Sunday, December 4, 2011
Book Review of A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe
Author: Ann Radcliffe
Type of book: Gothic novel, late 1500s, young adult to adult,
Year it was published: 1790
In A Sicilian Romance (1790) Ann Radcliffe began to forge the unique mixture of the psychology of terror and poetic description that would make her the great exemplar of the Gothic novel, and the idol of the Romantics. This early novel explores the cavernous landscapes and labyrinthine passages of Sicily's castles and convents to reveal the shameful secrets of its all-powerful aristocracy. (Goodreads)
The characters seem to be one dimensional; they're either purely evil or purely virtuous and somewhat similar to either Cinderella or Mary Sue archetypes. (Women are hated and despised by their father and step mother and don't know anything of society but in the end gain whatever they desire.) I don't think there are explanations or whatnot for the motivations of marchioness and it's simply "just because". situations. Emilia, the elder sister isn't given a lot of personality except being completely obedient. Julia is given much more personality and is described as vivacious and passionate. I didn't buy the love between the Duke and Julia, especially when the Duke confesses his love to her. It seemed fake.
"Here the manuscript annals conclude. In reviewing this story, we perceive a singular and strinking instance of moral retribution. We learn, also, that those who do only THAT WHICH IS RIGHT, endure nothing in misfortune but a trial of their virtue, and from trials well endured derive the surest cliam to the protection of heaven." (From the last page.)
This is from multiple points of view, although its' primarily from Julia's and its written in a third person. The characters and everything else is introduced instantly, although there are many instances of suspension of disbelief and frustration with the fainting or how helpless Julia was. The story was also incredibly predictable and it was painful to read it.
Ann's fiction is characterized by seemingly supernatural events being explained through reason. Throughout her work traditional morals are asserted, women’s rights are advocated for, and reason prevails.
Ann published 6 novels in all. These are (listed alphabetically) The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, Gaston de Blondeville, The Italian, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Romance of the Forest and A Sicilian Romance. She also published a book of poetry, but her talent for prose far exceeded her poetic ability.
Radcliffe is considered to be the founder of Gothic literature. While there were others that preceded her, Radcliffe was the one that legitimized Gothic literature. Sir Walter Scott called her the 'founder of a class or school‘ (Facer). Radcliffe's novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, was parodied by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Radcliffe did not like where Gothic literature was headed, and her final novel, The Italian, was written in response to Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk. It is assumed that this frustration is what caused Radcliffe to cease writing.
Ann Radcliffe had a profound influence on many later authors, including the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Scott also interspersed his work with poems, as did Radcliffe. Indeed, "Scott himself said that her prose was poetry and her poetry was prose. She was, indeed, a prose poet, in both the best and the worst senses of the phrase. The romantic landscape, the background, is the best thing in all her books; the characters are two dimensional, the plots far fetched and improbably, with 'elaboration of means and futility of result.'" (From wikipedia.)
Although the book was predictable and a bit boring, I'm beginning to see where the idea of Mysteries of Udolpho came from; in here we begin to see the descriptions of passages, the evil characters, hidden relations, the character fainting every few paragraphs. (Any chance that could be a drinking game? Each time the girl faints, drink a shot of liquor, although that might potentially lead to someone being in the hospital very quickly.) Emily in Mysteries of Udolpho also fainted very frequently, just like Julia in this book. The author didn't handle multiple points of view very well and they seemed awkward; also her constant use of words and preaching kind of put me off from reading the book.
2 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)