First off, I would like to say that Bessy makes this novel & it is well worth reading for her alone. Ranging from comic to poignant, Bessy & her story were, for me, the best parts of the book. I should probably explain that the Gothic genre is not one of my favorites-perhaps it's not racy enough for my jaded brain, because the denouement generally disappoints a little. At least, it did with this novel, & another I recently read, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.
The story concerns Bessy's arrival at Castle Haivers, where she is hired as a maid for Arabella & James. James is an aspiring politician who bites his nails with alarming gusto; his wife Arabella has an agenda for the new maid. Arabella's marked attentions, unusual habits & strange requests first endear her to Bessy, & then things go awry between them. As the blurb on the inside cover attests, "As is usually the case in isolated Victorian houses, all is not as it seems." And so the Gothic tale builds to an inevitable climax.
But Bessy, from her vocabulary on, is full of enough juice to keep this reader engrossed in the story! I loved her slang-"Flip the scutting devil!" & "Jesus Murphy my heart all but stopped" & "The rest of the house was that silent you could have heard a spider fart" & "she was all prinked up...but you might as well have stuck primroses in a cowpat" are just a couple of examples of her colorful turn of phrase. Her past, revealed in spurts throughout the novel, is the stuff of melodrama, but is not handled in a mawkish fashion. One of the reviews called Bessy a "bawdy, picaresque character"-I can only agree.
I would highly recommend checking out this novel! 405 pages was not enough Bessy, in my opinion.