“A delicious sensation of comfort lapped around her, enfolding her as softly as did the immense bed. The sheets were of linen so fine that they felt like silk and they were also scented not with lavender but with rose petals and verbena”.
That is a description of Miranda’s first night at Dragonwyck, but it also made me think of the satisfaction one gets from reading a good gothic romance: comforting yet indulgent. Miranda is a young woman living in 1844 rural Connecticut who dreams of a sweeping romance that she secretly reads about in novels. In her heart, she feels she is destined to more than the hard life of a farmer’s wife. When her distant relation, Nicholas Van Ryn, invites her to his estate, Dragonwyck, located in the Hudson valley, Miranda senses this is the escape she has waiting for; the door to the life she deserves.
Since Dragonwyck is a gothic romance in the tradition of Mary Stewart or Daphne Du Maurier, the reader soon discovers, as Miranda meets her cousin and sees the estate, that this will be no Cinderella story. Nicholas is both charming and sinister and Miranda feels herself drawn to him, despite the fact that he is married and far, far above her station socially.
In addition to being a traditional gothic novel, Dragonwyck is also a historical novel which highlights not only better known events such as the Mexican-American war, but also (to me at least) more obscure occurrences such as the Astor Place Riots in New York City.
I learned in the afterword written appropriately by the doyenne of historical fiction, Philippa Gregory, that Dragonwyck, first published in 1944, was only Seton’s second novel, which I think shows a bit. It was a fun read and I was compelled to turn the pages. However occasionally I found the insertion of historical events and persons to be a little awkward and the plot could have used more polishing in places. I do think, however, that Seton excels in characterization. Miranda was believably naïve yet ambitious and Nicholas is completely mesmerizing and chilling with qualities that seemed almost vampiric at times.
I read this for the Romance Classic category in the 2017 Back to the ClassicsChallenge at the blog Books and Chocolate and I chose it because of Lark's intriguing review. I could have also put it in the Gothic Novel category but since straight up romance is not my favorite genre (and I have read all of Austen’s novels), I thought this would be a good compromise! The above picture is actually from the movie, which I have not seen. For me, casting Vincent Price as the handsome Nicholas Van Ryn doesn't work!