‘Mistress of Mellyn’ by Victoria Holt

Martha Leigh travels to Cornwall to take up a post as a governess. She does not meet her employer, widower Connan TreMellyn, for some time, but she does meet his daughter, the extremely ‘difficult’ Alvean. When she learns of Alvean’s mother’s mysterious passing, Martha begins to understand the child’s temperament a little better. Things seem as though they might settle into a pleasant routine. However, when Martha meets Connan and starts to struggle against her developing feelings towards him, she becomes possessed by the idea that Alvean’s mother might not have passed at all…

As you can probably tell from my plot summary, this novel owes a decided debt to both Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and if you’ve read and enjoyed it, you should certainly give both of those a try (if you haven’t already). Mistress of Mellyn is more than carbon-copy Bronte, though. At risk of giving too much away, I was most impressed by the ending: it was pleasingly gothic and horrible, and I really didn’t see it coming. And while the rest of the novel does all feel rather familiar, it is in an extremely reassuring, comfortable way; there is the kind of gothic novel which is full of twists and turns, and which will shock and surprise you (I think Rebecca is like this, and Matthew Lewis’s The Monk), and then there is the more predictable pleasure of Victoria Holt, and her Mistress of Mellyn. And sometimes, that’s just how I like it.

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