Ildefonzo & Alberoni


In the near center of the image, slightly to the right, a stern, sad woman is depicted, holding on to a walking stick and pointing to the sky with her left hand. On her left, a woman with an expression of distress kneels at her feet and reaches up to her in a guesture of supplication. A cauldron flames on the ground before them. They appear to be in a dark forest, and what seem to be two snakes hang from the foliage of a tree above them; two bats fly overhead, and a beclouded moon shines in the top left corner.  On the left side of the image a person with the face of a skeleton, wearing a hooded cloak and leading a horse, is looking at the standing woman. He also points up to the sky, though with his right hand.

Accession Number: 

PZ 1 G 66

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Frontispiece for Ildefonzo & Alberoni, or the Tales of Horrors published by Tegg and Castleman, London, 1803.
The French Revolution was often connected to the development of the Gothic genre. Novelists of the era before 1789, as W.A. Speck explains in his book Literature and Society in Eighteenth-Century England, were critical of aristocrats, yet less so of the social order itself. In the 1790s novels began to question the authority of the aristocracy, the church, and the owners of landed estates (W. Speck, Literature and Society in Eighteenth-Century England145). As Angela Koch notes, more recent literary criticism argues that Freudian categories ground the mechanisms of the Gothic novel: "in other words...[gothic works] substitute political with imaginary terrors." Koch explains further:
In Gothic fiction in general, these [political] anxieties are sublimated within the narrative, and fear of political and social chaos finds expression in the deliberately restricted perspective of the explained supernatural of Ann Radcliffe and her innumerable imitators. (A. Koch, ‘Gothic Bluebooks in the Princely Library of Corvey and Beyond’ 5, 6)
Koch also points out that a connection can be made between early Gothic novels (like Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto [1765]) and the Industrial Revolution in England:
Prior to the political upheaval in France, the English Industrial Revolution not only supplied the technological, but also the ideological conditions for the unprecedented rise of popular literature around 1800. Economic progress and the destruction of extant structures resulting from it must have caused fear of changed conditions of life and unsolved social problems long before the fall of the Bastille. (A. Koch, ‘Gothic Bluebooks in the Princely Library of Corvey and Beyond’ 7)
Social changes, due to technological development, created fear and uncertainty among the English population, but also contributed to the production of a mass print culture. Koch continues:
As far as the Gothic novel is concerned, however, traditional critics rarely mention the profound social disturbances that are hardly ever alluded to in the works themselves, but which ultimately led to the deluge of such escapist fiction in the first place. (A. Koch, "Gothic Bluebooks in the Princely Library of Corvey and Beyond" 8)
Many lengthy Gothic novels were shortened and published as "bluebooks" in order to make them both more appealing and more affordable to a wider readership. The long versions were still published and sold to either libraries or wealthier private persons. Thomas Tegg was one of the main publishers for that genre in England (J. Barnes, ‘Thomas Tegg’ Oxford DNB).
The story of Ildefonzo and Alberoni brings together several small tales of horror. Two men, Ildefonzo and Alberoni, set out on an expedition to a castle in order to examine the supposedly terrifying apparition of a ghost. During their journey they tell each other various horror stories, several of which appear to be plagiarized versions of other Gothic chapbooks (F. Frank, The First Gothics #196). The primary, and, according to Frank, the best tale is the first one told by Ildefonzo. It is a version of the legend of the demon’s huntsman and incorporates the motif of immortal punishment.
This elaborate frontispiece for a Gothic tale that was published as a cheap 'blue book' or 'shilling shocker' functioned primarily as an advertisement. Consequently, it demonstrates how the Romantic notion of death was exploited by publishers of popular literature.
Established illustrators were hired to draw frontispieces for bluebooks; however, I want to argue that their main goal (and employment) was to promote the sale of the books they illustrated rather than to enact a critique of those books. Oftentimes, like the frontispiece for the story of Ildefonzo and Alberoni, the illustrations do not correspond to the plot of the story. They either depict a vaguely associated scene, a scene that might have appeared in another version, or alter a scene from the text immensely.
With this image, I hope to show how the concept of death was often used in popular illustrations as a way to promote the books they illustrated. The concept of death in English Romantic culture was constantly used, recycled, and reformulated by agents who were simultaneously consumers and producers of their culture. However, this marketing use of "death" was only possible because a common spectator had already been produced by the visual culture of the time. Consequently, this gallery is intended to show how the constant (re)imagining of the concept of death helped to form a popular culture.
The elaborate frontispiece suggests that its main function was to advertise the booklet. The fact that the publishers hired W.M. Craig to illustrate a frontispiece (or bought one of his illustrations) for a reprint in a bluebook, suggests that they invested more money in the illustration than in the story itself.
Barnes, James J. and Patience P. Barnes. “Tegg, Thomas (1776–1846).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 1 May 2009

Bernstein, Stephen. “Form and Ideology in the Gothic Novel.” Essays in Literature 18, 2 (1991): 151-166.

Dobson, Austin. “Craig, William Marshall (d. 1827).” Rev. Annette Peach. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 2 Apr. 2009

Frank, Frederick, S. The first Gothics: a critical guide to the English Gothic novel. New York: Garland Publishers, 1987.

Koch, Angela. “Gothic Bluebooks in the Princely Library of Corvey and Beyond,” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text 9 (Dec 2002). Online: Internet (date accessed):

Möller, Joachim. Romankritik in Großbritannien 1800-1860, mit einem Kapitel zum Kritikpotential der Illustration. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1991

Speck, W.A. Literature and Society in Eighteenth-Century England, Ideology, Politics and Culture, 1680-1820. London and New York: Longman, 1998
Ildefonzo & Alberoni, or Tales of horror, "T. Plummer, printer”, Chap-book, London: Printed for Tegg and Castleman [etc., etc., 1803], 72 p., front., 19 cm. Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library


Image Date: 

1 August 1803


Thomas Tegg

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