The sentimental novel evoked an emotionally moving experience from readers who could relate to characters and situations. When Sophia Lee’s novel The Recess was published in 1783, its popularity soared. Known for its feeling of suspense, dread, and terror, Sophia Lee brought about a new style of gothic literature while still incorporating the traditional aspects of the Gothic genre such as castles, abbeys, and the supernatural. A narrative Gothic tale in epistolary form, The Recess, literalizes all the conventions of the sentimental novel in which the primary fictional correspondences are exchanged between female characters, and in which the reader is inscribed, typically, as a young woman similar in age and situation to the heroine (Alliston 4).
By incorporating romance and history, Lee initiates what is described as perhaps the most fully developed historical female gothic novel of its time (Wright 20). A pioneer of the genre, Sophia Lee, is not inhibited by the expectations and limitations that the form imposed on many of its later manipulators (Isaac 202). The Recess relates the fictional yet emotional tale of two sisters, Matilda and Ellinor, the daughters of Mary Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk. While imprisoned, Mary and Norfolk are secretly married to evade the wrath of Elizabeth. When twin daughters are born, the threat to Queen Elizabeth’s throne is undeniable. For their safety, Matilda and Ellinor are surreptitiously raised in a subterranean Recess by a woman named Mrs. Marlowe. She assumes the role of mother until the girl’s fixation on getting out of the Recess becomes persistent. When portraits of their parents are found, it is then that their true lineage is disclosed and our story begins.
The heroine’s search for her history thus becomes the search for her maternal history that is only found in the absence of the mother. Thus, the correspondence becomes the inheritance passed on to the children which... [continues]
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