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Archived Group Reads 2020 > The Haunted Hotel - Week 1 - Chapters I-IV

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message 1: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cindy Newton | 376 comments Mod
Welcome to what promises to be a creepy read, entirely appropriate to usher us into October! The book loses no time in delving into mystery. In the opening, good Dr. Wybrow is confronted by a patient who stubbornly refuses to leave. She immediately piques his (and our) interest by asking him if she is going mad. After a thorough physical and mental examination, he finds no evidence of insanity.

The mysterious lady then shares her story: she is engaged to be married and was the unwitting cause of the dissolution of her fiance's previous engagement. It is clear that she feels no small measure of guilt about this, even though she was completely unaware of the relationship. Her fears for her sanity hinge on her reaction to her meeting with the wronged woman.

We find out from Dr. Wybrow's visit to his club that the mystery lady, now identified as the Countess Narona, is not possessed of a stellar reputation. Rumors abound about her origins and lifestyle. Her wedding to Lord Montbarry has taken place, to the chagrin of his family. Further divisions within the family become clear when it is revealed that one of Lord Montbarry's brothers is in love with Montbarry's jilted fiancee, Agnes Lockwood. Agnes, however, still cares for her former fiance although she is attempting to put the relationship behind her. She finds herself in the uncomfortable position of being asked to provide a reference for her friend's husband to the very man who broke her heart.

So what are your initial impressions? What tone does Wilkie Collins create in these first few chapters? What is your opinion of Countess Narona? Is she an opportunist or misunderstood? What about Agnes? Is there something sinister hidden beneath her noble, generous appearance? Please share your thoughts, and remember to confine your remarks to Ch. I-IV. No spoilers, please!


Brenda (gd2brivard) | 141 comments This was not at all what I expected, and I admit I was struggling with it. I'm switching to audio to get a different vantage point. I guess I thought there would be more to the big reveal to the Dr. I am going to go through it again, and perhaps I missed something, as I was starting to struggle at the point when the Countess is revealing her story. I wasn't understanding how meeting a woman equals her questions of going mad?

I probably should not form expectations about a book, as I wasn't prepared for the beginning to be sort of a melodrama of this "love triangle". Although, this is a Gothic tale, so perhaps I should leave my 21st century mind at home and change perspective. :))


Trisha | 46 comments I have read this book before but don’t remember anything about it. As Brenda says above, perhaps I should also “leave my 21st century mind at home”. After 4 chapters, apart from providing some background information, by modern standards nothing much has happened. But if the countess was sufficiently concerned about her health to consult the doctor & felt so guilty, why did she get married instead of postponing the wedding so she could consider it more carefully?


Brenda (gd2brivard) | 141 comments Trisha, I think she did go to Montbarry after she ran into Agnes, but he wouldn't let her out of it. He said he had all types of letters from his family members claiming the Countess was no good, in short.

But Trisha I agree. I'm waiting for some juicy, edge of my seat story, and it starts off with a story more soap operatic than anything. LOL

I suspect now that the guide has been hired, and the trip is about to begin, we will get to a more exciting part of the story?

And perhaps then Agnes plays more into the story in later chapters, since she had to write the recommendation for the guide and she is so well connected with the guide's wife?


Brenda (gd2brivard) | 141 comments Unless I'm missing something with the Countesses telling? Wilkie sets it up by telling us its "The strangest and wildest confession that had ever reached the Doctors ears". I was a little shocked, as it didn't seem that "strange or wild", at least at this point. Montberry dumps Agnes for the Countess. The Countess runs into Agnes and is flustered into a faint. She imagines Agnes can rather see through her. She pleads to be let out of the marriage. Her Lord refuses. Now she claims she's going mad. I just can't get from one end to the other. Unless I'm putting too much into the background of the story and not letting the whole Gothic tale unfold? And the good doctor was willing to write her off with the usual "female complaints" and now is thoroughly compelled to learn all about her and go to her wedding, etc...

I guess I just don't understand what is so strange and wild about the "confession" and what exactly it is that she feels is making her go mad?


Trisha | 46 comments Yes, it definitely seemed very odd that a supposedly busy doctor went to the wedding of a patient he had only met once - hardly realistic! Perhaps doctors at that time had very little to do.


Brenda (gd2brivard) | 141 comments I feel like I would have had the complete opposite reaction the Doctor had. Be widely curious to listen to her story and then write her off owing it to the female mind. Maybe that’s again my 21st century mind at play?


message 8: by Lisa (last edited Sep 02, 2020 12:21PM) (new)

Lisa Lane (lisamlane) | 3 comments I'm being patient. I was glad the story got started right away, and pleased we're taking time to get to know Agnes a little too. I took the idea of the strange and weird story as more indicative of the narrator's state of mind after the events we're about to see, so I didn't expect to find it very weird myself. Similarly, I saw her madness as her interpretation, as almost a metaphor, rather than her actually fearing she's going mad. But I'll keep an open mind on all of it, in case there is real madness and strangeness to come!

The writing is so much better, in my opinion, than Woman in White or The Moonstone.


message 9: by Cindy, Moderator (last edited Sep 04, 2020 11:26AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cindy Newton | 376 comments Mod
Brenda wrote: "Although, this is a Gothic tale, so perhaps I should leave my 21st century mind at home and change perspective. :))..."

I think it is important to keep the context of the times in mind. When it comes to actual horror, what was considered creepy and shocking during Victorian times is rather tame to people raised on Friday the 13th and The Amityville Horror! :) At that time, subtlety was the name of the game. That being said, Collins is still capable of creating an atmospheric tone of sinister suspense, so we will see what unfolds.

I believe the Countess's suspicion that she is going mad is based on the intensity of her reaction to Agnes. It is much more than embarrassment or discomfort for their awkward situation; judging from the Countess's description, she is overwhelmed with an unbearable sense of panic. She becomes convinced, at that moment, that Agnes is "destined to be the evil genius" of her life (Collins 6). The Countess is aware that Agnes bears her no malice, which only makes her dread and fear of her even more inexplicable. Even long after Agnes has left her presence, the Countess still feels dread. This is why she thinks that she is going mad.

I hope you stick with it, ladies! My experience with Collins is that he will complicate the story quite a bit as we get further into it.


message 10: by Trisha (last edited Sep 02, 2020 11:19PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Trisha | 46 comments Cindy wrote: "Brenda wrote: "Although, this is a Gothic tale, so perhaps I should leave my 21st century mind at home and change perspective. :))..."

I think it is important to keep the context of the times in m..."


Thank you for your explanation, Cindy. It’s difficult to appreciate the context in some books. You have probably also identified why I was very disappointed when I read The Woman in White - I probably need to read it again at some time. But don’t worry, I will definitely stick with this read as I want to learn more.


message 11: by Trev (last edited Sep 05, 2020 07:24AM) (new)

Trev | 227 comments In part one of the story Wilkie Collins has created an air of mystery and apprehension. The mystery surrounds the Countess and whether or not she is what she seems to be. The apprehension relates to the marriage and what might become of both the Countess and Lord Montbarry.
I felt that the key to the confession was the reflection of the Countess’ wickedness in the eyes of the innocent Agnes. The Countess was unable to bear the truth about herself whatever that maybe. It seems from the meeting with the doctor that the Countess has not confessed everything and her horror is her dark past coming back to haunt her through her future husband’s former fiancé. Her declaration to the doctor after the marriage that the ceremony was just one step closer to the end also builds up the dramatic tension.
From the discussions at the doctor’s club, it seems that the Countess’ brother may have a malevolent influence considering he insisted that a large sum be insured on Lord Montbarry’s life as a condition of the marriage.
The Lord’s younger brother Henry has already appeared twice. His devotion to Agnes, despite her rejection, seems to act as a counterpoint to the marriage of his brother which already seems destined to fail.


message 12: by Pamela (last edited Sep 05, 2020 05:02AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pamela (bibliohound) | 63 comments This was quite an intriguing opening to the story. I agree with Cindy, this would be a very familiar way of creating an air of mystery and suspense for a Victorian audience. There are hints of the supernatural through the idea of evil in the soul, a psychological disturbance which the Countess sums up as ‘Am I mad?’

The Countess is very much portrayed as the ‘Other’ - her foreign background, the rumours of deceitful and even criminal behaviour in her past, the hostility of Montbarry’s family are all contrasted with the irreproachable English behaviour of Agnes. There’s a lot of rumour and suspicion that may or may not be deserved.

I’m certainly keen to find out what will happen to this couple on their travels, and how Agnes is involved.


message 13: by Kerstin, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kerstin | 622 comments Mod
I'm having a hard time with Collin's writing style. He exhausts me. It may be simply piling on in the first few chapters, but then The Woman in White didn't resonate much with me either.

The Countess Norona's confession is one long pile-up of circumstantial stuff without getting to the heart of it. I am sure this is intended, but I have a hard time picturing it - unless she has something to hide. Then why detain the good doctor and confess? What is she up to?

There is nothing so boring as reciting peerage - that is - if you're not a Peer ;-)


Rosemarie | 209 comments I like Collins' style so I am enjoying this one so far. I don't know whether the Countess is as bad as everyone says she is, but I do get the impression that she is really frightened of something or someone.


message 15: by Iza (new) - rated it 2 stars

Iza Brekilien (izabrekilien) I started listening to the audiobook this morning and at first, I didn't like the doctor, what he thought of women - even if I know it's not irrelevant to XIXth century characters. Then I wondered if the author made him sound so sure of himself to better upset him in the next chapters ?...
I have no definite opinion about the Countess, I'm waiting to hear what's next, the same about Agnes, who sounds like the usual Victorian angel.
I found it funny that the Countess's brother (?) is described as someone you would currently meet in Paris streets ! (I'm French). You can hear the old England/France opposition there.
I find the style a bit dated, but I'm not repulsed, on the contrary, I'd love to see what's coming up next.
What struck me the most in those few chapters is the men's club : they are such an awful bunch of gossips, lol ! They even come up to the wedding out of sheer curiosity !


message 16: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cindy Newton | 376 comments Mod
Trisha wrote: "Cindy wrote: "Brenda wrote: "Although, this is a Gothic tale, so perhaps I should leave my 21st century mind at home and change perspective. :))..."

I think it is important to keep the context of ..."


You're welcome! I hope it grows on you!


message 17: by Cindy, Moderator (last edited Sep 06, 2020 05:15PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cindy Newton | 376 comments Mod
Trev wrote: "In part one of the story Wilkie Collins has created an air of mystery and apprehension. The mystery surrounds the Countess and whether or not she is what she seems to be. The apprehension relates t..."

This is a very interesting point, Trev. The Countess tells the Dr. that Agnes "saw hidden capabilities of wickedness" within herself that she had previously been unaware of until that moment. This seems to imply that they have been brought to life by Agnes's look. If the Countess had already been planning something evil, it would definitely be foolish to make these statements to a person who can later testify about them! So she seems to be saying that the meeting of herself and Agnes is going to be productive of evil, almost like a chemical reaction.

Lord Montbarry must also be a part of this toxic combination, because she attempts to avoid the marriage and despairs when she cannot, saying that the marriage brings her one step closer to "the end." She comes to the Doctor because she fears she is going mad, but if she is right and she somehow takes an evil path, these statements could still come back to haunt her.

I think this sense of fatalism is often present in these types of stories, further underscoring the preternatural scope of the events.

I also like how you noted the foil that Henry's love for Agnes presents to the rather scandalous, tainted relationship between the Countess and Lord Montbarry.


message 18: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cindy Newton | 376 comments Mod
Pamela wrote: "This was quite an intriguing opening to the story. I agree with Cindy, this would be a very familiar way of creating an air of mystery and suspense for a Victorian audience. There are hints of the ..."

That's a great observation, Pamela! Lord Montbarry was evidently looking for someone quite different since Agnes and the Countess seem to be different in every way. We can already pick up on Agnes as pure and sweet, while the Countess is presented in a much more ambiguous light: hints of a flawed character, hints of wickedness in her past, inappropriate relationships, etc.


message 19: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cindy Newton | 376 comments Mod
Kerstin wrote: "I'm having a hard time with Collin's writing style. He exhausts me. It may be simply piling on in the first few chapters, but then The Woman in White didn't resonate much with me either..."

Sorry you're not enjoying it, Kerstin! Collins, like Dickens, has never been accused of being succinct. :) To me, I see the Countess's "confession" as more a recitation of what has caused her to doubt her own sanity and since this is all based on her own feelings, there isn't really anything concrete there. I believe she thought that possibly he could provide some sort of scientific reason or diagnosis to base her feelings on and to her, somehow, this would negate or derail the dark future she has envisioned for herself. When he is unable to do so, she considers herself "lost."

I hope it picks up for you!


message 20: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cindy Newton | 376 comments Mod
Rosemarie wrote: "I like Collins' style so I am enjoying this one so far. I don't know whether the Countess is as bad as everyone says she is, but I do get the impression that she is really frightened of something o..."

I'm glad you're enjoying, it Rosemarie! Yes, she does seem to be trying to desperately avoid something.


message 21: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cindy Newton | 376 comments Mod
Iza wrote: "I started listening to the audiobook this morning and at first, I didn't like the doctor, what he thought of women - even if I know it's not irrelevant to XIXth century characters. Then I wondered ..."

You are so right! Men ridicule women for gossiping, but are just as curious to get the scoop as any woman! I think the Doctor might sound so confident and pragmatic to emphasize the strangeness of what is occurring with the other characters. He is about to go down a path this is foreign to any other experience he has had up to this point.


message 22: by Iza (last edited Sep 07, 2020 11:37AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Iza Brekilien (izabrekilien) Cindy wrote: "Iza wrote: "I started listening to the audiobook this morning and at first, I didn't like the doctor, what he thought of women - even if I know it's not irrelevant to XIXth century characters. Then..."

I wholeheartedly agree with you ! That's what he was before, but he's about to experience something completely different, as the Monty Pythons used to say.


message 23: by Piyangie, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Piyangie | 827 comments Mod
The beginning has certainly a sinister touch with a mysterious lady (later known as Countess Narona) coming with quite a confession to the Doctor. The confession is strange in itself, and I feel the Countess has some wicked past. Miss Agnes, Lord Montbarry's former fiance is described as a sweet, innocent lady, almost saintly. Countess's reaction when she met Agnes can be interpreted as the evil being challenged by good. I didn't form a favorable opinion on the Countess, and her so-called "brother" seems another suspicious character. For some reason, I fear for Lord Montbarry.


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