Menfreya

Menfreya close up (2)

“Love, lust and the Cornish sea pound through this saga of a 19th century family.” EVENING STANDARD.

For Harriet Delvaney, the great house of Menfreya, standing like a fortress on the Cornish coast, has always been a citadel of happiness and high spirits. Not until she herself comes to Menfreya as a bride does Harriet discover its legend of infidelity, jealousy and murder. And not until that legend comes dangerously to life does Harriet begin to believe the old story that when the tower clock of Menfreya stops, it means that someone is about to die…

“Sinister… a splendidly wild background.” BOOKS AND BOOKMEN.

Menfreya Fontana (2)Written by Victoria Holt. First published 1966. First issued in Fontana Books 1968. 

Our first encounter with Harriet Delvaney is as a thirteen year old runaway – fleeing the confining, hostile environment of her father’s grand London house to hide out in an abandoned old cottage on an island just off the Cornish coast.

From here she gazes across the dawn-lit sea towards Menfreya, an enchanting stately manor sprawled across the cliff top. Home to the Menfrey’s and more castle than house, Menfreya’s gothic turrets, machicolated towers and ancient flint walls symbolise for Harriet everything she has been longing for in her short, sad life – romance, intrigue, mystery and adventure.

Menfreya Fawcett Crest (2)

Fawcett Crest reprint. Cover art Harry Bennett

Fast forward a few years and Harriet’s adolescent dreams have come true. Now a wealthy heiress and married to the dashingly handsome Bevil Menfrey, she has become mistress of Menfreya. However, this being a gothic romance, the best of times very quickly sour into the worst of nightmares for our heroine, with madness, murder, treachery and rape being just a few of the ordeals she finds herself enduring. Worse still are the mercurial moods and roving eyes of husband Bevil, forcing Harriet to ask herself – did he marry her for love or for a reason much more sinister?

Menfreya Fontana banana

Fontana 19th Impression 1979

Menfreya is a great read full of all the usual ingredients beloved by fans of Victoria Holt’s novels – gorgeous settings oozing atmosphere, a likeable heroine who is feminine without being flighty partnered alongside a dangerously rakish leading man whose motives will keep you guessing right till the end. It’s a familiar formula yes, but in Holt’s hands never predictable and I love the way she weaves complex family histories and mythologies so effortlessly into her books, creating back-stories which are just as engrossing as the main plot of the novel itself. 

I have three copies of this book. My favourite by far being the older Fontana edition with its wild n’ wuthering crimson-stained sky. I got this from Healthy Planet, complete with a stamp on the inside cover asking me to pass this book on once I have read it… but I think I’ll be keeping this one for some time yet!

Menfreya Fontana (2)

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The House of a Thousand Lanterns

THE HOUSE she had dreamed of since childhood…

THE HOUSE where her worst nightmares were about to come true…

THE HOUSE OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS… the spellbinding new novel by Victoria Holt.

Jane Lindsay never dreamed she would be wealthy. Nor that she would fall in love with a man she could not trust. Against the background of 19th century England and Hong Kong, Victoria Holt unfolds the story of a young English woman who finds a strange new world in the HOUSE OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS…

Copyright Victoria Holt 1974. First Fawcett Crest printing July 1975. Cover art Harry Bennett.

I’ve had an email from Jess, who is trying to re-find a favourite gothic romance. She has a vague recollection of the plot but the title eludes her. From her description below, I thought it shared similarities with Victoria Holt’s House of a Thousand Lanterns but I don’t think this is the one.

Here’s what she can remember:

It involved a young girl coming to stay at OR getting involved with a wealthy household in San Francisco. I think I remember specifically either bothers or close cousins and while she originally was attracted to one, she ends up with the other. There is a costume party at one point where she goes as Qwan-Yin, the Chinese goddess, even wearing a wig of blue yarn. I also remember there being some sort of disaster, but cannot recall if it was the great fire or an earthquake. There was definitely an element of horror/mystery though.

Did think I had found it in “The Trembling Hills” by Whitney and ordered an old used copy, but while it had been a book I’d read previously, it was not the one I was looking for.

Any ideas anyone?

 

On the Night of the Seventh Moon

Forest of Doubt….

Helena Trant has always felt a special fascination for the myths and legends of Southern Germany, where she is living. So, lost in the forest one day, she feels little surprise when a handsome stranger appears and leads her to safety – there is a Prince Charming in all good fairy stories.

But this idyll suddenly becomes a nightmare. The passionate love that grows between Helena and her rescuer seems destined to inspire hatred, treachery, even murder in others. And as Helena draws near to the source of the evil that nurses them, she begins to feel that there will be no happy ending to her story.

Written by Victoria Holt. First published in the UK by Wm. Collins 1973. This edition Fontana Books 1974.

My mum was a big fan of Historical Romances by writers like Anna Seyton and Victoria Holt so even today I get a ‘grown up’ feeling reading these books. I saw this in our local secondhand book store and couldn’t resist the cover so thought I’d give it a go.

The scene is set when our teenage heroine wanders off from her convent school picnic and finds herself lost in the  deep dark woods of Southern Germany. From out of nowhere a tall, handsome stranger appears to carry her away into the ‘safety’ of his hunting lodge. What follows is a night of romance and intrigue where our innocent Helena very nearly loses more than her heart. But, thanks to the quick thinking and eagle eye of the trusty old servant  Hildegarde, her honour is kept intact and the very next day she is delivered safe and sound back into the arms of the worried nuns entrusted to look after her.

Of course she cannot get her handsome stranger, who calls himself Siegfried,  out of her mind, so imagine her delight when once again they meet up during a mid-summer festival of madness known locally as the Night of the Seventh Moon. This time our couple  are determined to consummate their love, so, within just a couple of days, they are married; ready, willing and able to embark on a honeymoon blissfully ensconced in the very same lodge they spent that fateful first night together.

And then, just a few days later, Helena wakes up. In her cousins house. To be told she has been delirious since returning from the woods on the night of the festival, a ravaged wreck, driven half insane by the terrible crimes inflicted on her. No one will listen to her fantastic story of  marriage to the love of her life and their fateful few days together. Plied with drugs and surrounded by disbelieving well-wishers, soon even Helena begins to doubt her own sanity. She returns to her home town of Oxford to recuperate, a shadow of her former self.

Some years later she returns to Germany, hired as a governess teaching English to the children of Count Ludwig of Lokenburg. Back in the land of haunted forests and midsummer madness, the castle’s household start preparations for the return of their Prince and when Helena finally meets him, she can’t believe her eyes or her luck. But little does she realise, her problems are only just beginning.

Seventh Moon started off great – I loved the atmosphere created by the tension in the relationship between the central characters – Helena’s almost obsessive love for this shadowy figure, to whom she is irrestitibly drawn but who you just don’t know whether to trust or not. Ultimately the  book was let down by the too pat, too happy ending- though overall the writing was very good and the story wonderfully twisted. A dark, brooding tale of longing and passion –  peppered with dark forests, haunted castles and Germanic folklore. Four out of five stars.