The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Witch of Ravensworth (1808)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
The Witch of Ravensworth was written by George Brewer. There is little information available on Brewer (1766-?). The Witch of Ravensworth is such a gloriously confused Gothic that one could be forgiven for thinking that the ending, a classic "...the HELL?" moment, was deliberate on Brewer's part.
The Baron de la Braunch is a despot who aspires to political power. To do this he needs to get rid of his wife, Gertrude, and his two sons, so that he can marry into a more powerful family. As The Witch of Ravensworth begins he seems to have disposed of Gertrude, but his two sons yet live, so he visits Ann Ramsey, the Witch of Ravensworth, and asks her to prophesy for him. In these early passages Ann Ramsey is one of the great witches in any Gothic novel. She is a hideous, unspeakably foul hag. She drinks blood, eats the flesh of babies, and lives in a hovel completely overrun with serpents and toads. So when the Baron comes to her for help she agrees to do so on the condition that he pay her one child for each prophecy she makes. The Baron, no fool, sees this as a perfect opportunity to get rid of his sons and pays her with their blood. The prophecies seem to favor him, and he turns his attentions to the toothsome Alwena. To gain her favors the Baron participates in a Satanic ritual with Ann Ramsey, and in the course of the ritual stabs a corpse and swears allegiance to "Askar," the lord of Hell. But this does not gain him Alwena, and the Baron is forced into an increasing cycle of crimes and murders amidst an increasing confusion of plot and incident.
And that's when George Brewer hijacks the narrative bus and heads down the highway to Goofyville. Alwena and the Baron appear to kill each other, and Ann Ramsey reveals herself to be Gertrude, who is a proper Christian, and yet has been plotting any number of evil schemes against the Baron as well as eating infant flesh and drinking blood. The Baron, now remorseful, retires to a monastery. And there the novel ends.
Print: George Brewer, The Witch of Ravensworth. Richmond, VA: Valancourt Books, 2006.