The Witch of Ravensworth was written by George Brewer, a sailor turned attorney turned writer, and it was published in 1808. According to the Valancourt Books website the witch in the novel “is a precursor to later Gothic literary monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula.”
The very last sentence of The Witch of Ravensworth sums up the novel very handily: “The good were not hurt: the bad repented”. And there is a lot to repent for in the book, mostly by our main protagonist Baron de la Braunch, a knight during the reign of King Edward I. Tall and handsome with wonderful knightly skills and the owner of a castle, the baron seems to have it all except for one little problem: he’s broke. Always looking for ways to improve his fortune, the baron proposes to the widowed (and wealthy) Lady Bertha. After they marry the baron realizes that he could be the owner of a huge estate if only Lady Bertha’s young son, Edward, was out of the way.
And here is where the witch comes in. The witch lives in a cottage on the edge of town and is believed to be in league with the devil. The baron, previously frightened and scornful of her, decides that she can be useful to him in disposing of his stepson. He precedes to join forces with the witch in carrying out his evil desires which also includes knocking off Lady Bertha so he can carry on with Lady Alwena, a lustful neighbor.
Eventually the Baron begins to feel contrite and things come to a head with a very twisty, surprising and melodramatic ending.
This short novel is full of punch. I was wary of reading a Gothic novel from this time period, afraid that it would be impenetrable, but this is far from it. The language is straightforward, the storytelling is assertive and, though it is kind of silly, it is a terrific example of an early Gothic book and I would recommend it to others who are reluctant to read a classic of this genre.
I’ve really enjoyed participating in this round of The Classics Circuit. Thanks to Rebecca!
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