Charles Robert Maturin

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Charles Robert Maturin was born in 1780, one of several children born to William Maturin and Fidelia Watson. The Maturin family was of French descent. One of their ancestors was a Huguenot priest who was forced to leave France because of religious persecution during the reign of Louis XIV. This aspect of his family history strongly impressed the young Maturin, and throughout his life he was fond of relating how his ancestors had suffered for their faith. He himself was strongly anti-Catholic and especially opposed to the rule of monastic life, which he considered dangerously repressive. His novels contain many scenes and descriptions of monasteries as sadistic places where virtue turns to vice.

When in Ireland, Maturin’s family became closely connected with the Anglican Church. Maturin’s great-grandfather, Peter Maturin, was dean of Killala from 1724 to 1741, and his grandfather, Gabriel James Maturin, succeeded Jonathan Swift as dean of St. Patrick’s in Dublin in 1745. Following this tradition, Maturin entered Trinity College in 1795 to study theology, and in 1803 he took holy orders. In the same year, he married Henrietta Kingsbury, a daughter of the archdeacon of Killala. From all reports, the couple were well suited and happily married. After ordination, Maturin served as curate in Loughrea, Galway, for two years. He then returned to Dublin to become curate of St. Peter’s, a position he held for the rest of his life. His small income from this curacy was insufficient to support his family, especially after his father was accused of fraud and dismissed from his position with the Irish post office in 1809. Later, he was cleared and given another position, but for a time, the family struggled in severe poverty. In fact, Maturin was continually troubled by financial difficulties. To supplement his income, he ran a school to prepare boys for college, and later he turned to novel writing.

The prefaces of his novels and the styles of romance he chose to employ indicate that he wanted very much to become a popular writer. Because he realized that many of his parishioners and superiors might not approve of a minister writing novels, he used the pseudonym Dennis Jasper Murphy, publishing three novels under that name. When it was discovered that he was the author of the play Bertram, a play involving adultery and an amoral hero, he was for a time in danger of losing his curacy. Apparently, friends intervened to soothe the necessary bishops. After this incident, since his identity was known, he published his next novels and plays under his own name. It is quite possible that his literary activities did prevent his advancement in the clerical profession. There were those who interpreted the beliefs of his characters, some of which were atheistic and heretical, as Maturin’s own.

Maturin’s novels did gain him one very influential friend, Sir Walter Scott. In 1810, Scott wrote a generally favorable review of Fatal Revenge for The Quarterly Review. Encouraged, Maturin wrote to him, and a correspondence was begun that lasted until Maturin’s death. Although the two never actually met, Scott did assist Maturin with encouragement and advice, and he was instrumental in Maturin’s one financial success; he recommended Bertram to Lord Byron, who was then responsible for play selection at Drury Lane Theatre. Byron was favorably impressed, and the famous actor Edmund Kean agreed to play the lead. The play’s success earned Maturin one thousand pounds, most of which paid a relative’s debt. Earlier, Maturin had been able to sell the copyright of his third novel, The Milesian Chief , for eighty pounds (the first two...

(This entire section contains 730 words.)

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novels he had printed at his own expense), and later he was advanced five hundred pounds forMelmoth the Wanderer, but his literary efforts never brought the long-sought and often desperately needed financial stability.

Up until his death, Maturin continually tried to write in a style that would sell. The Albigenses is a historical romance, a type Scott had established and made quite popular. This novel was the first in what was to be a trilogy depicting European manners in ancient, medieval, and modern times. Soon after The Albigenses was completed, Maturin died in his home on October 30, 1824, apparently after a long period of ill health. The exact cause of his death is not known. He left his wife and four children, who were still in desperate need of financial assistance.


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