Welcome back to insane cracktastic Gothic land!

In a moment of synchronicity, last Friday I was invited to share some Belgian chocolates labeled individually by province. Unfortunately, the font's capital I looked much like a small l, and so when asked to choose, I said, "I'll take the leper!"

I do not often come across books containing leprosy, though when I read Darcourt I immediately regretted forgetting about the YA novel in which the heroine develops leprosy, watches her mother agonizingly die of rot, is shipped off to a leper colony, and dies, the end -- I would have certainly included it in my YA agony award nominations if I had. I was also reminded of Thomas Covenant. Normally I don't find characters whiny if they have something to whine about. But Covenant managed to be so whiny that I thought, "Oh, get over your leprosy already!"

Young journalist Sally Wainwright impersonates a friend of hers in order to get hired as governess for a wealthy teenager on Darcourt Island. The island is owned by reclusive billionaire Tristram Darcourt. Sally is ostensibly doing this to write an expose on him, but really because her mother was jilted by him and she wants to find out what happened. (She can't ask because both her parents are now dead.)

Teenage Alix is wild and has a Mysterious Skin Condition for which she takes Mysterious Meds. Darcourt is high-handed and arrogant. He is also said to have let his brother die in the super-quick quicksand which is featured in the Mysterious Marsh surrounding the house, into which Sally is forbidden to go. Sally is promply menaced by snakes and scorpions released in her room, plus Mysterious Figures, and people shooting at her, whomping her over the head, and trying to kill her dog.

Could it be the Mysterious Mrs. Darcourt, alternately said to be in the south of France and lurking in Mysterious Marsh?! Or the off-stage Mysterious Middle Eastern Group which is the subject of a code-named Pentagon study? Or Andre, who is a cousin or something? Or some blonde kid with a cowlick?

It turns out, all of the above except for the Middle Easterners, to whom Evil Andre is plotting to sell Darcourt Island so they can turn it into a resort, but who are otherwise blameless! (I don't think it's even explained what the Pentagon thought they were doing.)

Andre captures Sally and threatens her with scorpions! He threatens her dog! He tells her that Cowlick Boy is Darcourt's bastard son! He reveals that he's planning to marry Alix and inherit the estate! Then he introduces her to Mrs. Darcourt, who is indeed lurking, insane, and rotting away from -- yes -- leprosy!

Unbeknownst even to herself, Alix is a leper too! At this point Holland painstakingly points out that leprosy is very treatable and should not be stigmatized even if it wasn't, your nose doesn't need to fall off, Mrs. Darcourt's mental illness is entirely coincidental and not a leprosy symptom, and the disease is no longer called leprosy but rather Hansen's Disease. But under the circumstances, this public service announcement comes across as absolutely hilarious.

Darcourt rescues Sally and begins spouting off exposition, revealing that:

Alix only has a mild case of leprosy, which he kept secret due to stigma.

He knows that Andre is plotting to kill him; I forget why he didn't do anything about it.

Mrs. Darcourt's leprosy rotted her face off because she said she'd commit suicide if he made her go to a hospital.

Sally's mother jilted him because her sister (Sally's aunt) had leprosy and Mrs. Darcourt convinced her that Darcourt would never marry anyone with leprosy in the family. There's all this leprosy because it's endemic in Louisiana, where everyone in the story is from.

Cowlick Boy is not his bastard, but his brother's bastard.

He didn't really kill his brother.

I think there was more but I forgot. Oh, and Darcourt has a hunchback; just thought I'd mention that.

Anyway, Alix accidentally kills Andre by shooting into the air and plugging him with a ricochet; Mrs. Darcourt leaps into the super-quick quicksand and sinks; Sally and her mother's former lover Darcourt live happily ever after. (Ew.)
ext_6283: Brush the wandering hedgehog by the fire (fluffy spirochaete)

From: [identity profile] oursin.livejournal.com

Books with leprosy - Michael Bentine's dreadful Templar (in which our Templar hero is initiated into Wiccan-type New Agey Mysteries by the Heroine) includes what appears to be an infodump about Hansen's disease from an encyclopedia, in the middle of some scene involving Baldwin the Leper King of Jerusalem. This wins my award for most glaring crass piece of anachronism + gratuitous infodumping.

From: [identity profile] sophia-helix.livejournal.com

I am impressed that you have read multiple books containing leprosy. The only one I've ever read was Monica Furlong's Wise Child, which didn't exactly have it as a major plotline or anything.

I am also impressed you made it through this whole book.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

It was easy! I love Gothic insanity!

When I was, like, ten I sneak-read an incredibly trashy book called Aztecs, about Aztecs, in which there is a long gruesome leprosy description to set us up for the moment when the sidekick voluntarily offers himself as a sacrifice and gets his heart cut out because he found out that he had leprosy.

In the same book, the hero takes magic mushrooms and has sex and comes like mad. It made a big impression on me.
used_songs: (Default)

From: [personal profile] used_songs

Not to hijack, but I have that book! And now I'm going to read this leprosy book.

From: [identity profile] telophase.livejournal.com

Oh, yes! Gary Jennings, whose authorial modus operandi was basically "protagonist travels extensively across land, having as much sex as possible in as many bizarre ways as possible, while every single other person in the story dies horribly, in new and inventive ways each time."
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From: [identity profile] coffeeandink.livejournal.com

Coincidentally, I just read a book featuring leprosy!

Michelle Cliff's Free Enterprise is about two black women who are involved in the slave rebellion planned by John Brown; one of them, the historical Mary Ellen Pleasant, escapes censure because no one realizes she was involved, and the other, the fictional Annie Christmas, is captured, works in a Confederate convict gang, and is eventually freed by emancipation, whereupon she retreats to a hermitage-like house and only interacts with the inhabitants of a near-by leper colony, most whom are people of color, because doctors at the time believed leprosy was more likely to afflict POC than whites. Most of the inhabitants miss the outside world and their families but consider the hospital, on the whole, preferable to lynching and slavery, which they have all experienced or witnessed.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter

Awesome! Ok, you and Lydia Joyce have convinced me that I must read Gothics. Where should I start?

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

Bwa-ha-ha! My work here is done.

First off, Gothics are the whitest genre ever, in my experience, and a lot of the ones written before about 1980 have offhanded racist or occasionally anti-Semitic comments or stereotyping similar to what you find in mysteries of the same era. (Some more contemporary ones probably do too, but it's less pervasive.) I will try to avoid or warn you about those, but I apologize in advance if I accidentally steer you toward something with random offensive material.

Also, older women and first wives = evil, except when they're housekeepers (who always know more than they're telling.) And the heroes are generally unlikable alpha males. Just so you know. I'm in the genre entirely for the crack, myself.

Jane Eyre is a classic Gothic: brooding hero, big spooky house, intrepid orphan heroine, mad wife in attic. I know you've read it, but it's fun to keep it in mind as one of the prototypes.

If you've never read Bram Stoker's Dracula, it's a really fun Gothic that isn't the usual Girl Meets House.

Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is also excellent. It has a twist on Girl Meets House.

From Wikipedia: The stock characters of Gothic fiction include tyrants, villains, bandits, maniacs, Byronic heroes, persecuted maidens, femmes fatales, madwomen, magicians, vampires, werewolves, monsters, demons, revenants, ghosts, perambulating skeletons, the Wandering Jew and the Devil himself.

Sadly, I have yet to come across a perambulating skeleton! Though I think I'm happy I haven't come across the Wandering Jew.

Generally I think you should read the more conventional ones before you start with the genre-bending ones, to better appreciate the latter.

You might start with Mary Stewart's Madam, Will You Talk? (not that Gothic but very well-written) or Nine Coaches Waiting, or see if you can grab any of Isabelle Holland's one-word title books from the library. Or Barbara Michaels' Into the Darkness. (More of a thriller, but her more Gothicy Gothics are pretty unconventional and best appreciated when you know what the regular tropes are.)

Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall is an excellent YA combination of the classic Gothic and the "school for psychic kids." I love it.

From: [identity profile] jonquil.livejournal.com

Nine Coaches Waiting! Nine Coaches Waiting!

:::waves flags:::

It, like Daphne duMaurier's Rebecca, totally deconstructs the genre and plants a foot in its backside, if you're paying attention.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter

I sadly managed to not read Dracula or Rebecca, so I will probably start there!

I'll check and see what I have! I think you've given me a Barbara Michaels and a Mary Stewart, so here's to hoping they're ones on your list. Also, YA Gothic? I am so there.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

Dracula is kind of hilarious, often intentionally. I read it via Project Gutenberg while on vacation in Kerala. Did you know that it's entirely epistolatory, diary entries, newspaper articles, etc? I did not know that when I started!

I adore the Duncan and it's a fast read. I have no idea which Michaels or Stewart I might have given you -- let me know!

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

Oh my God, ignore all my other suggestions and go read Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree first. It's SO cracktastic and should be easy to find.
ext_12911: This is a picture of my great-grandmother and namesake, Margaret (La Belle Dame sans Merci)

From: [identity profile] gwyneira.livejournal.com

Ooh, can I butt in? Rachel got most everything I would have (and I wouldn't have remembered Down a Dark Hall, but I love it), but a couple of others are:

There's pretty much the original Gothic novel, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, which is fairly short and often very funny (possibly not intentionally), with enormous people-crushing black helmets ("an hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers"), family curses, bleeding statues, telltale birthmarks, ghostly sighs, and lots more.

Matthew Lewis's The Monk is quite entertaining (though lots longer than Otranto) and does actually feature the Wandering Jew, in addition to lustful monks, scheming nuns, demons, magic potions and spells, and bandits.

Once you've read a few, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey is a wonderful sendup of the genre.

And more recently, I quite liked Joan Aiken's The Weeping Ash.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter

Oh! Speaking of Austen, is The Mysteries of Udolpho worth reading? I need to read NA as well, since [livejournal.com profile] shewhohashope is doing an Austen readalong and I am already behind.

I also have an Aiken titled The Youngest Miss Ward but have no idea what it's about.
ext_12911: This is a picture of my great-grandmother and namesake, Margaret (Default)

From: [identity profile] gwyneira.livejournal.com

I almost couldn't finish The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is why I didn't recommend it. :) It's got some wonderfully atmospheric writing, but it also has a pallid and boring heroine and a dreadfully overwritten narrative. Having read it does make parts of Northanger Abbey funnier, though.

The Youngest Miss Ward is one of Aiken's Austen sequels: well, a prequel, really, to Mansfield Park. It's been a while since I read it, but I seem to recall enjoying it reasonably, since it takes place so long before Mansfield Park that I could pretend it wasn't related to Austen at all. (Aiken's Austen books are better the further they get from Austen, I think.)

From: [identity profile] sarahtales.livejournal.com

Ah leprosy. Alice Borchardt (Anne Rice's crazier sister, no really, I am not kidding!) wrote a novel where the werewolf heroine conjures up a miracle from God to cure a handsome leper. (Uh, the handsome leper is the Pope's son. I AM NOT KIDDING.)
ext_12911: This is a picture of my great-grandmother and namesake, Margaret (Default)

From: [identity profile] gwyneira.livejournal.com

Now I'm sad that my library has about three books by Isabelle Holland, none of which (I think) are Gothics. Off to add to my Bookmooch wishlist, I guess!
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From: [identity profile] re-weird.livejournal.com

I think this is why Kaori Yuki is the master of crazy plot twists and such. Gothic=European-style crack, manga=Japanese-style crack, so put the two together and you have the pinnacle of crackiness! Evil parrots! Brainwashed people! What else can you ask for?

ellarien: bookshelves (books)

From: [personal profile] ellarien

I had to go and check which of Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January mysteries involved leprosy in Louisiana. Turns out it's [spoiler]Wet Grave. They're all worth reading, though. (The protagonist is a free man of color in 1830's New Orleans.)

From: [identity profile] free-the-goats.livejournal.com

My favorite thing about Thomas Covenant was that leprosy gave him the right to rape people, and since he was from a different universe, everyone was sort of okay with this.

I never got past the first book. I hated it.
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From: [identity profile] buymeaclue.livejournal.com

When I was in school, we had this science project in which we all had to study and report on a disease. This led to hordes of kids roaming the caf, discussing the project, and to me announcing, yes, that, "I want leprosy!"

(I got stuck, instead, with TB. Boo.)

I do not often come across books containing leprosy, though when I read Darcourt I immediately regretted forgetting about the YA novel in which the heroine develops leprosy, watches her mother agonizingly die of rot, is shipped off to a leper colony, and dies, the end -- I would have certainly included it in my YA agony award nominations if I had.


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