Is it still October? Guess it’s time for another creepy Old Favorite!
Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp, has been subtitled in its most recent paperback edition as “the classic novel of the supernatural”. And it is. It definitely is.
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Teenage Louisa and her young niece Jane are sent to stay for the summer with Jane’s grandmother Canfield. After the death of Jane’s parents–Louisa’s older sister Charlotte and Mrs. Canfield’s son, John–Jane has gone from a fun-loving little girl to a quiet and unhappy child. All the people who love her think a change of scenery will be good for her.
Louisa was supporting Jane’s visit, until she discovers that she will be going too, to care for and be responsible for nine-year-old Jane. Louisa had plans for the summer, with her beau, Martin! But Mrs. Canfield isn’t used to children and insists on some assistance, so an unhappy Louisa is trundled off to a long summer in Massachusetts with a quiet Jane.
Once arriving at the dark and formal mansion in Milford, Louisa is surprised to see Jane come out of her shell a bit. Mrs. Canfield and her maid, Katie, seem to be happy to spoil and dote on the little girl. Louisa spends quite a bit of time with her as well, between reading and writing letters to Martin. At first, both girls are content with their new situation.
But Jane seems to be a little too interested in one part of the house’s history: the stories about Emily, Mrs. Canfield’s youngest child, who died over a decade earlier, just a day shy of her thirteenth birthday. At first, Louisa thinks it’s harmless; after all, Jane is playing with Emily’s things and sleeping in Emily’s room. She thinks it’s natural that Jane is interested in another girl who lived in the old house.
When Jane tells Louisa that she saw Emily’s face in the reflecting ball in the garden instead of her own, Louisa doesn’t believe her; she’s sure it’s simply her niece’s growing imagination, or wishful thinking. Even as Jane seems to become healthier and happier, other strange things start happening, centered around the little girl. She writes a poem that makes Mrs. Canfield turn pale, then show Louisa the exact same poem, written over a dozen years earlier by Emily. Jane acts like she talks to her dead aunt, and confesses to Louisa that she’s frightened of Emily’s actions and of what she makes Jane do.
When Jane becomes ill, the young town doctor, Adam Frost, comes to the house to help care for her. As Dr. Frost spends more time with Jane, he befriends Louisa. The developing friendship between the three of them seems to cause Emily’s actions to increase and become more spiteful.
Emily was a selfish, willful, hateful little girl when she was alive; a child who spoiled everything she touched. As a spirit, she’s malevolent and enraged. She seems to have plans for Jane. Are Louisa, Mrs. Canfield and Dr. Frost in her way? Is she trying to harm Jane? Or is something going on that is even more dangerous?
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First published in 1969, Jane-Emily seems older. (In fact, I checked several places to see if I could find an earlier copyright date.) It’s set at the turn of the century, when horse-drawn carriages and newfangled cars drove by each other on country roads, when letters were the only way to communicate over long distances; at a time where it seems perfectly reasonable that one evil little girl might hang around the family mansion in order to torment anyone who might take her place.
I can’t tell you how many times I read this book…even though it scared me. It’s a quiet kind of scaring; the horror is suspenseful and creeps up on the reader. Everything seems to make sense and have a reasonable explanation, until it doesn’t. Emily’s presence is stamped all over the book, even as Jane and Louisa struggle to understand what is happening and determine how to escape from her clutches.
If you like horror, you’ll enjoy this book. I read it in sixth or seventh grade, but it’s accessible to a younger reader who enjoys a good ghost story, as well as an older reader who might like a little romance intermingled with the horror.
Try Jane-Emily if you liked Mary Downing Hahn or Stephanie Meyer. The book is kind of in-between the audience for the two authors. I promise, you won’t be sorry. Unless, of course, you have a gazing ball in your garden, and a ghost lurking in your home…