Black Candle (1968) by Christine Randell.
Despite warnings from her deceased mother, a young woman agrees to live with her sickly, long-lost father at a farmhouse with housemates who may have evil intentions.
This is a read-through and will contain spoilers.
Lorna, a twenty-year-old Irish woman, is succumbing to nightmares in her London flat after her mother has passed away. A long dialogue passage of interaction between Lorna and her mother emphasizes Lorna’s habit of having vivid dreams and nightmares.
“You’re endowed with too much imagination, my dear. A heritage from your Irish father.”
I will keep this quote in mind. Does Lorna have the gift of visions? It could be as she does not know her father and has no insight into his capabilities. However, that might be an exaggerated assumption, given that the novel is fairly grounded so far.
My nightmare was a direct result of a guilty conscience. I was feeling guilty because I could have reached my father last night, yet had deliberately delayed.
Any thoughts on this quote above? Is this something that could have been revealed without Lorna directly stating it?
On the Christmas before her mother’s death, her mother reveals that Lorna’s father, Aidan, is not dead. But she warns Lorna not to reach out to him, as he carries an aggressive, cruel temper when drunk. Notably, her mother feared the farmhouse she and Aidan lived in for two years and always thought it had an “evil scent.” So, she fled, overwhelmed with the farmhouse’s evil vibes that perhaps affected Aidan. Or maybe it was Cormac, a “cheat” and “liar” who lived in the house and was close to Aidan. She appears to loathe him more.
I like mother’s strong spirit to run away, but I’m surprised that Christine Randell has not introduced her with a name. She is referred to as “Mother.” However, considering it’s written in first-person from Lorna’s point of view, I can see it being a dear gesture to address her beloved mother as…Mother. And the father is “Aidan” because of the disconnect between him and his daughter. There is some underlying tension between Mother and Lorna, though. Lorna is eager to work as an Air Hostess, but Mother is against the idea. Immediately, Lorna disregards the idea.
Lorna yearns. She “lacks” a father, wants to be an Air Hostess, and her mother to be alive.
Mother dies in a car accident, which Lorna had been superstitious about the car previously. Desperate, she writes her father. Despite his coldness in the letters, she cannot escape her desire to know him, and she agrees to live with him at Maulicrane Farm at Kilsheenan.
Lorna imagines very detailed interactions with Mother. While Mother’s death has impacted her greatly, I do wonder if Lorna is without acquaintances.
“Lorna, you can’t talk to the dead, nor can they answer. You have to face facts, however unpleasant.”
Randell didn’t specify who says this, but I will assume Lorna was talking to herself…
During the car ride to Maulicrane Farm, the gothic is introduced. There is a funeral, rain, and four men carrying a coffin. And she’s impossibly dreamt of this scene. Lorna is immediately distressed over the thought that it is Aidan’s funeral and resumes an imagined discussion with Mother.
Lorna eventually continues and arrives at the farm with a barn and outhouses. Introductions are not pleasant. She is chased to the door by an aggressive dog and meets a friendly servant named Bessy, who laments about how dark the house is. Bessy mentions that Cormac placed a curse on Aidan and the house after being caught stealing money from Aidan. Cormac wore the devil’s face.
Lorna smells “death and decay” and senses that “evil powers were work,” which could signify that she’s harping too much on Mother’s words.
Aidan confirms the funeral was for Cormac, his “dear friend.”
Lorna meets Aidan, 70-years-old, alive, and bedridden. He is adamant that a young doctor, Chris Forbes, leaves because he is Protestant and Irish.
“If that’s a fact then there’s more reason why I should see him. I could give him something to buck him up. Depression can be very destructive.”
This quote tempts me to research mental health in the late sixties. Was Randell an advocate – considering this doctor is a victim of the bigoted town (he notes that five households sent him away)?
“It was unforgivable of me to gossip with a servant, and my mother would have heartily disapproved. But I did not regret any of it.”
What a shame, as I admired Lorna adopting her mother’s ambition, who was willing to leave the farmhouse and start her life over.
Very soon, Aidan confirms that Lorna is in fearful danger.
Then why invite her? A call for help? A change of heart? Obviously, the house was in danger when Cormac placed a supposed curse on them. So was Lorna in danger, even away from Maulicrane Farm?
However, Lorna agrees to stay, despite being in the presence of Miss Goggarty, the housekeeper everyone warns not to upset.
“Your father is foolish and superstitious. The man who was today buried put a curse upon this house, and with him dying so soon after it has made Aidan afraid. He is convinced that the spirit of Cormac will not rest in peace until he has avenged himself…”
…says Miss Goggarty, the “immoral hussy,” as told by Mother. Aidan believes in the curse and dreads the possibility that Cormac will haunt him. Classically gothic – the dread of insanity when a character is vocal about the supernatural. Superstition, I think, will be key to this story. In chapter one, Lorna was afraid of the car that Mother had. And Mother did say that she should have never doubted her daughter’s warnings.
Lorna meets Fergus, the second man of the house who wants to take over the farm. He forcefully kisses her within a short, obnoxious interaction. Thankfully, Lorna does not view him as love interest potential, but unfortunately, it strains her relationship with Bessy, who desires to marry Fergus.
Miss Goggarty kills chickens for meals, but Mother did describe her as an “immoral hussy.” What else is she killing?
To allow a sick man to leave in search of the sun, or deny him. The power of life or death.
Aidan has a blood disease but believes he will live for several years (it runs in the family). He’s tired of the house’s darkness and wants to see the sun. Could it be that Black Candle has vampire ties?
Lorna visits Dr. Forbes to gather more information about Aidan’s illness. There are seeds of romance planted.
Lorna returns to the farmhouse, prepares for bed, and hears the sound of an animal being in pain. Unfortunately, it’s in the house and may not be an animal.
So far, Lorna is an acceptable protagonist. She fears abandonment and being alone. Bessy is jealous and cold, and Aidan is bedridden. But Chris may prove to be an effective ally.
Hopefully not a love interest, but I think the seeds were planted.