Wylder’s Hand (1864): Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

★★★

Mark Wylder’s marriage to Dorcas Brandon will bring about a truce between their families, after centuries of avaricious squabbling over titles, incomes and the ownership of Brandon Hall itself. But, as Charles De Cresseron travels down from London for the festivities, he can’t help marvelling that Mark has pulled it off. Despite their long acquaintance, Charles has never really liked Mark, and his raffish old acquaintance seems unworthy of a stately and beautiful woman like Dorcas Brandon. She, for her part, maintains an air of queenly indifference to her impending marriage: this is clearly no love match. When Mark unaccountably vanishes, shortly before the wedding, all the evidence suggests that he has cut and run; but what has prompted his disappearance? To make matters worse, his departure leaves a convenient gap on the stage at Brandon Hall, and Dorcas has another admirer waiting in the wings: the devilish Captain Stanley Lake, all too eager to take advantage of his rival’s absence. All the components of Victorian Gothic are present and correct: rambling old houses; dark secrets; ghosts and devilry; dastardly plots; innocence under threat; and an abiding mystery at its heart.

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