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The Witch Of Ravensworth
George Brewer
Valancourt paperback $14.95

review by Mario Guslandi

If you're a fan of Gothic fiction you probably have a bit of a problem. You read and loved The Castle Of Otranto, The Monk, The Italian, The Mysteries Of Udolpho, Frankenstein, Melmoth The Wanderer and, more or less, that's it. There's very little else to read. Right? Wrong. There were hundreds of gothic novels published in the 18th and 19th centuries that for some reason (which has nothing to do with their literary quality) have practically disappeared, neglected and forgotten, and are currently untraceable unless you want to pay a fortune to some antiquarian shop.

Here is where Valancourt Books, a small Chicago imprint, comes on the scene. Fully devoted to exhuming and reprinting classic gothic novels unavailable to the public for centuries, the publisher is offering to today's readers and scholars the opportunity to enjoy long lost works which are as entertaining and engrossing as the more famous genre novels.

The Witch Of Ravensworth is a fine example. First published in 1808, the novel employs the usual clichés and paraphernalia of the gothic genre: demonic worship, evil curses, insane passions, wicked noblemen, and family secrets, even the secret passage beneath the foundations of the castle. Anyone seeking after the standard gothic themes will have reason to rejoice browsing the pages of Brewer's novel. As for the witch, the true archetype of evil, her description alone would be sufficient to scare the reader to death if only Disney's cartoonists wouldn't have spoiled things a bit by drawing a too similar countenance when portraying Snow White's terrible enemy.

The novel's hero is the vicious Baron de la Braunch, eagerly pursuing his dreams of wealth and power which turn him into a murderer, seeking help from the horrible hag in order to suppress his wife's son, legitimate heir of title and fortunes. The supernatural powers of the hideous witch, due to her communion with demons, grants the Baron the fulfilment of his wishes, but soon the encounter with the beautiful and corrupt Lady Alwena will lead him to renew his association with the hag to get rid of his devout spouse, the gentle lady Bertha, and fully savour the dame's sexual appeal. As expected, for the mean Baron happiness remains elusive but the final part of plot takes a sudden turn toward an incredible, totally unpredictable ending that, in spite of its lack of plausibility, contributes much to make this story quite unconventional compared to the standard gothic canon.

Another characteristic of The Witch Of Ravensworth is the author's writing style, quite different from the convoluted, cumbersome and sometimes overflowing narrative fashion so common in the gothic genre. Brewer's language is clear, straightforward and sharp, which makes it easy and pleasurable reading the book. So, Gothic lovers, hurry up and secure a copy of this delectable novel, unjustly fallen into oblivion for so long, and don't forget to scrutinise the fascinating Valancourt Books' online catalogue, with its attractive list of rare gothic gems, especially unearthed for our delight.
Witch of Ravensworth

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