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Report from ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ – Charles Maturin’s Women

A final 2018 report from the ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ seminar. This series is sponsored by BARS and seminars are held at the University of Greenwich. 

 

Charles Robert Maturin, Women; or, Pour et Contre (1818), as discussed by Christina Morin (University of Limerick)

Blog post report by Victoria Ravenwood (Canterbury Christ Church University)

 

 

The highly-anticipated final seminar in the ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ series was delivered by Christina Morin, of the University of Limerick, on Charles Robert Maturin’s Women; or, Pour et Contre. Interestingly, Morin opened the discussion with talk of another notable 1818 novel – namely, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein– and the Frankenreads project directed by Neil Fraistat to mark its 200-year anniversary. With this in mind, she presented the question: Why are we celebrating Frankensteinalone, and not any of the other great works published in that same year? Morin offered Maturin’s Womenas an equally fascinating alternative to Shelley’s seminal Gothic work.

Women; or, Pour et Contrewas Maturin’s fourth novel, and centres around the lives of two women – Eva, a deeply religious but naïve young girl; and Zaira, a beautiful, talented and successful actress – and their romantic involvements with the same man, the charming De Courcy. The novel was supposed to be published in 1816, but was not actually published until several months after the publication of Shelley’s Frankensteinin 1818. Although Shelley is highly unlikely to have read Women before this time, we do know that she was reading other works by Maturin (such as Melmoth the Wanderer) whilst she wrote and prepared Frankensteinfor publication. From this, Morin suggested, we can surmise not only the influence that Maturin’s writing had on Shelley, but also the ways in which he is responsible for contributing to the formation of the literary Gothic.

To be sure, Maturin’s works were popular and influential in the early decades of the nineteenth century. They are not as widely read today, however – evidenced in the fact that a copy of Maturin’s 1818 novel was hard to locate. Likewise, scholarship on Women; or, Pour et Contre,is limited. Morin suggested that the main reason for this erasure is that defining and identifying Irish Gothic fiction in the Romantic period is difficult, with criticism tending largely to overlook works which fall outside of the retrospectively defined boundaries of Romantic fiction (which, she added, is very much held to an ‘English standard’).

Morin explained that Irish writers had been contributing to the Gothic all along, with notable writers such as Regina Maria Roche utilizing the tropes of the genre as early as the 1780s, and yet she also noted that works by these writers are little read now. Moreover, they are continually written out of literary criticism, or else mentioned only to be dismissed as opportunistic imitators of more widely-acclaimed Gothic writers such as Ann Radcliffe. Morin argued, however, that works by the likes of Maturin cannot, and should not, be dismissed as such.

– Victoria Ravenwood