WILLIAM BECKFORD (17591844)
Beckford wrote two parodies of the Gothic romance, Modern Novel Writing, or, The Elegant Enthusiast (1796) by ‘Lady Harriet Marlow’, and Azemia (1797), subtitled ‘A Novel: Containing Imitations of the Manner, Both in Prose and Verse, of Many of the Authors of the Present Day’. Azemia was published under the pseudonym J.A.M. Jenks; the editor of the Biographical Dictionary of Living Authors in 1816, perhaps colluding in the joke, identified her as Miss Jacquetta Agneta Mariana Jenks, of Bellegrove Priory, Wales. Some contemporary critics, and Hester Lynch Piozzi, believed the author to be Robert Merry, the famous ‘Della Cruscan’ poet. The novel has a clever appendix containing anticipatory reviews, written in the style of each of the leading literary journals. The heroine Azemia is a native of Constantinople (giving Beckford an opportunity to indulge his Arabic interests), in search of romantic adventure in Britain. The following incident takes place in the grounds of an English country house.
(Copyright 2000, 2020 Rictor Norton)
Wrapt in this sad but soothing contemplation, as in a pelisse, she advanced till it grew late, and a wheelbarrow, left there by the carelessness of the under gardener, obstructed an opening path apparently designed to lead to some place (as most paths do, except in novels); its winding turns serpentined imperceptibly up an easy ascent: she was roused from her reverie by finding herself at the top of the hill, where, contrary to all expectation, she beheld a mausoleum of black marble, which put her extremely in mind of a mosque or a minaret in her own country. (The ideas of these two things were not very distinct in her own mind.) She did not greatly enjoy the discovery, for it was now almost dark; and though the moon could not choose but rise on one side, the sun had entirely sunk on the other.
To attain the masculine force and strong colouring of the great Dramatist and Novelist of the present day, Mr. [Richard] Cumberland, was quite beyond my slender attainment; but I have paid a due tribute to his taste, sagacity, and knowledge of womankind. Thrown at a great distance from the most engaging models among my own sex, I yet look up with more confidence to attain, at some future day, a seat on that point of Parnassus where they hold such eminent rank. In this hope I have sometimes assumed the stately step with which the pupils of the Burney school follow in solemn, yet inadequate march, their inimitable leader. This, however, I have attempted in style only. I have not seen enough of the world to sketch even in the way of a scholar, such admirable characters. With less dissidence, though still with greater humility, I have ventured with shuddering feet into the World of Spirits, in modest emulation of the soul-petrifying Ratcliffe [Ann Radcliffe] but, alas!
Within that circle none dare walk but she.
Even if I had ever had the fortune to see a real natural ghost, I could never describe it with half the terrific apparatus that fair Magician can conjure up in some dozen or two of pages, interspersed with convents, arches, pillars, cypresses, and banditti-bearing cliffs, beetling over yawning and sepulchral caverns. Her pictures,
can only be faintly copied; to rival them is impossible. I own I do not feel quite so disheartened, when I try at making something like the luminous page of Mrs. Mary Robinson: I even flatter myself that I have, in more than one instance, caught the air of probability so remarkable in her delectable histories, as well as her glowing description and applicable metaphors.Dark as Poussin, and as Salvator wild,
To Mrs. [Susannah] Gunning’s Novels, and those of her amiable daughter [Elizabeth Gunning], I owe all in these little volumes that pretends to draw the characters and manners of high life. With due humility and trepidation I have seized the mimic pencil: I feel that I cannot wield it with their happy freedom and felicity faut d’usage. . . .
From the parterres of Miss [Harriet or Sophia] Lee, Mrs. [Elizabeth] Inchbald, and Mrs. [Charlotte] Smith, I have culled here and there a flower; and I should have enlarged my bouquet with buds and blossoms of other very agreeable writers, of whom I could make (like Mr. Pratt) a very respectable list, if I could have induced my publisher to have allowed my work to be enlarged to what I intended it, viz. six very large volumes. . . .
[SOURCE: J.A.M. Jenks [i.e. William Beckford], Azemia, A Novel, 2nd edn, 2 vols (London: Sampson Low, 1798), vol. 2, pp. 89q150;93, 23640]
Return to Index of Gothic Readings