The Nightmare (A Mystery With Mary Wollstonecraft)
By: Nancy Means Wright
Publisher: Perseverance Press (John Daniel & Co.)
Publishing Date: September 2011
Reviewed By: Amy Lignor
Review Date: January 2012
The second book in this series is based on a work of art that remains one of the most frightening ever created. The Nightmare is a 1781 oil painting by Anglo-Swiss artist Henry Fuseli and is, to this day, his most famous work. The artist, as depicted in this very interesting novel, is a jerk of the highest order. Completely uncaring about other people, including his model who has to pose uncomfortably for hours on end. Fuseli is dedicated only to himself and his work, pretty much believing that everyone else is way too beneath him to speak to.
Mary Wollstonecraft is also a very real person from history. This writer spends her time creating works that speak out against the French - a voice for the Revolution and a woman who fights to gain the same rights and privileges for women that men enjoy on a daily basis.
As we begin our tale, Mary turns down a marriage proposal from yet another hoity-toity man who feels that since she’s over the marrying age and in financial straits that she needs him far more than he needs her. Mary lives with Dulcie, her “helper about the house,” and has no use for men who believe that women should be seen and not heard, especially for a man who gave her book a hideously mean review in his newspaper. Of course, that’s not the only reason she said “no.” For a feminist of the highest order, Mary does have one secret when it comes to the male persuasion - she is harboring a crush for the local artist, Henry Fuseli.
Her publisher, Joseph Johnson, who gave Mary a place to live and has stood by her side like the father she never had, tells Mary one day that they are on their way to visit Fuseli’s studio, in order to get a look at his latest work, The Nightmare. When they arrive there are two people standing outside his door fighting with the master artist. One is a young man by the name of Roger Peale, a struggling artist who wrote a horrific review in The Times about one of Fuseli’s earlier works. Next to him is his fiancée, a woman by the name of Lillian Guilfoy who is no stranger to Henry Fuseli. In fact, it is well known that Fuseli is the father of her son. (Although Mrs. Fuseli does not recognize that fact).
A scuffle begins and Fuseli throws the couple off his property. Soon after, The Nightmare is stolen from his gallery with only one clue left behind - a glove that is owned by Roger Peale. The young man is soon thrown into Newgate prison, even though all others believe, including Mary, that he is not the thief they’re looking for.
What transpires is a true thrill ride with Roger Peale involved in prison breaks and ending up locked in a madhouse with no explanation of why he’s there. From a French count who can’t stand Fuseli to a woman who is high-up in London society, yet has a secret child who she gave up for adoption years ago, characters come out of the woodwork, giving this novel a very “Agatha Christie” feel.
The writing is superb and solving the mystery is a whole lot of fun. This author does a wonderful job of mixing fact with fiction!
Quill Says: A perfectly delicious historical mystery!