Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Anya Seton: Dragonwyck

Seton's novel, Dragonwyck, is another Gothic romance I found out about last year. I enjoyed it immensely. It is a lengthy novel-- the type one luxuriates in as well chosen words fly off the pages. It was also made into a movie; I still have not had the pleasure of seeing the film yet, but it's in my Netflix queue.

In the novel, the heroine, Miranda Wells (Ranny as her father calls her), feels she is meant for more than being a country bumpkin doing farm work and listening to nightly Bible readings. When her family receives a letter from a distant cousin, Nicholas Van Ryn, requesting one of the daughters to spend time at his estate primarily as a visitor but occasionally as a tutor for his daughter Katrine, Miranda is overjoyed.

Upon arriving in Hudson, she falls head over heels for Van Ryn's ancestral estate on the Hudson River, Dragonwyck, with its dark halls, opulent furnishings, wild gardens, and murmuring ghosts:
"His home was part of him, an externalized expression of his will, for upon his inherited Dutch Manor house he had superimposed the Gothic magnificence which he desired... it was not in Nicholas to accept another's ideas..." (Seton 38-39.  
She also falls for the dazzling, yet ego-maniacal and psychopathic, Van Ryn who is married; the marriage is not a big problem for him, and his wife Johanna is dead soon enough. Naturally, Miranda marries him with some trepidation, and then her troubles truly begin. The Hudson River area is brought to life as are the Dutch who rule much of it: James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe and Virginia as well as a cast of many others. The life of the haves and the have nots is contrasted in stark relief with Van Ryn being one of the landowners trying to keep rebellious, poorly treated tenant farmers in check as times are changing in America. This novel has a true social conscience, and Seton has an eye for what strikes at the heart of people. I have a feeling that Barbara Michaels (Mertz) has attempted to model some of her Gothics after Dragonwyck in this socially conscious vein.

Characterization: 5/5 [Brilliant. Van Ryn rivals Heathcliff. In fact, he might even win the match with his wit, charm, good looks, overt Machiavellian machinations, Atheism, and intelligence. Although he is dangerous, Seton still manages to make him likable and even sympathetic at times. Miranda is refreshing and spunky as is her friend (and Van Ryn's rival) the doctor, Jeff. Every character in this novel is brought to life by Seton.]

Plot: 5/5 [Suspenseful and delicious. I loved every page.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 5/5 [This novel embodies what Gothic romance novels should be with an atmosphere of menace, and at times, downright terror as well as ghostly laughter and an old crone, Zelie, with "the sight" or at least a good memory.

Literary: 5/5 [Certainly so.]

Romance: Yes, yes, yes.

Rating: 5 stars *****

**If you have not read this one, grab a copy from your library or order it on Amazon. It is in my top ten Gothic novels of all time-- easily. Ironically, I just found a copy of this novel in the thrift store this week-- a newer edition in good shape. :)

*The quote is taken from Seton, Anya. Dragonwyck. Chicago: Independent Publishers Group, 2005.)


Fiddlette said...

i read this because of your recommendation, and it blew me away...loved it!

I read a second Anya Seton novel called Avalon, and it was reasonably good as well...I'm anxious to try Katherine now as it is rated so highly by her fans at Goodreads...

I was wondering who you "cast" in the roles of the frequently cast your books, and I find it interesting to compare notes..

they say no two people ever read the same book!

My pick for Nicholas is DEFINITELY Jim gorgeous, steely blue gaze, complex, dark...yum...

and Miranda? hmmmmm....Keri Russell with her long hair...innocent gaze and undeniable beauty! hows that?

Gothic Writer said...

I haven't gotten to watch it yet, but I can totally see Vincent Price in it after watching him in The Tomb of Ligiea. (sp) He was magnificent....

For now... hmm, Clive Owen if he were a bit taller (maybe he isn't short, he just seems that way to me). And Keri Russell... I could see that!

Fiddlette said...

yep, Clive Owen would be great, too...I haven't seen this film yet, but it is on my list...I also want to rent The Moonspinners although I understand the book is different from the Mary Stewart novel, but that is okay, I'm interested now after reading it...
I wish they'd make a new film version of Dragonwyck...I'd be the first in line to buy my ticket! :)

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