Northanger Abbey is the first novel written by Jane Austen. Finished in 1803, it was not actually published until 1817, after her death. The heroine of the novel, Catherine Morland, is keen on Gothic fiction and begins to expect her life to work on the same lines as the novels she reads, especially on a visit to the old estate of her love interest, Henry Tilney. Austen skilfully parodies the Gothic novel, as well as satirising high society and its view of marriage.
The ‘tirade’ referred to here is uttered by Henry Tilney, Catherine’s eventual husband, in response to her describing Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho as ‘the nicest book in the world’:
‘"Very true," said Henry, "and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement—people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word."’
(Chapter 14). Find the full text of Northanger Abbey here.
The Egyptian Hall was built on Piccadilly in 1812 by commission of William Bullock who wanted a museum for his private collection. Peter Frederick Robinson designed the building with a neo-classical façade but Egyptian décor throughout, including paintings, statues and ornamentation. Originally a museum and exhibition hall, from 1825 onwards it became a popular entertainment venue as well. Magicians and spiritualists performed regularly, which led it to eventually become known as England’s Home of Mystery by the end of the nineteenth century. In 1905 it was pulled down to be replaced with offices and blocks of flats.
Calvert Street and Paisley Street are listed in a Victorian street index, but do not exist today. Most likely they have become Calvert Avenue and Palissy Street – two roads leading into the Boundary Estate, a housing project built on the site of the former Old Nichol Slum and opened in 1900.
Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) was an English author, widely considered to be the first Gothic novelist. Very little is known about her life as she never appeared in public but her novels were influential for many other writers, including Jane Austen and Edgar Allen Poe. She published six novels: The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Romance of the Forest, A Sicilian Romance, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, Gaston de Blondeville and The Italian. She pioneered the technique of explained Gothicism, whereby the supernatural events of the novel are rationally explained at its close with reason prevailing over the terrifying – this made the Gothic novel respectable in the late eighteenth century. Radcliffe had a romantic style, with wild landscapes and long journeys playing major roles in her writing, and she also put large emphasis on morals and women’s rights.
Read some of Radcliffe’s novels online at Project Gutenberg.
St Sepulchre was an old parish, half within and half outside London. The inner half was abolished in 1907 and the outer half, which became part of Finsbury, in 1915. St-Sepulchre-without-Newgate, as the inner part of the parish was officially known, is an Anglican church which is now in Holborn. The largest parish church in London, it was founded in Saxon times but has been rebuilt and remodelled several times during its life. Just opposite the Old Bailey (formerly Newgate Prison), the church bell would ring to mark the execution of a prisoner on the prison gallows. This led it to be christened ‘the bells of Old Bailey’, as one of the ‘Cockney bells’ of London in the rhyme Oranges and Lemons:
Say the bells of St. Clement's.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!
Illuminated manuscripts date back to the Roman period, but are most commonly associated with the Medieval Ages, from which there are most surviving replicas. Illumination varied from single letters – capitals, usually the first of each page or a paragraph – which were ornamented by pictures in and around the shape of the letter, marginal decorations or whole-page illustrations. Up until the twelfth century, most manuscripts were illuminated in monasteries, either on commission or to add to the library. Larger monasteries had special rooms set aside for the purpose, called the scriptorium – here the scholars could work undisturbed on their manuscripts which could take years to complete.
The majority of illuminated texts are religious books, as it was a lengthy and costly process and only the most important books were deemed worthy of it – the Bible, the Gospels or psaltars. However, by the fourteenth century commercial scriptoria had sprung up in towns, especially in Paris, Italy and the Netherlands, were both men and women were employed in illuminating religious and secular books for wealthy patrons. The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 meant that books could be mass-produced, and with this advancement the painstaking process of letter illumination died out.
Technically, a manuscript can only be described as ‘illuminated’ if gold or silver was used in the decoration, but it has become an umbrella term for all ornamented manuscripts of Western origin.
The Pyramids are Ancient Egyptian burial mounds, built on the west bank of the River Nile – the land of the setting sun and therefore the realm of the dead. The final resting place of the pharaohs, the Pyramids were highly complex structures, containing labyrinths of narrow passages and chambers inside them for the mummified body of the deceased, as well as their worldly belongings which would accompany them to the afterlife. It is not exactly clear why the Pyramids were shaped as they are – many believe that they point towards the heavens and would therefore help to direct the pharaoh’s soul there.
The Pyramids are Egypt’s most famous attraction, particularly those just outside Cairo at Giza (view on PyramidCam). The Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is the oldest and the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing. Some of the Pyramids are amongst the largest structures in the world – it took teams of up to 100,000 men years to build them. 139 Pyramids have been discovered in Egypt to this date, some standing for more than 4,500 years: all of them marvels of engineering and human perseverance.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1579-1821) was a French military general and political leader. In the latter stages of the French Revolution he rose to power, staging a coup in 1799 and taking power of the country as First Consul – in 1804 he became Napoleon I, Emperor of France. Most famous for his dreams of expansion, he engaged in the Napoleonic Wars, a series of wars with every major European power. Victorious at first, he established deep-seated control of much of mainland Europe and attempted to spread the ideals of the Revolution. However, his invasion of Russia in 1812 damaged the army badly and he was forced to retreat; a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and some German states eventually defeated him and exiled him to the island of Elba. Within a year he had escaped and returned to power, only to be defeated by the British at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He lived out the rest of his life in British confinement on the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean.
During his lifetime, Napoleon was seen as a tyrant – parents used to frighten their children with tales of ‘the bogeyman’. He also suffered a lot of bad press in Britain, predicted as comically shorter than average: this has led to the term Napoleon complex, meaning a man of small stature who tries to make up for it by being aggressive. On the other hand, he is also seen as a military and political genius, and the Napoleonic Wars are still studied today as examples of military strategy. He has been the subject of thousands of books, articles and films since his death.
After the opening of the Egyptian Hall, an exhibition of Napoleonic era objects were displayed, including the carriage belonging to the Emperor which had been taken at the Battle of Waterloo. It was a huge success, attracting around 220,000 visitors during its display.
Cleopatra VII (69–30 BC) was the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. Although there were six other queens called Cleopatra before her, she is undoubtedly the most famous and often referred to simply by her first name. Ruling at first with her father and her two brothers (to whom she was married, according to the customs of Ancient Egypt), she then became queen in her own right. Her fabled extraordinary beauty made her a conquest of Julius Caesar, Roman Emperor, with whom she had a son, Caesarion. After Caesar’s assassination in 44BC she supported and had a relationship with Mark Antony, producing three children. Antony opposed Octavian, Caesar’s legal heir (later Emperor Augustus) which led to a civil war and Antony’s eventual defeat. He committed suicide and Cleopatra followed; according to legend she allowed an asp to bite her, to avoid the indignation of being taken by Octavian’s triumphant troops.
Cleopatra has become a main figure of popular myth in the Western world, on account of her beauty, power and tragic death. The subject of many works of art, the most famous portrayals of her life are in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Massenet’s opera Cléopâtre and the 1963 film Cleopatra.
The Royal Academy of Arts is a London institution of art. It was founded by King George III in 1768 to promote British art and design through education and exhibition. Since its founding it has been a privately-funded venture run by some of the country’s best artists and architects. Founding members included Thomas Gainsborough, Mary Moser and Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was the Academy’s first President.
The first exhibition held at the Royal Academy was in summer 1769 – the Summer Exhibition has been held every year since. The school of the Royal Academy has always offered free tuition taught by eminent artists, and has produced some of Britain’s most well-known talents such as Constable and Turner. Sixty students are currently taught on the three-year postgraduate course.