The Brimstone Wedding

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Genevieve, an attendant at the Middleton Hall nursing home, begins a friendly relationship with Stella Newland, one of several residents to whom she is assigned. Genevieve had been struck by the fact that Stella, unlike many of the other patients, rarely talked about her past. Stella, who is dying of cancer, begins to tell Genevieve about herself because she sees Genevieve as one of few people who really care. She chose to live at Middleton Hall because Genevieve reminded her of Gilda Brent, someone from her past. She tells Genevieve a little about Gilda and tells her to find out about her.

As in many of Barbara Vine’s books, the narrative describes actions by characters of which the other characters are unaware; the reader thus knows more than do the characters. Unknown to Genevieve, Stella is tape recording a description of what actually happened to Gilda Brent, an actress who apparently disappeared years before the time of the novel. She tells Genevieve that she knows that Gilda is dead but that she is not sure that anyone else knows.

Stella also tells Genevieve about a house that she owns, and that she bought without the knowledge of her husband. Genevieve goes to the house to clean it for Stella, and she keeps the key. She later uses it as a place to meet her lover, whom she has kept secret from her husband.

Much of the novel is Stella’s tape-recorded reminiscences about her early life and how she, like Genevieve, took a lover while married. Her lover, Alan Tyzark, was Gilda’s husband. She describes how they fell in love and wanted to be together; eventually they began a game called the “Killing Gilda Tease” in which they devised various ways of getting Gilda out of the way so that they could be together.

Stella eventually erases her tapes but resolves to make two final ones, on which she relates that she must sound sane so that she will be believed. On those tapes, she reveals what happened to Gilda and how her relationship with Alan turned out. In her will, she leaves the tapes and the house to Genevieve. The end of the novel describes the resolution of Genevieve’s affair.