The wolf, the lamb, and the big oh! Voids, (w)holes, and epitaphic emptiness in Frances Burney's Hubert de Vere

Francesca Saggini

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Abstract / Description of output

This essay explores the character of Cerulia in Frances Burney’s dramatic play, Hubert de Vere, composed and revised in the 1790s, yet never published or staged in Burney’s lifetime.
Cerulia seems to eschew any easy dramatic categorization, as she cannot be identified with the actant “heroine of the play” (in Algirdas Greimas’ semiotic model of characters). Undeniably, she is a victim, but of whom/what, we may wonder? Does attempting to define the nature of the hamartia of which Cerulia remains victim lead the “ideal” reader/viewer toward either fate/the gods or, rather, social apparatuses? And, finally, what about the eponymous protagonist Hubert de Vere? Is it correct to identify de Vere as the actant “hero”, perhaps as per the sub-category “villain hero” so popular in late eighteenth-century dramas?
Burney’s adroit exploitation of tropology and literary allusion in Hubert de Vere will be at the centre of this essay. In particular, I will examine the last act of the play, where the themes of confinement, imprisonment, and escape take on tragic hues. Though unpublished until 1995, these scenes are among the most vivid and, indeed, the most shocking Burney ever wrote. It is my contention that a long overdue appraisal of female characterisation in Hubert de Vere can shed novel light –at once both disturbing and liberating -- on Frances Burney’s oeuvre at large.
Original languageEnglish
Article number138
JournalOpen Research Europe
Volume3
Early online date6 Sept 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Sept 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Frances Burney
  • Romantic drama
  • tropology
  • Greek tragedy
  • historical drama
  • Isle of Wight
  • Pastoral
  • performance
  • gender

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