On Wednesday of this week I will be attending my very small book group – essentially as things stand it is four of us meeting in a bar. Gossiping, talking politics, setting the word to rights over chips and cider before we finally get around to talking about our book. This week for the first time I shall arrive having not read the book. At least not all of it. I started reading Zofloya, or The Moor (1806) by Charlotte Dacre in the middle of a very busy, exhausting week, when my reading time was horribly short. Admittedly I had approached the book with grim resignation – never the best attitude to approach a book. I knew I was in for plenty of early nineteenth century gothic storytelling, lust, adultery, murder, guilt, divisions of race and class and the consequences of transgression – I just found the very idea of all that in less than 300 hundred pages pretty wearying. I managed around 80 pages – frankly amazed I read that much. Limited reading time this week meant that although I had only read about eighty pages I had wasted two evenings on it, I think I resent that more than anything. I think it was possibly wrong book wrong time, I see that there are plenty of four star reviews over on Goodreads, so perhaps I am just missing something.
The novel opens in Venice, Victoria di Loredani is the indulged daughter of happily married aristocrats, the Marchese di Lordedani and his beautiful wife Laurina. At the point the novel opens the couple have been blissfully married for seventeen years, and have a son and daughter. Enter Count Ardolph, a German nobleman who arrives for an extended visit. The count’s main objective seems to be to seduce Laurina and destroy the happy marriage of his hosts. Laurina is vain enough to be flattered by the attention, and soon enough she succumbs to his attentions. Now Laurina is that dreadful thing – a duplicitous wife. Her betrayal of her husband then sets off a series of terrible events – no doubt intended to serve as a warning to all the dreadful cheating, weak willed, vain beautiful women in the world *sigh.*
It is a fact universally acknowledged that all women in the early nineteenth century were either whores or angels.
Having been abandoned by his wife, who leaves with the Count, the Marchese sees his son leave the family home, leaving him alone with his impressionable fifteen-year-old daughter. A year later the Marchese has the bad luck to run in to Count Ardolph, a fight ensues and the Marchese receives a wound which will prove fatal in a few hours’ time.
‘Oh my God! – oh, Loredani, my injured husband! – bless me, I implore – oh, you cannot! – oh, forgive me, ere you die! – Curse me not with your last breath!’
So saying the frantic Laurina threw herself prostrate on the ground by the side of the bed where lay her dying husband, cut off, by her guilt and misconduct, in the flower of his life.”
Time enough then for a lovely death bed scene, with Laurina rushing to her estranged husband’s side begging forgiveness, and receiving it, and the Marchese urging his daughter to reconcile with her mother. With the Marchese dead, Laurina heads straight back to the count, this time with her daughter.
Victoria is soon involved with her own romance – meeting Il Conte Berenza, who falls madly in love with the young girl. Victoria’s mother and the count object to the relationship, and immediately set about separating them. Forged letters, incarceration with a nasty old crone, escape with the help of a good hearted servant girl, follows, and reunion with Berenza. I am aware the story probably sounds quite good – but there is nothing engaging in the writing, the characters are quite two dimensional, there’s no strong sense of place. I found ultimately that I just didn’t care.
“But desire of revenge, deep and implacable, was nurtured in her heart’s core, and gave to her character an additional shade of harshness and ferocity: thus she became like the untameable hyæna, that confinement renders only more fierce.”
I stopped reading just after Victoria was reunited with Berenza – realising that I simply didn’t care enough to carry on, life is too short, and I was in the wrong mood. I believe that the character of Zofloya doesn’t come into the novel until much later, and I am sorry I won’t get to meet him, he may have turned out to be more interesting than Victoria and her mother. However I think for me, that it is Dacre’s writing, that breathless, hectic style which I particularly disliked.
Maybe I will go back to this book in the coming weeks – though probably not. I hate setting aside a book unfinished, but I needed something entirely different.