Title: Zofloya, or The Moor
Author: Charlotte Dacre
Publisher: Broadview Press
Started: 28th February 2016
Completed: 14th March 2016
Summary: This is the final judgement of Satan on Victoria di Loredani, the heroine of Zofloya, or The Moor (1806), a tale of lust, betrayal, and multiple murder set in Venice in the last days of the fifteenth century. The novel follows Victoria’s progress from spoilt daughter of indulgent aristocrats, through a period of abuse and captivity, to a career of deepening criminality conducted under Satan’s watchful eye. Charlotte Dacre’s narrative deftly displays her heroine’s movement from the vitalized position of Ann Radcliffe’s heroines to a fully conscious commitment to vice that goes beyond that of `Monk’ Lewis’s deluded Ambrosio. The novel’s most daring aspect is its anatomy of Victoria’s intense sexual attraction to her Moorish servant Zofloya that transgresses taboos both of class and race.
Charlotte Dacre had an extremely interesting life and one day I’d love to do an Author Spotlight post on her because she was an amazingly daring female writer. Dacre originally wrote Zofloya under a pseudonym, Rosa Matilda, which was a reference to Matthew Lewis’ The Monk. She wrote several other novels including The Libertine in 1807 (Vol 1-2, Vol 3-4). Zofloya was originally published in three parts but was later collected together to form one novel.
Let me start this review by saying that I absolutely loved this novel. It’s so close to being a perfect novel in my opinion. It’s shocking, subversive, and amazing. I love that it’s about female sexuality rather than male sexuality. Of course, female sexuality is violent and bloody in this novel but it’s also about independence and being self-sufficient. Dacre also plays with gender stereotypes as women are very masculine in this novel and the men are feminine.
I liked most of the characters, especially Zofloya, Victoria, Count Ardolph, Leonardo, and Megalena. Victoria and Megalena are my favourite characters because they are both very complex women in a time when women were expected to act in a certain way. They’re both sexually dominant and Megalena can even be seen as a sexual voyeur. I love how blood thirsty they are too because they’re so eager to kill people in the search for sexual fulfilment and dominance.
The writing is great. I can’t fault it. It’s not overly descriptive and it doesn’t focus on the Sublime (like a lot of novels from this era do) so it’s a nice change from other Gothic and Romantic period writing. It does have some 15th Century language in it, just to make it more realistic I guess, but it’s not too difficult to read as the rest of the novel is in standard 19th Century English.
The plot is fantastic too. Victoria de Loredani is a beautiful, spoiled young woman who has a list of bad traits as long as your arm. She’s the daughter of the Marchese di Loredani and his wife, Laurina. Laurina and Loredani married at an extremely young age but had been together for 17 years before the beginning of the novel. They have another child, as well as Victoria, called Leonardo and they all reside in Venice at the end of the 15th century.
Count Ardolph, the Marchese’s friend, visits from Germany and he takes pleasure in destroying the reputations of pure women, and breaking up happy marriages. He seduces Laurina and this starts the bloody events of the novel.
Victoria becomes a monstrous young woman due to her mother’s sins. She seduces men, she murders men, and she even plans to murder a very young girl called Lilla because the man she ‘loves’, Henriquez ,is in love with her. It’s all very complicated and bloodthirsty. I won’t go into the plot too much because of spoilers but it really is a wonderfully graphic story.
The only real reason I gave this 4.5 stars out of 5 is because it is so similar to The Monk (which I reviewed here) and I read Zofloya just after I read The Monk. If I hadn’t read The Monk then this book would have been a definite 5 star review. It just so obviously influenced by Matthew Lewis that you can’t help but compare the two.
Also, there is a problem with the fact that she made one of the evil characters a black man but pretty much everyone is evil in this novel. So while I understand the claims of racism I also think that Dacre didn’t intend for this to be racist novel (especially as she campaigned for the abolition of slavery). I think it’s more about a subversive interracial relationship between a black man and a white woman. Everyone has a different interpretation though so I accept what people think!
Overall, I loved this novel. It’s one of my favourite Gothic novels, and perhaps one of my favourite ever novels. I just wish that I hadn’t read The Monk first because I would have given Zofloya 5 out of 5 stars.
I would seriously recommend this to anyone who doesn’t mind gore and excessive amounts of blood. I’d even recommend it as an early feminist (protofeminist) text. Some people think that it is an anti-feminist book and I see that point of view but I completely disagree. It’s all about subtle subversion and it’s wonderful. Go and read it if the summary appeals to you!
Note: The edition I’ve linked to is £16.99 because it’s an academic version. If you want to read it but don’t want to spend so much money then I’d recommend the Oxford World’s Classic edition which you can buy on Amazon UK or Amazon US. I’m sure there’ll be an even cheaper version somewhere but I love the OWC editions.