"Where virtue struggles midst a maze of snares": Mary Robinson's vancenza (1792) and the gothic novel

Stephanie Russo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Mary Robinson's Vancenza (1792) has received almost no critical attention, despite its popularity at the time it was written. The Gothic framework of Vancenza is employed to explore the fact that female transgression in the eighteenth century was seen as so damaging to the social order that it can continue to inflict pain and suffering on a second generation. Robinson plays with the conventions of the Gothic novel, presenting a range of pseudo-villains and evaded acts of violence, only to reveal that the true Gothic narrative of the novel is a part of the novel's history, not its present. In displacing the Gothic narrative to the past, Robinson shields her heroine, Elvira, from the seduction narrative while emphasizing the impossibility of her escape from the tragic denouement of her mother's seduction narrative. Robinson allows Madeline Vancenza, the archetypal Gothic victim, a voice, uncovering her repressed story from concealment, only to emphasize women's utter powerlessness in the face of patriarchal power. Vancenza is a profoundly pessimistic novel in its representation of the social order - Robinson's bleakest statement on the lack of options available to women in a world where the stain of female transgression cannot even be washed away by death.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)586-601
Number of pages16
JournalWomen's Writing
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2013


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