BRANTWOOD by Peter Hoyle


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Subtitled The Story of an Obsession, this is a fine, evocative period-piece--the tale of an impressionable young English scholar's fixation on John Ruskin's final, mad years of isolation in the Lake District. In 1929, nearly 30 years after Ruskin's death, two ambitious intellectuals make a sort of pilgrimage to the village of Coniston in England's remote Lake country. They are the unnamed narrator (gentle, but prim and somewhat pedantic) and his more worldly cousin, the sardonic Warwick. Their goal? To piece together a history of the ""Great Victorian's"" mysterious last decade at his country home, Brantwood, by interviewing villagers and surviving members of his staff. A horrifying picture emerges, that of a man who abandoned his life's work and degenerated into ""brain fever"" and ""frenzy,"" given to ""terrible rages and. . . pitiful tearful outbursts"" in the dead of night, finally dying unable to write, barely able to speak. But the person they want to talk to most, Violet Severn, the daughter of Ruskin's housekeeper, refuses to speak to them--indeed, runs in terror back to the crumbling old mansion when she spies them coming. Al. though discouraged, the obsessed narrator returns compulsively two years later in time for the sale of Brantwood and Ruskin's final effects. He learns that Violet has been seeing the ghost of Ruskin for years--to his horror he sees it too, a hoary old man standing near a lake in the rain. Finally breaking down, he flees back to London, enters an institution, and on emerging gives up his studies al. together for the bland life of an insurance clerk. A book that begins as an examination of Ruskin's insanity and ends as a literary ghost-story with Turn of the Screw atmospherics. But recommended for anyone who likes Victorian England and a good, sneaky scare or two.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1986
Publisher: Carcanet--dist. by Harper & Row