Friday, May 11, 2012

Review of The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons

Original Publication Date: 1793

Genre: Gothic horror

Topics: damsel in distress, incest, murder, kidnapping, family secrets, forgiveness


Spooky castles, damsels in distress, evil villains, murder, seeeeecrets, and even a pirate, these are the gothic elements you'll find in The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons.

On a dark and stormy night, Matilda stumbles to the Castle of Wolfenbach in search of refuge. The servant there warns her of the ghosts who harass visitors and indeed Matilda hears rattling of chains and moans from another part of the castle. She is unimpressed with these Scooby-Doo antics and next morning investigates these sounds on her own. Lo and behold, she finds a lady and her maid hiding in the abandoned wing. Immediately, they become besties and she tells the lady her tale of woe. Matilda is an orphan raised by her uncle. Everything was kittens and rainbows, until he turns V.C. Andrews and plots with the housekeeper to rape her. Matilda flees with her servant Albert. And the castle is as far as she gets. The lady is sympathetic, she too has a tale of woe, but...she'll tell it another time. In the meantime, she writes to her sister who just happens to be looking for a companion for a trip to England. How serendipitous! Things are really turning around for Matilda.

One morning, Matilda makes a visit to the lady to hear her story only to find her rooms are trashed, her maid murdered, and the lady missing. Oh noes! What happened here?! Matilda does the only thing she knows how to do, she flees. Now she has a destination- the lady's sister in Paris. She'll know what to do! What Matilda doesn't know is that her uncle is hot on her trail.

I had such high hopes for Matilda. I thought she was going to be a kick-ass heroine. I mean, she runs away from her creepy uncle even though she has no place to go. Then she faces the 'ghosts' just like a Velma and helps move a murdered corpse. What can't she do?! Apparently everything, once people are around. I get the feeling if you put Matilda on a deserted island with a coconut and a bowie knife she'd have a raft built in a week. Put a couple of people on the island with her, she'd fall in a hole. Once she gets to Paris, she spends more time crying hysterically or swooning. Boy, she does a lot of swooning. For example, a mean girl at a play gives her a dirty look and she faints. 

She's not the only lady who faints at the drop of a hat. They all do. No wonder they had to wear such pouffy dresses. It was for padding. I suspect Parsons had no idea how to make her ladies express any violent emotion so she made them faint. A lot. It also gets them out of making decisions or doing things. (Note to self: Must try fainting the next time I don't want to make dinner.)

 Of course, fainting is preferable to how the men react to their strong feelings. They get stabby. "I can't have my way?...Everyone dies!" The reasonable solution to all life's problems is to murder the cause of those problems. No? Oh right, that's not how normal people deal with stuff. Pardon me, I was confused. To put a cherry on top, once they confess, all is forgiven. Murdering people is ok, as long as you fess up...eventually. What a great lesson for the reader.

That sort of falls into the moral of the story, because it must have a moral. Forgiveness is part of it. Also trusting in Providence because you're young and pretty and maybe noble and everyone loves you (except those who HATE you) and also the heroine of the a gothic novel. It will all work itself out. And it does!

As for the writing, don't expect introspective characters. Their motives are skin deep and easily discarded. Parsons doesn't do 'show, don't tell' well. Behold the following passage! (the emphasis is mine):

Pierre was already in bed, and Jaqueline preparing to follow, when the trampling of horses was heard, and immediately a loud knocking at the door; they were both alarmed; Pierre listened, Jaqueline trembled; the knocking was repeated with more violence; the peasant threw on his humble garment, and, advancing to the door, demanded who was there? 'Two travellers,' answered a gentle voice, 'overtaken by the storm; pray, friend, afford us shelter." 

I'm giving you the impression that I didn't like The Castle of Wolfenbach and that's not true. I LOVED it. It was so bad it was good. Matilda was so sweet my teeth ached but she had her moments. I wanted to know what was going to happen to her and the lady from the castle. I loved the evil villains. They were so EVILY! And the mean girls, so MEAN! And it's all plot. A fast plot with everything in it but the kitchen sink.

I can see why these type of books were so wildly popular. They were "horrid." Jane Austen's character Isabella Thorpe recommends The Castle of Wolfenbach to to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. I guess I'm a bit like Catherine. There's nothing wrong with a little danger, as long it's fictional.

So, as long as you don't take The Castle of Wolfenbach too seriously you'll enjoy it.

Originally published on Chrisbookarama.