Mrs. Ann Ward Radcliffe (b.1764-d.1823) is the English novelist who is considered to be the mother of Gothic Romance Novels. Her books, that starred damsels in distress, appealed mostly to damsels in her time-period, educated women, young and old, wanting escapist, romantic reads. But plenty of men read them too! Mrs. Radcliffe wrote several of these sorts of novels, all of which inspired her contemporaries and became the standard for most all romantic fiction thereafter.
A Sicilian Romance was first published in 1790. The book is a fun read and should be read in a lighthearted manner. It resembles a fairytale, complete with wicked stepmother. It was written in the 1780s but set 50 years or so earlier, in Sicily, which was then part of the Two Kingdoms of Sicily, under the Spanish crown at the time.
Mrs. Radcliff introduced to a wide, popular audience in her novels of the late 1700s:
- the beautiful, virtuous yet emotionally delicate (oft-fainting) heroines
- valiant, hunky, male love interests of royal or, better-yet, secret royal or aristocratic birth
- exotic settings set in the past for the best romantic effect, Italy and Latin lovers preferred
- weather conditions and landscapes that mirrored the emotional states of the characters (Hers is the line 'It was a dark and stormy night...'; think Wuthering Heights.)
- languid descriptions of the emotional states associated with falling in love, and all the trials of being in love
- generous use of romantic castles, abbeys, convents, palaces, ruins, all conveniently supplied with secret doors, passages and dungeons
- revelations of unknown connections between characters such as long-lost relations, secret parents, brothers and sisters
- rigid codes of honor restricting the characters' choices and attaching greater risks to any tempting romantic engagements
- loads of unbelievable coincidences, all adding to the fun.
Free E-Book Versions of A Sicilian Romance
Via my Italophiles.com website (Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site) I offer a free PDF version of A Sicilian Romance that is approximately 150 pages. I broke up the sometimes page-long paragraphs for ease of reading, and corrected some spelling errors but I've removed none of the original text.
If you right-click on the link, you can save the file without opening it by clicking on the option Save Link As. If you left-click on the link, the file opens on your PC, then you can read it there or save a copy.
If you wish the A Sicilian Romance e-book in another file format, then visit the book's page at the grand-daddy of all free e-book sites on the web, Project Gutenberg.
Paperback Editions via Amazon.com
Some people have taken the free text and made paperback books of A Sicilian Romance, for sale at Amazon.com. They have also make paperback of her other romance novels: The Romance of the Forest (published 1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (published 1794) (Project Gutenberg), The Italian (published 1796).
Jane Austen's Parody of Mrs. Radcliffe's Books
Mrs. Radcliffe's books were so popular they attracted a parody or spoof by none other than Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey. Miss Austen created one of her usual romantic-comic heroines, Catherine Moreland, and made her highly influenced by Mrs. Radcliffe's novels.
Eager for a gothic-romantic adventure of her own, Catherine sees intrigue everywhere, especially when she meets a young man whose family happens to live in a renovated abbey. That's when her imagination takes over and comic confusion ensues.
Northanger Abbey is a wonderful read after reading A Sicilian Romance. You can better appreciate all of Miss Austen's comic references--and Catherine Moreland's fantasies. It's a short novel, more like a novella. It also happens to be the first book she wrote, even if it wasn't her first book published.