Survey of Contemporary Reception of Catherine Cuthbertson by Beryl Chaudhuri
Unfortunately I have been unable to find any contemporary reviews for the two of Cuthbertson’s works that I have chosen to study, and there are none mentioned in any of the bibliographies I have consulted. I have however found some reviews of other of her books, which give some interesting comments.
The two reviews I have found of Santo Sebastiano, or the Young Protector, both comment adversely on its length, one saying ‘its unconscionable bulk’ ( Critical Review Mar 1815) deterred him from reading it, the other that it:
is insufferably tedious, extended through five thick volumes of 2116 pages, one third of which might have easily been spared, had the author recollected that simplicity of fable is an essential quality in every work of this kind, and that after the reader’s discernment has been permitted to make discoveries, all prolix and minute explanation are unnecessary interruptions. (Literary Journal Dec 1806, 580 )
This comment on over-explanation could equally well be applied to The Forest of Montalbano and Sir Ethelbert, or the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The reviewer from the Literary Journal also denigrates the way in which the heroine speaks broken English, for
a jargon like this so often repeated (for the heroine is scarcely ever out of sight) deprives her sentiments of much of their hold upon the feelings of the reader, by compelling him to search at leisure for the meaning of what ought to have struck him at once. ( Literary Journal Dec 1806, 582 )
Although in Sir Ethelbert, or the Dissolution of the Monasteries the characters do not speak broken English, they do speak a strange pseudo-archaic language, which can equally confuse the reader and distract one from the story.
A reviewer of Rosabella, or a Mother’s Marriage, is very scathing about Cuthbertson ‘discarding our good old English words, and substituting French ones, which possess not one half the expression of the former’ ( British Lady’s Magazine, Jan 1818, 37) and her habit of putting these in italics, ‘for the purpose, we suppose, of telling us that they are French.’ ( ibid. 37 ) This is no doubt how this reviewer would perceive Cuthbertson’s use of Italian words, again in italics, in The Forest of Montalbano.
The same review contains some derogatory statements about ‘confusion in the plot - improbability of incident - a distortion of character - inconsistency of action - bad language and false grammar’ ( ibid. 36 ). He ends with a damning paragraph, ‘We recommend Murray’s Grammar, and Blair’s Lectures to the study of the authoress, before she sends any more Rosabellas into the world’. ( ibid. 38 )
In the British Critic the reviewer of Rosabella, or a Mother’s Marriage says that bad grammar and lack of common sense are too common to complain about. He goes on to say that Santo Sebastiano was ‘an absurd work enough’ ( British Critic Jan 1818, 96 ), but that it passed a reader’s test, which Rosabella unfortunately does not; ‘as to the story; is it readable? does it interest? or is it dull and tiresome?’ ( ibid. 96)
These comments on length, over-explanation, distracting language, bad grammar and lack of common sense could probably have been applied also to the two works under consideration, though I have found no evidence as to the actual nature of their reception.
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