Wednesday, March 29, 2017
A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
I often feel as if I'd gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom -- Rosamond Vivian, age 18.
What is that saying about being careful about you wish for, because you might actually get it? That is basically the theme of this book. Oh, and that men can be really, really, stalker-creepy.
Believe it or not, Louisa May Alcott wrote novels that were NOT Little Women, Little Men, or Eight Cousins. In 1866, two years before the publication of Little Women, Alcott was in financial straits and quickly wrote a Gothic/Victorian sensation novel which was ultimately rejected by her publishers, even after major revisions. It remained unpublished until 1995 when it was sold and finally published by Random House, and became a posthumous best-seller.
The plot is basically this: young Rosamond Vivian is living on an isolated island off the coast of England with her cranky grandfather, dreaming about an exciting life. She gets her wish when a mysterious stranger named Philip Tempest (I kid you not) comes to visit and steals her heart. He convinces her to run away with him on his yacht and all is well for about a year when she realizes he has a Really Big Secret, and that he may not be such a nice guy after all, so she grabs as much money and jewelry as she can in a few minutes and slips out the back; however, Philip loves her in a kind of twisted way and will not be denied, and he spends the remainder of the book chasing her all over Europe. She gives him the slip over and over, mostly with the aid of strangers who will help her because she is Beautiful and Good. There are a lot of intrigues, miraculous coincidences, and dubious characters.
I enjoyed this book in the beginning, but as it wore on (and it's only about 250 pages) I began to get annoyed by Philip's character -- he just won't take no for an answer, and that's pretty disturbing. Obviously, women didn't have that many choices in the 1860s, but this guy is just a creepy stalker. He claims he loves her and she will always belong to him. Oh, please. Coincidentally, I just this morning read an excellent (and disturbing) post on Book Riot about the relationship between Jo March and Laurie, and which points out that Laurie is also obsessed and won't leave Jo alone. It is extremely eye-opening and it really makes me wonder if this is a theme running throughout Alcott's work. Alcott did write other potboilers that were published, sometimes under a pseudonym. If you're interested, here's a great New York Times article from 1995 by novelist Stephen King.
I had originally planned to read this for my Gothic classic for the Back to the Classics challenge, but as I was reading it I wondered if it really weren't more of a Victorian sensation novel. I'd say it's a bit of both -- Gothic novels tend to include mysterious strangers, locked rooms, and potentially haunted castles, etc. Victorian sensation novels are more about people with big secrets, and Philip's secret is revealed pretty quickly. I think this one could go either way. I'm actually going to count it as both, as a Gothic Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge, and as my Genre/Subgenre of my choice for the Victorian Reading Challenge.
Bloggers, have any of you read this book? Were you as creeped out as I was? And is anyone else going to reread Little Women with a more critical eye?