Elizabeth Bonhote (1744-1818)

Our Price: $14.95 (£9.95)

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Availability: April 2006 

Format: Perfect Bound, pp. 236 

Original Publication: 1796 




      Life at Bungay Castle seems ideal for the De Morney family.  Nestled in the abundant countryside of Suffolk, Bungay Castle’s massive towers reach for blue skies and its solid stone walls are firmly planted in the earth - but all that’s about to change.  Strong winds from a violent storm bring the sound of chilling, ghostly cries located far below the castle’s floors. The young De Morneys, Roseline and Edwin, begin a frightening search through the ancient subterranean passageways to discover the cause. Among the dark haunted dungeons, they discover a secret from their family’s past that will forever change their lives.  Cob-webbed passageways lit by a single candle, rotting caskets, ghostly sightings, and a mysterious mournful cry are just a few of the abundant gothic surprises in store for all who dare to wander beyond the castle’s locked doors.

       Firmly rooted in the Domestic Gothic tradition, Elizabeth Bonhote’s rediscovered 1796 classic is a treasure chest of gothic elements. Combining romance, mystery, seduction, and betrayal, Bungay Castle  revises and reinvents the tradition of the trapped female heroine.  As we follow Roseline’s journey, we become aware of one of the novel’s most unique aspects: it is a surprisingly feminist novel- a rare achievement in the eighteenth century gothic genre.  Rather than waiting to be rescued by men, the young women of Bungay castle achieve agency over their lives, refuse patriarchal orders, and become the rescuing heroines. An exemplary blend of sentiment, romance and the gothic, this reprint is a welcome and long overdue addition to the bookshelves of academics, subway riders, goths, and anyone longing to rediscover the joy of a great read.




      Elizabeth Bonhote (nee Mapes),  was born into a family of small-town grocers in rural Suffolk. Her father, James Mapes, (1714 – 1794) was disappointed in having no sons in the early years of his marriage. He therefore decided to provide Elizabeth, his eldest surviving child, with a better education than girls could normally expect in the Georgian period.     

        Whatever her schooling may have comprised, Eliza supplemented it with extensive reading and grew up to become a well-educated and cultured young lady. In her guide to the education of the young, The Parental Monitor, published in 1788, she provides a list of authors she could personally recommend. It includes poems, novels, and plays by authors such as Young, Cowley, Burney, and Richardson, and Addison and Steele’s The Spectator, a celebrated literary periodical of the period. 

        Eliza’s earliest literary efforts were verses, which she continued to produce throughout her life. Some were published in the provincial newspapers that flourished in the period, such as the Norwich Mercury, the Norfolk Chronicle, or the Ipswich Journal. The poems were generally written to commemorate national or local events, and she also composed addresses in verse for public recitation at the Bungay Theatre, which attracted large audiences during its three or four week summer season.

        Eliza’s first more ambitious work was a novel, Hortensia, or, The Distressed Wife, published in 1769, anonymously. At the age of 28 she married Daniel Bonhote, a young attorney, who had arrived in Bungay to take up a position with the wealthy local solicitor, Henry Negus. His personal circumstances were respectable enough to please Eliza’s parents. In addition, it was revealed that Daniel was illegitimate, but of noble birth, and this delighted Eliza, for it made him seem like a hero from a romantic novel. Daniel and Eliza were married in Bungay in 1772, and set up home in a smart Georgian house in the centre of the town. Shortly after the marriage, Eliza published her second novel, The Rambles of Mr. Frankly, in 1772. It sold so well that in 1797 it was reprinted with additions by the Minerva Press.

        Eliza’s writing career was subsequently interrupted for a prolonged period following illness caused by pregnancy. Three children, Eliza, John, and Susan were born between 1773 and 1777. It was not until 1787 that a further novel was completed and published, Olivia, or, The Deserted Bride, a novel of domestic virtue inculcating sentiments. In 1788 she published an educational guide, The Parental Monitor. It was issued as a subscription edition and ran to three editions, was published in Dublin, and posthumously in America. Eliza subsequently published three more fictional works, that reflected the contemporary taste for novels of family life.

        In 1792 Daniel Bonhote purchased Bungay Castle at the request of Eliza. There she erected a summer-house somewhere on the spot, where she spent many a tranquil hour, day-dreaming about the ancient ruin and its fabled history. Very soon she determined to write a novel on that very theme. It was to be a departure from her previous works, a novel in the Gothic style, made popular by other female authors such as Clara Reeve (The Old English Baron, 1777), and Ann Radcliffe (The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794).

         Eliza’s novel, Bungay Castle, produced in two volumes by the Minerva Press in 1796, sold well, and established her as one of the publisher’s best-selling authors. It was the last novel she wrote. In 1804, Daniel died, very suddenly in his 56th year, after a short illness. Her last publication was, Feeling, or, Sketches from Life: a Desultory Poem, 1810. Bonhote died at Bungay on June 11th, 1818, aged seventy four.


DURING the bloody period of the Baron’s wars, when civil discord threw her fire-brands around, to lay waste and make desolate the fertile plains and fruitful fields of this long envied country; when the widow mourned the husband torn from her embraces, and the orphan wandered friendless and unprotected; when brother waged war against brother, and the parent raised his arm to destroy the son he had reared and cherished; when every castle was kept in a state of the most guarded defence, lest it should be wrested from its owner by the ambition and enmity of his neighbour:—then it was that Bungay Castle reared its proud towers and battlements aloft; while its massy walls stood in gloomy and majestic grandeur, as if they could bid defiance to every design formed against them by man, and to the more certain influence of all-conquering time; so perfectly stupendous and strong was this once-spacious edifice, it was not only an object of desire to the proud and aspiring barons, but, it has been said, even to contending kings.

       The noble and loyal lord of this castle, being called upon to fill some important office in the service of the state, appointed Sir Philip de Morney to be governor during his absence, and never had he shewn the goodness of his heart and the excellence of his judgment more than in the delegation of his power and authority over so numerous a train of vassals and dependents to this his bosom friend.

Sir Philip de Morney was a bold and hardy veteran: he was grown grey in the service of his king and country; brave in the field, just, merciful, and benevolent, in his dealings with all his fellow-creature,—possessed of an abundant fortune, he accepted this important trust to oblige his friend, and promote the happiness of those to whom he knew he was attached;—fond of an active and useful life, he wished not to sink into indolence or obscurity, till the infirmities of age should render him incapable of taking his share in the busy scenes of that important period, in which, though the pernicious doctrine of equality did not influence the minds of the vulgar against their lawful sovereign, or the rights of the subject, the ambition of the nobility, and the feuds and distraction of the contending parties, produced scenes of misery equally distressing, but happily not so extensive in their effects.

      Into Bungay Castle he removed with his whole family, and there for some years found that happiness he had vainly sought in more enlivening scenes; and there he tasted those serene and contented pleasures he had been unable to procure in the world; though formed to make a brilliant figure on its great stage, he had every endowment of the mind for the true enjoyment of domestic life, uniting with the most unshaken courage the gentlest philanthropy. He had married at an age of thirty-five a lady much younger than himself, by whom he had several children, and looked forward with the hope of being the parent of a more numerous offspring, while, like the patriarchs of old, he lived respected and revered in the bosom of his family. Ah! little did he suspect the revolution ambition would one day make in his mind.


Curt Herr has an MA in Literature from The College of New Jersey and an M.Phil from New York City's Fordham University. He teaches world drama, British literature, and Gothic literature in the Honors program at Kutztown University. He is the artistic director of The Langhorne Players, a non-profit theatre company dedicated to producing new plays.

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