Posted in Female Author, Short Story

Deal Me In, Week 18 ~ “The Secret Chamber”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Secret Chamber” by Margaret Oliphant

Card picked: Five of Spades – Spades are my “clean-up” suit and there was room for more women of horror. And a good thing too!

From: Available at Gaslight; I found it via Paula Cappa’s blog.

Thoughts: Some tales are just…juicy.

“The Secret Chamber” is chock-full of gothic goodness.Β  Our setting is Castle Gowrie, full of labyrinths, hidden stairways, long mysterious passages, and, of course, a secret chamber. The chamber is connected to a family secret.

…there are hundreds who are interested in a family secret, and this the house of Randolph possessed in perfection. It was a mystery which piqued the imagination and excited the interest of the entire country. The story went, that somewhere hid amid the massive walls and tortuous passages there was a secret chamber in Gowrie Castle. Everybody knew of its existence; but save the earl, his heir, and one other person, not of the family, but filling a confidential post in their service, no mortal knew where this mysterious hiding-place was.

After a great teasing introduction, Oliphant gets to the meat of the story. John Randolph, a.k.a. Lord Lindores, is coming of age and his father must share with him the secret of the chamber. Lindores isn’t an impressive specimen of a man, but he is smart and curious. The family and community, aside from his father, have high hopes for him. The Randolphs have never really gotten very far in life despite occasions of early promise. Lindores’ father knows why. What is housed in the secret chamber is the family curse. Even by the end of the story, it remains to be seen whether Lindores will be able escape the influence that held back his father and the entire Randolph line for centuries.

This may be the first “gothic” story I’ve read (this year, at least) that involved no female characters or servants. Often, it’s been the women, the daughters especially, on the receiving end of bad circumstances. In this case, the disenfranchised party is a rather mediocre landed family.

About the Author: Margaret Oliphant (or, Mrs. Oliphant) was an incredibly prolific writer. She had to be. Her brief marriage left her with three children to support and later she took in her sister-in-law and her brother’s children. It is no surprise that she was successful. While I’m sure not all her domestic and historical novels have the same slightly gleeful phantasmagoria about them, I can’t imagine them being any less well-written. “The Secret Chamber” was published near the middle of her career, but after a number of tragedies had befallen her and her family. I wonder if Mrs. Oliphant thought her line cursed…