WAKEFIELD HALL by Francesca Stanfill


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 Wittily imitating classic gothic masterpieces, Stanfill (Shadows and Light, 1984) takes a Brontâan heroine and puts her in a Tom Wolfe-ish New York setting--where ``identity is telegraphed by the names of corporations or one's position on the Forbes list.'' Narrated in the past tense typical of the genre, and in equally typical florid prose, the story concerns Elisabeth Rowan, who, like Jane Eyre, is alone in the world and must support herself. Her mother died when she was two, her father more recently, but--reflecting the changed times--Elisabeth is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and has a wealthy married lover. Here, she also gets an unexpected request--to write the authorized biography of the late Joanna Eakins, a famous actress whom Elisabeth had met only once-- that is the achievement of all she's wanted. She visits Wakefield Hall, the beautiful country home to which Joanna had devoted the last years of her life, after her acting career was ended by debilitating stage-fright. There, in the Berkshires, Joanna tried to re-create Thistleton, the grand country estate of her former English lover, Desmond Kerrith, complete with the maze that will play a significant role as Elisabeth unravels Joanna's mysterious life. Joanna's husband, rich and powerful David Cassel, and stepdaughter Rosalind, a successful bond-trader--both alarmed by the direction of Elisabeth's investigation--try to stop her, but our heroine is by now obsessed. Lover Jack is not keen either, but Larry, Joanna's architectural adviser, despite a reputation for arrogance, is encouraging. Treachery abounds, even at a Park Avenue dinner party, but Elisabeth, undeterred, travels to Paris, puzzles over enigmatic Shakespearean references in Joanna's letters, and finally, at Thistleton, will learn the stunning truth. A splendidly unabashed postmodern updating of the genre- -complete with the requisite foreshadowing, sinister characters, and extravagant settings. An intelligent great read.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41298-0
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1993