Charles Robert Maturin Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111207098-Maturin.jpg Charles Robert Maturin Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In addition to his novels, Charles Robert Maturin (MAT-choo-rihn) also wrote plays, three of which were performed and published during his lifetime: Bertram: Or, The Castle of St. Aldobrand, a Tragedy (pr., pb. 1816), Manuel (pr., pb. 1817), and Fredolfo (pr., pb. 1819). A fourth, Osmyn, the Renegade: Or, The Siege of Salerno, a Tragedy, written sometime between 1817 and 1821, was produced in Dublin in 1830. It was never published in its entirety; excerpts were printed in The Edinburgh Literary Journal (April 24, 1830). Of these plays, only Bertram was financially successful. When it first appeared, it was one of the most talked about plays of the season, and today it is noted for being one of the first dramatic portrayals of the brooding, sinned against, and sinning figure who has come to be called the Byronic hero.

Two short fictional pieces were published posthumously: “Leixlip Castle: An Irish Family Legend” appeared in The Literary Souvenir: Or, Cabinet of Poetry and Romance of 1825, and “The Sybil’s Prophecy: A Dramatic Fragment” was printed in the 1826 edition of the same publication. Both these pieces are in the gothic style.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Charles Robert Maturin is best known for Melmoth the Wanderer, the fifth of his six novels. Although, when it first appeared, many critics viewed it merely as an unfortunate attempt to revive the gothic novel, a form earlier made popular by such authors as Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Gregory Lewis, scholars now consider Melmoth the Wanderer one of the finest examples of its genre. It is judged to be not only a culmination of the gothic novel but also a forerunner of the psychological novels of such writers as Fyodor Dostoevski and Franz Kafka. Although Maturin’s handling of narrative structure is often awkward and confusing, and although he borrowed so closely from the works of others that he can be accused of plagiarism, his novels are original in their depiction of extreme states of mind, especially those engendered by fear.

Maturin himself was aware of his major strength. In the prefatory pages of The Milesian Chief, he wrote If I possess any talent, it is that of darkening the gloomy, and of deepening the sad; of painting life in extremes, and representing those struggles of passion when the soul trembles on the verge of the unlawful and the unhallowed.

His settings of mazelike madhouses and dungeons lead the reader into the dark places of the human soul. This particular aspect of his novels fascinated and influenced many other authors. Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Honoré de Balzac, and Charles Baudelaire were all impressed by Maturin’s attempt to penetrate the mystery of evil.

Critical attention also has been given to Maturin’s role in Irish literary history. In such novels as The Milesian Chief and The Wild Irish Boy, descriptions of Irish settings and character play an important part. More study needs to be done to evaluate fully this contribution to the development of the Irish regional novel; whatever the outcome, Maturin’s place among the significant writers of the English gothic novel is assured.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bayer-Berenbaum, Linda. The Gothic Imagination: Expansion in Gothic Literature and Art. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982. A sympathetic study of gothicism, the essence of which is its confrontation with evil and feelings of doom. Contains chapters on literary gothicism and gothic art and its relationship to literature, as well as focused analyses of particular works of literature. As one of the central writers of gothicism, Maturin is given considerable attention, including an extensive analysis of Melmoth the Wanderer that examines the novel as a pattern of expulsions and expansions. The conclusion sees a correlation between the gothic urge for expansion and its style of intensification. Includes a bibliography and index.

Johnson, Anthony. “Gaps and Gothic Sensibility: Walpole, Lewis, Mary Shelley, and Maturin.” In Edited by Candlelight: Sources and Developments in the Gothic Tradition, edited by Valeria Tinkler-Villani, Peter Davidson, and Jane Stevenson. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1995. A learned and clear discussion of how Maturin handles the gaps in reality that gothic fiction exploits.

Kiely, Robert. The Romantic Novel in England. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972. An important book on Romantic prose fiction, including Maturin’s gothic romances, which analyzes twelve Romantic novels. Melmoth the Wanderer is covered in detail; this novel is found to be more emotionally involved with Roman Catholicism and rebellion against authoritarian political systems than other gothic fiction, and is characterized as a journey into the darkness of the mind. Includes a set of notes and an index.

Kramer, Dale. Charles Robert Maturin. New York: Twayne, 1973. Analyzes Maturin’s personality, describes the conditions of his life, and indicates his innovations in the gothic tradition. A chronology, notes and references, a selected annotated bibliography, and an index are included.

Lougy, Robert E. Charles Robert Maturin. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1975. An insightful review of Maturin’s life and writings, dividing his career into early, middle, and later years. Includes a chronology and a selected bibliography of primary and secondary works.

Tinkler-Villani, Valeria, Peter Davidson, and Jane Stevenson, eds. Edited by Candlelight: Sources and Developments in the Gothic Tradition. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1995. See Anthony Johnson’s essay, “Gaps and Gothic Sensibility: Walpole, Lewis, Mary Shelley, and Maturin,” for a learned and clear discussion of how Maturin handles the gaps in reality that gothic fiction exploits.