Wuthering Heights

A Strange and Bitter Love…

Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, a love story, when she was 27 years old. It is the only novel she wrote. She died three years later in 1848, in Yorkshire, English farm country which she had rarely left and which is the setting for this one tempestuous and tragic book that established her fame.

With only her stealthy observations of a few neighbors and the teachings of her hot, proud heart, Emily Brontë created two intense, ill-fated lovers… Heathcliff, brought to Wuthering Heights as a starving Liverpool waif… Catherine Earnshaw, whom he grew up to love in that house with a passion that became a destroying rage when Cathy rejected him for her more proper neighbor Edgar Linton.

As demonic and relentless as the wind whistling across the Yorkshire moors is Heathcliff’s revenge and its inevitably Satanic conclusion.

Written with ardour and astounding competence, this probing novel by a relatively inexperienced young woman remains a masterpiece long after other romantic tales of its time have been forgotten.

Written by Emily Brontë, special contents of this edition copyright Lancer Books 1968.

Cover art by Lou Marchetti (thanks Ruben!). 

If you’ve read my review of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, you will know what a fan I am of the Minster Classics. Wuthering Heights is number 47 in this series. This isn’t my favourite cover by a long shot, but the typeface is nice and big and (fairly) easy to read by candlelight if you were ever so inclined!

Speaking of which, I saw the new Wuthering Heights film recently. Directed by Andrea Arnold, there was a Q&A session with her afterwards. Time and budgetary constraints meant that only about half the book is covered and I got the impression this film was less about making another adaptation of the book and more an attempt to understand and tell Heathcliff’s part of the story.

Largely criticised as being too grim, (I guess none of the critics have read the book then) I thought the film was stunning and, for me anyway, very reminiscent of Emily Bronte’s poetry. One of those rare movies you watch and you immediately want to watch it all over again. Lucky for me, since it’s a Film 4 production, it should be on the telly any day now!

Unholy Flame

UNHOLY FLAME

Would she find peace or madness behind these orgiastic rites?

Was the high priest, Suliman, saint or devil?

Lissa had to know.

And her only way to truth was a journey through hell.

Prepare yourself for an adventure into the forbidden – as fantastic as it is terrifying.

Fawcett Gold Medal Original. First printing November 1952.

I know, I know. One of these days I will grow clever and wise and will no longer be drawn to books with bylines that read ‘Satan tempted her  – past the point of no return.’  But for now, I am glad that I am! 

Recently widowed when her husband’s plane crashes, our grieving heroine finds herself embroiled in the occult when she attends a séance run by the mysterious Dr Damon Suliman – a sinister mesmerist with a sideline in hosting bacchanalian sex rituals for New York’s high society.

At first Lissa is not too impressed, the phantom claiming to be her husband is just not convincing and anyway, she has since found herself another Air Force man to keep her warm at nights. Wrapped up in her new romance, Lissa decides not to have anything more to do with contacting the dead, but Suliman has other ideas. For he has recognised latent ‘special abilities’ in Lissa he can exploit for his own Machiavellian ends, and he’s not about to let her slip away from him that easily.  

So it’s not long before Lissa is holed up in Suliman’s mansion, learning to read Tarot cards and how to harness her ‘ethereal forces’. Falling ever deeper under Suliman’s spell, Lissa becomes increasingly isolated. (Whether its drugs, hypnotic suggestion or just plain old absent-mindedness, Lissa has by this time completely forgotten she has a new fiance waiting for her on the end of the phone). Then Suliman’s lessons start taking a bizarre turn for the worse, culminating in a horrifyingly blood-curdling ritual that has Lissa fleeing for her life.  But can you ever escape from a man whose powers come direct from Satan himself?

At first glance this may not look like your average gothic romance, but this was the early fifties and I’m not sure whether the gothic romance covers we know and love were around much back then. In any event, Unholy Flame has gothic and romantic elements by the bucket load and I think the publishers missed out by not reprinting this in the seventies with a more typical ‘woman fleeing a doomy mansion’ cover.

As well as romance and intrigue, Unholy Flame is crammed with all sorts of esoteric facts and fancies; Yoga, Tarot, Astral Travel, Scrying, Voodoo, Sex Magick… the intrepid Dr Suliman leaves no stone unturned in his quest for enlightenment. At times there is almost too much detail, threatening to slow down the pace of the story, but the fabulously bizarre black mass towards the end of the book speeds things up again!

Cheiro - inspiration for Suliman?

I wish I knew more about the author. The small scraps of information I’ve gleaned from the internet suggest her life may have been as interesting as her books! The Working Life of Museum of London blog indicates Olga Rosmanith was working as a journalist in 1930’s Hollywood and was acquainted with Cheiro, aka Count Loius Hamon, an Irish astrologer and colourful occult figure of the early 20th Century. According to an excerpt taken from one of Olga’s letters, the Count had a deadline fast approaching for two palmistry books, which she then offered to write for him in exchange for him teaching her ‘his science’ –

‘So I was living in his house (to work at nights) in 1930 and met the people who came there. I met Paul Bern and Jean Harlow together, for they came to him for counsel. I loved her at once, a darling girl and nothing like her screen image of hard-boiled brassiness. Pure acting and very good.’

So Olga Rosmanith was under the tutelage of one of the most famous occultists of the early 20th Century. I guess that’s where the material for the book came from! Anyway, I’m giving Unholy Flame a Love-Haunted 666 stars. Seems like there are quite a few copies of this novel still malingering about on the web, so grab one while you can and enjoy! And if you have any information on Olga Rosmanith or her other works please let me know, I’d love to read more!

Place of Shadows

SOMEONE TRAPPED LENNITH FORRESTER IN THE AIRLESS WALL SAFE AT HILLHOUSE, AND IN ONE INSTANT, SHE LEARNED THE MEANING OF TOTAL FEAR!

“You are going to die here,” I heard myself say.

I listened to my own sobs.

So black; all around it was so black. I sank down to the floor.

The Safe was sound proof. Air proof.

Down on the floor I started screaming again, kicking my heels furiously against the metal of the sliding door. Somebody must hear that!

But maybe that “somebody” was the person who had locked me in here…

I can’t get out. Nobody will ever let me out.

“You’re afraid,” I cried out to myself.

Oh yes, I’m afraid. I’m so afraid…

Copyright 1959 by C. Kage Booton.

First Paperback Library printing December 1965.

I wanted to post this to show off the gorgeous cover by George Ziel. This time I know who the artist is because Lynn Munroe  has recently forwarded me a link to a booklist he has compiled on cover art by George Ziel, a concentration camp survivor born Jerzy Zielezinski  in Poland 1914, who died in Connecticut USA in 1982.

Fans of the Paperback Library Gothics, as well as the Dell Mary Roberts Rhinehart covers, will instantly recognise George Ziel’s hauntingly beautiful artwork. Very few of George Ziel’s covers were credited on the published books but Lynn has done some exhaustive research, creating a checklist with an amazing collection of covers by this artist.

The booklist of George Ziel covers can be found here: 

http://lynn-munroe-books.com/list62/George_Ziel-home/Ziel_checklist-home.htm

And a fascinating biog of the artist, including some great background information on Paperback Library gothic cover art, can be found here:

http://lynn-munroe-books.com/list62/GEORGE_ZIEL2.htm

Thanks Lynn!

Undine

Undine was the first Mrs. Cavell, beautiful and strange, with a secret so well-guarded that only her husband and soft-spoken, monstrous brother knew it.

Miranda is the second Mrs. Cavell. She learns to know her rival by a haunting that is to drive her to the limits of fear.

First published 1964 by W.H Allen & Co. This edition published 1965 by Pan Books Ltd.

Reminiscent of Du Maurier’s classic gothic Rebecca, with an added supernatural sting in its tale, Undine is a chilling novel about love and possession; a book where the haunted lives and unquiet secrets of the past toil and trouble under the supposedly calm, quiet surface of the present.

Our leading lady is Miranda , an actress who is a little too good at her job. Continually typecast into roles playing insane, suicidal women, she finds her style of method acting physically and emotionally draining. After a rather harrowing season playing Ophelia, Miranda has had enough and so decides to take some time out from her career to visit her best friend Maud for a relaxing holiday in the countryside.

Things start out good. While out for a swim in the woods, Miranda is reunited with her one true love, Clint Cavell – a man she once shared a passionate one night stand with four years back but to whom fate had cruelly intervened to separate from her, ensuring their paths would not cross again until now. Clint lives in the big house next door and is recently widowed; his wife  – the beautiful Undine – died under mysterious circumstances just over a year ago.  Rather eerily,  Undine and Miranda bear an uncanny resemblance to each other, but this strange co-incidence does little to dampen our new couple’s ardour. Miranda and Clint are ecstatic to be together again and waste no time in getting married. 

Then things start to get really bad, and what should have been the best year of Miranda’s life, very quickly sours into the worst. As soon as they return from their honeymoon, Clint is swamped with work, defending a child murderer in a sensational criminal case, resulting in him becoming increasingly withdrawn from Miranda. Even worse, the house he now shares with his new wife still shivers with the presence of the old, as the spectre of Undine haunts its rooms, refusing to relinquish the husband she loved so much when she was alive. This unquiet ghost of weddings past is hatching a plan which does not bode well for Miranda. Tippy-toeing on eggshells in her own home, isolated and overwhelmed by forces she cannot understand, let alone fight against, it all becomes too much for her and  it’s not long before Miranda is playing the most dangerous role of her life…

Nevertheless, my first feeling of reassurance is gone, and argue with myself as I will I can’t recapture it. For there is a quality in the total silence around me more unnerving than anything I have experienced at Maud’s. Maud’s house is emotionally noisy, its haunting screams for attention, shreds itself to nothingness with its own clamour. Here there is only silence but it is a suspended silence, the silence of a held breath, of a cautiously arrested moment.

No amount of my florid praise can do justice to Undine so I’ll shut up (soon). If you can find this book, read it – the writing is beautiful, the chills wonderfully crafted and subtle. Told alternatively in flashback and from the first person viewpoint of Miranda, Phyllis Brett Young very successfully creates an atmosphere fraught with suspense strung razor tight right to the very end.

Books this shuddersome don’t come without their fair share of gothic accoutrements and Undine is no exception, having not just one big ol’ haunted house in the woods but two, complete with ancient bloodstains and secret hiding spaces.

And, in addition to all the shady characters, strange dreams and inexplicable happenings haunting our heroine, we also have Gerad – Undine’s grieving brother. A beady-eyed, lisping hulk of a man who spends his free time painting the kind of monstrous grotesqueries which would make Richard Upton Pickman proud. With his strange habits and unhealthy fascination for the children next door, Gerad is a wonderfully sinister focal-point for Miranda’s paranoia and inspires some of the most suspenseful scenes in the novel.  

 I couldn’t find out much about Phyllis Brett Young – a once acclaimed Canadian author who wrote at least six books, including the international bestseller, The Torontonians. All her novels were out of print by the time she died in 1996 and it’s a sobering thought that a writer this good, with such an original voice, can so easily slide into obscurity. However there is some good news – a couple of her novels have recently been re-issued-  The Torontonians in 2007 and Psyche in 2008. As for Undine, I doubt any re-issue could beat this gorgeous candlelit cover for gothickness. Five out of five stars.