Deal Me In – The Fantastic Tales Edition

I will be signing up for Jay’s Deal Me In Challenge, hosted at his blog Bibliophilopolis. The announcement post is scheduled drop on 12/21/14.

The basic idea of the challenge is to read one story a week, randomly chosen by assigning each story a playing card from a standard 52 card deck. I thought this would be fun, and happen to have a number of short story anthologies hanging around, which I haven’t dipped into at all. I am not typically a short story reader, so this sounds like a great idea! I decided to theme my challenge – I’ll be reading various fantastical tales: fairy tales, magic tales, steampunk, genre busting detective stories with a magic twist. It should be a wonderfully fun experience!

I decided to randomize the story assignments, so I made a spreadsheet with each story (there are a total of 133 stories in these 7 books) and then used a random number generator to assign 52 of the 133 them a playing card position. I intentionally didn’t identify the authors of the stories. The anthologies have a huge variety of authors – Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates, Nancy Kress, Seanan McGuire.

playing cards


1 – Magic City: Recent Spells: Curses
2 – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: Roach in Loafers
3 – Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Little Miss Muffet
4 – Magic City: Recent Spells: Alchemy
5 – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: Ruby Slipper
6 – Weird Detectives: Swing Shift
7 – Weird Detectives: The Beast of Glamis
8 – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: The Memory Book
9 – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: Hansel and Grettel
10 – Magic City: Recent Spells: The Thief of Precious Things
J – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: This Century of Sleep
Q – Weird Detectives: The Case of the Stalking Shadow
K – Rag and Bones: Losing Her Divinity
A – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: Match Girl


1 – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: The White Road
2 – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: The Real Princess
3 – Rag and Bones: Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy
4 – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: Mr. Splitfoot
5 – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: After Push Comes to Shove
6 – Magic City: Recent Spells: Stray Magic
7 – Carniepunk: The Werewife
8 – Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Pieces of Eight
9 – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: The Crossing
10 – Rag and Bones: Uncaged
J – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: The Printer’s Daughter
Q – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: The Unwanted Women of Surrey
K – Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Candlelight
A – Rag and Bones: Millcara


1 – Weird Detectives: The Case of Death and Honey
2 – Weird Detectives: Fox Tails
3 – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: We Without Us Were Shadows
4 – Two and Twenty Dark Tales: A Pocket Full of Posy
5 – Magic City: Recent Spells: A Voice Like A Hole
6 – Weird Detectives: Star of David
7 – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: A Few Twigs He Left Behind
8 – Carniepunk: Painted Love
9 – Weird Detectives: Defining Shadows
10 – Magic City: Recent Spells: Grand Central Park
J – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: For the Briar Rose
Q – Weird Detectives: Imposters
K – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: Estella Saves the Village
A – Carniepunk: The Sweeter the Juice


1 – Carniepunk: Parlor Tricks
2 – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: La Reine d’Enfer
3 – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: The Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown
4 – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: Phosphorus
5 – Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Come Out And Play
6 – Rag and Bones: The Sleeper and the Spindle
7 – Weird Detectives: Deal Breaker
8 – Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: From the Catalogue of the Pavilion of the Uncanny and Marvellous
9 – Weird Detectives: The Nightside, Needless to Say
10 – Magic City: Recent Spells: In the Stacks
J – Two and Twenty Dark Tales: The Wish
Q – Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears: Waking the Prince
K – Carniepunk: Freakhouse
A – Two and Twenty Dark Tales: I Come Bearing Souls

Back to the Classics 2015: Planned Reads (Part 2)


7. A Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title: For this one, I’ll be reading Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant.

8. A Humorous or Satirical Classic: I’ve been told that Friday’s Child is among the funniest Heyer novels. I thought The Grand Sophy was delightfully funny, so I can’t wait to see how this one compares!

9. A Forgotten Classic: The Law and the Lady only has 1,100 ratings on Goodreads, and is one of Wilkie Collin’s lesser known works.

10. A Nonfiction Classic: At this point, I am planning on reading The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, although this is an intimidating selection!

11. A Classic Children’s Book: Heidi, by Johanna Spyri.

12. A Classic Play: I am planning on reading some Shakespeare next year, but I haven’t narrowed down which ones yet. In any event, I also plan to read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. There’s also a 2002 movie starring Colin Firth, which would be fun to watch once I finish the play!

Back to the Classics 2015: Planned Reads (Part 1)


It’s so much fun to post my planned reads for this challenge, even though odds are that I will change up a lot of them throughout the year!

1. A 19th Century Classic: I have Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy planned for this one.
2. A 20th Century Classic: My goodreads group is doing a Lord of the Rings read-along right after the first of the year. Tolkien’s magnum opus was published in 1954, comfortably within the “more than 50 years old” requirement of the challenge.
3. A Classic by a Woman Author: I’ve been wanting to read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell for a couple of years. And, I recently watched the BBC mini-series starring Richard Armitage. Which made me want to read it all that much more.


4. A Classic in Translation: Germinal by Emile Zola. I’m pretty excited about this one, since a lot of people whose recommendations I trust have loved this one.
5. A Very Long Classic Novel: This one either has to be Dickens or Trollope, so, yeah, The Way We Live Now it is.
6. A Classic Novella: Washington Square by Henry James – only 205 pages long.

That’s the first six. Stay tuned for entries seven through twelve!

Back to the Classics Challenge 2015


My most successful challenge of 2014 was this years Back to the Classics challenge. Karen of Books and Chocolate is hosting the challenge again for next year. Her announcement post is here.

The categories:

1. A 19th Century Classic — any book published between 1800 and 1899.

2. A 20th Century Classic — any book published between 1900 and 1965. Just like last year, all books must have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify as a classic. The only exception is books that were published posthumously but written at least 50 years ago.)

3. A Classic by a Woman Author.

4. A Classic in Translation. As in last year’s category, this can be any classic book originally written or a published in a language that is not your first language. Feel free to read it in its original form if you are comfortable reading in another language.

5. A Very Long Classic Novel — a single work of 500 pages or longer. This does not include omnibus editions combined into one book, or short story collections.

6. A Classic Novella — any work shorter than 250 pages. For a list of suggestions, check out this list of World’s Greatest Novellas from Goodreads.

7. A Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title. First name, last name, or both, it doesn’t matter, but it must have the name of a character. David Copperfield, The Brothers Karamazov, Don Quixote — something like that. It’s amazing how many books are named after people!

8. A Humorous or Satirical Classic. Humor is very subjective, so this one is open to interpretation. Just tell us in the review why you think it’s funny or satirical. For example, if you think that Crime and Punishment and funny, go ahead and use it, but please justify your choice in your post.

9. A Forgotten Classic. This could be a lesser-known work by a famous author, or a classic that nobody reads any more. If you look on Goodreads, this book will most likely have less than 1000 ratings. This is your chance to read one of those obscure books from the Modern Library 100 Best Novels or 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. Books published by Virago Modern Classics, Persephone, and NYRB Classics often fall into this category.

10. A Nonfiction Classic. A memoir, biography, essays, travel, this can be any nonfiction work that’s considered a classic, or a nonfiction work by a classic author. You’d be surprised how many classic authors dabbled in nonfiction writing — I have nonfiction books by Dickens, Trollope, Twain, and Steinbeck on my shelves.

11. A Classic Children’s Book. A book for your inner child! Pick a children’s classic that you never got around to reading.

12. A Classic Play. Your choice, any classic play, as long as it was published or performed before 1965.

I’ll be posting my planned reading, although if next year is anything like last year, there may be substitutions.

Non-Fiction November and other plans

Now that the spooky season is over – and I read plenty of thrills and chills, with The Hound of the Baskervilles, and several Phyllis Whitney & Victoria Holt gothic romances (posts forthcoming), I’m ready to move on, at least partially.

I will be finishing Dracula – I am listening to the audiobook, and it is going to take as long as it takes. It is an amazing experience, though. I try to get in a chapter or two a day, and I am not quite to the midpoint. I have a little more than 9 hours left.

But while I finish the audio of Dracula, I will be joining the Classics Club in reading some Victorian novelists, and will be participating in Non-Fiction November, reading Juliet Barker’s loooong and well-regarded biography: The Brontes (Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family). I plan to pair this read with one of Charlotte’s lesser-known classics, Shirley.

I also plan to continue rereading the early Mary Russell books. I reread The Beekeeper’s Apprentice last week, and found it to be even more wonderful than I remembered!

Aside from that, I will probably start pulling together some seasonal reads, and some children’s classics, which are always great fun during the holidays!

Monthly Book Haul: October 2014 edition

1. The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (Book 5 in the Heroes of Olympus series); 2. The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde (Book 3 in The Chronicles of Kazam); 3. The Fall by Bethany Griffin (stand alone retelling of Poe’s short story The Fall of the House of Usher); 4. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (book #1 of the Roosevelt trilogy of biographies); 5. The Glassblower by Petra Durst-Benning (Kindle First selection); 6. The Nutcracker by ETA Hoffman (Penguin Christmas Classics are so pretty); 7. The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters (stand-alone YA by the author of the amazing In The Shadow of Blackbirds); 8. The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue (looks absolutely astonishing); 9. Talon by Julie Kagawa (first in a new series about dragons); 10. A Merry Christmas and other Christmas stories by Louisa May Alcott (Penguin Christmas Classics); 11. Beware the Wild by Natalie Parker (Southern gothic); 12. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (Book 3 in The Raven Boys series); 13. Christmas at Thompson Hall and other stories by Anthony Trollope (Penguin Christmas Classics); 14. Compulsion (The Heirs of Watson Island) by Martina Boone (more Southern gothic); 15. Every Breath by Ellie Marney (Holmes pastiche from Down Under); 16. My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins (holiday theme short stories by awesome authors like Rainbow Rowell); 17. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe (Victorian gothic); 18. Annotated Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen and David Shapard (these are the ultimate annotated Austen editions).

So, yeah, October might have been excessive. Maybe?

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan DoyleThe Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #5
on 1901
Genres: Classics - Victorian, Mystery
Pages: 256
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Holmes and Watson are faced with their most terrifying case yet. The legend of the devil-beast that haunts the moors around the Baskerville families home warns the descendants of that ancient clan never to venture out in those dark hours when the power of evil is exalted. Now, the most recent Baskerville, Sir Charles, is dead and the footprints of a giant hound have been found near his body. Will the new heir meet the same fate?

I read this a few years ago, but never got around to reviewing it. Then, in light of the season, I decided to do a reread, which actually turned into a listen because I picked up the audible version of The Hound of the Baskervilles for $2.99 since I already owned the kindle version.

I listened to the version that was narrated by Simon Prebble. It was just under 7 hours long – 7 wonderful, engaging, atmospheric, melancholy, ominous hours.

I have not read all of the Holmes canon, although I’ve read a lot of it. Doyle wrote four Holmes novels – this was the third of four. I have read the first two: A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four. I have not read the final novel: The Valley of Fear. Of the three I have read, The Hound of the Baskervilles is by far my favorite. I really enjoyed this book.

The mystery itself is interesting, with a touch of the supernatural (that turns out to be plain old human avarice).

“The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?”

The spectral dog was a great plot device, and Holmes is at his most arrogant. More of a novella than a novel, the mystery is neatly solved, although Holmes does, because of his hauteur, put the object of the nightmarish events in dire risk of harm.

I actually enjoyed listening to this book more than I enjoyed reading it, although both were a lot of fun. Simon Prebble did a terrific job with the narration. This is a perfect read for an dreary October evening.

Sherlock Holmes says:

Quote: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Hound of the Baskervilles“The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm. When you are once out upon its bosom you have left all traces of modern England behind you, but on the other hand you are conscious everywhere of the homes and the work of prehistoric people. On all sides of you as you walk are the houses of these forgotten folk, with their graves and the huge monoliths which are supposed to have marked their temples. As you look at their grey stone huts against the scarred hillsides you leave your own age behind you, and if you were to see a skin-clad, hairy man crawl out from the low door, fitting a flint-tipped arrow on to the string of his bow, you would feel that the presence there was more natural than your own. The strange thing is that they should have lived so thickly on what must always have been most unfruitful soil. I am no antiquarian, but I could imagine that they were some unwarlike and harried race who were forced to accept that which none other would occupy.”

The Hound of the Baskervilles by
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Uncle Silas by Sheridan LeFanu

Uncle Silas by Sheridan LeFanuUncle Silas by Sheridan LeFanu
Published by Penguin Classics on 1854
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Pages: 528
Source: Purchased: ebook
In Uncle Silas, Sheridan Le Fanu's most celebrated novel, Maud Ruthyn, the young, naïve heroine, is plagued by Madame de la Rougierre from the moment the enigmatic older woman is hired as her governess. A liar, bully, and spy, when Madame leaves the house, she takes her dark secret with her. But when Maud is orphaned, she is sent to live with her Uncle Silas, her father's mysterious brother and a man with a scandalous-even murderous-past. And, once again, she encounters Madame, whose sinister role in Maud's destiny becomes all too clear.

With its subversion of reality and illusion, and its exploration of fear through the use of mystery and the supernatural, Uncle Silas shuns the conventions of traditional horror and delivers a chilling psychological thriller.

I have no idea who is supposed to be depicted in that cover image, but jesus h. christ on a popsicle stick is he (she?) ever frightening.

Uncle Silas was a group read on my goodreads group, and qualifies as early gothic horror for purposes of R.I.P. It is an early example of a locked room mystery. It reminded me a lot of one Wilkie Collin’s sensation novels, and shared many of the same tropes. There were so many things going on this book that I could write pages and pages and still not cover it all, so I’m just going to blather on for about another few paragraphs, and then wrap it up.

Maud, the main character, was an archetypal Victorian heroine – innocent, unworldly, trusting, and endangered. There are Bluebeard elements to the plot, along with a smattering of Cinderella. It is frankly atmospheric, and LeFanu attempts to – and succeeds – in invoking a sense of dread and confusion in the reader.

The book begins:

It was winter – that is, about the second week in November – and great gusts were rattling at the windows, and wailing and thundering among our tall trees and ivied chimneys – a very dark night, and a very cheerful fire blazing, a pleasant mixture of good round coal and spluttering dry wood, in a genuine old fireplace, in a sombre old room. Black wainscoting glimmered up to the ceiling, in small ebony panels; a cheerful clump of wax candles on the tea-table; many old portraits, some grim and pale, others pretty, and some very graceful and charming, hanging from the walls. Few pictures, except portraits long and short, were there. On the whole, I think you would have taken the room for our parlour. It was not like our modern notion of a drawing-room. It was a long room too, and every way capacious, but irregularly shaped. A girl, of a little more than seventeen, looking, I believe, younger still; slight and rather tall, with a great deal of golden hair, dark grey-eyed, and with a countenance rather sensitive and melancholy, was sitting at the tea-table, in a reverie. I was that girl.

Divided into three volumes, the plot is generally broken into three sections. The first involves the death of Maud’s father. This is all scene-setting and background for the real action. Maud’s father is a frustrating character, and I remain aghast at his reasoning, which can be summarized as:

1. My brother has been accused of murder for financial gain.
2. I am dying, and I’m going to leave my daughter an enormous fortune.
3. Which will pass to my brother if my daughter dies before he does.
4. Yes, that brother. The one who has been accused of murder for financial gain.
5. Best idea ever: make him the guardian of my daughter!
6. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, stupid man. Everything can go wrong.

Volume Two takes us, with Maud, to Bartram-Haugh, the ancient manor house that is also the residence of Uncle Silas. And this is where things really start to get weird. There is a locked room mystery – the unresolved death of a man to whom Silas owed a lot of money in a locked bedroom at Bartram-Haugh – which is neatly solved at the end of Volume Three. Maud begins with a strong sense of duty, believing that she is going to prove that her uncle is not a murderer, that his expulsion from polite society has been unfair and unwarranted.

The grounds were delightfully wild and neglected. But we had now passed into a vast park beautifully varied with hollows and uplands, and such glorious old timber massed and scattered over its slopes and levels. Among these, we got at last into a picturesque dingle; the grey rocks peeped from among the ferns and wild flowers, and the steps of soft sward along its sides were dark in the shadows of silver-stemmed birch, and russet thorn, and oak, under which, in the vaporous night, the erl-king and his daughter might glide on their aerial horses.

Well, that didn’t go well.

Things get going in Volume Two, and culminate, in Volume Three with a glorious collision of crazy. There are secret marriages, governesses with divided loyalties, laudanum addiction, peg-legged servants, and, ultimately, a bludgeoning with a pointy hammer. All in all, this book is a heaping platterful of Victorian gothic what-the-fuckery that must be read to be believed. Not that you will believe it, because it is all deeply far-fetched, and completely nuts, which, of course, makes it sort of awesome.

This is a minor classic, overall, but is strangely compelling. Like a trainwreck, I could not look away!

The Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt

The Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria HoltThe Mistress of Mellyn Published by St. Martin's Griffin on 1960
Pages: 330
Format: eBook
Mount Mellyn stood as proud and magnificent as she had envisioned...But what bout its master--Connan TreMellyn? Was Martha Leigh's new employer as romantic as his name sounded? As she approached the sprawling mansion towering above the cliffs of Cornwall, an odd chill of apprehension overcame her.

TreMellyn's young daugher, Alvean, proved as spoiled and difficult as the three governesses before Martha had discovered. But it was the girl's father whose cool, arrogant demeanor unleashed unfimiliar sensations and turmoil--even as whispers of past tragedy and present danger begin to insinuate themselves into Martha's life.

Powerless against her growing desire for the enigmatic Connan, she is drawn deeper into family secrets--as passion overpowers reason, sending her head and heart spinning. But though evil lurks in the shadows, so does love--and the freedom to find a golden promise forever...

I rarely post full-blown reviews of new releases on my blog, and in honor of #bloggerblackout, and in response to #HaleNo, I won’t be posting any until November 1.

This is a review that I cross-posted on Booklikes, under the title “The Corrosive Effect of Female Ambition,” but it never got posted here. It will fulfill one of the categories in my Back to the Classics Project.

There is basically a straight line from Jane Eyre to Rebecca by du Maurier, to Victoria Holt.

When I was just a girl, it was the 1970’s, a time of great change. The first wave of feminism – concerned with legal/structural barriers to inequality like suffrage and property rights – had largely ended, at least in the Western world, and the second-wave had begun. The second wave of feminism broadened the debate to other barriers to gender equality: sexuality, family, reproductive rights, education and the workplace.

I bring this up for a reason. And that reason is that Victoria Holt’s gothic romances were huge in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the tropes which are present in those books are oddly anti-feminist. The Mistress of Mellyn, her first gothic romance, was published in 1960. In addition to the Mistress of Mellyn, I’ve also recently read The Bride of Pendorric (1963), The Shivering Sands (1969), and The Pride of the Peacock (1976). She published a total of 32 of these stand-alone gothics, with 18 of them being published in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Do I think that Eleanor Hibbert, who wrote under the name Victoria Holt, was anti-feminist? No, absolutely not. She was an incredibly prolific writer who wrote under 8 separate pen names, including her most well-known: Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr.

But with her Victoria Holt gothics, she tapped into something. She was not the only writer of gothic romance publishing during this time period. Other well-known writers include Phyllis Whitney, Dorothy Eden, Barbara Michaels, and Mary Stewart.

A few observations about gothic romance.

1. The covers were remarkably similar, typically featuring a castle or a manor of some sort, with a young woman running from it. Some examples:

gothic covers

2. The setting is of critical importance: it is typically a place that is both exotic but remains well-trod ground. Cornwall – the Cornwall of du Maurier and Rebecca – is a common setting, as are Yorkshire moors, which is familiar to readers through Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The settings have a darkness to them. The setting is historical, and the story typically conforms to well-established gender norms of the historical time period.

3. The main character is always a young woman of small means and dependence, similar to the unnamed narrator in Rebecca. She is often a governess, or a companion to a much wealthier woman. Typically youthful, her most significant characteristic is her powerlessness. She is generally not particularly beautiful – beauty being a characteristic that affords a woman with power – nor wealthy. She can be a widow or a virgin, but she is never sexually autonomous, and she never has children.

4. The male lead is a man of stature. Sometimes he is a widower, the father of a child that she has been hired to educate. He is always a man of property and is always above her station. He is aspirational, but she does not aspire to him, always acknowledging to herself that, while she has fallen in love with him, she cannot have him.

5. And it is the property that is, generally, the key to the story, as evidenced by the covers and the titles. These books are an offshoot of the literature of the English Country House. As Jane Eyre was focused around Thornfield Hall and Rebecca had Manderley, a great manor house is the foundation upon which these books are built.

6. Finally, these books often have a female villain, which is the entire point of this discussion.

The suspense in these books is built around the young woman coming to the manor house and falling in love with the eligible lord of the manor. Often there is a mystery associated with the man, or the house. A former wife who has disappeared, or a suggestion of murder, that places the heroine in physical danger. We are always meant to believe that it is the man who is the source of the danger.

However, that is typically not the case. There is confusion about the source of the danger, and the reason for that confusion is: the villain is a woman who is committing the villainy because of some ambitions either toward the master, or, more commonly, the house itself.

This is why I titled this post the corrosive effect of female ambition. Because in these books – at least the ones I have read recently – female ambition isn’t merely unwomanly, it is positively corruptive. It causes the woman who experiences it to devolve into a deranged murderess.

The Mistress of Mellyn is a case in point (and here, spoilers will abound). Our heroine is a Martha Leigh, a young woman who comes to Mount Mellyn as governess to Alvean TreMellyn, putative daughter of Connan TreMellyn (although we find out early on in the story that Alvean is actually the daughter of Alice’s lover, the neighbor). Connan himself is a widower, his deceased wife Alice having died in a railroad accident on the very night that she left him for his neighbor, her body so badly burned that it could only be identified by the locket she wore.

Drama ensues, and the reader begins to believe that there is something bizarre going on with the manor house. There are ghostly sightings, and a mute sprite of a child who seems to be terribly frightened for reasons which are unclear. The home itself is full of nooks and crannies and secret chambers, along with peeps that are cleverly hidden in murals so that the individuals in one room won’t know that they are being watched from another room.

As in many of these books, it turns out that the villainess is a woman: the sister of the neighboring man whom Alice was thought to have run away with and who died in the railroad accident. When Martha marries Connan, she becomes the target of the murderer, and is lured into a secret chamber, where she will be left to die, as was Alice so many years prior. The murderess is foiled by the child that Martha has befriended.

But, here is the thing. Celestine Nansellick isn’t actually interested in Connan TreMellyn. This isn’t a story of female rejection which ends with the rejected removing the victorious competition from the picture. This is all about the house – Celestine Nansellick covets Mount Mellyn, not Connan TreMellyn, and Martha gets in the way of those ambitions by marrying Connan and potentially producing legitimate heirs which will disinherit Alvean who is not Connan’s child. She wants the house, not the guy.

This is the same motive behind the murder attempt in Pride of the Peacock (deranged female housekeeper who wanted the aspirational hero to marry her daughter) and The Shivering Sands (deranged daughter of the housekeeper who believed herself to be the illegitimate child of the heir of the estate). In each of these books, the villain is a mirror image of the heroine, with one distortion – unlike the heroine, who is not ambitious and who accepts her place, the villain is prepared to dogfight her way out of subservience. She cannot marry her way out – unlike the heroine – but she can manipulate and maneuver and even murder her way out. And it is her very refusal to accept her place that marks her as unworthy of elevation.

This is completely retrograde, right? This book is published at the exact same time that women are becoming increasingly independent, able to control their own fertility, plan their families, get the same education as men, qualify for the same jobs, and yet we have a wildly popular type of book in which the heroines accept their lack of equality, and the villains reject it. And the women who reject this lack of independence and autonomy become criminals – murderesses.