Contemporary Critical Reception of Novels Written by Agnes Musgrave
In addition to the publications of texts by Agnes Musgrave, which have been listed in the biography, Edmond de la Foręt: roman historique, a translation of Edmund of the Forest by Francois Soules was published in 1798. This attests the popularity of gothic novels at this time in Europe as well as in England and is a testament to Musgrave's appeal.
A review of Cicely; or the Rose of Raby compares the work to that of Sophia Lee's The Recess but immediately privileges the latter as the better novel. Musgrave is praised for her "powers of invention", however, and is said to agreeably amuse (1). It seems that in this review and in another of Edmund of the Forest Musgrave is challenged for her over exuberance in detailing incident after incident; "adventures in rapid succession, which defy all possibility of belief… Horrors are multiplied on horrors, new characters on new characters, until the reader is bewildered in a maze" (2). A review of William de Montfort says only, "If a ground- plan was necessary to the preceding work, the present stands as much in need of a genealogical table" (3). In The Solemn Injunction also, it is very difficult to clearly see the connections of families and the truth of characters' births to the extent that it becomes infuriating to read.
Musgrave is said to copy from Shakespeare's Macbeth but, of course, lacks the "genius" of this great writer (4). The impression is that Musgrave's work is not innovative enough to entirely please the critics, but that it is enjoyable enough to please the readers, who made Cicely a Minerva best seller. She is both praised and rubbished for her style in reviews of different novels; it is first said to be "in many places very careless and inaccurate" for Cicely (5) and then for Edmund of the Forest she is reported to have "a facility of style which might appear to considerable advantage" (6).
The review of Edmund of the Forest admits that it is inferior to Cicely (7) but, overall, the critics are fair to Musgrave and review her early works seriously, suggesting she has some genuine talent for writing. The review of William de Montfort is perhaps a reaction to the exhaustion of historical gothic novels in the 1790s or else exasperation at the complex interweaving of characters and incidents that Musgrave insists upon in her novels.
(1) Critical Review, 1796, p114
(2) Critical Review, 1797, p 354
(3) Monthly Review, 1809, p101
(4) Critical Review, 1797, p355
(5) Critical Review, 1796, p114
(6) Critical Review, 1797, p 355
(7) Ibid., p354
Alston, R C, 1990, A Checklist of Women Writers, 1801 - 1900: Fiction, Verse, Drama, London, British Library
Beasley, Jerry C, 1978, English Fiction, 1660 - 1800: A Guide to Information Sources, Detroit, Gale Research Company
Critical Review, May 1796, pp. 113-4
Critical Review, September 1797, pp. 354-5
Monthly Review, New Series, Volume 58, January 1809
Summers, Montague, 1964, A Gothic Bibliography, New York, Russell & Russell
Name, novels, dates and publishers.
Ward, William S., 1972, Literary Reviews in British Periodicals 1798 - 1820: A Bibliography, London and New York, Garland Publishing
Guide to Critical Review and Monthly Review.