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A Sicilian Romance (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 15 Oct 1998
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One of Radcliffe's great gifts as a novelist was her ability to describe landscape in a beautifully haunting fashion. During A Sicilian Romance Julia is pursued through moonlit forests; seeks shelter from a thunderstorm in a decaying monastery; contemplates the possibility of happiness while sitting on the shore of a sun-dappled lake and views the world from the lower slopes of windswept mountains. In a sense very little of this advances the plot but the descriptions do trigger an emotional response in the reader, awakening a sense of the beautiful and sublime in the landscape around us and thus setting the ground for the Gothic shocks lurking just around the corner. The plot, when you examine it, does seem a touch contrived (the thugish knights pursuing Julia continually miss her while her former companion stumbles across her straight away while strolling somewhat aimlessly down a hillside) but in a way that doesn't matter. Gothic fiction isn't really about tightly drawn plots and it certainly isn't about plausibility, it's about triggering a sense of fear and wonder and in that respect A Sicilian Romance, like most of Radcliffe's work, succeeds admirably.
I really enjoyed A Sicilian Romance, if you're looking for a way in to the weird and wonderful world of early Gothic fiction this is a great place to start. It's with Radcliffe that the frequently daft but fascinating excesses of Gothic become merged with a brilliant eye for description and effect. Nobody before Radcliffe, and very few since, could describe a crumbling monastery as seen on a summer's night by the flashes of distant lightning as well as she could. Her scene setting is superb and even her characters take on a depth that puts many of the cardboard cutouts of her predecessors to shame. It's no surprise that when Jane Austen took an affectionate dig at Gothic fiction in her novel Northanger Abbey she set Radcliffe up as the definitive example of the genre. For all of its implausibilities A Sicilian Romance is a very good novel and it shows the author well on her way to the heights of Udolpho and The Italian. Sublime, in every sense of the word.
Anne Radfcliffe is a very great writer - making the text very enjoyable.
I would say it is three quarters tragedy and one quarter Romance but give it a go. There is a surprising twist at the end. It is perhaps a bit far fetched for modern times but it is a good read.
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