The Orphan of the Rhine: Lending to the British Library

Special Collections in UCC Library was approached by the British Library in late 2013 regarding the possibility of a loan for their then-upcoming exhibition: Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination. The item the British Library sought was The Orphan of the Rhine by Eleanor Sleath (LE 100 SLEA v. 1 – 2).

Spines of 'The Orphan of the Rhine '.
Spines of The Orphan of the Rhine Vols. 1 & 2

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination

The Terror and Wonder exhibition coincides with the 250th anniversary of the publication of The Castle of Otranto which was the first Gothic novel. The exhibition takes a comprehensive look at the history of (primarily) British Gothic literature and its wide-ranging influence up to the present day. One of the key Gothic texts that the British Library is featuring is Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818). In particular, they are interested in bringing together the seven “horrid novels” mentioned in the text which were long thought to have been made up by Austen. The British Library holds five of the novels but are missing Horrid Histories (London, 1796) and The Orphan of the Rhine (Dublin, 1802). As far as they know this will be the first time that the seven “horrid novels” will be exhibited together in Britain and Ireland.

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey was  first completed in 1798 – 1799 although Jane Austen later revised it for publication in 1803 with further revisions occurring in 1817 – 1818. Northanger Abbey parodies many of the conventions of the Gothic novel. The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian by Ann Radcliffe are mentioned as are the seven horrid novels: The Castle of WolfenbachClermontMysterious WarningsNecromancer of the Black ForestMidnight Bell, The Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. UCC Library can access four of the “horrid novels” via Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) database: The Castle of Wolfenbach,  Clermont,  The Mysterious Warning, and The Necromancer: Or the Tale of the Black Forest.

Text in the page where 'The Orphan of the Rhine' is mentioned in 'Northanger Abbey.'
The Orphan of the Rhine mentioned in Northanger Abbey

Work on identifying the seven horrid novels was done in the following:

  • Sadleir, Michael. “The Northanger Novels: A Footnote to Jane Austen.” English Association Pamphlet 65 (November 1927): 22 – 23.
  • Summers, Montague. The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel. London: Fortune Press, 1938.

Michael Sadleir had located The Orphan of the Rhine by chance. He had been working on Hutchinson’s private library in 1927 and was unpacking packing cases when he realised what he had found. (Frank 360 – 361). Frank also gives a brief description of the novel’s plot.

The Orphan of the Rhine and the Minerva Press

Not many copies of The Orphan of the Rhine exist today. Most libraries that hold the item have a 20th century printing published by the Folio Press in 1968. However The Orphan of the Rhine was first printed as a four volume work at the Minerva Press for William Lane, in London in 1798. Two libraries worldwide hold this printing: Yale University Library & the University of Virginia Library. The Minerva Press was well-known for printing fiction which was very popular between 1790 – 1820. William Lane, the press’ founder pioneered the expansion of the circulating library in order to develop a market for the works he produced.  In this way publications from Minerva Press became part of collections in provincial libraries throughout Great Britain and abroad.

Sadleir notes that The Orphan of the Rhine is a “genuine product of the influence and the genius of Mrs Radcliffe; it combines sensibility with sensation, being more melodious and picturesque the terror-novel pure and simple” (180). Sadlier mentions that Eleanor Sleath, the author of The Orphan of the Rhine, describes “flowers and trees, architecture and furnishings, in considerable technical detail” (186).

In fact the popularity of publications from Minerva Press is reflected in contemporary mentions of the press and its productions. Of the ‘horrid novels’ that Isabella Thorpe lists in Northanger Abbey six of the seven are publications from Minerva Press. The Minerva Press titles exploited resonant terms such as ‘castle,’ ‘abbey’ or ‘ghost.’

The Dublin Printing of The Orphan of the Rhine

Title page to 'The Orphan of the Rhine.'
Title page from Vol. 1 of The Orphan of The Rhine

Neither the Licensing Act of 1662 nor the British Copyright Act of 1709 which afforded legal protection to literary property extended to Ireland. A staple of the Dublin book trade was reprinting of works, first published in other countries, at a much lower price than the Great Britain originals. After the Act of Union (1800) copyright law was extended to Ireland and the Copyright Act came into effect on 2 July 1801. This meant that the nature of printing, publishing and bookselling changed radically in Ireland as the practice of the reprint trade was effectively ended (Ferguson 9).

The Orphan of the Rhine was printed for G. Burnet in Dublin in 1802.  The work is in two volumes. George Burnet was originally a bookbinder and after 1768 became a bookseller. His premises from 1776 – 1798 was on 197 Abbey Street (Abbey-Street). Other items that were printed for him may be found in A Catalogue of the Bradshaw Collection of Irish Books in the University Library Cambridge, Vol. 1 by Charles Sayle.

UCC Library’s Copy of The Orphan of the Rhine

UCC Library holds a copy of the 1802 Dublin printing for G. Burnet. Princeton University Library also holds this printing. These details have been gleaned from WorldCat, a database in OCLC Firstsearch. WorldCat is a wonderful resource which lists all holdings of public, academic, national and special libraries worldwide and it was through WorldCat that the British Library realised that UCC Library held a copy of The Orphan of the Rhine. Tim Pye, one of the exhibition’s curators, noted that there is no reason why Jane Austen could not have read the Dublin printing of The Orphan of the Rhine.

Entry on OCLC showing which libraries hold 1802 printing of 'The Orphan of the Rhine.'
Libraries holding 1802 printing of The Orphan of The Rhine

UCC Library’s copy of The Orphan of the Rhine is in good condition considering it is over 200 years old! The volumes are bound in leather and have headbands which give added support to the spine of the volumes.

Orange scribble markings on the pages of 'The Orphan of the Rhine.'
The Orphan of the Rhine pp.218 – 219 Vol. 1

It is uncertain as to when UCC Library acquired The Orphan of the Rhine. The 1860 catalogue for Queen’s College Cork Library does not list it but the book itself has a stamp indicating that it was catalogued in November 1933. Alfred O’Rahilly instituted a large cataloguing project in the 1920s and 1930s and it is as part of that project that The Orphan on the Rhine may have been catalogued.

Cataloguing Stamp in The Orphan of the Rhine Vol 2
Cataloguing Stamp in The Orphan of the Rhine Vol 2

UCC Library’s The Orphan on the Rhine may be viewed in Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination from 3rd October 2014 – 20th January 2015.


Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. (1818).  Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Introd. Austin Dobson. Illust. Hugh Thomson. London: Macmillan,  1938.

Ferguson, Frank. “Industrialization of Irish Book Production, 1790 – 1900.” Oxford History of the Irish Book: The Irish Book in English 1800 – 1891. Vol. 4. Ed. James H Murphy. Oxford: OUP, 2011. 9 – 26.

Frank, Frederick S. The First Gothics: A Critical Guide to the English Gothic Novel. New York & London: Garland, 1987.

Sadleir, Michael. “All Horrid: Jane Austin and the Gothic Romance.” Things Past. London: Constable, 1944. 167 – 200.

Sleath, Eleanor. The Orphan of the Rhine: A Romance in Two Volumes. Dublin: Printed for G. Burnet [etc.], 1802.

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