelve leaves. It purports to appeal specifically to the gentrified reader: the title-page advertises the book and its contents as ‘verye meete and necessary to be knowne to all such all gentlemen, and other persons as doe delight in limming, painting or in tricking of armes in their colours, and therefore a woorke very meete to be adioyning to the bookes of armes’. The Art of Limming, then, identifies its target audience as the gentleman reader, or all those who ‘delight’ in the arts of book-decoration or colouration, specifically mentioning those readers who wish to trick, or tint, their own heraldic devices; indeed the treatise self-advertises as a companion volume to book of arms. The preface also points to the creation of books (or, at least, retains that as a possibility) rather than the decoration of existing books that may or may not be printed, stating that the work to follow on the mixing of colours and metals ‘to write or to limme withall vppon velym, parchment or paper, and how to lay them vppon the worke which thou intendest to make’.

My interest in the treatise is connected to its retrospective quality: how it imagines the manuscript text or book, or features of the manuscript book or document. Books, and in particular well-thumbed household volumes, miscellanies and commonplace books, must have been particularly in need of restoration and care, or renewal. Several of the recipes in this treatise facilitate not just the creation of new books in the old style, but they acknowledge the practice of renewing and regeneration of older books and aspects of manuscript books and documents that may have been more susceptible to the ravages of time. One recipe promises ‘To renew olde and worne letters’:

Take of [th]e best galles[2] you can get & bruse them grosly then lay them to steepe one day in good whyte wine. This done distill them with the wyne, and with the distilled water that commeth of them, you shal wet handsomly the olde letters with a little cotton or a small pencel, & they will shewe freshe & newe again in suche wyse as you may easely reade them [Sig. C3].

some gall nuts ...
some gall nuts …

The rendering of this type of instruction in print and, more specifically, in blackletter, indicates a material interest in the preservation of the methods by which manuscript books are newly-created but also conserved and recovered. It also indicates the debt owed by the printed book to the text in manuscript: in the relatively early days of this new technology, the older material that circulated in manuscript was the bread and butter of the print trade. Printed texts depended on texts in manuscript, and this reality finds wonderful expression in tracts like The Art of Limming. The recipe quoted here is evocative not just of the stresses to which some material in manuscript was subject (we know that pages or text – especially in devotional MSS – were sometimes rubbed, stroked or kissed, but also that everyday use led to wear and fading) but concerns for the stability and integrity of the handwritten text.

Worn Text from London, BL Add. 39636, f. 1v (www.bl.uk). Used under creative commons licence.
Worn Text from London, BL Add. 39636, f. 1v (www.bl.uk).

Manuscript conservation methods have undoubtedly moved on in leaps and bounds since the 1500s; I would be keen to hear from anyone who is brave enough to try this recipe on a manuscript … !

Carrie Griffin, Univeristy of Bristol. Carrie is currently collaborating with Dr Michael Johnston, Purdue University, on a project to catalogue codicological recipes in manuscript. See her last post for the Recipes Project, which was on ink, here

 


[1] The text went through at least five editions, being reprinted in 1581, 1583, 1588 and 1596.

[2] Probably gall-nuts, which were commonly used in the production of ink.

Never Too Many Cooks: Female Alliances in Early Modern Recipes (Part II)

By Amanda E. Herbert

This page from Anne Brumwich’s recipe book shows contributions by different authors, with different styles of handwriting. Anne Brumwich and Others, 1625–1700, MS 160. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London.

In this blog post and in my previous post, I’m presenting material from my forthcoming book: Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).  The material in this post comes from Chapter Three, “Cooperative Labor: Making Alliances through Women’s Recipes and Domestic Production.”

In my last post, I discussed how early modern advice books encouraged women to work together in kitchens.  But did women follow these directions in their own homes?  Kitchen accidents and mistakes of course caused tempers to fray.  When Elizabeth Freke discovered that her servant had damaged a pot, she was so angry about it that she recorded it in her kitchen inventory, saying that the pot had been “brok out by Amey”!  But you can also find proof of women’s attempts to foster positive relationships with each other.

One of the best sources for understanding “real” early modern women’s work in kitchens is through their manuscript – handwritten – recipe books.  Recipe books were living manuscripts, typically added to and amended by many people. Women collected recipes from their female and male friends and noted donors’ names next to borrowed recipes in their books. Jane Baber’s manuscript recipe collection of 1625 included eight attributions from other women, among them a recipe “for the woorms” she had received from her “sister Earnly.” Women probably did exchange these recipes in person, but manuscript evidence shows that they also received them in correspondence from their female friends and relatives.  In the later seventeenth century, Anne Lany scrawled a recipe “for Guidiness of the head” on the back of her letter to her friend Anne De Gray. Sometimes women valued the recipes that they received from friends over those offered by male physicians: Beatrix Clerke wrote in 1665 that she hoped to procure a recipe from her friend Lucy Hastings, stating that she “doth believe that your Honor’s study and practice in phisicke is above our docters.”

Even the recipes themselves show how women helped one another in the kitchen. Female authors wrote recipes from a communal perspective. Mary Bent’s recipe book featured instructions on how “to pickle cowcombers the best way,” and the author noted that “you may put a little pepper in if you please but we do not.” The use of the plural “we” here suggested that, for the recipe’s author, pickling cucumbers was a communal rather than a solitary activity.

Women thus counted on one another for help in the kitchen, but they also used their recipes to advance female independence. Women’s recipes allowed them to share knowledge about acquiring materials and ingredients, navigating through urban spaces, and negotiating with shopkeepers. Many recipes encouraged women to purchase supplies in London, which had large numbers of apothecary shops. “M.B.’s” recipe of 1640 “to whiten the Teeth” called for “the stones of crabbs,” and readers were told that “you may buy [them] at the Redd Crosse in Cheap side a drugist.” An anonymous mid-seventeenth-century woman’s book recorded that “Vatican Pills” could be purchased from “the Apothecary . . . in the old Bayly in London.” Anne Brumwich’s book contained a recipe for a lotion that was said to prevent hair loss, and the ingredients for this lotion had to be purchased at “a Chymist a dutchmans in high holborn neare Grayes Inn field.” And Mary Chantrell’s book had a recipe for “an Excellent Coole pummatum [pomatum] for the face,” with ingredients that could be purchased “in See Lane in Holbourn.” From Gray’s Inn to Cheapside and from the Old Bailey to Holborn, early modern women used the information they gleaned from the recipe books of friends and relatives to traverse urban space. This knowledge was surely both useful and empowering. By furnishing women with information about reliable dealers, fair prices, and shop locations, handwritten recipe books allowed female recipe authors and their readers to share vital knowledge with one another and assert their independence in London’s streets and alleys.

*****
Manuscripts cited in this blog post:
1. Elizabeth Freke, “Kitchen Inventory,” October 18, 1711, Freke Papers, MS 45718, British Library.
2. Jane Baber, Recipe Book, 1625, MS 108, f. 18, 22, Wellcome Library.
3. Anne Lany, Letter to Anne De Gray, c. 1670, Correspondence of the Family of Gawdy, ADD 36989, F540, British Library.
4. Beatrix Clerke, Letter to Lucy Hastings, Countess Huntingdon, 1665, Hastings Collection, Box 25 HA 1466, Huntington Library.
5. Mary Bent, Recipe Book, 1664, MS 1127, f. 2, Wellcome Library.
6. Anonymous Woman [Possibly Mrs. M. Baesh], Recipe Book, 1640, MS 8086, f. 14, 19, 35B, 54, 81, 94–94B, and 102, Wellcome Library.
7. Anonymous, [possibly “EG”], Recipe Book, 17th c., MS 7391, Wellcome Library.
8. Anne Brumwich and Others, 1625–1700, MS 160, f. 94, Wellcome Library.
9. Mary Chantrell and Others, Recipe Book, 1690, MS 1548, f. 84, Wellcome Library.