Review: Gaywyck by Vincent Virga

Gaywyck is the first gay Gothic novel. Long out of print, this classic proved that genre knows no gender. Young, innocent Robert Whyte enters a Jane-Eyre world of secrets and deceptions when he is hired to catalog the vast library at Gaywyck, a mysterious ancestral mansion on Long Island, where he falls in love with its handsome and melancholy owner, Donough Gaylord. Robert’s unconditional love is challenged by hidden evil lurking in the shadowy past crammed with dark sexual secrets sowing murder, blackmail, and mayhem in the great romantic tradition

Review by Erastes

Considered the “grandaddy of gay historical fiction” “Gaywyck” is certainly one of the first of its kind, and although not the most literary or beautifully written of the genre, it is essential reading and deserves more than a little respect that, despite being out of print, it is still being read and sought out after more than 20 years.

On the surface, it’s a familiar story: Robert Whyte does not want to conform to his father’s plans for him and through the good graces of a friend he obtains a post at Gaywyck, a mansion on Long Island in early 20th Century America owned by the mysterious Donough Gaylord.  There’s everything you expect in a Gothic Romance: faithful retainers, an animal who is almost human, mysteries of long-dead fathers and twin brothers, locked rooms, instant attraction between the protagonists and plenty of misunderstandings and conflict to keep them apart.

But it does have flaws; the language is over-blown at times and there’s a tendency to info-dump with information on architecture, flowers, paintings, decorations, furniture that I often found myself skipping forward to get to the next section that moved the story along.  Robert Whyte did not endear himself to me until the end, and even then I wouldn’t have been too unhappy if Gaylord (oh Lord…) had stuck the boy’s head in a bucket and put his foot on it.  I know I’ve written a physically frail protagonist but sheesh – he does improve. Robert – when he’s not weeping, fainting, angsting or trembling in fear is getting himself into dangerous situations that Catherine Moreland would have paid good guineas to be in and then has to be rescued by all and sundry.

It has to be said that he doesn’t exactly do much work, either, for all that he’s being paid quite a decent sum to do so.

There are some excellent secondary characters, although everyone appears to be gay (friends and servants) which is always an irritant, but I particularly enjoyed Gaylord’s New York friends who were some light relief from all the brooding and fainting.  Despite all that, I did like the way the love affair progressed and the internal conflicts the characters had to overcome to get close to each other.

The solving of the mystery was actually a surprise to me, and a really good one, so stick with it because there’s a good twist at the end.  Oh – and the epilogue broke me into tiny tiny pieces and I cried my eyes out, but then I’m a big soppy.

There’s a sequel of sorts in Vadrial Vail, where Whyte and Gaylord make a cameo appearance but I haven’t read that yet – review when I have.

All in all, a decent Gothic romance.  It is showing its age a little, in my opinion. “Master of Seacliff” is similar to this but superior in many ways, but as one of the forerunners of the genre, it is worth a spin.

I would have given it 3 stars as it didn’t light any fires under me or do anything I hadn’t seen before, but due to its age and durability, and the fact that it made me cry, I’m adding an extra star.

It is out of print at the moment, but you can get hold of copies here and there for a reasonable price with a little searching.

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3 Responses

  1. Funny you should mention Gaylord’s New York friends; they were the sharpest part of the book for me, and the element I retained after reading it several years ago (you didn’t mention the rainbow-coalition quality of the secondary characters, but it’s another grating aspect of the book; these two lovers are an interracial couple). One passage in particular stuck in my mind: when Robert is first visiting New York the friends (Mortimer and Goodbody – ergh!) give him lists of places to see and things to do “coded by different-colored pencils as ‘musts,’ ‘perhapses,’ and ‘WE-like-its.'” Perhaps the episode claimed a fond place in my memory as this was exactly the spirit in which two gay grad school buddies of mine introduced me to San Francisco a couple of years ago — and how I ended up in a Latino drag club, but that’s another tale entirely.

  2. Hah. I was a bad reviewer, I did it at work without the book in front of me *bad erastes* so I couldn’t remember their names.

    I quite sincerely confess though that I hadn’t even noticed that they were a mixed-race couple. That’s … rather unbelievable – unless (which it seems like they weren’t) they were masquarading as master and servant. Just shows you what I miss when I read!! Thank you!

  3. I read this book way back when I was still newly out, early 90s, and really enjoyed it. Still have the book, plan to re read it someday. I think I liked it better than Erastes, but I am fond of overblown purple prose.

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