Francis Lathom, 1774-1832

Biographical note

British novelist.

Lathom's first novel, The Castle of Ollada (1795) was published in two volumes, anonymously, by William Lane's Minerva Press. This work, like most of Lathom's later Gothic novels, owed much to the earlier works of such writers as Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe. Although Lathom would occasionally employ bloody and horrific scenes reminiscent of M. G. Lewis, he typically followed Radcliffe's method of the "explained supernatural."

His next novel, The Midnight Bell (1798), is his most famous, not only because it is his best Gothic novel, but more significantly because Jane Austen lists it as one of "the horrid novels" in her Northanger Abbey. Lathom would go on to publish many more Gothic novels, all with sensational titles such as Astonishment!!!, The Fatal Vow, The Unknown, and The Impenetrable Secret, Find it Out!

But Lathom was not only a Gothic novelist: about half his works are works of contemporary satire or attempts at fiction in the mode of Walter Scott. Montague Summers called Lathom's Men and Manners (1799) his masterpiece and worthy of Dickens. Very Strange, But Very True! (1803), despite its enticing title, is not a Gothic novel, but a rollicking farce which still retains much of its humour after two centuries.

Lathom can be cited for two important achievements as a novelist. First, he was one of the first writers of historical fiction, with historical romances such as The Mysterious Freebooter; or, The Days of Queen Bess (1806), a novel which blends fact and fiction regarding Queen Elizabeth, predating the better known historical novels of Scott. Secondly, Lathom may be considered among the first gay writers. His Gothic novels often deal, albeit in a muted fashion, with subversive sexuality; his later works, including the novella The One-Pound Note (1820) and the novel Live and Learn, deal in a more surprisingly obvious way with the subject of mutual love between two men. Many of his novels attack infidelity however and champion a moral attitude to family affairs.


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