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A Sicilian Romance by Mrs. Radcliffe, the Mother of Gothic Romance Novels





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Open PDF of A Sicilian Romance

Click on the PDF link to open the book in your Adobe Reader (see the bottom of my main page if you don't yet have the free Reader), then save it to your PC. 

Be patient while it loads; it's worth it!  It's 150 pages long.  If you dislike reading on a screen, you can always print it out on your printer.



Here is a clip of the first part of a recent filming of 'Northanger Abbey'.  Click through to YouTube to view the other parts of the film.  It was very entertaining!













Belle Dame Sans Merci
Belle Dame Sans Merci






Crystal Ball
Crystal Ball






Mrs. Ann Ward Radcliffe (b.1764-d.1823)is the English novelist considered the mother of Gothic Romance Novels, starring damsels in distress.  



Her books 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 (1790) (I offer a free PDF version of 150 pages, to read on-line or download to your PC to read there or to print out--see left column.  It is also available from Project Gutenberg)
  • The Romance of the Forest (1791 )
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) (an electronic version is available free on-line from Project Gutenberg)
  • The Italian (1796)



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



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.

Project Gutenberg offers free electronic copies of Northanger Abbey online, as well as all the other Jane Austen novels.



Below is the beginning of A Sicilian Romance.  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.

I've broken up the sometimes page-long paragraphs for ease of reading, and corrected some spelling errors but I've removed none of the original text.

You can read more about Ann Ward Radcliffe at Wikipedia.


Ophelia, the classic damsel in distress, but things ended badly for poor Ophelia.  

No knight in shining armor came to her rescue.  Her love was lost on dithering, depressive Hamlet.



















By Ann Ward Radcliffe

First Published 1790






This book was edited and prepared from the public domain text from Project Gutenberg by Candida Martinelli of

Candida Martinelliís Italophile Site






n the northern shore of Sicily are still to be seen the magnificent remains of a castle, which formerly belonged to the noble house of Mazzini. It stands in the centre of a small bay, and upon a gentle acclivity, which, on one side, slopes towards the sea, and on the other rises into an eminence crowned by dark woods. The situation is admirably beautiful and picturesque, and the ruins have an air of ancient grandeur, which, contrasted with the present solitude of the scene, impresses the traveller with awe and curiosity.


During my travels abroad I visited this spot. As I walked over the loose fragments of stone, which lay scattered through the immense area of the fabric, and surveyed the sublimity and grandeur of the ruins, I recurred, by a natural association of ideas, to the times when these walls stood proudly in their original splendour, when the halls were the scenes of hospitality and festive magnificence, and when they resounded with the voices of those whom death had long since swept from the earth.


'Thus,' said I, 'shall the present generation--he who now sinks in misery--and he who now swims in pleasure, alike pass away and be forgotten.'


My heart swelled with the reflection; and, as I turned from the scene with a sigh, I fixed my eyes upon a friar, whose venerable figure, gently bending towards the earth, formed no uninteresting object in the picture.


He observed my emotion; and, as my eye met his, shook his head and pointed to the ruin. 'These walls,' said he, 'were once the seat of luxury and vice. They exhibited a singular instance of the retribution of Heaven, and were from that period forsaken, and abandoned to decay.'


His words excited my curiosity, and I enquired further concerning their meaning.


'A solemn history belongs to this castle, said he, 'which is too long and intricate for me to relate. It is, however, contained in a manuscript in our library, of which I could, perhaps, procure you a sight. A brother of our order, a descendant of the noble house of Mazzini, collected and recorded the most striking incidents relating to his family, and the history thus formed, he left as a legacy to our convent. If you please, we will walk thither.'


I accompanied him to the convent, and the friar introduced me to his superior, a man of an intelligent mind and benevolent heart, with whom I passed some hours in interesting conversation. I believe my sentiments pleased him; for, by his indulgence, I was permitted to take abstracts of the history before me, which, with some further particulars obtained in conversation with the abate, I have arranged in the following pages.


End of Preface



Volume One



owards the close of the sixteenth century, this castle was in the possession of Ferdinand, fifth Marquis of Mazzini, and was for some years the principal residence of his family. He was a man of a voluptuous and imperious character.


To his first wife, he married Louisa Bernini, second daughter of the Count della Salario, a Lady yet more distinguished for the sweetness of her manners and the gentleness of her disposition, than for her beauty. She brought the Marquis one son and two daughters, who lost their amiable mother in early childhood. The arrogant and impetuous character of the Marquis operated powerfully upon the mild and susceptible nature of his Lady: and it was by many persons believed, that his unkindness and neglect put a period to her life.


However this might be, he soon afterwards married Maria de Vellorno, a young Lady eminently beautiful, but of a character very opposite to that of her predecessor. She was a woman of infinite art, devoted to pleasure, and of an unconquerable spirit.


The Marquis, whose heart was dead to paternal tenderness, and whose present Lady was too volatile to attend to domestic concerns, committed the education of his daughters to the care of a Lady, completely qualified for the undertaking, and who was distantly related to the late Marchioness.


He quitted Mazzini soon after his second marriage, for the gaieties and splendour of Naples, whither his son accompanied him. Though naturally of a haughty and overbearing disposition, he was governed by his wife. His passions were vehement, and she had the address to bend them to her own purpose; and so well to conceal her influence, that he thought himself most independent when he was most enslaved. He paid an annual visit to the castle of Mazzini; but the Marchioness seldom attended him, and he staid only to give such general directions concerning the education of his daughters, as his pride, rather than his affection, seemed to dictate.

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Visit my other pages:

Meaning of Flowers

Zabaione: A Saint's Recipe Men Love


And my other Sicily pages:

Palaces of Sicily and Taormina