British Fiction, 18001829

ANON. Priest, The (1821)

Contemporary Reviews

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 98 (May 1822): 98.

In this novel we have to deal with a production altogether different from the usual run of imitations of the Waverley school: but it is rather an offshoot of the worn out and decayed stock which flourished under the warm auspices and romantic hand of Mrs. Radcliffe; afterward fostered by the more daring and luxuriant culture of such naturalists as Mr. Monk Lewis. Though guiltless of some of the exceptionable descriptions of the latter, it contains enough of their luxurious spirit, exaggeration, and absurdities, to deserve critical reprobation. The story, however, is by no means ill imagined, or badly told; the language is attractive and eloquent, and the characters are rather distinctly and powerfully drawn. That of the bold, wary, and ambitious priest, Father Valerius, we can conceive to be a tolerably correct picture of Catholic discipline and superstition; with its influence over the highest orders in society, its political intrigues, its private animosities, and its anti-social if not demoralising effects, some centuries since. It is, however, the only one that gives interest to the volumes; the others, when not merely common-place, being extravagant, and out of nature; and each making its exit with the most tragi-comic air imaginable. We have a heroine in the thread-bare disguise of a page, pleading long and unsuccessful love to a handsome but hard-hearted young monk, who proves to be an earl’s son, stolen away in his cradle by the priest: then the earl himself, full of melancholy musings; and the countess, haunted by the terrific presence and spiritual ascendancy of her father-confessor. Under his withering frown, the maternal duties and affections are all blighted, and by his bigoted prohibition cast away. On the return of this lady’s daughter, whom she has not seen for fifteen years, the earl makes an attempt to recall her to more natural feelings, but in vain: for Father Valerius, in his cold, haughty, and imperturbable ascendancy, stands near, ready to snatch the countess from her husband’s and her daughter’s arms. In this scene the chief merit of the work resides, and it is indeed well conceived, and skilfully wrought up.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 3 vols 12mo; no price. Publisher: Baldwin & Co.

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