0

One From the Archive: Gothic Novels

First published in December 2015.

There is little that I enjoy better in winter than curling up with a startling Gothic novel.  Below are five of my favourites.

1. Florence and Giles by John Harding
‘In a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. Left to her own devices she devours books in secret and talks to herself – and narrates this, her story – in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors like one of the old house’s many ghosts and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles. Sometimes Florence doesn’t sleepwalk at all, but simply pretends to so she can roam at will and search the house for clues to her own baffling past. After the sudden violent death of the children’s first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful supernatural enemy, and without any adult to whom she can turn for help, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to both protect her little brother and preserve her private world. Inspired by and in the tradition of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Florence & Giles is a gripping gothic page-turner told in a startlingly different and wonderfully captivating narrative voice.’

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker 9780141199337
‘A chilling masterpiece of the horror genre, “Dracula” also illuminated dark corners of Victorian sexuality. When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to advise Count Dracula on a London home, he makes a horrifying discovery. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the arrival of his ‘Master’, while a determined group of adversaries prepares to face the terrifying Count.’

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
‘”I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” Bronte’s infamous Gothic novel tells the story of orphan Jane, a child of unfortunate circumstances. Raised and treated badly by her aunt and cousins and eventually sent away to a cruel boarding school, it is not until Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield that she finds happiness. Meek, measured, but determined, Jane soon falls in love with her brooding and stormy master, Mr Rochester, but it is not long before strange and unnerving events occur in the house and Jane is forced to leave Thornfield to pursue her future.’

97818440887994. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
‘Working as a lady’s companion, our heroine’s outlook is bleak until, on a trip to the south of France, she meets a handsome widower whose proposal takes her by surprise. She accepts but, whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is for ever kept alive by the forbidding housekeeper Mrs Danvers… An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young woman consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.’

5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
‘For lucidity and compactness of style, James’s short novels, or novelles, are shining examples of his genius. Few other writings of the century have so captured the American imagination. When “Daisy Miller,” the tale of the girl from Schenectady, first appeared in 1878, it was an extraordinary success. James had discovered nothing less than “the American girl”–free spirited, flirtatious, an innocent abroad determined to defy European convention even if it meant scandal . . . or tragedy. But the subtle danger lurking beneath the surface in “Daisy Miller” evolves into a classic tale of terror and obsession in “The Turn Of The Screw.” “The imagination, ” Henry James said to Bernard Shaw, “has a life if its own.” In this blood-curdling story, that imagination weaves the lives of two children, a governess in love with her employer, and a sprawling country house into a flawless story, still unsurpassed as the prototype of modern horror fiction.” “The Turn Of The Screw” seems to have proved more fascinating to the general reading public than anything else of James’s except “Daisy Miller.”‘

Which are your favourite Gothic novels?  Are there any which you would recommend to me?

4

Classics Club #99: ‘Daisy Miller’ by Henry James

The penultimate book on my Classics Club list was one which I had read before but wanted to revisit – Daisy Miller by Henry James.  I first read the novella a couple of years ago on my Kindle, but thought that I would borrow a pretty edition from my local library this time around.

Daisy Miller – ‘a moral tale of youthful spirit’ – was first published in Cornhill Magazine between June and July 1878, and was made into a very slim book later the same year.  Until I began my re-read I remembered little of the story, but as soon as I had made my way through the first few pages, entire vivid scenes came to the forefront of my mind.  Its opening backdrop sets the tone: ‘At the little town of Vevey, in Switzerland, there is a particularly comfortable hotel.  There are, indeed, many hotels; for the entertainment of tourists is the business of the place’.

One of our protagonists, the eponymous Daisy Miller, is a young woman from New York, who is introduced into European society: ‘She was dressed in white muslin, with a hundred frills and flounces, and knots of pale-coloured ribbon.  She was bare-headed; but she balanced in her hand a large parasol, with a deep border of embroidery; and she was strikingly, admirably pretty’.

Rather than following Daisy for its entirety, Daisy Miller is told with the perspective of a man in his late twenties named Winterbourne in mind.  James initially asserts that he is ‘an extremely amiable fellow, and universally liked…  When certain persons spoke of him they affirmed that the reason of his spending so much time at Geneva was that he was extremely devoted to a lady who lived there – a foreign lady – a person older than himself’.  James’ characterisation, which continues in this manner, is sublime.

James is incredibly perceptive about the relationships which are built between his characters, particularly in the instance of Daisy and Winterbourne: ‘She gradually gave him more of the benefit of her glance; and then he saw that this glance was perfectly direct and unshrinking.  It was not, however, what would have been called an immodest glance, for the young girl’s eyes were singularly honest and fresh.  They were wonderfully pretty eyes; and indeed, Winterbourne had not seen for a long time anything prettier than his fair countrywoman’s various features – her complexion, her nose, her ears, her teeth.  He had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analysing it; and as regards this young lady’s face he made several observations’.

Whilst Daisy Miller is an incredibly short book, and rather a quick read, it is rich and perfectly crafted.  I enjoyed it just as much the second time around as the first; the sign, for me, of a true classic.

Purchase from The Book Depository

2

Five Great… Novels (G-J)

I thought that I would make a series which lists five beautifully written and thought-provoking novels.  All have been picked at random, and are sorted by the initial of the author.  For each, I have copied the official blurb.  I’m sure that everyone will find something here that interests them.

1. The Orange Girl by Jostein Gaarder
“To Georg Roed, his father is no more than a shadow, a distant memory. But then one day his grandmother discovers some pages stuffed into the lining of an old red pushchair. The pages are a letter to Georg, written just before his father died, and a story, ‘The Orange Girl’. But ‘The Orange Girl’ is no ordinary story – it is a riddle from the past and centres around an incident in his father’s youth. One day he boarded a tram and was captivated by a beautiful girl standing in the aisle, clutching a huge paper bag of luscious-looking oranges. Suddenly the tram gave a jolt and he stumbled forward, sending the oranges flying in all directions. The girl simply hopped off the tram leaving Georg’s father with arms full of oranges. Now, from beyond the grave, he is asking his son to help him finally solve the puzzle of her identity.”

2. The Tortoise and The Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins
“In affairs of the heart the race is not necessarily won by the swift or the fair. Imogen, the beautiful and much younger wife of distinguished barrister Evelyn Gresham, is facing the greatest challenge of her married life. Their neighbour Blanche Silcox, competent, middle-aged and ungainly – the very opposite of Imogen – seems to be vying for Evelyn’s attention. And to Imogen’s increasing disbelief, she may be succeeding.”

3. Daisy Miller by Henry James
“Travelling in Europe with her family, Daisy Miller, an exquisitely beautiful young American woman, presents her fellow-countryman Winterbourne with a dilemma he cannot resolve. Is she deliberately flouting social convention in the outspoken way she talks and acts, or is she simply ignorant of those conventions? In “Daisy Miller” Henry James created his first great portrait of the enigmatic and dangerously independent American woman, a figure who would come to dominate his later masterpieces.”

4. Three Junes by Julia Glass
“In this captivating debut novel, Julia Glass depicts the life and loves of the McLeod family during three crucial summers spanning a decade. Paul McLeod, patriarch of a Scottish family and a retired newspaper editor and proprietor, is on a package tour of Greece after the death of his wife. The story of his departure from the family home in Scotland and late gesture towards some sort of freedom gives way to his eldest son’s life (Fenno). Fenno protects his heart by putting himself under emotional quarantine throughout his life as a young gay man in Manhattan. When he returns home for his father’s funeral, this emotional isolation cannot be sustained when he is confronted by a choice that puts him at the centre of his family and its future. ”

5. Florence and Giles by John Harding
“In a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. Left to her own devices she devours books in secret and talks to herself – and narrates this, her story – in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors like one of the old house’s many ghosts and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles. Sometimes Florence doesn’t sleepwalk at all, but simply pretends to so she can roam at will and search the house for clues to her own baffling past. After the sudden violent death of the children’s first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful supernatural enemy, and without any adult to whom she can turn for help, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to both protect her little brother and preserve her private world.”

Purchase from The Book Depository

4

Spooky Halloween Reads (Part One – Classics)

Halloween is merely one week away and what better way is there to get into the spooky mood than read some spooky books 🙂 In preparation, I have made a compilation of some of my favourite classic books to read during Halloween. Here are my choices:

1. The Complete Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe132314

“The unabridged Edgar Allan Poe contains all of Poe’s classic tales and most haunting poems – presented, for the first time, in the order he originally wrote them. This complete collection of Poe’s versatile genius lets you share his journeys into the wondrous and macabre that have entertained and fascinated readers for generations. Not a word has been deleted!”

the-turn-of-the-screw-and-other-stories 2. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

“A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant,  oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate. An estate haunted by a  beckoning evil. Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent,  foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing  horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking  to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls. But worse-much worse- the  governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil. For they want  the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.”

3. Dracula by Bram Stokerdracula-cover

“When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client and his castle. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’. In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count Dracula and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing deeply into questions of human identity and sanity, and illuminating dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.”

frankenstein-cover 4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a  Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of  science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein.  Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation  upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts  but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented  by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a  campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.
 Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and  science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with Nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever.”

5. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Lerouxgaston-leroux-1

“First published in French as a serial in 1909, “The Phantom of the Opera” is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine’s childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous ‘ghost’ of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux’s work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik’s past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.”

legend-of-sleepy-hollow6. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a story by Washington Irving written while he was living  in Birmingham, England. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is among the earliest examples of  American fiction still read today. The story is set circa 1790 in the Dutch settlement of  Tarry Town (based on Tarrytown, New York), in a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow. It  tells the story of Ichabod Crane, who is a lean, lanky, and extremely superstitious  schoolmaster from Connecticut, who competes with Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt,  the town rowdy, for the hand of 18-year-old Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and sole child  of a wealthy farmer, Baltus Van Tassel. As Crane leaves a party he attended at the Van  Tassel home on an autumn night, he is pursued by the Headless Horseman, who is supposedly the ghost of a Hessian trooper who had his head shot off by a stray cannonball during “some nameless battle” of the American Revolutionary War, and who “rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head.”

7. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson9780141389509

“Few Victorian mysteries are more haunting, sinister and profound than Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is when Mr. Utterson, a dry London lawyer, peruses the last will of his old friend Henry Jekyll that his suspicions are aroused. What is the relationship between upright, respectable Dr. Jekyll and the evil Edward Hyde? Who murdered the distinguished MP, Sir Danvers? So begins Stevenson’s spine-tingling horror story, the story of Dr. Jekyll’s infernal alter ego, and of a hunt throughout the nocturnal streets of London that culminates in some dreadful revelations.”

What are your favourite spooky classic reads? 🙂

2

Flash Reviews (14th April 2014)

‘The Ice Queen’ by Alice Hoffman

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman ****
Alice Hoffman’s The Ice Queen is another of the library books which I borrowed during my first trip there for quite a while.  I have long been a fan of Hoffman’s work, and was so pleased to see that my branch stocks so many of her novels, many of which I shall be borrowing in the future.  She somehow manages to write incredibly intelligent novels without making them feel too heavy in their style or tone, most of which can be read in just a few hours.  A review on the book’s blurb writes of Hoffman favourably, and states – quite rightly, I feel – that her work can be compared to that of writers like Carol Shields and Alice Munro.  It has the same brand of distinctiveness and power which their writing is suffused with.

The Ice Queen is intriguing from the very first page.  It centres upon a female narrator, who is struck by lightning after wishing it upon herself.  Everything becomes the ‘colour of ice’ in consequence.  She works a librarian and moves from New Jersey to Florida after her grandmother’s death, in order to live closer to her brother, who becomes her only living relative.  Our protagonist believes that she is cursed, and that she wished death upon her mother when she screamed in a childish fit of fury that she never wanted to see her again.  Her mother was killed in a car crash that very night.

The way in which the narrator remains nameless works well.  She is a strong enough presence that she does not have to be defined by a name, and an almost enigmatic quality surrounds her because of it.  The Ice Queen is a wonderfully absorbing novel, and I for one am so glad that Hoffman is such a prolific writer.

Purchase from the Book Depository

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie ***

Apparently, Death Comes as the End is the only one of Agatha Christie’s novels to have an historical setting.  It is set in Egypt – on the West Bank of the River Nile at Thebes, to be precise – in 2000BC, ‘where death gives meaning to life’.  The novel begins with a widow named Renisenb, who has returned to her childhood home with her child, Teti.

From the very beginning, Christie sets out the familial relationship within Renisenb’s home rather well.  Unlike some of her other novels, the murder in Death Comes as the End does not come to the fore until around a third of the way in.  Instead, the sense of place and the building of the characters have been focused upon.  Whilst the setting has been well considered, the novel does not feel as though it has been entirely fixed in time.  Parts of it seem suspended without any real, concrete details, and could quite easily relate to a different time period entirely.  Nothing really made it feel as though it was fixed within Ancient Egypt, as I was expecting it to.

Whilst the plot of Death Comes at the End was rather clever, I must admit that I did guess it whilst it was still quite a way from the end.  It is not my favourite of Christie’s works by any means, but it was interesting to see how an historical setting both inspired and affected her work.

Purchase from the Book Depository

‘The Lessons of the Master’ by Henry James

The Lesson of the Master by Henry James ****
I really enjoy Henry James’ work, and spotted this lovely Hesperus edition quite by chance in the library.  Whilst I had heard of it, I did not know anything about the novella before I began to read.  Colm Toibin’s foreword provides a nice little introduction to the story, and also sets out the details which drove James to write.  The Lesson of the Master was first published in 1888, but parts of it feel as though they are of a far more modern era.

The story’s protagonist, Paul Overt, is an ambitious young author, who has had work published.  The ‘master’ of the novella’s title is an established and revered novelist named Henry St. George, who quite happily decides to take the surprised Paul under his wing, so to speak.  I much admired the way in which the characters throughout were portrayed, Paul particularly.  He is such a believable creature that one could imagine walking around a corner and bumping into him as he sauntered out of his club.  The way in which he presents different characters is quite splendid.  When speaking of Henry’s wife, James writes: ‘She looked as if she had put on her best clothes to go to church and then had decided they were too good for that and had stayed at home’.

James has such a marvellous grasp of language, and demonstrates his skill tremendously throughout.  The Lesson of the Master is a very character driven work.  Whilst part of it is quite a tasteful love story of sorts, it is still ultimately an impression of the cast of protagonists which one comes away with.  The novella is an enjoyable one; a great classic work which can easily be read in just a couple of hours, and which will leave you with a thirst for James’ other work.

Purchase from the Book Depository

0

Flash Reviews (November 20th 2013)

‘Daisy Miller’ (Dover Thrift Editions)

Daisy Miller by Henry James ****
I was so impressed by my reading of The Turn of The Screw that I could not wait to read another one of James’ books.  I had no idea before I downloaded Daisy Miller to my Kindle that it was quite so short.  This novella is not overly plot-driven, but the characterisation – the strongest element of the novel as far as I am concerned – is marvellous and more than makes up for the lack of action in its pages.  An unexpected and beautifully written novella.

Miss Julie by August Strindberg **
I hoped I would enjoy this play more than The Father, which I read in October.  Sadly, I didn’t even like it as much.  The characters all felt a little flat to me – perhaps because the play itself was rather short and there was not enough space in which to develop them.  Miss Julie is not a very memorable play by any means, and on the lack of strength of it, I shall not be picking up any more of Strindberg’s work in future.

Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan ****
I am so enjoying the Percy Jackson series.  This book, as with the previous two, was so, so good, and I could not bear to put it down.  As far as the storyline goes, I think this may be my favourite to date.  I love the way in which figures from mythology are woven in, and the relevance within the story which Riordan gives to each one.  Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse is well paced, well plotted and full of excitement.  The character development too is great, and it really feels as though Percy is maturing as the series goes on.

0

‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James ****

As today is Halloween, I felt that it was fitting to post the review of my first creepy read of October.  Originally published in 1898, this is one of the spookiest ghost stories which I have read.  I really wanted to enjoy Henry James when I first picked up Washington Square a few years ago, but I sadly found it rather disappointing.  I am pleased to say, however, that I very nearly loved The Turn of the Screw.

‘The Turn of the Screw’

The storyline of this Gothic tale is relatively simplistic – a haunted country house – but James has made the most masterful use of the genre which I have read to date.  The entirety of the novella is beautifully written, and James has crafted the atmosphere in such a way that several passages sent shivers down my spine.  He has injected just the most amount of creepiness into the more unsettling parts of the tale, but it is not consistently scary throughout.  There is a sense of foreboding throughout, however, which builds as you read on.

I surprisingly did sleep well after putting the book down at its creepiest part, which I was rather pleased about, but I would – and will – highly recommend it to everyone.  I feel that The Turn of the Screw could serve as a marvellous introduction to classic ghost stories, novellas, and the classic and Gothic genres in general.  I urge you all, with Halloween in mind, to go and unearth this fabulous little story.