We meet Constance Langton as she grows up in a house full of grief; her mother forever mourning her dead child, her father distant and locking himself in his study for hours on end. Trying to help her mother’s grief, Constance takes her to a séance that ultimately leads to more tragedy. Soon Constance is alone and left with a strange bequest: Wraxford Hall, a dilapidated house surrounded by mystery.
Left with the journals of those whose lives were destroyed by the house, Constance must decide what to do with her bequest.
“You will understand why I say to you: Sell the Hall unseen, burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt, if you will: but never live there.”
Disappearances, ghostly encounters, mesmerism, and of course séances make John Harwood’s gothic novel a perfect summertime read. Several times the story gave me chills as I followed Constance and later Eleanor’s stories.
“(He) laid his hand upon the nape of my neck, and – I could not help it – I shuddered violently at his touch. ~ The hand on my neck seemed to turn to stone.”
Their stories, so similar, are both searching for something more from their lives that are so consumed by death and ghosts. My only regret is that I wanted much more of Constance’s story. She begins and ends the narrative but I wanted to see more of her life and her strange adeptness at being a medium. But I absolutely loved Wraxford Hall and its slow decay, the growth of the haunted woods next to it, and how a house, even the ghost of a house, can impact generations.
I have a strong affinity for ghost stories. Every summer, while on vacation, I do at least one ghost walk. There’s something extra spooky about walking through old, dark, historical places and hearing mysterious stories of local ghosts. And one chilly March night, I spent a long night at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, KY with a group of friends, ghost hunting. While waiting to move to another floor, my friend David went to kick one of the many deflated rubber kick balls strewn about the building (for the ghost children to play with). But right as he was about to kick, the ball suddenly rolled quickly away! There was not a wind strong enough to roll that deflated ball, and it did not slowly roll away, it moved like someone unseen had kicked it. So naturally we all screamed and ran away as fast as possible! I love that story (now that it’s over!) and I love a good ghost story and “The Séance” was a good ghostly story.
Inspired by the Victorian gothic nature of the novel, I searched for desserts that were popular in Victorian times (that were not primarily raisin based because the Victorians really seemed to love raisins and I do not). In my search, I discovered that the very popular Bakewell Tart started as Bakewell Pudding in the time of Queen Victoria. And let’s be honest, anything with raspberry jam, almonds, and puff pastry has to be good.
I found this recipe at “The Spruce Eats.” Here is the link. I can’t completely guarantee the accuracy because there are exactly 2 comments to this recipe. One: This is absolutely a bakewell pudding. And two: this is not a bakewell pudding. But my final product looks like other examples I found, plus it was delicious! I absolutely recommend eating it for breakfast.
1 sheet puff pastry (I use store bought because making it is tedious, but you do you)
3 Tbsp raspberry jam
¾ c butter, softened
¾ c sugar*
3 medium eggs
1 egg yolk (so total of 4 eggs)
1 ½ c ground almonds
2 Tbsp lemon zest
2 tsp almond extract
1 Tbsp flaked almonds
Powdered sugar for dusting
*It calls for caster sugar, so you can put granulated sugar in a food processor for a bit or just use granulated as is. Just pay more care to the creaming process.
- Preheat oven to 375°.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry to ¼ inch thick.
- Grease and line an 8-inch tart tin with pastry. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
- Line the tart case with parchment paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastry is a pale golden color. Remove baking beans, and bake for a further 5 minutes.
- Spread the raspberry jam onto the base of the pastry case, set aside.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until pale in color. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and yolk and slowly add to the creamed butter and sugar a little at a time. Gently fold in the ground almonds, lemon zest, and almond extract.
- Pour the mixture into the pastry case and gently level the surface to ensure the whole case is filled. Bake for 30 minutes, sprinkle on the flaked almonds and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until golden and set. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while still warm.