Barretts The Heroine as Comic Gothic
Avril Horner & Sue Zlosnik
Eaton Stannard Barrett's The Heroine
has traditionally been read as a reactionary text. In problematizing
this received status, however, we are not simply aiming
to recuperate Barrett's novel into a more politically correct
framework by focusing on a potentially subversive subtext.
Rather, we seek to raise questions concerning the nature
of parody, particularly in relation to three elements: its
historical moment of production, its engagement with a particular
textual tradition and the way in which different readers
construct meaning from a parodic work. Parodic texts tend
to have been read as limited in their significance, their
very provenance in another work constraining the critic's
engagement with wider issues; they are therefore frequently
dismissed as low comedy at best or parasitic or reactionary
at worst.  For
example, in his introduction to the 1909 edition of Barrett's
novel, Walter Raleigh writes disparagingly of parody; while
acknowledging that certain writers transcend their own intention
to write parody, he states that in Barrett's case 'it cannot
be claimed that he proved superior to the task which he
A typically dismissive comment on parody, Raleigh's judgement
of Barrett's work fails to acknowledge the complexity of
Barrett's engagement with both the social issues of his
time and with the wider streams of Romanticism. We wish
to argue here, however, that the accomplished parodic text
does not merely react to another text or genre (although
that may be its starting point); rather, it forms part of
a sophisticated cultural dialogue in which humour and wit
assert themselves. We would argue that parody, as a complex
form of textual response and negotiation, and as a subgenre
of comedy, carries a freight of ideological ambivalence
which is always as culturally significant as the issues
raised by the 'serious' source which it burlesques.
Such an approach
to parody is inevitably informed by contemporary theoretical
Linda Hutcheon, for example, links the double-coding characteristic
of post-modernism to the double-coding inherent in parody.
Hutcheon challenges the assumption that parody's double-coding
always results in comic form, preferring to characterise
parody as 'repetition with critical difference'. 
Rose suggests that Hutcheon's 'virtual elimination of the
comic from parody […] may be described […] as
a "late-modern" reaction to the modern description of parody
as burlesque comedy which has divided parody from the comic
rather than reunited the latter with the parody's more intertextual
The status of The Heroine as a comic text has never
been in doubt, nor has its overt and covert debt to other
texts. What has not been acknowledged in its critical reception
to date is the way in which both of these aspects of the
novel create a textual space in which alternative modes
of being and thinking are given free rein. The 'critical
difference' afforded by Barrett's playful engagement with
the popular fiction of his time opens up serious issues
relating to national and gendered identities. The post-modern
feminist reader may still laugh at Barrett's comedy but
it is with the knowledge that beneath the farce and grotesquery
lie both poignant truths about the social and economic status
of early nineteenth-century women and an emotionally freighted
history of women as readers which are not to be dismissed
as lightly as the novel's closure seems to suggest.
1813, The Heroine quite clearly draws on the content
and conventions of other texts as a way of creating its
comic effects. More specifically, the contrivances and contraptions
of Gothic novels are much in evidence as the eponymous heroine
turns her back on a humdrum rural existence and embarks
upon a set of picaresque adventures. While Jane Austen's
Northanger Abbey (1818) has long been enjoyed as
an entertaining engagement with the Gothic (first as a burlesque
and more recently as a subtle appropriation of Gothic conventions
for the purpose of exploring dark but mundane truths ),
Barrett's The Heroine has fallen into obscurity.
Austen's famous novel begins with the words, 'No one who
had seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed
her born to be an heroine'.  Barrett's
'heroine', Cherry Wilkinson, is a similarly unlikely candidate
for the role; like Catherine Morland, she is a novel reader
but one who wilfully sets out to adopt an identity modelled
on the fictional heroines she has encountered. The result
is that the story of Cherry's adventures, like those of
Catherine Morland, bears a parodic relationship to the novels
of her time.
is a novel in the form of letters from a young woman
to her governess. Cherry is the rosy-cheeked daughter of
Gregory Wilkinson, a farmer; her head turned by her reading
of Gothic and sentimental literature, she misconstrues a
'frightful fragment' of a copy of a lease as proof that
she is descended from the Willoughbys of nearby Gwyn Castle.
Changing her name to Cherubina de Willoughby, she therefore
leaves home (thereby causing her father great distress)
and sets off to claim her inheritance on a journey which
initially takes her, a country innocent, into the less than
respectable echelons of London society and into the company
of disreputable theatre folk. Various masquerades and deceptions
on the part of her new companions ensue, including one of
them presenting himself, in cod middle English, as Wylome
Eftsoones, an 'ancient and loyal vassal' (p. 142) of
the Willoughby family, and thus furthering Cherry's delusions
of nobility. Followed by this train of fortune-seekers and
by genuine admirers, she fails in her aim to 'reclaim' Gwyn
Castle, but does manage to 'capture' Monkton Castle, which
is not much more than a ruin and which (strongly influenced
by her reading) she decks out as a Gothic abode. In short,
she acts out the role of a heroine. After many adventures,
she is brought to her senses, re-united with her father
and is 're-educated' by 'an exemplary pastor' and by one
Robert Stuart. The latter, formerly her father's ward and
a sensible man of property, eventually rewards her 'conversion'
back to reality with a proposal of marriage.
readers find the witty one-liners and what Emma Clery and
Robert Miles have described as 'the delirious silliness'
of Cherry's adventures very entertaining; 
it was also greatly admired as a comic work by Barrett's
contemporaries. Hugely popular in the decade after it was
published, The Heroine has been undeservedly out
of print since 1927. It was described in The Biographical
Dictionary of the Living Authors of Great Britain and Ireland
(1816) as 'not inferior in wit and humour to Tristram
Shandy, and in point of plot and interest infinitely
beyond Don Quixote'. 
Jane Austen, in a letter dated 2 March 1814, comments: 'I
finished The Heroine last night and was very much
amused by it […] It diverted me exceedingly […]
I have torn through the third volume […] I do not
think it falls off. It is a delightful burlesque particularly
on the Radcliffe style'. 
An essay on The Heroine, published in the Southern
Literary Messenger in 1835, and thought to have been
written by Edgar Allan Poe, describes Barrett's novel as
never having had 'attracted half that notice on the part
of the critical press, which is undoubtedly its due'. 
Devendra Varma claims to admire the novel but almost damns
it with faint praise by describing it as 'perhaps the best
work of the reactionary school'. 
It would seem, then, that nineteenth-century readers were
more open to the delights and significance of parody than
early twentieth-century critics who tended to dismiss it
as a parasitic and inferior literary form. However, for
the late twentieth-century reader, schooled in post-modern
irony and aware that meaning is created by the reader's
interaction with the text, The Heroine can present
itself as a work that moves skilfully between the discourses
of Romanticism, sensibility and the Gothic in order to produce
a witty and penetrating analysis of the literature and culture
of its time. In so doing, it foregrounds the problematic
nature of the relationship between the text and the reader,
the fictional and the 'real', and the interchange between
literary constructs and social behaviour.
It is easy
to see, though, why The Heroine might be read as
a conservative or even reactionary text. It is clear, even
from our brief plot description, that it can be placed in
the tradition of novels such as Charlotte Lennox's The
Female Quixote or The Adventures of Arabella
(1752) which burlesque the romance. Lennox's novel manifests
a very English anxiety about the romance genre and its effects
on female readers, for eighteenth-century middle-class English
women were, as Margaret Anne Doody has noted, to 'have neither
history nor adventures' if they were to remain proper ladies.
Jane Austen's sophisticated exploration of the relationship
between romance and the 'real' world in Northanger Abbey,
such ideas about female decorum influenced reader reception
of such texts right into the mid-twentieth century. As late
as 1967 the aim of Lennox's novel was being described as
a 'desire to ridicule the French heroic romances, and to
point out their potentially harmful effects on the minds
of inexperienced readers'. 
The reception of The Heroine has been similarly influenced,
with Walter Raleigh describing the novel in his 1909 introduction
as simply reflecting the 'middle-class code of (Barrett's)
own time' and as a work which was written to warn the heroine
'against the extravagances that so easily beset her'. 
The critic here aligns himself with the mentoring male in
such novels in that he focuses on what is seen as a female
tendency to be deluded by romance fictions, thereby emphasizing
his own sophistication and worldliness. The fact that the
author of The Heroine was a man has provided further
confirmation, for many readers, that the novel set out to
educate silly women readers into a more 'mature' state of
mind. Indeed, Gary Kelly's description of Barrett as 'a
Tory professional man and […] an anti-Whig, Anti-Jacobin,
anti-Sentimentalist, antifeminist writer' underpins his
reading of The Heroine as part of the institutionalization
of a 'professional middle-class culture and hegemony' which
wished to see the middle-class woman safely constrained
within the home. 
The Heroine mocks the Gothic novel as well as the
romance genre. From yet another perspective, then, it may
be read conservatively. Many of the themes and tropes of
eighteenth-century Gothic writing-for example, the restoration
of lineage and property, the moving picture, the old servant
who knows a family secret, the Gothic building-are parodied
in Barrett's novel. Traditionally it has been assumed that
the tide of such parodies, which appeared between 1790 and
1820, was a reaction to the excesses of horror and terror
that characterised the Gothic text of the same period. 
Until recently, the general critical assumption was that
the aim of such parodies was to entertain and to educate;
Devendra Varma describes their authors as 'teachers of moral
prudence whose influence had been impaired by the flood,
but not destroyed'.  In
other words, comic Gothic at the opening of the nineteenth
century has frequently been seen as a reinstatement of Enlightenment
values in the face of Romantic ideals: rationality, common
sense and the importance of the social fabric were to be
valued above the thoughts and feelings, passions and emotions,
of the individual. Accordingly, what we might call the comic
Gothic novel was often read as conservative in its recuperation
of the individual into the social fabric-and, indeed, endings
such as Catherine Morland's engagement in Austen's Northanger
Abbey and Scythrop's choice of a glass of Madeira sherry
over death by pistol shot in Peacock's Nightmare Abbey
do seem to dissolve darker questions raised earlier.
In similar vein, even more recent critical readings of The
Heroine present, with varying degrees of sophistication,
both the work and its author as reactionary. Paul Lewis,
whilst giving credit to the power of the novel's humour,
sees 'beneath the apparently harmless, even delightful,
literary thesis an unquestioning faith in patriarchy and
As we have noted, Gary Kelly, whilst grounding the novel
far more securely in contemporary culture and politics than
Lewis, nevertheless sees it as the product of historical
forces which were 'pressing hard for professionalization
and the conservative values of emergent professional middle-class
Jacqueline Howard refuses to find any subtlety in the novel,
arguing that Barrett 'trivializes' Cherry 'to such a degree
that she becomes a tedious character with whom we can have
little sympathy'; she also claims that in The Heroine
'(w)e find none of the ambiguity which Hutcheon sees as
characteristic of the ironic inversion constituting parody'.
Both Lewis and Howard seem to assume that only serious Gothic
can raise serious questions in the mind of the reader. For
example, Lewis states:
In the hands of sophisticated writers (for example,
Godwin, Brown, Poe, Hogg, Hawthorne, Melville, James and
others), mystery has the potential for raising important
theological, epistemological, psychological, and social
questions […] (whereas) […] Barrett misses the
very human sense of doubt and fear, the adventurous exploration
of the fantastic at the center of the Gothic. 
In a similar vein, Howard argues that Cherry's
' "slavish adherence" to purely literary conventions
so thoroughly pre-empts any raising of the epistemological,
psychological, and theological questions found in the Gothic
that it trivializes the genre'. 
This approach affords comedy a very limited role and ignores
the changing nature of the contract between the author and
the reader. We would suggest, instead, that as well as illustrating
'with unusual clarity the interrelationship of social, cultural,
and political issues during the Romantic social and cultural
The Heroine can also be read as comically negotiating
contemporary anxieties-for example, those concerning women
and property-in such a way as to raise serious questions in
the mind of the reader.
Much has been
published on the relationship between the Romantic and the
Gothic; far less energy has been devoted to that between Romanticism
and the comic. Even less work, however, has been done on the
links to be made between Romantic critical thought and the
parodic, perhaps because of what, in Howard's words, appears
to be the 'trivializing' nature of parody. Of course, parody
can be seen as its own worst enemy: in making obvious its
own highly intertextual nature, it frequently draws the accusation
that it is merely derivative. Moreover, what Linda Hutcheon
has defined as 'the continuing strength of a Romantic aesthetic
that values genius, originality and individuality' has worked
against a more positive reception of the parodic. As Hutcheon
Michel Foucault (1977) has argued that the entire
concept of the artist or author as an original instigator
of meaning is only a privileged moment of individualization
in the history of art. In that light, it is likely that
the Romantic rejection of parodic forms as parasitic reflected
a growing capitalist ethic that made literature into a commodity
to be owned by an individual. 
Yet there was Romantic interest in the
comic and the parodic although it blossomed relatively late.
As Thomas H. Schmid has pointed out, a look at the chronology
Between 1817 and 1822 Melincourt, Beppo, Nightmare
Abbey, Witch of Atlas, Swellfoot the Tyrant and Peter Bell
the Third are published. Throughout this period as well,
Coleridge, Hazlitt, Lamb and even Shelley (to a minor degree)
wrote critically on the comic. What interest the comic has
for Romanticism seems to burgeon during this period, when
humour can be seen as a challenge to Romanticism's apparent
seriousness or even 'farce of […] tragic nostalgia'
as Jerome McGann puts it. 
More recently, Gary Dyer's attempt to reappraise
the role of romantic satire has revealed the strong seam of
comic writing which runs through Romanticism. 
As David Kent has pointed out, however, 'Dyer's ascription
of the comic with the parodic misrepresents the fierce ideological
battleground parody frequently embodied'. 
However, so far, little critical attention has been paid to
contemporary Romantic theorisation of the comic and/or parodic.
In our attempt to define the complex cultural role played
by parody, we turn now to Jean Paul Richter's Vorschule
der Aesthetik (School for Aesthetics) which was
published in 1804. In defining the value of humour (which
he describes as the Romantic comic) as an aspect of the imagination,
Richter offers an exposition of it as 'inverse sublime', a
concept which perhaps derives from eighteenth-century appropriations
of Longinus's theories of the sublime. This is clearly an
attempt to bring humour into the legitimising embrace of Romantic
aesthetics. For Richter, whereas the sublime evokes terror,
awe and fear, the 'inverse sublime' invites an ironic detachment
from the world. This results from the juxtaposition of the
details of a finite world against the idea of the infinite:
we thus become aware of the world's folly and detached from
'both great and small, because before infinity everything
is equal and nothing'. 
Arguably, this could be read as a variation on the Romantic
withdrawal from the social, but Richter's insistence that
humour encourages sympathy rather than condemnation prevents
his ideas on the comic from embracing misanthropy. In laughing
at humanity rather than at individuals, we rise above the
finite and so experience a sense of the 'inverse sublime'.
In Schmid's words,
the experience of humor as adumbrated by Romantic
theorists is subjective, imaginative and liberating. Because
humor 'annihilates' finite categories of the understanding
and levels all before the 'infinite', it subverts the moral
certitude of forms like satire, and encourages sympathy
rather than ethereal withdrawal […] 
At the same time, however, the text will have
thrown the frames of social reference into doubt and will
have made moral judgement appear a matter of relativity: it
is in this sense that the comic can function as intellectually
liberating and provocative. 'Humor', writes Richter, 'is a
raving Socrates, as the ancients called Diogenes'. 
In similar spirit, Barrett notes in his preface to The
Heroine that making 'the world laugh […] is the
gravest occupation an author can chuse' (p. 6). In choosing
parody as his comic vehicle, Barrett, we argue, embraces what
Linda Hutcheon sees as one of its key functions:
I see parody as operating as a method of
inscribing continuity while permitting critical distance.
It can indeed function as a conservative force in both retaining
and mocking other aesthetic forms; but it is also capable
of transformative power in creating new syntheses, as the
Russian formalists argued. 
In similar spirit, Glen Cavaliero has recently
Even when the parody is largely celebratory […]
it is also purposeful, its target the tyranny of the monolith,
its aim to be liberating and remedial. Both the strength
and the weakness of any literary artefact can be illuminated
by a parody […] 
certainly retains and mocks 'other aesthetic forms' in that
it is an extremely self-conscious text addressed to a well-read
reader. The Glossary appended by Michael Sadleir to the 1927
edition lists over thirty novels referred to in the text,
including: Mrs. Roche's Children of the Abbey, Fanny
Burney's Cecilia and Evelina; Ann Radcliffe's
The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian; Samuel
Richardson's Pamela, Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison;
Rousseau's La Nouvelle Héloïse; Samuel Johnson's Rasselas
and Corinne by Madame de Staël. 
As Gary Kelly points out, it also draws on 'Burke's notoriously
ornate style in his Reflections on the Revolution in France
[…] speeches by Bonaparte, and a speech by the reformer
Sir Francis Burdett to the electors of Westminster in 1812'.
Barrett's text thus rhetorically dissolves the apparent distinction
between the worlds of politics and popular fiction. Such a
dense fabric of intertextual reference presupposes that the
author and the reader share a legacy of cultural codes and
experience. Moreover, the 'rules' of both sentimental and
gothic writing are frequently made fun of by the author in
an acutely self-reflexive manner. For example, the heroine
points out early in the text to one of her admirers that 'whoever
rescues me now, you know, is destined to marry me hereafter.
That is the rule' (p. 63); a few pages later she remarks
to another character: 'I give you my word I will reward you
at dénouement along with the other characters […]'
(p. 67). Sometimes this baring of the device results
in strangely dislocating moments, as when Cherubina comments
that 'Men who converse with a heroine, should talk for the
press, or they will cut but a silly figure in her memoirs'
(p. 194). But exposure of the rigidity of the rules of
fiction is also used to make the reader query the rigidity
of the rules and the 'truth' of supposedly objective disciplines
such as 'history'. In a passage which is remarkably consonant
in tone with the more famous section in Austen's Northanger
Abbey, in which Catherine Morland queries history as an
objective narrative since it contains 'hardly any women at
Cherubina debates the relative merits of history and fiction
with a fellow traveller:
'[…] you must confess, that novels
are more true than histories, because histories often contradict
each other, but novelists never do.'
'Yet do not
novelists contradict themselves?' said he.
replied I, 'and there lies the surest proof of their veracity.
For as human actions are always contradicting themselves,
so those books which faithfully relate them must do the
exclaimed he. 'And yet what proof have we that such personages
as Schedoni, Vivaldi, Camilla, or Cecilia, ever existed?'
proof have we', cried I, 'that such personages as Alfred
the Great, Henry the Fifth, Elfrida, or Mary Queen of Scots,
ever existed?' (p. 54)
Against the 'common-sense' reading of the novel,
then, which sees the dénouement as the displacement
of fanciful fictions by the concerns of the 'real' world,
The Heroine seems to tempt us continually to see life
and fiction, history and novels, 'truth' and fantasy as not,
in fact, easily separable but as part of one continuum. As
Margaret Anne Doody notes of The Female Quixote's similar
self-reflexiveness, 'To control modes of narration […]
is to control the world'. 
Read from a feminist
viewpoint, of course, this self-conscious appropriation of
narrative control by Cherry/Cherubina has interesting implications.
In a preface entitled 'The Heroine to the Reader', Barrett
introduces the idea of a parallel imaginary universe created
through the act of writing:
Know, that the moment a mortal manuscript is
written out in a legible hand, and the word End or Finis
annexed thereto, whatever characters happen to be sketched
in it (whether imaginary, biographical, or historical) acquire
the quality of creating and effusing a sentient soul or
spirit, which instantly takes flight, and ascends through
the regions or air, till it arrives at the MOON; where it
is then embodied, and becomes a living creature; the precise
counterpart, in mind and person of its literary prototype.
We are alerted
here to the Quixotic notion that an alternative world of romance
or fantasy can (like modern science fiction) offer the means
whereby the values of this world can be held open to question;
that there is, in Jonathan Lamb's words, 'a particular sort
of integrity which is defined by literary activity'. 
In this sense, if the fictional world of serious Gothic horror
offers the sublimity of horror, then that of comic Gothic
offers an inverse sublime of humorous possibility. Similarly,
Cherry Wilkinson's deliberate adoption of another persona,
the alter ego of Cherubina deWilloughby, can be seen as the
creation of a benign doppelgänger (a term coined by
Richter) which allows the heroine a freedom and power undreamt
of in contemporary conduct books or novels of sensibility.
The monstrous doppelgänger which was to become a familiar
figure in later serious Gothic texts of the nineteenth century
as a mode of expressing fear of the abject and an anxiety
concerning split subjectivity, is allowed in this comic Gothic
text a humorous excess within which notions of liberty and
the testing of conventional boundaries can be explored. Thus,
when quizzed by Cherubina as to how romances and novels 'contaminate
the mind', a female fellow-traveller answers tartly: 'by teaching
little misses to go gadding, Mem, and to be fond of the men,
Mem, and of spangled muslin, Mem' (p. 53). Searching
for freedom and adventure, Cherubina decides to play the part
of the heroine, since:
The heroine may permit an amorous arm around
her waist, disobey her parents, and make assignations, yet
be described as the most prudent of human creatures; but
the mere Miss must abide by the regular rules of modesty,
decorum and filial obedience. In a word, as different classes
have distinct privileges, it appears to me, from what I
know of the Law National, and the Law Romantic, that the
Heroine's prerogative resembles the king's; and that she,
like him, can do no wrong. (p. 140)
There is a sharp recognition here that the
discourses of the law, class and gender situate the subject
and constrain her freedoms as firmly as any set of iron bars.
And indeed, as a 'heroine', Cherubina enjoys powers and privileges
only dreamt of by Cherry. Not only does she command a train
of followers and freely make numerous assignations but she
also takes and reigns over her own gothic space, Monkton Castle
(even if this is no more than a draughty ruin). Whilst inviting
the reader to laugh at such excesses of liberty and their
dire consequences, the novel nevertheless reminds the reader
that the alternative 'reality' lies in shades of the bourgeois
household closing in on the growing girl. 
'You know that a mere home is my horror' says Cherubina (p. 98).
At the same time, however, The Heroine undermines this
escape fantasy. For we finally see the independent Cherubina
recuperated into a Cherry who marries her father's choice
of a well-educated middle-class man of property; the novel's
implicit critique of the old aristocratic way of life is thereby
reaffirmed and it reinforces the model of middle-class domesticity
offered by early nineteenth-century conduct books. 
The Heroine thus has it both ways: it inscribes the
values of the aspiring middle-class (as Kelly argues) but
simultaneously exposes the constraints they impose on the
imaginative young woman. Nor does the answer lie in a compromise
between aristocratic ideals and the emergent middle-class
management of women, as Barrett's tart rewriting of Fanny
Burney's hugely popular Evelina reveals. Cherubina
hears from one of her London companions masquerading as the
fictional character, Sir Charles Grandison, that Lord Orville
and his Evelina are not happily married: ' "Happy!" cried
he, laughing. "Have you really never heard of their notorious
miffs? Why it was but yesterday that she flogged him with
a boiled leg of mutton, because he had sent home no turnips.
(p. 271). We could, of course, see this as evidence of
Barrett's conservatism and of his anti-feminist attitude towards
women writers such as Burney and Jacobin thinkers such as
Wollstonecraft. An alternative way of reading it, however,
is to see it as indicative of the cultural ambivalence characteristic
of parody as a genre. Here we should bear in mind Hutcheon's
premise that parody is 'fundamentally double and divided'
and that 'its ambivalence stems from the dual drives of conservative
and revolutionary forces that are inherent in its nature as
authorized transgression'. 
In this respect,
the representation of the female body in Barrett's novel,
which clearly relates to the legacy of Romanticism and the
cult of sensibility, is particularly interesting. The way
in which heroines react to moments of crisis in, say, Ann
Radcliffe's works-by fainting, blushing or falling into silence-derives,
as Daniel Cottom has pointed out, from a body language specific
to notions of femininity and sensibility current from the
mid-eighteenth century. 
Not surprisingly, then, Cherubina defines a heroine in the
A heroine is a young lady, rather taller than
usual, and often an orphan; at all events, with the finest
eyes in the world. She blushes to the tips of her fingers,
and when mere misses would laugh, she faints. Besides, she
has tears, sighs, and half, sighs, always read; can live
a month on a mouthful and is addicted to the pale consumption
[…] to be thin, innocent, and lyrical; to bind and
unbind her hair; in a word, to be the most miserable creature
that ever augmented a brook with tears, these my friend
are the glories of a heroine. (p. 66)
The powerful construct within Western culture
which equates femininity with physical delicacy and emotional
susceptibility is here exposed as fiction rather than truth,
as 'the glories of a heroine'. But the connection between
body image and femininity is further quizzed when Cherubina
meets someone claiming to be her long lost mother who, she
learns, has been confined, in true Gothic spirit, within a
subterranean vault of a villa. In a coup de grâce,
it is revealed at the end of the novel that this has been
a fake mother and indeed a fake woman: it was Lady Gwyn's
nephew, put up to the charade by his aunt who had taken to
excess Robert Stuart's injunction to humour Cherry's 'caprices'.
In a passage reminiscent of several in Radcliffe's novels,
the heroine is conducted at midnight by two strange men to
her 'mother', whom she expects to find in a state of starvation
'stretched on a mattress of straw' (p. 184). Instead,
she finds her supposed mother 'suffering under a corpulency
unparalleled in the memoirs of human monsters' (p. 186):
to be fat is, for the modern woman, a horror of Gothic proportions.
Appalled by her size, Cherubina is assured by her 'mother'
that 'This deplorable plumpness proceeds from want of exercise'
(p. 186) and that at least she has managed to preserve
her paleness (an indication of both sensitivity and class).
And, anticipating the spirit of Jo Brand, the 'mother' confesses
not to dreams of a convent life or restoration to her long-lost
husband, but to fantasies of food:
It was but last night, that maddened by hunger,
methought I beheld the Genius of dinner in my dreams. His
mantle was laced with silver eels, and his locks were dropping
with soups. He had a crown of golden fishes upon his head,
and pheasants' wings at his shoulders. A flight of little
tartlets fluttered around him, and the sky rained down comfits.
As I gazed on him, he vanished in a sigh, that was impregnated
with the fumes of brandy. (p. 187)
Shuddering at the sight of her obesity, Cherubina
finds herself hating her long-lost 'mother' and despising
her 'mother's' memoirs (entitled Il Castello di Grimgothico,
or Memoirs of Lady Hysterica Belamour: A Novel by Anna Maria
Marianne Matilda Pottingen, Author of the Bloody Bodkin, Sonnets
on Most of the Plants, etc. etc. etc.) But we should not
forget, of course, that Cherubina, in all her slim pallor,
is the doppelgänger of Cherry Wilkinson, the farmer's
daughter, brought up, no doubt, on a wholesome diet enriched
by butter and cream-and a young woman who is acutely aware
of her name as suggestive of an all-too-visible corporeality:
What a nameCherry! It reminds one so much
of plumpness and ruddy health. Cherrybetter be called
Pine-apple at once. There is a green and yellow melancholy
in Pine-apple, that is infinitely preferable. I wonder if
Cherry could possibly be an abbreviation of CHERUBINA. (p. 11)
'Cherubina', of course, while suggesting cherubic
proportions, also evokes an aerial transcendence of the corporeal.
Sliding between these relative images of female corporeality,
invited to laugh at them, the reader is offered a position
of critical distance from contemporaneous and influential
notions of the desirable female body. The 'target' of parody
is thus not just other works of fiction: it also engages with
subtly influential forms of coded discourse. In this way,
parodic writing can offer an intellectual liberation from
powerful social constructs.
vexed relationship to property rights and the ambiguous nature
of her status as a legal subject during the eighteenth century
is implicitly questioned through Cherubina's appropriation
of Monkton Castle. Energized by her campaign to seize the
castle, Cherubina blossoms as leader against the siege to
reclaim it. 'I stood, and gloried in my strength' she writes
(p. 246). In her rousing speech to her fifty followers,
she promises them, should they be victorious, 'all such laws
and institutions as shall secure their happiness' (p. 248).
In 1813, when The Heroine was published, women could
hold property legally only if they were over 21 and unmarried.
It was not until the Married Woman's Property Act of 1870
that a married woman could legally hold property in her own
name; before then the estate of a married woman passed to
her husband. Money could be held in trust for a married woman
but had to be managed by an independent party, which meant
that the woman had no direct access to it. There was also
the possibility of the separate maintenance agreement, which
allowed the husband and wife to live separately and through
which the husband agreed to his wife having direct access
to her money. 
Such apparent advances were, however, counterbalanced by severe
legal restrictions in other ways: for example, a daughter
could not directly inherit her father's property; it could
only be left in trust, giving her the right to income deriving
from it but no right to sell it. The many changes affecting
women's property rights during the eighteenth century suggest
at best an equivocal attitude to the female subject. Whereas
the legal code during this time clearly indicates that the
institution of property is essential to the identity of the
legal subject, the lesser privileges accorded to women and
the emergence of what Sharpe has called 'the bloody code'
(which saw the number of capital offences rise from 50 to
200 during the period )
express an acute anxiety about the security of the (masculine)
legal subject in the face of the irrational as represented
by the feminine and by the mob. 
Moreover, Cherubina-as leader of a 'mob' which includes Irishmen
and as a 'heroine' who has a devoted Irish follower (Jerry
Sullivan)-should be seen in the context of the period 1800-29
which saw a huge rise in the publication of novels featuring
Ireland and Irish characters. The most famous of these, Sydney
Owenson's The Wild Irish Girl (1806), deals with the
condition of Ireland and centres round a beautiful, intelligent
Irish girl called Glorvina who is devoted to her father and
whose marriage to an English nobleman metaphorically suggests
a reconciliation between England and Ireland. Barrett's novel,
which reasserts the supremacy of 'Englishness', nevertheless
still functions, like Owenson's, as a work in which Ireland
becomes 'a privileged site […] for the residual revolutionary
romance of sensibility'. 
As Jacqueline Belanger has noted, Barrett's portrayal of 'Irishness'
in The Heroine links the 1798 Rebellion with the French
Revolution as potential threats to English society. 
The novel's closure,
although apparently comically satisfying and reassuring in
its restoration of the status quo, consigns its heroine to
a cosy domestic oblivion. We see Cherubina transformed back
into Cherry Wilkinson, 'the daughter of an honest squire'
(p. 289) rather than into the long-lost offspring of
an aristocratic family. We also see her about to marry-an
act which will result in her giving up the limited property
rights she would have enjoyed as an unmarried woman. In 'educating'
her out of reading romances and Gothic fiction, her future
husband educates her out of visions of independence. Indeed,
in giving her a copy of Don Quixote to read, Robert
Stuart draws her attention to the deleterious effect of romances
such as 'The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Italian, and the Bravo
of Venice' which 'act upon the mind like intoxicating stimulants'
(p. 293). This degenerate form of reading he then links
to a stage of moral decline, and from there it is only a short
step to the 'refined vice' of a 'depraved' France (p. 293)
and, presumably, to the turbulence of a 'wild' Ireland. We
might remember here Burke's description which, drawing on
Milton's Paradise Lost, evokes 'the revolutionary harpies
of France' as 'sprung from night and Hell, or from that chaotic
anarchy which generates equivocally "all monstrous and prodigious
things . 
Cherry is thus directed by her future husband to a 'more rational
line of reading' which includes 'morality, history, languages'
(p. 294) and is recuperated back into 'Englishness' and
a proper femininity underwritten discursively by the law of
England in 1813. This construct of femininity is a domestic,
sentimentalized one which is easily identified with the emotional
and the private world. It is, as Susan Okin has observed,
ironic that at the very historical moment when 'the freedom,
individuality, and rationality of men was coming to be recognized
as the foundation of their political and legal equality',
women were being represented as 'creatures of sentiment and
love rather than of the rationality that was perceived as
necessary for citizenship'. 
Lennox's The Female Quixote, The Heroine 'is
full of parodic and self-referential explications of narration
itself, and the power that narration provides'. 
Whilst it seems, on the one hand, a reactionary text which
safely recuperates its transgressive heroine back into middle-class
ideology and which defuses both foreign and domestic threats
to national identity, the verbal brio with which Barrett
describes Cherry's adventures imprints quite firmly in the
reader's mind an imagined alternative world where women are
rabble rousers and property owners and in which Frenchmen
and Irishmen represent excitement rather than threat. The
tensions within the novel thus perhaps reflect the tensions
evident within English law itself as capitalism develops.
For while, on the one hand, the law in the eighteenth century
was seeking to advance economic freedom through the development
of contractarian doctrine, on the other it saw itself as the
instrument whereby both aristocratic privilege and the essence
of the traditional matrimonial bond could be preserved. It
perhaps should not surprise us that Eaton Stannard Barrett
was a lawyer before he became a playwright and a satirist.
His novel, a best-seller in its own time, deserves more critical
attention than it has attracted so far. Certainly, The
Heroine amply demonstrates Hutcheon's claim that parody
is not mere imitation 'but imitation characterized by ironic
inversion'; it repeats, but it offers 'repetition with critical
difference' (p. 6). Addressing itself to the shared
knowledge and values of what Wayne Booth has called 'amicable
Barrett's novel, like all good parodies, is hard to pin down.
Its 'meaning', which slithers between idylls of conservative
cosiness and fantasies of social transformation, is as slippery
as the silver eels in the dream narrated by Cherubina's 'mother'.
Rose begins her extensive 1993 study with the following words,
'When I first published on parody some twenty years ago now
it was still being treated by many critics as a rather lowly
comic form which had been of little real significance in the
history of literature or of other arts.'—Margaret Rose,
Parody: Ancient, Modern and Post-Modern (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 1.
Stannard Barrett, The Heroine, ed. Walter Raleigh (London:
Henry Frowde, 1909), p. ix. All subsequent quotations
from the novel, hereafter referenced in the text, are from
this edition of the novel.
book offers a useful exposition of contemporary, late-modern
and post-modern theories and uses of parody—Parody,
Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century
Art Forms (London, Methuen, 1985), p. 6.
Parody, p. 239.
an example of the latter sort of reading, see Claudia Johnson,
Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel (Chicago
and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988).
Austen, Northanger Abbey, ed. Anne Henry Ehrenpreis
(1818; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), p. 1.
J. Clery and Robert Miles (eds.), Gothic Documents: A Sourcebook
1700-1820 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000),
in Devendra P. Varma, The Gothic Flame: Being a History
of the Gothic Novel in England: Its Origins, Efflorescence,
Disintegration and Residuary Influences (1957; Metuchen,
NJ and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1987), p. 181.
The Letters of Jane Austen, ed. R. W. Chapman
(Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 376-77. Cited in
Romantic Reassessment: Vol. 3 'Collateral Gothic 1',
ed. by Thomas Meade Harwell (Salzburg: Salzburg Studies in
English Literature, 1986), p. 178.
[Edgar Allan Poe?], Review of The Heroine from
Southern Literary Messenger 1835, pp. 41-43. Online:
Internet (13 June 1999) <www.eapoe.org/works/criticsm/slm35b04>.
Varma, Gothic Flame, p. 181.
Lennox, The Female Quixote or The Adventures of Arabella,
ed. Margaret Dalziel and introd. by Margaret Anne Doody (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1989), p. xi.
Isles, 'Johnson and Charlotte Lennox', The New Rambler
(June 1967), 41-42.
Raleigh, 'Introduction' to Barrett, Heroine, pp. iii-iv.
Kelly, 'Unbecoming a Heroine: Novel Reading, Romanticism,
and Barrett's The Heroine', Nineteenth-Century Literature
45:2 (Sep 1990), 220-41 (pp. 226, 227, and 241).
for example, notes in Gothic Flame that during this
period, 'The frequent parodies and satires are symptomatic
of the new sensibility which was manifesting itself in English
prose fiction as the Gothic manner became exhausted'. Marilyn
Butler, whilst seeing the Gothic novel as 'a product of the
three decades of quickening pulse, the revolutionary era from
about 1760 to about 1797', a product which came to full fruition
in England in the work of Ann Radcliffe, also notes that after
about 1797, all self-respecting novelists steered clear of
the Gothic for about two decades unless it was to parody it
(Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature
and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1981), pp. 156 and 157).
Varma, Gothic Flame, p. 180.
Lewis, 'Gothic and Mock Gothic: The Repudiation of Fantasy
in Barrett's Heroine', English Language Notes
21:1 (Sep 1983), 45-52 (p. 45).
Kelly, 'Unbecoming a Heroine', p. 221.
Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction: A Bakhtinian Approach
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 155.
'Gothic and Mock Gothic', p. 52.
Howard, Reading Gothic Fiction, pp. 159-60.
Kelly, 'Unbecoming a Heroine', p. 227.
Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, p. 4.
Thomas A. Schmid, Humour and Transgression in Peacock,
Shelley, and Byron: A Cold Carnival (Edwin Mellen Press:
Lewiston, Queenston and Lampeter, 1991), p. 30.
Gary Dyer, British Satire and the Politics of Style,
1789-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997;
Cambridge Studies in Romanticism 23).
David A. Kent, 'On Gary Dyer's British Satire and
the Politics of Style, 1789-1832 ', Romantic Circles:
Jean Paul Richter, Horn of Oberon: Jean Paul Richter's
'School for Aesthetics', introd. and trans. by Margaret
R. Hale (1804; Detroit: Wayne State University, 1973), pp. 88-89.
Schmid, Humour and Transgression, p. 15.
Hale, Horn of Oberon, p. 99.
Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, p. 26.
Glen Cavaliero, The Alchemy of Laughter: Comedy in
English Fiction (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), p. 60.
A list of other texts drawn upon by Barrett in The
Heroine is included in the 1927 edition of the novel,
introduced by Michael Sadleir, and published in London by
Elkin, Mathews, and Marrot, Ltd.
Kelly, 'Unbecoming a Heroine', p. 233.
Austen, Northanger Abbey, p. 123.
Lennox, The Female Quixote, p. xxvii.
Jonathan Lamb, 'The Comic Sublime and Sterne's Fiction'
in The English Novel: Smollett to Austen, ed. Richard
Kroll (London and New York: Longman, 1998), p. 148.
See Kate Ferguson Ellis, The Contested Castle; Gothic
Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1989).
See Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction:
A Political History of the Novel (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1987), esp. Ch. 2.
Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, p. 26.
Daniel Cottom, The Civilized Imagination: A Study
of Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, and Sir Walter Scott (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1985).
See Susan Staves, Married Women's Separate Property
in England, 1660-1833 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1990), pp. 163-64 and 170-75.
J. A. Sharpe, Crime in Early Modern England 1550-1750
(London: Longman, 1984), p. 145.
We would like to record here our gratitude to Sue Chaplin
for her helpful comments on this part of the essay.
Nicola J. Watson, Revolution and the Form of the
British Novel, 1790-1825: Intercepted Letters, Interrupted
Seductions (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 112.
Jacqueline Belanger, 'Some Preliminary Remarks on the
Production and Reception of Fiction Relating to Ireland, 1800-1829',
Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text 4 (May 2000)
Edmund Burke, Letter to a Noble Lord in The
Works of Edmund Burke (Michigan: Scholars Press, 1965),
Susan Moller Okin, 'Women and the Making of the Sentimental
Family', Philosophy and Public Affairs 11 (1982), 72.
Lennox, Female Quixote, p. xxvii.
The phrase is taken from his A Rhetoric of Irony
(Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1974) and
is cited by Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, p. 94.
This article is copyright © 2000 Centre for
Editorial and Intertextual Research, and is the result of the
independent labour of the scholar or scholars credited with
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may be freely distributed, as long as the origin of information
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Referring to this
A. HORNER and S. ZLOSNIK. 'Dead Funny: Eaton Stannard Barrett's
The Heroine as Comic Gothic', Cardiff Corvey: Reading
the Romantic Text 5 (Nov 2000). Online: Internet (date
Avril Horner is Professor of English and Director of the European
Research Institute at the University of Salford. Sue Zlosnik
is Deputy Dean of Arts and Sciences and Director of Graduate
Studies at Liverpool Hope University College.
They have written two books together
(Landscapes of Desire: Metaphors in Modern Women's Fiction
[Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1990] and Daphne du Maurier: Writing,
Identity and the Gothic Imagination [Macmillan, 1998]) and
are working on a third, Gothic and the Comic Turn, to
be published by Macmillan.
24 January, 2006
This document is maintained by Anthony Mandal