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Michelle Pillow’s New Novel Reflects That Gothic Romance Is Alive and Well
As a scholar of the classic nineteenth-century gothic novel, I occasionally like to read twenty-first century gothic novels to see how well the seeds planted by Mrs. Radcliffe are blossoming. I’m happy to report that writers like Michelle Pillow are keeping the gothic tradition alive and well by using typical gothic plot devices, but making them their own as the gothic evolves into something more spiritual and less scary than its creators might have intended. they had originally imagined.
Forget Me Not has all the classic gothic elements a reader could want, and draws heavily on these early novels for its setting and atmosphere. It can also be defined as a regency novel – since it is set in England in 1812 – when George IV was still the Prince Regent of England. Readers today might call it paranormal rather than gothic, and of course it also falls into the category of romance novels.
The story begins when Isabel Drake and her sister Jane speculate whether Rothfield Park is haunted. The family has been given the manor house by its owner, the Marquess of Rothfield. Legend has it that during a fire, a child and a servant died in the house. Jane claims to have seen evidence of hauntings in the castle, but Isabelle believes that Jane has just let her imagination get the better of her after reading a “shilling shock”. (Shilling shockers were popular nineteenth-century short books that often plagiarized best-selling Gothic novels and were abridged to make them affordable, costing only a shilling.) This scene is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and the thrills they have Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe over reading “horrible” novels by Mrs. Radcliffe and others.
Isabel, however, has bigger problems than ghosts. Her parents do not like the way she treats her governess, so they decide to hire a tutor approved by the colonel, nephew of the Marquis of Rothfield, whom they plan to marry. Isabel wants nothing to do with marrying the colonel or a new teacher.
Angry, Isabel goes horseback riding and comes to the forest, where a heavy fog is falling. There she meets a mysterious child who asks her to play with her, but Isabel refuses, feeling terrified. As she tries to return home, she has an accident with a tree branch and falls from her horse.
Isabel has no memory of the accident, but by the time she recovers, she discovers that her parents have left her alone at Rothfield with her new teacher, Dougal Weston. Here, I admit, my willing suspension of disbelief was a bit challenging – no noble family of that era would leave their daughter alone with servants and a handsome male teacher – but Michelle Pillow will provide some surprising and ultimately believable explanations for this chain of events before the novel ends.
Dougal Weston turns out to be unlike any teacher Isabel ever expected. He doesn’t really teach her much of anything – he just asks her to read and then discuss with him what she read. Isabelle soon begins to suspect that he is not a teacher but someone with an ulterior motive for being at Rothfield.
Despite this, Isabelle falls in love with him and confides in him that she now sees the ghost child repeatedly. Dougal appears interested in the history of the house and the ghost child, but also tries to comfort Isabelle and calm her fears. His comforting eventually goes a little too far – although Isabel doesn’t object – and you imagine, they have some very pleasant sex. Before long, Isabel begins to think about how she might eschew the expectations of social status and marriage to run away and live in a cottage with Dougal.
Eventually, however, Isabel begins to suspect that Dougal is simply using her to learn more about the ghost child. Dougal then asks Reverend Stilwell to talk to Isabelle about the ghosts. Reverend Stilwell is a kind of medium who can communicate with the dead. he explains things to Isabelle about ghosts that make her feel more comfortable and realize that she is not crazy. He will also encourage Isabel and Dougal to seek happiness.
I can’t say more without giving away all the plot twists, but I’ll just say that I love how Michelle Pillow takes old gothic themes and makes them new. Before the story ends, there is even a cursed man who has made a Faustian bargain to gain knowledge from evil sorcerers in exchange for his soul. However, he can prevent himself from going to hell if he captures other souls for the devil – a classic Victorian twist used in the past by writers such as George WM Reynolds in The Necromancer (1852). Pillow also draws on the conventions of regency novels—there’s even an unseen marriage to Gretna Green, worthy of a Jane Austen novel. Finally, I didn’t see the final plot twist at the end, although I think I should have, but either way, I enjoyed it.
Forget Me Not isn’t exactly Jane Austen, but if you enjoyed books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, then Forget Me Not should give you plenty of ghostly enjoyment. If you’re a fan of TV shows like The Ghost Whisperer or movies like The Sixth Sense, you’ll also find more enjoyable modern spins on ghosts and the gothic on these pages. After you finish Forget Me Not, I suspect you’ll want to read more of Michelle Pillow’s novels – luckily, she’s written a lot in both the romance and paranormal genres.
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