Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Devil in the Corner - A Gothic Tale

The Devil in the Corner


Title: The Devil in the Corner
Author: Patricia Elliott
Series: N/A
Publisher: Hachette Children's Books
Publication Date: March 6 2014
Source: Netgalley

Goodreads Summary: A gorgeously Gothic historical tale.

 Penniless, and escaping the horrors of life as a governess to brutal households, Maud seeks refuge with the cousin-by-marriage she never knew. But Juliana quashes Maud's emerging friendships with the staff and locals - especially John, the artist commissioned to restore the sinister Doom in the local church. John, however, is smitten with Maud and makes every effort to woo her.

Maud, isolated and thwarted at every turn, continues to take the laudanum which was her only solace in London. Soon she becomes dependent on the drug - so is this the cause of her fresh anxieties? Or is someone - or something - plotting her demise?

Is the devil in the corner of the Doom a reality, or a figment of her imagination?

My Thoughts:  While I enjoyed reading this book, I thought it was very strange and confusing - which relates back to the fact that it is written in a Gothic style. 
     Gothic Style: The typical Gothic style, most notably employed in The Castle of Otranto and then later by Edgar Allan Poe, mixes elements of Romanticism, horror, and fiction together. The result is a novel which is dark, and mysterious, often with an unreliable narrator, and events which never fully explain themselves. An example of this is in Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher in which it is assumed that Madeleine rising from the grave was simply a figment of Roderick's imagination because of the poisonous fumes surrounding the house, and the dangers of incest, it is also assumed that many of the fantastical events in the story occur because of the narrator's unreliability. However, Poe never sets in stone if those are in fact the reasons for those events. Elliott used many of these same elements in Devil in the Corner in order to paint her Gothic tale.


Beginnings: This is not a warm and fuzzy book. It's dark and the characters are twisted and confusing - they have many layers and the reader never fully understands them. The main character - Maud has had an awful life since her father died a few years ago. Employed as a governess she has worked at three different house holds where she encountered abusive and horrible children, and groping masters. She thinks she is a horrible person and in order to stop nightmares of the horrible things which have happened to her she drinks laudanum every night before bed. When she gets a letter from her step cousin inviting her to stay permanently at her house and keep her company, she is over joyed, believing that her horrible past is behind her. 
Juliana however is not what she seems - she is demanding, controlling and mean. Maud however feels indebted to her and takes care of her.
Enter John. John is the painter who has been called to restore a painting of the Last Judgment (The Doom) found in the church - Juliana is his patron. John and Maud fall in love, but he feels that he cannot support her as an artist and because of an embarrassing dinner party, John breaks off the relationship and returns to London. Maud feels like all the sunshine has left her life. It doesn't help that another girl in town - Edie, also loves John and actually receives letters from him.
Maud begins to run out of laudanum and because Juliana will give her no money resorts to stealing it from the drugstore. She goes to relieve Edie when her mother takes a fall and when searching for the drug stumbles upon arsenic and the miracle medicine that almost everyone in the village takes.

Death: Then, people start dying. First the lunatic who works at the manor and follows Maud. Next, the Butcher's son, who treats women like meat. As they die their pictures appear crudely drawn in charcoal on The Doom. Juliana gets worse, from thinking that she is dying, to actually dying. Many of the maids get dismissed until only a few are left. The remaining ones are frightened of Maud saying that at night she wanders the house. Maud does not know what they are talking about, and takes more laudanum in order to calm her nerves and drown out her sorrow. Then, Juliana dies. 

Guilt: Maud is accused of killing her cousin because she is the heir to the estate, the poison - arsenic. The strange thing is that although Maud never explicitly says she killed Juliana - she doesn't say she didn't either. She seems just as confused about it as everyone else is. One of the maids accuses her of using the recently found rat poison to kill Juliana and of drawing the pictures on The Doom. They lock her in her room - with the devil in the corner. Maud sees him clearly - a monster that sees who she truly is and knows of her wickedness. The next morning the police come and take Maud into custody to await her trial.

Trial: John finds out that Maud has been accused of Juliana's death - and because he is still very much in love with her finds the best detective he can to clear her charge. It is when they are investigating that the detective discovers large chunks of wallpaper have been torn off of the wall behind Juliana's bed. It appeared that when in distress Juliana would tear the wallpaper - the wallpaper which contains large amounts of arsenic. It is determined by the jury that the wallpaper was the cause of death - and not Maud. She is cleared, but she is still not sure. While in custody she was separated from her laudanum, which gave her head time to clear, and she can remember very little from the time of Juliana's death because of the power of the drug. 

Endings: Now that Maud is the owner of the estate and John has gotten a study job in London, he comes back for her. The novel ends with Maud running into John's arms.

Ambiguous Much? So, I read the entire book, and while I would love to believe that Maud didn't really kill all those people, I still don't know. Maud is an unreliable narrator, the reader cannot believe everything that Maud tells them because she is drugged and disturbed for most of the novel - she cannot think clearly and often has hallucinations. That's one of the reasons that I can't give this book more than three stars - I was super confused for most of it, and found the hallucinations quite disturbing. I think if someone was writing a report or doing a project on Gothic stories and how they have changed over time, I would definitely tell them to read this, but otherwise don't. While this book kept me reading it was more because I was hoping that everything would make sense in the end. I was hoping it would be like a detective novel where everything is figured out and explained in the end, and it wasn't.


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