Beyond Religion: The Reality of Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic Narrative

Italian countryside. (Credit: beachgirl @ Pixabay)

The eighteenth century in Britain, as well as outside the island nation, was a time of great change. Educated Britons read transformative texts from key Enlightenment figures, such as Voltaire, Newton, Jefferson, Wollstonecraft, Hume, Paine, and others. Many of these same readers enjoyed novels and satiric works, which were authored by the likes of Jonathan Swift, Samuel Richardson, Fanny Burney, and many more. One of the new literary trends of this period was the Gothic narrative, made fashionable by Horace Walpole, Maria Edgeworth, William Beckford, Matthew Lewis, and others. One of the most influential Gothic fiction writers and pioneers was Ann Radcliffe. Her Gothic novels include The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and The Italian (1797). The latter work, set in central Italy, takes place in 1758. It is a familiar tale of forbidden love, between Vincentio di Vivaldi, son of nobles, and Ellena Rosalba, an orphan with mysterious parentage. Yet, it is also a tale—composed from Protestant England—of Catholic Italy, which is cast in a foreboding atmosphere during the Roman Inquisition. Radcliffe includes numerous priests and church officials in the novel, and they are attached to institutional deceit and corruption. Continue Reading

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Stranded

18th Century England (Pieter Tillemans)
18th Century England (Pieter Tillemans)

 

    In Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778), a masterful tale of love and discovery, the novel’s namesake character takes center stage. Among a truly diverse set of characters, her authenticity and innocence stand out. Throughout her many adventures, she deals with people who are strong, polite, ill-mannered, rude, scheming, playful, honorable, trustworthy, self-centered, gracious, and jealous. While she is an outsider, she is not the only one. There is one fellow outsider who holds many of these qualities, less the positive ones: Captain Mirvan. Evelina is sent to stay with the Mirvan at Howard Grove. She soon finds out that the merchant captain, who has been ship-bound for seven years, is coming back home—possibly for good. Much to her dismay, Mirvan is rude and troublesome. He puts down others and finds ways to entertain himself. He greatly dislikes Evelina’s grandmother, Madame Duval, and enjoys making her life miserable. The only thing that seems to really make him happy is playing cruel tricks on Madame Duval. The Captain doesn’t seem to care about anyone, except for himself. He finds pleasure in other people’s misery. It appears that he fits the classic model of a hedonist. However, Captain Mirvan’s behavior is not ultimately due to hedonism, but is because he is a man out of his element.

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