The Grey Woman by Elizabeth Gaskell (Audiobook): Review

 Grey_Woman_1010

This review originally appeared on Project Gutenberg Project. I liked the story so much I wanted to share my thoughts on The Grey Woman with readers of Chrisbookarama. Enjoy!

The Grey Woman is an excellent Gothic story with a Bluebeard twist. There’s a castle, a damsel in distress, and a husband with a secret. However, the hero of this story isn’t a dude on a white horse but a bad ass older woman: Amante.

A traveller visits a mill/coffeehouse in Germany and notices a portrait of a pale lady.
“It was that of a young girl of extreme beauty; evidently of middle rank. There was a sensitive refinement in her face, as if she almost shrank from the gaze which, of necessity, the painter must have fixed upon her.”
The traveller asks to know her story.  The owner replies, “Well, it just so happens that she was my great-aunt Anna and she wrote a manuscript explaining how she ended up so white. Here, read it.” As you do. The traveller sets down to read it, then the story is told in The Grey Woman’s own words.

When Anna was a young lass, her father remarried and the new lady of the house was anxious to get rid of her. Instead of marrying a local yokel, Anna accepts an invitation to her rich friend Sophie’s estate where she meets a handsome French stranger. Monsieur de la Tourelle appears to be a gentleman. He has his sights on Anna. She dances with him at parties when he asks. She’s too shy and overcome by his charms to say no.

tourelle
Anna, you in danger girl!

One day Sophie’s mother tells Anna that she’s written to her father about her impending engagement. Anna is shocked! How could she be getting engaged and not even know it?! She’s informed that it’s too late for protests now. Anna received Monsieur de la Tourelle’s attentions without complaint and that means she’s given herself for life to a perfect stranger. Oh well, what can you do when it’s 1789 and women have no rights. *shrug*

So Anna marries her Frenchman and he ships her off to some castle in the middle of nowhere with no friends or family. He immediately exhibits signs of an abuser. He demands that she keep to only one area of their home where he can keep an eye on her. He’s jealous of even her love of her family and she is never allowed to visit them. Unsurprisingly, she becomes depressed.

In an uncharacteristic act of compassion, Monsieur hires a lady’s maid to keep her company. Amante “tall and handsome, though upwards of forty” instantly takes on the role of Anna’s bodyguard. She runs interference between Anna and the surly servants. Amante is especially helpful now that Anna is pregnant.

Amante discovers that Anna isn’t getting her mail and the two hatch a plan to break into Monsieur’s apartments to retrieve them. In the process, Anna learns her husband’s secret, a secret so terrible that it sends Anna and Amante into hiding!

Amante is The Boss! She’s quick thinking and always one step ahead of the bad guys. She protects her mistress with her life, even changing her identity to protect her. The pair have many hair raising close calls but Amante keeps her head. Talk about a Strong Female Character! Amante is it.

mrs s
Amante: Possible prototype for Mrs S of Orphan Black?
As for Anna, I’m not sure why this wet noodle inspires such devotion but the heart wants what the heart wants, I guess. Perhaps it was because of the baby. Amante did love that baby.

Part of why I love blogging for Project Gutenberg Project is discovering long lost gems like this The Grey Woman. Sure, it’s soapy and melodramatic with a Villainous Villain but it’s pure entertainment with some feminism thrown in. Anna and Amante, a disobedient wife and a maid, outwit and outrun ruffians. Courage and cleverness rule the day.

This was another Librivox recording I took in.

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