Welcome to my house.

Come freely. Go safely; and leave some of the happiness you bring.

This Hallowe’en I watched Stonehearst Asylum (2014 Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale). I want to talk about its treatment of the topic of psychology (which it does fairly well, albeit as an indictment of Victorian methods), but that’s a topic that keeps expanding because I can say a lot on it. Today I’m going to talk about something else.

Gothic Horror settings are really swell, and Stonehearst Asylum is a good one.

We pretty much know our Gothic fiction settings. Castle Dracul, Castle Frankenstein (which is a real place), Burgh Island (known more affectionately as Indian Island). Then there’s a healthy number of Louisiana antebellum plantations. (Buy one today! Fixer-upper opportunity!)

A late comer to the party is the Ivy-league Massachusetts university.

Essentially a Gothic Horror setting looks like Newstead Abbey during the year without a summer, preferably on a dark and stormy night.

Such places are big enough to get lost in. They’re far enough away (or have enough grounds) that escape from them back to civilization is not viable. Inclement weather may help to close the circle.

Occasionally there is the odd supernatural hazard. The countryside monsters are there to keep you indoors. The ghosts are there to warn you of the dangers lurking in. They’re the harbingers, the heralds of doom. Transylvanian kings with sanguiverous concubines are a problem all their own. But laws of hospitality require that you live so long as you are in their domain. That could be for a long, long time.

Sometimes the parts of the house are not well kept. Occasionally stairs break. Stonework collapses or gas will collect and flash (a common problem in old stately English gas-lit country houses). The fences and gates are spiked iron so it’s better to avoid walking on the rooftops. Occasional swords and maces and even firearms hang on the hearth, lest an impromptu mortal altercation require them. It’s been a long time since our last lycanthropy problem, but the hunting rifles are in working order, in the master’s hope of another African safari. Don’t expect there to be enough shells to stop a zombie outbreak, though.

The apothecary is a chemist’s dream. Strychnine, Curare, Arsenic, even Potassium Cyanide (It’s used in photography.)

There’s plenty of rope by which to hang yourself. Candlesticks, cleavers and wrenches are readily available should Professor Plum get too close to the identity of Dr. Black’s killer. Darker times required the inclusion of secret doors and back passages. Mrs. Peacock was right here at the bookshelf only a moment ago, and then I heard the rumble of stone.

Fortunately, the larder is full. No one will starve, at least. The cookware seems to be meant to feed an army. A man could crawl inside, and probably does so when it requires cleaning. And that oven is immense to match.

No one will die of thirst either. The bar is stocked full. Maybe too full, considering Colonel Mustard’s condition. Someone should keep an eye on him.

Stonehearst is an institutional manorhouse deep in a mountain range that seems a bit majestic for the isles. The facility is free of specters and the local fauna isn’t worryingly fierce. Winters at Stonehearst are cold but not snowbound, and thunderstorms are not the sort that last for days or cause mudslides.

Stonehearst is just an ordinary, if rather remote, full-featured Victorian-era lunatic asylum with all the accommodations and resources necessary to treat — and cure — any aberrant inmate.

Shall I see you to your room, miss?

EDIT: Stupid homophones.


3 thoughts on “Welcome to my house.

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