The House of Moreys by Phyllis Bentley

This is the first book that I have re-read this year and probably only the second book that I have re-read in the past couple of years, the other being Jane Austen’s  Pride & Prejudice. Originally my copy belonged to my aunt. She told me that it was one of her favorite books (she was always one for Gothic romances, mysteries and horror stories).

I may have borrowed it from her, loved it, and conveniently forgot to ever give it back. I have had it in my collection for many, many years. Sorry Aunt Shirley! I loved re-reading it, and similarly, as with Pride & Prejudice, I had such a different take on it than when I read it when I was younger.

A gothic novel, The House of Moreys is reminiscent of the style of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. A young woman whose father has been estranged from his family for all of is adult life, dies and leaves her as a penniless orphan. Her mother’s family is unfriendly to her, so she has no choice but to go and live with her father’s side of the family. When she arrives at Wool Royd, the family estate, she find the haunted Charles Moreys and his two children, Dick and Tessie,  living in an unkempt old house with a mysterious and difficult gypsy housekeeper, and his nephews, Jacob and Joah Lee.

Eleanor, that’s our heroine’s name, does the best that she can to bring order to the house and teach the children, but Tessie proves to be headstrong and prone to not listening while Dick is fearful and easily bullied by his older sister and cousins. Worse the housekeeper is defiant and possibly dangerous, muttering in corners and advising Eleanor to do all the wrong things. While Eleanor is living with them (and under such trying circumstances) she tries to solve the mystery of why her father’s brother banished him from Wool Royd many years ago. She has a sneaking suspicion that what happened in the past has a direct bearing on the present for all involved… oh, and of course she starts falling for the moody and brooding head of the household while she’s at it.

I think I definitely found this a lot less romantic than I did when I read this earlier. The dark and brooding bad boy held an appeal for me that has since escaped and frankly I thought Charles was bratty, violent, extremely selfish and not worth the time.  Run, Eleanor, run! I’m a little over the martyred woman sacrificing herself and her sanity to save the misunderstood man from his issues and bad ass kids.

I wanted to shake Eleanor, tell her to move on and let Charles deal with his own hooligan children, and while she was at it,  I wanted her to grow a set and tell the housekeeper where to go. But I realize that Eleanor lived in a different time, with no income or family of her own, and completely dependent and at the mercy of the newly met aforementioned loser. She did what she had to do and it was interesting to get to the bottom of the mystery of what was going on in such a weird household- and what a deliciously Gothic and twisted tale this turned out to be. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of second guessing, bossing and generally disapproving of Eleanor handling a situation that was way out of her league- and you might too if you like hand-wringing heroines, devious housekeepers and pathological love interests all living together in creepy old houses with large menacing estates.

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