For a variety of reasons (AVP, amenities, doctors, and the fact that we go down twice a week minimum) my husband and I are moving from our small town to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 50 miles down the road.
|Sioux Falls, photo courtesy Wikipedia|
House shopping is interesting and exhausting. I remember back when we first house-shopped in 1991 (we'd rented the place we were living over the phone), and it was an educational experience. One memorable house had a room with bright orange and green plaid vinyl wallpaper, with orange shag carpet, and, in the kitchen, vintage orange appliances. No, we did not buy it. Another place was beautifully done, until you opened the basement door and the reek of mold and mildew was enough to knock you down. Another place was obviously the future home of someone who would formally entertain at the drop of a hat. (We're the pot-luck or pizza types.)
Old houses are fun. The history, the charm, the leftover stuff. In our last house, we found an old-fashioned cream-skimmer that dropped behind the kitchen sink in the summer kitchen out back, decades ago. I remember once I visited a friend in Chicago, who was remodeling an old house into apartments, and found 4 old books tucked away in the attic, including a first edition Harriet Beecher Stowe's "The Mayflower". He was going to throw them away, so I leaped up and claimed them. They've had a good home ever since. And I remember living in an urban neighborhood in Atlanta, decades ago, with a bunch of roommates (starving artists all), and visiting with the little old lady who lived in the bungalow next door - turned out she'd been born in that house, and had never moved in all her 81 years. I remember being gob-smacked by that. I couldn't imagine staying anywhere 81 years. I still can't.
|Roderick Usher, |
by Aubrey Beardsley
(note - not creepy enough)
A lot of mysteries and thrillers have been written about what happens after the house is bought and/or inherited. One of the great disappointments of such novels is Agatha Christie's "Postern of Fate", which is - well, the only way I can put it is that it's a real mess. The Beresfords are too old, as was, sadly, Ms. Christie. On the other hand, I love Christie's "Sleeping Murder" - which is NOT Miss Marple's last case by a long shot. The slow reveal of the fact that Gwenda Halliday Reed actually lived, as a child, in the house she bought in case of love at first sight still makes the hair stand up on the back of my head. Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" has the house itself as a central character, and God help all who stay in it. And, speaking of Roderick Usher, the House of Usher went down with a pretty spectacular crash, didn't it?
|"Northanger Abbey" -|
1986 BBC production
In true Gothic fiction there are always dark castles, dungeons, tunnels, empty graves, full graves, murders, rumors of murders, supernatural events, monsters, and sometimes all of the above. ("Dark Shadows" captured all of these in one magnificently campy afternoon soap opera from my early teen years: click on the picture above to see Barnabas Collins finally set free from his coffin...)
There is always a young, virginal heroine (even in modern Gothic romances) with a mysterious past, who is often revealed to have been born noble. The hero is always courageous, although he is often a suspect (at least for a while) in the shenanigans going on around the place. The villain of the piece is a control freak tyrant who will have things his own way no matter what (calling Mrs. Danvers...). If the villain is married, his wife is completely under his thumb (Countess Fosco in "The Woman in White"). There is often a crazy relative, usually locked up. There is always a mystery. And the heroine always feels that there's something seriously wrong, then that something's wrong with her, then that she's under threat, and, at various stages, worries about her own mental health...
How the heroine gets to her location varies. Sometimes the heroine is a relative (Maud is practically willed by her father to Uncle Silas), sometimes she's the governess ("Jane Eyre", "Nine Coaches Waiting"), sometimes she's an invited guest (Catherine Morland). But I believe - although I could be wrong - that "Rebecca" is the only one where the heroine marries the owner BEFORE she arrives at the house.
But it's always about the house. As Jo Walton says, "The essential moment every gothic must contain is the young protagonist standing alone in a strange house. The gothic is at heart a romance between a girl and a house."
So, the next time you go house-hunting, consider... you might be looking at your next mystery, your next ghost story, or your next romance.
Will keep you posted on our move.