This is a rarely discussed novel of Oates’ who is one of the world’s most prestigious authors of everything from fiction–long and short (Gothic, realism, mystery and the macabre)–to personal memoirs and essays and respected works of literary criticism–to sportswriting and poetry.
Winterthurn is among my favorites of her Gothic novels, which also include The Bloodsmoor Romance, Bellefleur, My Heart Laid Bare, and The Accursed–all of which are stunning pieces of fiction I highly recommend!
Tonight, I am reading from my treasured first edition (cover, above) published by The Ontario Review, 1984.
“Editor’s Note” from Winterthurn by Joyce Carol Oates
It is frequently observed by our self-righteous critics that we amateur “collectors” of Murder are antiquarians at heart: unapologetically to the right in matters political, moral, and religious: possessed of a near-insatiable passion for authenticity, down to the most minute, revealing, and lurid detail: impatient with the new (whether it be new and untried models of murder, or new and untried modes of mystery), and enamored of the old. Studying the history of crime, as, indeed, history more generally, with the hope of comprehending human nature,–or, failing that lofty ambition, comprehending the present era–cannot interest the purist. For, as the outspoken De Quincey has argued,–Is not Murder an art-form? And does any art-form require justification?
Herewith, I am happy to present that perennial favorite of aficionados of American mystery, The Virgin in the Rose-Bower; or, The Tragedy of Glen Mawr Manor, which, albeit most informally, introduces young Xavier Kilgarvan to his destiny as a detective sui generis. (In Winterthurn City itself the case has long enjoyed a variety of appellations, amongst them, most bluntly, “The Glen Mawr Murders” and “The Glen Mawr ‘Angel’ Murders,” etc. Not one person–including even that exploitive scribbler of murder mysteries, Mr. Mountjoy Price–has had the wish, or the audacity, to refer to this controversial episode of Xavier Kilgarvan’s life as “Xavier Kilgarvan’s First Case”: nor is it this editor’s intention to do so.)
How to best describe this old, much-analyzed, yet still tantalizing mystery of more than a century ago! Though it would seem at first blush to declare itself a classic of the locked-room variety, though doubtless, numberless collectors prize it for that reason, I have always believed that its fame (or notoriety) resides in the fact that, despite heroic effort, it was never satisfactorily solved. Or, at any rate, the solution to the mystery was never made public; and the murderer, or murderers, never brought to justice.
And for very good reason,–as the reader will doubtless agree.
The unexplained murders at Glen Mawr Manor, and in its vicinity, aroused great terror in the inhabitants of Winterthurn, somewhat out of proportion (it seems to us today) to the actual number of violent deaths involved. For a liberal count of corpses, so to speak, yields but four outright murders; and one self-inflicted death. (The deaths, mutilations, victimizations, etc., of a miscellany of animals, in the vicinity being of less significance, though, doubtless, still a potent factor of the arousal of fear.) Yet it might be considered that there is such a phenomenon as a soul-murder, of as great a moral harm as a murder of the body: in which case, one, or perhaps two, or even three, additional “deaths” might be acknowledged. (For instance, it happened that as a consequence of their horrific experiences, Mrs. Abigail Whimbrel and Mrs. Roxana Murphy were plunged into the abyss of hopeless insanity, from which no physician could rescue them. Though it goes somewhat beyond the scope of this history, I should like to record that Mrs. Whimbrel lived to a sickly old age,–well into her ninety-seventh year, it is said–at the Mt. Moriah Hospital for Nervous Invalids, where her grieving family had seen fit to place her; while the fortune hunter, Mrs. Murphy,–or Mrs. Kilgarvan, as she might legally be called–suffered an extreme abreaction to a sedative dose of belladonna, administered by Dr. Colney Hatch, and died within twelve days of her husband.)
Superstitious the inhabitants of Winterthurn doubtless were, to have feared, for decades, “angels,” or “angel-figures,” loosed in the night and frequently in the day: and naïve in their stubborn belief that a preternatural force emanated from the Manor. Yet it were well for the contemporary reader to withhold judgement; and to reflect that our ancestors, though oft appearing less informed than ourselves, were perhaps far more sensitive,–nay, altogether more astute, in comprehending Evil^
Read a cool review of the novel, here:
Below are some of my favorite photographs of Joyce Carol Oates.