2009 Re-read Challenge (March): Mistress of Mellyn

March 31, 2009 at 12:48 pm 19 comments

Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria HoltMistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt

When I was a kid, we used to have a rumpus room in our converted garage. It had (fake) wood paneling, a dart board, and orange indoor/outdoor carpeting. (Don’t mock, it was the 70’s, ok?) It also had a wall of bookshelves loaded with books my family no longer considered important enough to be in the living room. On these shelves were a couple of rows of Reader’s Digest Condensed books, mostly dating from the late 50’s thru the 60’s. I spent a lot of time in the rumpus room, working my way through these anthologies.

Mistress of Mellyn, one of the first adult books (and definitely the first romance) I read, was in a 1960 RDC edition. Last month, after reading Tracy’s and Li’s February Re-read Challenge reviews, where they re-read books that had been published a while ago, I decided to track down an unabridged copy (the RDC versions were abridged) of the book that had such an impact on my reading tastes.

Even the library edition of the book brought back fond memories. It was one of those old library books (MoM was published in 1960,) bound in a solid orange hard cover, with the title embossed in black print on the spine. 

Here’s the back cover description:

Mount Mellyn stood as proud and magnificent as she had envisioned . . . But what about its master — Connan TreMellyn? Was Martha Leigh’s new employer as romantic as his name sounded? As she approached the sprawling mansion towering above the cliffs of Cornwall, an odd chill of apprehension overcame her.

TreMellyn’s young daugher, Alvean, proved as spoiled and difficult as the three governesses before Martha had discovered. But it was the girl’s father whose cool, arrogant demeanor unleashed unfimiliar sensations and turmoil — even as whispers of past tragedy and present danger begin to insinuate themselves into Martha’s life.

Powerless against her growing desire for the enigmatic Connan, she is drawn deeper into family secrets — as passion overpowers reason, sending her head and heart spinning. But though evil lurks in the shadows, so does love — and the freedom to find a golden promise forever . . .

Martha is an earnest young woman, who is still in the process of accepting her reduced circumstances which have required her to accept the position of governess. While this makes her sympathetic, she also comes off as a bit whiny at times (something which I don’t remember noticing when I was 12 years old. lol)

The book is told in first person pov, and the style is that of Martha recounting the story, years later. Usually, I like 1st person, but with MoM, I noticed an (oft-mentioned) issue with the pov really interfering with an opportunity to gain insight into the hero’s perspective. This isn’t usually something I have a problem with, but with MoM I was wishing for more info on Connan.

That being said, this limited perspective does allow for greater suspense, given that Martha suspects Connan’s motives in much of the book.

Here are some things that really stood out to me upon reading Mistress of Mellyn for a second time:

Victoria Holt can bring alive a setting like nobody’s business.

The book’s opening is a definite harkening to Pride and Prejudice’s opening line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Awesome quote #1:

There are two courses open to a gentlewoman when she finds herself in penurious circumstances,” Aunt Adelaide had said. “One is to marry, and the other to find a post in keeping with her gentility.”

The mood of the opening is also reminiscent of the beginning of Daphne duMaurier’s Rebecca, where the young naive woman is entering a remoste and mysterious house owned by a handsome, brooding widower.

Everything I know about Victorian England, I learned from Victoria Holt.

OK, well, not everything. But, lots of things. Again and again, I came across  references I know I read about for the first time in this book: details about Cornwall and Cornish customs, Boxing Day, priest holes and peeps (architectural details,) upstairs/downstairs dynamics. It was a whole new, exotic world to me.

One of my favorite passages is the description of Cornish holiday traditions.

Awesome quote #2:

The men had been out the previous day and brought in ivy, holly, box, and bay. I was shown how the pillars in the great hall were entwined with these leaves and Daisy and Kitty taught me how to make Christmas bushes; they were delightedly shocked by an ignorance like mine. I had never before heard of a Christmas bush! We took two wooden hoops — one inserted into the other — and this ball-like framework we decorated with evergreen leaves and furze; then we hung oranges and apples on it; and I must say this made a pretty show.

There is such a sense of place in this book, that it was easy to immerse myself in the past.

Nostalgia sometimes trumps perfection.

Familiar phrases leapt out. I loved that complete sentences came back to me as I read. I never considered myself much of a “re-reader” but, I realized I must have read this book a lot over my teen years.

However, again and again I winced at the old fashioned tone of this book, with Martha often seeming to give “improving” advice to the reader about proper behavior and morals. I had to remind myself that the reason the book seemed old-fashioned was that it was written almost 50 years ago. It wasn’t copying a style of book, it was an original book at the time it was written.

I guess I can re-read for many different reasons. I was much happier when I viewed this re-read from a nostalgic perspective rather than the way I’d re-read a literary classic like Pride and Prejudice which will stand any test of time. Or re-reading a book I really enjoyed, which I knew I’d enjoy just as much a 2nd time around. This was more about going down memory lane with Martha, and the 12 year old I was when I was first reading it in the rumpus room.

Final thoughts:

Victoria Holt introduced me to an entire genre that was incredibly rich. During my (pre)teen years and beyond, authors like Madeleine Brent, Mary Stewart, and Phyllis Whitney were my go to authors for enjoyable, rewarding, and satisfying reads.

True confession time: When I was in junior high, my friend and I used to watch Fantasy Island every week. We’d often discuss what fantasy would we choose to enact if we were guests on the island. My fantasy never changed: I wanted to be a character in a Victoria Holt-type scenario. I wanted to wear the big pouffy dress or riding habit. I wanted to live in the “big house” up on the hill. I wanted to encounter the brooding hero who was mysterious, kind, and maybe just a little (but not really) dangerous. And in the end, the mystery would be solved, the hero would be mine, and I would be the mistress of the big house. Sort of like the Mistress of Mellyn.

As I read Mistress of Mellyn, sometimes a little impatiently, I remembered that while this was my first Victoria Holt book, it wasn’t my favorite. I have a feeling I’m going to be tracking down Pride of the Peacock and Shadow of the Lynx (which were my favorites) sometime in the future.

Entry filed under: 2009 Re-Read Challenge. Tags: , .

Just finished reading . . . April 2009 New Releases

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. AmyC  |  March 31, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    That was such and awesome and personal take on your reread book. I can’t say that I’d want to read it :). But I did thoroughly enjoy reading your review and thoughts. I love the Fantasy Island memory! I used to love that show too.

    Your review set ups are so neat!

  • 2. Eva S  |  March 31, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks for taking me back to the 70’s when I read all the authors you mentioned! It was great to take a walk down memory lane…I agree with every word about Victoria Holt, she introduced me too to the genre. I haven’t reread her books, but perhaps someday…

  • 3. Renee  |  March 31, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    AmyC: It’s funny. This re-read became more of a trip down memory lane for me than an actual book review I think. I don’t know if I can recommend this one as more than a nostalgia trip.
    Yeah, it was the Love Boat/Fantasy Island combo every Fri or Sat (I can’t remember which night.)
    Thanks! I’ve been trying to do something different with these re-read reviews. It’s not a format I can do all the time, but I have fun with ones that work in this structure, like the re-reads.

    Eva S: It was really fun to revisit this one. I’m really gonna have to re-read some of these other authors as well. It’s really a wonderful group of writers! 🙂

  • 4. Wendy  |  March 31, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Bride of Pendorric is getting reprinted in June, and along with the recent Mistress of Mellyn reprint, my little librarian heart is screaming with joy. Gah, how I love and adore reprints.

    I read a few Holt’s, but was more of a Barbara Michaels girl. The Holt that stands out for me is Devil On Horseback, which I read for a book report (if you can believe that!) and takes place in France. I loved it at 16. Not sure if I’d have to put my nostalgia glasses to reread it these days……

  • 5. Renee  |  March 31, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Wendy: Very cool! Barbara Michaels! She totally should have been on the above list. Last year, I actually found an audiobook of hers that I hadn’t read, and listened to it. It was a sort of blast from the past, stylistically, but I thought it held up really well.
    Well put. My nostalgia glasses were firmly in place for this one.

  • 6. AmyC  |  March 31, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Oh yeah! Love Boat and Fantasy Island, I loved both of them :).

  • 7. kittent  |  March 31, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    now I want to curl up with a romance and read myself into a frenzy…I love Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. Don’t forget Frank Yerby and Dorothy Eden. I’m going to hunt for “the vines of yarrabee.”

    Thanks for reminding me of some of my favorite afternoons when I was in jr. high and high school.

  • 8. Barbara  |  March 31, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    What a very well thought out and well written review. I’ve haven’t read anything from this author. I don’t really mind POVs done in the first person. This sounds interesting. The way you describe it being told as in a past reference would be like the begining of LK’s Sugar Daddy, right? I have to see if I can locate this book.

  • 9. Barbara  |  March 31, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Found it!! I’m looking forward to it. I still have to get to Lord of Scoundrels which is sitting on my night stand even as I type this.

    Thanks again for another great sounding recommendation, Renee!

  • 10. Renee  |  March 31, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    AmyC: 🙂

    kittent: Wow, I haven’t heard of Frank Yerby or Dorothy Eden. I’ll have to check them out! Yes, VH and PW were definitely comfort reads.

    Barbara: It’s funny, cause I’ve actually preferred 1st person pov in the past. I know a lot of people don’t like it for the reason I’ve stated. This is one of the first times I’ve had a problem with it. The story telling device is sort of subtle, and I think I noticed it more, because I remembered the way the book ends.

    I hope you like this. It’s definitely dated in its writing style, and not a book to read with the same expectations that you’d have for a recently written historical. ::crosses fingers::
    However, I’m almost sure you’ll love LoS, and can’t wait to read your impressions! 🙂

  • 11. Rosie  |  March 31, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    I’ve mentioned on my blog several times that I read gothics when I was in high school. Gothics as in a woman running from a house with a single light on in one window. My Mom was an RN and had a friend who would give her paper grocery bags with these books. All my first Whitneys, Holts, Stewarts and Cartlands were out that brown paper bag.

  • 12. Renee  |  March 31, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    Rosie: My aunt used to give me those paper bags, too! But they were filled with the historicals from the 80’s, resplendent with flowing hair (both mens’ and womens’,) big dresses, and ripped open shirts. I couldn’t tell you 1 title or author I read from those bags. They were lots of fun, but apparently, forgettable. The romantic suspense were library reads, and I sure stalked those shelves every week, dying for new ones to come in.

  • 13. Jace  |  March 31, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Thanks for your insight on this book. 🙂 I’ve been eyeing it since it became available, not sure if I’d enjoy it or not. I like gothics, had read Holt before and would not hesitate to read more of hers, so I guess I’ll eventually get this one.

    I’m so glad that older books like Holt’s and Mary Stewart’s are being reprinted. Makes them accessible to new fans like me. 😀

  • 14. Renee  |  April 1, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Jace: There’s such a rich list of older romantic suspense out there! I highly recommend Madeleine Brent (I think she’s my favorite) and Phyllis Whitney, as well. Also, other Victoria Holt pseudonyms include Jean Plaidy and Phillippa Carr. Fantastic Fiction is a great resource for authors and info. 🙂

  • 15. orannia  |  April 1, 2009 at 11:56 am

    That was fascinating Renee – thank you! I always worry that the books I read when I was younger won’t stand the test of time..but I read a LOT of fantasy when I was in my teens, so it dates reasonably well 🙂 I did dabble with a few Barbara Cartland though…although my mother used to point out I wasn’t meant to giggle while reading them!

  • 16. nath  |  April 2, 2009 at 7:41 am

    LOL, see, that’s why I have this re-read challenge. Nostalgia… such a nice feeling 🙂

    I need to find a copy of this book 🙂

  • 17. Renee  |  April 2, 2009 at 8:45 am

    orannia: lol. So cute, I can just imagine the giggling mini-orannia. 🙂

    nath: It was really fun to re-visit this one. Even if it caused me to groan in a couple of places!

    The publisher, McMillan, just re-issued it, which is why I was able to find something at their site for it. So it will be much easier to find than it has been lately. 🙂

  • 18. Seneca  |  April 3, 2009 at 7:13 am

    This is interesting. The quotes you posted make me not want to read the book, however, your post was so entertaining that I wanted you to keep going.
    That was a nice review to read, thanks 🙂

  • 19. Renee  |  April 3, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Seneca: Why thank you! It became apparent as I was writing the review, that it was a book unlikely to have a wide appeal, so it turned more into a post about reading the book, rather than a real review. Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂


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