Considered by Ellen Wood, aka Mrs Henry Wood, to be the favourite of her fictional works, this is without a shadow of a doubt (excuse the pun) my book of the year!
First published as a serialised novel in monthly installments, it made its appearance in the New Monthly Magazine between October 1861 and November 1863.
The Shadow of Ashlydyat is a superb Gothic novel that charts the downfall of the Godolphins, a rich banking family who lose their estate Ashlydyat, after George the ‘gay and handsome’ second born son, destroys the family business through his reckless and dishonest actions. Set in a financially unstable time when reputation was everything, the loss of Lord Averil’s bonds, and general gossip in town, contribute to a massive ‘run’ on the bank which has catastrophic consequences.
Throughout the novel a sinister portent known locally as the ‘Shadow of Ashlydyat’ appears nightly to signal the end of Godolphin rule in Ashlydyat. This ancient and mysterious family curse is aptly described in Chapter X: ‘Thomas Godolphin’s voice ceased, and his heart stood still. He had turned the corner, to the front of the ash-tree grove, and stretching out before him was the Dark Plain, with its weird-like bushes, so like graves, and – its shadow, lying cold and still in the white moonlight’.
According to the kindle introduction to the Shadow of Ashlydyat ‘the house and its environs were modelled on the small hamlet of Lydiate Ash, near Birminham, now, alas, dominated by a junction of the M5 motorway!’.