Thursday, August 8, 2013

British Gothic Romance Novels – Elizabeth Bonhote’s ‘Bungay Castle’

When I was in Suffolk in June of 2006, I stayed in Bungay as I mentioned here. Bungay, amoung other East Anglian villages, still have myth and legend attached to it. A lot of the villages in East Anglia are quite untouched, and I think that was because of its location. Just as the West is untouched (Cornwall and Devon), people travelled north from London, avoiding the West and East, thus the roads and byways are less driven, therefore still holds mystery. Black Shuck walks those byways. And other goolies. But another thing that is amazing about Bungay is the female author who was born and lived there.

Bungay Castle, Midsummer 2006
Elizabeth Bonhote lived from 1744 – 1818. She wrote novels during Ann Radcliffe’s time. Before Jane Austen. Before the Brontes, and their issues with publishing as women. Her most notable novel is Bungay Castle (1796). This novel comes under the category of Gothic Romance. It makes me wonder whether Jane Austen read Bungay Castle like she did Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Matthew Lewis’s The Monk. This book was first published in 1796, and then promptly forgotten about. For a couple of centuries, it seems. When it was re-discovered, it was edited and given an introduction by Curt Herr, an American lecturer in literature at Kutztown University. Curt Herr even made it to Bungay for the re-releasing of the novel in April 2006, the year of the novel's 210th anniversary.
While I visited Bungay Castle with a friend on that warm Sunday near midsummer in 2006, I purchased the Bungay Castle book from the gift shop of Bungay Castle. You cannot get any better than that.

A model of the Castle as it
 probably appeared
I had been intrigued by the book at my friend’s fathers house, flipping through, reading the introduction. Considered a very feminist novel, it includes women who become heroines to admire. They even rescue men. I read it in London, not long after I got it, and tried to picture how Bungay Castle itself looked back then. The Castle itself is not a large one. It went up, rather than out, with a wall all around it.
An entrance to the tunnels?
The tale includes gothic subterranean passages, dungeons, and towers, all of which Bungay Castle had, or is rumoured to have had. There are tales of tunnels that run from the Castle to St Mary’s Church and its priory; as in the novel, the heroes and heroines used the tunnels often during their adventures. One of the heroines was forced by her father to enter into the convent at the priory and her lover used to come through the tunnels to meet her. Gothic indeed! Walter the emaciated prisoner; rescued by his lover Rosaline, whose father owned the Castle, performs heroic deeds of his own. Oh, for the BBC to make an adaptation of it! I believe Bonhote exaggerated the size of the Castle, but then she had the license too. It was fiction!  
Looking towards the Tower
Elizabeth Bonhote loved Bungay Castle. Her husband even bought it for her once, but she could not enjoy it due to people squatting in it. Well, it was the late 18th century, people lived in shacks anywhere they could. Built by the Normans and later by Roger Bigod, the Castle had a sense of awe for Elizabeth; when she owned it she wrote the novel, invoking those gothic sensibilities that she experienced in her mind.

This novel inspired me to purchase all the other gothic romances out there – I bought The Monk, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Castle of Otranto, Frankenstein, Vathek, and anthologies of gothic horrors and ghost stories, like M.R James. And of course, Northanger Abbey. But you cannot own all them and not own Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. A lovely collection, suitable for all bookshelves.

Purchase Bungay Castle here and revel in its mystery. For a forgotten English Gothic romance, it is pretty wonderful.


In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, these horrors are also mentioned…
Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) by Eliza Parsons.
Clermont, a Tale (1798) by Regina Maria Roche.
The Mysterious Warning, a German Tale (1796) by Eliza Parsons.
The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest (1794) by 'Ludwig Flammenberg'.
The Midnight Bell (1798) by Francis Lathom.
Orphan of the Rhine (1798) by Eleanor Sleath.
Horrid Mysteries (1796) by the Marquis de Grosse
These books, with their lurid titles, were once thought to be the creations of Jane Austen's imagination, but research in the first half of the 20th century by Michael Sadleir and Montague Summers confirmed that they did actually exist and stimulated renewed interest in the Gothic. All seven were republished by the Folio Society in London in 1968, and Valancourt Books is in the process of reprinting the seven. (from Wikipedia)


Elizabeth Bonhote (1744-1818)

Life at Bungay Castle seems ideal for the De Morney family. Nestled in the abundant countryside of Suffolk, Bungay Castle’s massive towers reach for blue skies and its solid stone walls are firmly planted in the earth - but all that’s about to change. Strong winds from a violent storm bring the sound of chilling, ghostly cries located far below the castle’s floors. The young De Morneys, Roseline and Edwin, with their friend Madeline, begin a frightening search through the ancient subterranean passageways to discover the cause. Among the dark haunted dungeons, they discover a secret from their family’s past that will forever change their lives. Cob-webbed passageways lit by a single candle, rotting caskets, ghostly sightings, and a mysterious mournful cry are just a few of the abundant gothic surprises in store for all who dare to wander beyond the castle’s locked doors.
Firmly rooted in the Domestic Gothic tradition, Elizabeth Bonhote’s rediscovered 1796 classic is a treasure chest of gothic elements. Combining romance, mystery, seduction, and betrayal, Bungay Castle revises and reinvents the tradition of the trapped female heroine. As we follow Roseline’s journey, we become aware of one of the novel’s most unique aspects: it is a surprisingly feminist novel- a rare achievement in the eighteenth century gothic genre. Rather than waiting to be rescued by men, the young women of Bungay castle achieve agency over their lives, refuse patriarchal orders, and become the rescuing heroines. An exemplary blend of sentiment, romance and the gothic, this reprint is a welcome and long overdue addition to the bookshelves of academics, subway riders, goths, and anyone longing to rediscover the joy of a great read.

The Suffolk village of Bungay as it may have looked in the Middle Ages.

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