You’ve gotta get up and try, and try, and try

Louisa the Poisoner — Tanith Lee

Louisa-the-Poisoner

Tanith Lee’s delightful 1995 modern-day Horatio Alger story Louisa the Poisoner is a standalone chapbook.

Pity poor Louisa, raised in March Mire, a swamp “so dangerous that none but fools would venture into it,” fostered by a mad, witchy aunt, then cast out into an uncaring world. Her aunt has tragically died in convulsions (after Louisa poisoned her). How is one sad orphan, all alone in the world, to fend for herself?


How lucky for Louisa that her aunt should have schooled her so diligently in the ways of the gentlefolk. How lucky that she should encounter kindly Lord Maskullance almost as soon as she leaves March Mire. How lucky that that elderly aristocrat should ask the beautiful young woman to join his household as Maskullance Manor.

How unlucky for the other inhabitants of the Manor.

Lord Maskullance is a generous man. His infatuation with Louisa is a purely intellectual one, since Maskullance views physical passions with distaste. As Maskullance’s ward, Louisa enjoys a life of luxury. As one of his heirs, she is certain of a share of his estate when the ancient fellow finally succumbs to advanced age.

It does not escape Louisa’s notice that the fewer the heirs still alive when Maskullance finally dies, the larger Louisa’s share will be. Louisa has inherited little from her aunt, but that little included a small vial of an untraceable and invariably fatal poison. In short order, the number of permanent guests in Maskullance Manor dwindles most pleasingly.

The only stumbling block is the butler Mr. Sheepshead, who not only inconsiderately refuses to be poisoned on multiple occasions, but views his master’s ward with increasing alarm (an emotion entirely inappropriate for his lowly station). Will the hardworking, plucky orphan be undone by a mere servant?

 ~oOo~

Lee’s dark comedy does not concern a beautiful young psychopath murdering a multitude of innocents (as one might expect, given some of Lee’s other novels). Louisa’s victims are almost all of them aristocrats and unpleasant aristocrats at that. While some bleeding hearts might object to her methods, the character of her victims is such that the net effect of her murders is to leave the county a better place. Lord Maskullance, the only likeable Muskullance, is spared Louisa’s toxic ministrations. Indeed, he gives the impression of being both aware and delighted by his ward’s work ethic.

Persons old enough to have seen 1949’s Kind Hearts and Coronets (in the UK version) may have some expectations as to how the plot will unwind. Expectations will be foiled. The mass murderer in the film (Louis, the 10th Duke of Chalfont) is a bitter man seeking vengeance; Lee’s heroine Louisa is a charming young woman innocent of any deplorable obsessions.. She just wants the cash, and is willing to work hard to get it. Is there really any moral difference between weeding a garden and killing off the other members of an unintended tontine?

Louisa the Poisoner is available here.

Title

Missing or dead mothers

Missing or dead fathers

The Birthgrave

1

1

The Storm Lord

1

1

Volkhavaar

2

2

Drinking Sapphire Wine

0

0

Night’s Master

2

1

Shadowfire

2

1

Death’s Master

3

3

Sabella

1

1

Day By Night

1

2

Silver Metal Lover

0

0

Delusion’s Master

1

1

Cyrion

0

0

Anakire

2

1

Sung in Shadow

1

0

The White Serpent

1

1

The Book of the Beast

0

1

Electric Forest

1

0

The Book of the Mad

1

2*

Lycanthia

0

0

A Heroine of the World

1

1

The Winter Players

0

2

Delirium’s Mistress

1

0

The Blood of Roses

2

1

Castle of Dark

1

0

Prince on a White Horse

0

0

Heart-Beast

0

0

Quest for the White Witch

1

0

Shon the Taken

0

0

Black Unicorn

1

1

Gold Unicorn

0

1

Dark Dance

1

1

Personal Darkness

1

1

Darkness, I

0

0

Wolf Tower

1

1

Faces Under Water

0

0

Red Unicorn

0

1

Saint Fire

1

0

A Bed of Earth

1

1

Louisa the Poisoner

2

1

39 books

34* absent mothers

28** absent fathers

* Includes one aunt.

** Includes one uncle.


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