The Castle of Wolfenbach (Eliza Parsons)

151898Now that Valancourt Books have finally finished their “Northanger Horrid Novels” reprints, I’m embarking at last on another mini-project I’ve had in mind for a while, i.e. actually read the damn books in question. Accordingly, we start with the first to be published, cos I like doing things chronologically, Eliza Parsons’ Castle of Wolfenbach from 1793… not much of the action of which takes place at said castle (which gets burnt down fairly early in proceedings too), which might make it seem like an odd title, but the castle does serve as a sort of point around which the novel’s business revolves. Cos this is a Gothic novel with not one but two heroines; we meet the first of whom, Matilda, fleeing the romantic depredations of her uncle and guardian, and we meet the second, the Countess of Wolfenbach, when Matilda chances upon the castle in the course of her flight and encounters the Countess, who’s been kept in seclusion there for 18 years by her husband. When the latter makes one of his periodic visits to find the Countess has been discovered, complications ensue. This is a fairly short book, but it’s one of those I found myself struggling with in spite of that; I suspect a good part of that is down to the sheer number of secondary characters, who are really kind of too numerous for a book this, and I will confess to losing track of some of them by the end of the book. I imagine it would be pretty much entirely lost to history were it not for Jane Austen namechecking it. Still, I’ll give it this much; the bit late in the book where we discover Mr Weimar actually is Matilda’s real blood relative uncle after we’ve been led to believe he was merely her adoptive guardian, and where we consequently realise he really has spent the book trying to fuck his own niece? Yeah, that bit is still as icky and nauseating as hell even after 223 years, and that’s kind of impressive…

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