First, let me say that J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Guy Deverell is not a classic. Lefanu’s tour de force is Uncle Silas, my favorite Gothic novel. (I wrote about it here).
Guy Deverell is part Gothic, part locked-room mystery. And though I moderately enjoyed it, I will not pretend it is in the class of Wilkie Collins’s superb locked-room mystery, The Moonstone, which was published 150 years ago, three years after Guy Deverell.
If you’re a Le Fanu devotee, you may enjoy this wildly uneven novel. The dialogue is robust though the plot is frenziedly far-fetched. It begins with the “comely baronet,” Sir Jekyl, a rich man with 150 acres, stopping at an inn and spotting a young man who is a “dead ringer” (no pun intended) for Guy Deverell, whom Sir Jekyl killed in a duel many years ago. Is it the dead man?
When Sir Jekyl beheld this particularly handsome young man, it was with a disagreeable shock, like the tap on a big drum, upon his diaphragm. If anyone had been there he would have witnessed an odd and grizzly change in the pleasant Baronet’s countenance. For a few seconds he did not move. Then he drew back a pace or two, and stood at the further side of the fire, with the mantelpiece partially between him and the young gentleman who spoke his parting directions, all unconscious of the haggard stare which made Sir Jekyl look a great deal less young and good-natured than was his wont.
…he exclaimed— “I could not have believed it! What the devil can it mean?”
The young man’s name is Guy Strangways, not Deverell, and he is accompanied by his French uncle, M. Varberrierre. Sir Jekyl recognizes the name Strangway, and wonders if the two men are distant relatives trying to cheat him of his inheritance. He invites them to a house party. Does that make sense? No, but it doesn’t matter…
What happens at the house party? Well, we all wonder what goes on in the Green Chamber. Whatever happened, it caused Sir Jekyl’s own wife and his father to beg him on their deathbeds to wall it up. Sir Jekyl hasn’t bothered, for whatever reason. Instead, he insists that his friend the General and his beautiful wife Lady Jane sleep in the Green Chamber during the house party. Sir Jekyl’s housekeeper Donica, who slept in the Green Chamber for three years, quits her job because of this arrangement.
What IS going on? Is there a ghost or a seducer in the chamber? Was Lady Jane a gold digger? Why does M. Varberrierre insist on measuring the Green Room? And why does he warn Guy against Sir Jekyl’s daugher? And why does Lady Alice, Sir Jekyl’s stepmother-in-law and Guy Deverell’s mother, try to protect Lady Jane by locking her in?
All right, if you’ve read Uncle Silas, you might enjoy this. Meanwhile, I’m on to another Gothic…