Reorienting the narrative of digital media studies to incorporate the medieval, Participatory reading in late-medieval England traces affinities between digital and medieval media to explore how participation defined reading practices and shaped relations between writers and readers in England’s literary culture from the late-fourteenth to early sixteenth centuries. Traditionally, print operates as the comparative touchstone of both medieval and digital media, but Participatory reading argues that the latter share more in common with each other than either does with print. Working on the borders of digital humanities, medieval cultural studies, and the history of the book, Participatory reading draws on well-known and little-studied works ranging from Chaucer to banqueting poems and wall-texts to demonstrate how medieval writers and readers engaged with practices familiar in digital media today, from crowd-sourced editing to nonlinear apprehension to mobility, temporality, and forensic materiality illuminate. Writers turned to these practices in order to both elicit and control readers’ engagement with their works in ways that would benefit the writers’ reputations along with the transmission and interpretation of their texts, while readers pursued their own agendas—which could conflict with or set aside writers’ attempts to frame readers’ work. The interactions that gather around participatory reading practices reflect concerns about authority, literacy, and media formats, before and after the introduction of print. Participatory reading is of interest to students and scholars of medieval literature, book, and reading history, in addition to those interested in the long history of media studies.
Evocative of the nationally transformative potential of travel sketched in The old Irish baronet (1808) and The tradition of the castle (1824), Regina Maria Roche's The castle chapel (1825) establishes the global journey of one of its two protagonists as the key to restored and refreshed identities at home. Compelled by his dependent status to conciliate the favour of a rich uncle by travelling first to India and then throughout Europe, William Delamere returns to Ireland considerably wealthier, materially and experientially, than when he left. There, literally and metaphorically enriched by his travels, he marries his childhood sweetheart, Grace O’Neil, restoring her family to the status and prosperity denied to them by a lengthy history of violent dispossession and metatextually reworking a similar union in Edgeworth's Ennui (1809). In that novel, Lord Glenthorn's marriage to Cecilia Delamere and assumption of his wife's name is a symbolic act of rebirth that both reinvests him with an aristocratic identity and signals, in Clíona Ó Gallchoir's terms, ‘the collapse of the patrilineal system’, as suggested by the translation of ‘de-la-mère’ as ‘of-the-mother’.1 The castle chapel, by contrast, places emphasis on another possible translation of Delamere – ‘de-la-mer’ or ‘of-the-sea’ – in order to suggest the centrality of mobility to Ireland's future. Against Glenthorn's alternately purposeless and boredom-driven travel throughout Europe and Ireland, The castle chapel imagines instead the personally and publicly restorative power of travel when combined with an ‘inquisitive mind’ and ‘ardent imagination’.2 In this, the novel resonates with The old Irish baronet and The tradition of the castle, portraying Delamere and his various movements as the key to a new transnationally inflected Irishness.3
Roche's novel further reflects on the usefulness of travel in the negotiation of nineteenth-century Irish identities through its exploration of the literary endeavours of its second protagonist, Eugene O’Neil. Presenting himself to a Dublin publisher in the hope of becoming a ‘successful competitor with “the Great Unknown” ’, O’Neil finds he must follow his dreams elsewhere, thanks to the devastation of the Irish print industry in the wake of Anglo-Irish Union and the consequent application of English copyright law to Ireland (The castle chapel, vol. 1, p. 121). ‘[I]t's not by an Irish press you must hope to be introduced to the world’, O’Neil is told, before being given a letter of introduction to Mr C– in London and all but escorted to the Dublin port (The castle chapel, vol. 1, p. 252). Once arrived in London, O’Neil meets with a series of disappointments that convince him of the ‘gross’ and ‘immoral’ tendency of popular literary tastes, demanding, as he sees it, nothing short of authorial ‘prostitution’ (The castle chapel, vol. 1, p. 258). O’Neil eventually abandons his literary aspirations, not least because they prove the tool by which his secret enemy, Mr Mordaunt, manages to have him imprisoned for treason and subsequently incarcerated in a private asylum for the insane.4 While O’Neil's literary career, like his travels themselves, ultimately proves disastrous for him, it serves several important purposes. First, it highlights the wholesale migration of Irish print culture in this period. Second, it emphasises the precariousness of London literary life for Irish émigré authors like Roche herself. Third, it points to the acute awareness Roche shared with many of her contemporaries of her participation in what Karen O’Brien calls ‘a borderless and mobile European and transatlantic culture of fiction’ that enabled and encouraged cultural transfer and an ongoing reconfiguration of Irishness during the Romantic period.5
Offering compelling parallels with Roche and her experiences as an émigré author in London, O’Neil ably represents the increasing numbers of Irish writers seeking professional advancement outside of Ireland at the start of the nineteenth century. Responding to Anglo-Irish Union, the subsequent application of English copyright law to Ireland, and a long-standing perception that a successful literary career was only truly possible abroad, many Irish authors felt compelled, like O’Neil, to pursue their literary ambitions elsewhere. His experience of creative ‘prostitution’ further speaks to the difficulties Roche and countless contemporaries – Irish and otherwise – underwent in attempting to secure financial stability and popular acclaim in the cut-throat world of the London literary market. O’Neil's career finally proves abortive and his absence from Ireland a fatal impediment to his symbolic marriage to Rose Cormack – Mordaunt's unacknowledged daughter and thus the ‘descendant of him to whose treachery [the O’Neil family] imputed the loss of the rich possessions of their famed and royal ancestor [O’Neil, the high king of Ulster]’ (The castle chapel, vol 1, p. 175). It nevertheless implicitly speaks to the evolving material and bibliographic contexts in which novels such as The castle chapel were published. As Andrew Piper cogently observes, writers in the Romantic period became increasingly aware of their texts as they related to ‘a bibliographic elsewhere’.6 As a consequence, the question of narratological settings considered in Chapter 3 became twinned with a new attention to bibliographic and material placement, including the geographic location of a text's publication, its physical and/or figurative position amongst contiguous or related texts, and its relation to books that preceded and followed it. This in turn fed into a developing consciousness of literary globality, as Piper contends: ‘romantic concerns with problems of bibliographic placement were simultaneously connected to those of geographic placement … Reading romantic books means reading a growing attention to the international circulation of trends and texts’.7
With all fifteen of her novels originally printed or republished by the notorious Minerva Press established in 1790 by William Lane and headed, from Lane's death in 1814, by A.K. Newman,8 Roche was arguably at the forefront of the Romantic period's increasing expansion of literary production and dissemination.9 Thanks, at least in part, to Lane's pioneering development of the circulating library system and his savvy establishment of trade partnerships, Roche saw her novels frequently reprinted and translated on a global scale. Yet, while she published to spectacular international acclaim, her works were routinely subject to critical censure linked to concerns over the growth of the literary marketplace, its perceived pandering to a growing middle-class readership, its disconcerting dominance by female readers and writers, and its effect on both the worth and accessibility of literature. The principal publisher of popular novels in Romantic-era Britain,10 Lane was understood by critics to drive the period's troubling ‘bibliographic surplus’ and the associated ‘ “quantitative” rather than qualitative rise’ of the novel.11 ‘Minerva’ thus became a contemptuous buzzword for the kind of cheap, imitative fictions – gothic romances in particular – that, in the minds of critics, threatened to reduce authorship to mere hack-work.12
As one of Lane's bestselling female authors, Roche often suffered from the blanket condemnation of Minerva Press publications as cultural trash. Fellow Minerva authors, including the Irish writers Captain Thomas Ashe (1770–1835), Eaton Stannard Barrett (1786–1820), Nugent Bell (fl. 1817), Alice Margaret Ennis (fl. 1817), Alicia Le Fanu (1791–1844?), Mrs Sarah Green (fl. 1790–1825), Theodore Melville (fl. 1802), Henrietta Rouvière Mosse (d. 1835), Anna Milliken (fl. 1793), Mrs F.C. Patrick (fl. 1797), Mrs Frances Peck (fl. 1808), and Catharine Selden (fl. 1797), many of them also emigrants to London, similarly found their works pithily dismissed by reference to their choice of publisher. Even in reviews where the Minerva Press was not specifically mentioned, Lane's publications tended to be condemned as typical circulating library fodder, evidence of the current degraded state of literary production.13 Such assessments ignored, as Deborah Anne McLeod notes, the real diversity of Minerva press publications and authors, as well as the quality of much of the literature Lane produced.14 They have also ensured that twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholarship remains unnecessarily disparaging of or, what is perhaps worse, largely unfamiliar with a great deal of literature that, in its appeal to and widespread dissemination amongst the reading public, bears distinct cultural significance.15
This chapter focuses particular attention on Roche's now all too frequently overlooked novels, which, as McLeod suggests of Minerva Press publications more widely, ‘should be of interest if only because they were often the most widely read and enjoyed literature of the period’.16 Certainly, Roche's gothic romances provide a kind of litmus test as to the prevailing literary tastes of the average circulating library reader in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, not just in Britain, but throughout Europe, North and South America, and the British colonies. More than that, they offer a perceptive account of the cartographic consciousness of nineteenth-century Irish authors and the extensive, if now underestimated, bibliographic spread and influence of Irish gothic fiction in this period. Distinctly aware of themselves as fictive, as Aileen Douglas has persuasively written, Roche's novels reflect an author heavily invested in manipulating both the conventions of genre and readerly expectations.17 They also underline Roche's keen awareness and knowing narratological replication of her fiction's place in local and global literary arenas. Producing bookish characters that trace the trade routes by which her novels were consumed by a worldwide readership, Roche's novels comment shrewdly on the central position occupied by Irish gothic fiction in the transnational expansion of the Romantic-era book trade. Understood today as above all else secondary, much like Irish gothic literary production in this period more generally, Roche's fictions amply repay further study. In particular, they highlight the extent to which her contemporary fame and insightful engagement with expanding bibliographic networks situated Irish gothic fiction at the centre of a newly understood transcontinental and transatlantic gothic literary production – an enduring cultural activity that spanned international borders and concomitantly contributed to, just as it was shaped by, transnational and cross-cultural exchange.
The first part of this chapter accordingly offers a brief contextual consideration of Roche's career in London as well as the contemporary critical reception of her works. Despite rivalling in popularity Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823) and Isabella Kelly (c.1759–1857) from the publication of The children of the abbey (1796) and Clermont (1798), Roche remained plagued with financial insecurity, as documented by her correspondence with the Royal Literary Fund. That she continued exclusively to publish with a publisher known ‘[to pay] his authors notoriously little’ until her death in 1845 indicates that Lane's appeal comprised something other than financial security.18 Just what he offered, this chapter argues, was remarkably expansive material dissemination via his burgeoning transnational network of printers, circulating libraries, and booksellers. The attraction of this network becomes clear from the careers of American novelist Charles Brockden Brown (1771–1810) and British-American novelist and playwright Susannah Rowson (1762–1824), both of whom very consciously used publication by the Minerva Press to further their own transatlantic careers.19
With little personal correspondence or other archival material available to us today, Roche's reasons for publishing with Minerva remain opaque. Yet, as the second section of this chapter demonstrates, her novels enjoyed the kind of extensive, long-lasting popularity and circulation now associated with canonical writers such as Austen and Scott. Moreover, they frequently reveal a critical awareness of their participation in a new international book trade. Indeed, like the works discussed in Chapter 3, Roche's novels defy conventional assumptions about gothic geography, rejecting Catholic Continental settings in favour of a constantly shifting global network mirroring contemporary trade routes. Many of these texts, in fact, narratologically replicate their material dissemination as well as the related movement of Irish peoples and print instrumental to the re-negotiation of Ireland's position in a post-Union Atlantic economy. As they do so, the final section of this chapter contends, they gesture towards the role played by these fictions in both refining an Irish cultural nationalism informed by transnationalism and contributing to similar processes of nation-building elsewhere.
Roche, the Minerva Press, and the migration of Irish literary production
Born in Waterford and raised in Dublin, Roche (née Dalton) moved to London shortly after her marriage to Ambrose Roche in 1792. Having already published two novels, The vicar of Lansdowne, or, country quarters (1789) and The maid of the hamlet (1793), with two different London publishers, Roche began what appeared to be an auspicious publishing relationship with the Minerva Press in 1796. That year, The children of the abbey was published to spectacular acclaim. Clermont followed soon after, solidifying Roche's status as one of the foremost novelists of the 1790s. She wrote a further eleven novels for Minerva, which also re-issued The vicar of Lansdowne and The maid of the hamlet, but suffered enduring financial difficulties until her death in 1845. Indicatively, she published her fourteenth novel, Contrast (1828), by subscription and successfully appealed to the Royal Literary Fund for financial assistance on no less than three occasions between 1827 and 1831.20 She sent her fifteenth and final novel, The nun's picture (1836), to Lane's successor, A.K. Newman, for publication from Ireland, whence she had returned in 1831, and later died, alone, poverty-stricken, and all but forgotten, in her hometown of Waterford.
Roche's financial troubles owed much to her husband's ill health and a prolonged chancery suit related to the unscrupulous activities of an Irish lawyer to whom the Roches had entrusted their Irish affairs.21 They also reflect the instabilities of the literary scene in England, underlining the realities of hard work and deprivation faced by any number of aspiring authors, Irish and otherwise, who attempted to harness the potential of a newly industrialised print trade centred in London. If, in her ‘Address’ in The vicar of Lansdowne, Roche could be accused of a ‘saucy humility’ revelatory of an author who ‘does not deem too humbly of her own abilities’, her later novels, written while living in England, reveal the failure of that initial optimistic confidence to translate into financial security within the London book market.22 In her preface to Contrast, therefore, Roche pleads for the indulgence of readers and critics alike, declaring that ‘at no period of her life did she take up the pen under difficulties and afflictions so overwhelming’.23 Her correspondence with the Royal Literary Fund charts a harrowing course of destitution and need despite her ‘celebrity as an Author’, which, as her solicitors noted in 1827, ‘has been long since acknowledged’.24
Roche's experiences of extreme financial hardship despite prolific and acclaimed publication parallel those of more well-known Irish émigré authors such as John Banim (1798–1842), and Gerald Griffin (1803–40), while also underscoring the devastation of the Irish print industry following the Act of Union. By this point, Irish writers had long been sending their works to England for publication, complaining of the Irish publishing industry's reliance on reprinting works produced elsewhere, and taking advantage of the monetary inducement provided by the Copyright Act of 1709.25 Several prominent Irish authors of the latter half of the eighteenth century, including Oliver Goldsmith (1728–74), Edmund Burke (1730–97), and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816), followed their manuscripts abroad, choosing to make their careers in England, rather than in Ireland. So, too, did a number of lesser-known writers, such as Elizabeth Griffith (1727–93), Hugh Kelly (1739–77), Arthur Murphy (1727–1805), and John O’Keeffe (1747–1833). These authors’ decision to publish and live outside of Ireland in the late 1700s indicates that, even before the Act of Union, imaginative and physical migration was perceived as a near necessity for an Irish author's professional success.26 The application of English copyright law to Ireland in the wake of Union, however, added new urgency and anxiety to the migration of Irish print culture. With the reprint trade now made illegal, the Irish publishing industry became critically depressed, and Irish writers were all but compelled to seek publishing opportunities elsewhere.
In the years immediately following Union, as Claire Connolly notes, only a handful of novels – False appearances (anon; 1803), Owenson's St Clair; or, the heiress of Desmond (1803), and Sarah Isdell's The vale of Louisiana; an American tale (1805) – were published in Dublin.27 The majority of Irish fiction produced in the first three decades of the nineteenth century, including all but one of the fifteen novels collectively produced by Charles Maturin and Sydney Owenson, was published elsewhere, either in London or Edinburgh. Maria Edgeworth routinely published her fiction with London publisher Joseph Johnson, while Griffin and the Banim brothers made use of a number of metropolitan publishing houses, including those of Henry Colburn and Saunders & Otley, to produce their fiction in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Alongside the countless, often nameless, Irish writers publishing with popular presses such as Minerva, these authors attest to the migration of literary production so ably remarked upon in Roche's The castle chapel.
Unsurprisingly, as in The castle chapel, many of Roche's novels comment self-consciously on this relocation of literary culture as well as the frequently heartbreaking realities of competing in a swiftly developing marketplace. For O’Neil, failure to succeed within that ‘great mart of literature, and world in itself, London’ impels his return home, where, after further encounters with Mordaunt, he appears ready to assume his rightful position in Ireland through marriage, much as in the national tale popularised by Owenson and Edgeworth (The castle chapel, vol. 1, p. 258). As noted at the start of this chapter, though, O’Neil's projected union with Rose Cormack never comes to pass. Suffering from scruples over their pre-marital intimacy and the subsequent birth and death of their child, Rose feels ‘unworthy of associating with those she loved’ and resolves to retire to solitude, after having signed over her fortune and estates to the O’Neil family (The castle chapel, vol. 3, p. 24). But she dies before she can do so, thrown into a fatal emotional turmoil after O’Neil visits her in her Welsh refuge without her consent. He thereafter travels to the Continent and joins ‘the patriot cause of Greece’, vowing ‘never to know a home again’ following Rose's rejection (The castle chapel, vol. 3, pp. 283, 248).28
Drawing to a close ‘[t]wo years … [after] the melancholy event that forced Eugene from his native country’ (The castle chapel, vol. 3, p. 283), The castle chapel envisions its hero as an unfortunate exile, thus referring the reader back to the epigraph provided in the novel's first chapter:
With awe-struck thought and pitying tears,
I view that noble, stately dome,
Where Ulster's kings of other years,
Fam'd heroes! had their royal home:
Alas! how chang'd the times to come!
Their royal name low in the dust –
Their hapless race wild, wand’ring roam –
Though rigid law cries out – 'twas just! (The castle chapel, vol. 1, p. 1)
An adaptation of Robert Burns's ‘Address to Edinburgh’ (1786), Roche's epigraph emphasises the history and consequences of dispossession suffered by the O’Neil family. As recounted in Roche's novel, the O’Neils twice found themselves on the losing side of colonial warfare and, as a result, were both stripped of their titles and estates and ‘banished’ from ‘their goodly lands’ to ‘waste, sterile spots, on the sides of bleak and rugged mountains’ (The castle chapel, vol. 1, p. 6).29 They thus become the now humbled ‘heroes’ of Ulster doomed to ‘wand’ring roam’ eulogised in Roche's version of Burns's poem. The ‘pitying tears’ of Roche's narrator suggest a mournful regret for the perceived iniquities of the past as well as the dispersal and exile of ‘Ulster's kings’, despite the justifiable dictates of ‘rigid law’. In the context of O’Neil's experiences, though, they also reflect on the hardships of emigration – a reality with which Roche was all too familiar.
If O’Neil's tempestuous career in London suggests an author embittered by personal suffering and a literary market that failed generously to reward its suppliers, it should be remembered that Roche was not unique in either her prolific publication or her failure to make an adequate living by her pen. Far from an indication of the quality of her writing, this inability to prosper by way of her literary production reflects the reality of authorship in this period.30 As O’Brien observes, ‘it was not until after 1820 that novelists themselves were able to make an independent living out of publishing their work’.31 Whether Roche would have succeeded in supporting herself by publishing with a different, more highly regarded publisher is a moot point. William Lane's stated willingness to pay just £5 for manuscripts had certainly earned him a reputation as a particularly acquisitive publisher, who compensated his authors poorly but personally profited enormously from the sale of their texts.32 Existing records of Lane's transactions are few, but Dorothy Blakey draws evidence from various contemporary sources to conclude that the average Lane paid for one novel in the final decade of the eighteenth century was £30.33 Compared to the £25 average estimated from the copyright contracts of the publishing house of George Robinson, this figure indicates that Lane was not particularly parsimonious in paying his authors.34 The sums Lane paid to authors seem to have risen in the early nineteenth century, as both the Minerva Press and the novel became more firmly established.35 Nevertheless, it remains clear that not all of Lane's authors benefited from the same ‘liberal encouragement’ that was lauded by one Minerva author, Mrs Smith, in the preface to The Caledonian bandit (1811).36 Moreover, even when Lane paid generously for copy, openly offering up to 100 guineas (or just over £100) for manuscripts, his authors must have frequently fallen prey to the financial insecurity attendant upon what William St Clair aptly terms the ‘lumpy and unpredictable’ nature of an income derived largely from copyright contracts, post-dated bills, and money advances.37
Roche's correspondence with the Royal Literary Fund – our chief source of information about her life – does not record the payments she received from Lane for her novels. In one of her later letters to the committee, she refers to the success of The children of the abbey, remarking that it ‘was beyond my hopes’ and noting, ‘I have reason to be truly grateful to the Public’.38 Roche refrains from commenting upon her publisher's munificence – or lack thereof – but her repeated requests to the Fund for assistance between 1827 and 1831 suggest that, by this point in her life, whatever payments he made proved insufficient for her needs. Indicatively, Roche's first correspondence with the Fund in 1827 coincided with her husband's second declaration of bankruptcy, itself precipitated by the refusal in 1826 by Irish politician Richard Martin (1754–1834) to pay the Roches £500 of rent he owed them as well as a devastatingly expensive and long-lasting chancery suit undertaken by the Roches in 1820. While Roche continued to publish steadily during these hardships, producing five novels between 1820 and 1828,39 any money she received for them simply was not adequate to meet the debts the Roches had incurred, as detailed minutely in her letters to the Fund. Ambrose Roche's ill health from 1825, followed by his death in 1829, undoubtedly contributed to Roche's money concerns, placing more pressure on her writing as the couple's primary source of income.
What this evidence suggests is that Lane was certainly no more, but also no less, generous in his compensation of Roche. Like many of her contemporaries, Irish and otherwise, Roche clearly wrote out of financial need but, also like them, failed to make a living from her literary endeavours.40 Roche's faithfulness to Lane, therefore, needs to be weighed in terms of the period's norms for authorship, which very rarely proved lucrative for the writers themselves. But it also needs to be assessed in terms of the less tangible forms of remuneration afforded by publication with Lane. After all, it was publication with the Minerva Press that arguably ensured Roche's accessibility to an increasingly populous readership across Britain, Europe, North America, and further afield. As Natalie Schroeder remarks, Roche's ‘readers were legion’ and continued to be so throughout the nineteenth century.41 So notable was the circulation and appeal of Roche's novels that, as the New England Weekly Review observed in 1828, they could be found ‘in the hands of every novel reader in Europe and America’.42 The global impact of Roche's novels relied principally on Lane's transcontinental and transatlantic connections.
A key figure in the growth of a transnational literary marketplace, Lane vitally enabled the spread of the circulating library network in England while also feeding printing presses across Europe and the United States. Having founded his own popular circulating library in Leadenhall Street in or around 1784, Lane devoted himself to the spread of the library network across England, helping to establish circulating libraries ‘in the chief towns of public resort’, supporting enterprises of all sizes, and successfully ‘induc[ing] many a petty shopkeeper to add even so small a collection as a hundred volumes to his shelves’.43 Blakey declares Lane's promotion of a nationwide network of libraries ‘the most significant of the various enterprises undertaken by the Leadenhall Street house’.44 His success in this endeavour – one he named ‘not more the Business than the Pride of my Life’ – had much to do with the advertisements he placed, like that in The correspondents in 1784.45 There, he called on ‘any Person, either in Town or Country, desirous of commencing a Circulating Library’ to take advantage of the ‘several Thousand Volumes, in History, Voyages, Novels, Plays, &c.’ he kept ‘always ready bound’. More than that, Lane asserted, he was ‘happy in instructing them in the Manner of keeping a Reading Library’.46
Lane continued this marketing throughout the 1780s and 1790s in various forums, publishing in 1795 a two-part pamphlet including An address to the public, on circulating libraries, in which he notes the increasing number of circulating libraries in ‘every part of this Kingdom’.47 He ‘offer[s] those who wish to open Public Libraries, all the Information a long Experience, and a devoted Attachment to my Profession can afford them’ and, as in his 1784 advertisement, assures potential library owners that he has ‘many Thousand [v]olumes, of every Description, in Literature’ ready for ‘immediate Circulation’.48 He further asserts the continuing availability of such volumes, observing that ‘Works of Merit are constantly printing, under my own Inspection, at the Minerva Press’.49 Moreover, indicating the manner in which ‘book-borrowing and book-purchasing channels would frequently merge in the Romantic period’,50 Lane concludes his pamphlet with the information that Minerva Press publications ‘[m]ay be had the Day of Publication, from our numerous Correspondents, not only in this Metropolis, but also in every City or Town in this Kingdom’.51
The extent of Lane's circulating library network meant that publishing with the Minerva Press should have secured a market advantage for writers such as Roche. Certainly, Roche's novels appear repeatedly in the catalogues of circulating libraries across England, Scotland, and Ireland, and, while circulating library presence cannot accurately quantify actual readership of a given text, it does underline reading trends and point to market demand, as Franz Potter contends: ‘in an industry driven by consumer interest, it is likely that titles which were included in library catalogues reflect to an extent consumer interest in the marketplace’.52 Of course, compared to the circulating library presence of contemporaries such as Edgeworth, Owenson, and even Maturin, Roche's may seem unremarkable. According to figures derived from the British Fiction, 1800–1829 database, the average number of circulating libraries to advertise Roche's ten novels in the period 1800–29 is nine. That for Edgeworth is 20; Owenson, 15; and Maturin, 12.53 Superficially, these numbers seem to support the idea of canonicity. Those authors apparently more widely read in their own day also happen to fall into our prevailing idea of the canon of early nineteenth-century Irish literature. Yet, it is worth remembering here that neither Owenson nor Maturin has long enjoyed canonical status in twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholarship. Despite his contemporary popularity, Maturin has only very recently been recovered to view as an integral contributor to the development of Irish Romantic literature.54 In the preface to his fourth novel, Women; or, pour et contre (1818), Maturin himself bitterly complained of his neglect: ‘None of my former prose works have been popular. The strongest proof of which is, none of them arrived at a second edition’.55 He indicated that the reason for this lack of notice was his early novels’ association with ‘circulating libraries’, and, while he gained considerable notoriety with the publication of Melmoth the wanderer, critics continued to dismiss Maturin as an eccentric, imitative writer of little consequence.56 Such condemnations have been repeated with regularity until very recently, defying the considerable reprint and translation history Maturin's novels enjoyed, while also ignoring the substantial impact Maturin had on contemporary authors and those that followed him.57 Similarly, Owenson's controversial and flamboyant style ruled her out of much serious scholarly attention until feminist criticism in the second half of the twentieth century revived interest in her oeuvre.58 Roche, too, clearly fell prey to the prevailing critical view of Minerva Press productions as debased, derivative, and unworthy of serious scholarly attention.
Despite critical condemnation, Roche found considerable favour amongst readers. Analysis of the market evidence indicates that the gratitude to the public Roche expressed in her correspondence with the Royal Literary Fund was not ill-placed.59 In addition to maintaining a respectable circulating library presence, Roche's fifteen accepted novels also enjoyed a strong reprint and translation history. The children of the abbey is the most obvious example of Roche's popular success. With as many as 80 reprints over the course of the nineteenth century, The children of the abbey was ‘one of the most frequently reprinted Irish novels of the nineteenth century’.60 It enjoyed particular success in the USA, with editions published in New York (1798), Connecticut (1822), and Philadelphia (1845; 1850), while on the Continent it was translated into French (1797; 1807), Dutch (1802–10), German (1803), and Spanish (1807/08, 1818, 1828, 1832).61 Comparison with the reprint history of novels published that same year is revelatory of The children of the abbey's market dominance: of the 91 novels published in 1796, as counted by James Raven, only 27 – or, roughly 30 per cent – were reprinted at least once before 1801.62
Roche's subsequent novels, while not repeating The children of the abbey's resounding success, nevertheless also fared well with both local and foreign readerships, as attested to by Figure 4.63 Reprinted across Britain, Ireland, France, Holland, Germany, Spain, and the Americas, Roche's novels were widely disseminated and enjoyed what Piper terms in a different context, ‘bibliographic everywhereness’.64 The striking geographic spread of Roche's fiction owed much to the far-reaching network of the Minerva Press, which helped ensure the repeated re-production of Roche's novels abroad, particularly in the United States. Similar to the situation in pre-Union Ireland, the fledgling print industry in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century America was heavily reliant on reprints, and Minerva proved a lucrative source of publishable material, as Eve Tavor Bannet points out: ‘a significant portion of the contemporary novels that were reprinted in the early Republic at the turn of the nineteenth century had first been issued in London by the Minerva Press. At this time, more Minerva Press novels were reprinted in America than novels issued by any other British or European publisher’.65 As a result, Bannet argues, the Minerva Press critically facilitated ‘the transatlantic migration of texts’ in the Romantic period.66
Figure 4 Map of the publication, reprint, and translation history of Roche's novels in the long nineteenth century
Significantly, the successful transatlantic trade of Minerva Press titles was not simply the result of American publishers choosing, like their eighteenth-century Irish counterparts, to reprint and sell cheaper versions of ‘the most readable and popular material from London publications’.67 Instead, the dissemination and republication of Minerva Press works in the early Republic reflected Lane's ambitious expansion of the circulating library network he had already begun to establish in Britain and its colonies, including Jamaica and India.68 From 1801, Lane had forged a business partnership with New York bookseller and French émigré, Hocquet Caritat, who became an official US agent for the Minerva Press and maintained a high proportion of Minerva titles at his circulating library.69 He may also have supplied Lane with Wieland (1798) and other Charles Brockden Brown titles to be printed in London.70 While Caritat returned to France in 1807, thereby ending his trade relationship with Lane, Lane's interests continued to be served by a variety of other booksellers, importers, and circulating library owners across the United States.71
Thanks to Lane's increasingly expansive bibliographic network, Roche appears to have been a household name in North America in the first three decades of the nineteenth century, appealing to a wide and diffuse readership. Tellingly, the Missouri Republican declared in its 1825 advertisement of the publication of The castle chapel, ‘This lady is so well known among novel readers, that we doubt not her new work will be sought after with great avidity’.72 Three years later, the New England Weekly Review named Roche as second only in literary fame to Walter Scott.73 Even if Roche's fictions had been eclipsed by Scott's ‘more masterly productions’, American readers were still encouraged to buy and read new editions of Roche's novels, The children of the abbey in particular, until the end of the nineteenth century.74 An 1891 edition of The children of the abbey, for instance, published in Chicago by A.C. McClurg & Co., was promoted as ‘an attractive new edition of a tale that once charmed our grandmothers to tears’. Despite the narrative's ‘quaintness’, the edition was seen to ‘well [repay] a reading’.75 And, in April 1893, The Daily Inter Ocean advertised the sale of ‘the Gems of the literature of the world’, listing the names of authors whose works might be had for a very attractive 25 cents. Keeping Roche company in this catalogue of well-known and widely read authors is a diverse selection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British, Irish, American, and European authors, including Honoré de Balzac, Charlotte Brontë, William Carleton, Cervantes, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allan Poe, Walter Scott, and Jonathan Swift.76
The narratological manifestations of Roche's bibliographic everywhereness
The remarkable material circulation of Roche's novels indicates the very real advantages to be gleaned from loyalty to Lane, even if Roche's motives for publishing with Minerva remain unclear. We may not currently know how much Roche earned from her publications, or whether she lacked the business acumen to negotiate with a publisher other than Lane. She never mentions feeling constrained by critical opinion which, by the publication of Trecothick bower; or, the lady of the west country (1814), had effectively typecast her as the quintessential Minerva author, thus potentially dissuading her and/or other potential publishers from entering into a new publishing relationship.77 Nor does she provide direct proof in her correspondence of a desire to foster a transatlantic and transcontinental literary career through continued publication with Lane. Nevertheless, her repeated acknowledgements to the reading public, coupled with internal evidence drawn from her novels themselves, suggest her very real awareness of the global circulation and appeal of her works as Minerva Press publications. Roche's often wry and playful commentary on the contemporary literary marketplace, the publication of popular gothic romances such as hers, and the worldwide distribution of these works thus invites further consideration. As an example, her 1813 novel, The monastery of St Columb; or, the atonement, features the hapless, would-be romance writer, Miss Elmere, who yearns to make a name for herself as an author. Having received from her friend a manuscript account of the ‘haunted apartments’ of the dilapidated Co. Wicklow estate of Greymount, Miss Elmere immediately recognises its literary potential: ‘How delightful! … perhaps it may furnish me with a plot for my romance, and thus save me all further trouble on that head’.78 Later, after reading the manuscript, she confirms her intent ‘[to] trouble herself no further to seek for a plot for her romance, but make use of the one which it had furnished her for the purpose, conceiving, with the embellishments she should bestow on it, there could not be a better’ (The monastery of St Columb, vol. 2, p. 39).
A tongue-in-cheek parody of the average Minerva Press author as imagined by critics, Miss Elmere also happens to be a prototypical popular novel reader. As such, she conducts her life based on what she has read, dismissing as ‘citizonic’ the heroine's common-sense wish in the midst of a long walk ‘that they had thought of bringing something [to eat and drink] along with them in a work-basket’ (The monastery of St Columb, vol. 1, pp. 250, 251). Later, urging Greymount's current residents not to make any changes to the home, arguing that ‘there is something so infinitely more impressive in ancient than modern decorations, from the recollections they revive’, Miss Elmere specifically links her whimsical ways to her reading habits: ‘the moment I find a heroine safely lodged in a snug chamber, I begin to yawn over her history; but as long as she continues the inmate of a desolate apartment, I feel an interest kept alive for her’ (The monastery of St Columb, vol. 1, p. 268).
Indicative of the association of popular literature like that sold by the Minerva Press with ‘debased taste, wasted time and delusion’, Miss Elmere speaks to the ‘dangers to domestic and social order [represented] by her asocial (“unfeminine”) self-indulgence’.79 Through her reading habits and her desire to publish her own gothic romance, Miss Elmere is explicitly linked to a licentious and immoral print industry that had rendered the Romantic-era novel an endlessly duplicated object with very little value, literary or otherwise, ‘the disposable ephemera of an increasingly commercialized economy fed in no small measure by the mechanical printing press’.80 The ‘sly smile[s]’ and gentle laughter with which Miss Elmere's assertions are met indicate Roche's recognition that her own Minerva Press novels could easily be dismissed as mere financially motivated imitations (The monastery of St Columb, vol. 1, p. 268). Tellingly, the novel evidences a singular attention to doubles, material – like Miss Elmere's intended retelling of the Greymount narrative – and otherwise. The hero, Lord Hexham, for instance, disguises himself as Villiers to escape the ill effects of a disadvantageous and disastrous marriage ended in divorce. As Villiers, he courts and secretly marries the novel's heroine, Angeline, only to renounce her after he has been duped into believing that she is just like his former wife – promiscuous, dishonest, and debased. Angeline later discovers her true parentage and identity via revelations that include two different instances of baby-swapping, allowing her to lay claim over the course of the novel to three different fathers, one of whom masquerades as De Burgh for much of the narrative, when, in fact, he is really St Ruth.81 The novel fittingly concludes with a double marriage that sees Lord Hexham wedded to a veiled woman he believes to be Clora Frazer – who also happens to bear Angeline's real first name – but is revealed to be Angeline herself, not dead, as was believed, but very much alive. The monastery of St Columb thus takes to a near parodic extreme a ‘concern with doubling, as forms of duplication both material and cultural’ recently identified by Connolly in early nineteenth-century Irish fiction.82
Given the manner in which Roche's novels were routinely assessed as imitative and unoriginal, this interest in doubling and an ‘emerging culture of the copy’ more widely is hardly surprising.83 As noted earlier in this chapter, Roche's gothic romances found themselves frequently condemned by critics both for their association with the Minerva Press and their perceived pandering to the unsophisticated tastes of circulating library readers. If The children of the abbey had been judged vastly superior to ‘the quantity of trash that has issued from Leadenhall Street’, Roche's subsequent novels were increasingly viewed as indistinguishable from the ‘hundreds of novels which should never have met the light’ regularly produced by Lane’.84 Clermont was understood as a paltry imitation of Radcliffe: ‘This tale reminds us, without any great pleasure, of Mrs. Radcliffe's romances. In Clermont, mystery is heaped upon mystery, and murder upon murder, with little art, and great improbability’.85 A decade or so later, The monastery of St Columb was reviewed relatively favourably by La belle Assemblée for the ‘great spirit’ with which its characters were drawn and the ‘unaffected pathos’ of its narrative style, one ‘prov[ing] Mrs. Roche's power over the human heart’. Nevertheless, the review ultimately damned the novel with faint praise, proclaiming it a ‘work [that] must rank high in the class of literature to which it belongs’.86 More specific about the degraded ‘class’ of literature that Roche was seen to produce, The Critical Review's assessment of Trecothick bower named Roche ‘one of those ladies who assiduously feed the pig-stye of literature in Leadenhall-street’.87 The children of the abbey may have enhanced Minerva's ‘fame’, but Trecothick bower was now dismissed sardonically as ‘another monument of [Roche's] literary fame’.88 Its prevailing features were summarised as ‘grotesque and unnatural characters, improbable events arising from impossible causes, a wild and disjointed plot, and the most bombastic and inflated language’; its fate, The Critical Review predicted, would be momentarily to ‘enjoy its circulation with its other kindred trash’ before being consigned ‘to that oblivion to which its dulness has impelled it’.89
Twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholarship of Roche's works has tended to echo Romantic-era criticism's ironically mimetic stereotyping of popular gothic fiction as dull, unnatural, debased, and endlessly repeatable. Revealingly, what limited attention has been paid to Roche has generally assessed her fiction by reference to Radcliffe and routinely found it lacking.90 Even where Roche is given credit for deviating from Radcliffe's model, she is seen to turn to other, more financially and critically successful writers for inspiration, particularly in her fictive ‘return’ to Ireland in the 1820s, with works such as The Munster cottage boy (1820), The tradition of the castle, and Contrast.91 Natalie Schroeder's pioneering scholarship on Roche in the 1970s and 1980s began to recover her oeuvre to view but was nonetheless based on the assumption that Roche was a ‘minor novelist’ whose works have failed the test of time due to their author's inability to forge an original creative identity: ‘Throughout her long writing career, Mrs. Roche remained a follower rather than a leader of what was “fashionable” in fiction. After Ann Radcliffe, Mrs. Roche looked to Maria Edgeworth, Walter Scott, Lady Morgan, and a series of other popular novelists as her models’.92
Recycling the early nineteenth-century critical view of Roche's works, more recent scholarship has failed to give Roche credit for either her humorous and self-conscious treatment of the literary marketplace or the heavy intertextuality that reveals just how cleverly Roche situated her fiction amongst that of contemporaries. Indeed, throughout her oeuvre Roche repeatedly indulges in cutting reflections on the contemporary literary marketplace and the common understanding of popular novels like hers as, in Ina Ferris's terms, ‘consumptive goods’, the illegitimate offspring of a ‘promiscuous’ print industry trading in ‘endless multiplication, anonymous circulation, [and] unfocused desire’.93 She does so through author figures such as Miss Elmere and Eugene O’Neil as well as through subtle and not-so-subtle references to other texts and literary genres undoubtedly familiar to her readers. Both techniques function together not to condemn popular literature and gothic romances as falling short of ‘an elite or high literature’ as ‘defin[ed] and valorize[ed]’ by critics,94 but instead to suggest, as in Austen's Northanger Abbey, that any threat to the reading public offered by such works had to do with how they were read.95 In their sensitivity to and conscious reflections on literature as well as its production and circulation, Roche's novels insistently position themselves amongst the ‘tranche of bibliographically oriented novels, or bookish books’ produced by Romantic-era Irish writers.96 As such, in Connolly's terms, ‘they capture within themselves the splits and divisions of the worlds in which Irish books move’, partially, as we have already seen, through attention to ‘questions of reproduction and copying’ as well as ‘psychological plots of doubling’.97
The castle chapel provides an illuminating example of Roche's bibliographic consciousness. In that novel, O’Neil repeatedly finds himself in trouble on account of his misreading of both books and people. Before embarking on his literary career, O’Neil enters the Royal Navy but is quickly dismissed in the belief that he is ‘of incompetent judgment’ (The castle chapel, vol. 1, p. 109). This assessment is made in light of O’Neil's attempts to defend his assault on a commanding officer by reference to the theories of Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776–1832), which he has evidently misunderstood.98 Following his failed military career, O’Neil finds himself imprisoned for treason after Mordaunt – disguised as the apparently benevolent Mr Wilkinson – tricks him into copying out a ‘seditious’ and ‘inflammatory’ radical tract (The castle chapel, vol. 2, p. 41). O’Neil nevertheless naively agrees moments afterwards to deliver a packet of ‘papers of consequence’ for Mordaunt to a bookseller (The castle chapel, vol. 2, p. 42). The receipt for this delivery bears O’Neil's name and is later used as evidence that he is the author of what he has so strenuously condemned, resulting in his incarceration.
O’Neil's imprisonment thanks to his production of a textual copy recalls the accusations of paltry imitation and even blatant plagiarism frequently levelled at Minerva Press authors such as Roche while also obliquely referring to the many false attributions Roche's transnational career and fame inspired.99 While O’Neil's downfall might be blamed on his act of copying, though, Roche's emphasis falls on his worldly innocence and inability to read Mordaunt accurately. Just as he had earlier in the novel been misguided by his misreading of Gall and Spurzheim, here he falls prey to his miscomprehension of Wilkinson/Mordaunt. Something very similar happens in Roche's prolix 1807 tale The discarded son; or, haunt of the banditti, the very unsubtly named villain of which – Lord O’Sinister – indicates Roche's playfulness.100 Like Mordaunt in The castle chapel, O’Sinister contrives to harass and oppress the virtuous Munroe family by way of several disguises, masquerading as both Mr Eaton and Mr Raymond at various points in the novel. It is in the form of Mr Raymond that O’Sinister is rescued from Italian banditti by Osmond Munroe, the young man whom he had earlier attempted to banish to Jamaica in order to seduce Osmond's sister, Elizabeth. Not recognising O’Sinister, who carefully keeps his face hidden from view, Osmond befriends Mr Raymond's wife and her romance-reading daughter. Terrified from her recent ordeal, Mrs Raymond explains that her daughter had
[taken] it into her head, owing to the perusal of romances, to wish to find herself the inhabitant of some dilapidated mansion, where she would be likely to lose herself in old corridors, marble halls, and subterraneous passages – in short, have the sublime sensation of terror every instant awakened in her mind.101
Unlike Austen's Catherine Morland, who finds her expectations of such features and occurrences at Northanger Abbey disappointed, Miss Raymond appears to have had her romance fulfilled. ‘[N]o one will deny’, her mother asserts, ‘that this wish has been accomplished’ (The discarded son, vol. 3, p. 303). Yet, Miss Raymond contends, in a manner that mirrors the enumeration of features in the many ‘recipes’ that appeared in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries instructing readers in the preparation of their very own novel or gothic romance, ‘to have rendered our adventures truly horrific and romantic, we should have seen a spectre, and met with a mutilated manuscript’ (The discarded son, vol. 3, p. 303).102 As it happens, even this has been provided for, as Osmond explains. Unable to ‘[raise] a spectre’, he instead produces a manuscript discovered as the party fled from the titular ‘haunt of the banditti’ (The discarded son, vol. 3, p. 303). Together, he and his companions entertain themselves on their journey to Venosa reading of the treachery of the Marchese Montana toward his murdered wife, Isabella. As they read, Mrs Raymond remarks, ‘I am not ambitious of figuring away again as a heroine of romance’; her daughter agrees that ‘it is much pleasanter to read of, than to meet with adventures’ (The discarded son, vol. 4, pp. 21–2). At the same time, Mrs Raymond suggests, her experiences have provided her with ‘so complete a tale of wonder’ with which to amuse her friends that she cannot ‘much regret them’ (The discarded son, vol. 4, p. 22).
In its self-conscious comparison of narrative romance – the manuscript – and the romance of real life – the Raymond family's adventures with the banditti – The discarded son situates itself amongst texts discussed in Chapter 2 of this book: The convent (1786), The Irish heiress (1797), More ghosts! (1798), The heroine (1813), and Strathallan (1816). Although not as overtly parodic as many of these novels, The discarded son nevertheless repeatedly and insistently underlines issues of textuality as a way of critiquing the critical condemnation of popular romances and gothic fiction as socially disruptive, subliterary reading material. As in these texts, in The discarded son, how one reads is much more important than what one reads. The significance of discriminating reading is made apparent throughout the novel by the continued calamities introduced by the Munroe family's failure accurately to understand Lord O’Sinister and his motives. Unconcerned by O’Sinister's name or the dark rumours surrounding him, Captain Munroe willingly accepts a loan from O’Sinister in order to travel to Ireland as the steward of O’Sinister's estate near Donaghadee. He then fails to put two and two together when he is shot at and seriously injured by an unknown assailant in Ireland. Only when he returns to Scotland and finds his daughter, Elizabeth, just escaped from an abortive marriage ceremony with the mysterious Mr Eaton, who is revealed as O’Sinister in disguise, does Munroe realise the truth of O’Sinister's character. Even then, he remains in O’Sinister's power, due to the debt he owes him and to the fact that O’Sinister has promised to place Munroe's son, Osmond, in a lucrative living once he has taken orders. Later, Osmond, too, almost falls victim to his inability to comprehend O’Sinister. Told that the promised living has been taken out of O’Sinister's hands, Osmond is on the point of agreeing to an alternative living in Jamaica, when Elizabeth's fiancé, Delacour, accurately identifies O’Sinister's intent. ‘[D]o not flatter yourself with a hope of being able to impose on me’, Delacour tells O’Sinister (The discarded son, vol. 2, p. 220).
Delacour's correct perception of O’Sinister depends, at least in part, on his travels as a captain in the Royal Navy. Threatening to publicise O’Sinister's ‘real character’, Delacour explains, ‘I have been more than once at Jamaica, and know perfectly well the character of the gentleman to whom you intended to send Osmond Munroe; know well, that he has no such living in his gift as you speak of’ (The discarded son, vol. 2, pp. 221, 220). It is the knowledge gleaned from Delacour's experiences abroad, the narrative suggests, that enables him accurately to interpret O’Sinister's motives and thereby put an end to his machinations. The significance of Delacour's travel-informed perspective is reinforced by his name. Recalling Edgeworth's reformed fashionable reader in Belinda (1801), Delacour manifests The discarded son's keen interest in contemporary debates on ‘appropriate’ female reading. More than that, he conjures Belinda's consideration of British colonial relations. Connolly has ably analysed the inherence of ‘sentiment and power’ in that novel's twinned discourses on sensibility and colonial politics.103 The heroine's choice of Clarence Hervey over the Creole planter Mr Vincent, Connolly argues, relies not only on her beliefs about ‘first love’ but also on her discovery of his lack of feeling in his treatment of his servant, Juba.104 Rejecting Mr Vincent, Belinda registers her disdain for ‘the disgraceful extensions of sympathy characteristic of its mobilization within discourses of empire’.105 She also effectively asserts her preference for her home in England over Mr Vincent's plantation in the West Indies, as underlined by Edgeworth's original title: ‘Abroad and at home’.
Like Belinda, Roche's Delacour eventually chooses ‘home’ in Britain over military escapades ‘abroad’, settling with Elizabeth in Scotland after being named the heir apparent to his aunt's rich estates. While Edgeworth's equivalent travelling man, Mr Vincent is, as Connolly writes, ‘tainted by his association with West Indian plantation slavery’, it is precisely Delacour's exposure to Jamaican society that enables him to cleanse his native home of the effects of O’Sinister's hitherto unchallenged power.106 Although placed at the heart of British imperial and commercial endeavours in the West Indies by way of his position in the Royal Navy, Delacour is not a symbol of exploitation as Mr Vincent is. Instead, in offering Osmond the position of chaplaincy on his ship, Delacour provides his future brother-in-law with the means to escape, at least temporarily, what the narrative presents as effective enslavement by O’Sinister. Tellingly, O’Sinister's attempt to ‘banish’ Osmond to Jamaica is couched in the language of liberty (The discarded son, vol. 4, p. 422). Refusing to obey O’Sinister's imperious commands, Osmond rejects his efforts to deprive him of intellectual independence, even if he can do nothing to prevent his imprisonment for debts due to O’Sinister: ‘The liberty of which his lordship has deprived me is not half so estimable in my eyes, as that of which he seeks to rob me – the liberty of acting agreeably to the dictates of my reason’ (The discarded son, vol. 4, p. 256).
The discarded son refrains from further reflections on colonial politics in the British West Indies, nimbly sidestepping questions of imperial rule. That it should rest the power of resolving the complicated interpersonal issues between the Munroe family and O’Sinister on a captain of the Royal Navy charged with protecting British commercial interests in Jamaica is nevertheless a suggestive reminder of the centrality of expanding Atlantic trade to the widespread circulation of popular fiction. As Hazel Bennett has observed, libraries in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Jamaica were generally short-lived and were often decried for supplying the same kind of lowbrow material for which circulating libraries at home had become infamous.107 Still, they formed the basis for ‘the development of an intellectual elite’.108 Wealthy plantation owners also themselves imported books, once again relying on popular fiction to fill their personal libraries.109 Helping to supply growing demand in Jamaica and the West Indies with reading material, popular presses such as Minerva were at the heart of an ever-increasing bibliographic world linked to British imperialistic agendas.
In this sense, to reference British colonial interests in the West Indies, as The discarded son does, is also to summon the trade routes followed by contemporary gothic romances, Roche's included. By so doing, the novel subtly stresses the bibliographic everywhereness of Roche's oeuvre and also points to the manner in which so many of her characters appear to trace the lines of trade by which her works were distributed across the British Isles, Continental Europe, North America, and further afield. These movements reflect, in part, Roche's own experience moving from Ireland to England and back again while also speaking to wider migration and emigration trends in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. More than that, though, in their frequent travels, Roche's heroes and heroines become themselves bookish entities, dispersed widely along the routes of literary trade then being established and solidified.110 Think of The children of the abbey: in that novel, the heroine's angst-ridden journeys between England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, have been understood as indicative of Roche's nationalist intent. Identifying The children of the abbey as the first national tale, Miranda Burgess reads Amanda Fitzalan's ‘wanderings’ as a sign of her dispossession as well as an early vindication of Irish culture, partially by way of a concentration on English depravity.111 Diane Long Hoeveler similarly called Amanda's movement ‘a sort of endless hyper-nationalistic loop’, in which the heroine searches ‘for a home that eludes her until the end of this long novel’.112 Far from parochial or inward-looking, as suggested by Hoeveler's arguments, Roche's descriptions of Amanda's travels point to the wider, increasingly global reach of the nineteenth-century Irish novel. When coupled with her brother's experiences serving in the British army in North America, Amanda's movements begin uncannily to resemble those of Roche's novels as they were re-published, translated, and re-packaged over the course of the nineteenth century. As such, Amanda's travels, much like those of characters in The castle chapel and The discarded son, evoke the centrality of the Romantic print trade and the circulation of books to the emergence of the modern nation-state and an associated, if apparently contradictory, transnational perspective.
Roche, Irish gothic fiction, and (trans)nationalism
Narratologically replicating the bibliographic everywhereness Roche enjoyed throughout the long nineteenth century as a Minerva author, her novels enact in themselves the patterns of cultural exchange and encounter depicted in The tradition of the castle and elsewhere in Roche's oeuvre as essential to a modern Irishness shaped by transnationalism. In this, these works attest to the manner in which, as Piper puts it, the Romantic-era printed book both ‘participated in the making of the imagined communities of nineteenth-century nation states’ and ‘facilitat[ed] the emergence of what Karl Guthke has called a “world-spanning consciousness” around 1800’.113 On the one hand, Roche's works educated readers about Ireland, even when not specifically about the country, and engaged in the kind of translation of political consciousness and violence to ‘cultural self-definition’ now identified with the national tale.114 On the other hand, in keeping with their heavy emphasis on travel as the key to re-imagined, post-Union identities, they chart a new map of Ireland that is less about the physical reclamation of native territory than it is about Irish integration into emergent global communities. This is evidenced, as argued in Chapter 3, in characters who, out of both necessity and choice, undertake widely varied, transatlantic, and transcontinental travels that finally enable recovered and renewed identities at home. It is also apparent in the material circulation of Roche's novels, which ensured an increasingly worldwide familiarity and interaction with Ireland. As Begoña Lasa Álvarez contends, ‘a bit of Ireland … travel[led] with each of the copies [of Roche's works] carried or published abroad’.115
Álvarez reads the act of cultural transfer performed by the dissemination of Roche's novels as accidental, but an attentiveness to Ireland is a hallmark of Roche's fiction, even in its early, putatively gothic, rather than national, phase.116 The children of the abbey, for its part, is centrally concerned with an investigation of Irish identity and nationhood more commonly associated with the Irish national tale than the contemporary gothic novel.117 Clermont, too, betrays a real interest in Ireland, particularly in its depiction of Lord Dunlere, the heroine's maternal grandfather and a native Irishman banished to the Continent thanks to ‘his attachment to that unhappy Prince [James II]’.118 Described as ‘one of the most faithful and zealous supporters’ of the Jacobite cause in Ireland, Lord Dunlere loses his ‘considerable property’ and is forced into exile upon James's defeat at the Battle of the Boyne (1690) (Clermont, p. 240). Although he is said to live his secluded life in ‘the obscurity’ of the Alps, ‘looking back on the world he has left without regret’, he nevertheless deeply feels the loss of the ‘blessings’ he once possessed in Ireland (Clermont, pp. 240, 305). He conjures his son-in-law ‘to preserve one relique of the noble house of Dunlere’ through careful guardianship of Dunlere's infant granddaughter, asserting his family's patrician descent and sketching the enviable beauties of Ireland:
Yes, I repeat, noble was the house of Dunlere: and should any chance ever lead you to the isle in which it stands, you will find I have not been a vain boaster in calling it so. True, its honours are departed, its possessions are divided; but though its glory has set, it has set like yon bright orb, leaving a long tract of radiance behind it: 'tis on the flowery banks of the Shannon you would hear of the fame of my ancestors; 'tis there you would hear that they were ever foremost in the ranks of virtue and of valour; that their arms were never stretched against the feeble, nor their swords stained with the blood of innocence. (Clermont, p. 305)
Madeline ultimately never travels to Ireland, but her matrilineage connects her to the Flight of the Wild Geese and a history of Catholic dispossession that constructs her life in France as one of political exile.119
Roche's Nocturnal visit (1800) also features a brief but significant Irish interlude. Its heroine, the apparently orphaned Jacintha, discovers that her mother was the unfortunate Miss Decourcy, who, after being seduced by the nefarious Lord Gwytherin, had given birth to her illegitimate daughter in Ireland, in ‘an ancient castle, near the celebrated Lakes of Killarney, which had long been in the possession of her family’.120 Secrecy is ensured thanks to local legend: the castle is said to have been ‘deserted by its possessors, in consequence of some dark and dreadful transactions which had taken place within it’ (Nocturnal visit, vol. 3, p. 55). Miss Decourcy then allows family and friends to assume that the child is that of her soon-to-be sister-in-law, before marrying the Earl of Dunsane, ‘the descendant of a noble Irish family; who, in consequence of their attachment to the cause of James the Second, lost the principal part of their property in Ireland; but, by splendid alliances in France, regained nearly an equivalent for it’ (Nocturnal visit, vol. 2, p. 268). Years later, confronted with her abjured daughter, Lady Dunsane imprisons Jacintha in a remote castle in the Pyrenees, threatening her with fatal consequences should she reveal her parentage to anyone. Her fears finally prove unnecessary, as Jacintha is at last revealed to be Lady Eglantine Sinclair, daughter and heiress of the wealthy Scottish aristocrat, the Earl of Endermay, whose wife had been delivered of a baby on board the ship carrying her to confinement in a Continental convent in the false belief that she had committed adultery. Endermay's grasping half-siblings kidnap the child, intending to claim for themselves her inheritance, but her nurse, paying a visit to her sister in Ireland, secretly switches Eglantine with the recently deceased Jacintha.
Eglantine's discovery of her true identity deprives her of an Irish family line but allows for the repossession of the rightful Dunsane heir, long divested of his title and estates by ‘the basest schemes’ and raised in France as the son of indigent servants (Nocturnal visit, vol. 4, p. 362). While the novel briefly flirts with a marriage between Eglantine and the newly reinstated Lord Dunsane, thereby proposing an Irish-Scottish-French alliance too symbolic to be ignored in the immediate aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion, it ultimately weds her to her English suitor, Egbert Oswald, prompting Dunsane to return to France ‘[to triumph] over his hopeless passion’ by way of the powers of ‘reason’ (Nocturnal visit, vol. 4, p. 393). Purposely recalling The triumph of prudence over passion (1781) but also arguably The fair Hibernian (1789), Nocturnal visit appears to offer a less stridently patriotic conclusion than either of these two novels. Its Anglo-Scottish union of hearts denies the calls for independence sounded by both of these novels, replacing them, in the year of the passage of the Act of Anglo-Irish Union, with an optimistic vision of national accord underwritten by historical precedence.121
Much like the other Rochean works discussed earlier in this book, both Clermont and Nocturnal visit attest to the overlap of gothic and national literary modes in this period. But they also, in their interest in the Flight of the Wild Geese as well as the diaspora occasioned by the failure of the Jacobite cause in Ireland, turn attention to the global movement of the Irish in the long eighteenth century. The centrality of mobility receives added reinforcement in both novels by the insistent detailing of the various travels undertaken by their characters. In Nocturnal visit, for instance, Egbert's father is sent to North America shortly after he elopes with his commanding officer's daughter; there he fights in the American War of Independence (1775–83) before returning to England with his wife and son. Egbert later inherits a fortune from his father's friend and confidant, Colonel Moreland, who has died in Jamaica. To claim this legacy and protect it from the designs of Moreland's agent, Egbert himself must venture to Jamaica and elsewhere in the West Indies, from whence Jacintha's presumed mother, Mrs Decourcy, has recently returned with her husband after having earned their considerable wealth there. When the Decourcys later depart for Portugal, leaving Jacintha without a protector, she is forced to wend her perilous way through the English countryside, a French convent, and the Pyrenees before being reunited with Egbert and settling in Scotland. Far from the ‘endless hyper-nationalist loop’ Hoeveler identified in The children of the abbey, these journeys reflect contemporary patterns of short- and long-term Irish and English migration and emigration, colonial expansion, and popular tourism routes.
More importantly, at least in terms of this discussion, they speak to expanding bibliographic networks and the new transnational story of books themselves. Circulated throughout Britain, Europe, North and South America, and the British Empire, Roche's novels introduced readers to elements of Irish culture, history, politics, and geography, even when not explicitly about Ireland, as in the case of Clermont and Nocturnal visit. As they did so, they raised the questions of citizenship and national belonging so central to Irish Romantic literature as writers sought to make sense of political exile and increasing migration. In Roche's oeuvre, the act of moving and living outside of Ireland becomes, in Wright's terms, ‘a register of transnational politics, a differential space in which “here” is always tacitly juxtaposed with “there”, while “here” and “there” remain themselves contested categories … to [be] define[d] and stabilize[d]’.122 In their material circulation, Roche's works demonstrate a similar process of cultural encounter, comparison, and consolidation. Placed at the heart of the international and internationalising book trade sponsored by William Lane, Roche's novels became themselves productive sites of cultural exchange, contributing to attempts at self-definition at home and abroad over the course of the long nineteenth century and beyond. As such, they ably demonstrate the manner in which, as Wright points out, the Romantic print trade helped shape ‘cooperative nationalist projects based not just on opposition to “them”, but also on an expansion of “us” and with commensurately fluid notions of territory’.123 This is perhaps most evident in the translation history of Roche's novels, details of which underline the importance of Piper's call for ‘transnational accounts of the book’ that move beyond a narrow concentration on the regional or national practices of a particular country or place to include a ‘sense of the overlaps and interactions between … bookish communities’. The various foreign language editions of Roche's works that appeared throughout the nineteenth century, in other words, elucidate how the expanding print trade encouraged what Piper calls ‘a transnational sensibility of local differences’ – and indeed, similarities – in the Romantic period.124
This chapter has already touched upon the notable translation history of Roche's oeuvre, but it is worth revisiting in more detail here as revelatory of the key role her novels played in Romantic nationalist projects outside of Ireland. In particular, the repeated translation of Roche's novels into Spanish presents a persuasive case study, not least because Spain has often been understood not to have a gothic literary tradition, or, as in Ireland's case, to develop a late, largely derivative one.125 Recent scholarship has begun to contest this lack of a gothic literary consciousness, partially through the recovery of translations by Roche, Radcliffe, Reeve, Lewis, and a number of other primarily Anglo- and Francophone writers.126 In a compelling essay enumerating Spanish language editions of The children of the abbey in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Álvarez points to the importance of the novel not just in the establishment of a gothic literary production in Spain but also in the discourse of Spanish linguistic unity and national singularity. An 1806 translation presented to Spanish authorities as Los hijos de Fitzalán o Los niños de la Abadía was rejected by lay censors both for its lack of literary appeal and its many Gallicisms.127 The condemnation of the translation in terms of its genre – ‘la lectura de esta clase de composciones interesa muy poco o nada a la felicidad y buena moral del hombre’ – suggests a concern with popular literature similar to that evident in reviews of Minerva Press publications in Britain, indicating a desire to protect an elite literature linked, as the censor's further remarks make clear, to linguistic purity: ‘El language no tiene nada de castizo, y en muchos pasajes de la obra la construcción es del todo francesa y acredita también que el traductor no está muy versado en este idoma’.128
No copy of the rejected work is now available, as Álvarez observes, but it seems likely that it was prepared using the French language summarisation of The children of the abbey that had appeared in 1797 in the fifth volume of the Bibliothèque Britannique (Geneva, 1796–1815). This was the case with the first Spanish translation to be cleared by censors: Los niños de la Abadía, published in a collection of various abridged texts brought out by Pedro Maria de Olive in Madrid in 1807.129 The censor's denunciation of a Spanish translation of a French redaction of an English language popular novel, particularly with reference to the notion of ‘lo castizo’, which, as Alda Blanco points out, ‘had historically denoted Spanish purity – racial, linguistic, and cultural’, underlines concerns in the Romantic period over the importation of literature to Spain and its potential to disrupt what Benedict Anderson termed the ‘vernacularly imagined community’.130 For writers and critics later in the nineteenth century, it was precisely this dominance of foreign works in translation that was seen to have impeded the growth of an autochtonous writing tradition in Spain, and, concomitantly, a unified and secure nation-state. ‘Haunted by the not-so-distant Napoleonic incursion as well as the memory of the “Frenchification” of Spain begun in the eighteenth-century, the copious amounts of translated literature, and the growing presence of foreign capital and culture’, Blanco writes, mid-century critics envisioned Spain ‘as a boundaryless nation subject to invasion and subjugation’.131
Despite concerns over perceived cultural contamination as well as regulations put in place in 1799 and 1805 that made the publication of novels more difficult, the translation of foreign language, particularly Francophone, fictions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries remained both popular and lucrative.132 The children of the abbey itself was translated into Spanish more than ten times between 1807 and the early twentieth century in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, and via printing conglomerates in Spanish South America, Buenos Aires and Mexico as well.133 Clermont and The monastery of St Columb also appeared in Spanish translation in 1831 and 1839, respectively.134 These translations, like those of other English- and French-language gothic romances, may be taken simply as representative of the lowbrow tastes of the early nineteenth-century Spanish reader, a stance assumed in the censorship of Los hijos de Fitzalán o Los niños de la Abadía. 135 They may further indicate the dominance of an imitative literary technique that prevented the development of a national Spanish literature – gothic or otherwise – well into the century, as was the opinion of many nineteenth-century critics. Yet, as Rocío Rodtjer points out in her review of Miriam López Santos's La novela gótica en Espanã (1788–1833), Spanish translations of works such as Roche's so altered their source texts to satisfy state and religious censors as to produce new fictions that spoke directly to the Spanish social, cultural, and political contexts in which they were published.136 These then contributed directly to the development of an ‘original’ Spanish gothic literature in the 1830s by way of what López Santos calls ‘transfer of genre’.137
Exegesis of the Spanish translations of Roche's novels promises to shed light on the potential ideological agendas of authors, translators, and publishers, akin to that identified by Terry Hale in his analysis of Jean Cohen's 1821 French translation of Melmoth the wanderer.138 This is not the place for such a consideration, but it is worth observing the manner in which even this brief analysis of the translation history of Roche's works into Spanish places her prominently upon what Rodtjer calls ‘Spain's Gothic atlas’.139 Also noteworthy is Roche's centrality to a process of literary exchange that incorporated Spain into a wider European cultural consciousness and material production at the same time that it asserted the distinctiveness of Spanish traditions. As Rodtjer puts it, ‘The study of Gothic motifs in Spanish literature brings the country closer to a European literary tradition from which it has occasionally felt excluded. Yet it simultaneously highlights Spain's difference, not only in its socio-economic trajectory and chronology, but also in its scholastic tradition and the scope of theory’.140
Rodtjer's comments about the twinned processes of European integration and Spanish national definition enacted through the production, reception, and criticism of gothic fiction call to mind a wider Romantic reality. Benedict Anderson powerfully wrote of the centrality of print-capitalism to the formation of the modern nation-state; it is through the transnational and transatlantic circulation of print, he suggested, ‘that the unstable, imagined worlds’ of emergent national communities were created. Against Herderian privileging of land and territory as the basis of national identity, Anderson contended that it is mobility – of people and print – rather than geographical rootedness that produces the cultural and linguistic ‘hybridity’ from which emerge ‘[n]ationalism's purities’.141 The modern nation-state's foundation in hybridity allows for diasporic nationalism or, in Anderson's words, ‘long-distance nationalism’, by which exiled or migrant communities might feel a part of a ‘home’ country at a distance. At the same time, it recognises the manner in which, as Nancy Vogeley observes, the developing print trade encouraged an awareness of the ‘porous[ness]’ of national borders – a reality manifest in the publication and circulation of translations – and a concomitant transnational understanding of ‘a larger humanity and universality’.142 In the Romantic period, Monika Class and Terry F. Robinson assert, ‘inter/transcultural issues’ vitally informed literary production, as writers ‘confront[ed] affiliations and differences between self and other, near and far, the familiar and the foreign’. Considering specifically English literary production, Class and Robinson contend that increasing migration, colonial expansion, widespread political unrest across Europe and North America, and the rapid development of a global literary marketplace ensured a constant physical and imaginative interaction ‘with domestic and distant others’. The result, they suggest, is the ‘blur[ring of] distinctions between England and other nations’, even as these cultural encounters reveal the dialogic reciprocity essential to contemporary definitions of Englishness.143
A more detailed consideration of the translation of Roche's works across Europe as well as the various cultural, historical, and political contexts in which they were produced would nuance this argument and its applicability to other countries in this period. This is beyond the scope of this book. But, as Piper points out, the proliferation of translations in the Romantic period both ‘helped consolidate the collective identities of those audiences’ throughout Europe and North America and functioned ‘to estrange, to draw readers’ attention somewhere else’, thus helping ‘to foster an alternative international literary imaginary’ that moved beyond ‘local and locatable boundaries’.144 The material history of Roche's novels, then, speaks directly to the transnational account of books demanded by Piper. Frequently translated into French, German, and Spanish in the last decade of the eighteenth century and the first three decades of the nineteenth, Roche's fiction encourages us to think about both national and world literature in this period.145 As it does so, it strikingly underlines the transnational element of Irish gothic romances produced by the Minerva Press as well as the flow of culture fostered by Lane's enterprise: in the expansive bibliographic network established by Lane, supported by a number of Irish authors at home and abroad, and mirrored in the migratory patterns of authors and fictional characters alike, we begin to see the real transnational spread and impact of nineteenth-century Irish gothic fiction.
Combined with the analysis Roche's novels presented in this and previous chapters, the truncated translation history traced here aptly sketches the transnational element of Roche's oeuvre. In their delineation of the importance of travel to modern Irish nationhood and their narratological revelation of what Michael Wiley calls ‘a migratory disposition’, Roche's novels chart the expansion of Irish cultural and economic borders.146 As they do so, they offer a method of imaginatively, if not physically (re)-claiming Roche's homeland even as she herself remained abroad for much of her adult life, precisely by plotting a new transnational and transcultural map of Ireland. Her fiction ably exemplifies, in other words, the sense of ‘long-distance nationalism’ referred to by Benedict Anderson, negotiating, even in texts apparently unconcerned with Ireland, an adaptable notion of ‘Irishness’ reliant not on physical proximity to the land, but on individual and material mobility instead.147 Relatedly, her works reveal the manner in which popular gothic romances such as hers functioned in the cultural nationalist projects of other emergent nation-states. Catering to a rapidly expanding, multi-lingual audience, Roche's novels contribute to discourses of national purity and distinctiveness on the one hand and, on the other, a growing awareness of cultural interconnectedness. Far from the marginal, derivative, sub-literary fictions of traditional scholarly opinion, Roche's gothic romances, like those of her fellow Irish Minerva Press authors, invite new attention. Not only do they constitute what we might call, in Moretti-inspired terms, the canon of the market or the canon of the read, they are also positioned centrally in the development of nineteenth-century cultural nationalisms and a new transnationalism powered by print.148