This book addresses the intriguing incongruity between naming Charles Robert Maturin as a 'well-known' author of the Romantic period and the lack of any real critical analysis of his works in the past thirty years. The central thesis of the book is that Maturin's novels provide the key to a new understanding of Irish national fiction as a peculiarly haunted form of literature. Specifically, it argues that Maturin's too often overlooked body of fiction forcefully underscores the haunting presence of the past and past literary forms in early nineteenth-century Irish literature. It is a presence so often omitted and/or denied in current critical studies of Irish Romantic fiction. The book represents a project of ghost-hunting and ghost-conjuring. It investigates the ways in which Maturin's fourth novel attempts to build on the ruins of the Irish nation by describing the fissures produced by religious sectarianism in the country. The book makes use of the rarely consulted correspondence between Maturin and the publisher Archibald Constable. It does this to emphasise the manner in which Maturin's completion of his novel, Melmoth the wanderer was at all times crowded by, and, indeed, infiltrated with, his work on competing texts. These include books of sermons, Gothic dramas, short stories, and epic poems interspersed with prose narrative.
The gothic novel in Ireland, 1760–1830 offers a compelling account of the development of gothic literature in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Ireland. Against traditional scholarly understandings of Irish gothic fiction as a largely late-nineteenth century development, this study recovers to view a whole body of Irish literary production too often overlooked today. Its robust examination of primary texts, the contexts in which they were produced, and the critical perspectives from which they have been analysed yields a rigorous account of the largely retrospective formal and generic classifications that have worked to eliminate eighteenth-century and Romantic-era Irish fiction from the history of gothic literature. The works assessed here powerfully demonstrate that what we now understand as typical of ‘the gothic novel’– medieval, Catholic Continental settings; supernatural figures and events; an interest in the assertion of British modernity – is not necessarily what eighteenth- and nineteenth-century readers or writers would have identified as ‘gothic’. They moreover point to the manner in which scholarly focus on the national tale and allied genres has effected an erasure of the continued production and influence of gothic literature in Romantic Ireland. Combining quantitative analysis with meticulous qualitative readings of a selection of representative texts, this book sketches a new formal, generic, and ideological map of gothic literary production in this period. As it does so, it persuasively positions Irish works and authors at the centre of a newly understood paradigm of the development of the literary gothic across Ireland, Britain, and Europe between 1760 and 1830.
Spectres of Maturin; or, the ghosts of Irish Romantic fiction
Charles Robert Maturin's fiction, with its explicit use of Gothic themes and motifs, provides a perfect window into the continued influence of the Gothic novel in Irish Romantic fiction. A revenant-like figure, Maturin continues to exert something akin to the 'horrible fascination' attributed to the 'unearthly glare' of his living-dead creation. A kind of ghost lurking in the corridors of Irish literature and literary history, Maturin is very much a Derridean spectre haunting literary production in Romantic Ireland and beyond. The violence of the past, even when acknowledged, will always form the bulk of the Irish individual's social inheritance. Similarly, previous literary forms will continue to influence, however subtly, later literary texts long after they have ostensibly died away. The chapter also presents some of the key concepts of this book.
This chapter traces the major people, dates, and places of Charles Robert Maturin's life. Critical suspicion of Maturin is evident in early studies of the Irish novel in which Maturin is very often dismissed as a mere imitator of Owenson, with questionable literary skill at best. More recently, work on Irish literature gestures towards an acknowledgement of Maturin's literary importance. This more often than not confirms his peripheral position in the annals of Irish literary history by reproducing him as a marginal figure. In this respect, Irish literary history has largely erased Maturin's existence from the central narrative of early nineteenth-century Irish literature, thereby effectively 'un-Maturin(ing)' Irish Romantic literature and its historiography. In so doing, twentieth- and twenty-first-century criticism has produced and supported a general cultural ignorance when it comes to Maturin and the details of his life.
Charles Robert Maturin's first novel, Fatal revenge, fundamentally pivots on the return of the dead. For Maturin's readers, Fatal revenge's insistent emphasis on the incestuousness of genders and genres may well have appeared particularly striking in the context of the contemporary Irish social and political scene. Maturin's The Milesian chief is identified as the transition point between the national tale and the historical novel as well as that between the national tale and the Gothic novel of the later nineteenth century. Fatal revenge acts as a primary literary juncture. In fact, it might be analysed usefully as a medium between Gothic novel and national tale, possessing elements of both. Fatal revenge vitally mixes the two, and, in so doing, stresses the fundamental importance of a Gothic sense of the past in the national tale.
Charles Robert Maturin's second novel, The wild Irish boy, is very much aware of its ghostly inheritance. This chapter examines Maturin's novel as something more than a mere 'opportunistic imitation' of Sydney Owenson. In The wild Irish boy, Maturin produces a conglomerate novel, an intriguing mixture of society novel, national tale, Gothic novel, and early stirrings of both the Silver Fork novel and the roman a clef. This attests to and underlines the fractured nature of contemporary Irish fiction and society. Maturin's inclusion of a 'The wild Irish girl' costume further comments on Owenson's well-documented habit of appearing in public dressed as Glorvina and performing as her famous Irish princess. The heavy intertextuality of Maturin's novel, including its references to Owenson and The wild Irish girl, participate in a specific act of masculinisation undertaken by a 'purposeful borrowing from, resistance to, and remaking of, female-authored models'.
Evidencing the literary hybridity of The Milesian Chief, Charles Robert Maturin's novel begins with a traditional national tale plot but graphically transforms and skews its conventions. The Milesian Chief has been described very rightly as 'a ruin text'; a text about the ruins and ruin of a nation. The Milesian Chief is a ruin itself, a physical reminder of the devastation of Irish history, forever haunted by the ghosts of the past, the (fictional) bodies sacrificed to history heaving within its pages. Confirming its status as a ruin text, Maturin's text echoes with the ghostly voices of the Gothic novel, the national tale, and the historical novel. It emerges as a hybrid text that accurately reflects the social, cultural, and political fragmentation of the author's contemporary Ireland. Irish reality, Maturin declares, is haunted by the past, preventing any kind of meaningful mediation between conflicting temporal or, indeed, geographical zones.
Charles Robert Maturin's deployment of a vast body of literary allusions in Women; or pour et contre allows the voices of other authors and several literary forms to speak to and inform the reader. To speak of the burden of words in Women is to point to the central role that speech, words, and plurality play in the narrative as in its construction. Women explores the current state of religious sectarianism in Ireland, focusing on the internal segregation of the Church of Ireland into competing orthodox and evangelical groups. Disrupted by Emancipation and the Evangelical movement, Maturin's Ireland 'limp(s) along', like marriage in Romantic fiction, but it does so in a confused and disorderly state of incomprehension.
Incomprehension suffered by Ireland and its people at the close of Women; or pour et contre has been a frequent response to Charles Robert Maturin's fifth and most famous novel, Melmoth the wanderer. As Maturin wrote Melmoth, Ireland became, in essence, 'symbolically spread' throughout the novel by way of the paratext. Despite the geographical and temporal differences between tales, as well as the huge cast of characters, the composite stories repeat, reflect, and mirror each other. Such repetition and reflection constructs Melmoth's various tales as, in effect, a house of mirrors, a convoluted maze of mirrors around which the fairgoer-cum-reader must navigate to find the exit/conclusion. Recalling earlier Gothic novels by way of its interpolated tales, Melmoth contains repeated direct references to both the Gothic novel as a form and specific examples of the Gothic novel.
Cultural memory and Irish Romantic literary criticism from the time of Charles Robert Maturin's death to the present day have posthumously suppressed Maturin and his works. This suppression has denied the evident influence he had on a wide range of literature in his own lifetime and beyond. To speak of Maturin's 'radiance' is to argue that his presence and influence was felt continuously throughout his lifetime and after his death, as was argued in the 1892 edition of Melmoth the wanderer. Despite Honore de Balzac's desire to renounce the Gothic mode, his very dependence on Maturin's infamous wanderer highlights the ways in which the Gothic continued spectrally to possess nineteenth-century literary imagination.