The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

The Ladye Annabel; or, The Doom of the Poisoner (1844)

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

The Ladye Annabel; or, The Doom of the Poisoner was written by George Lippard. Lippard (1822-1854) was an American journalist, writer, and political activist. He was successful as a writer, not just with The Quaker City but also with Legends of the Revolution (1847), a short work about the American Revolution. In 1850 Lippard founded the Brotherhood of the Union, a reactionary political organization that was a forerunner to the Ku Klux Klan.

The Ladye Annabel is overstuffed with plot; each of the novel’s four sections of the novel has enough plot for an individual Gothic. The Ladye Annabel is set in the Castle di Albarone, somewhere in Europe shortly after the rule of Richard the Lionhearted. Events begin with the murder of the noble Crusader Count Julian di Albarone by his brother, Aldarin. The Count’s cousin Adrian Albarone is framed by Aldarin for the Count’s murder. Aldarin wants the Castle and the Count’s riches; Urbano, the Duke of Florence, countenances the murder because he wants to marry the sweet, innocent Ladye Annabel, the niece of Count Julian. Adrian falls into the hands of the Doomsman, Aldarin’s torturer, but the Order of the Monks of the Holy Steel overthrow the corrupt Urbano, the “tyrant, assassin and betrayer,” and Aldarin is forced to flee for his life. The rest of the novel follows Aldarin’s life and his final execution by the Inquisition.

The Doomsman is a secondary character in the first quarter of the novel. Ladye Annabel herself is essentially a plot device. It is Aldarin who is the main character. He is a wizard who fought in the Crusades. While there, “on the battle plain amid the Syrian wilds,” he saved the life of the Arab prince Ibrahim. In exchange Ibrahim gave Aldarin the “Mighty Book” from which Aldarin gets his various powers. Since then, as Aldarin says,

My life has been strange and dark. I have loved the shadow rather than the light. I have courted the glare of corruption in the midnight charnel house, rather than the blaze of the noonday sun. I have made me a home amid strange mysteries, and from the tomes of darksome lore I have wrung the secrets of the hidden world...And from my hidden lore have I learned the mystery of mysteries.

But Aldarin is not happy in his power. He is actually rather wretched, and has constant, vivid nightmares of a Hell stocked with his victims. Nonetheless, he continues his work, using the Red Chamber of the Castle as a location for human dissection and vivisection.

The Doomsman is the antithesis of wretched. He is, in his way, jolly. Aldarin delivers Adrian to the Doomsman for torture, and the Doomsman enters, swinging down from the rafters, crowing,

So ye gave him to the Doomsman! So ye gave him Lord Adrian to me, to the pincers and the knife, to the hot lead, and the wheel of torture! You are brave fellows ha, ha, he dies at day break--and the Doomsman thanks you!

The Doomsman takes great pleasure and pride in his work and suffers from no pangs of conscience. The following are his gleeful descriptions of executions he has taken part in:

Hand me the iron—red hot—and hissing—give me the bowl of melted lead, dipped from the boiling cauldron. H-i-s-s—it touches the eyeball, the eye is dark forever. H-i-s-s it licks up the blood, it turns round and round in the socket. Now fill the hollow socket with the lead, the hissing lead—and, ha, ha, now bring another iron pointed like this, and heated to a white heat. Let the iron touch the skin to the eyeball, it shrivels like a burnt leaf, deeper sinks the hissing point, turn it round and round, let it lap up the gushing blood. Now the lead, the thick and boiling lead, pour it from the ladle, fill the socket, it hardens, it grows cold—ha, ha, ha, behold the eyes of lead.

Hark—hear you that hissing sound? His muscular chest is bared to the light, these talon hands guide the red hot iron over the warm flesh, with the blood blackening as it oozes from the veins. He writhes–but utters no groan. Now lay down the iron and the lead; seize the knotted club, aloft it whirls, it descends! D'ye see the broken arm bone, protruding from the flesh? Hurl it aloft again, nor heed the sudden struggle and the quick convulsive agony, never heed them–all writhe and struggle so. It grows exciting, Balvardo, it warms me, Hugo.

The Doomsman is an old man, but the torture and the descriptions of the torture give him vitality and keep him going. The Ladye Annabel describes him as having

the distorted face, the wide mouth, opening with a hideous grin, the retreating brow and the large, vacant, yet flashing eyes, that marked the visage of the Executioner of Florence. A dress made of coarsest serge, hung rather than fitted around his deformed figure, while a long bladed knife, with handle of unshapen bone, glittered in the belt of dark leather that girdled his body.

The Ladye Annabel is not generally accorded as much critical respect as The Quaker City, and understandably so. The social and political concerns which were dear to Lippard and which motivated him to write The Quaker City are missing in The Ladye Annabel. Although it is told with Lippard’s customary vigor, the excess of plot, Lippard’s lack concern for anything but crude sensation and effect, and Lippard’s seeming compulsion to, Scheherazade-like, spin out an ever-unfolding story—perhaps he was paid by the word?—leave The Ladye Annabel as, aesthetically speaking, merely vivid sado-Gothic-porn.

But The Ladye Annabel, as Lippard’s first novel, is also representative of the rest of his work, The Quaker City included. The Ladye Annabel is the first of what David S. Reynolds calls Lippard’s radical sensationalist novels, a subgenre which Lippard invented: "This discourse, utilized by some other revolutionary writers of the era, notably Karl Marx, generated many zestful, subversive images of the sort that enlivened certain works by major authors of the American Renaissance such as Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Walt Whitman."1 Radical sensationalism is, simply, a combination of working class political radicalism and sensationalistic fiction, including but not limited to the porno-Gothics like The Monk, bundesromane (German secret society Gothics), and to occult fantasies like Zanoni (to which The Ladye Annabel was directly compared2). The Ladye Annabel

owes much to several kinds of European sensationalism. The Schauerromantik of Tieck and Schiller; the crime fiction of French feuilletonists; the shock-Gothic of Monk Lewis and Edward Maturin; the bloodiest examples of Newgate fiction and nonfiction–these and other transatlantic modes fed into The Ladye Annabel. If, as St. Jean de Crèvecoeur had said, America was the place where “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men,” The Ladye Annabel was a text where many molten streams of European sensationalism joined in a blazing river of literary lava.3 

The Ladye Annabel’s political sensationalism was a generalized, if still revolutionary, protest against social oppression, with the rulers of Florence standing in the government of the United States and the Men of Steel, the heroic secret society dedicated to avenging crimes against the poor, representing the ideal secret society that Lippard felt that the United States needed to fight against the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings.4 

The Ladye Annabel is historically significant but far less so artistically.

Recommended Edition

Print: George Lippard, The Ladye Annabel: A Romance of the Alembic, the Altar, and the Throne. Philadelphia: G.B. Zieber, 1845.


1 David S. Reynolds, “Radical Sensationalism: George Lippard in his Transatlantic Contexts,” in John Cyril Barton and Kristin N. Huston, eds., Transatlantic Sensations (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), 77.

2 Reynolds, “Radical Sensationalism,” 77.

3 Reynolds, “Radical Sensationalism,” 78.

4 Roger Butterfield, “George Lippard and His Secret Brotherhood,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 79, no. 3 (July 1955): 285-309.