Monday, May 04, 2009

Moonrakers' Bride

After posting about 'Girl Running Away From House" books the other day it occurred to me that I'd never actually read one of mom's Gothic Romances. I probably wouldn't have thought much about it again except last Sunday, while I was at a used book store in Marietta, I came across an old hardback called a Collection of Gothic Stories. Now I assumed that this would be a collection of actual 'Gothics' from the 1700s/1800s, but no, it was actually five Gothic romance novels. I bought it on a whim, figuring at the very least I could give it to mom along with her other Mother's Day present next week.
But I'm a reader so I decided to read one of the novels yesterday. I decided on Moonrakers' Bride by Madeleine Brent, mostly because it was the first book in the collection and it had some illustrations by Robert McGinnis, a favorite cover artist. The plot was actually pretty good.
Lucy Waring's parents were missionaries in China in the late 1800s. Unfortunately both died of sickness while Lucy was just a baby, causing her to be raised in an orphanage and basically brought up in the Chinese manner. Jump forward to when Lucy is 17 and now helping the elderly British woman who runs the orphanage. The place is out of food and out of money, so Lucy resolves to go into town and steal something she can sell to get money to feed the orphans. She gets caught and thrown into the local village jail. She knows that she'll be lucky to escape with a whipping, but she could end up having a hand cut off.
In the cell next to her she finds a (what else?) broodingly handsome Englishman. She and Nick talk through the night and she learns that Nick is due to be executed the following day. He makes her a strange proposition. He will give her enough money to bribe her way out of jail and to feed and clothe the orphans if she will agree to marry him there in the jail. He wants to leave his lands and holdings to her so that some enemies back in England don't get their hands on his house Moonrakers. Lucy agrees and the marriage is performed and Nick gives Lucy some papers to give his solicitors when she gets to England.
Now Lucy isn't planning on going to England since she feels the orphans are her responsibly but when she gets back to the orphanage she finds that the old lady has passed away and new missionaries have arrived. They tell her that she's to go to England and live with a British family and she has little choice in the matter.
Since this is a romance novel, it turns out that Nick wasn't executed and he eventually makes his way back to England. By this time Lucy has a suitor, whom she doesn't care for, but Nick sees them together and of course misunderstands. Complications ensue.
Now you may have noticed that none of this sounds terribly Gothic, but there are a lot of Gothic trappings. There are two creepy old houses, a mysterious drawing, stolen Emeralds, hidden identities, codes and riddles, etc. Lucy gets lost in some caverns, almost dies rescuing a child in a snow storm, and is menaced or apparently menaced by at least three different men. Plus, though you know one of Lucy's two suitors will end up with her by book's end, it's kind of hard to tell which one is the good guy and which the bad. Both have elements of the 'hero-villain'.
Anyway, I found it to be a fun way to spend a couple of hours. I remember reading an essay by Karl Edward Wagner where he talked about the old Gothic Novels and warned that they had nothing to do with Gothic romances. That's not entirely true, though I can see why Wagner would have wanted to distance the Gothic Novel from the Gothic Romance. But most of the creepy tropes used in Moonrakers' Bride, and I suspect in the other books in the collection, are borrowed from the Gothic Novels, so there is some connection. At some point I'll probably read some of the other books and see how much old style Gothic stuff they contain. I think that brings the total of Romance novels I've read in my life to seven, and four of those were by my pal Laura.
Oh, a word about the author. years after the books were published Peter O'Donnell, the creator of comic strip heroine Modesty Blaise, owned up to the fact that he was also Madeleine Brent. Reportedly, O'Donnell's American publishers didn't know Madeleine Brent was a pseudonym. His wife signed all his correspondences to give the signature a more feminine look.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Peter O'Donnell is still very much alive and enjoying his latter years.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Boy was I misinformed! Thanks for the correction. I've adjusted the post.

Beth said...

I gotta say, I never really much liked the Gothic stuff. Except the covers are awesome. They make some fun melodramatic movies, too, especially in black n white and starring like Ray Milland. But in book form, I can't ever read much past the first few chapters before falling asleep or being annoyed too much to continue. Kudos on making it all the way through.