Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya; or, The Moor: A Romance of the Fifteenth Century, edited by Adriana Craciun & Zofloya, or, The Moor, edited by Kim Ian Michasiw

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Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya; or, The Moor: A Romance of the Fifteenth Century Edited and introduced by Adriana Craciun (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1997). [xvii] + 303pp. $15.95 (Pap; ISBN: 1-55111-146-2).
Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya, or, The Moor Edited and introduced by Kim Ian Michasiw (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997). [xxiv] + 280pp. $11.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-19-283239-5).

Reviewed by
Michael Gamer
University of Pennsylvania

One hundred and ninety-one years after its first publication, Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya; or, The Moor finally has received not one new edition but two.1 The respective editors of the Broadview and Oxford editions, Adriana Craciun and Kim Ian Michasiw, take similar editorial approaches with Dacre's romance, basing their own texts on the first edition of 1806, keeping nearly all spelling and punctuation irregularities, and only correcting obvious inconsistencies and errors (such as the multiple spellings of the name of Zofloya's femme fatale Magalena Strozzi). Given the relatively simple editorial history of their text, such an approach is a blessing because it retains Zofloya's linguistic excesses and allows readers, therefore, to intuit the relation between Zofloya's language and its preoccupation with representing sexual, emotional, and physical violence.

Michasiw's introduction is accessible, capacious in its knowledge of eighteenth-century gothic fiction, and informed regarding recent developments in gothic and Romantic studies. Besides providing a good general overview of Dacre's life and literary career, it deftly unpacks the issues raised by Zofloya's handling of race and female desire and explains Dacre's long absence from literary studies with force and efficiency:

[Dacre] is precisely the sort of woman author unlikely to have appealed to Victorian critics—one tarred both by Romanticism and by reaction; one who wrote both 'sundry novels in the style of the first edition of The Monk' and political ballads for the popular press. Moreover, in neither her associations nor her novels was she likely to win friends among those twentieth-century scholars seeking to exhume the worthy works of forgotten women writers. Dacre is not quite early enough to be forgiven her lapses in emotional taste; her political commitments are not easily assimilated into later twentieth-century norms; she is conventionally associated with male Gothic; her novels are populated by sexually predatory, physically violent, mother-hating women of whom the narrations appear to approve. In sum, Dacre is precisely the sort of writer whom canons, both established and revisionist, are designed to exclude, an exclusion this edition hopes, in part, to rectify. (xiv)

Yet for both Michasiw and Craciun, Dacre's "lapses in emotional taste" are what make her such a fascinating study and such a "worthy" candidate for revaluation. Both stress the uniqueness of Zofloya's heroine, Victoria, in the fiction of these decades; while this may be a slight overstatement, there is no way to overstate the ways that Dacre—and especially Zofloya—force us to reformulate fundamental and received critical "truths" about gothic fiction's handling of gender. In a field traditionally divided into Male (or "Horror") gothic and Female (or "Terror") gothic, Dacre's novel demonstrates not only that women writers can out-Lewis Lewis, but also that these same writers might create, as Michasiw describes Zofloya, "a bold synthesis of the supposedly opposed Gothic forms of Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis . . . without hesitation" (viii). One need go no further than this point to understand the need and timeliness of these editions, since Zofloya challenges the longstanding notion that male and female gothic writers are either naturally or culturally attracted to different aesthetics and conventions. As both Craciun and Michasiw note, however, Dacre does not so much disprove the idea of a gendered gothic so much as historicize it and force us to imagine it as a dialectical process—wherein the "antithetical" gothics of Radcliffe and Lewis combine in Dacre's text into a new synthetic form.

Craciun's introduction, entitled "Charlotte Dacre and the 'vivisection of virtue,'" is longer than Michasiw's, and provides a similar breadth of detail and engrossing panorama of Dacre's life and the ideas that inform her writing. As its title suggests, however, this essay is as much an article as a general introduction, and as a critical essay constitutes a persuasive and important reading of Dacre's fiction. Craciun's main interests lie in Zofloya's similarity to the novels of Sade and in the multiple ways in which its heroine Victoria challenges established arguments about gothicism, Romanticism, and gender. She also spends considerable time in her commentary on Dacre's final novel, The Passions (1811)—compellingly enough that one hopes Broadview will soon authorize an edition of this novel as well. Associating Ann Mellor's concept of "feminine Romanticism" with its female gothic counterpart, Craciun argues that such "gender complementary models . . . to a large extent depend on an author's biography and their sex, and therefore in a sense re-produce a circular argument as to what constitutes a woman's text" (13). Had Zofloya been published anonymously or under a male pseudonym, she maintains, its readers "would have assumed the author to be male" (13); Dacre's decision to publicize her gender, then, explains at least in part why the novel was received in such vitriolic terms, since reviewers were "distressed by the dissonance between the sexual content of Dacre's novel and Dacre's sex" (13). In Craciun's account, Zofloya's value extends outside of its genre and historical period, since it challenges foundational assumptions concerning what constitutes a "feminist" or a "woman's" text. Its contemporary reception and subsequent neglect by literary historians, furthermore, embody the critical and canonical consequences of transgressing against such assumptions.

That Zofloya is now available in affordable form on two different presses—and in two engaging editions—bodes well for its continued presence both in print and in critical studies of Romanticism, gothicism, and the novel. Either edition, furthermore, will function admirably in the classroom. While hardly mutually exclusive, Michasiw's and Craciun's critical introductions differ enough from one another so that instructors teaching Zofloya in the undergraduate or graduate classroom would do well to place both in the hands of their students. The two essays between them address issues of authorship, gender, performance, race, genre, class, the body, canonicity, historicism, and the history of aesthetics. One suspects, furthermore, that what material differences do exist between the editions stem less from the decisions of their editors (both have done excellent work) than from those of their respective publishers. Michasiw's sparser edition follows a fairly standard Oxford format, providing a general introduction, note on the text, chronology of Dacre's life, and select bibliography; there also is a "Note on Names" that addresses Dacre's fondness for allusive naming. Given the quality of Michasiw's work, one reads his edition wondering whether it could have provided more supplementary materials than it does and wishing—as one usually does with an Oxford paperback—that it were printed on better paper. In contrast, Craciun and Broadview have put forward not only a book of better quality in the material sense, but also a more complete edition with regard to the materials they have included. In addition to the features of the Oxford edition, Craciun's provides a better reproduction of Dacre's "Rosa Matilda" portrait, relevant selections from Bienville's Nymphomania, or, A Dissertation Concerning the Furor Uterinus (1771), ample selections of Dacre's poetry, the full text of the chapbook version of Zofloya (The Daemon of Venice [1810]), a more exhaustive bibliography, and nearly all of the substantial contemporary reviews of Zofloya. The reviews are particularly suggestive, so much so that one wishes Craciun could have provided the entire corpus of Dacre's reception. What she does include provides the most compelling evidence in the edition of Zofloya's generic instability and ultimate transgressiveness, since the reviews themselves condemn Dacre's romance in the strongest possible language for the "furor" of its language and the explicitness of its explorations of sadism, sexuality, and power.

 

Notes

1. Summers' edition (with introduction) was published in London by the Fortune Press in 1928 in a hardback edition of only 600 copies. He devotes, oddly enough, only three pages of his twenty-eight-page introduction to Dacre; the other twenty-five pages focus upon the superiority of Ann Radcliffe to Matthew Lewis. Further, Summers neither claims to have edited Zofloya nor does he provide notes; the text appears to be simply a reprinting of the 1806 edition. Similarly, Zofloya was reprinted in facsimile form by Arno Press in 1974 with an introduction by Devendra Varma. It therefore seems safe to conclude that Michasiw's and Craciun's editions constitute the scholarly editions of Zofloya.

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