Review 1590: The Burning of Bridget Cleary

In 1895, a rural Irish woman, a milliner, was burnt to death by her husband and relatives. Their explanation was that the ailing woman had been taken away by the fairies and that they had burnt a changeling trying to get it to say it was not Bridget Cleary.

Historian Angela Bourke examines this crime in detail, not only the events as reported by the witnesses and the trial but the meaning of it. She interprets fairy legends and their place in rural Irish society, and she also explains the meaning of comments and actions the night of the crime and the night preceding it in terms of these legends. She looks at the crime from a feminist point of view as well.

I found this book interesting, although at times I felt Bourke got carried away with her interpretations. Most of the time the writing style and her analysis are interesting, but the book is occasionally a little dry.

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Day 1037: The Bloody Chamber

Cover for The Bloody ChamberBecause a few months ago there was some mini hooplah about The Bloody Chamber, I thought it was a recent book, but it turns out Angela Carter died in 1992. I was totally unaware of her unique work.

The Bloody Chamber is a series of fairy tales and legends, retold. In them, heroines strip away their passivity. Some of the tales are gruesome, and all of them feature blood.

“The Bloody Chamber” is the story of Bluebeard retold. The young bride sells herself for riches and is taken to a castle floating in the sea. Her husband tempts her to look in the forbidden room by his very act of forbidding it, and she finds a slaughterhouse. When he returns unexpectedly, her intrepid mother saves her life.

I won’t tell the ending of the others, but Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, and Beauty and the Beast are all featured. The prose is gorgeous, with startling images and strong feminist themes, and Carter has a fascination with wolves.

This book will probably not be for you if you are at all squeamish. I am not, and some of it was a bit much for me. Still, it is a quick read, sometimes funny, always fascinating.

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Day 678: Castle Dor

Cover for Castle DorIt is clear from the number of books Daphne du Maurier set in Cornwall that she found the region inspiring. In the case of Castle Dor, a book I had not heard of until recently, she actually finished a book begun by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, which is a retelling of the ancient Cornish legend of Tristan and Iseult. The novel also features another interest of du Maurier’s, the unexplained.

Dr. Carfax is the observer of this story set in the early 1800’s. He has a theory that he shares with a French visitor, elderly Monsieur Ledru, that the events of the old legend took place in the area of Cornwall where he┬álives. Monsieur Ledru has in fact traveled there to investigate just that subject. Ledru has also taken an interest in a young French onion-seller named Amyot Tristane and helps him free himself from his abusive ship’s master and get a job on the Bosanko’s farm.

It is the doctor who begins to feel an eerie familiarity in the behavior of Amyot once he unfortunately encounters Linnet Lewarne. Linnet is the most beautiful woman in the region, and she has at 18 married a much older man, the innkeeper Mark Lewarne. After Amyot meets Linnet, he seems to be aware of the history of the area in a way that is unlikely for the unsophisticated foreigner that he is. As Dr. Carfax views certain events and sees in them the similarities to the legend, he begins to fear the same fatal result for Amyot.

Linnet, although she is also presumably taken over by the strong forces of the past, is depicted unsympathetically, as ambitious and remorseless. As in the legend, there is a potion, but instead of being a love potion, it is poisonous.

The characters in this novel are rather one-sided, but it is the atmosphere and the legend that are important in the novel, set in the vicinity of the legendary Castle Dor. However, this is not one of du Maurier’s best, and for a retelling of the legend, I prefer Dorothy Robert’s The Enchanted Cup.

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