Studies in Literature and Culture
Edited By Grzegorz Czemiel, Justyna Galant, Anna Kędra-Kardela, Aleksandra Kędzierska and Marta Komsta
The Strange Case of Mr. Paul Ferroll, A Gentleman and Murderer: The Victorian Vision of Gentlemanliness Revised
← 132 | 133 →Marlena Marciniak
Caroline Clive’s debut as a novelist in 1855 was nothing if not spectacular. Contemporary reviewers praised almost in unison the power and originality of the story featuring a man endowed with manifold gentlemanly virtues, literary talents and intellectual superiority who murders his first wife in cold blood to marry his beloved. A critical commentary from the Saturday Review (January 12, 1856) encapsulates best the enthusiastic reception of the text:
This idea is a capital hit. The novel is in its third edition. ‘Strikingly original’ – ‘a phenomenon in literature’ – ‘never to be forgotten’ – ‘grand and fearful force of contrast’ – ‘marvellous’ – ‘powerful effect’ – ‘faultless work of art’ – ‘admirable and almost awful power’ – such are the praises of an applauding press. We beg to add the humble tribute of our homage.(192)
Notwithstanding such compliments, Paul Ferroll caused great controversy among both critics and readers, who expressed not only great astonishment, but also intense embarrassment at the dubious morality of the novel. A Victorian journalist, George Augustus Sala, describes the book as “remarkable and eminently disagreeable fiction” (1874, 304), probably verbalising in this way the feelings of his contemporaries puzzled by the equivocal, and yet fascinating portrayal of a man capable of committing acts of utmost bravery and generosity as well as acts of hideous cruelty and utter selfishness, frequently blended in one deed. Thus, the writer “produced the most unusual criminal hero of the Victorian period” (Sutherland 1989, 133), tarnishing the image of the perfect gentleman and putting...
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