Sunday Book Review: Watch the Wall, My Darling by Jane Aiken Hodge


Publisher: Bloomsbury Reader

Release Date: Original 1966, re-release January 2014

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Setting:  Regency England, Sussex

Our heroine, Christina, is an American come back to England, after her father’s violent death, to the family pile. Her father had left the stifling life under his father’s brutal thumb, with his French wife before the war with Napoleon, and she in turn left him with their eldest daughter, Christina.  She has no one else to turn to, no other family, and so she sends a letter to her grandfather telling them that she is on her way back to them, her only flesh and blood.

The locals in Rye, of course, warn her about the “Dark House” and traveling there by night because “they” don’t like it (see the poem below).  They could be anyone, as far as she knows, from bandits, smugglers, or the soldiers guarding the coast.

The story plays out beautifully against an interesting period in history when invasion of England by Napoleon appeared imminent. Hodge reverses some of the die-hard Gothic Romance tropes—the old butler is nothing but kind to Christina and the domineering-type mother is pretty ineffectual, though even that appears to leave a mark on her son, Ross. There’s an inheritance involved, and a competition for it, while meanwhile a French privateer hovers just off the coast, upsetting everyone.  There’s a very harrowing and haunting scene towards the end when Christina finds out what happens if one doesn’t watch the wall as advised, and sees more than they should.  

I loved Christina, again not a usual heroine one expects from the genre that typically had women in negligees running from dark houses in bad weather on their covers.  She’s an American, tall, speaks her mind, and spends much of her time mediating. When a wounded man needs her help, she doesn’t hesitate to help out, though this puts her in danger. She gets afraid, angry, but keeps it contained. Plus, she’s got a secret, too.

Ross, the broody hero/antihero, is a typical, on the outside, Regency rake.  He’s keeping a lot of secrets bottled up, and the family doesn’t want to trust him, so every time he disappears they backstab him and make plans around him. No wonder his uncle left for the states, it was saner! 

Overall, I really enjoyed this story— the writing, the setting and characters, the twists in the plot.

In order to help me form my thoughts about this review, I had to do a little homework to reacquaint myself and found some great sites reviewing vintage and contemporary gothic romance. I’ve included them here:


A Smuggler’s Song  from
IF you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,

Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,

Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.

Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.

Five and twenty ponies,

Trotting through the dark –

Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.

Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,

Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump if you chance to find

Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,

Don’t you shout to come and look, nor use ’em for your play.

Put the brishwood back again – and they’ll be gone next day !

If you see the stable-door setting open wide;

If you see a tired horse lying down inside;

If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;

If the lining’s wet and warm – don’t you ask no more !

If you meet King George’s men, dressed in blue and red,

You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.

If they call you ” pretty maid,” and chuck you ‘neath the chin,

Don’t you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one’s been !

Knocks and footsteps round the house – whistles after dark –

You’ve no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.

Trusty’s here, and Pincher’s here, and see how dumb they lie

They don’t fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by !

‘If You do as you’ve been told, ‘likely there’s a chance,

You’ll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France,

With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood –

A present from the Gentlemen, along ‘o being good !

Five and twenty ponies,

Trotting through the dark –

Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.

Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie –

Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by !