There has always been a certain gloominess attached to the Victorian era in England. I think it’s probably because of all of those black and white illustrations in the works of Doyle and Dickens more than anything. As an era it was no less colorful than any other, but with all of the fog from the Thames and the gaslight lamps I can see how a certain air of darkness has become a permanent part of our imaginations of that time and place.
If it is anything The Devil in the Corner is definitely a gloomy Victorian book. So much so that it at times it threatened to bring even me, a huge fan of the era, to a dead stop. The book is about one Maud Greenwood, a fifteen-year old governess, whom like so many women of the time, has a bit of an opium addiction, and a ton of other problems as well, like a checkered past, through no fault of her own, an uncertain present and an even worse-looking future. Fortunately she seems like she has been saved by that wonderful deus ex machina of the times, a rich relative. That her salvation turns into the biggest threat that Maud has yet to face is a wonderful touch, and at times I get the feeling that the author Patricia Elliot seems to enjoy subverting the clichés as much as she enjoys employing them. There are plenty of both to go around, as well, from the overly romantic Artist John, who becomes Maud's love interest and potential savior, to a huge manor house in the desolate countryside, and many more that I can begin to list.
For all of that the biggest problem I had was also one of the books strengths; its realism. Maud is pretty much powerless against the combined forces of class and money, and as much as I felt for her, and recognized the truth of her circumstances I wished that she would have shown a bit more fight, and drive. As it is for most of the book she is a character just waiting for the axe to fall. Heaven knows that a great portion of the women of the era felt particularly powerless, but Maud's story is so stooped in gloom that at times I felt like grabbing the bottle of laudanum and indulging in a few drops to ease the pain.
There is a fair amount of plot in the book, including the usual machinations over property and in heritance, a sinister servant, and a painting that seems to everyone the willies, but the crux of the plot consists of the burgeoning but forbidden romance between Maud and John, and what fate her patron, Julia Greenwood, has in store for Maud. Near the end of the book there are some sudden twists and turns as the police and poisonings suddenly rear their melodramatic heads. At the last moment, when things look their absolute worst the whole thing takes a sudden turn towards a happy ending, but it was bit too late for me. I just couldn't quite shake the blues. Maybe it was all that laudanum.