Sidonia the Sorceress:
I read the first section of Sidonia with gusto, I loved the story and was immersed in Sidonia’s world. However, the latter parts of the book failed to sustain the momentum built up in the beginning. The title describes her as “the supposed destroyer of the whole reigning ducal house of Pomerania” as well as letting us all know that she is a sorceress, so I was prepared for a gothic tale of witchcraft and intrigue. Sadly, the book did not meet up to my expectations.
Meinhold did an excellent job of showing us how Sidonia’s childhood set the pace for a selfish and cruel behavior in her adulthood. I thought it was an excellent touch that in the first few chapters, every time Sidonia is introduced, killing is involved. Her father commits murder early in the book and clearly enjoys having his young daughter demonstrate publicly how he chooses to deal with his enemies. Here’s a passage from p. 14:
“As to Otto, no one observed any sign of repentance in him. On the
contrary, he seemed to glory in his crime, and the neighbouring
nobles related that he frequently brought in his little daughter
Sidonia, whom he adored for her beauty, to the assembled guests,
magnificently attired; and when she was bowing to the company, he
would say, “Who art thou, my little daughter?” Then she would
cease the salutations which she had learned from her mother, and
drawing herself up, proudly exclaim, “I am a noble maiden, dowered
with towns and castles!” Then he would ask, if the conversation
turned upon his enemies–and half the nobles were so–“Sidonia,
how does thy father treat his enemies?” Upon which the child would
straighten her finger, and running at her father, strike it into
his heart, saying, “_Thus_ he treats them.” At which Otto
would laugh loudly, and tell her to show him how the knave looked
when he was dying. Then Sidonia would fall down, twist her face,
and writhe her little hands and feet in horrible contortions. Upon
which Otto would lift her up, and kiss her upon the mouth. But it
will be seen how the just God punished him for all this, and how
the words of the Scriptures were fulfilled: “Err not, God is not
mocked; for what a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
Meinhold lets us know that Sidonia’s later behavior has its roots in her formative years. She tortures a goose girl mercilessly. Her tutor is instructed not to teach any of the ten commandments to Sidonia but the first. Her lawlessness is clear.
Sadly, after the promise and potential of the first section of the book I regret to say I was disappointed. Far from an adventuress tale of a femme fatale sorceress, Sidonia became a rambling and insignificant story of spoiled petulant woman who gets her way more from batting her eyelashes than from any sorcery involved. I think that there were promising moments in Sidonia, but Meinhold failed to develop them.
William Morris described it as “a masterpiece of its kind” and published it through the Kelmscott Press, so I was prepared to dive into Sidonia’s tale and love it as much as Morris had. I’m disappointed that I could not have the same experience.
I’d like to direct you to The Gothic Heroine, who read Sidonia the Sorceress along with the Pre-Raphaelite Reading Project and has written an excellent and informative post about the book.
I’ve expanded the Pre-Raphaelite Reading Project to not only include books that inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, but modern books as well. The next selection is The Arrow Chest, written by Robert Parry. If you’d like to read along, we’ll begin reading on July 1.