Hour of the Harp – Blog #016 of the 156 “Pretty Faces” book cover challenge and book review

This is book #122 on the list of 156* books that Gardner Francis Fox wrote from 1953 to 1986. This is the twenty-third book I scratched out a cover for.

*Note – as of 7/7/2019, The Library has found that four of the books previously thought to be written by Mr. Fox were actually not. This was based on one of the pseudonyms he wrote under. Therefore, the total book count has dropped from 160 to 156.

A Gothic Love Story

Hour of the Harp by Gardner f Fox writing as Lynna Cooper Book cover design by Kurt Brugel with original scratchboard art

Genre: Gothic Romance (Hot Pink color-coded cover)

This is the fifth and last of five Gothic romance novels Mr. Fox wrote under the pseudonym, Lynna Cooper. Three weeks ago my blog entry was for his second Gothic romance novel, Brittany Stones.

Here’s a list of all five Gothic Romance Novels that were written by Mr. Fox as Lynna Cooper:

Moon Chapel

Brittany Stones (Blog #013)

Stark Island

Folly Hall (Blog #011)

Hour of the Harp

Originally published in 1978. The original copy that we transcribed from was a hardcover copy, but it didn’t have a dust jacket. I used the first part of chapter one for the back cover description…

The flat-cart rattled and bumped along the dirt road, the donkey moving at a sedate walk, in as little hurry as myself, apparently, to come to Innismore. I sat huddled on the boards, hands clasped and eyes roving the marshlands and bogs on either side of me, wondering what had possessed me to leave Dublin and come west into Connemara, this wild and rocky country that seemed as inhospitable as an Englishman’s musket.

Seamus McCarty, he of the black scowl and the curious gray eyes, who drove the flat-cart and glanced at me from time to time with a quirking of his bushy eyebrows, was almost as ungracious. We had come from Ballinrobe, where the train had made its stop, between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, with the Partry Mountains to the north and west, in a silence so thick you could have cut it with a bread knife.

I stirred against that silence, feeling rebellion inside me. “Faith now,” I said at last. “Is it the cat who’s got your tongue, or are you afraid of the fairy folk?”

He chuckled thickly, bobbing his head. “Aye, that I am. Or if not of the shee people, then of the Black Druid.”

I turned my head and stared at him. “The Black Druid?”

This Gothic Romance takes place in the 1800s in Ireland. It has all of the typical elements found in a work of Gothic fiction:

  • Virginal maiden
  • Older, foolish woman
  • Heroine
  • Tyrant/villain
  • Bandits/ruffians
  • Clergy
  • A Child or Childern
paperback Gothic romance book covers

Moira McGrehan, the protagonist is a bright and naive young woman who has lost her father and now seeks employment as a nanny in order to not starve to death in the workhouses.

What is it about Gothic Fiction that it gained such popularity in the 1960s and 1970s?

These stories are all basically written with a template in mind. I have to admit the descriptions do bring you into a dark “fairy-like” land. The old castle, the old servants and townspeople, and the even older landscape. 

There is always talk of the fairy-folk. Not the cute Disney versions, but the naughty trouble makers. In the 1960s there was a fascination with “cults”. In Mr. Fox’s Gothic stories there is alluring to an ancient cult that is behind the mischief actions that plague the protagonist.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter three of Hour of the Harp to give more insight to Moira’s predicament in being employed by the old family:

“There’s a curse on the Kilpatricks, Moira. Always, ever since I can remember, my grandfather before me and then my father, never had enough guineas or pounds to satisfy the needs of such a heritage as this. Now why am I telling you all this? Faith, I’ve opened my heart to you this night, and I’m asking myself why.”

“Perhaps because I’m a good listener.”

“And that you are. Now if only you could play a little music for me, to soothe me, I’d begin to think you a miracle woman indeed.”

I rose to my feet and made a mock curtsy “I can perform on the pianoforte, Sir Conaire, or the harp itself. Which will be your pleasure?”

Almost wistfully he asked, “Can you really play the harp?”

“Do you have one?”

He caught my arm and took me with him down the hall and into a room I had not yet seen. It was small, with wooden walls and wainscoting, and with two windows on either side of a pedestal that held a harp. Sir Conaire busied himself with matches and the candelabra, and then I could see this harp more clearly.

It was not a large harp, and it looked very old. Its curving pillar and neck were of wood, gilded over yet chipped here and there with long usage. The pedal box was plain, with nicks here and there. I reached out a hand and touched its strings, sending forth a faint arpeggio.

“The harp of the Kilpatricks,” Sir Conaire murmured in my ear. “No one knows how old it is; legend says that Ossian himself, the most famous of all Irish harpists, used it at Tara, but I don’t believe this. It’s the fifteenth century, to my way of thinking.”

“And mine. Oh. What’s this on the pedal box?”

I bent my head as Sir Conaire lifted the candelabra off a small table so I could have a better view of the instrument on the pedestal. There were words carved there in the Gaelic.

“ ‘This harp shall have its glory hour,’ “ I quoted, “ ‘when banshee wails at Innismore.’ “ I turned to Sir Conaire with laughing eyes. “Is there a banshee in your family, Sir Conaire?”

The candles threw his features into light and dark shadow. “So the old legend has it. The banshee was last heard in 1601 when an ancestor of mine went off to fight at Kinsale with the Great O’Neill. He never came back—he lay dead on that battlefield as did so many of the Irish—but his younger brother took over the affairs of the Kilpatricks, and then fate seemed to make up for the tragedy of Kinsale, at least to him. The family prospered after that, and for a good many years thereafter. The banshee hasn’t been heard since.”

“Perhaps he will wail again soon. Let’s hope so.”

“Even if the banshee wail heralds a death at Innismore?”

I shivered for some unknown reason and rubbed my hands together. “Let’s not speak of such things. Is this the harp I am to play?”

“Oh, no. No one ever touches that. The other harp is here.”

He raised the candelabra and carried it to a pianoforte. I saw a large harp to one side of the pianoforte, and a small bench behind it. I drew off the wrapper carefully. It was a lovely instrument, I told Sir Conaire as I sat on the bench and ran my fingers lightly over the strings.

Laying my cheek against the body, I stroked those strings gently, then with more power and vigor. Waves of sound floated out across the little room, and I lost myself in those rhythms. In my mind, I was a little girl again, playing for my father and mother, I was the young music student who had won so many honors with her gifted fingers. I do not recall what tunes I played, but they were Irish ones, mixed in with a lullaby or two. Some of them whispered while others were more lively with their lilting melodies. Nor do I know how long I sat there with my fingers flying or merely drifting dreamily from string to string.

When I was through, with the flats of my palms against the strings to still them, I glanced up to see Sir Conaire seated on the edge of his chair, staring at me.

“Never have I heard the harp played so beautifully,” he whispered. “I don’t think I even breathed while you performed. You are a virtuoso.”

“Oh, never that. A fine stylist, perhaps; that’s what my teacher used to call me. But never a virtuoso.”

He smiled. “You have no appreciation of your talents. Believe me, when I name you virtuoso, you deserve the appellation”

At that moment, I yawned. It was inexcusable of me, but I could not help it. My hand flew to my mouth, my cheeks burned, and Sir Conaire laughed delightedly.

“I’ve kept you up too long, too selfishly. It was a long trip you had today, what with the flat-cart and your rescue of me. You must be exhausted. Come. I’ll light the way to your room.”

When we had made our way up the staircase and stopped in front of my bedroom door, he handed the candelabra to me with a little bow.

“You’ve made a fine beginning at Innismore, Moira McGrehan. It’s hoping I am that you’ll continue to do as well.”

It took me but a few moments to undress and slip into my nightgown, lavishly trimmed with tiny blue bows. I nestled between the covers, my head on a feather pillow. In a very short time, I was asleep.

I woke with a strange sound ringing in my ears. I listened, still drowsy with slumber. Then it came again, eerie and wailing, like nothing else I had ever heard.

I sat upright in bed, eyes wide.

Could this be a banshee I was hearing?

Superstitious nonsense, my common sense told me.

And yet . . .

The wail went on, ululating and terrifying.

Goose-flesh rose up all over me, as did the hairs on the nape of my neck. I sat there shivering, with the bedclothes pulled up around my neck. This had to be the Kilpatrick banshee!

But—whose death did it foretell? My own? That of Sir Conaire? Or could it be that of Kathleen herself?

In time, the cry died away into silence.

Fearful that the wail might have waked Kathleen, I slipped from the bed and tiptoed into her room. She was sleeping soundly, a faint smile on her lips. I tucked her in more securely, then made my way to my own bed.

But it took me a long time to fall asleep.

If you’d like to read chapter One of Hour of the Harp and find out more about Moira’s story, it is available on The Gardner Francis Fox Library.

Here’s a tough little review of Hour of the Harp:

A pea-brained gothic with a heroine to match. Here’s our governess, Moira McGrehan: “”I have never considered myself a great beauty, although my milky white skin, together with my black hair and green eyes and overlong lashes. . . .”” She’s to tutor motherless Kathleen, daughter of bothered Sir Conaire. She wins over Kathleen in an instant, rescuing her from Conaire’s mother-in-law, and also warms the cockles of the brooding heart of the great stallion, The Major, which she rides to victory in the local races. Ah foosh, there’s more and more of the silly same, including the busy doings of whoever is kidnapping and dumping Moira down a well and otherwise indicating displeasure with things as they so mindlessly are.

This is a little harsh but accurate description of the story. Calling this a pea brain gothic is a bit judgemental. I’m guessing Kirkus is not a fan of Gothic fiction.

Queen Victoria

The Victorian Era, the time covering the reign of Queen Victoria in Britain [from 1837 to 1901], marked the height of the British Empire. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the rising middle-class were looking to be entertained. What would be more entertaining than telling stories of the social divide by classes? The wealthy had their servants and the servants held on to their superstitions. 

As templated as these stories are written, they tell of a woman’s struggle. Women wouldn’t see the right to vote until 1918 in England and 1920 in America. Now what does this have to do with a silly old paperback story written in 1978, you might ask? Mr. Fox was a deeply learned man. He prided himself on research and research is what makes a good story great. 

I believe that Mr. Fox wrote his five Gothic Romances, because they were popular at the time, but also to explore the Victorian era. Who knows what his thoughts and opinions were for the subjects that he wrote about. His job was to turn in as many seventy-thousand-plus-word count manuscripts in to get paid, but I won’t dismiss his attempt to allow himself to show up in between the lines.

As my wife pointed out early on while we read through Mr. Fox’s Gothic adventures, she found that they read like Nancy Drew novels. Mr. Fox would have been aware of the Nancy Drew stories since they were being written since the 1930s and would have been inspired by them. The ending to Hour of the Harp doesn’t share in some of the other stories, it shows the protagonist defending herself and winning against the odds on her own.

Mr. Fox didn’t write mushy female lead characters. He wrote strong-minded and determined female leads. They are determined and willing to find the resolve to their situations on their own. Though at times, when placed in a binding situation they can be rescued by the strong male love interest. Mr. Fox had an old school approach to how the world works. Born in 1911, he would have held onto a lot of repressed ways of seeing women. He also wanted to write a good story and Hour of the Harp gives us another trials and tribulations of a girl making her way into the world to become a woman. Although it’s set in an imaginary place filled with fairy-folk and cults, she wins the love of a strong man that will marry her and take care of her for the rest of her happy-ever-lasting-life.

I believe the Gothic Romance story is alive an well in these current times. As much as there was a boom in paperback sales in the 60s and 70s, there still is an appetite for mysteries to be solved. When reading Mr. Fox’s Gothic adventures I felt sometimes that they would translate to TV pretty easily. Some of his Gothic fiction would make a good Nancy Drew meets X-Files TV episode.

original scratchboard art illustration for Hour of the Harp by Lynna Cooper

I create the cover illustrations to size. I work on 6 x 6 black Ampersand Scratchboard. The book covers are 6 x 9, which leaves 3 inches for text. I want a clean “Penguin Books” look and feel to the covers. I’m using the “Pretty Faces” motif to keep a unified look and feel to the whole library. The back cover has an image of the original cover, the date it was originally printed, and the original story description.

I used this painting by Thérèse Schwartze (1851-1918) as the reference point for my scratchboard illustration.

 painting by Thérèse Schwartze (1851-1918) of a female harpist

The fact that this is a young lady playing the harp in a Victorian Era painting made it an easy sell for me. The painting was painted by a Victorian woman to boot. I love searching for reference material on Pinterest and Google Image. I find so many little known and near-forgotten artists. If anything, I hope to bring some of the obscure back into the light by doing a scratchboard version of their work of art.

Here’s a short video I put together of me working on the scratchboard process. 

I have had many positive comments about the new “Pretty Faces” covers. I feel pretty confident I will be able to do all 156 book covers. 

I encourage you to join my Newsletter to get notifications of when I’ve posted a new blog entry. 

If you’d like to own a digital or a paperback copy of Hour of the Harp, you can order eBooks Here and Reprints Here

I will not be working on books in the order as Mr. Fox wrote them. I am doing the book cover designs and reviews based on when the transcribers who are assisting me, finish one. As they complete a book, it will be the newest release, so it will get a new book cover design and review. 

Thank you for stopping by and finding out more about what I’m doing. You can also see all of the books that have been transcribed so far by visiting The Gardner Francis Fox Library’s official website.

Sincerely,

Kurt Brugel

Custodian & Illustrator