Nachtstürm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel, by Emily C.A. Snyder – A Review

Nachtstürm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel, by Emily C.A. SnyderGuest review by Jeffrey Ward

Dop·pel·gäng·er  [daw-puh l-geng-er] –noun  A ghostly double or counterpart of a living person.

“Catherine turned.

Had she caught a bit of moonlight in the room?  For there before our heroine stood within the secret door one of HERSELVES, bedecked in the stiff panniered satins of a previous age.  The figure beckoned, light glinting off and through her rings and all-too-familiar necklace.  The sweet mouth opened perhaps for no stranger purpose than to draw breath, except that our heroine seemed to hear whispered all about her “veni.”

What could she have done?  She was a heroine, and with that came certain obligations.  So, picking up her skirts, Catherine followed.” (page 85)

Moonlight! Castles! Ghosts! Storms! Secret trap doors! Suicide! Grave yards! Mistaken Identities! Carriage accidents! Gypsies! Hauntings! A kidnapping! Purloined letters! A duel! Swooning! Wild Pursuits! Demonic possession! A disputed inheritance! Three romances! A ransacking! Ancient curses!  A stolen will and testament! Dank subterranean passageways!

Multi-talented Emily C. A. Snyder has managed to pack the above list (and more) into the 139 page Nachtstürm Castle, a sophisticated Gothic fantasy sequel, taking up the further adventures of Henry and Catherine Tilney where our divine Miss Austen finished the last lines of Northanger Abbey.

Beginning in the quiet shelter of the Tilney home in Woodston, we find the newly-weds continuing to “fun” each other over their past escapades with Gothic tales, especially Radcliffe’s Udolpho, Catherine’s over-active imagination inside Northanger Abbey, and Henry’s loving provocation of her naivete’.

A Honeymoon to the continent is proposed by Reverend Tilney to his bride, particularly to the Apennines of Italy, the setting for Udolpho.  While in Paris, they are befriended by a Robert Wiltford, Baron of Branning and his wife, who own a castle in the mountains of Austria near Switzerland and Italy.  The ancient castle’s name? Why “Nachtstürm,” of course. The Baron offers to let the castle to the Tilneys for their honeymoon. But, before we continue, crucial questions must be pondered.  Is our hero, Henry, really THAT clever? Is our Heroine, Catherine, really THAT gullible?  Why the questions? Because the mysterious plot pivots around Catherine’s inability to determine whether her scheming husband is staging their every activity in advance or if indeed what befalls them is totally beyond their control.

The exchange in Paris:

“Nachtstürm Castle,” he repeated, grinning boyishly.  “What a perfectly dreadful name.  Well, it mayn’t be the Apennines, but I hope it shall suffice?” “Of course, my love.  What a fortunate coincidence!”  Catherine agreed with a smile and a gentle touch.  For she was assured now, as she had only suspected before, that there was nothing coincidental at all when Henry Tilney was concerned. (page 18)

Ms Snyder employs all of the classic Gothic props, as from the very moment of their arrival they find themselves embroiled in the middle of a power struggle over the rightful ownership of Nachtstürm Castle.  Nothing is quite as it seems and for a time even the Reverend and Mrs. Tinley doubt each other’s motives as they are caught up in the wild intrigue.  And just who or what is Edric, the elderly steward of Nachtstürm, who seems to hold all within his sphere captive by a malevolent power?

After some particularly unnerving events involving poor Catherine in and around the castle:

There could be no doubt in her mind now that her adventures in Nachtsturm Castle were not, after all, Henry’s careful planning. The certainty had been growing within her since the previous night’s escapade – only now formalized in the wake of Henry’s inability to answer her questions.  She reeled from the thought! (page 84)

Ms Snyder’s Henry is handsome, clever, witty, protective, and recklessly heroic at times.  Marriage must be agreeing mightily with Catherine because she is in full bloom, admired by all who encounter her as a winsome young beauty.  And, trusting that her Henry may be planning thrills for her amusement, she takes courageous chances at times.  The banter between these two is charming and sweet with an undercurrent of playful sensuality that is characteristic of two people who are daily growing more madly in love with each other.

Early on, a teasing and amorous Henry steers his lovely bride towards the bedroom with this:

“That Woodston shall be haunted ‘til life be brought again,” Henry had replied, taking his wife’s hand and leading her with his shoulders a-slump, resignation in his voice, and a twinkle in his eye.  I’m afraid, my dear, that the parish must be peopled!” (page 4)

This is not a sedate Austenesque sequel but a harrowing thriller that requires of the reader a certain level of concentration and diligence to not get lost in the multiplicity of characters, dates, places, and events.  Being written by an academician, (which I am not), I was sent scurrying for my dictionary more than once and with dialogue in French, German, and Italian, I was thankful to have studied Latin.  This Novella should be…no…MUST be read-through a second time.  On my re-read, morsels of enlightenment, sometimes as seemingly insignificant as a single word or short phrase, were revealed that greatly enhanced my understanding and pleasure regarding the convoluted mystery of Nachtstürm Castle.   This reviewer cannot remember reading a novella, or any other work of this length, that had within its pages so much to offer the fancier of Gothic fiction.  Read it after dark with your back to the wall and facing a locked door!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Nachtstürm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel, by Emily C. A. Snyder
CreateSpace (2010)
Trade paperback (139) pages
ISBN: 978-1453638828

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2011 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Much perplexity

Photo of actress Felicty Jone as Catherine Morland in PBS’s Northanger AbbeyPERPLEXITY

To compose a letter which might at once do justice to her sentiments and her situation, convey gratitude without servile regret, be guarded without coldness, and honest without resentment – a letter which Eleanor might not be pained by the perusal of – and, above all, which she might not blush herself, if Henry should chance to see, was an undertaking to frighten away all her powers of performance; and, after long thought and much perplexity, to be very brief was all that she could determine on with any confidence of safety.The Narrator on Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 29

By chapter 29, our young heroine Catherine Morland has suddenly become a sage philosopher, wisely adapting the less-is-more dictum! Clever girl. Can one surmise that after returning to the quaint and populated charm of her parents home, she is missing those vacuous rooms of Northanger Abbey? No, quite the opposite. Her enlightened brevity comes from her anxiety and embarrassment after her abrupt departure.

I can sympathize with Catherine’s tangled perplexity. Invited to the stately home of the family of the man she admires, ignored, and then abruptly evicted with no explanation. Who would not be perplexed? After such bad treatment, I am amazed that her first concern is to carefully write a letter and return the carriage fair to Eleanor Tilney. She shows great sensitivity and kindness. A true parsons daughter.

Perplexity is a great word to describe Catherine Morland’s tangled feelings, and like-wise so many other readers who happen to find themselves the heroine of a Gothic novel!

Be sure to mark your calenders and set your Tivo’s for 9:00pm on Sunday, January 20th, 2008, cuz PBS is, like totally doing the Jane Austen thing as they present the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey;  – – in which they describe our heroine Catherine Morland as a romance addict?!? Gee, I thought that she read Gothic novels! Well, it is worth a gander either way!

*Photograph of actress Felicity Jones as romance addicted heroine Catherine Morland, in the new ITV (British import) movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey       

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