Review Dedication: Many thanks to Cafe Libri Yahoo Group member and now Lunch member @AerinBlue for her help with the research for the review.
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This was one of the best emotional roller coaster rides a book has taken me on in a long time. I have never been a fan of Louisa May Alcott's books because they always felt a little too wholesome. A Long Fatal Love Chase, however, shows that Alcott was able to write about the darker sides of human nature, especially as it concerned obsession.
The book not only explores the obsessive dark nature of humanity, but it takes the reader all around the nineteenth century European continent. It begins and ends, though, in a very fitting setting: a remote island off the coast of England. On this island lives a young and naive eighteen year old girl, Rosamond Vivian and her heartlessly indifferent grandfather. After just a few pages into the book, Phillip Tempest, a devastatingly charming and handsome man who is twice Rose's age, sweeps the young heroine off her feet as they travel the world in his yacht the Circe. The setting changes both because of their travels after being married and because of the infamous chase. The reader is taken across Italy, France, and Germany to a variety of locations such as a convent, chateau, and even a mental institute. The settings are brought to life with dark and vivid details. There are also many land marks that alert the reader where the chase has taken the characters next.
It's important that the setting takes the reader around the world because otherwise we wouldn't understand the fervor of the chase. Everything begins like a typical love story, but even then there are a lot of foreshadowing hints of darker days to come. Rosamond, in her naiveté, does not understand who Tempest really is before it's too late. About six chapters into the book, the dichotomous natures of the characters really becomes apparent--the innocent versus the experienced. The good and wholesome girl versus the power hungry evil man. It is at that moment when Alcott takes the reader on the most dangerous chase where freedom, and even life and death, are at stake.
Because the book was written in chapter installments for a newspaper, each section ends with a mystery that pulls the reader deeper into the story. This is the perfect tactic to keep the reader on edge as if she or he were being chased in real life. This writing style brings the story and plot to life. Unfortunately, the character development suffers. Rosamond is the only one who ever adapts and changes during the chase. She begins the book at eighteen years old, a sheltered and lonely girl, and ends the book around twenty-two or twenty-three years old, jaded and suspicious of those around her because of the Tempest's harsh treatment and unfailing pursuit. The rest of the characters feel a little flat because they are created to represent extremes about human nature. There are numerous points where the reader feels as if Tempest is changing and growing, but he always reverts back to old and comfortable habits. Ignatius, Rose's monk and confidant, is the polar opposite of Tempest. He represents all that is good and healthy about love and sacrifice while Tempest represents the overindulgence and control that men from history often felt about life, especially during the Victorian era. Rose's grandfather seems different by the end of the book, but the reader never sees how or why he changes because we are too busy with the chase. Other supporting characters, such as Baptiste, Tempest's faithful servant, and Lito, Tempest's little Greek servant, offer interesting surprise developments during the progression of the story. Regardless of whether the characters seemed "realistic" in their presentation, every single person the reader meets adds to the mystery and suspense. There were many surprises as it's discovered that appearances can be deceiving, even with minor supporting characters.
The themes and motifs of A Long Fatal Love Chase are tied to the characters with the most obvious theme being that appearances can deceive. There are lots of allusions made to the devil and Mephistopheles, a demon who worked for the devil. Other themes included women's freedom from an oppressive and patriarchal society, reflected in the role of a husband, women's yearning for monetary freedom to travel the world, whether or not monks and priests should have the religious freedom to marry, and the most important motif--love. Love is explored in all its heavenly glory and darker depths. The reader is drawn into questions about whether love is fleeting, if it change over time, and who can truly claim that he or she loves someone based on their actions. Love takes on its own life as it becomes a character in the book. Love is obsession. Love is not letting go of someone, or even the idea of someone. Love is powerful and destructive. Love changes. It's the most interesting exploration of love since William Shakespeare's tragic play Romeo and Juliet. A Long Fatal Love Chase was easier to indulge one's imagination into because the language was not as convoluted or archaic as Shakespeare's. This attribute is because A Long Fatal Love Chase was written in the Victoria era.
Because the book was written in the Victorian era, it relied on traditional Gothic elements to hold the reader's interest throughout the mystery and suspense of the story. There were dark storms, eerie descriptions of people and buildings, and little mysteries that weren't solved until many chapters later in the book. The cliff hanging chapter endings also contributed to the Gothic and "sensational" feel of the book.
Along with the Gothic literary devices, there were many similes and metaphors used throughout the book, like comparing Tempest to Mephistopheles. These literary and mythological references were difficult to note or understand without some education of the history of literature. There have been many critics who speculated that Louisa May Alcott included these cultural references as a shortcut in creating her characters, tones and moods; after all, she wrote the book in just two months! Some references in A Long Fatal Love Chase include "Mariana in the Moated Grange," a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson about a young woman who is abandoned by her lover when she loses her dowry. Ganymede is referenced to describe the Greek boy Lito (Ganymede was an attractive Greek boy who became Zeus' lover). Even the character of the monk Ignatius can be compared to the Catholic Saint Ignatius because of their demeanor, attitudes, and histories. For those who are reading A Long Fatal Love Chase and want more information on these literary references, check out the text file located in the Yahoo Cafe Libri Reading Group.
Some members in the Yahoo Cafe Libri Reading Group likened the story to something that Jo from Little Women would have written even going so far as to provide quotes from that book. Jo did in fact write sensational novels but unlike Louisa May Alcott, whose story was published posthumously in 1995, experienced success with her writing. Alcott's original reason for writing the story was similar to Jo's--they both needed to make money to provide for their families. Although brilliant as a transcendentalist, Alcott's father struggled to support his wife and children.
Though Louisa May Alcott never published A Long Fatal Love Chase in the reading magazine as originally planned (it was most likely dropped because of the scandalous content), it represented many of her sentiments in regards to women's rights. Alcott wrote about ideas that were unpopular in her lifetime through the guise of this "sensational novel." During a time period when it would have been unpopular to say that women deserved to have freedom from their husbands, had a right to divorce, and should be allowed to keep their children even after said divorce, Alcott spoke out in a loud clear voice. She firmly believed that women should not be treated like objects to be owned and conquered as she expressed in A Long Fatal Love Chase. Because of the unpopularity of these ideas, her manuscript was overlooked. Alcott has no answers to many of the questions she raised in A Long Fatal Love Chase, like why Tempest was so obsessed with Rose, but she does show how a bright young flower can wither and fade from being held too tightly. A woman needs space to breathe, and this book hearkens to many sentiments that would be later expressed by Virginia Woolf's essay A Room of One's Own.
A Long Fatal Love Chase is highly recommended to any reader, no matter your age, gender, or ethnicity. It is a compelling read because of its fantastic story that gets you thinking about major life issues. I fervently hope that this book is adapted into a film because it would be amazing to see this story brought to life through a visual interpretation. Though many parts are predictable to a close reader because of the overuse of foreshadowing, the ending still leaves a chilling feeling in the pit of a reader's stomach. It's a story that I will remember forever and would gladly read again just to live through the chase, both the romantic and frightening aspects of it, one more time.