Revisiting Gates of Paradise by VC Andrews
As regulars visitors to this blog will no doubt be aware, I am a fan of V.C. Andrews. I began reading the authors work during high school, starting with My Sweet Audrina, then moving on to her most famous work, Flowers in the Attic and then the other books in the Dollanganger Saga. And when I was done, I moved on to the Casteel series.
As true V.C. Andrews fans know, the author died shortly after the release of the second novel in the Casteel series, Dark Angel. In the years that followed three more books in the series were released, Fallen Hearts, Gates of Paradise and Web of Dreams. While V.C. Andrews influence was clear in Fallen Hearts and Web of Dreams, Gates of Paradise has long been the weakest link in the series and this was something that did not escape my attention as a sixteen year old reader. In fact, despite considering myself a fan, I never even finished the book.
It was not until many years later that I decided to read Gates of Paradise again.
This time, I vowed to read the novel from start to end. I selected a copy that had the most V.C. Andrews like cover, a POD reprint of the original US version, with a beautiful, gothic cover (perhaps this was the problem, my original copy was a very battered UK edition from the early 1990s, that looked a little too similar to all of the other sagas that were being published at the time,) and decided to only read the novel in the evenings, when I could soak up the spookiest atmosphere. Maybe this time around, I would be impressed by Gates of Paradise.
And did I enjoy this book?
Well, it wasn't awful. But it was still the weakest link in the Casteel series. Annie Stonewall, the main character, simply did not fit well with the other V.C. Andrews heroines. (Up until this point of course, the heroine of the series had been her mother, Heaven.) She seemed younger, spoiled, selfish and far weaker. Of course, it must have been a daunting task for Neiderman to go in and write the fourth book in a series that had been started by an author who was not only a different gender, but also a different age and came from an entirely different background. I also believe that Neiderman tried very hard to capture the spirit of V.C. Andrews in this novel. I don’t think it is coincidental that the main character, Annie, is an artist or that she spends much of the novel in a wheelchair. It is almost as if parts of Annie’s character plays tribute to V.C. Andrews in a small way. The book contains many of the key elements that made V.C. Andrews work so successful. Gates of Paradise is definitely a fairytale gone wrong. It opens with two children, on the cusp of adulthood, dreaming of a magical place where all of their dreams will come true. And then, one day, tragedy befalls the heroine and she finds herself whisked away with strangers to a dilapidated old mansion where she is kept prisoner by an old man, before eventually being rescued by the one man who truly loves her. And, although Annie and Luke are star-crossed lovers, a revelation from a kindly old relative at the end of the novel means that they are free to be together and live happily ever after. In that sense, Gates of Paradise was an interesting gothic fairytale. However, many of my original frustrations with the novel still remain. All good fairytales need a villain, especially V.C. Andrews ones. Think of some of her great villains – Olivia Foxworth and Kitty Dennison for example. Each of these characters was able to quite sadistically torture the lead character at every given opportunity. Then there are the torn bystanders, characters who may initially have some sympathy for the heroine until they are eventually seduced by thoughts of greed, sex and power. Corrine Foxworth, Cal Dennison, Damian Adare and surprisingly perhaps, Luke Casteel Senior, all fit into this mould.
So where do the characters from Gates of Paradise fit?
Tony Tatterton’s character has long been established as a torn bystander who was eventually seduced by greed, sex and power. In his version of events, revealed to Heaven toward the end of Dark Angel he was a young businessman who had inherited a large fortune from his recently deceased parents when he married Jillian VanVoreen. His marriage to Jillian soon failed when the vain, older woman failed to respond to him either emotionally or sexually. Tony’s affections soon turn toward Leigh, Jillian’s thirteen-year-old daughter. Tony confesses to Heaven in Dark Angel that he raped Leigh, but tries to justify his actions by claiming that the girl was worldly beyond her years and had been trying to seduce Tony in order to get revenge on her mother. Although he raped Leigh several times, Tony claims that she enjoyed it and often came back for more. Tony sticks to his story throughout the series, though scenes in Web of Dreams suggest that his claims may not be entirely accurate.
In Gates of Paradise, Tony keeps Annie as a prisoner inside Farthingale Manor, forces her to dress as her mother and grandmother and eventually attempts to rape her. In that sense, Tony is the villain. However, he is also presented in the novel as a confused old man. He often confuses Annie with Jillian, Leigh and Heaven. He also appears not to remember some of these episodes. After sexually assaulting Annie while she is in the bath, he returns to the young woman’s bedroom wearing different clothing and behaving as though he has not seen her for several hours. He does seem to genuinely care about his granddaughter and is afraid of losing her, which can be seen through his payment for her medical treatment and his outburst when Luke and Fanny rescue Annie from Fathinggale Manor. Tony, although evil enough to have assaulted or attempted assault on four generations of women, is never quite powerful enough to become a real villain. In fact at the end of the novel, Annie realises that she feels more sorry for him than anything.
Mrs Broadhurst plays a powerful part in Annie’s recovery. She is said to dislike spoiled rich children and systematically punishes Annie for behaving like a spoiled brat. Mrs Broadhurst’s punishments include placing Annie inside a tub of boiling water, from which she cannot escape, and placing laxatives in Annie’s food. Sadly, however, Mrs Broadhurst’s role in the novel is too small and she is too quickly removed from her place of employment for her to reach the status of a true villain.
Drake Casteel is quickly seduced into the Tatterton Empire and seems oblivious to the suffering of those around him. He is also a hypocrite. He admonishes and bullies Luke for what he perceives as an incestuous relationship with Annie, yet it is also hinted at that Drake has romantic feelings for his niece. For example, when Drake greets Annie with a peck on the cheek, his kiss always seems to land on the side of her mouth. Drake, like the others is not a true villain, but a fool.
Gates of Paradise lacks a true V.C. Andrews style villain. It is pleasing then, that the novel does have a saviour, a person who plays a small but vital role in rescuing the heroine in her time of need. Paul Sheffield from Petals on the Wind fits into this role, though his intentions may not have been entirely pure. Without Paul, it is unlikely that any of the Dollanganger children would have survived for very long. Like in Web of Dreams, Luke Casteel plays the part of a saviour marrying Leigh and offering to raise her child as his own. (Though, through his sadness at Leigh’s death, Luke soon reverts to his old ways.) In Gates of Paradise, Troy Tatterton, Annie’s long lost biological father is that saviour. It is Troy who finds Annie in the maze and Fathinggale Manor, listens to her story and encourages her to walk again. Knowing that the young woman is in danger, he also makes a small but vital step toward her rescue. It is he who phones Fanny and insists that she take Annie away from Fathinggale Manor.
Like all heroines from a fairy tale, Annie too has her devoted, handsome and forbidden prince. She and Luke Casteel junior have known one another since birth and have an exclusive friendship that would appear to be developing into something more. And like all good love stories, the pair face an impossible obstacle. Only in the case of Annie and Luke, it is not income or warring families who will keep them apart. Annie and Luke believe that they are half-brother and sister, Luke being the illegitimate son of Logan Stonewall. Luckily, Troy Tatterton is there to once again save the day, revealing that Annie is his daughter, and therefore she and Luke are not blood relatives. The author’s handling of Annie and Luke’s relationship has in a sense become the prototype for how incestuous relationships are handled in the books written by Andrew Neiderman. Unlike V.C. Andrews, who often painted a sympathetic view of incestuous relationships, it is clear through his work that Neiderman finds writing about incest either uncomfortable or he wants to make it seem as gross as possible. In subsequent series, the heroine will develop feelings for another character who she believes is her brother. The heroine knows that these feelings are wrong and does not act on them. For example, in the Cutler series, Dawn is careful not to get to close to Jimmy, although she has feelings for him. Often the pair are allowed to be together after and enjoy a happy ever after it is revealed that they are not truly related. Dawn and Jimmy, for example, eventually marry though it takes some time for the pair to adjust to the fact that they are not brother and sister. In the Logan series, a similar dynamic occurs between Cary and Melody. The pair soon develop feelings for one another, but do not dare act on them until it is revealed that they are not first cousins. This is a different world from the Dollanganger saga, where Cathy and Chris eventually give in to their feelings and live together as husband and wife, or the early part of the Casteel saga where Heaven and Troy make love twice after making the discovery that Troy is Heaven’s uncle. (Once, directly after making the discovery, and once more several years later when Heaven discovers that Troy had faked his own death.) In the novels written by Neiderman, incest never goes unpunished. For example, in the Cutler series, Phillip is tortured for his feelings for Dawn (and later for Christie,) and is eventually driven crazy. In his last scene in the novel, he is driven away by the police, presumably to an institution. Linden suffers a similar fate in the DeBeers saga. In the Landry Series, Ruby and Paul marry, despite the knowledge that they are half-brother and sister. The pair suffer greatly for their decision. Shortly after her wedding, Ruby discovers that Beau still loves her after all, and she is trapped in a marriage where she and Paul can never truly be husband and wife. Later, Ruby switches places with her dying sister. She watches as Paul and dies of grief, and then battles to regain custody of her daughter. Even many years later, Ruby continues to suffer, believing that the death of her son was a punishment for her marriage to Paul and has a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, in the Hudson series, Rain is disgusted by Roy’s feelings toward her, even when it is revealed they are not brother and sister. Meanwhile, Rain’s long-lost younger brother is so tortured by his feelings for Rain that he eventually kills himself after learning that she is his half-sister. In many later series, the incest was dropped, though it makes an ugly return in Daughters of Darkness, where Lorelei is expected to marry her father.
Though much better than later works baring the V.C. Andrews name, Gates of Paradise will never sit easily on my bookshelf in its place, filed between copies of Fallen Hearts and Web of Dreams, it the sequel that V.C. Andrews herself would probably never have written, while becoming a prototype for to every series that followed afterward.