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Mary Julia Young

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Essay on the work of Mary Julia Young, by Rachel Hanna, May 2004

Influences and Individuality in the Work of Mary Julia Young
Rachel Hanna

Mary Julia Young produced her work from 1777 to 1810. During this time there were dominant trends emerging in all literary forms, from poetry with the ‘Graveyard’ poets to novel writing and the theatre. Romance was the main genre being explored, but the Gothic was beginning to emerge in conjunction, allowing authors more diversity.
Gothic literature became a dominant genre in the 1800s and produced some of the best-known literary works throughout the 19th century, such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818) and Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897). These could not have occurred without the initial developments which emerged at the time Young was writing. Nor could they have emerged without the authors at the forefront of the genre who made it acceptable for mainstream publication such as Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis. The influence which these authors had on Young is reflected in her novels.
The 18th century saw great political upheaval across all of Europe, most notably the French Revolution of 1789. The confusion and instability it brought affected the way people thought, as their sense of security was threatened or even removed. There was an uncertainty between looking backwards in the search for stability and looking forwards to the unknown future. Critics argue that Gothic literature emerged as a reaction to the fears left in the wake of revolution:

As Fred Botting has written ‘uncertainties about the nature of power, law, society, family and sexuality dominate Gothic fiction … linked to wider threats of disintegration manifested most forcefully in political revolution’… uncertainty about how to visualize the future, veering from excited optimism to profound despair (Stevens 2000: 16).

Moss Cliff Abbey; or, The Sepulchral Harmonist by Young shows this reaction more overtly than most, as her plot revolves around the disappearance of Mr Newton, discovered to have been taken to France under the false pretence of being a French dissident.
The Enlightenment emerged as a dominant philosophical enquiry in the 18th century; where science and reason reacted against superstition and traditional thought (Stevens 2000: 10). In this atmosphere Gothic literature was popularized as harmless while still bearing important psychological statements, from the irrational to the spiritual.
Gothic literature was approached in a diversity of ways by each author, whether focusing on the supernatural and irrational or on fear with a rational explanation. The key themes and motifs that emerged, novel to novel, contributed to unifying the genre. Initially overlooked was that many Gothic novels contained political messages, reactions or commentaries on situations of the time; Young’s work was no exception.
Romance was a genre emerging at the time Young was writing. The focus in Romanticism lay in ‘‘‘Nature’’ as an organic entity continuous with the mind’ (Mulvey-Roberts 1998: 196) coupled with features such as love, imprisonment and disguise, as well as the power of imagination. The idea of the sublime runs deep in Romantic works of art, again connected to nature for the most part.
The symbiosis between Gothic and Romance occurs through shared characteristics such as imagination, sublimity and intensity in emotional experience.
Donalda, or; the Witches of Glenshiel and Moss Cliff Abbey are novels by Young which explore Gothic/Gothic Romance themes and motifs. Both approach their subject matter with an emphasis on different themes and in different styles, but still share inherently Gothic characteristics found in mainstream publications of the period. Some of the authorial influences traced are fairly overt, yet Young’s individual style can still be seen. She represents the darker side of humanity with her use of Gothic tropes while still maintaining a positive moral core. Young uses Romance and moral writing in her particular style to reduce the Gothic shock factor, possibly so as not to alienate her readership. The moral content of her novels was very important to Young:

… considering Novels as a species of literature sought after with avidity by the younger part of both sexes I have invariably … endeavoured to render the strictest observance of relative duties indispensable to amiable and sensible characters, and to indicate virtues, fortitude and benevolence by the most engaging examples (Archives of the Royal Literary Fund, RLF 216).

The attitude expressed shows how Young was influenced by earlier standards in literature which required an element of moral guidance in their content. Frances Burney was a main example of this with her epistolary novel Evelina (1778), which follows a young girl’s entrance into London society. Some of the subject matter Burney introduced which expressed contemporary issues can be found in Young’s work also:

Part of the subject of Evelina is obviously ‘manners’ in the very extensive meanings of that word, from minute points of etiquette to the codes or mores that govern entire groups … The Plan of the following Letters is to display the Manners of the Times (Burney 1994: xiv).

The deportment of Young’s female characters, like Burney’s, is important within the narrative as, in both novels, the audience has to see them as virtuous and moral. The use of letters plays a large role in the conveyance of information within Moss Cliff Abbey, an idea borrowed from the epistolary novel’s format.
The first of Young’s novels I will now explore is Moss Cliff Abbey, published in 1803. This particular example borrows from Gothic, Romance, mystery and the epistolary novel as it explores the life of Mrs Harriot Newton, whose husband is abducted and sent to France. Mrs Newton is pursued by Mr Ormsley, who forces her to flee to the safety of a ruined abbey, suspected to be haunted, with her children to await news of her husband. Mrs Newton is characterised as the heroine. She is the wife and mother who overcomes all odds and avoids compromising herself to keep her family together. Mrs Newton is not the typical unattached virgin protecting her purity, as found in many earlier Gothic Romance novels, such as Antonia in The Monk by Matthew Lewis (1796) or Ellena in The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (1797); she does, however, share some qualities with these heroines. Mrs Newton has a vulnerability apparent at the beginning of the novel, springing from her abandonment. She is a lone and beautiful female with no protector. Her vulnerability emerges from her upbringing and delicate sensibilities:

The coarse speech of Mrs Norris had crimsoned the cheeks of Harriot Newton; her fine neck bent over little George on whom her modest looks were fixed; whilst tears, at the recollection of her husband’s tenderness, fell fast (Young 1803: I, 22).

Young develops her character’s maternal role, which makes her a more unusual heroine. Though vulnerable in her femininity, Mrs Newton retains strength through her sense of social correctness and her marital situation. As a result she is able actively to avoid being trapped in improper situations:

            ‘Give me leave to conduct you to your home.’
            ‘Excuse me, sir; I cannot accept of a place in your carriage.’
            ‘Let me attend you then in a hackney-coach- do not go alone-‘
            ‘I must, sir, indeed – I must.’ (Young 1803: I, 74)

Mrs Newton is granted more awareness than other contemporary heroines in appraising situations, especially those which put her virtue in jeopardy. For example, Mrs Newton suspects Mr Ormsley of being involved in the disappearance of her husband after a jealous rage sees him reveal his intentions towards her. As a result, she resolves to move away without informing Ormsley of the location. Most heroines are presented as naïve and innocent, unaware of such dangers, such as Antonia in The Monk:

He resolved, therefore, before she quitted her chamber, to try the extent of his influence over the innocent Antonia … She started, and welcomed him with a look of pleasure: then rising, she would have conducted him to the sitting-room; but Ambrosio, taking her hand, obliged her by gentle violence to resume her place. She complied without difficulty: she knew not that there was more impropriety in conversing with him in one room than another (Lewis 1998: 222).

Mrs Newton takes on a radical heroine role, discarding the expected attitudes of her contemporary fictional counterparts. Young allows Mrs Newton greater decisive powers, adding greater depth to her character. Where other female products of Gothic Romance are placed in two separate camps – passive courageous heroine or transgressive other (Mulvey-Roberts 1998: 116) – Mrs Newton has a more active role.This is something she herself is aware of; in a self-referential moment she says:

… I shall not see him, and will be very circumspect, without being romantic. I shall not fancy myself the heroine of a novel, and live in fear of his running away with me – such desperation may be found in the works of imagination, but not in real life (Young 1803: I, 100-1).

The irony, of course, is that for all her differences from the traditional heroine Mrs Newton is still subject to the same treatment as they. Her attempts to avoid the inevitable fate of a literary heroine are thwarted by the Gothic villain. She assumes the role through her forced situations, abduction and confinement, her need for external help from others and the nature of the environment she finds herself in. Young seems to be reacting against the Gothic traditions from within the genre in her presentation of Mrs Newton, but is unable to break away completed from accepted representations of the moral female.
After the self-referential statement referred to above, the novel almost parodies the Gothic Romance as Mrs Newton falls straight into the role of the pursued. Other characters found within Moss Cliff Abbey are the villain, the transgressive female, the supernatural figure and the hero. Some elements of these can be traced through other novels of the genre, but Young manages to retain an individual method of tracing their development.
The first character I want to discuss is the villain, Mr Ormlsey. He initially appears as a protector to Mrs Newton, offering financial help and placing missing person advertisements in the papers in order to try and locate her husband. He appears genuine initially, though Mrs Newton declines financial help on the grounds that it would be improper. A misunderstanding leads Ormsley to believe that Mrs Newton is open to courtship with Sedley Freelove, and in a fit of jealousy his true character and intentions are revealed, as Freelove verifies:

My dearest madam, do not let any thing which Mr Ormsley has said, give you uneasiness; he is a sly libertine, and if he cannot seduce, he endeavours to calumniate virtue – his house at Epping is like the fabled court of Comus, and the pretended aunt … is the principal Bacchante who presides over the licentious revels (Young 1803: I, 97-98).

Ormsley actively pursues Mrs Newton using deception, disguise and force. His aim, as with most Gothic villains, is sexual gratification. He is portrayed as driven by lust, using women for his own means. His obsession with Mrs Newton is his downfall. In his actions and drives Ormsley is very much a Gothic villain, as ‘the heroine … is pursued across the countryside’ (Young 1803: I, 115) by him and she ‘… suffer[s] imprisonment and cruelty at the hands of her pursuer’ (Young 1803: I, 115). What individualises him is that he is not a hero-villain. His power lies in subversive manipulation and wealth, not in having a title, charisma or physical prowess; he does not evoke an inexplicable attraction in all the women with whom he comes into contact. His dark side comes from his lust and passion, but superficially so. Instead of increasing his masculine image, and with it any attraction he might have, he is de-masculinised by his growing insanity. As he attempts to harm Mrs Newton he systematically becomes more ill and sinks further into all-consuming madness. As Mrs Newton recovers from each attack and becomes more able, Ormsley becomes weaker, until only his obsession sustains him.
Ormsley does not have the qualities of the Byronic hero found in later Gothic novels in characters such as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847) or Rochester in Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847). Nor is he the mysterious, charismatic, demonic anti-hero like Ambrosio in The Monk. His villainy lies in his drives, but he is incapable of achieving them unaided; this, too, contributes to his de-masculinisation.
Ormsley uses other people in his deceptions. One such is Mrs Lurewell, who, under the guise of Lady Melvern, entices Mrs Newton into the country with the promise of employment. Once there she realises she has been trapped in Ormsley’s country house, where he reveals his intentions towards her. His immorality directly contrasts with Mrs Newton’s infallible righteousness and decency. The comparison is used by Young in her desire not to corrupt an impressionable readership. By presenting a correct code of conduct against the lure of scandalous and sensationalist behaviour, Young seeks to protect the sensibilities of her audience and warn against the consequences of an immoral life:

‘Though by your cruel arts, he might be doomed to death – he can look up to Heaven, and die happy, in the firm expectation of eternal bliss. Where, in that awful moment will you turn your eyes for consolation! Not to the hapless women whom you have seduced from virtue; not to the wretched men whom you have bribed to deeds of villainy’ (Young 1803: II, 7).

The moral lessons are frequently interjected in the text, represented in both the correspondence exchanged within the novel and directly into the discourse between characters. They contribute to the impression of Mrs Newton as a moral woman and present her as a voice of society, warning against the dangers of transgression. As she expresses an opinion and is drawn into conversation and expansion on the point in question, Young is able to present fully-rounded ideologies, both political and moral:

‘… is it not unjust to reward a wretch who, to crimes of the most atrocious nature, adds the mean selfish one of betraying his accomplices, whose guilt and whose profits he has equally shared … Despicable as informers are, it is absolutely necessary for the good of the community that such self interested beings should exist, for, if rogues were invariably true and honourable to each other, they would become an invulnerable body, too strong for the laws of their country to destroy’ (Young 1803: II, 7)

This particular comment can be read as a reaction to The Terror of the French Revolution, a time of intense violence and fear where informants were relied upon to hunt out dissidents. Young produced Moss Cliff Abbey after the French Revolution, but the effects were still reverberating throughout Europe and can be traced in the literature of the period. As Stevens (2000) writes, ‘gothic fiction was not only about confusion, it was written from confusion’ (16).
The idea of danger from unknown sources is also revealed in the presentation of Ormsley, both physically, in his use of disguise and his untraceable whereabouts, and psychologically, in his irrational thought processes. His madness infuses suspense into the novel as characters are unable to predict his behaviour; they are aware only of the base drives which are uncontrollable within him:

‘These flames, what are they? Let them consume my house – a more fatal more destructive fire, rages in my soul – it has destroyed my reason – you have kindled it. You have driven me mad, and I will be revenged – O! Harriot! Harriot! Save me from perdition! You know not to what an extremity of passion I adore you!’ (Young 1803: II, 23).

The theme of uncontrollable passion can be found in other novels of the Gothic genre such as The Monk by Matthew Lewis, whose character Ambrosio allows his passion and sexual desire to control his actions and gradually consume him, much as Ormsley does:

With the direst imprecations he vowed vengeance against her: he swore that, cost what it would, he would still possess Antonia. Starting from the bed, he paced the chamber with disordered steps, howled with impotent fury, dashed himself against the walls, and indulged all the transports of rage and madness (Lewis 1998: II, 27).

This theme is also followed in Donalda, or; The Witches of Glenshiel also by Young, with the character of Roderic drawn sexually to his adopted daughter, Donalda.
Ormsley is fixed firmly in the Gothic genre in his presentation as the villain obsessed with the heroine. His insanity gives him freedom to act at will and explore the darker side of human nature; however, as a consequence his fate is also determined:

Where the mad heroines in these novels pathetically lose their wits, the male villains of Walpole, Beckford, Radcliffe, Lewis and their followers are driven to insanity by vaulting ambition and uncontrollable lust (often incestuous) … In the Gothic moral universe, madness is a fitting punishment for the guilty; but it is the prior cause of evil (Mulvey-Roberts 1998: 153).

Ormsley’s mental instability leads to his suicide, in itself a punishment for his transgressions as his death is long and lingering. He attempts to shoot Mrs Newton in a bid for them to be united in death. In thinking he has succeeded, Ormsley ‘discharged the contents of the other pistol in his mouth’ (Young 1803: IV, 90). His attempt rips his throat out but he lives for hours, unable to speak or repent. This incident is particularly graphic and shocking, and shows the versatility of Young’s writing. The manner of Ormsley’s death may again link the French Revolution to the novel, in that it recalls the fate of Robespierre. An important figure in the execution of The Terror, Robespierre suffered a similar fate after a suspected botched suicide attempt. He, too, is said to have attempted to shoot himself through the mouth and missed, blowing half of his face off without succeeding in killing himself (Children’s Britannica 1985: 17, 283-84). As the death of Robespierre marked the end of The Terror in 1794 so does the death of Ormsley mark the end of Mrs Newton’s suffering.
Using Gothic themes allows Young to explore more sensationalist subject matter than permitted in the traditional romance novel. She takes on immorality, sexual transgression, violence and unethical behaviour, but allows her novels more accessibility and grants them more acceptability by providing a moral framework in the form of Mrs Newton.
Mrs Newton presents moral sensibilities, a sense of the sublime and a sense of propriety which temper the more extreme content.
In Donalda, Young enhances the Gothic elements within a fictionalised past to allow for exploring more lurid content. Moss Cliff Abbey is set within the same decade it was written and contains more elements of the Romance, such as the sublime. Also, the different branches of Romantic story lines, which interconnect and carry Moss Cliff Abbey to its conclusion, stress the Romance elements within the text. This lays it closer to the work of Radcliffe than Lewis, most especially as the supernatural events prove to have a logical explanation:

Anne Radcliffe … should not, strictly speaking be a supernaturalist writer at all. Her enormously popular romances are as much exercises in romantic sensibility as they are tales of mystery and dread … Her use of preternaturalist motifs were designed for aesthetic effect. She makes a useful distinction between the deployment of what she calls ‘glooms of Superstition’ and ‘glooms of Apprehension’ (Cavaliero 1995: 26).

Again, this is an example of the diversity found in Young’s novels: she is able to adopt different forms and stylistics and use them within her work.
Gothic elements are still apparent in Moss Cliff Abbey, not least in the actual abbey setting, but also in its themes. Gothic literature is full of doubling and mirroring, both of story lines and characters. Young’s novels are no exception. The difference is how the mirroring effect is used. Often, one character represents the potential for transgression in another. In Moss Cliff Abbey, Ormsley is the possibility for transgression personified for the hero, Lubin. What makes the doubling different is that Young instils the same obsession for Mrs Newton in Lubin as she does Ormsley; the de-masculinising also occurs in Lubin as a result. His fate is tied to his desire for Mrs Newton, but what sets him apart is his pure heart and good intentions. Lubin does not let his obsession actively and violently destroy him as Ormsley’s do; instead, it is a passive process – as much a reflection of his character as of his fate. The feminisation of Lubin emerges directly from the effect Mrs Newton has upon him. From a masculine farmer who actively seeks to protect Mrs Newton, and who rescues her more than once from the clutches of Ormsley, Lubin is reduced by his increased sensitivity through his realisation of his affection for her:

When Lubin beheld Mrs Newton extended lifeless upon the floor, her face and neck covered with blood, he faintly uttered,
‘Angel, thou art gone! I came too late to save thee – ’
He kneeled by her side – he took her hand, it was cold – he looked steadfastly at her eyes, they were open and motionless – his own grew dim – he arose, staggered towards the window and fell senseless into the arms of Mr Murray (Young 1803: IV, 92-93).

Swooning or fainting is associated with female characters in Gothic and Romantic literature, so this reversal of roles, with the hero displaying ‘feminine’ traits, is original to Young:

…the way in which they [heroines] react to moments of crisis (for example by fainting, blushing or falling into silence) draws, as Daniel Cottom has pointed out, from a body of language specific to notions of femininity and sensibility current from the mid-18th century (Mulvey-Roberts 1998: 116).

Later on in the genre the feminisation of a male hero can be seen in Dracula, by Bram Stoker, in the character of Jonathan Harker. The closest theme in relation to the feminisation of men often found in Gothic literature is impotence, either physical or in the sense of being unable to consummate their desire. This, too, is traced in the inability of Ormsley to possess Mrs Newton, and in Lubin’s passive acceptance of her unavailability. By the conclusion of the novel the effect of Lubin’s repressed feelings shows itself in his physical form: he becomes ‘pale, thin and melancholy’ (Young 1803: IV, 213). He effectively fades away and dies, but is celebrated as a hero as it is he who sails to France and returns George Newton to his family. Lubin’s devotion to Mrs Newton remains a secret only the reader is privy to.
Doubling is also found between the characters of Isabella Selwyn and Mrs Newton and their two families. Isabella and Mrs Newton are both mothers and wives, both are beautiful, both have lost their husbands and social position, and both have a connection with nature and the sublime. It is through the Selwyn family that preternatural events are introduced which add to the Gothic suspense.
The tragic story of the Selwyn family involves a father threatening to curse his son, Henry, if he refuses to leave the country to continue his father’s work. Henry is told that his wife Isabella must reside away from the family house, Moss Cliff Abbey, and that she must leave her son at the Abbey but is forbidden to join her husband. The tragedy is that both wife and son die before Henry departs, and on his journey he is marooned, and then, it is believed, taken to France and imprisoned there. Fearing that Isabella and her son will return as vengeful ghosts, the rest of the family flee from Moss Cliff Abbey. The twist of the tale is that Isabella and her son are not dead, even though they appear as ghostly apparitions frequently to Mrs Newton, singing their lamentations. They are merely hiding within the Abbey, beneath the chapel, awaiting news of Henry and avoiding the rest of the Selwyn family so as to evade the curse of Henry’s father.
The supernatural tale resolving itself is a technique associated with Ann Radcliffe, and demonstrates the Gothic Romance elements of this novel:

… [Radcliffe’s] use of the explained supernatural, where apparent mysteries are finally resolved into physical causes, has been taken as evidence of conservative, 18th-century rationalism. Early Gothic writing has traditionally been seen as a dark Romanticism (Mulvey-Roberts 1998: 182-83).

Young does portray a sense of terror alongside the Romantic elements to keep the Gothic sensibilities present. Using Isabella’s songs about her death and loss, an atmosphere of mourning and melancholy permeates the Abbey. Her presence both comforts and terrifies Mrs Newton as she relates to Isabella’s pain, feeling ‘reverential affection’ (Young 1803: II, 170) for Isabella yet also being fearful of seeing ‘a ghastly skeleton beneath the robes’ (IV, 168). Isabella’s form ‘chill[s] … her soul with terror’ (IV, 171).
Isabella is also used proactively in driving Marmaduke, Henry Selwyn’s brother, from the Abbey, as she uses her knowledge of Marmaduke’s weak disposition and guilty conscience to haunt him:

            Dar’st thou approach these sacred walls?
            Is thy inhuman heart so brave?
            Come then – ’tis Isabella that calls –
            Come and behold her dreary grave.
            O, come! Or when I say farewell;
            My pallid form shall visit thee,
            And thou shalt hear the funeral bell,
            That toll’d for Henry’s child and me

            That knell, thou once rejoiced to hear,
            Shall now strike terror to thy soul;
            And thou shalt shake appalled by fear,
            At every sad and solemn toll.
            Now, cruel brother! Now farewell!
            My pallid form shall visit thee;
            And thou shalt hear the funeral bell,
            That toll’d for Henry’s child and me. (Young 1803: IV, 40-1)

It is in the fourth and final volume that Isabella and her child are revealed as being alive. In the guise of the sepulchral harmonist she, it transpires, has secreted herself within the Abbey and retained its reputation for being haunted so as to dissuade the rest of the cruel Selwyn family from venturing there until Henry’s return.
The use of the ballads that Isabella sings is another feature found in Gothic literature. Both Radcliffe and Lewis insert poems and ballads within their novels, both for authentic value and as a way of providing information for the reader. Many of these are placed either on the title page or as prefixes to chapters, to reveal the direction of the plot or to offer clues. Many Gothic novels are concerned with the past, and medieval Romances and the use of ballads enhance the reader’s experience. Ballads, sung or recited, were particularly close to the Gothic heart, dealing (as they frequently do) with sensational tales of love, betrayal and death, liberally laced with supernatural elements (Stevens 2000: 25).
Shared themes also make the Gothic novel ideal as a form to imitate. Within Moss Cliff Abbey, the Abbey is an isolated environment, and as such serves to remove all sense of contemporary events within the novel. It infuses the action with a sense of the past. The Abbey’s Gothic architecture and coastal rural setting, and its isolation, enhance the Gothic sensibility of the piece. The ballads sung by Isabella contribute to the medieval principles so often adhered to within the Gothic novel.
As well as including her own poetry, Young inserts a line from Shakespeare on the title pages of volumes three and four: ‘where can this music be, in the air or on earth?’ The reference in the novel is to the sepulchral harmonist, Isabella, and raises the query as to her true nature, air or earth, preternatural or actual, before this information is provided within the novel.
Young uses poetry to greater effect in Donalda, as the style of that novel adopts more of the traditional elements of Gothic literature than Moss Cliff Abbey. Whereas Moss Cliff Abbey approaches contemporary issues within its plot such as family values, changing attitudes to aristocracy and the fallout from the French Revolution, Donalda presents a more typical Gothic Romance. It contains tyrannous villains, knights, kings and courtship, witches, ghosts, curses and bleeding portraits. There is even criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, of which early Gothic novels often provided a measure:

… the gothic revival … provide[d] vivid examples of this combination of descriptive sensationalism on the one hand with an overt moral condemnation of the very matters dwelt on in such detail on the other … In the spiritual context of the gothic, this approach frequently featured Roman Catholicism – or, rather, a collection of popular prejudices (all too widespread in Britain at the time) …(Stevens 2000: 21).

Roderic, the villain, and Donalda, the heroine, both comment on the corrupt nature of the Catholic Church, especially focusing on monks using religion for their own gain and the excessive power they possess over the people. As a passive heroine Donalda, incongruously, gives harsh condemnation of the Church, stressing that true faith is from within:

Monks are but men; too many of them ignorant, narrow minded, wicked men, and shall I trust my soul to them? – can they insure future happiness? Oh, no! it shall ascend in humble prayers to Him who gave it to me, and only on Him alone for pardon and for mercy (Young 1805: II, 70).

By using Donalda in this criticism Young perpetuates contemporary prejudices against the Catholic Church, present in The Monk (Ambrosio‘… looked round him with exultation; and pride told him loudly, that he was superior to the rest of his fellow-creatures’ [Lewis 1998: 38]) and in The Italian with its portrayal of the Holy Inquisition.
The nature of Gothic literature meant it borrowed a diverse range of ideas from eclectic sources; Donalda is a good example of this. Shakespeare is a big influence on the novel, as Macbeth is used as an underlying basis to the narrative. Shakespeare was a source often quoted in Gothic novels, both in an attempt to add literary merit and to illustrate certain plot points. The popularity for using his work surfaced through his use of dark, medieval settings and the preternatural. His use of language and imagery also compared favourably to Gothic style. Young uses Shakespeare as her contemporaries did, in title-page quotations; however, she takes the influence further, drawing on elements of Macbeth within the novel, from its Scottish setting to the use of witches. Within Donalda the Weird Sisters of Glenshiel are three witches who have the power to foresee the future and use their power to punish sinners. They act as guides and protectors to Donalda, singing to her information about the past and present. In Macbeth the Weird Sisters are also three witches who sing to Macbeth of his future role (Ousby 1996: 581). Donalda herself, ignorant of her parentage, fears she may be the daughter of Macbeth, the ‘regicide’, from a secret marriage before his death. Within the play Macbeth has no children with Lady Macbeth, but Young has created a possible fictional reality that fits within the narrative of Macbeth. Another possible reference point to the Scottish play is the name Donalda. Shakespeare has Macbeth responsible for King Duncan’s murder; Duncan has two sons, one of whom is called Donald and who flees from Macbeth to England (Ousby 1996: 581). In Donalda Young has a Lord called Duncan as the husband-to-be of Donalda, they too think of fleeing to England but are warned against it by the Weird Sisters. The names appear to unite them.
With Young’s focus on a fictional past and medieval romance, other influences emerge within the text. Unlike Moss Cliff Abbey the supernatural does not have an explanation based in reality. The settings used and the presentation of visitations share similarities with The Monk and The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764). As The Castle of Otranto is widely considered the founding text of the Gothic genre, it provides a basis for comparison. It was published in 1764, 41 years before Young produced Donalda. The Castle of Broomdale in Young’s novel is important within the novel as it provides a Gothic setting for the action with subterraneous chambers, chapel and abandoned tower. Other elements within the castle contribute to the threatening, eerie atmosphere, such as blood-stained furniture in a hidden chamber and suits of armour that break if the wearer is not true. Although not as extreme as The Castle of Otranto with its giant haunted armour, the eeriness is still apparent within Donalda’s castle, particularly when coupled with the feudal, medieval environment. Walpole allows the castle to take precedence in his novel:

To begin with there is the castle which dominates the narrative as both a physical and psychological presence … Few critics have failed to make the point that the gothic castle is the main protagonist of Otranto, and that the story of usurpation, tyranny, and imprisonment could be seen as an extension of the mood evoked by the setting (Walpole 1996: xv).

In Donalda the castle becomes the suppressing force, through the actions of Roderic. As the castle becomes a place of confinement for Donalda, it becomes a psychological prison for Roderic. His state of mind becomes more unstable as his evil deeds return to haunt him in horrifying visitations and dreams:

… his room appeared to be crowded with hideous fiends who kept him alive for their diversion – they flashed their fire brands close to his face … while he seemed compelled to gaze alternatively on their soul-appalling forms, or on the blackened face and glazed eyes of Margaret, which were fixed upon him with a menacing, terrific stare (Young 1805: I, 98).

Though his past actions are judged and punished with these methods, Roderic still harbours incestual desires for his niece, Donalda. The familial relationship between the two is not discovered within the plot until the end of the novel, though Roderic is revealed to have known throughout. Incestuous desire can still be read into the actions of Roderic prior to the revelation, as his role has been paternal towards Donalda since she was adopted as a baby; the death of his wife, however, would seem to have encouraged him to look to Donalda as a replacement for her:

… to himself he appeared in the prime of his health and strength – could Donalda, a fearful, unprotected girl, refuse him for her husband? Such were the reflections of Roderic while he contemplated in silent admiration the lovely blossom which had expanded into such perfect beauty beneath his fostering care (Young 1805: I, 75-76).

The innocent, virginal heroine confined by a powerful aggressor within the castle boundaries, as supernatural forces evoke their disapproval, are elements in both Donalda and The Castle of Otranto. The Marquise Roderic, from the former, and Prince Manfred, from the latter, are comparable in many ways. Both reject their first wives for the charms of a younger member of their household; both of them are obsessed by their intentions and haunted by their actions; both go through periods of insanity brought on by their passions. Also, though unaware at the time, both are responsible for the death of their son.
How these issues are handled is what shows how Gothic literature had developed in the intervening 41 years, into something quite sensational. Manfred wishes to divorce his wife, whereas Roderic poisons his. Manfred pursues his son’s fiancée after his death; Roderic pursues his own niece. Manfred is haunted through the prophecy ‘That the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too big to inhabit it’ (Walpole, 1996: 18). Roderic is haunted by the Weird Sisters, who have knowledge of his transgressions. The two men’s fates are also dealt with differently: Manfred repents and joins a monastery; Roderic is slain unwittingly by his son Ofwyn.
Although terror emerges through the supernatural elements within these Gothic texts, on a psychological level it occurs through the protector/father figure being subverted into the aggressor, with the resulting fear of incest. Donalda has the foresight to swear against marriage upon the saints, angels and departed spirits of her parents and Margaret (Roderic’s decesased wife); upon her true origin being discovered, she is of course then safe from Roderic’s attempts to force her into matrimony. Roderic’s fear of the supernatural, coupled with his guilty conscience, ensure that he will abide by Donalda’s oath against marriage, as he is fearful of the repercussions:

Roderic, who had looked aghast, and trembled in every joint, at her solemn invocation to the departed spirits, as if he expected them to appear before him, grew flushed with rage and disappointment when he heard her vow, and uttered, in a voice half stifled by passion
‘Hold! – hold, Donalda! – do not destroy me! Curse me not forever by that cruel vow!’ (Young 1805: II, 10-11).

At this point Young has not revealed the true relationship of Roderic to Donalda; his outburst is a clue as to his knowledge of her parents and his involvement in their death. This technique is used in The Monk where heritage and parentage are also themes. In this instance incest is committed in the form of rape. The audience is unaware of the relationship except through veiled clues in the aftermath of the atrocity:

He raised her from the ground – her hand trembled as he took it, and he dropped it again as if he had touched a serpent. Nature seemed to recoil at the touch. He felt himself at once repulsed from and attracted towards her, yet could account for neither sentiment (Walpole 1996: III, 331).

Again the heroine is subjected to the unwanted attentions of a dominant villainous figure.
Young has a fondness for multiple male characters pursuing the female protagonist. In Moss Cliff Abbey Mrs Newton has to flee to protect herself, but Donalda is confined by one who forcefully rejects others on her behalf. She in turn secretes her chosen lover within the subterraneous chambers, away from the jealous Roderic. In all there are four who seek Donalda’s hand: Roderic, his son Ofwyn, Earl Laurieston and her lover, Duncan. More so than in Moss Cliff Abbey, Young uses traditional representations of the passive heroine to allow her to explore sexual threat in the more confined environment of a castle, where a heroine ‘may suffer imprisonment and cruelty at the hands of her pursuer, above all, she is a potential victim of his desire’ (Mulvey-Roberts 1998: 115). Donalda reacts passively to the situations into which she is thrown, remaining in confinement without attempting flight, being kidnapped and again waiting for rescue rather than actively seeking her own means of escape. Also, Donalda is subject to fainting fits, blushing and weeping with abandon, features associated with female sensibility at this time. Young comments on this stereotype of femininity with humour near the end of the novel:
To-night I will permit thee to indulge thy grief; but remember that the daughter of the Earl of Glenshiel will be called upon to-morrow to act as such and must not give way to an becoming weakness, remember everything the Weird Sisters have told thee, and thou wilt keep thy sorrow within the bounds of moderation (Young 1805: II, 265-66).

The nature of the plot hinges, in part, on its exaggerated Gothic sensibilities (for example the reactions of Donalda). Young maintains her heroine as an implacably moral and virtuous character, able to pardon Roderic the sin of murder. As an author the moral well-being of Young’s readership was important to her but, by going to the extreme in presenting the virtuous heroine and her capacity to forgive, Young almost parodies earlier Gothic texts:

I do know thy crimes, and therefore will pray for thee with greater energy, while the spirits of my father, of the Marchioness, and of my poor Annie, freed from worldly resentment for thy cruelty will bless my prayers for their – for their destroyer (Young 1805: II, 71).

There are signs that point towards the guilt of Roderic and his deceased wife in murdering Donalda’s parents, most notably the appearance of blood on Roderic’s hand on his wedding day, and the corresponding blood on Donalda’s hand as she mirrors the portrait of Margaret, a doubling effect used to show the culpability of the deceased Marchioness. These signs are provided by the Witches of Glenshiel, used by Young as a functional narrative device. They provide information throughout the novel and are also used to provide much of the Gothic imagery through their role as vengeance Witches, ‘His midnight torments now begin, virtue we aid and punish sin’ (Yougn 1805: II, 89), through their macabre ballads, and through the visions and dreams they send to haunt Roderic:

A wounded heart and a bowl of poisoned blood were brought to Margaret. Roderic knew too well in whose breast that heart had beat, and in whose veins that blood had flowed! Margaret, shrieking at the sight of them, threw herself on the bosom of Roderic, and clasped her chilling arms around him – his blood was congealed – his heart frozen! (Young 1805: II, 53-54).

The Castle of Glenshiel, which Donalda eventually inherits, has the reputation of being the seat of judgement for the Witches, so they connect the sub-plots within the novel and frame the narrative. This shows Young using a popular device in an original way. She uses recognizable characters, in the Weird Sisters, to guide the readers through the narrative. This also achieves the aim of creating a sense of the novel’s enhanced literary merit (through its ‘Shakespeare connection’), while still exploring a different portrayal of Gothic narrative. Another influence represented by the use of the Witches is poetry within the text. Young produced both poetry and prose, and the importance she placed on her poetry can be seen within her novels. The songs of Isabella in Moss Cliff Abbey are one case in point; those of the Witches another. The Witches’ songs allow Young to bring stronger Gothic imagery into the novel, possibly influenced by Shakespeare and by Edward Young, author of Night Thoughts and one of the ‘Graveyard’ poets (Stevens 2000: 14-15) who influenced Young’s work. Through her poetry the images appear more macabre and threatening:

            Shriek night ravens – owlets cry,
            As you pass the murderers ear;
            Wolves howl – and specters, gliding by,
            Groan, and strike his soul with fear,
            Bats, as round and round you wheel;
            Harpies let the murderer feel,
            In his heart your scorpion stings (Young 1805: I, 210).

Through close reading of Mary Julia Young’s novels and comparisons to work before and after the period in which she worked, a clear desire for her to fit in with her contemporaries can be seen. However, the intrinsic nature of the Gothic is to imitate and emulate, borrow styles and themes; it is its eclectic nature. Young assimilates the Gothic style and adds her own unique take on both contemporary issues within the novels, such as the presentation of women in Moss Cliff Abbey and her original interpretation of the heroine figure, as well as attempting an innovative presentation of narrative format with the use of witches as narrative guides in Donalda. There is so much diversity within the work of Young, which pulls together influences from all literary sources yet at the same time stamps the work with her own individual mark. Her use of environments that isolate her characters from the outside world allows her to introduce similar themes in contrasting time settings, from contemporary London society in Moss Cliff Abbey to the feudal regime found in Donalda, while her use of poetry (her own and others’) contributes to her unique style. Social and political issues, which can be traced in Young’s work and in that of her contemporaries, do not detract from the effect of her individuality. She wrote from within a time period, not about it. Hindsight allows us to make comparisons and find similarities with other works, but Young is a voice of her time, albeit one who has been hidden for over a century, and it is a voice which strove to express an individual opinion within a critical literary world where the expectation was for women to conform.



Annotated Bibliography

Archives of the Royal Literary Fund, RLF 216
- Provided correspondence between Young and the Fund, her application for financial help, some family background claims and a list of her work (incomplete) plus two poems to the Fund
Blain, V. Clements, P. Grundy, I. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, (Batsford 1990)
- Reference to some of her work and validation on her background
Blakely, D. The Minerva Press 1790-1820 (OUP, 1939)
- Provided detailed publication references on Young’s work both prose and poetry
Burney, F. Evelina (Penguin, 1994)
- Used as a style comparison as an epistolary novel
Cavaliero, G. The Supernatural and English Fiction (OUP, 1995)
- Information on the supernatural and how it is handled in literature.
Children’s Britannica (Encyclopedia Britannica International Ltd, 1985)
- Historical background on the French Revolution and important political implications present in Young’s work
Forster, A. Index to book reviews in England 1775-1800 (British Library, 1997)
- Information on location of reviews
Garside, P. Schowerling, R. The English Novel 1770-1829 A Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles (2 vols; OUP, 2000)
- Provided detailed publication references on Young’s work plus some reviews
Lewis, M. The Monk (Penguin, 1998)
- Offers a period comparison of work produced prior to Young, shows what influences can be traced within her novels
Mulvey-Roberts, M. (ed). The Handbook to Gothic Literature (Macmillan, 1998)
- Provides detailed description of authorial styles as well as Gothic themes, specialisms and key terms
Ousby, I. The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (CUP, 1996)
- Information on authors through the centuries including Shakespeare, needed for references on the similarities in Macbeth and Donalda
Radcliffe, A. The Italian (OUP, 1968)
- Offers a period comparison of work produced prior to Young, shows what influences can be traced within her novels
Shattock, J. (ed). The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature 1800-1900 (vol 4; CUP, 1999)
- Provided information on a few of Young’s publications, mainly her poetry
Stevens, D. The Gothic Tradition (CUP, 2000)
- Detailed reference to what influenced Gothic literature and how Gothic literature influenced authors plus themes, etc.
Todd, J. (ed). A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800 (Methuen, 1987)
- Was the most useful text in providing information on Young’s family, husband, known sponsers and place of residence
Walpole, H. The Castle of Otranto (OUP, 1996)
- Offers a comparison to work produced prior to Young, shows what influences can be traced within her novels
Ward, W. S. Literary Reviews in British Periodicals, a bibliography 1798-1820 (vol 2; Garland, 1972)
- Information on location of reviews
Young, M. J. Moss Cliff Abbey, or, The Sepulchral Harmonist, A Mysterious Tale (Minerva Press, 1803)
------. Donalda, or, The Witches of Glenshiel, A Caledonian Legend (Minerva Press, 1805)

Web Addresses
Annual Bulletin 8, Henry D. Thielcke
- Offers information on the Duchess of York, a patron of Young

Family Group Record
- Provided birth/death dates of Young and her husband George Sewell

Corvey Contribution Page

More Information on the Family of Sir William Young
- Provided a portrait of the Young family

Yale Library
- Provided information on obtaining Sir William Young’s family tree from the Beinecke collection