View My Stats

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

“Looking for a muse in an old castle”: Medievalism in Ann Radcliffe's The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and Gaston be Blondeville

[a seminar paper for Fall semester 2013 at WMU]
These picturesque visions, in which the imagination so much delights, and every discovery, however remote, awaken a peculiar kind of interest, and of sentiment no less delightful, which render antiquity, of all studies, the least liable to the epithet of dry, though dull and dry people so liberally bestow it. Antiquity is one of the favourite regions of poetry.’
‘Nay,’ said Mr. Simpson, ‘your woods and your meadows are the reign for that. Who ever thought of looking for a muse in an old castle?’ (Radcliffe Gaston de Blondeville 47)

Though part of a scholarly trend that has tended to be dismissive of the works of ‘Mrs. Radcliffe,’ David Durant has accurately stated that “aspects of the novels of almost every member of the Gothic clan emerge again in Mrs. Radcliffe’s six novels; to study her work has been to study the genre” (Durant 4). Ann Radcliffe, in part responsible for popularizing the Gothic in the 1790s, wrote a total of six extant novels in her lifetime. Five of these novels were published between 1789 and 1798. The last, Gaston de Blondeville, was written in 1802, but was not published until 1827, after her death (Radcliffe Gaston de Blondeville ii). Many reasons have been given for why Radcliffe left off publishing, but all of them are necessarily speculative. Standing apart from her other novels in many, Gaston de Blondeville, in a genre that relies on a medieval setting, is the most insistently ‘medieval’ an eighteenth/nineteenth century novel could be. In the above extract, Willoughton and Simpson, two characters who are wandering from Coventry to Warwick, stop to see the ruins of Kenilworth castle in the Arden forest. What follows is an unrelenting exploration of the role of the past in works of ‘fiction.’ Durant has criticized the work for being too bogged down in the rituals of the past to be good fiction. Radcliffe’s insistence on the past, her construction of a history, brings to the forefront a sense of lost. Elizabeth Fay, in Romantic Medievalisms argues that this idea of loss is “a concept peculiarly suited to the sentimental.” (Fay 49) Clare Simmons, in Popular Medievalisms in Romantic Era Britain, has also noted this sense of loss: “the present has lost something, generally something value-related that the past once had” (Simmons 7). But while the English medieval past is forefront, Radcliffe does not forget her present. As Simmons has noted, “medievalism is persistently comparative, compelling some level of conscious contrast between the reader’s (or observer’s) present and the recreated medieval past” (Simmons 12). Radcliffe is using the past as a meaningful mode of expression, literally finding her muse in the old castle.
                Of all her other works, Gaston de Blondeville contrasts nicely in its use of the medieval with her first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne. While Gaston de Blondeville insists on a separation of the present and the past, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne collapses the two like a telescope. On either side of her body of work, these may be the two most dissimilar texts, and yet both are set in the Middle Ages on British soil, while her other works are usually set in Mediterranean, Catholic countries on the cusp of the medieval and the modern. In addition, they are the only two works that are not about daughters who are searching for mothers or clashing with father figures (Miles 4,18). They also go together as her least well received works. Durant says that her “most obvious borrowings are in her worst novels – in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and in Gaston de Blondeville” (Durant 11). Robert Miles, rescuing Radcliffe’s reputation, says that The Castles are both the shortest of her works, but also a little ‘thin’ (73). In his book Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress Miles doesn’t even talk about Gaston de Blondeville because his interest is in the works she was best known for, a.k.a. those published in her lifetime.
The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and Gaston de Blondeville buttress Radcliffe’s work with two medieval turrets. While both texts represent the medieval differently, they both comment on the power of ancient privilege to oppress those in the here and now. This paper will first examine why the Middle Ages was particularly appropriate for Radcliffe’s work, and then will examine the use of it in both texts, before showing how both texts use the medieval as a setting which confirms the oppression of ancient privilege, although in neither case very simply.

                Radcliffe herself wouldn’t have considered her works to deal with the ‘medieval.’ The first recorded use in English was actually the same year that Gaston was published, and so after Radcliffe’s death (Alexander xxv). Michael Alexander identifies the 1830s as the period when the word ‘Gothic’ came to be replaced with ‘medieval’ (Alexander xx). It is not a straight word for word substitution however, as Gothic did have negative undertones (Alexander xx). The Goths were known for overthrowing classical structures, though they were also thought of as ancestors to the English (Simmons 146). Trying to link the word to the movement of Gothic literature Miles posits:
Where, then, did the Gothic romance stand regarding the ideological meaning of ‘Gothic’ there is no set answer to this for the basic reason that the figure of the Goth is ideologically overdetermined: one encounters a number of conflicting positions crowding around it (Miles 69).
Gothic as a period term came to refer strictly to architecture but also, as we have seen, as whole genre of fiction that ultimately did not have to relate directly to the Middle Ages (Alexander xxv-i). Therefore for this paper medieval is a better descriptor than Gothic, since the current conceptual understanding of the time period that is being referred to in these texts is defined by medieval rather than Gothic. Nor does thinking of the use of the period with negative undertones necessarily help to understand the way that Radcliffe uses the past. Radcliffe made use of medievalisms by intentionally referring to that part of the past, though she would use different terms.  
                The interest in the Middle Ages – literature and history, had been building through the eighteenth century. Alexander identifies the 1760s as the beginning of what he calls the ‘Medieval Revival (Alexander 8). Part of the movement was that, searching for a literary past, the Middle Ages offered literature, like romances, that were available to audiences, larger than just those who could read the classics. Trying to define Englishness, England looked back to medieval history and literature. Miles also sees an increased interest developing throughout the eighteenth century that led on a trajectory to Ann Radcliffe:

It was a nationalist movement in that ‘Gothic’ designated, not just the ‘Middle Ages’, but the racial past that gave birth to Englishness. According to the outlook of the later eighteenth century, the Middle Ages came to an end with the death of Queen Elizabeth ; Shakespeare and Spenser were ‘Gothic’ (i.e. English) writers uniquely expressing the national genius (Miles 30).

In addition, more women could read Shakespeare than Virgil, giving the movement impetus from that group of readers and writers (Miles 30). Interest in the medieval was generated by recovery of material from that time period and people’s interested in using the materials they found there (Alexander xxii). Amongst those who borrowed forms or subject matter from the Middle Ages in the Romantic era, Fay has identified a chivalric and troubadour medievalisms, sometimes complimentary and sometimes adversarial (Fay 4). Writers were now finding lively and particularly engaging what had been sneered at only a generation before (Alexander xxiv)
Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto (1765) in the climate of this Medieval Revival. The genre is now called ‘Gothic’ because his second preface called it “A Gothic story.” As Alexander notes:
In style and incident, The Castle of Otranto is an eclectic medley of elements supposedly found in medieval romances. It is made up of five chapters, mirroring the five acts of a play. It is a hybrid of various genres, both a precious pastiche and a fantastic spoof (Alexander 5).
The first preface to the tale said that it was a manuscript, found and transcribed from the ‘actual’ Middle Ages. For Walpole, Simmons notes that he uses the medieval in two ways. He sets his tale in the Middle Ages, in the Gothic era, because he needed structures of oppression, and a society that was imagined to be quite oppressive (Simmons 142). However, his use of the medieval also contained “a self-ironizing awareness of the aesthetic and social appeal of the Middle Ages” (Simmons 143). Therefore, he has it both ways; Walpole chooses the medieval as both a repulsive and appealing setting for his ‘romance.’
While twenty four years separate Otranto from Castles, Radcliffe makes obvious references to that medievalist work. Miles makes a case for Radcliffe’s involvement in propagating the Gothic genre that Walpole starts (Miles 2). Whatever Walpole’s use of the medieval in his texts, much of that spills over in Radcliffe’s work. That her first work also contains ‘Castle’ in the title is but one of the clues that show the similarities (Durant 22). Gaston de Blondeville also picks up on themes directly out of Otranto, although usually very different ones from The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne. For instance, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne has Otranto’s underground passages, has the same dithering servants, has a similar style and is also about forcing women to marry men they do not love. Gaston de Blondeville contains the text of a ‘found’ manuscript, has underground passages that specifically connect a castle with a Priory, and takes up the plot of a man who cannot prove he is innocent, despite the fact that he is factually so, because of the prejudices of his royal judge.
In The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and Gaston de Blondeville Radcliffe uses both this medievalized form of the romance from the Walpole tradition, as well as the medieval setting, characters and ideologies. Even if scholars like Durant find, possibly justifiably so, these two works by Ann Radcliffe derivative of sources like Otranto, this does not negate the interesting features of Radcliffe’s unique use of these themes, including the Middle Ages. Miles puts succinctly the historical, literary and social advantages Radcliffe found in Gothic literature: 

Radcliffe’s preferred wing of the house of fiction accommodated her practice of this ‘peculiar art’. By choosing new, Walpolian romance (recently made respectable by Clara Reeve, Charlotte Smith and Sophia Lee), Radcliffe ostensible avoided the political controversy endemic in the novel’s realistic depiction of modern manners; and yet, subtextually, there was ideological advantage to be had from the myth of the Goth. The sublime and the picturesque codified conservative values, but by the same token these values were now placed within the unstable realm of representation, where interpretation becomes ungovernable (Miles 55-6).
Radcliffe was both part of and a propagator of this intellectual rebranding of the Middle Ages that made peculiar use of the old branding. Gothic literature allowed her to pursue themes of oppression and to engage with an aesthetic that had popular appeal, while the specific use of the Middle Ages allowed her to cast social, domestic and legal oppression into the language of ‘ancient privilege.’ The advantages of this, as will be seen, is that it gives a realism to the type of oppression short of drawing on real instances, which heightens the effect. It also allows her to be simultaneously conservative and subversive. The condemnations of the oppressive, patriarchal society are mitigated by placing it in a geographical and temporal remove. The condemnations seem subversive, but have conservative tones because of their setting. Conversely, the solutions to the problems imposed by the oppressive society seem conservative because they restore a normal, conservative world order. However, the setting of the past likewise tempers this with a subversive undertone, by suggesting that these solutions represent the only way these problems could be resolved in such ‘times,’ times we no longer live in.
                 Of course, in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne this is not abundantly clear. The text has quite a few signifiers of the medieval, not least of which is that it is written in the style of The Castle of Otranto, recalling for readers that setting. The text opens: “On the north-east coast of Scotland, in the most romantic part of the Highlands, stood the Castle of Athlin; an edifice built on the summit of a rock, whose base was in the sea. This pile was venerable from its antiquity, and from its Gothic structure; but more venerable from the virtues which it enclosed (721). Radcliffe describes both castles several times in terms of the ‘Gothic’:  “the edifice was built with Gothic magnificence, upon a high and dangerous rock. Its lofty towers still frowned in proud sublimity, and the immensity of the pile stood a record of the ancient consequence of its possessors.” (725)There is also the ruined abbey that Count Santmorin uses as a hideout when he abducts Mary. The medieval makes its present felt on the landscape of the novel. However, as Miles notes, the presence of these structures is not necessarily medieval, especially not such edifices as a ruined abbey, since presumably (though not necessarily) it would be new in that time period (Miles 78). The description of the ruined abbey confirms the ‘ruin’ of the medieval signifiers in the test:
the ruins of an abbey, whose broken arches and lonely towers arose in gloomy grandeur through the obscurity of evening. It stood the solitary inhabitant of the wastes, - a monument of mortality and of ancient superstition, and the frowning majesty of its aspect seemed to command silence and veneration (759).

How, in the context of this text, is the abbey a monument to ‘ancient superstition,’ when presumably it is set in the Middle Ages, when there was only one Church.
                The medieval structures that dominate the landscape, while invoking a sense of the past, would not be enough to show that Radcliffe deliberately set the text in the Middle Ages. Instead, it is joined with several other details. First, as Miles notes, the only law seems to be that of feudal might, as the Earl of Athlin and the Baron of Dunbayne are constantly conducting raids on each other’s castles (Miles 78).
The descriptions of warfare also appears to be deliberately medieval: “the archers who had been planted behind the walls, now discovered themselves, and discharged a shower of arrows; at the same time every part of the castle appeared thronged with the soldiers of the Earl, who hurled on the heads of the astonished besiegers lances and other missile weapons with unceasing rapidity” (753). Laura is described as being particularly fond of the lute, which is a medieval instrument which, like the castles, did persist into a later time, but with the other details is a signifier of a medieval setting. Therefore, this text is intentionally medieval, or ‘Gothic,’ in its setting, but it has collapsed the concept of time, giving the reader no clear indication that they are in the past, but a definitely feeling that that is where they are.
                Durant’s major criticism of The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne is its reliance on sentimental moralisms to define actions, instead of character development (Durant 203). Instead, it may help to understand the plot as dependent on Radcliffe’s construction of an old, sometimes chivalric, code that imposes ideals on the characters. Radcliffe is placing this code on the characters, which she has tentatively placed in the Middle Ages.
We can argue that it is a chivalric code because it does involve ideals for knights and for those in a martial context:
in the morning were performed the martial exercises, in which emulation was excited by the honourary rewards bestowed on excellence. The Countess and her lovely daughter beheld from the ramparts of the castle, the feats performed on the plains below. Their attention was engaged, and their curiosity excited, by the appearance of a stranger, who managed the lance and the how with such exquisite dexterity, as to bear off each prize of chivalry (723).
Alleyn, one of our heroes, is the stranger. He is shown to be worthy for his deference to these ideals. He is fiercely loyal to Osbert, his earl and feudal superior. Even when he is torn between love of Mary and loyalty to Osbert and his family, his loyalty and sense of duty trumps his sentiments of love. Both Osbert and Alleyn show a desire to fight for the honour of their names, with Alleyn also fighting for the honour of his lord and Osbert fighting to revenge his father. Radcliffe constructs a narrative where the characters are motivated by adherence to such chivalric ideals.
                However, this is also a source of tension in the novel, since there are implications of honour not just on the battlefield, but in marriage alliances as well. This is how women are pulled into the chivalric ideal. There will be loss of honour to the family if Mary is forced to marry the Baron of Dunbayne to ransom Osbert, her brother. There will also be loss of honour if she is allowed to marry Alleyn, who is below her in station. If Alleyn and Osbert’s sense of honour and martial prowess will allow them to overcome the Baron of Dunbayne, their same sense of honour will be a source of oppression almost harder to deal with than the Baron, because there is no solution. They must do the impossible, which is to keep the two from loving each other:
The Countess admired with warmest gratitude the noble and inspiring virtues of the young Highlander, but the proud nobility of her soul repelled with quick vivacity every idea of union with a youth of such ignoble birth: she regarded the present attachment as the passing impression of youthful fancy, and believed that gentle reasoning, aided by time and endeavor, would conquer the enthusiasm of love (734-5).

Radcliffe sets in opposition meritocracy and a chivalric system. The whole family is tormented that Alleyn cannot have what he clearly merits: “all these circumstances arose in strong reflection to the mind of Osbert; but the darkness of prejudice and ancient pride opposed their influence, and weakened their effect” (762). Mary tries to be strong but “his disinterested and noble conduct excited emotions dangerous to her fortitude, and which rendered yet more poignant the tortures of the approaching sacrifice” (746). Her mother tells her “you do well to remember the dignity of your sex and of your rank; though I must lament with you that worth like Alleyn’s is not empowered by fortune to take its standard with nobility” (752). Osbert is tortured by the puzzle and laments “O! that I could remove that obstacle which withholds you from your just reward!” (762). It is not just that Radcliffe touches on this opposition, but she returns over and over to the injustice of it.
                Even though Radcliffe returns the status quo at the end, and shows that Alleyn has been the rightful Baron of Dunbayne all along, this doesn’t negate the injustice that Radcliffe has harped on throughout the ordeal of the characters. In the system that Radcliffe is describing there is no other way to bring about a solution that would bring Alleyn and Mary together at the end. While it would seem that Radcliffe is using a construction of a chivalric code in a conservative way, in fact it also shows how the ‘ancient pride’ and prejudices inherent in this code are oppressive. Mary herself is oppressed on all sides by this societal structure. She cannot adopt the martial part of the code, and so can only honour the family by making marriage alliances. The Baron of Dunbayne can demand her hand because of the victories he has won over Osbert in battle. When that threat is removed, she cannot rely on love to decide whom she will marry. Indeed, like the castles and the abbeys that are in part ruined, these oppressive systems are, as Miles terms it, parasitic parts of the past preying on the present (Miles 78). The phrase ‘ancient pride’ really drives this home. The very loose delineation of time period for the setting helps to make this point relevant to Radcliffe’s readers. The ‘ancient pride’ which leads to oppression is meant to resonate with her audience.

                If The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne is suggestive of medieval history, ideals and literature, Gaston de Blondeville is insistent upon it. The whole title, Gaston de Blondeville or The Court of Henry III: Keeping Festival in Ardenne: A Romance, makes this point very well. We have the name of our anti hero attached to a specific historical figure, attached to a specific medieval practice, with a mention also of the specifically medieval form of literature that is being used. In this text Radcliffe is intentionally engaging in two kind of medievalism trends of the eighteenth century. Alexander has noted that correctitude was highly prized, so that “it was usual to correct older texts when reprinting them” (Alexander 18). Willoughton, the antiquarian who frames the narrative of the text, is shown to be reproducing the text by changing the letters from black face and updating some of the words so we can read it. However, Alexander also says that “the outbreak of medievalism in the 1760s was in part simply the result of the melting away of the prestige attached by neo-classical literary theory to notions of correctitude” (Alexander 20). Sometimes we see interiority of Willoughton, such as in those instances, although his narrative, as well as that of the text, is told in third person. The issue of narrator is extremely complex, since we presumably have a manuscript, transcribed by Willoughton, although we also have a third person narrator who is also telling us Willoughton’s story. In addition, within the ‘manuscript’ the narrator of that tale sometimes gives us asides to indicate his status as someone who is telling the tale in a wholly other time period than either King Henry III’s or Willoughton’s:
but what would such have said, had they lived now, in our King Richard’s days; who, the second of his name, is first in every kind of new extravagance, the like of which was never seen afore, and what it may end in, there is no one that dare yet say (30).
This narrator’s identity as a monk is confirmed by statements by the narrator such as “and over all she wore the veil of a sister, and pity it was, that so fair a vestal should be relinquished to this world, instead of being retained in the community, which had once looked to have her their own,” which praises convent life, instead of calling it ‘ancient superstition,’ as was implied in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (II.8). The narrators themselves are very concerned with the idea of correctitude themselves, but their interesting relation to each other compromises the very notion of correctitude. The complexity of the narration as well as the fact that this is a story about ghosts, the only one of Radcliffe’s novels to make use of actual supernatural events, complicates the idea of correctitude that is invoked by the authority of Willoughton as a source and the manuscript and by the long lists of well described medieval details such as armour, tapestries, decorations, historical battles, tournaments and feasting.
                The verification of historical details becomes a predominant theme of the text. Part of this comes from Willoughton, who ironically always is correcting the facts of those around him. When a local comes to give Willoughton and Simpson a tour he describes part of the castle: “‘It was just opposite the Pleasant, yonder,’ said the aged historian. Willoughton retorts “‘The Pleasant!’” to draw attention to the mistake: “‘Yes, Sir; if you look this way, I will tell you where it stood: it was a banqueting-house on the lake.’” Willoughton can not help but reply “‘O! the Plaisance!’”(27). Willoughton questions the ‘aged historian’ as a source, and the veracity of the text. In the main narrative the merchant Woodreve accuses the Baron Gaston de Blondeville of murdering his (the merchant’s) kinsman in a robbery. It is later discovered that the Prior was part of that murderous gang. They keep trying to get Woodreve to change his story, and Woodreve must insist on the details “The four! I saw but three,’ said Woodreeve, eagerly” (II. 168).
                Ultimately, this parade of sources, of facts and of the medieval is used ironically in Gaston de Blondeville because it is a text about stories that will not be believed. Woodreve has the facts on his side, but there is literally nothing that he can produce that will corroborate his story since he has to compete against the prejudice of the King against him. Unlike Manfred in The Castle of Otranto, King Henry is not trying to suppress the truth, but does so unintentionally through his prejudices. Woodreve’s eye witness account is not believed because of how dark it was, so he cannot provide demonstrable proofs. Likewise, when the supernatural intervene on his behalf, every instance is construed by Henry, at the instigation of the Prior, as the work of witchcraft by Woodreve. As evidence is piled in Woodreve’s favour, everything that could clear him is used to condemn him.
                Willoughton mirrors Woodreve in his insistence on the facts, but ultimately he mirrors King Henry who has already made up his mind, despite what the evidence tells him:
But at whatsoever period this ‘Trew Chronique’ had been written, or by whomsoever, Willoughton was so willing to think he had met with a specimen of elder times, that he refused to dwell on the evidence, which went against its stated origin, or to doubt the old man’s story of the way in which it had been found (III. 53-4).
In this text there is an interest in what is medieval, of what can be found out about the Middle Ages, but there is also an undercutting of stories that rely too heavily on antiquarian material. The text both presents details from the Middle Ages as facts and also comments on the impossibility of truly knowing what has happened in the past.
                In this text history is a ghost, which haunts the present. This is no doubt why it is also the only text that has a real ghost, possibly more than one. The aged historian says that Queen Elizabeth is haunting the ruins of Kenilworth, although this is not verified by Willoughton or Simpson. She has, however, clearly left her mark on the castle, so even if she is not really haunting it, the castle brings up the memory for the local villagers, who are haunted by the history of when Queen Elizabeth came to stay. On the walls of the castle hangs tapestries that depict the story of Troy and the story of Richard the Lion-Heart, both of which shape the way that the King and the court think of themselves. In the main narrative the wicked murder of Reginald de Folville literally comes back to haunt Gaston de Blondeville. Reginald and his lady (who is still alive, though that does not stop her spirit from visiting Kenilworth) not only hint at the truth of Woodreve’s story, but forcefully intervene in the narrative. Reginald de Folville’s ghost kills Gaston de Blondeville at the tournament and the Prior in his bed. Ghosts in the narrative cannot be fully reclaimed by the present, but they haunt the present with real consequences.
                Even though it exists in ghost form, or ruin form in the case of Kenilworth castle, the past cannot really be reclaimed, creating the sense of loss Fay and Simmons indicate is an important part of such clear medievalisms. Reginald’s loss is still greatly felt by Woodreve. King Henry will never come back to Kenilworth after the events that transpire there. In the ballad that Pierre the minstrel sings to Barbara on the eve of her wedding to Gaston de Blondeville, he recalls the detail “Faint on the arras’d walls were shown/ The heroes of some antient story,/ Now faded, like their mortal glory” (164). For Willoughton, his engagement with ruins and the medieval brings home for him his own mortality:
Those walls, where gorgeous tapestry had hung, showed only the remains of door-ways and of beautiful gothic windows, that had admitted the light of the same sun, which at this moment sent the last gleam of another day upon Willoughton, and warned him, that another portion of his life too was departing (20).
The people of the narrative are both oppressed by their past and oppressed by the loss of it. This is why the text is so insistent to make that past real for the reader.
Durant is incorrect when he states that “the sources betray Mrs. Radcliffe’s historicist bias: they contain no description of the broad sweep of historical events, nor the deeds of heroes, not the politics of nations; they concentrate on everyday rituals” (Durant 191-2). First because the deeds of heroes, sweep of historical events and politics are mentioned, if in somewhat less detail than the rituals of dress or food. But second because of what Miles has noted about the difference between Radcliffe’s surface narrative and the subtext (Miles 176). Comparing it to The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, it is easier to see again the focus on the place of a meritocracy in a system that oppresses it. Woodreve, who is continuously referred to as ‘the merchant’ throughout the text, is the most upstanding character. He continuously is reassured that despite his suffering he is doing the right thing:
yet did he not repent the effort he had made, so honest was his grief for the fate of his kinsman; so much was his mind possessed with the notion, that he has accused his very murderer; so confident was he that he was performing a duty; and, what is more, so sure was he, that to perform his duty in this world is the wisest, the most truly cunning thing a man can contrive to do (I.182).
Prince Edward and the Archbishop of York are also cast in a good light by believing him, making the merchant (and the ghost) the focal points of honour in the text. While the rank that one holds is important in the text, it is not as important as being able to see the truth, yet Woodreve is still oppressed by a social system that favours the opinion of people with a high rank.

                Both The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and Gaston de Blondeville phrase the oppression in the novels as products of the ‘times,’ of the medieval period that is being depicted. The Castles refers to the oppression as the result of “the darkness of prejudice and ancient pride” (762). Gaston is more insistent on the effects of the period: “Nor was that so wonderful in times, when lawless violence had almost overrun the whole land” (II. 256). However, both bring that oppression into the present, though in very different ways. The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne collapse the medieval and the present together. Gaston de Blondeville shows how the past actively haunts, with active consequences, the realm of the present. Simmons calls this “the true medievalist moment: a supposed medieval air and historical incident provide the means of commenting on current oppression” (Simmons 72). The air of the medieval is important to both texts in different ways, but ultimately the past gives to both novels a sense of oppression, one that puts those whose only claim to honour is merit underfoot of those unjustly given privileges.
                Paralleling the two medievalisms Alexander mentions, Fay says that there is “medievalism as an anachronism – as a vaguely past state that encompasses everything up to the Enlightenment initiation into modernity” in addition to the medievalism of antiquarianism, as represented by the character Willoughton (Fay 13). According to Fay:
the conflict between anachronism – the disruption of temporal sequence – and antiquarianism – its preservation – can be seen in the difference between Horace Walpole’s antiquarianism, which leads to the creation of the Gothic, and Walter Scott’s antiquarianism, which leads to the creation of the historical novel. The Gothic is an Enlightenment revision of medieval superstition and fantasy; the historical novel is a Romantic revision of antiquarian collection that makes use of history to create a temporal identity rather than fabricating it for mere escapism (Fay 13).

The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne clearly fit into this category of anachronism. However, Gaston de Blondeville fits neatly into neither, straddling the two. Gaston represents the impulse to gather the nationalistic details of English history, while also exploiting it for that sense of the past as an oppressive structure on the individual psyche. Gaston be Blondeville is an historical novel in the style of Sir Walter Scott, as well as a Gothic novel in the style of, well, Ann Radcliffe, or perhaps we should say Horace Walpole. Durant says that “it is usual to think of the Gothic as an intermediary step towards Scott’s novels,” though this is not fair on the Gothic (Durant 212). Radcliffe self-reflexively brings the two genres together, showing that history is an effective and disturbing ghost. Radcliffe is intentionally reflecting on both genres when her manuscript narrator says:
We vouch not for the truth of all here told; we only repeat what others have said and their selves credited; but in these days what is there of strange and wonderful, which does not pass as current as the coin of the land; and what will they not tell in hall, or chamber, seated by night over blazing logs, as if their greatest pleasure were to fear? (II. 257).

Radcliffe’s use of the medieval is very intentional, even in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, as she brings home for their readers just what it is about the past we have to fear.


Alexander, Michael. Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England. London: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.
Durant, David S. Ann Radcliffe's novels: experiments in setting. New York: Arno Press, 1980. Print.
Fay, Elizabeth. Romantic Medievalism. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Print.
Miles, Robert. Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress. New York: Manchester University Press, 1995. Print.
Radcliffe, Ann. Gaston de Blondeville of The Court of Henry III Keeping Festival in Ardenne. Vols. I,II. New York: Arno Press, 1972. Print.
Radcliffe, Ann. "The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne." Ann Radliffe: THe Novels, Complete in One Volume. New York: Georg Olms Verlag Hildesheim, 1974. 720-64. Print.
Simmons, Clare. Popular Medievalisms in Romantic Era Britain. New York: Palgrave and Macmillan, 2011. Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment