In the lushly written and tightly plotted tradition of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith and A. S. Byatt’s Possession, A Gathering of Shadows is Kris Waldherr’s debut novel and first non-illustrated book.
Set in the art world of late Victorian England, A Gathering of Shadows reveals a seductive, beauty-obsessed milieu where the sinuous graces of peacock feathers and absinthe dreams hold more importance than a young woman’s life.
‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said
The Lady of Shalott….
Elizabeth Sirini is a young woman haunted by shadows: the shadow of her father’s recent death, the shadow of a broken engagement, the shadow of her thwarted scholarly aspirations. Shadows also plague the painter St. John Dulac, whose scandalous elopement with an American heiress a decade earlier led to his rise and fall as the enfant terrible of the Royal Academy of Art. So it’s no surprise that, when Elizabeth and St. John meet at a séance one afternoon, he is immediately entranced by her beauty and the sadness she carries like a weight.
She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room….
Thinking Elizabeth would be perfect to pose for his new canvas of the Lady of Shalott—the girl of Arthurian legend whose unrequited love for Lancelot led to her death—St. John asks Elizabeth to model for the painting, which he hopes will rescue his tarnished career. Elizabeth is initially dismissive of his offer. However, swayed by the generous pay that would alleviate her family’s debt and charmed by St. John and his exquisite wife Nessa, she reluctantly agrees.
The mirror crack’d from side to side.
‘The curse has come upon me,’ cried
The Lady of Shalott.
Before long, Elizabeth is swept up in the Dulacs’ glittering, bohemian world. However, not all is as it appears. Life imitates art when Elizabeth uncovers a mysterious tragedy involving St. John’s previous model, revealing the cracks within the Dulacs’ seemingly idyllic marriage and encouraging Elizabeth’s nascent desire for the painter. Elizabeth’s obsession with discovering the truth behind the lies brings secret histories and shifting loyalties to light. Love and inspiration become a currency to be used and discarded at will—even if the gothic consequences are heartbreak and death.
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An inspiration for A Gathering of Shadows: The Lady of Shalott painted by J. W. Waterhouse in 1888.