{Book} The Old English Baron

The Old English Baron

The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve

When Sir Philip Harclay returns to England after a long absence, he finds that his childhood friend, Arthur, Lord Lovel, is no longer alive, and that the castle and estates of the Lovel family have twice changed hands. But a mysteriously abandoned set of rooms in the castle of Lovel promises to disclose the secrets of the past. After a series of frantic episodes and surprising revelations, culminating in a trial by combat, the crimes of the usurper and the legitimacy of the true heir are finally discovered. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
This was my first Classics Club Spin book.

What Did I Think?
I gotta say, this book was a slog. I read about half and listened to a LibriVox recording of the rest. (Via YouTube, and for a volunteer reader, quite good!)

In Reeve’s introduction, she calls The Castle of Otranto to task.

For instance; we can conceive, and allow of, the appearance of a ghost; we can even dispense with an enchanted sword and helmet; but then they must keep within certain limits of credibility: A sword so large as to require an hundred men to lift it; a helmet that by its own weight forces a passage through a court-yard into an arched vault, big enough for a man to go through; a picture that walks out of its frame; a skeleton ghost in a hermit’s cowl:—When your expectation is wound up to the highest pitch, these circumstances take it down with a witness, destroy the work of imagination, and, instead of attention, excite laughter.

This might be the case when the genre of the gothic novel was new. But, after 200 years of the Scooby-Doo-ification of the gothic, it was the over-the-top absurdity of Otranto that I really enjoyed. So, Reeve isn’t wrong, I guess. But also for a modern reader, to dial back the strange to a very minimal level, it’s just not too compelling. I feel like so much of the gothic genre has become cliche; I could see any plot twist a mile away. I’m a little worried about the other gothic novels on my list.

Original Publishing info: 1778
My Copy: Project Gutenberg & LibriVox
Genre: gothic novel

Magic Monday, 1/21/19


I like Mondays. I also like magic. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

I’m a sucker for magic history, but I usually don’t delve much farther back than the 1850s. Back in October, Mariano Tomatis gave a lecture about where the Gothic and stage magic sometimes intersect.

If you don’t have time to watch/listen to the lecture, it’s also available at Tomatis’ Blog of Wonder in post and slide show form.

It’s Monday! What am I…

…reading?

Part of the reason I wanted do fewer formal reading challenges was to make room for things like Kaleena’s #PoeAThon.

I’d been thinking about reading some Poe, so this was perfect! And it’s still going on this lovely Monday! Today, I’ll be reading “For Annie,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Premature Burial.”

I’m ahead of where I thought I’d be with my TBR this month since I read Laurant: The Man of Many Mysteries last week. Next, I’ll probably read a couple Shelf Maintenance titles.

The Hellbound Heart
The Circus of Dr. Lao

I’m thinking Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker or The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney. Or, maybe I’ll head to the library before the 24 in 48 Readathon this weekend.

…doing?

I’m engaged in the usual late-January things: listening to basketball, watching tennis, playing some ultimate frisbee, reeling over the fact that the first month of the year is 2/3 over.

One thing is different from most years. This year I won’t be participating in New Year Fest, our yearly local ultimate tournament. I’ve decided that playing more than three games in a day is not fun and should be avoided. Even helping out on-site has been murder on my back the last few years. So, instead, this weekend I’ll be doing the 24 in 48 Readathon. Switching out one favorite thing for another…

What *was* I doing?

Review ~ Wuthering Heights

Cover via Goodreads

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before; of the intense relationship between the gypsy foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw; and how Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Twenty years ago (yes, that much), I finished my college education, earning a bachelor’s degree in English. Yet, I had never read Emily Brontë’s only novel. More shameful still (if you have a degree in English), I had attempted to read Wuthering Heights not once, but twice(!), before I decided to jump on board Roofbeam Reader’s Classic Book of the Month Club.

What Worked
I started the year with Moby Dick and I am near ending it with Wuthering Heights, two of the oddest novels I’ve encountered. In the case of the former, I’m rather glad that I never had to read it for a class. It’s too big and there’s too much. I think the only way to do it justice would be to have a semester long class. In the case of the latter, I wouldn’t mind a little guided context for Wuthering Heights because I feel like I’m missing something.

My initial read is that this is a novel about miserable people being miserable to each other.

…however miserable you make us, we shall still have the revenge of thinking that your cruelty arises from your greater misery.

In that way, and this might be considered sacrilege, but it reminded me of Gone Girl. Just full of terrible, horrible people. Even Mr. Lockwood, our entrance-level character, is snarky, peevish, and jealous. The only character worth her salt is Ellen Dean—nanny, housemaid, sane person.

I *suppose*, prompted by the summary above, I could buy that all this tragedy is set into motion by a woman doing what is expected of her instead of what her heart dictates, but the wheels of dreadful behavior are already set in motion by the time Cathy decides to marry proper Linton instead of mercurial Heathcliff.

What Didn’t Work
Is it just me or is the use of quotation marks a little eccentric? Honestly, this is one of the reasons I’ve had trouble with Wuthering Heights. I’d put it down for a day and lose track of who was doing the narration, even though it was usually Mrs. Dean.  Also, the names just kill me. This genealogy chart helped a lot (linked to avoid spoilers).

What also doesn’t help are relatively good movie versions (adaptation doesn’t seem to be the right word) that leave out all the domestic abuse in favor of telling a romantic tale. With the number of beatings that occur, I’m not sure why this is considered a romantic work. Maybe that’s where my disconnect lies. I expected a great, if tragic, romance. Instead, I got one of the great novels of revenge. As a revenge story, I’m not sure Quentin Tarantino has done better.

Overall
I can’t say I disliked it, but it’s one of those cases where I feel like I’ve read a totally different book than everyone else.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, AmazonClassics
Genre: classics, literary, gothic

The first time I encountered an allusion to Heathcliff:

Deal Me In, Week 17 ~ “The Southwest Chamber”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Southwest Chamber” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

Card picked: Three of Diamonds
From: Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown, edited by Marvin Kaye

Thoughts: Aunt Harriet has only been dead a few months. With no other living relatives, her house is inherited by her two nieces, the daughters of her estranged sister. The nieces, Amanda and Sophia, move into the house and take in borders to help pay for the upkeep and taxes. As the story begins, Amanda decides to put the newest border in the southwest chamber, the chamber that had been Aunt Harriet’s. No one has used the room and the very thought of it gives Sophia the heebie-jeebies.

Most of this story involves the strange things that happen in the titular southwest chamber. Items (like an entire wardrobe of clothes) appear and disappear. The pattern on the drapes change. During the night the border stays, she is repeatedly attacked by a nightcap. While not really comedic, the story felt like it could be a Noises Off-style stage play with much door slamming as characters move through the house and the plot; kind of a different take on the “bedroom” farce. Of course, this led me to think about what sort of stage magic effects might be employed to achieve Aunt Harriet’s haunting.

About the Author: Born on Halloween 1852, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman started writing as a teenager to help support her family and remained a prolific until her death in 1930. She was known generally for the domestic realism of her stories, but also had an interest in the supernatural, which lead to some well-regarded ghost stories. Indeed, she and Shirley Jackson would make a great pair of B&B ghosts.

Review ~ We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Castle
#myOwnDamnBook

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp. (via Goodreads)

I’ve been meaning to reread We Have Always Lived in the Castle for quite a while now. I first read it in 2003, probably the second Shirley Jackson novel I’d ever read after The Haunting of Hill House. Since then, I’ve read most of her other novels. There is a definite progression in their clarity and focus. Castle is the last she wrote and it is the most distilled in terms of story and tone. I got into a discussion on Reddit and as a fellow redditor put it, “If there’s one author I could go back in time and tack another decade onto her life to see what she’d write it’s Shirley Jackson…”

I realized though, at about the halfway mark, that I had munged the plot of The Sundial (which I read three years later in 2006) into Castle, probably due to both having inter-family murders and imposing houses. The Sundial kind of meanders as a novel, while Castle is clear in its purpose.

Mostly, I wanted to reread Castle to look at it in the context of Gothic literature. There is indeed a “castle” at the heart of the book (Blackwood House), and a young woman, and family secrets, but if we’re to place the story into the Gothic mold, it’s Charles who is the character who comes into the situation from outside. He is a poor substitute for the usual Gothic heroine. He’s not interested in his cousins’ secrets, only their money. If Eleanor in Hill House wants to be in a Gothic novel, Castle is a Gothic novel already in progress and Constance and Merricat are unperturbed by their places within it until Charles (the not-Gothic world) intrudes.

MONTH-LONGREADATHON copyAt the end of Castle, the Blackwoods have been ousted from their Gothic story, but placed into what is maybe the 20th century equivalent: the urban (rural New England?) legend.

Was it weird? Well, there are no cosmic monsters. No frogmen. No gods on earth. Can two sisters, one of them a murderer, living in an old house with their uncle, surviving on their garden and a belief in magic be weird?

Publishing info, my copy: mass market paperback, Popular Library, 1962
Acquired: Sometime before April 2003. My copy has a $1.00 price tag on it, which might be what I payed for it. It also has stamps for Sembach Junior High Resource Center and Vogelweh Library Exchange, both located in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany.
Genre: horror

Review ~ Psycho

Psycho by Robert Bloch

Cover via Goodreads

Norman Bates loves his Mother. She has been dead for the past twenty years, or so people think. Norman knows better though. He has lived with Mother ever since leaving the hospital in the old house up on the hill above the Bates motel. One night Norman spies on a beautiful woman that checks into the hotel as she undresses. Norman can’t help but spy on her. Mother is there though. She is there to protect Norman from his filthy thoughts. She is there to protect him with her butcher knife. (via Goodreads)

Norman is 40-something years old. He’s overweight, has bad eyesight, and an interest in the works of Aleister Crowley and P. D. Ouspensky. He’s a bachelor who lives with his mother and owns the Bates Motel. Mary Crane, on the run after stealing $40,000 from her employer, finds Norman to be odd. He fixes sandwiches for her, but becomes loudly angry when she suggests that maybe his mother would be better off in a hospital. To calm down after his meal with Mary, Norman has a few drinks. Unfortunately, Mother has other plans.

tumblr_mhhwoytP8U1s4k72eo1_500
Anthony Perkins as a clean-cut, dishy 28 year-old Norman Bates.

If you know the movie, you know there are a few differences between the above and the more popular version of the story. The skeleton of the story is the same, but I have to say, the screenplay is a much tighter, more effective way of telling the story.

This is a reread for me and this time I was looking at whether Robert Bloch’s Psycho had the marks of Gothic fiction. It has some of the elements of Gothic: the house (which is less prominent in the book), the family secrets, the insane relative kept away from the public, but it really only sidles up to Gothic. It instead takes a bit of a detour into  the post-modern pursuit of psychology. Still, maybe that’s what Gothic is in the 20th century…

Publishing info, my copy: Tor, mass market paperback, 1989
Acquired: Probably at a Waldenbooks in the 90s.
Genre: horror

gothic september

ripnineperilfirst

Gothic September ~ “The Fall of the House of Usher”

gothic septemberGothic September is hosted by Michelle at Castle Macabre. Visit for all the details!

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is firmly Gothic. It starts with the House, crumbling into the tarn and clearly doomed by the zig-zagging fault that extends from roof to foundation. Roderick Usher even believes that the house has sentience. The “House” of Usher also refers to the family line, which Gothic novels are often very preoccupied with. Secret lineages are the order of the day, but in the case of the Ushers, it looks like their line will end with Roderick and his twin sister, Madeline.

The narrator is an old friend of Usher’s, called upon to journey to the family’s manse to provide cheer to the ailing Roderick. In comparison to the narrators of “Ligeia” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” this one is quite sane and offers commentary about his own mental state as well as Usher’s.

Usually, it’s the women who get the detailed description, but this time it’s Roderick Usher who gets the full Poe treatment:

…an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy…

In fact, Madeline is strangely absent. She too is ill, given to fits of catalepsy, but our narrator doesn’t seem too concerned about providing her with cheer. He thinks he sees her pass through Roderick’s room, but he doesn’t follow her. She does die and Roderick decides to inter her in a copper-lined room of the house to avoid possibility of premature burial (although being left in a copper-lined donjon doesn’t seem to be much better). Days pass and both Roderick and our narrator start feeling a little jumpy. One night, during a strange electrical storm, we see Madeline again and the House of Usher finally falls…

ripnineperilshortThis story also counts for RIP X!