I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
In Uncle Silas, Sheridan Le Fanu's most celebrated novel, Maud Ruthyn, the young, naïve heroine, is plagued by Madame de la Rougierre from the moment the enigmatic older woman is hired as her governess. A liar, bully, and spy, when Madame leaves the house, she takes her dark secret with her. But when Maud is orphaned, she is sent to live with her Uncle Silas, her father's mysterious brother and a man with a scandalous--even murderous--past. And, once again, she encounters Madame, whose sinister role in Maud's destiny becomes all too clear.
Could a book get any more gothic? An orphaned “girl” (she is 17 after all, a young woman really), a sinister uncle, a crumbling house on a neglected estate, a conniving cousin, a sinister governess, and everyone with mysterious reasons for their actions.
The horror of this novel is all atmosphere and the unknown. Our main character, Maud, is a strange combination of naïve and knowledgeable, with just enough knowledge to keep her alive and enough naiveté to keep her bumping along into trouble.
A major part of the suspense is waiting for the death of Maud’s eccentric father and then watching as her affairs are left in the hands of a man whom she has never met, her father’s disgraced brother, Silas. Typically Victorian, we do not meet the man who gives the book its title until we are into the 190s page-wise. I was also left wondering how deeply involved in the actual nefarious schemes Maud’ father actually was—he seemed to be aiding & abetting on more than one occasion. If you can’t trust the men who are appointed by society to run your life, what’s an inexperienced heiress to do?
Modern women will be left with a great sense of relief that we can now be responsible for our own futures and relationships, without being expected to obey the dictates of men who clearly have their own best interests at heart, rather than ours.
Read to fill the Classic Horror square of my 2016 Halloween Book Bingo card.