From the veriest first paragraph which contains both ""Could I but"" and ""How I have longed"" all in one unabated breath, you will realize that Clara Reeve will not go quietly through the vale of gothic Victoriana. But for those predisposed to take up this broderie anglaise perpetuated short of 500 pages, this has a calculated attraction which leads one to suspect that there's also an intelligence at work. Clara is six when she first sees her ""second degree"" cousin Niles at her mother's open grave. It is only some years later, after she has inherited money from another side of the family and after Niles' wife Renata dies all too conveniently of ""exposure,"" that she agrees to take her place in Italy only to find that Niles is determined to keep the marriage un-consummated, that he is under the malignant influence of his manservant (who even ""drops his pants"" in another kind of exposure), that he's a lover of young boys, and worse and more and worser. All of this is bedizened from here to there and if you stop to bethink--can it? could it? will it?--you might surprise yourself with an assert. For many women with time and a half to spare, it could be the summer's good ""good read.