Monthly Archives: October 2015

My Journey with Victoria – The King of the Castle

King of the CastleThe next book I read was The King of the Castle (first published in 1967) and I was immediately intrigued by the Cinderella-like plot and heroine. Dallas Lawson has just lost her father, a famous restorer of paintings, art, and buildings. Having worked as his apprentice for so many years, she has no other skills and decides to answer a letter requesting her father’s assistance in restoring several damaged and priceless paintings at the Comte de la Talle’s Château Gaillard in the wine country of France. She decides to show up in her father’s place and either be given the job or immediately dismissed.

Thus, the reader is introduced to D. Lawson as a bright, modern woman, who has a skill set that she could utilize to make a living for herself if only the Comte will give her a chance to work for him. Like Cinderella, D. Lawson’s true beauty shines through as the novel progresses and she begins to restore not only the paintings, but the family to a place of love for one another. As she cleans the years of grime away from each painting bringing back their former glory, she also becomes interested in the broken lives of the people at the Château Gaillard. oubiletteDallas begins with the neglected, spoiled, and often violently unpredictable Genevieve the Comte’s only daughter who wickedly locks her in the oubliette – which literally means the forgotten place and can be defined as a type of dungeon accessible only by a trap door in its ceiling. Dallas is later rescued by Genevieve’s nurse Nounou, who holds the key to the mystery that surrounds young Genevieve’s unstable behavior.

As she continues her work, she soon learns that the Comte’s first wife died under mysterious circumstances and that most of the villagers, servants, and wine workers surrounding him believe he killed her, and those that don’t, believe his infidelity drove her to commit suicide. Holt allows these two mysteries to surround the reader while at the same time giving enough clues that the two are connected – Genevieve’s behavior is directly related to her mother’s death. Holt allows a romance to grow between Dallas and the Comte who, by his own admission, was a terrible husband in the past: moody, unfaithful, angry, and often unloving.

Holt adds one more mystery to this mix in the search for the Gaillard emeralds given to an ancestor who was once the mistress of King Louis XV and married into the family at his command. Before she left his court, he presented her with an emerald necklace worth a fortune. Her new husband not to be outdone by the King had a matching bracelet, tiara, two rings, a brooch, and a girdle all set with emeralds of equal value. During the Revolution, they were lost or stolen. However, the family believes they were hidden away somewhere in the castle and periodically searches for them. Of course, it is Dallas who solves this and all mysteries by the end of the book.

Dallas finds out that Comte’s father-in-law, Genevieve’s strange, pious grandfather, fell in love and married a ‘mad woman’. Upon this discovery, he vows to keep her confined in an upstairs room where she can’t hurt herself or others and never have children with her. He breaks his vow and they have Genevieve’s mother who later becomes the Comte’s wife. While she herself is not mad, her daughter Genevieve shows all the signs of the same hysterical and unpredictable behavior found in her grandmother. When her mother learns that she is pregnant again, her father warns her of the madness she is ‘breeding’  and in her already unhappy state she takes her own life. Dallas vows to set  the record straight and clear the Comte’s name, but he persuades her to keep silent to spare Genevieve’s already fragile psyche any further trauma.

King of the castle GaillardThus, Holt’s Cinderella story ends with Dallas becoming the Countess of Gaillard married to a flawed Prince with a daughter in need of care. The reader is not left with the traditional and they lived happily ever after statement; instead, the reader assumes that life will be lived with all of its happy and unhappy moments. Dallas ends the book  with a quote that sums up Holt’s twist on a fairy tale ending,  ‘I was never afraid of a challenge’ reminding the reader that life is challenging, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be lived.

My next journey with Victoria will be The Time of the Hunter’s Moon. 


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My Journey With Victoria: The Bride of Pendorric

This will be the first of many posts regarding the novels of Victoria Holt. Her novels would be called cozy mysteries today, but she is just as often classified as a writer of romance novels. Not romance in the Harlequin sense, where each passionate kiss and sexual act is at the very least heavily alluded to and at the most vividly described. Instead, Holt follows in the footsteps of Jane Austen when she writes about matters of the heart, such as, love, sex, and marriage. Her works most of which were published in the sixties and seventies, saw a resurgence in popularity in the early nineties and have gone through several re-printings. I myself have been an avid admirer of her novels since the age of twelve. Now, twenty-six years later I have decided to return to her works to see if they stand up to the test of time, age, and maturity.

Bride of PendorricI chose for my first reading The Bride of Pendorric (first published January 1963) because I remember reading it all those years  ago, but the details of the plot and characters I’d quite forgotten. There were many things I enjoyed about Holt’s romantic, light mystery regarding the young Favel Farington and her devilishly handsome husband Roc Pendorric. Including the underlying sense of menace Holt moves the reader feel for the heroine Favel, who is referred to as only The Bride by the strange, secretive, and certainly supernaturally obsessed Pendorric clan. What came as a complete surprise to me, were Holt’s beautifully written setting details that create a true sense of place for her reader. Here are five of my favorite descriptions from The Bride:

  1. And there it lay – the most enchanting little village I had ever seen. There was the church, its ancient tower, about which the ivy clung, clearly of Norman architecture, and it was set in the midst of the graveyard. On one side the stones were dark with age and on the other they were white and new-looking. There was the vicarage, a grey house set in a hollow with its lawn and gardens on an incline. Beyond the church as the row of cottages . . . they had thatched roofs and tiny windows and were all joined together – the whole six of them . . . they were the same period s the church.
  2. There were no dust-sheets here. The huge windows gave me a view of the coast, with Polhorgan rising majestically on the cliff top; but it was not the view I looked at this time., but the room, and I think what struck me most was that it had the look of a room which was being lived in. There was a dais at one end of it and on this was a stand with a piece of music opened on it. Beside the stand, on a chair, was a violin, looking as though it had just been placed there; the case lay open on a nearby table. 
  3. The countryside seemed restful after the rugged coast views, and I was charmed by the greenish-gold of the freshly mown fields and the scarlet of the poppies growing here and there. I particularity noticed the occasional tree, slightly bent by the south-west gales, but taller than those stunted and distorted ones which survived along the coast. I could smell the fragrance of the meadow-sweet growing on the banks mingling with the harebells and scabious.
  4. The sky was a guileless blue, and the sea sparkled so brilliantly that it was almost too dazzling to contemplate. It was like a sheet of silk with scarcely a ripple in it. 
  5. The sun was shining but I could see the spiders’ webs on the bushes, and beautiful as the Michaelmas daisies and chrysanthemum were they did underline the fact winter was on the way. But because this was Cornwall, the roses  were still blooming, and although the hydrangeas did not flower in such profusion, there were still some to brighten the quadrangle.

My next journey with Victoria will be in The King of the Castle. I look forward to more of her cozy murders, Austenesque romance, and vivid descriptions.

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