Recent reading: Zofloya, or The Moor

I don’t quite know why but I’m on something of a 19th century fiction jag at the moment, this being my latest go at it… Mr Lovecraft dismisses it in Supernatural Horror in Literature with various other titles as part of a “dreary plethora of trash”; however, we do know HPL didn’t actually read everything he cited in that noted essay, and indeed one of the other books he dismisses at that point is the Marquis de Grosse’s Horrid Mysteries, one of the “Northanger Abbey seven” whose very existence had only just been proven by a reprint that came out the same year as SHiL did… so was this one of the titles he didn’t actually read? I don’t know. Certainly the book and its elusive author, Charlotte Dacre, had both fallen into some obscurity by then, though it raised rather a stink in its day (1806), the Oxford edition apparently being the only one presently available… still, it may be trashy, but it’s rarely dreary; although the titular Zofloya doesn’t actually appear until about halfway through the book, up to that point we get a pretty busy tale of how our “heroine” Victoria is basically born with, shall we say, character flaws that are given few opportunities to be corrected, and which only get worse once our eponymous Moor appears on the scene. Amusingly, the book I read immediately before this was Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and the contrast was hilarious and instructive… much of the fuss the book raised at the time was evidently due it to being the work of a female author, working in the same Gothic vein as Ann Radcliffe had been doing for some years, but writing more like some of the male authors in that field, particularly Matthew Lewis, and it’s been argued that she remains an obscure figure now for much the same reason, even feminism doesn’t seem to have done much to rehabilitate her critical standing. Which is a bit of a shame; the book perhaps reads as rather less extreme now than it once must have done, and the incessant sententious moralising wears thin over its course, but it was generally an entertaining read…

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