The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins

published 1878








She was dressed in dark colours, with perfect taste; she was of middle height, and (apparently) of middle age—say a year or two over thirty. Her lower features—the nose, mouth, and chin—possessed the fineness and delicacy of form which is oftener seen among women of foreign races than among women of English birth…

The wedding was strictly private. A close carriage stood at the church door; a few people, mostly of the lower class, and mostly old women, were scattered about the interior of the building. Here and there Doctor Wybrow detected the faces of some of his brethren of the club, attracted by curiosity, like himself. Four persons only stood before the altar—the bride and bridegroom and their two witnesses… The bridal party (the bride herself included) wore their ordinary morning costume…The one remarkable person, the Countess herself, only raised her veil at the beginning of the ceremony, and presented nothing in her plain dress that was worth a second look. Never, on the face of it, was there a less interesting and less romantic marriage than this.



observations: Dr Wybrow (who is something of a Dr Gregory House: this mysterious lady visits him because ‘you are famous in your profession for the discovery of mysteries in disease’) is used to introduce the leading figures in the story and do a little investigation: Collins says
There was a time when a man in search of the pleasures of gossip sought the society of ladies. The man knows better now. He goes to the smoking-room of his club.
- and Dr W does so, to find out about the noble lord who has ditched his suitable fiancé, caught in the wiles of the adventuress. The good doctor then disappears, leaving this strange novella to play itself out: there are deaths, disappearances, ghosts, inheritances, and the eponymous haunted hotel – a converted palazzo in Venice – is suitably creepy. It’s an enjoyable if muddled story – you don’t feel it matters much whether you totally understand what went on. It is also mercifully short - unlike the wonderful No Name, which is long enough to have produced several blog entries (with one still to come).

Collins has plenty of portentous dark elements to the story, but he can’t totally resist some humour. Mrs Rolland – a severe and unbending maid – is explaining to the lady heroines what went wrong in her relations with a manservant:
'Mr. Ferrari behaved to me, Miss Lockwood, as no man living has ever behaved—before or since.'

'What did he do?'

Mrs. Rolland answered, with a stony stare of horror:— 'He took liberties with me.' Young Lady Montbarry suddenly turned aside, and put her handkerchief over her mouth in convulsions of suppressed laughter….

'And when I insisted on an apology, Miss, he had the audacity to say that the life at the palace was dull, and he didn't know how else to amuse himself!'
All evidence for my claim that – in regard to women characters – Collins is the anti-Dickens: you can’t imagine in a million years Dickens writing that.

The picture is from the Nantucket Historical Association, and shows Emily Frances Whippey in her wedding dress.

You can download Haunted Hotel for nothing for a Kindle.

Comments

  1. Moira - What an interesting novella! And I do love the way Collins creates atmosphere. So skilled at 'creepy.' One of the things I noticed in your post is a very interesting cultural development: a woman in her thirties is considered 'middle aged.' Really? That in itself is...interesting.

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    1. Good point Margot, I hadn't noticed that, and probably very much indicative of the thinking of the times. And yes, Collins is excellent at creating an atmosphere.

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  2. Splinters in my bum, from a spot of fence sitting...yes/no/maybe. (I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.)

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    1. It's free and short Col - take a chance.

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  3. I had no idea that Wilkie Collins had written so much. I suppose someday I shall have to break down and read something of his. Is this one a mystery?

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    1. Kind of - a bit supernatural (or is it?), some crime, mysterious goings on. I'm not entirely convinced that I understood everything about it, but I did enjoy it.

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  4. Moira: I had not known that wedding dresses of the 19th Century were dark in colour. Do you know when the shift was made from dark to white?

    And middle age being just over 30. What would Collins think of someone like myself over 60? No need to provide me the answer.

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    1. I think late Victorian times - Queen Victoria wore white I believe, but then she was the Queen. I think perhaps all her daughters married in white, and communications and photographs meant this was widely seen and started a trend. But it's certainly true in Victorian novels the heroines (and others) do not get married in white: they wear their best dress, or get a new dress made, but one that will practical later - one to be used as an evening dress or dance dress. Jane Eyre wears grey satin.

      I think you would be seen as a wise and respected elder!

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  5. A Colins I havem't read - sounds great! Thanks.

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    1. And as I said to Col, free and short - what's not to like...

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  6. Middle age has got older, evidently.
    Collins comment reminds me of a line in one of Lindsay Davis's Falco books where Falco says of someone less than well informed that he chooses his barber for his ability to cut hair.

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