cover image The Distant Lands: A Novel of the Antebellum South

The Distant Lands: A Novel of the Antebellum South

Julian Green, Julien Green. Marion Boyars Publishers, $24.95 (902pp) ISBN 978-0-7145-2909-7

Elizabeth Escridge, a winsome blond English orphan of 16, comes to live with her slave-holding kin at Dimwood, their Georgia plantation, in this hefty, slow-building, floridly written novel of the antebellum South by noted French academician Green ( Adrienne Mesurat ), who as a child imbibed tales of his mother's Savannah girlhood. Elizabeth, developing from a pious innocent into an impassioned woman, drunk on moonlight and magnolias, is driven to casting occult spells in the Wood of the Damned in hopes of luring Jonathan Armstrong. Scapegrace Jonathan--seductive, mocking, diabolical--threatens to reclaim Dimwood as his family estate; in need of money, he marries a wealthy mulatto courtesan whom he grows to detest. Elizabeth, though wed to a sweetly placid man for whom sex is embarrassing (``It's not done in America''), becomes a ``bacchante'' in the bedroom. She makes love to both men, and bears a son of uncertain paternity. Though his gothic/romantic novel may be more aptly compared to Poe's ``Ligeia'' than to Mitchell's Gone with the Wind , Green is a poetic master at manipulating genre trappings--insolent aristocrats, buried family crimes, haunted mansion, sinister housekeeper and laudanum-drugged women who are victims or vampires. His skewed Gallic nightmare vision of the American South puts a distinctive spin on this monumental melodramatic read. A sequel is expected. (Sept.)