Pre-Raphaelites

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02 Aug Meet Miss Lestrange…

I love Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey (and Lady Julia will be back soon, thank goodness, in Dark Road to Darjeeling), and so I approached The Dead Travel Fast with some trepidation—would I be as intrigued by a second Victorian heroine? Would the gothic Transylvanian setting work for me?

Well, the answers are yes and yes. Miss Theodora Lestrange, orphan, bluestocking (although she denies it) and spinster of Edinburgh, could not be more different from aristocratic Lady Julia Grey of the quirky-but-charming (usually) Bellmonts. Theo, in fact, reminded me of Jo March, and like Jo she’s pragmatic, pretty much penniless and determined to earn her living writing fantastical stories. When an old school friend invites her to a castle in the Carpathians, of course she jumps at the chance. She’s prepared for the ancient mountains, the eerie crumbling castle, the fragile dowager countess, the eccentric family retainers. She’s even prepared for her friend to be—well—different than she was when they were schoolgirls together. What she’s not prepared for is the mesmerizing Count Andrei, master of Castle Dragulescu.

The Dead Travel Fast is an atmospheric 21st-century take on the Victorian gothic romance, which began with The Castle of Otranto, wended its way through my own beloved Pre-Raphaelites, and reached its height with the Brontes, Byron and Bram Stoker. Cressie awards five aroos to The Dead Travel Fast!

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11 May The Séance by John Harwood

I just finished The Séance by John Harwood, and what a deliciously eldritch gothic tale it is. As a reader one must have a little patience through the first few chapters, but it all turns out to be important in the end and there are rewards to come. Constance Langton, orphaned and dependent on a single feckless uncle, unexpectedly inherits Wraxford Hall, a derelict manor house by the Sussex coast with—would you ever doubt it?—a dark history. A dark history entangled with Constance’s own past. Or is it her past? Told in multiple viewpoints and narratives, The Séance is like a crumbling scrapbook of mysterious apparitions, betrayal, blackmail and horror.

With a dreamlike photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron (see the post below on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood) on its cover and the stuff of nightmares inside, The Séance brings late-Victorian England to effortless and mesmerizing life. One of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

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03 May The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood

My beloved Pre-Raphs are usually referred to as “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,” even though there were women peripherally associated with the group—the poet Christina Rossetti; the model, poet and artist Elizabeth Siddal; the model Jane Morris, the artist Marie Spartali Stillman; the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron come to mind. Here, however, is a way-cool website that turns the whole concept around:

The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood

…and focuses primarily on the women involved in, and inspired by, the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The site is full of tidbits (a “Lady of Shalott” film!) and dozens and dozens of gorgeous images. I often call myself a Post-Pre-Raphaelite, and this site is definitely going on my must-read list. When I “see” scenes from my writing, I almost always see them as intricately detailed, color-saturated, intensely romantic Pre-Raph-style images.

I suppose you could say (as Alec Baldwin does in those funny Hulu commercials) it’s just the way I roll.

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