This is the third Elizabeth Von Arnim novel I have read this year, and of the three it is the saddest and darkest. Apparently Elizabeth Von Arnim based the character of Everard Wemyss in this novel on her own second husband. That fact alone is enough to give me chills.
On the day that Lucy Entwhistle’s father dies she meets forty five year old Everard Wemyss apparently terribly bereaved himself, and in need of some human contact and someone to talk to. Lucy is instantly drawn to him, and places herself and much of her affairs in his capable hands. Shocked by the story of his wife’s Vera’s terrible and sudden death Lucy feels only she can understand him. Even the arrival of her beloved maiden aunt Miss Entwhistle does nothing to lessen the hold that Wemyss is already beginning to have over Lucy. Taking pride of place at the funeral of her father, a man he never knew, only a fortnight after his own wife’s death, Wemyss eases his way in to their lives.
Returning to London, Wemyss sets his sights on Lucy, and works hard to lessen her aunt’s influence upon her. Lucy is twenty two, but a complete innocent, and Wemyss quite often thinks of her and calls her a child. She is blinded by love, any tiny nagging doubts about Wemyss’s behaviour – his sulking over thwarted plans, his apparently quick recovery from his very recent bereavement she is able o explain away to herself with simple childlike reasoning. Miss Entwhistle is not so persuaded however, and is frequently disquieted by him. When they make their engagement public, Miss Entwhistle and her brother’s friends are horrified.
The marriage takes place, quickly, only a few short months after Vera’s death at their home The Willows. The house which Lucy has not yet visited is to become one of her homes, and is the one place that she regards with dread. Nothing has been to alter the house since Vera’s death, Lucy will have Vera’s sitting room, from where she fell to her death below, sleep in the bedroom she once shared with Wemyss, in the same bed, and have Vera’s life sized photograph staring at her from across the dining room. Wemyss’s temper is often roused by the smallest things not going his way, and the newly wedded Lucy returning from her honeymoon to the house she dreads seems doomed to say the wrong thing.
A house,’ said Wemyss, explaining its name to Lucy on the morning of their arrival, ‘should always be named after whatever most insistently catches the eye.’
‘Then oughtn’t it to have been called The Cows?’ asked Lucy; for the meadows round were strewn thickly as far as she could see with recumbent cows, and they caught her eye much more than the tossing bare willow branches.
‘No,’ said Wemyss, annoyed. ‘It ought not have been called The Cows.”
Wemyss is a deeply controlling figure, he wants everything his own way and generally gets it. Lucy is an innocent who is unprepared for a man like him. The only person who could possibly upset his plans is Lucy’s aunt little Dot Entwhistle, and he has no intention of allowing that.
With obvious similarities to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Vera is a much darker less hopeful story than that more famous novel. The ending of Vera, was maybe not what I had hoped, but no doubt Von Arnim found more realistic. This is a story that will stay stay me I am sure. I loathed Wemyss of course, and found I wanted to shake poor Lucy, but I loved Miss Entwhistle.