Sunday, May 6, 2012

Modern Gothic: Mistress of Mellyn

I found myself reading the 1960 Victoria Holt potboiler MISTRESS OF MELLYN because I've been on a gothic kick recently. I've been doing research for a new project and took a side trip to explore the origins of modern gothic literature, and MELLYN is a key book.
Eleanor Hibbert, the woman behind
Victoria Holt.
Published in 1960, the book merges major themes from Daphne Du Maurier's 1948 Rebecca and of course Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Just oozing atmosphere and gloom; MISTRESS OF MELLYN is about Miss Marty Leigh, a woman of good family and embarrassed means who takes a job as the governess in an imposing mansion called Mount Mellyn, where lately the locals have come to suspect the master, mysterious Lord Connan, of murdering his deceased wife. There are gossipy servants and secret passages; it's all exactly as you expect and it's fantastic. People tend to talk of this as "Victoria Holt's first book," but for what it's worth, Victoria Holt was a pseudonym; this is actually English scribe Eleanor Hibbert's thirtieth or so novel. She was a busy gal; she published at least one more novel under yet another name in 1960, the year of Mistress of Mellyn, alone.

But Mistress of Mellyn is a classic, incorporating the key elements of gothic so well defined in the discussion here:

  • A Young Heroine who is sent to
  • A Big House located in the middle of
  • A Wilderness, owned by . . .
  • A Threatening Patriarchal/Matriarchal Authority Figure, who has
  • Endangered Children Who Need a Governess and who are plagued by
  • Supernatural Elements, all complicated by
  • A Demanding, Aloof Hero with the Sensitivity of a Wombat (Wikipedia: “They can be awkwardly tamed in a captive situation, and even coaxed into being patted and held, possibly becoming quite friendly. . . . However, their lack of fear means that they may display acts of aggression if provoked, or if they are simply in a bad mood.)
Anyway-- I've also been obsessed with gothic covers from the 60s and 70s recently, so here are some swell earlier covers for this mysterious, charming book.




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