The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
Gondez the Monk: A Romance of the Thirteenth Century (1805)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
Gondez the Monk: A Romance of the Thirteenth Century was written by William Henry Ireland. and appeared in Gondez the Monk: A Romance of the Thirteenth Century (1805). Ireland (1777-1835) was notorious in his lifetime for his numerous forgeries, which he claimed were written by Shakespeare. Ireland also produced a great deal of literary hackwork as well as a number of salacious Gothic novels.
Gondez the Monk is a Gothic novel whose bipartite plot is unusually complicated even by the complex standards of the Gothic. Huberto Avinco is an Italian soldier who was brought to Scotland as a child and raised in an English dungeon. When Avinco is full-grown he escapes from the dungeon and joins the forces of Robert the Bruce. After the Bruce is defeated at the Battle of Methven, Avinco helps him escape to the monastery of St. Columba, whose abbot is Gondez. At this point the story splits. Avinco’s half follows his attempts to discover his true identity and that of his parents. He also sees a mysterious, beautiful woman in the dungeons of the monastery. He tells her that he will help her escape the monastery as soon as he helps the Bruce evade the English and return to the war. Gondez’s half of the plot is about his career as both “Abbot Gondez” and Giovanni Maldachini, his true identity. Gondez is the bastard son of Cardinal Nicolo Gonzari, who, among other schemes, is trying to swindle his nephew, Duca Martini Gonzari, out of his inheritance. Gonzari is also the father of Huberto Avinco, which is why Huberto was taken to Scotland as a child.
Eventually, of course (this being a Gothic) Avinco discovers the identity of his father, frees the beautiful woman, Ronilda, and sics the Inquisition on Gondez. Avinco is restored to the Dukedom of Gonzari and is named “Lord of the Scottish Isles,” and Gondez dies by “a slow fire."1
Gondez the Monk is a mixture of the tedious (the English plot involving Avinco) and the vigorous (the Italian plot involving Gondez). Ireland brings energy, if no great narrative style, to his story. Although the plot is needlessly complicated and Avinco a bore, the novel has some wonderful Gothic elements, including the evil specter, “the Little Red Woman,” who hides poisonous snakes throughout Gondez’s monastery and is banished only by an exorcism by the Inquisitor-General himself; a witches’ sabbat, composed of ghastly, bearded beldams with adder husks in their hair, bared and shriveled breasts, and seats made up of dead men’s bones; a bleeding stone crucifix; statues which moan “Is there not a God?”; and, at the wedding of Ronilda and Avinco, the appearance of angels to bless the proceedings.
Gondez is a great Gothic villain. He is enjoyably loathsome in behavior and appearance:
His appearance was particularly meager, and his stature far above the common level...his features, though human, had in them something so inexpressibly terrific as to appal [sic] the gaze of observation; two eyes large and glaring, a thin aquiline nose, cheek bones remarkably high, and a mouth, whose lips through paleness seemed but a part of this petrifying countenance, the whole of which, overspread with the livid complexion of death, formed the characteristic features of this horrible figure¼in short, every feature of the Abbot Gondez, seemed alone framed to harrow up the soul of the observer, and present to the contemplative mind some dreadful picture, replete with sin and horror.2
His personality is a delightful combination of maliciousness, lust, ambition, and craven spite.
The story behind Gondez the Monk is perhaps more interesting than the novel itself. Ireland, as mentioned, forged “a variety of spurious Shakespeare documents as well as two full-length dramas, Henry II (1799) and Vortigern and Rowena (Drury Lane, 1796)”3 and became infamous after his frauds were discovered. He was never forgiven for his frauds; a Gothic dramatist and theater historian told him in 1823 that “You must be aware, sir, of the enormous crime you committed against the divinity of Shakespeare. Why, the act, sir, was nothing short of sacrilege; it was precisely the same thing as taking the holy chalice from the altar, and ***** therein!”4 But Ireland kept trying to gain forgiveness from the English public. His chosen form of repentance was to write anti-Catholic Gothics,
scapegoating the one population he knew his Protestant audience was most keen to see attacked and exposed: ‘the Catholic’. In these three novels, Ireland went to extremes to demonize Catholic figures, monks and nuns in particular, while also depicting in outlandish descriptions a variety of practices such as the forced vow of a nun or a focus on the Inquisition...5
Gondez the Monk is arguably the high point of not only Ireland’s calculated and opportunistic anti-Catholicism–it seems clear that he wrote this for money and to regain his social and political position rather than out of some true feeling against Catholics–but of anti-Catholicism in the Gothics as a whole.
Gondez the Monk is only half-interesting, but that half is a panoply of classic Gothic tropes unfortunately marred by a hatred for Catholics and Catholicism.
Print: William Henry Ireland, Gondez the Monk. Crestline, CA: Zittaw Press, 2005.
1 William Henry Ireland, Gondez the Monk. A Romance of the Thirteenth Century (London: W. Earle, 1805), vol. 4, 217.
2 Ireland, Gondez the Monk, 28.
3 Diane Long Hoeveler, The Gothic Ideology: Religious Hysteria and Anti-Catholicism in British Popular Fiction, 1780-1880 (Cardiff: University of Wales, 2014), 127.
4 Qtd in Hoeveler, The Gothic Ideology, 128.
5 Hoeveler, The Gothic Ideology, 128.