I’ve always been attracted to novels set in grand houses—so much so that I set my own novel, THE NECKLACE, in one. Their creaking floorboards, twinkling chandeliers, and manorial names often belie family secrets, mysteries only whispered about, money made and squandered. So often a vehicle for aspirations, dreams, and strivings, great houses are not just a setting but become a type of character in the following novels.
This is one of the greatest novels ever written, in which E. M. Forster so delicately, yet eloquently, addresses issues of class, nationality, and economic status. I first read it when I was falling in love with my husband. Forster’s epigraph, “Only connect!” comes from this novel. The full quote is “Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” You can see how besotted in love I was.
The narrator dreams of Manderlay, and so have countless readers since first encountering the neo-Gothic mansion on the Cornwall shore. It’s a look-don’t-touch sort of place, complete with a frilly morning room, an elaborate bell system for the servants, and the ne plus ultra of creepy housekeepers, Mrs. Danvers. Manderlay seems to breathe, both entrancing and imprisoning the second, newly wed Mrs. Max de Winter while keeping old secrets.
I watched the classic Hitchcock film of Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic masterpiece starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine for the first time in years the other night, and in loving it was reminded of how much I also loved the book. Is there a first line of a novel more evocative than “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”? Only Hitchcock could do justice to the moodiness and plot twists of Du Maurier’s genius work.
Charles Ryder falls in love with the whole Flyte family when his classmate and friend Sebastian Flyte brings him to the family seat, Brideshead Castle. BRIDESHEAD REVISITED is the standard for how a house entrances and seduces, firmly cementing Ryder’s obsession with the family. Like all the best characters, Brideshead Castle changes through the book and comes out at the end a bit worse for the wear, moving forward in a new capacity but still standing.
Evelyn Waugh’s delicious coming-of-age tale of star-crossed lovers and sexually ambiguous pretty boys drinking their way through guilt trips over religion and lost love provided an admittedly romantic backdrop to my own rocky adolescent journey to adulthood.
Some consider it “the great American novel.” The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his powerful love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan is an exquisitely crafted tale that has been essential reading since it was published.
Read the full review here.