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The Lost Stradivarius by J. Meade Falkner
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The Lost Stradivarius (1895)

by J. Meade Falkner

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A period short work about a violin that possesses the one who plays it. OK, but not really my cup of tea. ( )
  AliceAnna | Aug 13, 2014 |
Sir John Maltravers finds the titular violin in his rooms at college and proceeds to descend into obsession over the violin, complete with Gothic evocations of malevolent ghosts and swooning.

I found this on a list of books sold by the Folio Society and, sold by the words "lost" and "stradivarius" appearing the title, I decide to sample Folio's literary taste. I don't think I'll be ordering the fancy, hardcover copy of this book anytime soon.

The main character is accused of failing in morality, but all that's described in a reluctance to show up at church (which breaks the heart of his pious sister) and an obsessive devotion to his violin (which breaks the heart of his wife). That is a bit despicable, but the author, through the point of view of Sir John's sister (a thoroughly governess-from-"Turn of the Screw"-like character - in the interpretation that the governess there has imagined the gothic ghosts and causes the death of the little children herself), equates to selling his soul to the devil.

All of the women in the book are very unconvincing. The narrator is Sir John's sister, Miss Maltravers, but I was actually shocked to find that it was a woman narrating; the writing style seems very masculine. Also, she's portrayed to just adore her brother's new wife Constance. But surely Miss Maltravers depended on her brother a great deal and she would have to share him with Constance and Constance's mother and, eventually, with her nephews and nieces. And she would always be "Miss Maltravers" and not "Lady Maltravers" like her mother, because the title only passes to the male heir. Wouldn't the natural thing be for her to resent Constance a bit? Surely it wasn't easy for English ladies to see their brothers married off - I think Miss Bingley in Pride and Prejudice had the right idea.

Furthermore, both narrators of the book, Miss Maltravers in the first half and Sir John's friend in the second half, are too polite to divulge what terrible things the depraved people did to become depraved. There is Adrian Temple, the original owner of the Lost Stradivarius, who is categorically described as a "bad man", and no one will go into any detail as to how bad he was. It would seem that attending too many parties, being a little to chevalier around the ladies and spending a bit too much money on one's fantasy house is the worst that can be said of the "debauched" and "depraved" men of the Stradivarius.

Another time, I might have been able to read this as a simple ghost story surrounding a beautiful musical instrument, but now I just see an unsatisfying Victorian Nancy Drew story, only less feminist. ( )
  Kryseis | Aug 17, 2011 |
J. Meade Falkner is somewhat of a cult figure amongst a small group of Victorian fiction aficionados. Unfortunately, the Lost Stradivarius is not the best place to start in order to get a sense of why Falkner is so revered. The book isn't bad, per se, but it's absolutely typical for its genre, and somewhat run-of-the-mill.

The novella is a classic Victorian ghost story, detailing the obsession and gradual madness of a young student with the titular violin. There's not a lot more to it than that, and fans of the genre will be immediately familiar with this type of ghost story.

Sadly, the book rarely rises above average. Falkner's prose is fine, but his narrator is the protagonist's somewhat starchy and naive sister, so we never get the chance to enter the subjective horror on display, and end up frustratingly ignorant as to the most interesting aspects of the haunting. Her voice also grates after a while.

Other than a strong repulsion/fascination with catholicism, which is portrayed as little better than an orgiastic pagan cult at times, there's not much that stands out to this book beyond the general quality of the Hesperus edition, printed on high quality paper with good binding.

If you are interested in Victorian tales of obsession there are far better stories to be had in the various ghost anthologies floating about. In particular, Oliver Onions' The Beckoning Fair One basically accomplishes everything this tale sets out to, in a far more eerie and interesting fashion. ( )
  patrickgarson | Jan 26, 2011 |
It took an awfully long time to read this little book. About a page and a half was all I could manage at most sittings, before consciousness would flee. I've been sleeping much better since I started reading it, for which I suppose I should be grateful.

The main section is narrated by a Victorian woman whose propriety and niceness prevent her prose ever rising above the unutterably dull, even though she is writing about the possession and destruction of her beloved brother by a debauched evil spirit. The second section, filling in some details the first narrator didn't know about, is more bearable, but comes too late to save this from being a very dull work.

The chief interest of the story lies in its being an early use of what would become a staple idea of supernatural fiction, the cultural artifact (in this case both a piece of music and a violin) which exposes the protagonist to a supernatural threat. ( )
1 vote PhileasHannay | Dec 7, 2008 |
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A classic tale of the supernatural from the author of 'Moonfleet'. Whilst practising in his rooms in Oxford, talented violinist John Maltravers notices a strange phenomenon: whenever a certain air is played, a mysterious presence seems to enter.

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