The Gothic in “A Sicilian Romance”

While reading “A Sicilian Romance,” I thought back to some of my prior research on the gothic. I had noticed, of course, the descriptions that were obviously gothic in “A Sicilian Romance,” but also thought of the roots of the meaning of the word “Goth.” History tells us that the Goths were known as barbarians who destroyed classical Roman civilization and for centuries onward, rendered the civilized world dark and ignorant. In a book called The History of Gothic Fiction, Markman Ellis says that the Goths were a German tribe inhabiting the northern and eastern borders of the Roman Empire, and that they launched an invasion of the empire in 376 AD, after long-standing border disputes. Perhaps because they were repeatedly successful in the invasions, and eventually sacked Rome in 410 AD, their history has come to acquire a sordid aura, characteristic of savagery and cruelty. By the eighteenth century, “Goth” was a blanket term for all German tribes, and the term “gothic” came to be associated with medieval culture, “and thus the culture dominant in the Dark Ages (the period from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries” (Ellis 22). Because of the role of Goths in the disintegration of what is regarded as the greatest civilization the world has known, the word “gothic” came to mean “barbarous” – a connotation that can be found in Shakespeare and Chaucer’s writings, and which survives into the eighteenth century (Ellis 23).


In the eighteenth century, however, the term “gothic” was revised and gothic fiction came to be commonly thought of as representing “one of the defining moments when an old chivalric past was idealized at the expense of a classical present. The Gothic is then a conscious anachronism, presented not as an error of taste or a corrupting influence, but as a positive attribute” (Ellis 23). In other words, something that was thought of as classical, sophisticated and tasteful in the present could be compromised for an honorable and chivalric past without giving rise to criticism and opposition. It could now be said that “the gothic is not a destroyer of the civilized values of classical Rome, but rather is perceived as the source and repository of some of the unique, valuable and essential elements in English culture and politics” (Ellis 24). I looked for ways that this understanding of the gothic could be applied to “A Sicilian Romance.” While there were several instances that could fit this definition, I thought the most interesting one to examine would be the scene in which the Marquis tells Julia that she must marry the Duke de Luovo.  Julia, who has fallen in love with Hippolitus, cannot bear the thought; she entreats her father to reconsider his orders, but he responds with, “Away! Nor tempt my rage with objections thus childish and absurd. What – when wealth, honor and distinction are laid at my feet, shall they be refused because a foolish girl…cries and says she cannot love!” Here, the Marquis is clearly privileging Duke de Luovo’s honor and rank, passed down from an old lineage, over something tasteful offered in the present (that Hippolitus is sophisticated and tasteful in his ways is evidenced even by the way he looks at Julia during the ball; “a timid respect marked the manner of Hippolitus, more flattering to Julia than the most ardent professions”; the gentle way he talks to Ferdinand is also of note). Therefore, the post-eighteenth-century definition of gothic is at play here; however, the scene can also be applied to the other definition of gothic. It would be difficult to argue that the Marquis is barbaric simply because he places financial concerns (he does mention “wealth”) over the ennobling emotion of love, as both love and money have historically been the basis for nuptials. However, the Marquis’s demeanor can be interpreted as barbaric; his dismissal of his daughter’s tears may be seen as cruel; his tendency to want to remain in the “Dark” (pun intended) about her desires, or, you could say, his “tearing down” of these desires, and his coercive nature, shown by his threat to withhold shelter if Julia does not comply – could all be elements of the pre-eighteenth century understanding of the gothic.

First Impressions: Genre Confusion and Resolution in Emmeline

As I read the first hundred or so pages of this novel, I identified with Mary Wollstonecraft’s critique of Emmeline:  [T]the false expectations these wild scenes excite, tend to debauch the mind, and throw an insipid kind of uniformity over the moderate and rational prospects of life, consequently adventures are sought for and created, when duties are neglected, and content despised” (The Analytical Review, July 1788). Reading first several chapters of this novel was a misleading experience, because, rather than immediately committing to one novel convention, like the gothic novel, the sentimental novel, or the novel of manners, Charlotte Smith explored the spaces of all of those genres in the first volume. In her experimentation, she almost loses the trajectory of Emmeline’s character development, as well as the focus of the novel, but by eventually settling on writing a novel of manners, Smith is able to increase the complexity of her Emmeline’s character and situation.

The crazy hybridity of Smith’s experimentation with the conventions of her time almost damaged my opinion of the entire novel itself, but I can now see why she considered other forms first. The gothic novel conventions (abandoned castle, helpless female in pursuit, scary noises in passageways) help Smith establish the potential dangers that surround Emmeline’s vulnerability, a theme that continues even when she adopts the novel of manners approach (we think of Croft’s near assault of Emmeline that occurs later,  in chapter two of volume three). And the pathos adopted from the sentimental tradition—the excessive weeping and sobbing—allows Smith to establish the potential tragedy that constantly threatens Emmeline.

To some extent, I still agree with Wollstonecraft that the “wild scenes” of the first chapters dull the reader’s (and protagonist’s) sense and judgment of character. In volume one, it almost seems as though Smith uses the gothic conventions incoherently, and wants us to grow to accept Delamere in spite of his highly questionable character, nature, manners, and education. Although the reader realizes Emmeline’s dilemma, it is still difficult to excuse her lack of assertion, and even judgment, when she begins to consider Delamere as a possible suitor in her weakest moments.

Although it’s disappointing that Emmeline avoids rejecting Delamere outright in many opportune moments of the first volume, Smith indicates a more nuanced approach to her plight by shifting between the varied genres. She explores the uncomfortable tension of Emmaline’s difficult temptation to marry an inadequate man, which must be overcome. As a reader, I immediately decided that Delamere is terrible—practically a monster by the standards of the novel of manners—but I also felt the sense of hopelessness that Emmeline feels. Ultimately, I despaired of Emmeline having any choice that could lead to a positive outcome, which perhaps aligned with Smith’s intention underlying these outlandish adventures in the first volume. I am relieved, however, that Smith moved beyond this dilemma. I certainly would have pitied Emmaline if she had chosen to marry Delamere or Rochely, but I could not have respected or admired her.

While not as overt and urgent as the dangers usually presented in the gothic novel, nor as completely imbued with the pathetic conventions of the sentimental novel, the tensions in novel of manners that Smith introduces later help the reader see society more clearly. Although there are stereotypes, they are more realistic than what is portrayed in the other two novelistic forms. Choosing the novel of manners seems to enable Smith to provide a more focused critique on the social ramifications of Emmeline’s compromised status as a possibly illegitimate orphan.Smith departs from portraying the melodrama of gothic dangers that highlight Emmeline’s lack of protection to the more nuanced social precariousness of Emmeline’s situation.

Smith’s shift from the sentimental and gothic novel genres to the novel of manners is most noticeable in her introduction of the more appropriate hero, Godolphin. With Delamere, Emmeline is practically a caricature, but in Godolphin’s view, she is a far more admirable heroine. In his conversations with her, he actually ventures to discuss topics other than Emmeline, Emmeline’s beauty, and his devout hope that Emmeline will be his *coughDelamerecough*. Fortunately, Smith does not depend entirely on Godolphin to “reveal” Emmeline’s true character to the reader. Rather, Godolphin observes everything that we wanted Emmeline to receive credit for.

It Keeps Rainin’ (Tears From My Eyes)

Although Emmeline: The Orphan of the Castle, appears to be criticizing some gender and marriage norms of the 18th century, we find that the heroine is not spared the traits typified by her sex during the time; she waxes emotional very frequently, and weeps both quietly and passionately for a wide range of reasons many times throughout the novel. Emmeline does resist living her life in ways she deems undesirable; she tells her uncle that a an independent livelihood from honest labor is “infinitely superior to any advantage such a man as Maloney can offer me” (30) and after her uncle accuses her of coquetry, that she declares she will live in the castle neither as the wife of Maloney nor as Emmeline Mowbray a day longer. In these examples, and others, we perceive some mettle in Emmeline. However, if she is to be viewed as a character who resists pressure from others in society, and is therefore a “strong” character, it seems odd that she should be so susceptible to fits of crying. I’ll examine just a few of these instances (from Book I, for the sake of focus) to form a conclusion as to why Charlotte Smith may have chosen to portray Emmeline this way.

The death of Mrs. Carey has an effect on young Emmeline, and at this early point in the story, Smith (or the narrator) insists that Emmeline does not handle the matter in an overly emotional manner. “She possessed this native firmness in a degree very unusual to her age and sex. Instead therefore of giving way to tears and exclamations she considered how she should best perform all she could now do for her deceased friend” (10). Emmeline makes funeral arrangements for Mrs. Carey and deals with her grief with a fair amount of composure. Soon after this, however, we see her unravel in a series of moments during which she is keenly sensitive. The first instance is understandable: Lord Montreville gives Emmeline his condolences upon the death of Mrs. Carey, and Emmeline begins to weep, even having to excuse herself from the room because she “found her emotion very painful” (23). Although Emmeline has tried to come to terms with Mrs. Carey’s death by herself, her sorrow is piqued by the mention of her friend, so it is natural that she should cry. However, she is not given much of a break from emotional convulsions after this. In a meeting with Delamere, during which he takes the opportunity to ardently express his admiration for her, Emmeline “bursts into a passion of tears and besought him, in a tremulous and broken voice, not to be so cruel as to affront her” (28). Delamere attempts to put Emmeline at ease by assuring her that he does not mean to upset her, and simply wishes to devote his life to her, but Emmeline’s “distress arose almost to agony” (28) when Delamere presses on. At this point Emmeline is unaware that Delamere will later become more aggressive, so her reaction to him is a little extreme. Lord Montreville then chastises Emmeline for meeting his son, whereupon “the tears…streamed from her eyes” (30); they begin afresh when Lord Montreville suggests that she accept Maloney’s proposal of marriage at the time he should offer it. Emmeline weeps when she sees the letters her grandmother had written to her mother (36), and again when the women and children in the village bid her goodbye as she leaves (43). She even cries from relief; when Miss Delamere arrives with a favorable message from Lord Montreville, Emmeline is “consoled, yet affected” (67) and consequently moved to tears. Later, Delamere corners her in a room; he cries (we assume from his swollen eyes), she cries, and then she renews her sobbing more loudly when Mrs. Stafford appears.

What can Smith’s purpose be for giving the heroine such a sensitive character against the backdrop of a story emphasizing the overcoming of societal norms? I would offer the explanation that a character who is acutely emotional can be seen as facing greater challenges than one who is completely and consistently strong. Smith appears to be making the point, whether intentionally or otherwise, that one who is prone to tears as much from fear as from indignation, sentimentality, grief, or any other reason requires a kind of fortitude that may unobvious, but nonetheless present, for that character to navigate the pressures of life. What Emmeline lacks in composure, she makes up for with tenaciousness. It is perhaps a good thing for Emmeline to be physically or visibly emotional by crying or growing faint and weak, rather than being weak of will and thus being led to undertake actions she does not wish to take.

Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, Captain Wentworth…Mr. Delamere?

One detail of Loraine Fletcher’s introduction to Emmeline stood out to me more than any other: Emmeline “delighted” and influenced a young Jane Austen (9, 35). After reading this, I began to see Austen nearly everywhere in Smith’s novel—nearly everywhere, that is, except for in Smith’s cast of male characters.

If Austen is well-known for her plucky and admirable female heroines (something she acquired from reading Smith?), she is perhaps just as famous for penning leading men who deserve such ladies. It seems doubtful, however (at least thus far in my reading), that this is also something she learned from Smith: while Smith writes virtuous and engaging female characters (Emmeline herself, Mrs. Stafford, Augusta Delamere, and even to an extent Lady Adelina), nearly all the men who have made an appearance in Emmeline are rakes (Mr. Stafford, Mr. Trelawny), wimps (Mr. Elkerton), of questionable character (Fitz-Edward), or just downright unlikable (Mr. Rochely, the three Crofts men). Emmeline might as well be subtitled something like “Good Women and the Men Who Don’t Deserve Them By a Long Shot.” In fact, the only two men who seem worthy at all of the beautiful and virtuous women they marry are scarcely mentioned and are never even allowed to speak: Lord Westhaven, who marries Augusta Delamere (211), and Lord Clancarryl, who marries Lady Adelina’s older sister (217, 224).

There is undoubtedly a crisis of male virtue in Smith’s novel, which is evidenced by a brief exploration of any of the aforementioned men (with the exception of the last two). However, this portrayal of unworthy, vicious, and ridiculous men becomes somewhat complicated as we become more acquainted with Fitz-Edward and Mr. Delamere. Mr. Fitz-Edward, though at his initial introduction the narrator assures us that “his heart was not originally bad” (68) comes across as a rather slimy and ingratiating character, easily willing to be two-faced if necessary for his own purposes (99-100, 132) and too pleased with his own ability to be pleasing to be truly sincere (87). The account of his adulterous involvement with Lady Adelina (225-231) confirms any suspicion about his character not being wholly virtuous. And yet, the remorse he feels for his part in the affair (243-45), his willingness to atone for it by delivering himself to her brother, whom he does not doubt with act harshly though with perfect justice towards him (245-46), and the plans to provide for his illegitimate child as well as the joy with which he receives his son (245, 286) seem somewhat to redeem him. Whether this redemption of character will be of a permanent nature is yet to be discovered.

Mr. Delamere, on the other hand, seems to be regressing rather than progressing in virtue. Introduced as spoiled, impulsive, passionate, and quick-tempered (68), he is nevertheless the closest thing the novel has to a “hero” for much of the story. Moreover, his sudden and unassailable attachment to Emmeline (whose virtue, beauty, and understanding make her admirable) seems to be evidence of his good taste—as does his disdain for his mother’s excessive pride (117, 170) and for the scheming of the Crofts (117). Once I was assured that Delamere’s love for Emmeline is indeed sincere, I wanted to believe that he could grow to deserve her.  But affront after affront (intrusion into her bedroom while at the castle, 71; tracking her to Swansea, 83, and then to Mrs. Ashwood’s, 121; most of all his abduction of her from Mrs. Ashwood’s, 167), though made in the name of his passionate love for Emmeline, represent chance after chance he has had to reform and fails to do so. The brief time he spends under a false identity raised my hopes that, being under necessity of assuming a new identity, he might reflect on his “old self” and change his behavior. He even makes the decision to reform following the advice of Emmeline (184-85), yet repeatedly finds himself “unable to adhere to the good resolutions he had made” (188; also 257). This, indeed, seems to be his reigning vice: an inability to master his passions and execute the resolutions he makes while in a more reasonable frame of mind. One can only hope that for the sake of our heroine, he finds the strength to reign in his temper and his imagination, or that he eventually realizes he can no longer abide by his resolution to marry her.   

Gothic Departures

Charlotte Smith’s novel Emmeline is steeped in Gothic imagery. In the opening sentence, Smith establishes a Gothic setting: “In a remote part of the country of Pembroke, is an old building, formerly of great strength, and inhabited for centuries by the ancient family of Mowbray; . . . the greater part of it was gone to decay” (45).  This large, dilapidated house is inhabited by the perfect Gothic heroine: Emmeline, a lovely orphan who has spent her life in seclusion. When Emmeline was published in 1788, the Gothic form was still very new. Just over 20 years had passed since the publication of Walpole’s The Castle of Oranto. Still, with Emmeline, Smith was able to make effective use the already-established tropes of the genre to further her narrative in interesting and unexpected ways. Her unique take on the Gothic tradition is especially forceful in the early episode where Delamere enters Emmeline’s bedroom.

Early in the novel, Emmeline is locked in her room late at night when a terrifying event occurs. We are told, “A total silence had long reigned in the castle” when Emmeline “heard a rustling, and indistinct footsteps in the passage near her room” (71). Strange noises in old castles are expected in early Gothic novels, and like the typical heroine, Emmeline initially tries to convince herself that these peculiar sounds are mere products of her imagination. Of course, though, the whispers and footsteps are very real. These, however, are not the haunting noises of some secret of the past, some hidden person believed to be long dead. Smith thwarts reader expectations in this passage because the threat is not from the past but from the present. The threat is immediate. It is not hidden but attempting to burst through Emmeline’s door. Mr. Delamere, in a fit of passion, forces his way into Emmeline’s room, terrifying her and causing her to flee into the dark castle corridors.

Here again, Smith turns the Gothic tradition on its head. The typical Gothic heroine finds herself lost in dark passages, running from the object of her fear. Her disorientation emphasizes her powerlessness and terror. When Delamere violently enters her bedroom, Emmeline does feel powerless, but for her, the castle is not strange or terrifying. It is dark and decaying, but it is her home. The shadowy hallways become a source of power for Emmeline. She “recollected, that as she knew the passages of the castle, which she was convinced neither Delamere or his servant did, she might possibly escape” (72).  When a draft blows out Delamere’s candle, the corridors are plunged into blackness. This heightens Emmeline’s advantage as Delamere vainly attempts to follow her. Ultimately, Emmeline is able to find sanctuary in Lord Montreville while Delamere remains lost in the dark.

By modifying Gothic tropes, Smith is able to control the reader’s experience. She intensifies the threat in the hallway by having it burst through the door. She empowers her heroine just when the reader thinks she is at her most vulnerable. In departing from the Gothic tradition, Smith makes its effects even more forceful.

Smith on Education

Though a critique of marriage is clearly at the forefront of Smith’s concerns in Emmeline, on this first reading, I found myself drawn to her depiction of education—specifically how different characters received their educations and the consequences thereof. Whenever Smith introduces a major character of the novel, a key element of her introduction is how the character receives his or her education and who imparts it. We see this in particular with the contrast she sets up between Emmeline and Mrs. Stafford and Delamere and his sister Augusta.

Despite her near isolation in the Mowbray castle, Emmeline manages to cobble together an admirable education. In a library in complete disrepair full of moldy books, birds nests, and illegible typefaces, with “infinite pains” she finds Spencer, Milton, Shakespeare, and Pope (47).  Smith seems to advocate for a very particular type of education by emphasizing that Emmeline reads books where “instruction and amusement were happily blended.” In doing so, she “acquire[s] a taste for poetry” (47), but also “the grounds of that elegant and useful knowledge, which…enable[s] her to support…those undeserved evils with which many of her years were embittered” (48).  Smith credits this education of Emmeline’s  to her natural inclinations and motivation to learn—describing her “intuitive knowledge,” “quickness and attention,” and “uncommon understanding, and unwearied application” (46), but also to the influences of those around her—Mrs. Carey and Mr. Williamson (the old steward) “were anxious to give their little charge all they could,” even if it wasn’t much.

We see this emphasis on the need for proper instructors continue when Emmeline meets Mrs. Stafford and one of the emphases of their budding relationship is the older woman’s instruction of Emmeline in all the areas where she is lacking. When Lord Montreville sends her books and drawing materials, Emmeline recognizes “the defects in her education” and continues to apply “incessantly to her books,” but again Smith emphasizes that she is “without any instruction” (79) and can only build off of her innate aptitude. In Mrs. Stafford, she finds “one who could supply to her all the deficiencies of her former instructors.” Interestingly, like Emmeline, Mrs. Stafford already possesses a “very superior understanding,” but it is improved by “the advantages of a polished education” (81). “[H]er mind, originally elegant and refined, was highly cultivated and embellished with all the knowledge that could be acquired from the best authors in the modern languages.” Mrs. Stafford is the perfect instructor for Emmeline as an older double, and thus a role model.

Even as she lauds Emmeline’s education and Mrs. Stafford’s role in it, in contrast, Smith strongly critiques the education received by Delamere and his sister Augusta. Lord and Lady Montreville spoil their son, such that “accustomed from his infancy to the most boundless indulgences, he never formed a wish, the gratification of which he expected to be denied” (68). Though he “possessed many other good qualities,” Smith emphasizes that the “defects of his education had obscured them.” Rather than receiving his education at a boarding school, Delamere is tutored at home and then accompanied on his Grand Tour by his parents, rather than a tutor.  Though on the surface Delamere appears to have received a proper education, it is clear through his inappropriate interactions with Emmeline that his lack of proper instructors has had negative consequences.

With Augusta, we see a different critique of education. As the younger daughter, Augusta is neglected by her mother in favor of her brother and eldest sister and thus is spared the woman’s distasteful traits (perhaps unlike Delamere). However, the little her mother does teach her is “to consider herself inferior in every thing to her elder sister,” and thus “she never fancied she was superior to others; nor, though highly accomplished, and particularly skilled in music, did she ever obtrude her acquisitions on her friends” (103).  While Emmeline found a caring mother figure in Mrs. Carey and in some ways in Mrs. Stafford, Augusta is bereft and thus her education suffers. A consequence seems to be her deep reading of novels. It is from these novels that Augusta is said to have “acquired many of her ideas,” including the fanciful imagining “that Delamere and Emmeline were born for each other.” Here Smith gives a critique of the type of education young women ought to receive, as following this revelation of Augusta’s novel reading, Smith/the narrator comments parenthetically that reading novels is “almost the only reading that young women of fashion are taught to engage in” (103).  Smith doesn’t seem to fault Augusta but rather her lack of a proper education.

The message that Smith imparts with these various depictions of educations is complex and multi-faceted. On one hand we have the lauding of proper instructors, even if it is simply the loving guidance of a well-meaning housekeeper, versus the stifling of education by indulgent parents. Another element is the education of women, with Smith presenting a combination of a traditionally male education with and “useful and ornamental feminine employment” (79) as ideal. And finally, Smith is also concerned with what types of books ought to be read, offering a complicated view of novel reading, given the form in which she is writing. With each of these Smith raises questions about education in the eighteenth century that are worth considering.

Space as Characterization in Emmeline

In her novel Emmeline, Orphan of the Castle, Charlotte Turner Smith uses Emmeline’s interaction with the spaces around her as a means of characterization. The reader learns much about who Emmeline is as a person by the way she relates to the world around her. This method of developing a character has particular significance at the beginning of the novel when the reader is first getting to know the heroine. Through Emmeline’s relationship to spaces in the novel, the reader sees that she demonstrates agency, evidences a high degree of morality, and experiences a meaningful connection with nature.

Smith does not provide a great degree of detail about the interior design of the castle, but she does mention that “among the deserted rooms of this once noble edifice, was a library, which had been well furnished with the books of those ages in which they had been collected” (7).  Unfortunately, the library was no longer inhabitable due to the general neglect and disrepair of the castle. Nevertheless, the young Emmeline braves the poor conditions of the library and finds books that she “cleaned by degrees from the dust with which they were covered, and removed into the housekeeper’s room; where the village carpenter accommodated her with a shelf, on which, with great pride of heart, she placed her new acquisitions” (8). This behavior demonstrates that, even as an adolescent, Emmeline is willing to act upon the spaces available to her. She seeks out valuables from deserted places and uses these to create a more hospitable living space.

While her love of literature inspired her agency when it came to gathering books for her room, it is Emmeline’s high moral sense that motivates her to exert her agency again, this time to escape corruption and contamination. She had originally planned on sharing a room with the new housekeeper, but after seeing Mrs. Garnet’s lack of refinement and good moral sense, Emmeline “now resolved to remove her bed into an apartment in one of the turrets of the castle, which was the only unoccupied room not wholly exposed to the weather” (24). While this room had some sentimental significance due to her mother’s fondness for it, Emmeline primarily chooses the room because it affords her a great deal of distance from her unsavory counterparts. In her chapter entitled “Time and Space” in The Cambridge Companion to Narrative, Teresa Bridgeman observes, “Proximity and distance between landmarks or humans can be expressed in neutral topographical terms. But their narrative interest lies in their role in indicating how people experience their world” (60). In this instance, the narrative interest lies in the degree to which Emmeline willingly separates herself for the sake of her moral uprightness. She even goes so far as to take her meals in her room and avoids shared spaces as much as possible (Smith 28). Seeing early in the novel that Emmeline would physically isolate herself rather than be around those of questionable morals cues the reader into her strong sense of morality.

The reader’s understanding of Emmeline’s characterization extends beyond indoor spaces to her interaction with nature. She often spends time out of doors and is greatly affected by the natural world. When she goes to the beach one evening, “The low murmurs of the tide retiring on the sands; the sighing of the wind among the rocks which hung over her head, cloathed with long grass and marine plants; the noise of the sea fowl going to their nests among the cliffs; threw her into a profound reverie” (38). This reverie beomes so intense that Emmeline loses track of time for two hours and has to rush to meet her visitors. That she was able to become so absorbed by nature demonstrates to the reader that the heroine is highly susceptible to experience and becomes engrossed quite easily. This instance by the beach provides another example of Smith using Emmeline’s interactions with space to introduce her character to the reader. The novel’s title Emmeline, Orphan of the Castle further reminds the reader that Smith situates her heroine firmly in space.


How Novel

Many of the novels we’ve read until now have trained their readers to expect that the first eligible man our heroine meets will either be her eventual husband or her undoing—Fantomina and her gentleman, Sophia and Tom, Arabella and Glanville. In Emmeline, however, Charlotte Smith breaks what has been a previously expected contract with her reader. Delamere, as the first truly eligible man Emmeline meets, threatens to be both her husband and her undoing at various points in the text, and we see her soften and even become somewhat engaged to him. However, midway through the novel, Smith introduces Godolphin, and we see Emmeline begin to fall in love with a truly admirable man.

As readers, however, we are not disappointed, even though Smith breaks an established expectation. One potential reason for this is in the complexity of Delamere. Smith’s plot causes us to view him at various times as both potential husband and potential ravisher. He is rich and of good family, and he wants to marry Emmeline. For the first two volumes of the novel, he is also by far the most eligible bachelor she encounters.  Mr. Maloney, Mr. Fitz-Edward, Mr. Rochely, Mr. Elkerton, and the Mr. Crofts prove laughable at best and dangerous at worse in their posturing, assumptions, and methods of interacting with women. Moreover, Delamere opposes those who view Emmeline in a negative light, such as his mother and oldest sister, which helps us view him as her champion. In view of this, Delamere seems husband material.

At the same time, the reader, like Emmeline herself, cannot help but see Delamere’s faults and follies. He is selfish, impetuous, and spoiled, and his cocky assumption that he would be a welcome suitor to Emmeline causes the audience to regard him with suspicion only confirmed by his subsequent behavior in chasing Emmeline through the castle, following her to Swansea, discovering her at Mrs. Ashwood’s home, and then kidnapping her. In all of these, he demonstrates no regard for Emmeline, her situation, or her reputation, focusing solely on his own desires. Repeatedly, Emmeline acknowledges that “a man who would hazard anything for his own gratification now” would hardly make a good husband in the future (loc. 2449), a theme we see repeated in other relationships in the novel. Because of this, the reader’s willingness to accept Godolphin as a better alternative despite his late arrival in the novel seems reasonable.

However, another potential reason that we are not disappointed with Emmeline’s attraction to Godolphin may be Smith’s treatment of novels themselves. Miss Augusta’s familiarity with novels leads her to assume, wrongly, that Emmeline and Delamere “were born for each other” (loc. 1219), Lady Montreville assumes, also wrongly, that Emmeline has manipulated Delamere with skills “learned from novels” (loc. 2203), and Miss Ashwood appears silly because of her affectation of the language of sentimental novels (loc. 3728). It appears that even as early novels attempted to set themselves apart from romances, Smith here seems to set herself apart, even if slightly, from sentimental novels. The one time we see Emmeline attempt to read “the fictitious and improbable calamities of the heroine of a novel,” she is unsuccessful because of concern regarding Lord Montreville’s coldness to her and Delamere’s interruption (loc. 445); otherwise, she might have known she was supposed to fall madly in love with Delamere.

Instead, Smith lauds a less-sentimental education for women, as pictured in Emmeline and Mrs. Stafford. Because of these comments and the slight distance from sentimental novels Smith invokes, then, the audience is prepared when our heroine breaks the expectation that she should marry the first eligible bachelor she meets. As a result, Emmeline’s future appears much rosier than it would were she condemned to a life with the ardent and impulsive Delamere, and we are happy for her.

Smith, Charlotte. Emmeline: The Orphan of the Castle. A Public Domain Book, 2012. Kindle.