The Corvey Novels Project at the University of Nebraska
Studies in British Literature of the Romantic Period
Francis Lathom. The Castle of Ollada. a Romance
London: William Lane at the Minerva-Press, 1795;
2nd ed. 1831.
Biographical Sketch of Francis Lathom
There is some contention about the biographical details of Gothic author Francis Lathom. Some sources say that Lathom was born in Norwich in 1777. He may have been the illegitimate son of an English peer. He was active in theatre in Norwich, both in writing and acting. Because of his writing career and the inheritance left him by his father, Lathom lived comfortably. He wrote a number of plays. His first novel was The Castle of Ollada; other famous titles include The Midnight Bell, Men and Manners, and Astonishment!!! Lathom was rumored to have possibly been involved in a homosexual relationship, and was described as very eccentric. Lathom traveled much in his life, and lived many places in England. In his later years, he lived with a friend named Alexander Rennie. Lathom died on May 19, 1832. One of Lathom's biographers said of him,
"Lathom was a prolific writer skilled in dialogue and drama who found a loyal readership during his life and for some time after his death. On the whole his romances are 'made-to-order' Gothic fictions (Frank, 193) and at worst have been seen as 'cynical exercises in an assumed manner' (Sadleir, 16). Lathom was vocal in his derision of the fashion for 'mysteries' which he nevertheless exploited: 'it is not an author's business to inquire why such is the public taste but to comply with it', he wrote in his preface to The Unknown (vii). But Summers sees Lathom's role as more innovative and his omission from literary history as lamentable given his part in the shift from the brooding romanticism of the Gothic form to the stark realism of historical fiction" (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).
However, in the introduction to Valancourt Books' recently published edition of The Castle of Ollada, editor James D. Jenkins refutes some of these previously believed ideas about Lathom's life. Jenkins states that his research reveals different conclusions. Jenkins states that Lathom was born in 1774 in Rotterdam, Holland. According to Jenkins, the notion that Lathom was the illegitimate son of an English peer is very unlikely. However, around 1777, the family did move to Norwich, where they resided for some time. Jenkins' biography supports the idea that Lathom was very involved in the Norwich theatre productions. Lathom published plays, and at age 20 his first novel, The Castle of Ollada, was published. By 21, Lathom was a minor celebrity. He married Diana Ganning in 1797. Lathom continued to be successful writing Gothic novels, but he also wrote a largely successful satire, Men and Manners. Lathom and his wife had three children. He continued to be active in theatre, and he left Norwich for Scotland in 1802-1803. The reasons for leaving are unconfirmed, but rumors circulated of a gay love affair. When Lathom's father died, his will promised to Francis a sum of two hundred pounds a year only on the grounds that he relinquish custody of his three children. Diana took back her maiden name and also changed the children's names to Ganning. While Jenkins acknowledges the possibility of the homosexual affair, he also states that, "it is also possible that, in a city as charged with political and religious discord as Norwich was in the late 1790s, the cause of Lathom's departure from Norwich resulted from a falling-out over politics or religion." During his years away from Norwich, Lathom published many more successful novels, returning to the Gothic genre in which he had previously been so successful. Between 1809 and 1820, Lathom did not publish any works. One theory for this hiatus is that he was traveling through Europe with his lover. Another theory is that he had made enough money selling a house he owned that he could finance this hiatus. Jenkins ends his biography with this passage:
"Francis Lathom died in 1832, one of the most popular and prolific writers of the day and the author of more than twenty books. He lies buried in a lonely churchyard in the Scottish village of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, in a grave marked by the wrong name, forgotten, like his works. It is to be hoped that this new edition of The Castle of Ollada will begin to stimulate new interest in the life and works of Francis Lathom, and that his novels may finally receive the attention they merit."
Lathom, Francis. The Castle of Ollada. Ed. James D. Jenkins.
Chicago: Valancourt Books, 2006.
Stephen, Leslie, Sir, 1832-1904, ed. Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen [and Sidney Lee] v. 1- Abbadie-[Zuylestein. And Supplement, v. 1-3, Abbott-Woodward] New York, Macmillan, 1885-1901.
Matthew, H. C. G. (Henry Colin Gray) Harrison, Brian Howard Goldman, Lawrence, 1957- British Academy Oxford dictionary of national biography (Online) Oxford dictionary of national biography [electronic resource]Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004-
-- Prepared by Brenda Kluck, Elisabeth Chretien, and Greg Schwanke, University of Nebraska, April 2006.
© Brenda Kluck, Elisabeth Chretien, Greg Schwanke, 2006.