Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Life & Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton

The Life & Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton (1944) by Magdalen King-Hall is a book of parts. The first half of the book is a serial ghost story that is supposed, I guess, to whet the reader's appetite for the second part where we learn about the awful things that Lady Barbara Skelton got up to in the 17th Century. I think what King-Hall was trying to do was produce a kind of reading "time machine" effect--we start in the then present-day where Nazi bombers have managed to pretty much destroy Maryiot Cells, the one-time home of the notorious Lady. The locals aren't too upset bout the destruction of a manor house that has been considered cursed for years. The landlord of the Red Lion is even heard to say, "those Nazi ---s did one good job, anyhow, when they put a finish to that place."

She takes us back through the generations, relating incidents of hauntings which seemed to be more severe whenever any addition or renovation was planned on the house. It seems that Lady Barbara doesn't like the idea of anyone messing with her home. [Though given her story, I can't for the life of me figure out what she cares so much about the place.]

The second half of the story tells about the wicked lady herself. A rare beauty, born with more intelligence and thirst for excitement than was good for her in the times she lived, we meet Barbara when she's preparing to wed Sir Ralph Skelton. It's an excellent match and all that a young woman of her time could hope for. For some reason, Barbara thinks that getting married is going to lift her out of the humdrum life she's led up till now--learning manners and to dance and other feminine occupations to make her marriageable material. It doesn't matter that she doesn't love Sir Ralph; it's all going to be perfectly thrilling. But if she's paid any attention at all to the lives of the married women around her, one has to wonder where she got the idea that getting married was the gateway to some grand, exciting adventure.

Needless to say, she's sorely disappointed. Once married, her life settles down into one long gossip session with various female relations all while "sitting on cushions and sewing a fine seam." Can you say bored? Barbara is bored out of her ever-lovin' mind. She takes up card-playing (within the family circle) and manages to lose her most prized possession--a necklace left her by the mother who died when she was young--to her much-hated sister-in-law. That's when she has her brainstorm--she'll dress up like a ruffian and waylay her sister-in-law's carriage and steal back her beloved necklace. She manages to pull off the robbery and has such an exhilarating time that she takes up a secret life of crime. Of course, the excitement is like a drug to Barbara and she has to commit more daring and more dangerous feats to keep riding high as it were. She's soon caught in a life of robbery, adultery, and even murder. But it all goes well for Barbara...until she makes the mistake of falling in love and this leads to tragedy.

my copy
I have to say this wasn't quite as good as expected (especially after looking at the Goodreads reviews)--the portion focused on Lady Barbara just didn't hold my attention. Although--I did feel badly for the way things ended for her. That was a knife twist of a different sort (sorry to be vague--but spoilers). My favorite part of the whole book was the portion dealing with Lady Sophia Skelton, who was haunted by her predecessor nearly 100 years after Barbara's death. The letters Lady Sophia writes to her husband about the incidents are delightful and I quite honestly could have read an entire book focused on Lady Sophia. 

The historical details are are also interesting and King-Hall does a fine job differentiating the the various time periods covered--from World War II era to Victorian to Regency to the 17th Century. All very interesting. So--for Lady Sophia and the historical detail, I'm giving ★★ and 1/2.


Jee Jay said...

This sounded very familiar, but I knew I never read the book ...

Oh! They made a movie of it -

Sherrie said...

Hi Bev,
Sounds interesting...I have a question concerning the Color Coded Challenge. Does this challenge allow books read on an electronic Kindle Fire? My library is closed right now because of the coronavirus....Just wondering...Have a great day!

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