Their father has been committed to an asylum and it has been years since anyone heard from their mother Cynthia who ran off to live in France along the coast of Brittany. Cathy, young and beautiful at seventeen, is regularly having sexual relations with her brother Rob even while being courted by a wealthy middle aged neighbor named George Bullivant at his manor home Ash Court. Rob is halfheartedly courting Livvy, a pretty but frigid young woman. Click here to see the rest of this review Cathy becomes pregnant but only the long time family maid Kate knows.
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She turned the toasting-fork to see how the muffin was browning, then held it up to the fire again. We stared at her. They were bringing my uncle Joseph down the stairs.
But my grandmother had kept the body too long in the house. She kept putting more flowers in the room, shovelling flowers in on top of him to hide the smell.
You know my daddy was the eldest of the twelve. But this one, Joseph, was his next brother and the favourite. If there was meat or meal, it would be Joseph got the meat. He was twenty-six when he died with a kick from a cart horse. How could I not know my own uncle? I remember the talk in the house. We were giving scandal. It was the middle of summer, and hot.
That was when it was decided that they would force her to have him brought down and taken out of the house for burial. In the end four of them had to take her by the ankles and elbows, kicking and screaming to wake the dead. They shut her in the scullery until it was done. But the noise she made was terrible.
So it was left to my father to bring Joseph down, with only Dodie to help. That was his next brother after Joseph. We knew about Dodie, who never held a job or went out of the house if he could help it. She laid the muffin down on the hearth and showed us with her hands how the men eased the body round the narrow top of the stairs. And then there was a smack where Dodie stumbled.
I heard my father curse and the wall shook as the pair of them fell to their knees trying to get their balance and keep poor Joseph from falling.
His voice had gone growly with excitement. I said nothing. I stared at Kate, and I saw white strings like roots coming out of the arm as it bounced down the wooden stairs. But underneath the flesh was puffed up and purple. But for a long while no one moved, and the only sound was my grandmother drumming her heels against the flags in the scullery. Of course she knew nothing of what was happening, nor ever did, for no one told her.
Not even the youngest child that was there that day. She took one of the white baking cloths from the drawer and went forward and laid it over the arm. Then she picked it up wrapped in the cloth like a shroud and took it out of the house. As she went past us we saw a stain seeping through the white.
There was no sound but the puckering of the flames. The muffins were singed and dry, but who would want to eat them now? Then I thought of something. I could close my eyes and see him plain from what Kate had told me.
A little, wiry, jockey of a man. He should have been tall, but he grew up in famine times when there was no food for a child to grow on, said Kate. His tall sons and daughters stood over him and he lashed them with the whip of his tongue as if they were slow horses. Her face closed up and we knew she would tell us no more about where her grandfather had been. He had a quick burial. She leaned forward and poked the fire.
Away down to the kitchen, Cathy, and ask Mrs Blazer for fresh. Was she going to tell Rob, when I was out of the room, because he was older? I looked back at Kate and Rob in the circle of firelight.
A cold draught felt at my ankles. She looked so sure and brave, even though she was the one who had seen the dead arm with her own eyes, when she was just my age. I wondered if I would be as sure as Kate when I was older, when my skirts were down over my boots the way hers were.
I would wear stays then, like Kate, and have a shape that went in and out and made you want to put your arms tight around her waist to feel its narrow springiness. I was Cathy and she was Kate. We had the same name really.
I was Catherine and she was Kathleen, but no one had called her that since she was baptized at two days old. Mother was gone, and Father was away. There was Kate to look after us, and Eileen in the sewing-room, and the kitchen warm and humming with people.
There was Grandfather in London. There was nothing to be frightened of here. I went. Chapter One It is winter in the house. This morning the ice on my basin of water is so thick I can not break it. The windows stare back at me, blind with frost. I huff out my breath and watch it smoke. I can see nothing through the frost flowers on the glass. I wonder if it is snowing yet, but I think it is too cold.
There is always enough wood. All I have to do is walk out and gather it. There are five years of rotting trees and fallen branches which have been left to lie in the woods. The coloured cloth spines of our childhood books look at me. Its thick, stiff wool is becoming supple again from the heat of my body night after night. I put the sleeve to my face and sniff. The smell is still there, undiluted. The coat crushes my nightdress to my body and prickles my breasts.
The paper is dry. I put paper and kindling by the fire last night, so it will light with clean blue and yellow flames as soon as I put a match to it. I coil the newspaper sheets into little balls without reading a single word. They are old newspapers, covered in long, thick columns of names. I never look at them. Then I make a pyre of coils and balance the kindling into a tent around it.
I was always the best at making fires. I hold my hands to the flames as they begin to jump. There is no wind at all in the chimney, and this has always been an awkward grate. The flames lose heart and shrink back into the wood.
I spread out a double sheet of newspaper and hold it over the grate to make it draw. The paper sucks in and I plaster it tight against the edge of the fireplace. In a couple of minutes the fire stirs behind it and begins to roar. I wait until it glows big and yellow behind the paper, singeing the newsprint brown.
Not one word. My fire is roaring like the big range down in the kitchens, which is never lit now. It has hunched there for months, dusty as winter soft. No one has blackleaded it. The flames are strong and they make yellow shadows on my white nightdress. The milky cold of the room is beginning to thaw. Soon the windows will grow little circles of plain glass.
I am getting hot. The smell is coming out more strongly now. Wool and sweat. Little prickles of heat run down my sides. I feel my face flushing, and I push back my heavy plait. I kneel up and wriggle out of my nightdress under the coat, the way we used to do when we were undressing on the beach at Sandgate, while Nanny knitted and watched.
A Spell of Winter
Zeebra Books Unsettling love and stifled horror create and then destroy the claustrophobic world of this lush, literary gothic set in turn-of-the-century England. Catherine and Rob Allen, siblings two years apart, grow up in a world of shameful secrets. Their mother creates a public outcry, abandoning her family for a bohemian life on the Continent. Their father, whose mental state always has been slightly precarious, is committed to an asylum in the country. The children are sealed off with their grandfather in a crumbling country estate accompanied by their sturdy and well-loved servant, Kate, and the predatory tutor, Miss Gallagher. In true gothic fashion, terror, violence and eroticism collect beneath every dark surface. Against this strange and secretive backdrop, Cathy and Rob develop a closeness so fierce that it eventually threatens to smother them both.
A Spell of Winter Book Summary and Study Guide
Forbidden love. A once-proud family in a grand-but-ravaged old house leaky roof, a gaggle of servants somewhere in England. Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, a prestigious British literary award, the book came out six years ago in the UK but is appearing for the first time in America. A few relatively normal characters keep the novel grounded: There is the eccentric grandfather with whom the children live, their mother having long ago fled to the Continent and their father having eventually died in the sanatorium.
Plot summary[ edit ] Cathy and her older brother Rob grow up without their parents on an estate in rural England in the early 20th century. Their mother had abandoned them for a better life in southern Europe, and their father was committed to a sanatorium. They live with their grandfather and are brought up by one of the servants, Kate. Their governess is Miss Gallagher, but the siblings hate her. Cathy and Rob have little contact with the outside world, and as they get older, they grow closer.