Last December we purchased a novel by the Scottish poet and novelist Isabella Kelly, née Fordyce (1759-1857). ‘The secret’ (shelfmark: RB.s.2807-2810) is a Gothic romance, set in an ancient abbey in the imaginary village of Llanleeven in North Wales. It was published in Brentford, England, in 1805, and printed by and for P. Norbury.
Isabella was born at Cairnburgh Castle and was the youngest of three daughters of William Fordyce of Aberdeen. In 1789 she married Robert Hawke Kelly, the son of Colonel Robert Kelly of the East India Company.
She published her first book, a ‘Collection of poems and fables’ in 1794. Having suffered, in her own words, ‘a variety of domestic calamities’, she began writing Gothic fiction in order to support her two surviving children. She published her first novel, ‘Madeline’, also in 1794, and wrote nine more between 1795 and 1811. Her novels were issued through circulating libraries.
‘The secret’ opens on a dramatic note:
“The stormy blasts of December were blowing loud and fearful through the wild cloisters of a very ancient abbey; and the rain as it fell in torrents down the blackened walls, encreased the mountainous swell of a rapid river, that rushed with impetuous violence through its rocky bed, on the margin of which, in mouldering magnificence, stood the venerable fabric of Llanleeven.”
This four-volume-set is bound in half calf and marbled boards. Each volume contains the ownership inscriptions and bookplates of Sir John Thorold of Syston Park, Lincolnshire.
Isabella Kelly, née Fordyce (1759-1857) in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS licensed digital collections).