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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: Olalla

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Olalla
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Gothic short story
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

"Do you know that house?" I said, pointing to the "residencia." The gaunt peasant, who had just told me he had much frequented these mountains in former years, looked at me darkly and crossed himself.

"Too well," he said. "It was there that one of my comrades sold himself to Satan; the Virgin shield us from temptation He has paid the price and is now burning in the reddest place in Hell."

He then spoke words that had the ring of prophecy, leaving me shaking with terror. Which way to turn I knew not. But fate decided for me: for while still hesitating I beheld the veiled figure of a woman drawing nearer up the pathway . . .

"Olalla" is the tale of an Englishman's search for romance in distant lands, by the author of "Kidnapped."

Review:

Olalla is a short story that is said to have helped inspire Dracula by Bram Stoker.  There are very interesting Gothic elements to this story - with the dark and mysterious house, a decline in noble blood, strange occurrences at night and a beautiful young woman.  But the story as a whole feels like a study in ambiguity.  There's much left to the imagination in regards to what exactly is going on in the 'residencia', what the fate of the family is, and what happened in their past.  Even the narrator goes nameless, as we see from his point of view, that something is not quite right in the house.  That level of ambiguity is a double edged sword in my opinion, because on the one hand, not knowing has a deceptive creepiness to it - when you finish the story you wonder what it all meant, and the imagination can make things pretty creepy.  But on the other hand, it is pretty frustrating to not know and not get that closure.

As this story includes some elements of vampire lore, that made me more interested while reading, but I was a bit frustrated by the ambiguous ending.  However, thinking over the story after, I realize it's a great piece of atmospheric writing.  The romance is stereotypical in how the main character falls for the daughter first by seeing her features in a painting, and then being overwhelmed when he sees her in the flesh.  The pathos of their relationship was the best part though, as they apparently have some obstacles to happiness (although it's not clear what exactly that is).

I think this is a intriguing short story on many levels, and especially interesting for people who like vampire-ish stories.  I can see why it has become mostly forgotten though, when more detailed and salacious stories like Dracula and Carmilla eclipsed it through the years.

Many thanks to N.B. Roberts who recommended this story to me, and who is also planning to include some element of this story in one of her Shadows of the World books!

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