Book Review: A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe

a sicilian romanceTitle: A Sicilian Romance
Author: Ann Radcliffe
Genre: Classics / Gothic / Romance
2008 (1790)
Publisher: Oxford World’s Classics
Pages: 209
Started: 25th August 2017
Completed: 19th September 2017
Rating: 4/5
Summary: 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.

A Sicilian Romance, first published in 1790, was Ann Radcliffe’s second published novel. I’ve only read one Radcliffe novel before, The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is perhaps her best-known work. Radcliffe was incredibly famous during her own time but this novel was actually published anonymously.

A Sicilian Romance was originally published in two volumes but they’re collected together in this edition and other modern editions.

I enjoyed this novel much more than I expected to. I generally go into eighteenth-century novels with a bit of trepidation because it’s not my favourite era, even though I am looking at these novels as part of my PhD thesis, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

The characters were what you’d expect from a novel like this: a young, innocent heroine, a tyrant figure who oppresses the heroine, and the heroine’s dashing lover. However, this book did throw a few surprises in there too in terms of characters. The heroine, Julia, wasn’t entirely innocent and she wasn’t fully under the control of her father as he had abandoned his daughters when he married a new woman. Julia is actually rather wilful and very much an independent thinker. I was also surprised by Maria de Vellorno, Julia’s stepmother because she’s not a feeble woman either. I won’t spoil the novel but she takes serious offence to being accused of adultery.

The plot was rather predictable for me but I didn’t mind that at all. It’s a tale of girl meets boy, girl’s father betroths her to another man for power/money/status, girl and boy attempt to elope. I just think I’ve just read too many Gothic romances from the late eighteenth-century and that’s why I’m starting to find them all so similar. Radcliffe employs the popular tropes of the time and the ending was just too perfect but you do (almost always) get a happy ending in Romance novels of the time.

I found Radcliffe’s writing to be very clever and it wasn’t too descriptive in this novel, unlike in The Mysteries of Udolpho, so I was thankful for that. Radcliffe always uses poetry and Shakespearean quotes in her novels and sometimes you can skip them but I find that they often inform the chapter they precede and they’re meant to be read. I actually like Radcliffe’s poetry but I know a few people who find it distracting.

Finally, I’d just like to mention the length of the novel. One of the main things I hated about Udolpho was it’s length as it was too long and I just couldn’t get into it. However, this book is very short and I think it’s the perfect length for a story of this kind. I still took me a while to read because it takes me a while to get into Radcliffe’s writing but it wasn’t as difficult as Udolpho.

Overall, A Sicilian Romance is a great novel and the length is perfect for me. I’d recommend it as an introduction to the romance and gothic genres of the 1790s before you move on to larger novels such as The Mysteries of Udolpho.

I’m going to reviewing another of Radcliffe’s novels, The Italian, tomorrow so look out for that!

Read for The Classics Club.

12 thoughts on “Book Review: A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe

    1. I definitely think Udolpho is worth it but maybe starting with this one would ease you into her writing style more than just going straight for Udolpho. Please do read Udolpho though because it’s a spectacular example of a Gothic novel 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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