Saturday, February 27, 2010
The year was 1968 ... the country was England. Richard Marsdon had brought his new bride, Celia, to the family home, Medfield Place. They were young and very much in love. But Richard and Celia were not only of this time. They had lived and loved before-in another world-in sixteenth-century England. And their love had been tragically doomed. Was their new love destined for the same fate?
GREEN DARKNESS - a spell-binding story of a great love caught in an evil web of mysticism and witchcraft - of a threatening past that reached across centuries to change the present.
This is the first book I've read by Anya Seton. A bestseller in the early 1970's, it comes across as a bit dated now, but it was an interesting book that covered the Tudor period of King Henry VIII's son, Edward VI, through Mary Tudor's brief reign and then into the first few years of Elizabeth I, all with a mystical reincarnation theme. Doomed lovers that died violently during Tudor times are reincarnated and reunited in 1968 only to face new challenges and unhappiness. Can a learned and wise doctor help them overcome the tragedy from their past life so that they can live in peace now?
The book starts out in "present day" of 1968. Celia and Richard Marsdon have been married for less than a year. They meet on a cruise ship and fall in love and marry quickly. She, an American heiress, he, an earl who could use an infusion of American money for his crumbling country estate. They are happy at first, but some strange things begin to happen in their marriage. Celia seems to have some unexplained blackouts while visiting an old nearby estate, and Richard becomes more and more withdrawn from her. No longer sharing a room, Celia is convinced he no longer loves her or wants her. During a country weekend party at their estate in the country all hell breaks loose when she has a sort of breakdown and comes seriously close to dying and is removed to a London hospital. An Indian, Dr. Anankanda who was a guest during the fractious weekend, thinks he can help her. He believes she has been reincarnated and was once a young woman, Celia, who lived four hundred years earlier. The book is in three parts: Part I is in 1968, Part II is four hundred years earlier, and Part III is in 1968 again.
Once the good doctor begins his hypnosis/mystical therapy on Celia the story shifts to Tudor times and we meet the young Celia, who is an orphan of dubious, but once noble birth. Her mother worked in a tavern, but her aunt on her father's side (the noble side) takes her in and helps elevate her status. Celia is taught how to read and the learnings of the Bible under the tutelage of a young and handsome monk, Brother Stephen. The family she now lives with in the house of Sir Anthony Browne is Catholic, though they must practice in secret since Catholicism is now outlawed for it is during the reign of the young King Edward VI, a devout Protestant. Unlike today, England was either all Protestant or all Catholic, depending on who the ruler was. Despite the restrictions, Sir Anthony keeps a house priest, Stephen Marsden, who is a Benedictine monk from the a nearby family, members of the gentry. He is truly devout to his calling, but once he begins to give lessons to the young and beautiful Celia, his devotion to God is tested.
For much of the book Celia is in love with Stephen. I found her character somewhat stupid and annoying, I didn't really like her. I often found her incredibly naive or selfish. She was young and had convinced herself that Stephen loved her back, even though he was always pushing her away! She was sure that he would leave the priesthood for her. At one point, she throws herself at him, they have a passionate kiss and he comes to his senses and renounces her, he cannot love her, it goes against all he knows and believes in as a priest. She hates him for a while as she goes North with her aunt to visit the Dacres, a noble family with a son who may want to marry Celia. She becomes friends with a daughter of the Dacres, Magdalen who is nice to her amidst a lot of weird ghoulish sorts of goings on. Blood drinking crazed women and ghosts roaming about desolate castles, with the proverbial loutish son that can't wait to get his hands on the beautiful and virginal Celia...
This northern interlude is long, it mostly gives background fodder to the plot and points out the difficulties of being a Catholic family during the Dissolution and the political ins and outs under Edward's reign and then into Mary's where everyone has to be Catholic, and then under Elizabeth's where everyone has to be Protestant again! It's like watching a tennis game! Families fall and rise dependent on their religion. Heads rolled and many were imprisoned for their religions during this time. Eventually Celia, raised as a Catholic, gives up all religion and simply depends on herself. This interlude also touches on a homosexual relationship that Celia witnesses which I imagine must have been pretty daring and titillating to read about back in the early 70's when the book came out! Nowadays it would seem pretty tame.
Once Celia returns from the North, she marries an older man who eventually dies. She returns to Sir Anthony's house, who is now married to her old friend, Magdalen Dacre and under Mary Tudor's reign, the Browne's have been elevated and Sir Anthony is Master of the Horse under Queen Mary. They are very grand now and Brother Stephen has risen as well. He and Celia are reunited and sure enough, she tempts him again, and this time she succeeds where she failed last time. They have a night of passion together just before she is supposed to marry a nice young man. But, once again she's not happy with just the one night and wants Stephen forever. He cannot live with the guilt - he is a priest and she is supposed to marry another! But, she runs away and finds Stephen who is the house priest for the Allens, who live on another estate. Celia disguises herself and finds a job there as a scullery maid and eventually makes herself known to Stephen. She is pregnant from their one night together and at last he admits his love to her and they have plans to run away to France - but... but... it doesn't turn out that way! I won't give it away, but it does not end well... all I can say is Mrs. Allen is just as creepy as her counterpart in the present, Mrs. Simpson.
Back to 1968... now that we know what their past lives went through, their present day counterparts make alot more sense. Dr. Anankanda has brought Celia back to the present with a lot of mystical mumbo jumbo reincarnation stuff and he is also able to help her husband Richard/Stephen come to terms with his past lives as well. Their former lives are finally put to rest. In addition to Celia and Stephen, there are many side characters that we see in both present and the past, such as Dr. Anankanda/Julian, Celia's mother/Ursula, the Simpsons/The Allens (Mrs. Simpson/Allen is especially creepy), and the Duchess/Magdalen. They are interesting, but hardly any real character development to anyone, including the main characters of Celia and Stephen. We know what drives them, but it did feel like there was not much depth to them, the historical aspects of the book were front and center, with the plotline giving it life.
Overall, Green Darkness wasn't bad, but the 1968 plotline was a little dated and strange with it's modern tone. The switch to the earlier period was jarring. The Tudor period was well done, but I can't say I really got into the doomed love story of Celia and Stephen all that much. Although it is the central thread of the book, this is more of an historical novel, not a romance. I almost got the impression the author wanted to write about Tudor times and the role of religion and it's importance to the noble families and how it affected them under the changing monarchs but added the love story to give it more broader appeal.
I can't say I was really crazy about this book, but it was interesting and it made me think about this aspect of the Tudor times and the background history and settings and descriptions were first rate. I liked comparing the modern settings with the past settings and figuring out who was who. It gave a vivid impression of what it was like to live back then and I was compelled to read on to see what happens to the star-crossed lovers of Celia and Stephen, even though we have a pretty good idea of what happens to them in Part one, which gives a sense of doom through most of the book. You know it won't end well, though I really could care less about the modern Celia and Richard. Richard was completely unlikable in present day, I felt more sympathy for his alter ego, Brother Stephen.
If you are into Tudor historicals give this a read, particularly if you think you'd like the mystical, time travel, reincarnation aspect, I have a feeling some will love it, and some won't.