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Anne Ker

The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University


Critical Essay: Anne Ker: Adeline St Julian; or the Midnight Hour and Modern Faults; a novel Founded on Facts

by Laura Harrod


The trends in women’s novels tended to fluctuate in the early nineteenth century and critics diverge on what they believe was popular and how the different genres developed. Ker argues in the preface to Emmeline; or the Happy Discovery [1] that she wrote according to the ‘pleasures of the times’ and thus, her novels can be examined to determine the trends in women’s fiction in the early nineteenth century and the extent to which she was constrained by market forces. Her motives for changing genres can also be considered and are representative of other women novelists. Adeline St Julian; or the Midnight Hour (1800) and Modern Faults; a novel Founded on Facts (1804) by Anne Ker are divergent in style; the former is a Gothic novel and the latter is a didactic novel. These novels can be analysed to examine whether Ker is restrained by the genre of each novel, or if she could find enough space to allow her own individual voice to manifest itself. Ultimately, Ker manages to express her own voice as in both novels she uses similar settings and characters and subverts both genres in order to criticise the notion of the proper lady writer and the position of women in patriarchal society.

Ker’s novels seem to be dictated by the trends of the times as Adeline St Julian was written when the Gothic novel was a particularly successful and popular genre. Adeline St Julian can be described as a Gothic novel because it features a number of Gothic elements including a ghost, subterranean passages, violent monks and nuns and the usurpation of a title and castle. Ker adheres to the fashions of the times by writing Gothic fiction. As Campbell states, ‘the Gothic novel was "the most widely read and enjoyed form of literature" in Britain and much of Europe between 1765 and 1840 according to Haining, whilst Summers puts its heyday in the 1790’s’ (Campbell, 1987: 175). The popularity of writers such as Anne Radcliffe and Clara Reeve lead to the ‘market [being] ... flooded by an immense crowd of imitators’. However, these novels were inferior to Radcliffe and she had the ‘misery of observing the degeneration of the novel she had initiated’ (MacCarthy, 1994: 414). Clery argues that Gothic and ‘supernatural fictions’ were popular because they were the:

ideal commodity for the libraries. They offered a novel alternative to the standard merchandise of sentimentalism, and dealt in unrepeatable effects of suspense and shock perfectly suited to the library system, which by keeping the narratives in perpetual circulation kept them perpetually new as they changed hands.

(Clery, 1995: 87)

The Minerva Press’s 1798 prospectus demonstrates the popularity of Gothic novels and in particular female Gothic authors. As Clery notes, it listed the works of ‘ten "particular favourite Authors", all of them women, and including Gothic specialists Regina Maria Roche, Eliza Parsons, Mary Meeke, Isabella Kelly, Elizabeth Bonhote and Anna Maria McKenzie’. In addition, as Clery further notes, the Minerva Press was imperative in the growing popularity of Gothic fiction; 'the birth of Minerva was instrumental in the decisive shift towards popular fiction in its modern form, aimed at a broad readership, commercially streamlined, with the profit motive uppermost’ (Clery, 1995: 137). Thus it is clear that Ker wrote Gothic fiction as the Gothic novel was popular and commercially viable.

The Gothic trend continued to be popular for a long time as Ker returned to publishing Gothic fiction after she wrote Modern Faults. Ker published another Gothic novel in 1803, The Mysterious Count; or Montville Castle, in the years between Adeline St Julian and Modern Faults. The fashion still seems popular in the early 1800's and even though Radcliffe published her last novel during her lifetime in 1797, there were large numbers of her inferior imitators on the market. Moreover, the trend remained popular as Ker's last novel, Edric the Forester; or, the Mysteries of the Haunted Chamber, an Historical Romance, was also a Gothic novel and was published in 1817. This novel published by Newman ‘was popular enough to run into more than one edition, and to be reprinted 1841 for "The Romanticist and Novelist’s library"’ (Summers, 1964: 93) despite the severe criticism it received from the journals. For example, the Monthly Review in June 1818 stated that ‘a total want of grammatical accuracy is among the least faults of this paltry performance’ (Summers, 1964: 93). Most of Ker’s novels belong to the Gothic genre or at least feature Gothic elements and therefore the demand for Gothic fiction must have continued in order for her to believe that her novels would still appeal and be popular. However, the Gothic novel did seem to lose its appeal to Ker as only four years after Adeline St Julian was published she wrote a didactic novel: Modern Faults. This volte-face may have occurred because the public may not have favourably received her Gothic novels and if their reaction was similar to that of the critics then it is clear why she experimented with a different genre. Her Gothic novels were severely criticised by the journals. For example, Adeline St Julian received numerous unfavourable reviews. The Critical Review [2], Monthly Review [3] and the Anti-Jacobin Review [4], all criticised her for her lack of 'novelty' (Anti-Jacobin Review) and all accused her of plagiarism. The Critical Review demands that the ‘"Midnight Hour"’ be involved in congenial darkness’. Arguably, Ker switched from writing Gothic novels to a didactic novel because of the unfavourable reviews she received; however, unfortunately, Modern Faults was also criticised. Modern Faults was condemned by two journals for similar problems as her other novels such as plagiarism and also because the story was told in ‘heavy dull manner’ (Literary Journal, a Review) [5]. Therefore, the reviewers did not only criticise her Gothic fiction which they would have seen as more transgressive for the woman writer, but also her didactic fiction. It seems that she did try to write a novel that would please the critics and adhere to the ideal of the proper lady writer which they would have upheld, but was unsuccessful.

However, the preface to Emmeline; or the Happy Discovery reveals that Ker was upset by the critics, but did not write to please them and did not try to conform to the ideal of the proper lady writer. Ker argues that the reviewers should ‘be assured ... not [to have] the vanity of wishing to please them in ... [her] writings’ as she wrote ‘in conformity to the pleasure of the times’ and it was to her ‘patronizers, and to the generous public’ that she appealed. It is clear that the reviews would not affect what she wrote as the changing trends, popularity of different genres and individual tastes of her patronisers and subscribers [6] were more important. She does not adhere to the ideal of the proper lady writer as instead of apologising for writing her novels she justifies writing. She argues that she ‘could state, at least, more than an hundred late publications, which are equally absurd as [her] ... own’ and that the reviewers only condemned her work because they knew that the ‘pen is guided by the hand of a female’. She continues to argue that:

whatever lines were dictated by [her] ... pen ... they had been in the cause of virtue; devoid of those indelicate, and, in many instances, indecent descriptions, that fill the pages in the novels and romances of the present day, of which she should be ashamed to be the author.

Ker seems to believe that she needs to justify her novels to the male critics and moreover, the masculine dominated public sphere on which she was encroaching. She confuses the issue of the proper lady writer as she justifies her novels by arguing that they have been written in the ‘cause of virtue’ and especially in the case of Modern Faults, to instruct the reader. She does not apologise for writing novels like the proper lady should, but manages to successfully argue why she should be allowed to write. Ker demonstrates that ‘another result of the defensive attitude women writers were forced to adopt in relation to their work was a tendency to become didactic in order to justify their writing’ (Figes, 1982: 21-2). Thus, Ker did not change genres because of the unfavourable criticism her novels received as they generally criticised anything written by a woman. It was more likely that she wrote a didactic novel because the market was becoming too overcrowded with Gothic novels or she might have tried to appeal to a different readership.

Moreover, Ker wrote according to the fashions of the times because she needed her novels to appeal to the public and sell as she needed the money. She relied on her novels as her and her family’s source on income. Contemporaries condemned these women writers as ‘the faintly or frankly disreputable women who published for profit’ (Poovey, 1974: 36). However, some writers ‘who did publish under their own names almost always sought to justify their efforts as financially necessary ¾ preferably, to the support of the family’ (Poovey, 1974: 39). Ker fits into the latter and more acceptable view as she did not write for profit, but for financial necessity and to help support her family. Therefore, she conforms to some extent to the ideal of the proper lady. Her desperate need for money is indicated by her numerous appeals to the Royal Literary Fund [7]. She wrote to the fund six times between August 1820 and October 1821 complaining that she suffered from gout, her husband was ill and they had little money as she failed to get a promised teaching job. She received five pounds twice after her first and third letter dated January 2 1821. She advertises herself as the ‘authoress of several works which have been highly approved by the public’ (August 1, 1820). The novels that she chose to list in each of the six letters are the Gothic novels, namely Edric the Forester and The Heiress De Montalde; or the Castle of Bezanto which are mentioned three times whereas Modern Faults is only mentioned in her first letter along with all her books (Adeline St Julian is also only mentioned here). She even sends the fund a copy of Edric the Forester on August 24 1820 as a thank you for the money. Ker seems to be constrained by the market forces to write Gothic novels because they were popular and would sell, but she also seems most proud of her Gothic novels and more comfortable writing in this genre then the didactic genre. She advertises her first novel, The Heiress Di Montalde on the front covers of both Adeline St Julian and Modern Faults. Ker does not adhere to the idea of the proper lady as it is clear to even the reviewers that her 'book was not written to amuse but to sell' (Literary Journal, a Review) which could explain why they criticised her. She did not enter the public sphere timidly, but actively advertised her next novels in a desperate attempt to sell and make money. Hence, the market forces influenced Ker as she relied on her novels to make money to support her and her family. Thus, she returned to writing Gothic novels after Modern Faults because Gothic novels were still popular and would sell.

It seems common for women novelists to respond to the developing trends in the market and write novels that will appeal and sell. For example, different trends can be traced through the works of Elizabeth Helme who published at the same time as Ker. Helme published ten novels between 1794 and 1814 including Instructive Rambles Extended in London, and the Adjacent Villages: designed to amuse the mind and Improve the understanding of youth (1800), The Pilgrim on the Cross: or, the Chronicles of Christabele de Mowbray; an Ancient Legend (1805), Magdalen: or, The Penitent of Godstow; an Historical Novel (1812) and Modern Times; or The Age We Live In; a Posthumous Novel [8]. The titles of these novels suggest that Helme wrote a variety of novels ranging from didactic novels aiming to improve the minds of children, historical novels and novels with Gothic elements. Helme published one novel, St Margaret's Cave: or, The Nun's Story; an Ancient Legend (1801) with the same publisher that published Ker's first novel, The Heiress Di Montalde; or, the Castle of Bezanto: a novel (1799), Earle and Hemet. St Margaret's Cave: or the Nun's Story: an Ancient Legend [9] has Gothic elements. For example, it is set in the past, during the reign of Henry VII, and Margaret, the protagonist, is thought to be illegitimate, but is actually the heiress to her father's estates and imprisoned within a castle. Some characters also have false identities which lead to illegitimate ownership of land, and one character, Austin, attacks his wife but stabs his own child. The novel is similar to Adeline St Julian which is also set in the past in 1632: Adeline also is the legitimate heir to her father's estates but a distant cousin illegitimately claims them and imprisons her within the castle. Helme's novel also features a Franciscan Friar who lives in a cave which is similar to Adeline St Julian as Adeline and her mother live in a cave in the forest of St Amans. Therefore, certain publishers seem to be producing similar material at the same time as these two novels are published within a year of each other. Helme seems to change her style often and even some of the titles are similar to Ker's, for example, Modern Times and Modern Faults. Publishers also have some influence in the content of women writers’ novels as in the preface to Midnight Weddings, Mary Meeke ‘recommends aspiring novelists "before planning a work, to consult their publisher as to how they may best satisfy the prevailing public taste'"’ (Clery, 1995: 139). Women novelists recommended that if other writers wanted to be successful they should write according to what was popular and appealing. Therefore, it was common for women writers to change the styles of their novels due to the fluctuating market forces.

However, critics are uncertain and vary their opinions as to how these trends developed. Ker's novels seem to contest some of their arguments and it seems that a reinvestigation of women's novels is needed to determine how the trends developed. Figes argues that ‘the Gothic novel was not a direct offspring of the male picaresque novel. Rather it was an elaboration of the female novel of seduction and betrayal’ (Figes, 1982: 12). However, Modern Faults seems to be part of this genre as both the main and subplots are concerned with husbands being seduced and leaving their wives to live with their mistresses. The main plot sees the husband repent and return to his wife whereas the subplots demonstrate the misfortunes of unrepentant husbands. Turner states that ‘in the range of female literature, poetry and didactic material were probably more likely to attract subscribers than fiction, since these genres were perceived as unequivocally appropriate for the female pen’ (Turner, 1992: 111). Yet, Ker only wrote one didactic novel (as far as the other titles of her novels suggest) and must have thought that the Gothic novels would appeal and sell because she desperately needed the money as the material form the Royal Fund demonstrates. However, as I have already demonstrated with regards to the preface to Emmeline; or the Happy Discovery, she did not always conform to the idea of the proper lady. Moreover, as more women's writing is being discovered it is clear that the changing trends need reinvestigating. Ker either seems to predate the trends that were occurring in the early nineteenth century or the assessment of these trends needs to be readjusted. For example Ker, does not fit into Copeland’s schema in Women Writing About Money. He features a diagram [10] that plots the frequency of particular plots within The Lady’s Magazine which also reflects the trends within novels written by women. The ‘Woman suffers a bad husband’ plot on the graph is absent in 1804, when Modern Faults was published, but in the next year it rises to forty six to sixty per cent and basically remained this way until 1815 when it again rose to over sixty per cent. The trends of the period definitely shift, but as other novels are being rediscovered, the existing ideas about the developments of genres do not seem adequate and need to be re-examined and updated. Initially, it seems that Ker is inhibited by genre, but within both novels she is able to find enough space to let her individual voice be heard and criticise the position of women and the female writer within patriarchal society.

The novels are different in terms of genre and style, but both novels feature female protagonists who can only temporarily voice their own narratives. These characters represent how women are silenced within patriarchal society. Adeline St Julian is a conventional novel, divided into numerous chapters, told by a third person omniscient narrator. The story features a number of inset tales which are told in the characters' own voices. Ker allows her female characters to speak, but they can never voice their narratives in first person throughout the entire novel as the third person omniscient narrator frames and edits their narration. This framing reflects how male relations or husbands framed and edited women's voices. The masculine public sphere dictated the trends and made women writers conform to the ideal of the proper lady writer which thus framed their own individual voices. This can be seen more explicitly in Modern Faults which is an epistolary novel with some third person omniscient narration. The first volume concerns Rosalie Clerimont writing to her friend, Frederica de Villroy, about leaving home and living in a secluded cottage in the country because her husband left her for another women. However, the letters between the Count and his friend the Marquis structure the second volume with only one letter being addressed to Rosalie. After forgiving her husband because he committed adultery and reconciling her marriage, the Countess loses her right to speak:

My sweet Rosalie has just entered my chamber and interrupted me. Finding who my letter is addressed, she desires I will communicate to you her best respects, with grateful thanks for the repeated kindness which you have conferred on us. (Ker, 1804: vol.2, 169)

In taking her husband back, she effectively loses her house, as her room becomes his, her independence and her right to speak. After she becomes his possession, ‘my Rosalie’, the right to communicate becomes his exclusively as it becomes ‘my letter’. She can only ‘desire’ communication whilst he has the power to fulfil this desire. Rosalie transforms from being the protagonist to a character that has her words summarised by another character: her husband. Thus, the styles of the novels are different, but each novel features a female protagonist who only has the right to speak temporarily. It is ironic that Ker uses her novels as a forum to express that women cannot voice independently within patriarchal society. Despite the different genres, Ker is able to find space within both novels to let her own voice manifest itself and criticise the position of women in society.

The female novelist had to conform to the idea of the proper woman writer in order to be published and thus Ker was constrained by patriarchal society's idea of how and what the woman writer should write about. However, the difference between the Gothic and didactic genre seems to influence the novel’s emphasis on moral behaviour which thereby affects the story, themes and tone of the two novels. Adeline St Julian, as a Gothic novel is more transgressive than the didactic novel as it allows Ker to work within a looser moral scheme. As Miles has stated the ‘Gothic romance as a genre was fit enough for a proper lady to dabble in, and roomy enough for a woman writer to explore’ (Miles, 1995: 44). Ker advocates moral behaviour as the virtuous characters are rewarded for their moral conduct as Adeline and Alphonso, who saves her from captivity by Delarfonne, get married and ‘passed their lives in peace and ease’ (Ker, 1801: Vol. 2, 228). However, the villains are punished. For example, Delarfonne commits suicide in the Bastille and De Courcy, his malignant servant, dies from illness in prison. However, the reader is also shown that innocent characters can suffer as De Castelle, an innocent clergyman, is condemned and executed and Cardinal Richelieu, who assists in Castelle’s condemnation, is not punished.

Nevertheless, in Adeline St Julian, Ker condemns immoral behaviour and in particular gambling. Delarfonne and De Courcy, the two main ignoble characters in the novel, gamble and as De Courcy explains, ‘this eagerness for play, I believe was the source of every succeeding vice’ (Ker, 1801: Vol. 2, 117). This vice drives the story as Delarfonne runs out of money which causes him to imprison the Count St Julian and illegitimately assume his title and estates. De Courcy also lacks money and becomes Delarfonne’s servant and helps imprison the Count and murder his son. The Gothic genre allows Ker more freedom as she deals with issues and themes that normally the proper lady could not deal with including murder, infanticide and sex as she includes a description of how Franciscan Friars murdered women who had been seduced and were pregnant. The Gothic genre is more transgressive as Ker does not conform to a simple, strict moral scheme and can deal with issues that were often ‘improper’ for the woman writer. The novel does focus more on immoral behaviour as the Gothic landscape was typically dystopic, but as the main innocent characters are redeemed and the ignoble characters are punished the novel does ultimately conform to a normal moral scheme. Hence, although indirectly, Ker does advocate moral and virtuous behaviour through the condemnation of immoral behaviour and vices and thus, even in a Gothic novel she adheres to the notion of the proper lady writer.

Compared to Adeline St Julian, Modern Faults as a didactic novel, is more emphatic about virtuous behaviour with a clearer moral scheme and a morally superior tone. The behaviour of the characters is meant to be exemplary to the reader and consequently all the virtuous repentant characters are rewarded with happiness whereas the ignoble characters are punished and suffer. The novel instructs the reader on a number of moral points. The title suggests that Ker believed that contemporary society had many problems which she discusses in the novel. The main faults that the novel examines are described in a poem on the front cover. It argues that ‘Guilt is the source of sorrow’ and ‘sensual pleasures in our ruin ends’. These themes form the basic plot of the novel. The Count St Clerimont has an affair with Nicolina, a girl his wife’s family adopt, however, eventually he repents and returns to his wife. The reader is shown that Nicolina’s behaviour as a seductress is wrong as she dies in a poor house at the end of the novel, ‘a dreadful warning to all those who deviate from the path of rectitude and virtue’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 2, 233). Whilst the Count is living with Nicolina in Paris, the Count’s friend the Duke D'A_ (who is also described as a Prince) visits Rosalie and tries to convince her to be his mistress and even if his ‘persuasions did not succeed, he was determined to take away, the first opportunity, without her consent’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 1, 191). Ker argues that the Duke sets an ‘evil example’ and is a ‘danger to the public who too frequently copy the vices of their superiors’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 1, 173-4). Moreover, at the end of the novel (in case it is not clear to the reader that seduction and infidelity are immoral) there is a short letter from the Marquis to the Count about his sister who, like Rosalie, took a girl into her house and discovers that her husband is having an affair with her. Eventually, after discovering that his mistress stole his wife’s jewellery he tries to shoot her, misses and fatally wounds himself. Ker hints at the extent of this immoral practice as Nicolina convinces the Count to be her lover by telling him to ‘look round amongst your friends, and see how common it is’. The Duke tells Rosalie that ‘favours such as these are almost too common, and are the cause of many a man’s advancement’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 1,170). He tells her about his brother being attracted to Madame Rimeirmont which ‘thereby advanced Rimeirmont’s fortune’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 1, 171). Ker describes the dangers of adultery as being similar to standing on ‘the brink of a precipice’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 2, 45), an image which is repeated throughout the novel. Marriage is like ‘building a house on the sand, where, for want of substantial foundation, the first wind will destroy it’ as it ‘has but a very brittle foundation’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 2, 53). Ker argues that married couples need to work at their marriages and although she is aware that some people do have affairs she thinks this is a weakness and an effort must be made to keep this frailty in check. Thus, the Count is able to redeem himself by being completely repentant ‘convinced of his errors, and sensible, that unless the heart and actions are guided by religion and virtue, all our undertakings ... run into a state of confusion’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 2, 173). Therefore, because it is a didactic novel, Modern Faults is more emphatic about virtuous and moral behaviour as this even forms the basis of the story. Ker seems less reluctant to conform to the notion of the proper lady writer in the didactic novel. The genre of the novel, whether it is a Gothic or didactic novel, does influence and constrain the content, themes and tone in which Ker writes.

However, this theme of seduction is not exclusive to the didactic novel and is obviously something Ker felt strongly about as it is examined to a lesser extent in Adeline St Julian. Unlike the Duke D'A_ who fails to abduct Rosalie, in the Gothic novel the threat can become realised as the villain, Delarfonne is able to abduct Adeline (not knowing her real identity). He attempts to bribe her to be his mistress, but when this fails he threatens her:

if you consent to be the mistress of my affections; - I ask you, because I would have you believe I value your free consent:-but, if you still refuse, you are under my roof, and may have greater cause to repent. (Ker, 1804: vol.2, 91)

Like Rosalie, Adeline is repulsed by the idea of being his mistress. Ker allows both characters to remain virtuous as Delarfonne discovers Adeline’s real identity and imprisons her within a cell in the castle and Rosalie flees her home to live in a cottage in the forest of St Amiens. Thus, Ker deals with the problem in both her novels, but to a greater extent in Modern Faults as it is the focus of the main and subplots. Ker can deal with the same theme in both novels, but the difference in genre affects the tone and treatment of this issue. Both novels advocate moral behaviour, but as a didactic novel, Modern Faults does this to a greater extent with the characters acting as moral exemplars to the reader. Thus, Ker can be seen to conform to the ideal of the proper lady writer as both novels were written in the ‘cause of virtue’ and advocate moral behaviour in order for them to be published, approved of and consequently appeal and sell. However, arguably, Ker subverts the image of the proper lady writer as she shows women behaving virtuously and depicts the behaviour of men as immoral as they try to abduct these women. She is able to criticise men and patriarchal society that allows this behaviour to flourish as simultaneously she is advocating virtuous and moral behaviour. Thus, Ker is constrained to some extent by the idea of how a proper lady should write but she is able to find ways to let her own voice criticise important issues and the different genres allowed her some freedom even when dealing with the same issue.

As a proper lady writer Ker advocates religious and moral behaviour. However as Adeline St Julian is a Gothic novel she typically criticises the Catholic church. The characters are religious, often thanking God for saving them and the Count calls God the ‘author of all good’. However, certain characters are imprisoned by Dominican monks and nuns within a convent and a Monastery and Alphonso, for example, is threatened with ‘the doom of torture’ if he does not ‘enter holy orders’ (Ker, 1801: Vol. 1, 155). Alphonso describes Elinor, whom he saved from imprisonment in the convent, as a ‘wretched example of monastic cruelty’ (Ker, 1801: Vol. 1, 176). Ker also condemns Franciscan monks as they kill women who have been seduced and have become pregnant before burying them in a pit. Ker’s opinion of the Catholic church is unequivocally stated by Alphonso who believes that there is ‘less religion in those houses than the world at large’ (Ker, 1801: Vol. 1, 185). Moreover, real members of the Catholic church are criticised; for example, Cardinal Richelieu is described as being ‘most malignant’ (Ker, 1801: Vol. 1, 139). The subplot follows Elinor's husband, De Castelle, who is accused of having ‘infernal powers’ (Ker, 1801: Vol. 1, 211) by Cardinal Richelieu and other members of the church and is eventually ‘tortured and burnt, before the church of St Croix’ (Ker, 1801: Vol. 2, 208). Thus, Adeline St Julian is similar to other Gothic novels as its criticism of the Catholic church is formulaic, suggesting that Ker is constrained by the genre in which she is writing and which is popular at the time.

Ker can be seen to be inhibited by the genre in which she is writing as Modern Faults, as a didactic novel, is different to Adeline St Julian as it explicitly advocates religious behaviour. However, conversely, Ker is able to use the didactic novel that promotes religious behaviour as a way of criticising contemporary society. She can successfully argue that society is corrupted as it neglects proper religious conduct. One of the modern faults of contemporary society is that it fails to keep Sunday ‘Holy, and to give rest to the servant and cattle’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 2, 173). She argues that a ‘true modern sabbath day, which is generally concluded by repairing to pass the evening at a pubic house, ... where inebriation, late hours, and quarreling, is sure to finish the day’. Gambling also occurs on this day. Ker is a typical didactic writer as ‘moralists warn against gambling, overeating, or drinking too much’ (Poovey, 1974: 20), but she believes that society is deeply depraved as these vices occur on the Sabbath day. She ‘extend[s] this little digression, by further remarking’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 2,180) that young women are sent to boarding school by their parents which only encourages a ‘heart full of pride, and a haughty overbearing disposition, whilst the head is puffed up by vanity’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 2, 183) and they refuse to help their parents as they consider it ‘beneath’ them. Again, Ker is a typical writer of the didactic novel as ‘throughout the century, for example, conduct books, diaries, and novels reiterate the lesson that children - especially daughters - should obey their parents’ will’ (Poovey, 1974: 13-4). The novel seems to be based on the bible and especially the ten commandments of which two are directly quoted including keeping Sunday holy, and ‘doing unto others as we would they should do to us’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 2, 233). Ker argues that there is ‘no substantial happiness but what is founded on the basis of religion and virtue’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 2, 233). Thus, this novel is clearly part of the didactic genre that aimed to teach young readers and remind older readers about the importance of the Bible, morals and virtuous conduct. Ker seems to be adhering to the notion of the proper lady writer, but at the same time uses the novel as a forum from which to criticise society.

Both novels are formulaic in terms of setting with the recurring motif of women living in hideaways in forests which represents their position in patriarchal society. However, the genre of the novel seems to affect the extent of Ker's criticism as the Gothic novel allows her to be more transgressive. In Adeline St Julian, Adeline and Madame Belmont live in a cave in the forest of St Amans. As part of a gothic novel their home is given a supernatural atmosphere as it is described as being the ‘abode of a hermit, the former haunts of a Banditti, or [an] … elfe’ (Ker, 1801: Vol. 1, 99). The forest is also described as being haunted and Alphonso thinks that Adeline is a ghost when he first sees her in the forest. The house is described as ‘subterraneous’ with ‘numerous windings and passages, that lead to different parts of the forest, and are so intricate [that they] ... fear no intrusion’. They moved to the cave because Delarfonne had already tried to abduct Adeline and hence, Madame Belmont thought that the cave would ‘skreen her from a person so detested’ (Ker, 1801: Vol. 1, 100). Adeline is forced to give up her job as an embroiderer because Delarfonne had tried to abduct her and later he is successful as he imprisons her within the castle St Clair, her home that he illegitimately inherited. Thus, women, here represented by Adeline, are forced into the private sphere, the forest and their links with the public sphere are severed as they cannot work. Finally, this forced seclusion becomes physical and literal as the women are confined by the male villain, who personifies patriarchal society, within their original and legitimate home, the castle. This is typical of women's Gothic novels as ‘in the Gothic novel the house changes from being a symbol of male privilege and protection conferred on the fortunate female of his choice, to an image of male power in its sinister aspect, threatening and oppressive’ (Figes, 1982: 74). However, Ellis proposes a more optimistic view that the ‘Castle turned into a prison and reconverted into a home ... is the underlying structure of the feminine Gothic’ (Ellis, 1989: 45). Ker seems to follow this pattern as Adeline is confined in the castle St Clair and after she has married Alphonso they return to live there. Gilbert and Gubar advocate that the ‘topoi of enclosure and confinement within Gothic novels dominated the imagery, women are "trapped in architecture and institutions of patriarchy" and expressed claustrophobic rage by enacting rebellious escapes’ (Poovey, 1974: 45). However, Ker’s criticism of patriarchal society is limited and pessimistic. Adeline is unable to escape from the prison herself as she does not know where the secret springs to open the door are hidden and has to wait and be set free by the men who do possess this knowledge. Ker’s female characters are passive and feminine as they cannot free themselves, but have to wait to be saved. Moreover, Adeline St Julian is a typically Gothic novel as it is set in the past (the Seventeenth century) because, as Figes states, women writers often ‘chose to set their story not in contemporary England, but in the past ... as though acknowledging their ignorance of present-day realities’ (Figes, 1982: 151). Like so many other contemporary women writers, Ker uses the traditional and formulaic mode of Gothic fiction that centres on imprisonment, to portray how women are repressed and marginalised by patriarchal society. Women novelists are not constrained by the Gothic genre, but actively subvert it to suit their own concerns and hence, Ker, typifying the female Gothic writer, could find space in the novel to manifest her own voice.

This criticism of patriarchal society is not exclusive to the Gothic genre; it is also prominent in Modern Faults which, although a didactic novel, has a similar setting to Adeline St Julian. Rosalie decides to ‘lay aside every idea of useless grandeur’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 1, 12) and leave her ‘native domain, the Castle of Luneville' (Ker, 1804: Vol. 1, 4). She takes her family to live in a cottage 'so very retired, that a person might inhabit it for years without intrusion’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 1, 15). Rosalie embarks on this ‘self-imposed exile’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 2, 151) because she did not like people in society discussing her husband’s affair and more importantly because the Duke D'A__ threatened to abduct her. Therefore, both the women protagonists, despite the different genres, are forced out of patriarchal society and the public sphere into the private sphere. Figes argues that in women's fiction the ‘setting was almost always rural, a fact which emphasised women's isolation from modern business and industry’. Ker uses these female characters to represent not only the position of women, but also the female writer, who was discouraged from entering the public sphere and encouraged to remain within the private sphere. This motif of women being forced out of patriarchal society to the extent that they literally live on its edges in the forests, represents the segregated position of women and their confinement within the private sphere. As Ker uses this setting in both the Gothic and didactic novel, it is not simply due to the genre of the novel, but also to her desire to criticise the position of women in patriarchal society.

Moreover, this retreat into the private sphere is only temporary and a return to the public sphere and patriarchal society is necessary through the aid of the male protagonist. In Adeline St Julian, Alphonso manages to fall through the forest floor into Adeline’s home and in Modern Faults the Count who is wounded manages to appear on Rosalie’s doorstep. The men fall in love with the passive feminine female characters that nurse them back to health. Alphonso falls in love with Adeline causing him to save her from imprisonment in the castle. They marry and live in the castle of St Clair. In Modern Faults, the Count falls in love with Rosalie who he thinks is called Irza Dorvil. Eventually he repents his sins, confesses that he still loves her and she reveals her true identity. They are reunited and after he ‘put[s] the [castle]... in order’ they can return together. These assertive women who made the active decision to leave patriarchal society because men threatened them with abduction, can never return. The men intrude upon the homes of these women, forcing them back into their stereotypical feminine, subservient roles and it is only through these roles that the women can return to patriarchal society. Ker's female characters in both novels, despite the different genres, portray how women are confined in the private sphere within patriarchal society. However, Ker is conventional by representing that passive, feminine behaviour will either lead to or repair a broken marriage and that only through marriage can women enter or re-enter patriarchal society. This represents how the women writer could enter the public sphere as ‘the practice of having a father, brother or husb and negotiate with a publisher was common for a young woman writer’ (Poovey, 1974: 37). The novels demonstrate how the women writer had to be led into the public sphere by her male relations or husband. Thus, in both novels Ker both has her own voice manifest itself by criticising patriarchal society as women are confined within the private sphere through a forced, yet self-imposed, retreat, but this withdrawal can only be temporary as marriage forces women to operate and live within patriarchal society.

In both novels Ker uses similar male characters to represent patriarchal society and conversely a ‘mother figure’ character who symbolises an alternative society: the matriarchy. Here, in the forest, women can live independently of men albeit if only temporarily. The male characters in both novels are upper class, titled aristocracy which reveals the extent to which society has become corrupted. The male members of the upper echelons of society try to seduce and abduct women and are therefore the most depraved. The female characters are also part of the upper classes because women in this class were arguably the most constrained within the private sphere as they could not go out to work and had to practice typical feminine accomplishments. Moreover, both novels feature a similar maternal character despite the difference in genre. In Adeline St Julian, Adeline is adopted by Sophia de Belmont and is told by Adeline's real mother, the Countess St Julian, ‘be you her mother, as you have been friend of her mother’ (Ker, 1800: Vol. 1, 69). Again Ker is following a popular pattern as ‘feminist critics have read the female Gothic as a narrative about mothers and daughters, in which a daughter who has lost her mother either discovers that she is not dead or finds mother substitutes in her place’ (Miles, 1995: 18). Adeline is looked after, educated and protected by Madame Belmont to the extent that she ‘would never trust her from [her]’ (Ker, 1800: Vol. 1’ 84). Moreover, Madame Belmont becomes her legitimate and literal mother figure by marrying the Count who:

unknowing how to reward Madame De Belmont for her friendly attachment to his wife, and the tender affection she had shewn his daughter, through all their difficulties, offered her his hand in marriage.

(Ker, 1800: Vol. 2, 223)

As Adeline's adopted mother, marginalised from patriarchal society, Madame De Belmont is able to make independent decisions about Adeline and herself, for example, choosing where they live and owning a lace shop and working. However, after being initiated back into patriarchal society by marrying the Count, she loses all independence and becomes ‘an ornament’ (Ker, 1800: Vol. 2, 223). Modern Faults has a similar character to Sophia and also establishes a temporary matriarchy on the margins of society, in the forest. Margaret is described as a ‘faithful friend from infancy ... who loved her as a parent would a beloved child’ (Ker, 1804: Vol. 1, 4-5). Rosalie is an orphan causing Margaret to act like a mother figure. Like Adeline St Julian, the matriarchy fails in Modern Faults as Rosalie returns to Luneville Castle with her husband and family and Margaret is described as being ‘handsomely provided for, and lived to see her beloved child the mother of a numerous and lovely family’. Therefore, Ker demonstrates that there can be other alternatives to patriarchal society, but shows that a matriarchy cannot succeed. The characters and their functions are similar in both novels and despite the different genres. Ker’s voice was able to manifest itself and not only criticise patriarchal society but portray an, albeit unsuccessful, alternative. Thus, the extent to which she was constrained by the genre was limited as her novels are formulaic regardless of genre and she could address the same concerns.

Ker argued that she wrote according to the ‘pleasures of the times’ and moreover, through necessity as she needed her novels to appeal and sell as she desperately needed the money. As Helme’s novels also indicate, it was common for women writers to be influenced by the market forces. Therefore, this assessment of Ker’s novels can be used to reveal the current trends within women’s writing in the early nineteenth century. It is clear that when Adeline St Julian and Modern Faults were published, the Gothic novel was extremely popular and remained this way as she only wrote one didactic novel and returned to writing Gothic fiction. Thus, whilst there may have been a demand for didactic fiction when Modern Faults was published, this demand was short-lived. The Gothic genre remained a more lucrative and commercially viable mode of fiction for the female writer. Therefore, the market forces seemed to influence and restrict Ker as they dictated the genre of her novels. Ker was also constrained to a limited extent by genre as this influenced the story, theme and tone of her novels. For example, she can deal with the same issues, for example, seduction, in both novels, but in Modern Faults she has to adopt a morally superior tone. Nevertheless, she managed to express her own individual voice though her formulaic use of setting and character which she used to criticise the position of women in patriarchal society. She also subverts the genres as in Adeline St Julian she uses the traditional theme of imprisonment to represent how women are confined within the private sphere and in the didactic genre she uses the position of a moral advocate to criticise patriarchal society. Ker was most constrained by the notion of the proper lady writer as it dictated the content, tone and methods of publication for the women writer. However, Ker successfully managed to find room to manifest her own voice, within both novels and across genres, and criticise not only this notion of the proper lady writer, but that which the female writer more generally represents: the segregation and oppression of women within patriarchal society.

[1] For the Preface entitled ‘To the Public’ in Emmeline; or the Happy Discovery (1801) see Appendix A.

[2] The Critical Review, new series, Vol. 29, (May 1800) p116. For complete reviews see Appendix B.

[3] Monthly Review, new series, Vol. 33, (Sept 1800) p103.

[4] Anti-Jacobin Review, 7 (Oct 1800) p201-2.

[5] Literary Journal, a Review, Vol. 3, (June 16 1804) p682.

[6] The lists of subscribers can be found in the prefaces to The Heiress Di Montalde; or the Castle of Bezanto (1799) and The Mysterious Count; or Montville Castle a Romance (1803). Ker had a number of subscribers and as she published more novels the people on this list became more important and in 1803 even included ‘Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales’. Refer to Appendix C for more information.

[7] The Royal Literary Fund, file number 424. See Appendix D for her complete letters and the Fund’s responses.

[8] For a complete list of Helme’s novels from the Corvey website see <> or Appendix E.

[9] For a complete synopsis of Helme’s novel St Margaret’s Cave; or the Nun’s Story an Ancient Legend see <<>> or Appendix F.

[10] See Appendix G for Copeland’s graph which plots ‘the plot frequencies in The Lady’s Magazine, 1793-1815’.



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