Gothic Fiction

#AmReading: Cambria Gothica I (1780s-1820s)


This post is a list of Welsh Gothic fiction (the Cambria Gothica of the title) as featured in Chapter 1 of Jane Aaron’s Welsh Gothic (UWP, 2013) from 1780-1830.

Andrew Davies’ [not exhaustive] list of such fiction, also compiled in 2013 and only from the texts available in Cardiff libraries, is also a good starting point: see, “‘The Gothic Novel in Wales’ Revisited”. It’s also worth noting that, since Jane Aaron’s Welsh Gothic was published in 2013, a number of texts classed as Welsh Gothic fiction have been included in The Encyclopaedia of the Gothic, (2016), some of which is in the Welsh language.

My next post based on Chapter 1 – posted on Thursday – is a list of Welsh hauntings, related myths and dark tales that are referenced in this chapter, that readers of Gothic tales in the 1780s-1820s would have been interested in. The Gothic settings attracted rather than repelled eighteenth- and nineteenth-century tourists, and as more and more people visited Wales on this basis, the more familiar and therefore the less alien Wales became.

Welsh Gothic 1780s-1820s

CW// This includes references to the slave trade, British imperialism and sexual assault.

Aaron discusses the texts, Romantic tourists, the political narratives [predominantly internal to the Union, but also with some references to Welsh perceptions of the Empire] and Historical Fiction written in the Gothic style. I won’t cover all that in this shorter summary post, but I’ll pick out a few points to set the texts in context. Some of these texts were written by Welsh authors, others are part of the tradition of using Wales as an alien, dangerous/primitive setting.

It’s worth noting that of those novels written by Welsh authors, certain anti-colonial

Signature of Anna Maria Bennett, Welsh novelist (d. 1808)

themes are repeated. In both Anna Maria Bennett’s novels, for example, British imperial soldiers return from pillaging abroad to do the same thing in Wales, and are presented as the sexually rapacious antagonists. In Anna: or Memoirs of a Welch Heiress: interspersed with anecdotes of a Nabob (1785), Colonel Gorget, the nabob of the subtitle, returns from India where he made his fortune and tries to rape Anna when she refuses to respond to his advances. According to Bennett, among the colonialists, ‘cruelty and carnage were called bravery and justice, and an unbounded greediness … bore the respectable name of prudence’. This reflects attitudes towards colonialists in general, but positions Wales and its people as colonised. While historians still debate the extent to which postcolonial theory can be applied to Wales, in literary circles the definition applies to the literature of all countries that have been invaded, and so its application to Welsh literature is less contentious.

Ann of Swansea’s Cambrian Pictures (1810) goes even further by drawing a deliberate parallel with the slave trade (the abolitionists had succeeded in ending Britain’s involvement in 1807, after a well-publicized campaign). The protagonist of Cambrian Pictures, Rosa Percival, is villainous Lord Clavering’s passion – but she resists him, and her uncle Gabriel Jenkins is delighted by this, as he claims her father would have sold her to the titled Englishman, ‘as if [she was a] … slave on a West-Indies plantation’. The intention of this emotive, deliberate parallel, as far as Ann of Swansea was concerned, was to underline the moral rightness of resisting the buying up of people and land by English wealth and influence. (Jane Aaron, Welsh Gothic, pp. 34-5).

It is unsurprising, after a brief look at some of the lament poems and fragmentary sagas in the previous post, that Gothic visions of Wales’ history were also in vogue during this period, drawing specifically upon Wales’ colonized and conquered past. The ‘buying up’ of people and land in Wales may have been a contemporary concern, but it was underpinned by a nostalgia for the imagined pre-Conquest past, and a Welsh-speaking identity that had been (and was being, albeit via the education system rather than an actual army) violently disrupted and dismembered.

Tintern Abbey, a famed ruin popular with the Romantics, photo credit: Saffron Blaze – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A London-Welsh author and bookseller, William Earle (1781-c.1830s) set his novel, The Welshman, A Romance (1801) at the time of the thirteenth-century conquest of Wales, delineating Edward I’s atrocities that left behind a devastated countryside, manic widows on hopeless quests for their lost husbands, and dispossessed rebels plotting revenge in caves. It does not end well for the protagonist, Madoc; although assisted by an anachronisitic Druid who attempts to exorcise him of the spirits that haunt him, he succumbs to the fear of excommunication (in the novel, Edward I has influenced the Pope to excommunicate all Welshmen who resist his rule), and attempts suicide. The attempt is bungled, and he dies after two days of agony, impaled on a rock ‘while the surrounding hollows echoed with his groans’. (Jane Aaron, Welsh Gothic, p. 39)

But such fictions and histories should still be considered in the light of White European privilege and hegemony, and just because the authors drew parallels with colonial atrocities and the slave trade does not mean that these parallels were accurately applied, or applied outside of a racist and misogynistic framework. The year before (1800), Earle had written an abolitionist epistolary novella for which he is better known, Obi, or the History of Three-Fingered Jack, an obeah fiction that demonizes Black femininity and uses the execution of the titular character’s mother as a means of severing cultural and ancestral African ties, while focusing on the development of ‘a “proper” abolitionist Black (male) subject’. (J. Cottrell, ‘At the end of the trade: obeah and Black women in the colonial imaginary‘, Atlantic Studies 12:2 (2015), 200-218, p. 214.)

Such demonisation of the Black feminine, no doubt influenced by such fiction, is illustrated by the [racist] Welsh folk-tale collected in 1968, in which an interracial marriage ends with the (Black) wife revealing her cannibal nature, which she has passed to her children. In another, potentially older, version of the tale, it is a Turkish woman the Welshman marries, who is demonised as a cannibal. In one account, her son, who inherits his mother’s taste for the flesh of his relations, even has horns. There are some parallels with the propaganda from the Crusades here, and the existence of these tales illustrate the racist stereotypes embedded in Welsh society despite the texts that also paint the White (English) colonials as Gothic Horror Monsters. On a personal note, even today, especially in the older generations, I find attitudes change towards me when they discover my father is Turkish. “But you don’t look it,” is something I’ve had said a few times, and sometimes I wonder if they still expect to see the small horns of the folktales growing out of my head.

With this context in mind, here’s a list of some examples which are featured in Aaron’s chapter and discussed to varying degrees within this context. [Note that in this chapter of Welsh Gothic, Aaron doesn’t talk much about the interdisciplinary or intersectional frameworks of the texts themselves, but focuses more tightly on what the texts show about Wales and the Welsh, as set out in the introduction].

Watkeys, William John, 1800-1873; Ann of Swansea (1764-1838)
Ann Julia Hatton, or Ann of Swansea, by William John Watkeys (1800–1873)

Cambria Gothica: Some Examples

A short list of texts dealt with in Chapter 1 of Jane Aaron’s Welsh Gothic study is as follows:

Ellen, Countess of Castle Howel (1794), by Anna Maria Bennett, the daughter of a Merthyr Tydfil grocer. As she lived in England, wrote in English, and died in Brighton, she is sometimes assumed to have been and referred to as an ‘English’ novelist.

The Abbey of St Asaph (1795), by Isabella Kelly, an Anglo-Scottish writer. You can read Tenille Nowak’s assessment of this novel in her open access article, ‘Isabella Kelly’s Twist on the Standard Radcliffean Romance‘, Studies in Gothic Fiction 2:2 (2012), 4-13.

Angelina (1796) by Mary Robinson, who claimed Welsh descent from her mother’s side but is generally considered an English celebrity and poet, and who was the wife of the illegitimate son of Thomas Harris, whose brother was the Welsh Methodist leader Howel Harris.

Anzoletta Zadoski (1796), with a Polish protagonist, by Ann Howell.

The Castle Spectre (1797), a play by M. G. Lewis (author of The Monk, first published the previous year).

The Stranger or Llewellyn Family: A Cambrian Tale (1798) by Robert Evans, of whom little is known but it is presumed that he was a Welsh author.

The Tower; or the Romance of Ruthyne (1798), a three-volume work by Sarah Lansdell (an English author from Kent).

The History of Jack Smith, or the Castle of St Donats (1798), a mock-Gothic novel by Charles Lucas, again in three volumes.

Ianthé, or the Flower of Caernarvon (1798), a two-volume novel by Emily Clark, another English novelist who set many of her Gothic novels in Wales.

The Welshman, A Romance (1801), in three volumes, by William Earle

The Dream, or Noble Cambrians, (1801), a lost text by Robert Evans, author of The Stranger.

Cambrian Pictures (1810), by Ann of Swansea, the pen-name of Ann Julia Hatton, who now has a blue plaque on Swansea Civic Centre.

The Prediction’ (1827), which appears in Tales of Welsh Society and Scenery by Thomas Richards, in which the Doomed Maiden (Lucy) unwisely pays no attention to a bad omen and falls for a Byronic antihero and English outsider, Sydney Conyngham. In a Jane Eyre twist at the altar, it is revealed in the usual doors-bursting-open-at-the-last-minute dramatic fashion that he is a cad and morally repugnant not to mention already married, resulting in Lucy going mad and her father being struck with paralysis from which he dies.

Dark Tales for Early Tourists: Cambria Gothica Part II

The next part is coming on Thursday this week!

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