London: John Murray, 1823.
Ada Reis is Lady Caroline Lamb’s third and last novel. It was printed in 1823 by her friend, John Murray (also Lord Byron’s publisher through most of his life).This fantastic tale is supposedly the partial translation of a text written in Arabic, Spanish, and Incan, found in the grave of Fiormonda, whose gravestone also bears the name of her father, Ada Reis.
Ada Reis is born in Georgia near the Black Sea and sold into bondage. Luckily, a kindly Genoese merchant purchases him and raises him as his son. The young man grows up impetuous, cunning, and an intemperate drinker. He boards a privateer, murders the captain (whose title is “Reis”), and declares himself a follower of Islam.
Ada’s love-conquests include many women, and when he returns to Italy he murders the mother of his illegitimate child, Fiormonda, whom he takes away. Fiormonda grows up under the watchful eye of Shaffou Paca, an old and appallingly ugly, corpulent, wall-eyed woman with one leg shorter than the other. Shaffou Paca is the mother of a sorcerer called Kabkarra the Jew, whose powers derive from his pact with the evil spirit Zubanyánn. Kabkarra and another wizard prophesy that Ada Reis “shall be king in another land” and that Fiormonda “shall wear an imperial crown” (Ada Reis 1:22, 25). The remainder of the novel describes the fulfillment of these prophecies, though not in the manner expected.
Though he has retired, Ada Reis is still haunted by his former misdeeds, which become known. He falls out of favor with the Pasha of Tripoli and is forced to flee with Fiormonda, who has been befriended by Zevahir, a little page who is actually the spirit of Good, and who appears to Fiormonda when she has conquered her “violence and vanity” (1:83). Sailing for Lima, Ada Reis and Fiormonda rescue a young Venetian count with whom she falls in love. Count Condulmar is a heartbreaker strongly reminiscent of Byron.
When an earthquake levels the city of Lima, Ada Reis loses touch with Fiormonda and escapes Lima in the company of an Indian named Papo Taguacan, who guides him through the rainforest. When Papo reaches his native territory, his tribe embraces Ada Reis, and Papo kills the tribal leader, his own cousin, so that Ada Reis can be crowned King. Ada Reis bitterly recognizes the fulfillment of Kabkarra’s prophecy. Kabkarra then reveals himself and delivers a long monologue on his three-thousand year existence, telling Ada Reis that Fiormonda has wears an imperial crown as she sits by the Devil, and also that Condulmar is Kabkarra’s son.
Kabkarra and Ada Reis go to Zubanyánn’s palace in Hell, which Lady Caroline describes as “cold, raw, and unpleasant,” like England (3:46-47). Here Fiormonda begs that the damned be given one last chance to repent, however no one but Fiormonda takes the opportunity. She lives the remainder of her days as a Christian penitent and is buried with her secrets.
Ada Reis is a work of scholarship and imagination. Lady Caroline had been inspired by the exploits of the muscleman Belzoni and of William Bankes, a friend of Lord Byron, both of whom had explored Egypt. The novel includes sixty-one pages of footnotes. It has never been reprinted.
British Magazine 1 (1823), 87-92.
Examiner no. 796 (April 27, 1823), 284.
Literary Gazette, and Journal of the Belles Lettres n. 48 (1823), 198-200.
New Monthly Magazine 8 (1823), 317-21.