My local library had a copy of Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim, which was surprising as I’ve never seen any of her books there before. This was one I’ve wanted to read for a while so I got into it right away.
It started off in a similar fashion to her other books but had a darker undertone that increased as the story progressed:
On the very day that Lucy’s father died, the recently widowed Everard Wemyss came across her as she leant upon their garden gate staring out to sea.
Compelled to speak to her, a total stranger, out of the loneliness he felt, he poured out the story of his wife’s death only a week before.
Lucy, being a compassionate young woman forgot her own sorrow and listened sympathetically as he related his misery.
There had been an inquest and due to something his wife’s maid had said, instead of a verdict of death by misadventure, there was an open verdict and the papers had been full of it.
Lucy’s heart went out to him and over the next couple of days Wemyss returned to offer his support and was Lucy’s tower of strength, taking on all the practical arrangements of the funeral, doing all the thinking for her and contacting her only existing relative, an elderly aunt, Miss Entwhistle, who arrived not long afterwards.
Wemyss had settled into the place of a near male relative so much so that when Miss Entwhistle arrived she took him for a friend of her dead brother.
The funeral over, Lucy had sorted through her father’s papers, and was preparing to go back to London with her aunt when Wemyss declared that he couldn’t go on without her…
She had the complete, guileless trust in him of a child for a tender and sympathetic friend – a friend, not a father, though he was old enough to be her father…And it had been even more than the trust of a child in its friend: it had been the trust if a child in a fellow-child hit by the same punishment – a simple fellowship, a wordless understanding.
At first Lucy was horrified…
Death all around them, death pervading every corner of their lives, death in its blackest shape brooding over him…
But she was overcome with pity for him…
‘Was there anything in the world so blackly desolate as to be left alone in grief? This poor broken fellow-creature – and she herself, so lost, so lost in loneliness – they were two half-drowned things, clinging together in a shipwreck – how could she let him go, leave him to himself – how could she be let go, left to herself…’
Wemyss had overpowered and engulfed her; she could not think. While she was with him she sank into mental lethargy and could not judge anything. When he was absent she had misgivings. How could he think of love and marriage when his wife had just died so awfully?
Wemyss had his way and they were married although Miss Entwhistle sensed that there would be trouble ahead.
Wemyss’ narcissism and controlling nature became evident at the beginning although Lucy blamed herself for his moods. The atmosphere of his home oppressed Lucy and Vera’s presence seemed to permeate everything. Wemyss had kept everything as it was. The room and the bed he and his wife slept in was now his and Lucy’s.
She learnt quickly to agree with him about everything or he would withdraw his affection. And she began to be afraid of him.
Von Arnim not only lets the reader into Lucy’s mind but also Wemyss.’ He thinks he loves his young wife and can’t understand why she ‘wounds his love.’
Wemyss’ true character became evident to her aunt and she believed that Lucy ‘s situation was dire. On a visit she confronted Wemyss and was kicked out of the house.
As I mentioned earlier, I was reading a library copy of the book and was nearing the end. Everything will resolve, I thought; Lucy will escape and go to safety with her aunt.
But hang on a minute…someone must have ripped out the last chapter!
No – this is where the author finished the story!
How could she do this?
I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and was so annoyed that I wasn’t going to write about it. As I’ve churned it over in my mind, I now think von Arnim’s ending was realistic. It wasn’t pretty but it would be more likely that someone of Lucy’s character and temperament would cave in to the control of a master narcissist.
A well-written but chilling story.
I’ve linked to the free book on Gutenberg at the start of my post.