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Do you remember my hunt for George Soane’s The Eve of San Marco?

Well, it took some tenacity – but in the end I found it, in its whole dubious three-volume glory, published by Gale as, for some reason, anonymous work.

It wasn’t exactly easy. I got in touch with some very knowledgeable people, experts in the field of Gothic fiction – and the bottom line was that George’s book was too obscure even for them. I pestered the very kind librarians at the Sir John Soane Museum, and they sent information – and I was about to consider that well enough and give up, when the first volume turned up on Abebooks.

So I bought it, and then the second volume I had already seen – and then, with the help of a friend who is a compulsive collector, unearthed the third! So… hooray!

Now… well. As I more than suspected, there is a reason why George as a novelist and playwright is so thoroughly forgotten. Even by Gothic standards, San Marco is purplishly overwritten, with its generically picturesque Italian setting, clichéd, overblown characters, contrived situations, middling songs and poems, and the dialogues… oh, the dialogues! And yet, for all that, it all manages to be quite bland and shallow.

In a few years, George would venture to the stage, and specialise in melodramas, even getting a few of them staged at Drury Lane… There is no doubt that the early San Marco already shows a marked affinity for the genre.

There seems to have been a constant, breathless demand for everything Gothic, at the time, and George was one of a host of hacks who made some sort of living by turning out tale after lurid, sensational tale. All the same, he spent his life heavily indebted… this might have been the case with many of his colleagues – but one doesn’t get the impression that George was a good manager of his finances anyway.

It easy, while reading San Marco, to picture him angrily piling adjectives, and seeing himself as the brooding hero, a young baron driven wild by his father’s cruelty and turned noble (if much feared) robber… The fault is, of course, of the father – a hypocritical tyrant. I haven’t read much of George’s but I’ll lay you a wager that it’s always, always the father’s fault!

I’m halfway through the second volume now – and… what can I say? It’s just plain dreadful, in that so-bad-it-is-great-fun way. Naples is a place of robbers, mysterious Gypsies, evil monks (George feels the need to state that his publisher doesn’t share in his own anti-Catholic vitriol), and generally fervent but weak people. George also goes to some pains to explain that the story would only make sense in an Italian setting – but he could not be bothered to research the Italian Inquisition, so he used what he knew of the Spanish one, and if anyone took exception to this… well, tough. As I said, I’m halfway through, and not only has the Inquisition still not appeared, but I can’t, for the life of me, understand why an Italian setting should be so integral to the story… Unless it was, again, to strike at the Italy that his father loved so much. Then again, he cannot have spent much time reading up Italy, either – seeing the pantomime quality of the setting. Oh – and I must share this gem: the heroine is named Rosolia – that is to say, rubella, or German measles!

And yes, I can hear you asking: but Clara, why can’t consider yourself satisfied at this point, skim through the rest, and be done with San Marco? A reasonable question – but… what can I say? I’m having enormous fun with George’s passion-swept character who exclaim “Amazement!” when they are given startling news, and then I just have to know: will the story really turn out the way I deduced when I was at page fifteen? What will became of the noble robber and his despicable father? Who is German Measles really? Who will marry her, now that her lover has been murdered? Will she be safe from the clumsiest stalker ever? And, most of all, where, o where is the Not Quite Spanish Inquisition?