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Mrs R P M Yorke

The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University

by Claire Winchester, May 2006

An eighteenth century structure in a Gothic façade…RPM Yorke’s My Master’s Secret: Or, The Troublesome Stranger and The Haunted Palace; Or, The Horrors of Ventoliene.

New readers, new modes of literary production, changing tastes, and a growing belief that traditional form and conventions were too constricted and rigid to represent modern reality or to reach modern readers collaborated to mean-in the eyes of both proponents and critics-that much modern writing was taking radical new directions.
(Hunter, 1990: 10)

As Hunter says the eighteenth century saw a wealth of new literature filtering through its society.  It varied from fiction and non-fiction novels to the Monthly Reviews and Gentleman’s Magazine, poetry and drama.  From the late seventeenth century through to the early nineteenth century prose fiction went through a complete transformation.  It was not just slow progression over time but a complete renovation from the romance, to the novel and then the gothic.  The subject matter was condensed from the romance into the, as some may say, humdrum world of the single young lady and her introduction into society and inner turmoil over family, friendship, loyalty, and marriage, and then thrust into the bosom of the supernatural and extraordinary.  This was composed around new and differing forms of narrative mode, chronology and location.  Coupled with the improving accessibility to literature and increasing readership, the recipe for the revolution in literary change was complete.

In addition to this was the rise in popularity of published female authors.  ‘Reviewers implied that there was a seemingly limitless flow of material from the female pen’ (Turner, 1994: 31) which encompassed numerous forms, ranging from guidance books and manuals to romances, realist novels and the gothic. Turner observes that sustained disapproval or indifference to women’s writing, for aesthetic or moral reasons, has contributed to a high level of ignorance about the scope and scale of women’s involvement in the literature market which embraces all genres and which applies particularly to their pre-nineteenth century material.
(Turner, 1994: 1-2)

She goes on to say that ‘critics have made considerable advances in identifying ‘lost’ works’ (Turner, 1994: 2).  RPM Yorke, along with many other female writers, seems to have fallen into this category that has slipped through the eighteenth century network of recognised literary texts but there is no doubt that despite this lack of acknowledgment the literature was quite definitely out there.  Within my critical essay I am going to look at RPM Yorke’s two texts My Master's Secret: or, The Troublesome Stranger and The Haunted Palace or The Horrors of Ventoliene in the context of its genre in relation to the romance, eighteenth century realist novel and the gothic.  Within these contexts I will be explaining, reviewing and evaluating her two pieces.

As a starting point I would like to note that the two synopses are so long for a combination of reasons.  The main one being that the texts themselves are of substantial lengths.  The Haunted Palace is made up of three volumes totalling about eight hundred and fifty pages and My Master’s Secret is slightly shorter, compacting six hundred pages into two volumes.  Within both texts there are extensive casts of characters and numerous interlinked narratives, which make simplifying and cutting down the complex plots somewhat difficult.  On top of this is the fact that there is as far as my research can conclude no biographical material on RPM Yorke, and in addition no contemporary reviews of her work.  Therefore to make up for this I have completed thorough synopses and extensive keyword selections to give as much information and insight into the texts as possible.

On the front page of both her books Yorke has written a few lines about what is going to ensue.  As all four of her texts are cited by Summer’s in A Gothic Bibliography the assumption is that they will contain elements of horror, terror and the supernatural.  In My Master’s Secret: or, The Troublesome Stranger she tells us

A Stranger came to the hall of Odin;
Dark was the dress of the hero;
Sorrow clouded his brow,
But wrath dwelt in his heart, and
Dreadful was the tale he unfolded to the Chief.
(Yorke, 1805)

Going by this any number of ideas could be conjured up as to who the stranger was, and what eerie story he had to tell.

The same applies to The Haunted Palace: or, The Horrors of Ventoliene.  However this one is written in Italian which is in keeping with the setting of the novel, adding to its authenticity and creating intrigue for its reader.

Fra cento affanni e cento
Palpito, tremor,e sento
Che freddo dale vene
Fugge il mio sanque al cor
(Yorke, 1801)

Unfortunately I have not been able to obtain an exact translation of the quote but the gist is that the book will make the blood run cold in your veins and will stop the flow to your heart.  Yorke is promising a lot in these few short lines.

It is clear from both prefaces that Yorke has attempted to define and categorise their genres.  At the time she was writing and her novels were being published the literary world was in the midst of the gothic era therefore from looking at the prefaces the assumption would be that the reader was going to be in for a scare.  However, in doing this she has created controversy as to their real classification, as upon reading them the prefaces do not wholly match up with her descriptions.  Yorke does not conform to the assumed gothic genre.  In fact she combines a number of characteristics taken from the literary genre of the late seventeenth century up to her contemporary literary genre.  Hunter describes what novel writers were doing as ‘The refusal to follow set patterns in plot and character represent(ing) a defiant turn in narrative' (Hunter, 1990: 23).  Although he has applied this specifically to novel writers I believe Yorke has followed their example and refused to be a conventional writer, which is what I am going to go on and discuss.
Ellis summarises part of Clara Reeve’s study in The Progress of Romance telling us ‘by the seventeenth century, the romance was declining in relevance and popularity…(being) eclipsed in importance by other varieties of prose fiction, in particular the novel.’ (Ellis, 2000: 19).  Despite this synopsis Yorke has obviously found the romance form appropriate as we see her two texts fit into a number of Davies’s romance characteristics.  The first and key one is that ‘Romances tend to be long and episodic’ (Davies in Kroll, 1998: 6).  As I have already mentioned both texts are substantially long; the main present day plot being interrupted throughout by the extensive histories of the present day characters.  An example of this in a seventeenth century romance is explored in Raleigh’s The English Novel.  He reviews Boyle’s Parthenissa, which has a clear correlation with Yorke’s two texts.  The foremost feature is the length of time it takes to move the present day plot forward.  He notes that once Callimachus asks the stranger to ‘relate his life… (he) is destined to delay the main narrative for several hundred pages’ (Raleigh, 1907: 94).  Just a couple of examples from each text confirm the similarity.  In My Master’s Secret the ghost of James Holman tells William and the Colonel to ‘listen to what I shall relate’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 157); a hundred pages later he ends his story.  Bearing in mind these histories are inside a grand narrative, in the second volume Yorke gives over two hundred pages to Captain Beswick's manuscript in which all we can gage as readers is that his mother experienced terrible treatment at the hands of her cheating first husband.  On completion of the novel his memoirs seem pointless, as her past life has only a minimal effect on the main narrative, only serving to reinforce the fact that she had suffered a bad life and deserved to spend the rest of her life in happiness.

The Haunted Palace seems even more like this seventeenth century novel in that it too contains long histories, three hundred pages more than My Master’s Secret.  Its present day characters, the Captain, Father Gregory and Father Theodore’s histories all last over a hundred pages each and several other minor characters fifty or more.  However on top of this The Haunted Palace like Parthenissa was supposed to be a romance.  Raleigh tells us the reader ‘will find himself, at page six hundred and thirteen, back at Hierapolis in Syria, with Callimachus’ story yet to begin’ (Raleigh, 1907: 95).  The Haunted Palace does not reveal a hint of romance in the present day narrative until the third volume, some six hundred and fifty pages into the book.  Luckily the romances progress quickly and the jaded reader is only subjected to another two hundred pages of present day action before the ‘romance’ ends.  Yorke's choice of this romance trait has clouded her gothic narrative as we see more of what has happened in the past, which has no elements of the gothic in it, than that of the present action, which in itself is not overrun with gothic elements.  This is an obvious a main cause for the lack of definitive genre for her texts.

Davies also states that ‘the romance depicts the life of the aristocracy’ (Davies in Kroll, 1998: 6) which we can see in the mounting cast list in The Haunted Palace.  It has a number of nobles, including Fitzallan ‘the last surviving branch of the house of Fitzallan, of the Kingdom of Ireland’, the Captain ‘the second son of a noble man of very high rank’ (Yorke, 1801: V1, 38 and 92), and the Prince of Bononi and in addition the highly respected Father Gregory and Father Theodore who serve as moral guides and spiritual supports for the young men in their plights for redemption, security and completion of the ceremony of the society of Bononi.  The location of Rome is significant, also, as it was the most important venue for elite gentlemen to visit and reside whilst on their Grand Tour.  We hear of Fitzallan, the Captain and his brother, and the girl on the beach’s brother all having been the Grand Tour.  In addition the fact that society are all residing in a palace, granted a ruinous palace, adds to this idea of the text fitting in with the aristocratic romantic ideal.  My Master’s Secret also sees aristocratic characters in the principle narrator, the Colonel, and Sir John, and well respected members of the society including the Doctor and Captain Beswick.  The residence is also of aristocratic status as it is described as a hall and mansion throughout the text.

Within the romance ideal its characters are always either ‘thoroughly bad or thoroughly good’ (Peace, 2004).  This normally comes in the form of a female and male protagonist, in love, thoroughly pure and of good morals, fighting against the odds to be together, the odds being an antagonist doing whatever he/she can do to impede their love.  We do not see this male/female protagonist partnership but we do see a combination of characters that are thoroughly good and thoroughly bad.  The three main male characters in The Haunted Palace, Fitzallan, the Captain and Father Gregory, all represent different sides of this thoroughly good ideal.  Fitzallan has ended up on the Island of Ventoliene as a result of pursuing Owen to avenge ‘the cause of injured innocence, and saving a suffering sister, and her helpless children, from misery, worse than death’ (Yorke, 1801: V1, 2-3); an honest endeavour to capture a criminal.  The Captain has become the leader of the society of young men repenting their past sins and doing their duty to society.  The Father has brought the men together to repay society and acts as moral guider to all of them.  So, we are given a collection of male protagonists rather than just one, making the novel less of a romance but the ideal is still there.  The novel aspires to promote good over evil, the same as a romance, just in a different way.

My Master’s Secret also does not conform to male/female protagonist style, however, once again, we do see truly good characters.  When the Colonel found the bodies of the father and two children he swore by ‘St. Patrick and the Holy Trinity, that I will avenge thy death, even with my heart’s blood’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 146).  Years later he and his nephew William follow through with the ghost’s requests and are able to avenge their murders and return Captain Beswick to this family, repairing the damage Sir John caused.  We also see a thoroughly good character in the ghost who when he was alive would not break his oath to Sir John ‘Mr Groves used all arguments he was master of, to persuade me to leave off the fatal ring…(but) I promised (Sir John) in the most solemn manner, never to take the ring from my finger’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 223-224), and despite his death would not rest until Sir John’s actions had been redeemed. 

In terms of thoroughly bad characters Owen and Sir John are quite obviously the villains however they are not bad in the context of trying to prevent good from happening but from the point of self gain.  They will not stop, no matter who gets hurts, until they get what they want.  In the case of Owen he does all that he can to get out of his marriage to Mrs Owen.  We see him ‘advance towards her, pale, and trembling with passion, holding in his hand a small pistol; he pointed it at her head, and fired’ (Yorke, 1801: V1, 53-54), and then fakes shock as he says to the doctor, who suspects him of poisoning Mrs Owen and their children ‘You seem as though you suspect me to be guilty of so black a deed’ (Yorke, 1801: V1, 59).  From his death onwards he appears as a ghost causing havoc and terrifying the society.  Sir John, in My Master’s Secret, does everything he can to gain money and riches too.  He starts off just taking money off those people whose houses they ransacked in India ‘I took it, and away we went in search of more’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 177), and then goes on to murder a man and his two children, poison a young girl who he ‘was certain had jewels to a very great amount concealed about her person’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 190) and his final act of betrayal and greed, neglecting passing on Captain Beswick’s letter to Mr Grover.  From looking at the good and bad characters it is clear that they do not fall into the romance ideal however there is a clear sense of pure morals and actions, which makes them thoroughly good characters.  At the end of both texts we see all the male characters in The Haunted Palace paired off and married and Captain Beswick returned to his beloved Julia, in My Master’s Secret, so there is, in theory, a typical romance ending where the thoroughly good characters are rewarded.

The last two points I would like to raise from Davies’s model are that ‘the romance is usually not set in the country of the author but in a remote and exotic location’ and that ‘Romances make clear that they are mixing fact and fiction to create an essentially fictional plot’ (Davies in Kroll, 1998: 6).  This is true of both texts as we see real locations in The Haunted Palace including Rome, Naples, Turin and Florence, as well as England, Wales, Sweden and Paris being mentioned.  On top of this Mount Vesuvius is also made reference to in the opening of volume one.  We also see an exotic fictional location in the Island of Ventoliene.  My Master’s Secret differs slightly in that it is set in London and this is where the ghosts appear butthe histories take place in the East Indies, in particular Calcutta.  It must be noted that in the seventeenth and eighteenth century European countries and the Indies would, to the average British person, have been an exotic location, therefore conforming to the idea of far away locations.  Despite these real locations the texts are quite obviously fiction based as we see their themes being that of ghosts and supernatural occurrences.  I think it is here that comparisons of Yorke’s pieces with the romance ends and as I begin to look the novel it will become clear how she has merged to the two genres.
There was a mixed reception of the novel, a typical example being Charles Gildon who ‘admired the great, established genres of literature-epic, tragedy, odes-he hardly recognised prose fiction as an acceptable mode of writing’ (Novak: 1983: 57).  The novel was a complete transformation from the romance; Johnson described it as being:

…precluded from the machines and expedients of the heroic romance, and can neither employ giants to snatch away a lady from the nuptial rites, nor knights to bring her back from captivity; it can neither bewilder its personages in deserts, nor lodge them in imaginary castles.
(Johnson in Peace, 2004)

These are characteristics that we do not find in Yorke’s texts either, which is what leads me to discuss the characteristics they do have in common with the novel.

Hunter tells us that ‘no single word or phrase distinguishes the novel from romance or from anything else’ (Hunter, 1990: 22), which I think is a very apt description with regards to my examination of Yorke’s two texts.  It is especially difficult when looking at the texts to distinguish exact parts that might individually conform to the romance, novel and the gothic, as Yorke has taken elements from each of them.  Obviously the novel, what was coined as the realist novel, was in theory about real people, with real emotions, in real situations.  It audiences could relate to the characters because they were ordinary like themselves.  Obviously ghosts and spirits appearing are not in keeping with the realist novel but the presentation in both texts is. As with any other literary genre, a number of traits constitute what the novel is and it is these that I am going to look at.

Watt describes one of the characteristics of the novel, as the successor of the romance, as being the ‘rejection of traditional plots’ (Watt, 1957: 13).  In the context of her two pieces this is exactly what Yorke has done but with a twist.  She has rejected the traditional plot of the individual literary genres that would have affected her writing, choosing to use sections from all three literary fields.  She has not taken her plot from ‘mythology, history, legend or previous literature’ (Watt, 1957: 14) but combined a number of genres to create a new plot

My Master’s Secret and The Haunted Palace are similar in that the plots are based around redeeming and avenging the wrong doings of the past.  My Master’s Secret shows the Colonel and his nephew trying to avenge the actions of Sir John.  The ghost tells them of the Captain and his family ‘those oppressed and unfortunate people you must relieve’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 258), as he was unable to.  It is because of Sir John’s actions that the ghost of Holman cannot rest and his spirit haunts the hall of Odin, which brings the present day characters into the history of the previous owner.  This is also true of The Haunted Palace in that as well as the past actions of Owen bringing Fitzallan and the Captain together, we also see the members of the society redeeming their past actions.  On top of this the ghosts of the two women of the past affect the society too.  These are examples of how eighteenth century novels were ‘distinguished from most previous fiction by (the) use of past experience as the cause of present action’ (Watt, 1957: 22).  Defoe’s novel Moll Flanders is an early eighteenth century example of how the past has effected the present.  In Moll’s character we see a first person narrator who is looking back at her past from her present day situation seeking self-redemption and self-justification for the sins of her earlier years; she tells us of her and her husbands ‘resolve to spend the remainder of our years in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived’ (Defoe, 1994: 376).  Despite the differing narrative perspectives, the parallel between Defoe and Yorke’s presentation of the past being the cause of present action is the same.

I think a key relationship between the novel and Yorke’s pieces comes in the form of Henry Mackenzie’s novel The Man of Feeling.  I feel that Yorke, who although was writing some thirty years later, has drawn on the main focus of his novel; that of sensibility.  Yorke has chosen to concentrate her texts on the male characters and the way in which they communicate with each other, their surroundings, their pasts and their present.  We see the main characters relate their histories to the other members of the society and in turn their reactions, which are of equal sentiment to that of Harley’s in The Man of Feeling.  The Monthly Magazine describes sensibility as a ‘particular structure, or habitude of mind, which disposes a man to be easily moved and powerfully affected, by surrounding objects and passing events’ (The Monthly Magazine in Dredge, 2004)).  This is apparent in both texts in particular The Haunted Palace.  On a number of occasions we see members of the society sympathise with the past horrors of their company.  We see the reaction of Father Gregory ‘The tears started into his eyes; he lifted them to heaven, and softly ejaculated a prayer of resignation to the will of his creator.’ (Yorke, 1801: V2, 67), and upon the completion of Parlati’s relation of his story we are told ‘Here the tears streamed again down his face, which affected all, but Price; he was too much hardened in wickedness to feel’ (Yorke, 1801: V2, 220).  The second part of this quote is interesting as obviously Yorke feels that any man that cannot be affected by Parlati’s horrific past and sincere wish and need for redemption is wicked rather than ‘not manly’.  There was controversy when The Man of Feeling was released as to whether Mackenzie had made him too feminine and had created a man who had lost his sense of masculinity.  However, I think Yorke has used this idea of sensibility to give depth to her characters.  Watt states that there was a ‘growing tendency for individual experience to replace collective tradition as the ultimate arbiter of reality’ (Watt, 1957: 14).  This is what Yorke has done in telling us the characters personal histories and the way in which it has affected them and those they relate it to.  Unlike novels, such as Pamela and Evelina, where the whole novel is about their individual experiences, Yorke has chosen to give snippets of her characters lives so that we can see that they have real histories and feelings and are not just two dimensional characters that are there to make up the numbers in the society, but real people.  Having said this the histories are only a fraction of the characters selves and do not follow in the complete ideal of novel which is that it is ‘distinguished from other genres and from previous forms of fiction by the amount of attention it habitually accords…to the individualisation of its characters’ (Watt, 1957: 17-18).
Yorke has used this idea of sensibility in her male characters to allow the reader to relate to them and feel the pain and suffering they have caused and endured.  I think this is the closest she can get to making her characters look sincere about their reasons for being part of the Society of Bononi without focusing the story on one individual’s plight and without giving up her position as the omniscient narrator.  Which leads me onto another recognisable trait Yorke’s texts have in common with the eighteenth century novel but also the romance; the narrative form.  The inset tales create an interesting narrative sequence in both texts.  Davies tells us ‘novels of the eighteenth century tend to be written in the first person or in letter form; romances are never written in these forms’ (Davies in Kroll, 1998: 6).  Once again Yorke blurs these contrasting ideas.  In My Master’s Secret she is especially cunning in her narrative technique as she uses the opening ‘business of considerable importance some few years since drew an old and much valued friend of a Colonel Melimon to London’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 1) as a disguise to take on the role of omniscient narrator but at the same time she uses the characters within his story as an opportunity to illustrate the eighteenth century first person narrative technique.  We see this at the start of the text when the Doctor begins his inset first person narrative ‘I was first sent for to attend him in the month of December’ (Yorke, 1805: V1 62), the ghost then takes over part of the narrative in the first person as he starts off saying ‘you have been further informed of a young man whom he constantly kept in a kind of bondage near his person…that young man I once was’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 157).  A considerable part of the second volume is taken up by Captain Beswick’s story, as I have already mentioned, but what makes this worthy of note is the fact that Beswick’s story comes in the form of a manuscript, ‘The life of Frederick Beswick…written at the request of his amiable and beloved Julia’ (Yorke, 1805: V2, 10) making it of a similar first person narrative style to the epistolary and diary forms found in eighteenth century novels such as Moll Flanders or the entries found in Joseph Andrews.

As a last point of comparison with the eighteenth century novel I would like to pick up on a characteristic mentioned by Hunter, ‘novels seriously engage ideas, at their best allowing some theme or governing idea to pull together every thread of narrative and connect every digressive loose end’ (Hunter, 1990: 24).  My Master’s Secret and The Haunted Palace are exact example of this. The whole story line in My Master’s Secret is based around tying up the loose ends that the formidable Sir John had left behind.  However, within this grand narrative there are numerous clichéd moments that could only happen to further and tie up an unbelievable plot.  For example what are the chances of the Colonel taking a sketch of the bodies of a murdered father and children ‘I took a sketch of the surrounding objects: the face of the man particularly struck me, and I took an exact likeness as the blood upon it would permit’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 147) and then years later ending up living in the murderers old house, which it haunts, and then having to avenge his actions?  The text is full of coincidences like this that tie up all the loose ends and leave the reader knowing everything has come together in the way it should.  The Haunted Palace is also about pulling the narrative together; firstly completing the ceremony of the society of Bononi and the burial of the women, Father Gregory ‘offered up his thanks to Heaven, for having finally completed the work they were enjoined’ (Yorke, 1801: V3, 32); and secondly, inevitably, the marriages of the male characters, where we are told ‘few, very few, bid so fair for lasting happiness’ (Yorke, 1801: V3, 293).

‘It was not until the 1790s that the Gothic became a major force in English fiction…generally to the disgust of contemporary reviewers’ (Richter, 1996: 1), which is the same kind of reception the novel first received.  It is described as ‘a writing of excess’ (Botting, 1996: 1) a quote that I think can be applied to many of the gothic novels that were circulating throughout the gothic period which extended from Walpole in 1764 to the 1820’s although ‘these dates seem arbitrary’ (Botting, 1996: 15).  According to historians and literary critics it seems that the content and conventions of the ‘gothic period’ are not and cannot be agreed upon and categorised.  Richter believes ‘there is no reason to suppose that every convention of the Gothic will be unique to the Gothic’ (Richter, 1996: 6) which makes looking at Yorke’s texts in relation to the gothic genre just as difficult as that of the romance and the novel.  However, having looked at numerous characteristics that critics have applied to gothic novels it is clear that Yorke’s texts can be categorised within the gothic form.  This clichéd recipe sums up a lot of the early gothic material.

Take – An old castle, half of it ruinous.
Along gallery, with a great many doors, some secret ones.
Three murdered bodies, quite fresh.
As many skeletons, in chests and presses…
Mix them together, in the form of three volumes, to be taken at any
of the watering-places before going to bed
(Anon. in Botting, 1996: 44)

This is exactly what Yorke has done in her first text The Haunted Palace.  As a starting point she opens it with descriptions of the palace.  She has obviously drawn on the contemporary gothic architecture that was around her as well as other gothic novelists descriptions.  She describes numerous parts of the palace, which has the features of a castle, as Fitzallan and his man walk through it, including  ‘vaulted roof’, ‘parts of mutilated statues…destroyed more by the violence of man, or a convulsion of nature than the hand of time’ and they ‘opened a door on one side of the gallery, descended about twenty steps, then passed along a dark passage, and crossed a large room…which was surrounded on all sides with military stores’ (Yorke, 1801: V1, 20-24).  These are very similar to the descriptions we are given as Hippolita tries to escape the castle in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.

She recollected a subterraneous passage, which led from the vaults of the castle to the church of St. Nicholas…she seized a lamp, that burned at the foot of the staircase, and hurried towards the secret passage.
(Walpole, 2004: 35)

However, unlike the stereotypical gothic novel, where ‘the owner of the castle is trying to conceal a secret upon which his continued ownership depends’ (Ferguson Ellis, 1989: 37) the palace is haunted by the spirits of the two ladies who just want to be properly put to rest.

In My Master’s Secret we see a modernised version of the gothic castle, it being replaced by ‘one of the most beautiful and romantic spots the vicinity of London affords…(a) mansion of happiness and peace’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 2-3).  Obviously the hall is not just that, as ‘in May and June, his worship’s soul, with a posse of devils, do come and play such mad tricks’ (Yorke, 1805: V1, 10) and it was built from the profits of a murderer and villain.  Despite this Yorke does not present an eerie, dark, mysterious castle to reflect the hall’s past but instead a realistic home that her readers could relate too, therefore making the novel psychologically more scary and once again blurring the lines of the novel and gothic genre.

The use of supernatural beings in both texts obviously fits into the Gothic tradition.  It is a prolific trait throughout the eighteenth century gothic novel.  An excellent comparison for The Haunted Palace is Lewis’s The Monk.  His description at the end of the novel of Matilda as she leaves Ambrosio ‘A cloud of blue fire wrapped itself around her.  She waved her hand…and disappeared’ (Lewis, 2003: 283), is remarkably similar to Yorke’s description of Owen and St. Prie when they appear to Fitzallan and the Captain‘At this, a sulphurous flame enveloped them both, and in it they vanished’ (Yorke, 1801: V2, 139).  It is clear Yorke has drawn on her contemporaries to create a gothic ambience in her books.  Once again however it almost feels as though My Master’s Secret has moved on from The Haunted Palace and Yorke has used a more realistic approach in her depiction of the ghosts that come to visit the Colonel.  The skeleton of Holman fulfils the early gothic criteria but unlike the extravagant entrances and startling presence of the ghosts and spirits in The Haunted Palace we are given a ghost that excluding appearance has all the attributes of a human.  Therefore within this text you are more able to apply the idea of real characters finding themselves in extraordinary positions and situations.  The characters are in a ‘civilised’ world unlike those of The Haunted Palace making the plot that much more realistic and believable.

A small point of comparison with another gothic novel is that of Radcliffe’s The Italian.  There are obviously a number of points that do not match up such as the inclusion of the sublime, the gothic romance and so on, however we do see a similar use of meta language.  Throughout her novel we see her cite Shakespeare ‘The bell then beating one!’ ‘-Is it not dead midnight?  Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh, What do I fear?’ (Shakespeare in Radcliffe, 1981: 70 and 325). Yorke is equal in her inclusion of other people and their work in The Haunted Palace.  At the beginning of volume two the Captain explains to Fitzallan how Father Gregory ‘follows in all things the doctrines of Arbatel, Dee and others, whose magical principles are well know’ (Yorke, 1801: V2, 15), he also mentions that ‘the nine muses are called in Hesiod the ninth magic, as he manifestly testifieth of himself in theogony’ (Yorke, 1801: V2, 62) he then goes on to talk of spirits, angels and spectres he says ‘Among the English authors, of the present day, who support my system, may be reckoned the great Milton, Addison, Boyle, Birchell, Littleton, and many others, who have written on metaphysical subjects’ (Yorke, 1801: V2, 153).  My Master’s Secret unlike The Haunted Palace does not need the justification or authentication that Father Gregory needs to support his explanations for the appearance of the two spirits of Owen and St. Prie.

As I go on to talk about the classification of the genre her texts fall into, a starting point I must pick up on is the above quote ‘the present day authors’; which on inspection of the names would be the seventeenth century.  This confirms the reason for the mixed characteristics of the romance, novel, and gothic.  Yorke has chosen to set The Haunted Palace in the seventeenth century so she could authenticate her use of the features of the romance, such as the lengthy narrative and plot, aristocratic links and far-off locations but combine them with the unique lack of protagonist/antagonist partnership, and sentiment of the male characters and reject the traditional plot for that of a gothic related tale.  As I have shown throughout the essay both texts have the same characteristics in each genre however My Master’s Secret has been modernised, I believe, to suit a more modern society.  Yorke has reduced it to two volumes, making it a lot less tiresome to read especially in comparison with the lack of present day action that we see in The Haunted Palace, and set the action in the heart of London, therefore making the story a lot more plausible and more intimidating as it is a lot closer to home than the exotic location of Rome.  However the ending is not the most realistic, the Captain turning out to still be alive and on the same boat as his long lost brother.  However it does seem more realistic than all the lead male characters suddenly marrying ladies they met only weeks, not months, before.  The differences between the two though do not affect the fact that their genres are still blurred in the context eighteenth century literary world.

I think to put Yorke’s texts into context there must be an insight into the reading public and awareness at the time she was writing.  Watt states

Until 1740 a substantial marginal section of the reading public was held back from a full participation in the literary scene by the high price of books; and further, that this marginal section was largely composed of potential novel readers, many of them women.
(Watt, 1957: 43)

When Yorke was writing and her novels being published ‘a wide readership was assured by the existence of cheap reprints and numerous circulating libraries from which they could be borrowed’ (Norton (ed), 2000: VII).  It was these kind of libraries that Yorke’s texts were to be found as Turner says they ‘were undoubtedly an important force behind the growing demand for women’s fiction’ (Turner, 1994: 134).  Due to the lack of reviews and information about Yorke and her texts it is clear that both The Haunted Palace and My Master’s Secret were the kind of texts that were there just to fill up the shelves.  They were from my reading of the texts not great literary works and as Richter tells us ‘by far the greatest part of (gothic novels produced) was trash’ (Richter, 1996: 1).  I am not sure that Yorke’s were trash as such as she had obviously researched her material and gone to great lengths to produce well thought out pieces but they are in my opinion just run of the mill style books.

I think the lack of a fixed defined genre would not, at the time she was writing, have been of any importance to those that read it.  Clery tells us that ‘as the demand for Gothic increased, it would gradually come to matter less whether the text in question was historically authentic, or simply ‘in the style of’’ (Clery, 1995: 90).  This works in Yorke’s favour as she chose to use the gothic as a cover for texts that had their ‘insides’ drawn from contemporary as well as previous genres.  Having said this though, Botting summaries the gothic novel as possessing a:

broad, if strange, continuity in the way it draws inspiration, plots and techniques from medieval romances and poetry, from ballads and folklore, from Renaissance writing, especially Shakespearean drama and Spenserian poetry, as well as from various seventeenth- and eighteenth-century prose forms.
(Botting, 1996: 16)

According to Botting, Yorke, despite seeming like she has hidden her work behind the gothic facade, has in fact kept in keeping with what the gothic tradition apparently was.  Therefore I think trying to define and categorise the genre of her two pieces is impossible, as she has drawn on so many areas of eighteenth century literary characteristics.  However what she has done is written two books that would have pleased the masses, and despite the length and inaction of the present storyline, the texts are agreeable and a relaxing read.

The primary motivation for most Gothic writers was the joy of literary creation.  The Gothic novel creates, above all, a very literary world.
(Norton (ed), 2000: XII)