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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Long Fatal Love Chase

Louisa May Alcott

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To purchase A Long Fatal Love Chase

Title: A Long Fatal Love Chase
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Genre: Novel
Written: (1866)
Length: 351 pages
Availability: A Long Fatal Love Chase - US
A Long Fatal Love Chase - UK
A Long Fatal Love Chase - Canada
Die Gefangene von Valrosa - Deutschland
Un lungo fatale inseguimento d'amore - Italia
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Written for serial publication in 1866, A Long Fatal Love Chase was first published in 1995
  • Originally published in the UK as The Chase
  • With an afterword by Kent Bicknell

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Our Assessment:

B : rough and fast fare -- but with some neat bits and surprises

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly B- 15/9/1995 Lisa Schwarzbaum
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/9/1995 Stephen King
The Washington Post . 3/9/1995 Maureen Corrigan

  From the Reviews:
  • "The combination of feminist principles and florid writing style makes for a curious read: There’s a lot of bosom heaving and eye flashing; yet at its core, Love Chase showcases an alluring, inspiring, made-for-movies heroine." - Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

  • "It's a suspenseful and thoroughly charming story, a strange but not unpalatable crossing of the Brothers Grimm and V.C.Andrews. It ends on a darker note than any modern editor would be comfortable with, I suspect, but one in chilling harmony with any contemporary newspaper's front-page story of domestic abuse escalating into madness and murder." - Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

  • "A Long Fatal Love Chase and the stories collected in Behind a Mask (with the exception of the extraordinary title tale) are well-wrought specimens of 19th-century Gothic melodrama, exhibiting all the fright-a-minute exuberance as well as the musty mannerisms of the form. (...) Rosamond's evasive energies begin to flag two-thirds of the way through the novel, and though Tempest makes quite a convincing stalker, he pops up with such predictable regularity that his threat-quotient wanes." - Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Long Fatal Love Chase is a work that Louisa May Alcott "dashed off", as editor Kent Bicknell says in his afterword, in August and September 1866, but that was turned down by the pulp fiction publisher who had solicited it as: "too long & too sensational". One of several works she wrote in the genre, this one was put aside and forgotten -- easily enough, after Alcott's breakout success with the first part of Little Women in 1868 -- and only rediscovered more than a century later, finally then published in 1995.
       Pulp fiction it is, with Alcott signaling loud and clear what is to come in the novel's opening paragraph, with its protagonist proclaiming:

     "I tell you I cannot bear it ! I shall do something desperate if this life is not changed soon. It gets worse and worse, and I often feel as if I'd gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom."
       It is eighteen-year-old Rosamond who speaks these words -- and, of course, she soon gets exactly what she bargained for.
       Her frustration with her situation is easy to understand. She lives alone with her grandfather -- a "weird, withered man" -- on an otherwise uninhabited island. But, conveniently, an old pupil of the old man's suddenly shows up, having sailed his yacht, the Circe, over -- Phillip Tempest.
       Yes, Rosamond can't help but notice: "Why, you are the very image of Meph --" when he walks by the portrait of Mephistopheles hanging in the hall, but she is immediately quite taken by him, even though, at thirty-five, he is practically twice her age. (He, meanwhile, first takes her to be a mere fifteen.) He hangs about for a while -- "not for a day, but for a month" -- and takes her sailing, and quite easily sweeps her off her feet. He wins her over -- and wins her from her grandfather, after a fashion, as well -- but he wants her to "defy public opinion" and live with him simply: "as my little friend whom I love and who loves me" and not as a married couple. Here she balks: as tempted and innocent as she is, she can't defy mores and insists their union be a proper, wedded one. And so he apparently gives in .....
       Fast-forward a year, and Rosamond still exclaims:
     "More than a year since you stole me like a pirate, Phillip. How short the time seems, and how happy !"
       Not much longer, though -- a glimpse of a mystery woman, an overheard conversation, and Rosamond realizes that she's been living a lie, Phillip's big lie, as he was already and still is married and his marriage to Rosamond was a sham. Never mind that she hears him tell the woman he is still married to that if she granted him the divorce he wants he would make an honest woman of Rosamond; no, she has lived in sin for a year and it devastates her, this: "terrible affliction which had befallen her", leading to: "the death of confidence and love". What can she do ? Run away, of course.
       And so, a bit more than a third of the way into the novel, 'The Chase Begins', as the next chapter-title then has it. Because Phillip does love her, and won't give up on her. The novel does live up to its name, as what follows is indeed a long -- and, yes, giving away the outcome, fatal -- love chase.
       Yes, it's a stalker novel -- but Phillip is evil only in his lies and wish to be united with Rosamond; he also has a (somewhat twisted) sense of honor and fair play, all of which makes for a very odd kind of cat and mouse game, as he also toys with his prey. As he admits to her, well into their back and forth:
I like the chase, it is exciting, novel and absorbing. I have tried and tired of other amusements, this satisfies me and I am in no haste to end it. Upon my soul, Rose, it gives a new interest to life and makes my wooing wonderfully varied and delightful.
       And one has to hand it to Alcott, how creative she is in how it all plays out, a determined Phillip repeatedly finding Rosamond wherever she hides -- including, for a time, in a convent. Rosamond and the reader are repeatedly lulled into thinking she has found some safety -- and then he pops up again, most unexpectedly. Her ruses -- at one point: conveniently stumbling over a suicide that resembles her, Rosamond switches suicide notes to lead everyone to believe she is the dead woman -- can only hide the truth from Phillip (and loyal retainer Baptiste) for so long, and then he's back in her life. It's all very melodramatic, of course, but Alcott also has a good sense for actual drama, and if a bit simplistic, much still is effective, as she repeatedly surprises (such as when a priest (a former Duc, of course) at one point shoves Phillip out of the way). With Phillip never truly forcing himself on Rosamond -- which also gives her opportunities to escape his clutches, for a time -- it very much is presented as a game, and there's a decent amount of fascination in following how it plays out; the fact that Rosamond continues to clearly have some feelings for Phillip, as violently as she might try to suppress them, and his continuing passion for her of course also add to the story's heat.
       It is also rather convoluted and confused. There's a boy in the picture as well -- Phillip's son, it turns out, and the reason that his first wife won't grant him a divorce, since she wants to be the one to raise the child but Phillip doesn't want to let her have him -- and he, too, is a pawn that Phillip is chasing (and one that characters are led to believe has already died at various points as well). And while Alcott does try to explain how Phillip discovers Rosamond's various hiding places, there are an awful lot of convenient coïncidences behind this, too.
       A Long Fatal Love Chase drags a bit at times -- its breathless pace sometimes simply too hurried; it's one of those books that would have benefitted from considerably more exposition at times, rather than the rapid-fire sequence of much of the action found here. Alcott also doesn't do nearly enough with the novel's stakes: Rosamond's turn away, after a year of living in what she too late discovers was sin, feels awkward here, Alcott not entirely convincingly making it as devastating as she wants it to be for Rosamond. Similarly, Rosamond's lingering feelings for Phillip could have been explored and exploited much more. (Presumably the twist, of Rosamond having lived in sin -- even if innocently --, was what made the story unpublishable in its times; nowadays, it seems almost silly -- in part because of Alcott's treatment of it, as one almost has the impression that she doesn't think it's such a big deal either.) '
       Among the novel's other weaknesses is Alcott's ambivalence about Phillip -- he's not nearly Mephistophelean enough -- and also how she leaves Rosamond too thin a character. Her Rosamond acknowledges early on, about one of her beliefs:
I got it where I get most of my ideas, out of books. The house is full of them and I've nothing to do but read.
       So also Alcott's mostly-too-two-dimensional protagonist seems to come straight out of too much mid-nineteenth century penny dreadful fiction, without enough real life to her. Among the rare glimpses of Alcott's potential comes with Rosamond buckling a leather strap on a balcony railing in order to escape a room -- "When the strap was firm, she swung herself down with the agile strength she had acquired long ago" -- but mostly she is presented as the more traditional kind of tragic-romantic heroine (down to -- in both occasion and outcome -- when she pulls the trigger of a pistol ...). Potential elsewhere is also not fully realized, such as the passion of Father Ignatius -- the former Duc Bayard Condé -- for Rosamond -- though here at least Alcott shines some with her succinct description of his life-path, as he explains to Rosamond why he became a priest:
I tried love, glory and pleasure; none satisfied me, and, weary of the world, I left it. It was a mistake, but being young and enthusiastic I felt that I should give my best to God and not wait till I had but the dregs of life to offer.
       A Long Fatal Love Chase is rough and (lots of) tumble; one can practically sense how quickly it was written, without much attention to truly building characters and a work, concerned just with getting on to the next surprise and jolt. Bits of considerable talent shimmer through -- sometimes in unlikely places -- and it is readable, even entertaining enough, but certainly it is more curiosity than anything else. It is not very good, but it is good enough, just.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 January 2024

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A Long Fatal Love Chase:
  • Dell publicity page
Reviews: Louisa May Alcott: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Louisa May Alcott lived 1832 to 1888.

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© 2024 the complete review

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