Charles Robert Maturin, born on September 25, 1782 in Dublin and died in the same city on October 30, 1824, was an Irish novelist and playwright, particularly known for having written Melmoth or the Wandering Man, published in 1820 and considered today as one of the most representative works of the Gothic novel.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, into a well-to-do Protestant family of French origin, descended from Huguenot emigrants – although this assertion is open to debate – Charles Robert Maturin continued his studies at Trinity College in Dublin. He was ordained as a minister and in 1803 he was put in charge of the parish of Loughrea. He married Henrietta Kingsbury, a well-known singer, whose sister, Sarah Kingsbury, had a daughter, Jane, the mother of Oscar Wilde. The family moved to Dublin when Maturin was appointed vicar of St. Peter”s Church.
If his first three works (Fatal Vengeance, The Young Irishman and Connal, or the Mimesians), all published under the pseudonym of Dennis Jasper Murphy, turned out to be critical and commercial failures, Fatal Vengeance (published in 1807 by Longman & Co.) nevertheless attracted the attention of Walter Scott. In an article in the Quarterly Review dated May 1810, the Scottish writer, while deploring the somewhat chaotic construction of the novel and certain weaknesses of Maturin”s style – too close, according to him, of Ann Radcliffe”s and suffering from some of its defects – he does not hesitate either to praise the ardor of the author, his originality as well as his sense of terror, before concluding his article on an encouraging note where he commits his reader to be attentive to the future productions of Maturin. The latter, strengthened by this praise, went to Scott to submit Bertram or The Castle of St. Aldobrand, a tragedy in five acts with very dark tones, in line with his previous productions. Scott recommended the playwright to Lord Byron, then a member of the Drury Lane theater”s directing sub-committee, who seemed at the time to be struggling to find a work worthy of being performed by his actors.
Thanks to these two supporters, Maturin succeeded in having Bertram performed in 1816. Twenty-two performances at the Drury Lane theater, with the famous actor Edmund Kean in the title role, ensured the author a certain notoriety, but financial success was still to come. Indeed, the release of the play coincided with the layoff of his father and the bankruptcy of another family member whom the novice author had to rescue financially.
Worse: in several articles published in September 1816 for The Courier, Samuel Taylor Coleridge criticized the play as boring and sordid, even going so far as to consider the opening of the fourth act as “distressing proof of the depravity of the spectator”s mentality. He did not hesitate to call it an atheist work. The Church of Ireland took note of these criticisms and, having discovered the identity of the author (Maturin had had to give up his pseudonym in order to receive the royalties), it took steps to counter any hope of promotion in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Forced to continue writing to support his wife and their four children as well as his ailing father, he turned to the novel after the failure of several dramatic works. His salary as a clergyman was 80 to 90 pounds a year, while he earned 1,000 pounds with his play Bertram, which received an ovation and was performed for several weeks in London. Maturin did not get all the money he had hoped for, however; after a friend betrayed him and squandered his fortune, what was left was used to pay his own debts.
Nevertheless, he remained vicar of St Peter”s Church in Dublin until his death. He was not popular in Ireland, because of his Protestant convictions, but became very famous in England thanks to his tragedies. In addition, his life is overshadowed by financial difficulties. During his writing career, he published less dark texts, such as The Young Irishman, but it was his horror stories and gothic novels that made him famous. Even when he tackled the historical novel, Maturin remained attached to the fantastic. The Albigenses (1824) is a historical novel in the tradition of Walter Scott, “centered on the Albigensian Crusade in the thirteenth century, and contains a werewolf story.
Maturin died in Dublin at the age of 44, the day before Halloween. At the time, rumors circulated (which were never confirmed) that he had committed suicide, and more recently, his death was attributed to a stomach ulcer. More recently, his death has been attributed to a stomach ulcer. Maturin, too poor to be able to care for himself properly, would have abused laudanum to ease his pain, which would have hastened his decline.
In the 19th century
There is no doubt that Lautréamont was inspired by Maturin”s great novel for his character of Maldoror.
Oscar Wilde”s The Picture of Dorian Gray, contains some elements inspired by his great-uncle”s novel, notably that of the painting hidden in the attic. Upon his release from prison, Oscar Wilde adopted the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth, identifying himself with the doomed hero created by his great-uncle by marriage.
Bertram was adapted into French by Charles Nodier and Isidore Justin Severin Taylor (Bertram, ou le Chateau de St. Aldobrand, 1821). This adaptation later gave rise to an opera, Il pirata, with a libretto by Felice Romani and music by Vincenzo Bellini; it premiered at La Scala in Milan in 1827. Writers of the Romantic generation often refer to Maturin”s works, especially to this adaptation by Bertram. In Victor Hugo”s Han d”Islande, among the epigraphs placed at the head of each chapter, a large number are quotations from Bertram. Gérard de Nerval is also sensitive to the gothic atmospheres of the Irish, especially in his chronicle Voyage en Orient.
Charles Baudelaire and Honoré de Balzac did not hide their esteem for Maturin”s work, especially for his most famous novel, Melmoth the Wanderer. Balzac wrote a sequel to the famous Melmoth, entitled Melmoth Reconciled, and Baudelaire had an abandoned plan to translate the novel.
In the 20th century
Melmoth ou l”Homme errant was rediscovered by the Surrealists and celebrated in particular by André Breton, who wrote a preface on the occasion of its republication by Jean-Jacques Pauvert in 1954.
The hero of Vladimir Nabokov”s novel Lolita, Humbert Humbert, owns a car named Melmoth, probably because it connotes the Americanized topos of the wandering to which he is condemned by his ill-fated affair with Lolita, from which he cannot separate.
Maturin”s hero is also one of the many sources for Anne Rice”s novel, Memnoch the Devil (1995).
The grandson of C.R. Maturin died in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915.
In the 21st century
In 2012, the writer Nadine Ribault dedicated to Charles Robert Maturin”s Melmoth a graphic box containing 43 drawings heightened with colored ink on Japanese paper entitled: A week in the life of Imalie. The original copy of this work in a box, composed of 7 notebooks, each corresponding to a day of the week in Italy, is at the BNF.
: document used as a source for the writing of this article.