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Natalie Neill, Synopsis of Zofloya; or, The Moor, by Charlotte Dacre

The Marchese di Loredani and his wife Laurina thoughtlessly spoil their two children Victoria and Leonardo, who are selfish and wilful as a result. Festivities held in honour of Victoria's fifteenth birthday are interrupted by the arrival of a stranger, Count Ardolph. The Count soon sets his sights on Laurina. Her vanity is flattered, and she succumbs to his seductions. Not satisfied with having compromised her honour, Ardolph convinces her to leave her husband and children. Loredani's agony upon discovering his wife's betrayal is augmented when Leonardo disappears. One evening Loredani encounters the perfidious Count on the streets of Venice. Ardolph fatally wounds Loredani and flees the scene. Passersby carry Loredani home, where he expends his dying breath urging Victoria to correct the errors in her character. Suddenly, the anguished Laurina bursts into the room. She vows to find Leonardo and to live a life of penitence with her two children. Victoria, in turn, swears to live by her mother's future example. Hearing this, Loredani perishes.

In spite of these deathbed oaths, Laurina and Victoria are soon living with Count Ardolph. One of the many guests entertained at his villa is the handsome Il Conte Berenza, who takes an interest in Victoria. To separate the lovers, Ardolph and Laurina spirit Victoria away to the gloomy retreat of Laurina's cousin, Signora di Madona, and abandon her there. Victoria is enraged to find herself deserted for a second time by her mother. However, she affects resignation, and manages to escape with the assistance of a servant girl, Catau. After walking for two days, Victoria comes upon a lonely canal, where a passing gondolier agrees to convey her to Venice. Soon after arriving in Venice, Victoria spots Berenza among a group of revellers. Now that they are reunited, she becomes his mistress. One night an assassin creeps into Victoria and Berenza's bedchamber and attempts to murder Berenza while he sleeps. Victoria intercedes and saves his life. The criminal flees, but not before Victoria recognizes that it is her brother, Leonardo! Berenza soon afterwards receives a letter from a former mistress, the jealous Megalena Strozzi, who informs him that she ordered the attempt on his life. Several months after Leonardo's injured family pride compelled him to run away from his father's palazzo, he met the beautiful yet corrupt Megalena. The two became lovers and Megalena used her fascinations to lead him down a path of vice. Her power over him was such that, at her bidding, he would attempt to kill a man he had never met.

Berenza and Victoria marry, yet she secretly resents him. Her discontent increases when she meets his brother, Henriquez, for whom she develops a violent passion. Victoria becomes consumed by her lust for Henriquez and her hatred for the angelic young orphan, Lilla, whom he loves. One night she dreams that Henriquez's servant, a Moor named Zofloya, aids her in bringing about their destruction. After this, Victoria takes Zofloya into her confidence. He has a profound knowledge of secret arts, and promises to assist her in winning Henriquez. First, they conspire to get rid of Berenza. Zofloya prepares a slow-acting poison, which Victoria administers to her unsuspecting husband. Fearing detection, she convinces the whole party to repair to his castle in the Apennines. Victoria continues to poison Berenza, whose health deteriorates. She becomes impatient, so Zofloya presents her with a fast-acting poison, the efficacy of which they test on Lilla's aged chaperone. The unfeeling Victoria gives the new poison to her lingering husband, and to her satisfaction, he dies. That night she dreams that the marks of the poison appear on his corpse, thus giving her away. Upon waking she rushes to the death chamber and discovers that, sure enough, Berenza's corpse is blackened and disfigured. Zofloya saves her from infamy by hiding the body.

Victoria now makes her feelings known to Henriquez, who rejects her disgustedly. He dislikes the haughty raven-haired beauty who is so opposite in every way to his fair Lilla. With Zofloya's aid, Victoria kidnaps Lilla and chains her to the wall of a secluded cave. Then Zofloya concocts a drug which, when given to Henriquez, will cause him to fancy that Victoria is Lilla, and moreover, that they are already married. Delighted, Victoria gives the potion to Henriquez. That night he dreams of Lilla and awakens in a frenzy. Upon seeing Victoria, he imagines she is Lilla. After a day and night of revelry, the effects of the drug wear off and Henriquez awakens to find himself lying beside Victoria. Enhorrored, he throws himself upon his sword, and dies. The frantic Victoria runs to the cave where Lilla languishes. She stabs the innocent girl to death and flings her lifeless form over a precipice.

Returning to the castle, Victoria falls into a restless sleep and dreams that Berenza's body is discovered and that she is found guilty of his murder. Zofloya warns her that the dream is prophetic, but that he can rescue her if she will put her faith in him. She agrees, and with the aid of his supernatural powers, they are transported to the Alps. They meet a group of banditti who lead them to their masked chief and his female companion. The chief is taken aback upon seeing Victoria and the Moor, but gives them shelter. One day as Victoria is reflecting on her past, an angel appears before her and tells her that if she flees from Zofloya, she will be forgiven; if not, death awaits her. Victoria is disturbed by the vision, but dismisses it. Soon after, a man is discovered beating a woman in the woods. They are captured and brought before the chief, who kills the man in a violent rage. The chief then removes his mask, revealing himself to be Leonardo, Victoria's brother! The man he has murdered is Count Ardolph, and the woman, Victoria and Leonardo's mother, Laurina! Leonardo is able to forgive his mother before she dies, but Victoria is not, as she blames her for her own ruin.

Meanwhile, soldiers force themselves inside the banditti hideaway. As they try to seize Leonardo, he addresses his female companion, who Victoria now learns is none other than Megalena Strozzi! Rather than be captured, Leonardo kills himself. Zofloya then materializes and uses his powers to whisk Victoria to the peak of a vertiginous mountain. He promises to protect her from worldly harm if she will vow to be his. Terrified, she accepts. Thereupon, Zofloya metamorphoses into the arch fiend himself, and hurls his victim into the yawning abyss below.

 

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