Green Darkness by Anya Seton

Writing.ie | Historical Fiction

By Grushenka Arnold

A beautifully written captivating story partly set during a tumultuous epoch almost 500 years ago. Two stories are intertwined through the theme of reincarnation. This is a topic I have never contemplated or read much about, but with a mild curiosity, I was open to reading a tale that would draw me in regardless of the theme. From the moment I started reading, I was immersed into someone else’s life, a life that was very different from my own.

Hailed as a modern classic, the book was first published in 1972. The author’s narrative has the ability to create a truly vivid depiction of life during the 1500’s. I was instantly captivated. Analogous to a dream, I almost felt as if I were surrounded by the characters, present during the life events they experienced and privy to the most intimate moments they shared.

Set in Sussex in 1968, part one of the book opens with the story of Celia, “a young, rich, unhappy American” contemplating her newly acquired title, that of “Lady of the Manor” at Medfield Place. Celia is married to the heir of Medfield Place, Sir Richard Marsdon. Having recently inherited the property from his father, Sir Richard is a troubled soul. Sir Richard has gradually forgone the affections of Celia, as he feels his love is too dangerous. He envisages that his family fate and love for Celia will be her downfall. Referring to the Marsdon family chronicle, Sir Richard questions whether or not his own fate with Celia has already been written and if history is bound to repeat itself.

Hosting an informal gathering at Medfield Place, Celia and Richard have invited friends and family to spend the weekend at their home. Lilly Taylor, Celia’s mother is also in attendance and accompanied by Dr. Akananda, a dear friend and confidante.
During the course of the guests’ visit, Celia’s mother suggests a trip to nearby Igtham Mote, an old 16th century ruin that is enveloped in mystery and intrigue.

Upon the day of their visit to Igtham Mote, Celia begins to feel rather unwell. As the party tour the ruins, Celia’s condition worsens resulting in a fainting fit. However, the whole event has affected Celia in some way and she is not quite the same when she regains consciousness.
As Celia’s condition deteriorates, only Dr. Akananda fully understands the cause and extent of her near fatal affliction. Dr. Akananda is an instrumental figure throughout the story, and without him, the family may never find out what exactly has caused Celia’s condition to reach a point where other doctors consider that she be pronounced clinically dead.

Part two of the story travels back to the 1500’s; a turbulent time when Protestant King Edward VI ruled England. Controversies about religion cause havoc throughout the land, and many have been hanged for treason. Many are even hung for uttering words about an alternative religion. As a result, Catholics live in constant fear.

When a young Celia de Bohun comes to reside with her aunt at Cowdray Castle, she encounters a young Catholic priest named Stephen Marsdon. It is agreed that brother Stephen will educate Celia regarding the Catholic religion. As Celia grows, so too does her love for Stephen. They both develop an infernal love for each other that cannot be extirpated. Not even Celia’s violent death sated the love Stephen had felt fro her.
From the moment I began reading this book, I was drawn to a theme I would never before have contemplated. Through the theme of reincarnation, both stories are interconnected and intertwined.

However, without giving anything away, I was slightly disappointed with the ending but would highly recommend it.

It was a truly enjoyable story that left me pining for the characters I had come to know.

About the Author
Anya Seton was raised in Connecticut on her father’s estate. With ambitions of becoming a doctor, she travelled to England and then on to France where she studied at the Hotel Dieu hospital in Paris. She subsequently married at eighteen and had three children.

Seton first began writing in 1938, with her first novel, My Theodosia published in 1941. Seton wrote a further ten novels and is also the bestselling author of Katherine. Anya Seton died in 1990 (BCA, 2008).

2008 edition published by BCA. Printed by Clays Ltd, St. Ives plc. Great Britain.

Review by Grushenka Arnold

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