The Mistress of Trevelyan
This book features a mysterious house with a secret passage, a poor governess who narrates it in the first person, a dark, brooding, intense hero, and the word “mistress” is in the title. Could it be…a gothic novel? Yes it is. How is it? Well, it’s not bad, but Dorothy Eden still did it better.
The Mistress of Trevelyn is chock full of atmosphere. Trevelyn house seems to be shrouded in a perpetual fog, and everyone in it has a secret. The language is flowery in the extreme. A volume of encyclopedia is “a box of leather bound wisdom”, and as the heroine confronts the hero on his horse, she wonders “what darkness lurks behind the shadow of his eyes.” Too bad I had to read it on a bright summer day. This is the kind of book that demands a dark and stormy night.
Titania (Ann) Lovell is not one of San Francisco’s elite. She is illegitimate, tall and plain and works as a laundress with her mother. Ann is self-educated to a remarkable degree and longs for something more than suds and red hands. When Ann’s mother dies, she applies for the position of teacher to Benedict Trevelyn’s sons.
Benedict is rich, handsome and has a dark cloud over his head. His wife died in a fall from one of the high turrets of the Trevelyan mansion and the city whispers – did he push her? Or did he drive her to kill herself?
Ann gets the job and finds herself in the middle of a family who, in best gothic novel tradition, are disfunctional – all of them. Benedict Trevelyn is dark and brooding; Stephen Trevelyn is drunk and brooding; Kathryn Trevelyn is deaf and brooding; Mrs. Trevelyn (Benedict’s mother) is in a wheel chair where she sits in her room and broods; Constance Ortega, Benedict’s sister-in-law, is a flighty shopaholic (but not brooding). As for Benedict’s two sons, Robert lisps and talks baby talk, and Justin broods.
Ann begins as a meek and mild heroine, but two things happen to give her a bit of spine: Benedict insists she buy a new wardrobe, and she sees him naked. Good clothing and the sight of Bendict’s rampant masculinity really give her self confidence, so much so that she begins to talk back to Dobbs, the haughty butler. Meanwhile she teaches the boys, and she and Benedict smoulder around each other while he smites his brow and declaims that anyone who gets involved with him is doomed, because he is cursed, cursed, cursed!! This goes on for most of the book, and then we find out what happened to Benedict’s wife when the villain gets an urge to confess. And they all live happily ever after.
The Mistress of Trevelyn needed some action. I know that in a Gothic, atmosphere is the main thing, but when page after page is filled with nothing but brooding, it gets a bit dull. Also, the characters have a bad habit of keeping things to themselves. Ann gets a threatening notice and by the time she mentions it to Benedict, I had forgotten about it. There was something very annoying about the love scenes too. Anne is illegitamate and has suffered because of it. She and Benedict make love (several times) before she ever mentions her fear of pregancy. He does provide birth control the next time they make love, but several times later, they get so carried away with passion that no mention of birth control is made when they do the deed. Very inconsistent.
Since Ann tells the story, we know her best and I found myself liking her. Stripped of the flowery language, she comes across as a brave and loving woman and she is quite a vivid character. The rest of the characters are not – Dark Shadows is a kind way to describe them.
Lovers of gothic novels have had slim pickings since the genre has pretty well fallen by the wayside. Although The Mistress of Trevelyn isn’t the best gothic, for lovers of the genre it’s the first new one in a long time, and they might find any port in a storm worth the effort. Or should that be, any dark and gloomy house on a hill?