Anonymous. “The Ruins of the Abbey Fitz-Martin” in The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009): 31-49.
In “The Ruins of the Abbey of Fitz-Martin,” Sir Thomas Fitz-Martin and his daughter Rosaline move into an ancestral home with a dark and disturbing history. Before the Fitz-Martin family moves into the abbey, the author recounts the abbey’s history as a former monastery where Anna, a nun living within the monastery, was used by a “wicked” Baron as the tool for him to gain ownership of the monastery and transform it into his own abode. However, upon gaining ownership, the Baron becomes tormented by “guilty horror” due to the rumored spectral presence of Anna haunting the house. The Baron soon dies and, with no heir, the house lays unoccupied due to its dreary history and the rumors of ghosts until Thomas Fitz-Martin moves into the abbey with his daughter Rosaline. After moving in, Rosaline hears the tales of Anna and the abbey and, driven by curiosity, begins to explore the halls of the haunted abbey. Soon, Rosaline discovers the tomb of Anna as well as a note revealing Anna’s fate at the cruel hands of her superiors. Anna is vindicated in the eyes of the reader by Rosaline’s brave exploration. Thus, the story ends. However, at the end of “The Abbey of Fitz-Martin,” a pressing question remains—What happens to Rosaline? The story vindicates Anna, but the reader is left with no mention of Rosaline’s fate. Is she damned to become a victim of the same horrors as Anna within the abbey’s walls, or, will her story be a happier one? The author does not say.
Early in “The Ruins of the Abbey of Fitz-Martin,” the reader learns of a haughty Baron who uses an unnamed nun’s transgression against her “vows of vestal celibacy” to take possession of the monastery of St. Catherine’s. The name of the nun is told in passing as Sister St. Anna. This is the history of the monastery. Yet, the real action of “The Ruins of the Abbey of Fitz-Martin” does not begin until Sir Thomas and Rosaline occupy the abbey years later. This shift within the story parallels the earlier history of the Baron and Anna in a number of ways, perhaps most noticeably by the immediate introduction of a strong male character, Sir Thomas, paired with a weak and passive female character, his daughter Rosaline.
Sir Thomas, nobility like the Baron, is “haughty” just as the Baron was labeled “haughty”—a label given to the Baron by the author twice in the opening paragraph (31). Though Sir Thomas is not explicitly labeled haughty, his actions demonstrate his haughtiness. He “commands” his servants to overcome their initial fears of the abbey’s haunting appearance (33) and dismisses their counts of seeing “a legion of armed specters” (36). With these actions, he is presented as arrogantly superior and disdainful—the very definition of haughty. He is the haughty Baron.
Similarly, the character Rosaline parallels Anna. She is namelessly introduced as the passive “family” of Sir Thomas (33). In fact, we are not given her name until a full six pages later. Not only this, but, as a female companion of Sir Thomas’s group, she is portrayed as lacking courage—a fact made clear when Sir Thomas mocks a servant’s fear as something “even [his] female companions would blush to express” (33) implying that Sir Thomas sees women as cowards. However, Rosaline begins to become a more central character to the story when the “talkative Blanche” begins to tell the story of the abbey’s dark history.
Rosaline is determined to discover “a clear and true account of what was at the end of the unfortunate nun” (39), so she begins independently to examine “every nook and cranny” of the abbey. Soon her search, encouraged by a spectral voice the reader can only assume to be the voice of Anna (41), uncovers an upper room with black walls filled with bones and instruments of torture. In its center lays an old coffin. Though terrified at first, in a direct repudiation of Sir Thomas’s evaluation of Rosaline’s courage, she enters the room and raises the coffin lid. Upon opening the coffin, her hand slips inside and is met by “something moist and clammy.” This is too much for Rosaline, and she runs screaming from the room. When Rosaline recovers, she discovers that she is in possession of folded papers that she unknowingly took from the coffin. These papers detail Anna’s fate.
The papers reveal that Anna was the unknowing pawn of a cruel plan by the Baron and the victim of cruel punishment by her superiors. Though the papers, the reader learns the full fate of Anna—her torture, murder, and internment in the black room—as well as the fact that the Baron, feigning love, seduced Anna which h led her to violate her vows of celibacy. The papers conclude by displaying a powerful Anna revenging her death through haunting the Baron; a haunting that led to his death. Thus, Rosaline through her discovery solved the fate of Anna, vindicated her, and revealed her final act of revenge.
At this point in the story, the reader expects a final shift from Anna back to Rosaline. This shift does not occur. The story abruptly ends. The absence of the shift reveals an important facet of the story that makes it a piece of detective fiction (as well as a fun read!). The story encourages us to think about Rosaline—a clear female detective—and her possible fate. How do we think the story will end? There are clues in the story that might give us an answer, but that answer could go either way. It takes a bit of sleuthing to figure it out. “The Ruins of the Abbey Fitz-Martin” is an engaging detective tale while at the same time it invites us to be a detective as well. Check it out.
From “The Ruins of the Abbey Fitz-Martin
Rosaline, as she gradually recovered, felt a perfect recollection of the late horrid scene, and recalling the awful voice she had heard, which she doubted not proceeded from some supernatural agency, she no sooner beheld Norman, than she darted towards her chamber, regardless of the terrors of the old steward or Jannette. As soon as she entered her room, she drew from the folds of her robe the relics she had unknowingly grasped from the coffin. On examination, it seemed to be some folded papers; but in so decayed a condition, that they threatened to drop in pieces with the touch. She carefully unfolded the parcel, and found it to contain the story of the unfortunate Anna; but many of the lines were totally extinct, and only here and there a few that could be distinguished. At length, in another packet she discovered a more perfect copy of the preceding ones, which, from the style of its writing, evidently proved them to be the labor of some of the monks, who had, from the papers discovered in the cell of her confinement, been enabled to trace the truth of her melancholy story and sufferings, in which the Baron was but too principally concerned. Rosaline, retrimming her lamp, and seating herself nearer the table, took up the monk’s copy, and began, not without difficulty, to read the melancholy story of The Bleeding Nun of St Catherine’s.