For my Wild Card Classic category in Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge
, I decided to go with Sheridan Le Fanu's Gothic novel Uncle Silas, which was first published in 1864. It's a good example of Victorian sensation fiction, with thrills, chills, drama, secrets, death and danger, and is similar in feel to Wilkie Collins' novels.
Seventeen-year-old Maud Ruthyn is the narrator and main character. She lives a quiet, pleasant life in the country with her father until his sudden death. She is then sent to live with her mysterious Uncle Silas, who her father named as her guardian, much to everyone's surprise. Silas, who was once accused of murder, is not a well man. He lives a very isolated life, and though he pretends to welcome Maud in, and to want what is best for her, he has many secrets of his own, as well as an unpredictable temper, and she can't help fearing him and his true intentions.
"You would have fancied that one so young as I, born to wealth so vast, and living a life of such entire seclusion, would have been exempt from care. But you have seen how troubled my life was with fear and anxiety during the residence of Madame de la Rougierre, and now there rested upon my mind a vague and awful anticipation of the trial which my father had announced ... You perceive I had more spirit than courage. I think I had the mental attributes of courage; but then I was but a hysterical girl, and in so far neither more nor less than a coward."
Though pretty, well-spoken and educated, Maud is at times also weak-willed, fearful, and naive; but then she's also very young. She befriends her rustic cousin, Millicent, but Millie is also afraid of her father. Maud fends off the advances of her other cousin, Dudley, but can't ever seem to stand up to her uncle. And when her former governess, Madame de la Rougierre, reappears on the seem, all hope of happiness seems lost to poor Maud.
I have to say, even though this novel dragged a bit in the middle and felt a little long, I enjoyed reading it. I was rooting for Maud to find a way to free herself from her unhappy circumstances. And I liked the Gothic atmosphere that Le Fanu creates throughout the book, as well as his lyrical and descriptive prose. Like here:
"It was late--just that hour when dejected people feel their anxieties most--when the cold grey of twilight has deepened to its darkest shade, and before the cheerful candles are lighted, and the safe quiet of night sets in."
This turned out to be a great October read. There's even a chilling twist at the end. I'm glad I chose this one as my Wild Card Classic novel. And I look forward to trying some of Le Fanu's other novels.