Dragonwyck by Anya Seton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Darkness begets darkness. Evil begets evil. Perhaps these are the major themes of Seton's "Dragonwyck."
Miranda, the young heroine is filled with dreams of far-away places and idealized romantic fantasies. Dissatisfied with her family's old country farm and uncouth manners, she is elated when she is given the opportunity to visit her wealthy cousin and patroon, Nicholas Van Ryn, and move to the illustrious castle of Dragonwyck. In their very first encounter, Miranda experiences an overwhelming attraction to her older cousin, a sort of magnetism to his handsome features and unyielding power that encompasses all manners of his wildly entertaining lifestyle. Cousin Nicholas represents all the things she has ever wanted: power, wealth, and an overindulgence to debauchery and a hedonistic lifestyle. Little does she know the price she will have to pay, as she slowly slips into the majestic setting that is Dragonwyck.
Admittedly, I had seen Dragonwyck (1946) film at least seven times. I am more or less addicted to Gothic tropes, dark romantic themes, and the passionate struggles (i.e. sexual tension) between the two main characters. I thought I could anticipate the plot-line when I opened this novel, but fortunately I was mistaken. The story is highly detailed, painstakingly so. You can tell the amount of research the author conducted to make this as historically accurate as possible. I enjoyed the different levels of class structures that continually popped up in the novel, so that the reader can get a sense of the true diversity of America at that time period (when immigrants were flooding into the ports of New York). It was nice to see frequent references to up-and-coming American author's, especially the frequent references to Edgar Allan Poe (which is a favourite of mine). The subtle mentions to wars across Europe, farmer revolts, and the question of democracy versus the old feudal ways added another level of depth to "Dragonwyck." All the same, the thing that really captured my attention was the alluring, seductive power of Nicholas Van Ryn. I can honestly understand the reasoning behind Marinda's utter captivation with her cousin. To me, he is a charming enigma that embodies Lord Byron's poetic nuisance and the extravagant flair of the literary character, Dorian Gray. At times, Nicholas could be the most charming host, and other he would turn so cold and indifferent towards a person it would leave them in a daze. As a reader, I found myself susceptible to his charms, eagerly awaiting when he would appear in the next chapter. The brewing romance between the two cousins was seductively delicious as well, perhaps because of the mopish, heavy-set Mrs. Van Rye was there to witness it all in the darkest corners of Dragonwyck's stony castle.
All in all, a highly enjoyable read. It will be one that I will gladly return to in the near future. I enjoyed the plot-twists and especially the unpredictable ending (I did not see that coming). I recommend this novel for anyone that enjoys the following novels: Jane Eyre, Rebecca, or The Mistress of Mellyn. If you also enjoy dark, brooding characters with foppish style and a penchant for all things alluding to romance you will like the "villian" of this novel. Mind you, I quote "villian" because I believe he is a grey character and his macabre-like tendencies was a direct result of his vices (i.e. egotism, conceit, and lust for power/control). Then again, I naturally gravitate towards dark characters in novels, so I can never be certain of these things lol. After so long a tirade, I will leave you with a short passage from "Dragonwyck" in which I feel embodies my emotional and intellectual response to this novel as a whole:
"...I sense in his writing a strong kinship with my own mind; they have a macabre quality, a voluptuous flavor of mystery and evil which attracts me strongly..."
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