WAS THERE NO ESCAPE FOR MAUD RUTHYN FROM HER SINISTER UNCLE SILAS?
“When I closed my eyes I saw him before me still, dressed in deathly black, ashy with a pallor on which I looked with fear and pain.
…And those hollow, fiery, awful eyes! It sometimes seemed to me as though the curtain had opened, and I had seen a ghost.”
Maud Ruthyn was obliged to live with her mad Uncle Silas in his isolated, terrifying old mansion for four years if she wanted to receive her inheritance. If she ran away she would be penniless. If she dared to stay, then one night she would be found lifeless!
UNCLE SILAS ranks with THE MOONSTONE, THE WOMAN IN WHITE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS as one of the most haunting, terrifying Gothic novels in the English language.
Known as the father of the modern ghost story, Sheridan Le Fanu is a Victorian novelist and short story writer whose prose continues to chill and inspire to this day. Virginia Coffman, creator of the fantastically gothic Moura series, cites him as a major influence of hers, so I was very pleased to happenchance upon this gorgeous Paperback Library edition of Uncle Silas on a day out in Eastbourne the other week.
This is a classic gothic story - where an orphaned teenage heroine, duty bound to the wishes of her dead father, finds herself having to live with her strange Uncle Silas until she is old enough to claim her inheritance.
So all she need do is live long enough to come of age and claim her money. How difficult can that be? Well, for Maud Ruthyn it’s an isolated, scary existence, trapped in a gloomy old mansion, haunted by sinister secrets and strange visions, with naught but the usual cast of crackpots for company. I’m about two thirds of the way through and though nothing too terrible has happened to Maud, I’ve a feeling there’s something more menacing going on behind those crazed, opium-glazed eyes of her Uncle’s than Swedenborgianism.
With three hundred and fifty pages of teensy-tiny typeface (times like this I miss my Lancer Easy-Eyes!) this abridged edition is at least twice the length of most my other Paperback Library gothics and is a treat. Stories like this are written to linger over – I’ve been buried in this book for the last ten days or so and can’t put it down.
They say appearances are everything and this was particularly true within the upper echelons of Victorian society. So long as some semblance of normality is seen to skim the surface of social interaction then all is well – isn’t it? Sheridan Le Fanu uses this sentiment to great effect throughout Uncle Silas, interweaving deft touches of the macabre and grotesque into the story, building a real sense of foreboding and fear that is not always easy to put your finger on, therefore making you feel all the more uneasy. So I’ll be sleeping with the lights on for a few more nights yet…
Five out of five stars with extra gothic points for this copy since it looks (and smells!) as if it’s been providing sustenance for the rats while lying on the floor of a dungeon somewhere.