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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, An Academic Wiki

"The Evil Eye" (1829)

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SynopsisEdit

"The Evil Eye" was published in January of 1829 by Mary Shelley for The Keepsake.  The story is set in Albania and takes on a much different feel to the other short stories that Shelley published.  Shelley was greatly influenced by Prosper Merimee's La Guzla, which were poems about Illyria and the Albanian Nationality.  

The story is centered on its namesake, Dmitri of the Evil Eye, who was a distinguished Albanian citizen, married, and with a happy child.  He returned home from a trip to find that his home has been ransacked, his wife had been killed and his daughter had been kidnapped. Such a traumatizing discovery drives him into a life of crime, becoming a renowned robber and criminal greatly feared throughout Albania. During one of his revengeful adventures, Dmitri is critically wounded, but is found and nursed back to life by a man named Katushius Ziani.  In return for his life, Dmitri promised loyalty to Ziani.

The story opens up with Ziani visiting Dmitri and explaining to him his situation.  Ziani is the only son of a wealthy man.  He was working and sailing away from home when his father died, and before his father died he gave his inheritance to a man named Cyril, who had become like his son in Ziani's absense.  When Ziani returned home, he found that his inheritance had been given to Cyril. Although Cyril gave half of the money to Ziani, Ziani would settle for nothing less than the entire enheritance. Seeking Dmitri's assistance, the two form a plan wherein Dmitri agrees to leave his home and kidnap Constans, the son of Cyril.

Cyril and his wife Zella go to Zella's father, Camaraz for help. The two men try to pursue Dmitri, for they know that the Evil Eye has taken their son.  However, Dmitri develops a love for Constans, and he finds himself unable to hurt the boy. This affection drives a wedge between Dmitri and Ziani. Since he can no longer depend on Dmitri's faithfulness, Ziani takes the matter into his own hands, and takes Constans himself.

At the climax, Constans is safely returned to his father Cyril, but not before it is revealed that Dmitri is actually Zella's father and Camaraz was the crusader who kidnapped her from Dmitri. Both parties are reconciled and Zella receives her son in return. 

ThemesEdit

Isolation and CommunityEdit

Much of the story is about Dmitri turning evil after he comes back to his home in Albania to find his wife murdered and his daughter gone.  This turns him into a sort of Byronic Hero , which Shelley often encorporated into her writing. He is standoffish, isolated, rugged, and he becomes a skilled criminal working in the mountains of Albania.  This isolation leads him to befriend and honor Ziani, who saved his life, and, in an extreme gesture of trust, Dmitri promises his loyalty to the man. Dmitri's forced isolation from the tragic loss of his family turns him numb to all of the emotions that he once felt as a husband and as a father. This numbness is what makes him so willing to take a man's child - despite the fact that the same thing happened to him, which propelled him into this situation. However, through the kidnapping of the child, Dmitri develops an affection for the boy and remembers who he once was, causing him to renege on his promise to Ziani. 

DisguisesEdit

A theme that goes hand in hand with isolation is that of disguises. Disguises attempt to tackle insurmountable, philosophical questions like:  Who are we, really?  Can we get what we desire while still retaining our identity?  The theme of disguises covers much more than physical deceit, however, Shelley sometimes employs trickery and confusion in order to get her theme across. In this story, Dmitri is hiding who he really is when he becomes "The Evil Eye" and goes into his life of crime.  He was an upstanding citizen before he was driven to despair, and in order to mask and hide from his grief, he turned to a life of crime that cyclically created similar tragedies for the people that he stole from.  However, it is during one of his acts of violence that his true character is unmasked, through the affection of the young Constans. 

Works CitedEdit

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