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Weekly Shhhout-Out


Roaming librarians file dispatches from the world of information.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Madwoman in the Attic

Everyone has their own favorite genre for beach reading, whether it be the latest blockbuster from Dan Brown or James Patterson, a political thriller, murder mystery, or historical saga. My own favorite is what I like to call the “madwoman in the attic” genre exemplified by the classics Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Woman in White. What better way to beat the heat on the beach, by the pool, or in your own back yard than with the spine tingling chills of Victorian melodrama set on bleak, windswept moors or haunted fog-shrouded London streets. And once you have exhausted the reading lists of actual Victorian authors you will find that there are plenty of modern novelists writing in this genre. Madwomen in the attics, ghosts, orphans, desperate heroines, lunatic asylums, disputed wills, evil relatives, unsuitable suitors – mix, stir, and let the chills begin. Here are some of my favorite modern Victorian tales:

The AsylumThe Asylum by John Harwood
What could be worse than waking up with no memory of the last two weeks and finding yourself with a different identity? Waking up in those same circumstances in a lunatic asylum, which is what happens to Georgina Ferrars. When she learns that another woman is living in her home under her own name she must fight to regain her true identity and her freedom.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
This book is on my Top Ten Favorites list and features one of the most stunning plot twists ever written. Set in a London underworld reminiscent of Oliver Twist, it includes a harrowing episode of forced imprisonment in a lunatic asylum, among many other reversals of fortune.Fingersmith

The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace
When her new husband tricks her into entering a lunatic asylum Anna Palmer finds herself a prisoner. Are her visions a sign of madness or a key to her escape? This novel is based on true stories of women wrongly incarcerated by family members in Victorian times.

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
Naïve spinster Fido Faithfull’s friendship with the unhappily married Helen Codrington draws her into a scandalous divorce case. This novel is based on an actual Victorian melodrama that played out in sensational newspaper headlines at the time.

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn
One of a series of Victorian mysteries featuring Lady Julia Grey and her romantic interest, the enigmatic Nicholas Brisbane. Here they investigate madness and murder at the deliciously named Grimsgrave manor on the Yorkshire moors. The ghosts of the Bronte sisters hover over the narrative.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
Subtitled “a shocking murder and the undoing of a great Victorian detective” this is actually a nonfiction book that reads like suspenseful fiction. The murder of a small child takes us deep into the life of a seemingly ordinary Victorian family. Whicher was already a famous detective when his belief that the crime came from within the family led to the downfall of his career, but years later he was proven right. Whicher was the inspiration for Wilkie Collins’ Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone and a host of later fictional detectives. 

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
This modern Victorian novel tells the story of Jane Eyre from the madwoman in the attic’s point of view. It is the tale of Mr. Rochester’s first wife, from her upbringing in the hot, steamy Caribbean to her loveless marriage and voyage to a bleak, chilly England. The novel replaces the generic “madwoman” of Jane Eyre with an astute psychological portrait of a troubled woman. Critically acclaimed as a modern feminist classic. 

 

     Rita T.Rita T.

CATEGORIES: Rita T.
POSTED AT: 3:58:00 AM |
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Last edited: 11/6/2007