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Beatrice's Spell: The Enduring Legend of Beatrice Cenci Hardcover – 12 Feb 2004


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus; First Edition - 1st Impression edition (12 Feb. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701171308
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701171308
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 1.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,613,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

A haunting story of violence and lust, and its destructive fascination for generations of writers and artists. (2003-04-02)

About the Author

Belinda Jack teaches at Christ Church, Oxford. (2003-04-02)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER on 13 Jun. 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is undeniably an interesting book, but I think it suffers a little from lack of clear focus. The opening chapter on Beatrice Cenci herself is interesting, but perhaps a little oblique about the actual extent of her father's crimes. I don't mean that in a prurient way (!) but the narrative does give the impression that he does little more than move his family into the countryside... something that clearly wasn't the case. The book then moves on, too fast in my view, to literary re-constructions of the Cenci without ever having really established a firm foundation in their story.

The scope of appropriations is interesting - Shelley, Hawthorne, Melville, Hosmer, Arnaud - but perhaps quite shallow. This isn't necessarily the author's fault, but it's very difficult to do justice to Shelley's Cenci, for example, without knowing a bit more about his life, writings and thoughts than the book has room for. This becomes even more of a problem with later writers (who personally I knew much less about).

I guess this is one of those new breed of books that takes literary theory (reception studies) and tries to open it up to a general public - an admirable move in itself, but I don't think it quite works here. The scope is too vast, and there's a slight sense (perhaps erroneous) that the writers Jack concentrates on are a little arbitrary: how important was Beatrice Cenci to them within the overall scope of their work?

I did enjoy this book, but ultimately found it an unsatisfying read. It did, however, both send me back to Shelley (always a good sign!) and make me want to find out more about the Cenci themselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By F. Orion Pozo on 4 Feb. 2006
Format: Hardcover
Not really about Beatrice Cenci, this book is a study of the sinister, and maybe fatal, fascination her story has had on a group of writers and artists.
The sad story of Beatrice Cenci is simply told. In 16th Century Rome, she was abused by her rich and powerful father. Her many appeals for justice and relief fell on the deaf ears of people afraid to intercede. Unable to escape or get help, she plots with her brother, her step mother and two servants to kill her father, end the abuse, and disguise the death as an accident. When the death is ruled a murder, they are tortured into confessions and then brutally executed for their crime. Almost 200 years later a painting by Guido Reni is found that many believe is a portrait of Beatrice painted on the eve of her death.
Her father's abuse of Beatrice is never specified, but he was a known sadist and a sodomite. In Rome, Beatrice, although convicted by the law, was popular both at the time of her death and for hundreds of years after. Reni's painting did much to extend her legend to the many foreign visitors to Rome.
But what Belinda Jack does is to look at how the story of the Cenci deeply affected the life and work of a group of authors and artists. This is a work of literary biography. The main focus is on the authors Percy Shelley, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the sculptor Harriet Hosmer, and the playright and actor Antonin Artaud.
The weakest part of this book is that Ms. Jack searches for the unspeakable in the lives of these people. What proof is there of the most secret of crimes? So while she is "grimly" engrossed in her study, all that she can truly point to is that these people "share various common traits and preoccupations.
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Format: Hardcover
I discovered the story of Beatrice Cenci in Desmond Seward’s wonderful CARAVAGGIO. I immediately went to Amazon where I found Belinda Jack’s BEATRICE’S SPELL, thanks to which I have far more information on the Cenci. I won’t go into the murder and the horrible consequences that befell the murderers, but Belinda Jack is here for that and no one could do a better job. The story takes just 36 pages of her book. The remaining 149 are on other people—Shelley, Melville, etc.—who were, in one way or another, touched by Beatrice’s martyrdom (the reason why the book is entitled Beatrice’s SPELL). Belinda Jack reproduces a wonderful painting of Byron, in which he is absolutely gorgeous, although he doesn’t merit a chapter in the book. She doesn’t go into Melville’s homosexuality, for which he suffered the tortures of hell while Byron was in Greece bragging about the 300 boys he’d had there. Melville’s Moby Dick bores me to tears and I’m certain that it’s success was due to the real-life sinking of some whale boats which made all the headlines just before Moby Dick came out. My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The Dark Side of Artistic Expression Explored 4 Feb. 2006
By F. Orion Pozo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Not really about Beatrice Cenci, this book is a study of the sinister, and maybe fatal, fascination her story has had on a group of writers and artists.

The sad story of Beatrice Cenci is simply told. In 16th Century Rome, she was abused by her rich and powerful father. Her many appeals for justice and relief fell on the deaf ears of people afraid to intercede. Unable to escape or get help, she plots with her brother, her step mother and two servants to kill her father, end the abuse, and disguise the death as an accident. When the death is ruled a murder, they are tortured into confessions and then brutally executed for their crime. Almost 200 years later a painting by Guido Reni is found that many believe is a portrait of Beatrice painted on the eve of her death.

Her father's abuse of Beatrice is never specified, but he was a known sadist and a sodomite. In Rome, Beatrice, although convicted by the law, was popular both at the time of her death and for hundreds of years after. Reni's painting did much to extend her legend to the many foreign visitors to Rome.

But what Belinda Jack does is to look at how the story of the Cenci deeply affected the life and work of a group of authors and artists. This is a work of literary biography. The main focus is on the authors Percy Shelley, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the sculptor Harriet Hosmer, and the playright and actor Antonin Artaud.

The weakest part of this book is that Ms. Jack searches for the unspeakable in the lives of these people. What proof is there of the most secret of crimes? So while she is "grimly" engrossed in her study, all that she can truly point to is that these people "share various common traits and preoccupations."

These include a need to expose taboos, significant relationships with fathers or father figures, an interest in violence or even sadism, extreme responses to guilt, and bouts of severe depression or madness. In each case, learning the story of Beatrice Cenci exacerbates their imbalances, while compelling them to relate the story in their work.

This is a deeply disturbing book that hints at the profound impact of paternal sexual and physical abuse on people. Yet it is a book that brings to literary criticism itself an exposure of a hidden and unspoken tradition. For that reason, I feel this is an important work that will have lasting influence.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
interesting subject, slight book 13 Dec. 2005
By D. B. Visel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
There's an interesting book to be written about Beatrice Cenci & the arts, but this isn't quite it. There's remarkably little time spent thinking about her story and its reception: a good chunk of the book is potted histories of the lives of the authors, which don't bring much new to the table - although it is nice to hear about Harriet Hosmer, who always appears in marginal figures. There's at least one glaring error: Pierre (1852) was not Melville's last novel, as he published Israel Potter (1855) and The Confidence Man (1857) after it, to say nothing of the unpublished Billy Budd. Her reading of Pierre, for what it's worth, leaves a great deal to be desired: it's an extremely tangled novel which she doesn't do enough to untangle, even though the portrait of Beatrice Cenci plays a major role - instead, she concentrates on Melville's life. I would have liked to see more on Moravia's play - or other Italian treatments of the story, which must exist - his play remains one of the most sustained treatments of the Cenci theme and deserves scrutiny, even if nobody reads Moravia any more. Would also liked to have learned more about the reception of Guido Reni's painting - though it was evidently accorded the same respect as the Mona Lisa in the 19th century, now it hangs neglected in the Galleria Barberini. Why? This painting does make an appearance in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive just as it does in Pierre - but alas, Belinda Jack doesn't mention this.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating in parts 11 May 2004
By ilmk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Belinda Jack's poignantly erudite discourse on the life and subsequent artistic response to the events surrounding Beatrice Cenci who was executed in 1599 for the murder of her father, Francesco Cenci, a man portrayed by history as sadistically brutal to all he encountered and whose sexual perversions extended to his own family is a work that doesn't quite end up delivering the richness of artistic and literary impact to the discussed artists/writers that is implied in the introduction.
Drawing first, in the introduction, on the similarities to enduring incest myths, then to Corrado Ricci's attempt to truly define the face behind the painting commonly held to be that of Beatrice Jack's states her intention to examine the reality behind the accusations and the subsequent literary impact Beatrice had on personages such as Shelley, Hawthorne and Artaud.
The first two chapters deal with, firstly, the trial and execution of Beatrice, her mother Lucrezia and brother Giacomo, going into particular detail on the nature of the `day' and her younger brother Bernardo's prison sentence. Secondly, with the crime itself, the half-hearted attempts to cover it up and the subsequent trial plus a brief history of the Cenci family, stressing the nature of the personality of Beatrice's father and his repeated jailing over his life for various personal crimes against people.
Come chapter Three, Jack moves to deal with Shelley. Immediately opening with Shelley's own words on seeing the Guido Reni portrait Jack then goes to briefly outline the concept that Shelley was a poet looking for an audience and his fascination with Beatrice can be seen in the posthumously published `Julian and Maddalo'. After a history of Shelley's short life over 27 or so pages, the link to Cenci finally comes with Shelley's only completed play, `The Cenci' and Jack draws the conclusion that "his discovery of Francesco Cenci, whose character vindicated Shelley's deep suspicions about the motivation of fathers in relation to their daughters."
Chapter Four moves to Herman Melville. Jack again just gives us an account of his life and personality, draws attention to `Pierre', his last novel and its reference to the Cenci portrait and concludes by moving to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Again, we are subjected to a biography of a man who was affected by firstly the antinomist, Ann Hutchinson and later the events surrounding Salem before he eventually came across Beatrice. He produced his final novel directly about the Cenci portrait and two differing reactions to it in the novel `The Marble Faun'. The chapter on Hosmer gives us a markedly different character to the previous writers. Harriet was a woman fighting against the artistic male prejudice of the Victorian world yet retained her sense of liveliness, sculpting her Beatrice Cenci out of pure interest. The following chapter on the Voyeurs best explains the concentrated artistic interest in Cenci with Jack's opening: "The Cenci fever that took hold of the Florence set affected Robert Browning too, but somewhat indirectly". This is probably the best chapter of the novel as it dispenses with the somewhat over lengthy biographies that dominate the chapters about individuals and concentrates solely on Cenci impact on Browning, Dickens, Stendahl, Dumas, and Cameron. Finally we come to Antonin Artaud, a somewhat Shelley-esque character whose personal torments mixed with theatrical genius led to a play called Cenci.
This is a slender text and I came away feeling that Jack's exploration of her opening gambit is quickly exhausted and there is a good deal of biographical information against the five main artists/writers she has explored, which, though interesting seems more to be `fill'. Jack's opening sentence is:
"I am setting out to explore a disturbing subject: the response of writers and artists over the centuries to a young woman's life of extraordinary suffering, and the revenge which led to her own violent death".
Whilst Jack has identified those writers and artists, all we really have is a mini-biography and -psychoanalysis of them. The analysis of artistic response tends to give way to biography for each and I would have preferred to see more detail on the natures of the responses to Cenci's tragedy rather than their lives before encountering her. The saving grace is that we do get this in Chapter Seven and, for this reader, it saved the book as I confess I found myself skipping large tracts of the biographical sections to find where Jack has dealt with the "the response of writers and artists over the centuries to a young woman's life of extraordinary suffering, and the revenge which led to her own violent death".
As a result I came impressed with the discussion on the collection of personalities for whom the story of Cenci had interested their artistic personalities but feeling that I had to search amongst a lot of `fill' for those erudite analyses. Jack's book has also stirred (for this reader, at least) interest in the historical story behind Beatrice Cenci and it is to that that I will turn for more information rather than the artists/writers that Jack has detailed.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
FINALLY A BOOK ON THE CENCI MURDER 20 Jun. 2014
By Boyd Hone - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I discovered the story of Beatrice Cenci in Desmond Seward’s wonderful CARAVAGGIO. I immediately went to Amazon where I found Belinda Jack’s BEATRICE’S SPELL, thanks to which I have far more information on the Cenci. I won’t go into the murder and the horrible consequences that befell the murderers, but Belinda Jack is here for that and no one could do a better job. The story takes just 36 pages of her book. The remaining 149 are on other people—Shelley, Melville, etc.—who were, in one way or another, touched by Beatrice’s martyrdom (the reason why the book is entitled Beatrice’s SPELL). Belinda Jack reproduces a wonderful painting of Byron, in which he is absolutely gorgeous, although he doesn’t merit a chapter in the book. She doesn’t go into Melville’s homosexuality, for which he suffered the tortures of hell while Byron was in Greece bragging about the 300 boys he’d had there. Melville’s Moby Dick bores me to tears and I’m certain that it’s success was due to the real-life sinking of some whale boats which made all the headlines just before Moby Dick came out. My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
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