….and I’m very pleased that it did.
I’ve always hoped that I would fall in love with Ann Radcliffe’s novels, with the coming together of the gothic and the romantic, but I was scared to take the first step and so I needed that spin.
It was love, of course it was.
The opening chapter was wonderfully readable and it set the stage for what was to come. A traveller was struck by a sight on the north coast of Sicily: a ruined castle that had clearly once been grand. He met a monk, he asked him what he knew of the history, and he was guided to a manuscript that told the story of why the Castle Mazzini had been abandoned.
Late in the sixteenth century, Julia and Emilia, the daughters of the first marriage of fifth marquis of Mazzini lived there. They lived with their governess – a poor relation of their mother – and a manservant. Because their father had left, to live in another of his homes, much nearer society, to please his second wife.
They were isolated but they were happy. Until one night they saw a light in a part of the castle that was unoccupied. Until they began to hear noises that they couldn’t explain …..
And then the Marquis came home. His son, Ferdinand, was happy to be reunited with his sisters, and they with them. His wife was not pleased but he placated her by throwing parties, inviting guests.
Why had he come back?
Julia fell in love, with a dear friend of her brother. That did not endear her to her step-mother, who wanted him in her retinue, as a young lover. And her father was planning another marriage for her, a marriage that would be advantageous to him but that would be anathema to her.
Julia rebelled, but that made her – and her supporters – very, very vulnerable.
That was just the beginning of a story that had everything you might hope to find in a gothic romance: family secrets, locked doors, narrow escapes, banditti, isolated monasteries, betrayal, underground tunnels, confused identities, wild weather ….
The characters were simply drawn. Two heroines, one spirited, one quiet, and both inclined to faint. A governess, with a tragic story of her own, who would do everything she could for them. Two heroes, one a brother and one a lover. A tyrannical father. A wicked step-mother. It was predictable, but it worked.
I had an idea where the story was going very early on, and I was right, but I loved the journey though the story, living though it with the characters, hearing the stories that were told along the way.
The descriptive writing was lovely, and it pulled me right into the story. The authors style was lovely too. Her prose didn’t feel dated at all, it felt like classical English by somebody who knew how English should be written and spoken.
I think the logic worked. There were extraordinary coincidence, and of course the story was ridiculous, was predictable, went round in circles – but living through it with the characters, through all of the highs and lows, was wonderful.
I’m glad I came to this book having read some of the great 20th century writers of romantic suspense – Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt – because I can imagine that they loved and were influenced by Ann Radcliffe’s writing.
One aspect of the plot even made me think of D E Stevenson.
It’s a particular kind of writing for a particular reading mood, and I could very easily read more of Ann Radcliffe’s writing when that mood strikes again.