The so-called "Northanger Canon" is the list of books appearing in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. The flighty Isabella lists for heroine Catherine Morland her version of Gothic classics. The list itself provides an interesting insight into what one woman, Jane Austen, perceived to be the most representative books of the Gothic craze that swept England during her lifetime. The "Northanger Canon" inspired book collector Michael Sadleir to branch out from his previous interest in nineteenth-century books in general to Gothic books in particular. He began his collection of Gothic books by acquiring all of the first editions of the "Northanger Canon." When he began, Gothic books were considered trash among booksellers and collectors and though not easy to find, were not terribly expensive as there was so little competition for books due to the dearth of collectors of the Gothic. It is Sadleir's collections that forms the heart of the University of Virginia's Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Books, an unparalleled collection of Gothic classics, both famous and not. A contemporary upsurge of interest in the Gothic has made the collection even more important to researchers and connoisseurs than ever.


Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. By Jane Austen. London: John Murray, 1818. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. This is the very rare first edition. As one can see from the first page, this novel is a satire of the Gothic genre. The novel was published 1 year after Austen's death, and this edition includes an apologetic foreword in which the publisher explains that the book may seem out-of-date as fashions in literature have changed. The delight with which Catherine ascertains that the novel is indeed "horrid" is echoed by the contemporary popularity of Gothic literature, nearly two hundred years after the publication of Northanger Abbey. Perhaps literary fashions have not changed much at all. Two other pages are available.

The Mysteries of Udolpho. By Ann Ward Radcliffe. London: G. G. and J. Robinson, 1794. First edition. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. Coleridge called it "the most interesting novel in the English language" (Critical Review August 1794). Montague Summers remembers how he first conceived his love for the Gothic novel:
My love for the romances of Mrs. Radcliffe dates from my very first years. Bound in dull black morocco, gilt-tooled, Mrs. Radcliffe lived on the summit of the highest summit of the highest shelves in a sombre and shadowy but by no means large old library, where the books stood ranged in very neat rows in tall mahogany cases behind heavy glass doors . . What a day it was . . . when I discovered how an alien key would fit the bookcase locks!
Literary historians regard this novel as the prototype Gothic novel, one that focues on both a young person's search for identity as well as the travails of a peerless maiden.
In the novel, the orphaned Emily St. Aubert is carried off by her aunt's villainous husband Montoni to a remote castle in the Apennines, where her life, honor, and fortune are threated and she is surrounded by apparently supernatural terrors. These are later explained as due to human agency and Emily escapes and after enduring further mysteries, is reunited with her true love Valancourt.

The Castle of Wolfenbach; or the Horrid Machinations of the Count Berniti. By Mrs. [Eliza] Parsons. London: Minerva Press, 1793. First edition. Mrs. Parsons wrote over 60 volumes of Gothic tales to support herself and her children after the death of her husband.
Clermont. A Tale. By Regina Maria Roche. London: Minerva Press, 1798. First edition. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. Madeline is a truly Gothic heroine, unsurpassable in beauty or in sensibility. Raised in a romantically ruined castle, she, like most (male) Gothic heroes, becomes engaged in a search for her true history. Of course, her trials are those of the traditional Gothic heroine, and it is through foiling numerous assaults on her virtue that she discovers her true noble birth.

The Mysterious Warning, a German Tale. By Mrs. Eliza Parsons. London: Minerva Press, 1796. First Edition. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. Replete with German half-brothers, incestuous seduction, and supernatural intervention.

The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest, Founded on Facts: Translated from the German of Lawrence Flammenberg by Peter Teuthold. By Karl Friedrich Kahlert. London: Minerva Press, 1794. First edition. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. This tale probably does have a Germanic origin, but it is not the translation that it purports to be. Michael Sadleir conjectures it to be an "adaptation of an anthology of Black Forest legends" and goes on to describe the novel as "a conglomerate of violent tales thrown loosely together . . For magniloquent descriptions of 'horrid' episodes, for sheer stylistic fervour in the handling of the supernatural, the work can rank high among its contemporaries."

The Midnight Bell. A German Story, Founded On Incidents in Real Life. By Francis Lathom. London: H. D. Symonds, 1798. First edition. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. The first two/thirds of the novel detail the hero's search for his estate and his true identity, a truly Gothic quest, while the last third features the Gothically obligatory ruined castle and demonic Catholic clergy. The bell of the title serves to call to a nightly meeting a group of profligate monks, whose wealth is of course ill-gotten.

The Orphan of the Rhine. A Romance, In Four Volumes By Mrs. [Eleanor] Sleath. London: Minerva Press, 1798. First edition. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. One of the three novels in the "Northanger canon" that refers to Germany, the German vogue was criticized in the Critical Review of June 1807: So great is the rage for German tales, and German novels, that a cargo is no sooner imported than the booksellers' shops are filled with a multitude of translators, who seize with avidity and without discrimination, whatever they can lay their hands upon...[these novels are] trash...[and] worthless objects." (qtd in GQ, 146) Incidentally, Mrs. Sleath was one of the few Gothic novelists who was actually a Catholic.

The Horrid Mysteries. A Story From the German Of The Marquis Of Grosse. By P. Will. London: Minerva Press, 1796. First edition. The hero of the tale, the Marquis of Grosse, becomes caught up against his will in a secret society, the Illuminati, that advocates murder, anarchy, and a preliminary form of communism. He implements various plans to foil the society: not only does he flee to other countries to escape, he sets up a rival society of fascists to demolish the Illuminati. In spite of the marquis's best efforts, he is continually drawn back in again. As is so often the case in the Gothic, there is no hope of escape for him.

The Italian By Ann Ward Radcliffe. London: T. Cadell, Jr., and W. Davies, 1797. First edition. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. This is the last novel Radcliffe published in her lifetime and was immediately popular. The Analytical Review stated that her habit "of accounting in a natural manner for supernatural appearances, now the secret has gotten vent, lessens the effect." In this novel, the "Italian" is the villainous Father Schedoni who persecutes the peerless Ellena by imprisoning her in a convent, where it is discovered that one of the nuns is actually her long-lost mother This is one of many novels in which the Catholic clergy is demonized for the largely Protestant English public.


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