Finally, we’re here at the end of the V.C. Andrews Cutler series. Let’s review Darkest Hour. We’ve endured the hardships of Dawn Cutler, forced ourselves to watch the curse continue with her daughter, Christie, and now we’re going back to the source of it all with Grandmother Cutler. Or rather, Lillian Booth. Yes, let’s revisit the horrible Grandmother Cutler in her V.C. Andrews protagonist days, shall we?
GROWING UP ON THE THRIVING PLANTATION CALLED THE MEADOWS, LILLIAN BOOTH CHERISHES THE BRIGHTEST, HAPPIEST DREAMS. . .
Lillian’s world is full of grand parties, of sunshine and promises, as thrilling as the fairy tales Mama spins for her and her little sister, Eugenia. Non one, not even her cold, stern Papa and her Bible-spouting sister Emily, can crush her spirits — until the day Emily reveals the shattering secret of Lillian’s birth, a secret Mama sadly cannot deny. Still Lillian refuses to believe Emily’s hateful claim that she is evil, a curse . . . even when sweet, gentle Eugenia loses her fragile hold on life, and Mama retreats further into her fantasies.
But when tragedy befalls her best friend, the one boy whose tender heart mirrors her own, Lillian comes to believe Emily’s grim words. Meekly, she endures her penance, finding a strange solace in the endless repetition of prayers in a room stripped of all comforts. Lillian’s heart is torn anew when, in a drunken haze, Papa subjects her to the most brutal degradation.
Then Papa loses the Meadows in a card game, and Lillian is faced with a new and terrifying prospect. Arrogant, handsome playboy Bill Cutler will return the plantation — if Lillian will marry him! Now Lillian must leave her girlhood home behind, and make a bold new beginning as the mistress of a hotel called Cutler’s Cove . . .
NOTE: The back cover blurb is literally ONE PARAGRAPH. Normally I don’t alter the text, but this was a great abhorrence that I refused to let stand.
About Darkest Hour
As with most 5th books in a V.C. Andrews series’, Darkest Hour is a prequel. These prequels are often pointless because they delve deep into revelations we’ve already experienced the shock of in previous books in the series. I guess they’re supposed to shed light on previous characters, but seeing that Grandmother Cutler was such a villain before, it’s odd to see her in this “innocent” light.
Lillian is NOT Grandmother Cutler and I fail to see how Lillian could become Grandmother Cutler, even with the events that take place.
Dawn and its subsequent books take place sometime in the 1980’s. We never learn of Grandmother Cutler’s actual age, but let’s just say she’s in her 70’s. Darkest Hour starts when Lillian is 4 years old. A little subtraction would lead this book to take place somewhere in the 1910’s – 1920’s.
The family uses horse-drawn carriages and the estate is beginning to suffer problems as a result of the Civil War. I’m a big sucker for anything turn of the century, so I was quite excited for this book.
I purchased this copy from the same bookstore as the previous four books in the series. It’s in what I could consider “very good” condition. One crease runs along the spine. The top corners have sustained a bit of wear, but the bottom ones have managed to survive previous readings. Pages remain crisp and white.
I quite like the cover of this book. The keyhole is of the standard “protagonist’s face in the moon” variety. The tree stands ominous in the foreground. The colours of the moody sunset make this cover very eye-catching. Honestly, any V.C. Andrews book that features bare trees gets a thumbs-up from me. Gothic vibes created!
What I must take issues with, however, is the damn stepback picture:
This book takes place in the 1910s, so why in hell is Lillian wearing an 80s monstrosity of a floofy dress?! Look at those MASSIVE earrings on Georgia! Look at that ridiculous matching necklace! What’s with those massive princess skirts and giant balloon sleeves!
The only period appropriate pieces in this picture are Eugenia’s wheelchair and possibly Emily’s dress, though I’m not sure if the peter-pan collar is accurate o the period. I’m pretty sure that casual dress collars went right up the neck. One could argue that Jed’s outfit fits, but that bow and jacket look a bit too streamline for look like a turn of the century suit. The jacket collar appears too low. Oh yeah, and men (especially wealthy ones) went to the barber religiously.
Like, I’m not a fashion student of any sort, but I’ve watched enough shows from that time period to know historical inaccuracies when I see them. Those hairstyles are quite Back to the Future-inspired for the Edwardian era.
To be honest, by this point in the Cutler series, I was about ready to be done. The formula gets exhausting. Three books with the main protagonist? Then one poorly-written book with the protagonist’s spawn? Then we have to go back in time and live through revelations we’ve already experienced lackluster shock from? By this point I was about ready to go back to my daily life listening to how climate change is going to kill us all.
But on I suffered!
An Innocent & Pretty, Yet Completely Naive Female Protagonist
Now, we all remember Grandmother Cutler from Dawn. Horrible. Insistent. Fodder for the whole “OK, BOOMER” trend. In Darkest Hour, we meet Lillian Booth at the age of 4:
In Mamma’s mind, I would eventually go to a fine finishing school, just like she did, and when the time was right, I would be introduced to fine society, and some handsome, wealthy, young southern aristocrat would begin to court me and eventually come calling on Papa with a request for my hand. We’d have a big, elaborate wedding at The Meadows and I would go off, waving from the back of the carriage, to live happily ever after.
My daughter is four. She does not speak like this. You could argue that this is Lillian speaking as an adult about her 3-year old experience, but even I don’t speak of my 4 year-old self this way.
This is the problem I have with Andrews’ protagonists when the books start them off this young. This book could have started with Lillian as a teenager like other Andrews tales. Nevertheless, we have to endure a quarter of his novel featuring scenes of Lillian being tormented by her older sister, Emily.
Also, Lillian learns that her mother isn’t actually her mother, but Momma’s sister, Violet, who tries to marry for love and ended up pregnant and, obviously, dead form childbirth.
A Tragic Death
Much of Lillian’s more pleasant earlier memories take place with her younger sister, Eugenia, who is confined to a wheelchair due to her cystic fibrosis. Eugenia lives most of her life vicariously through Lillian’s days at school, and though her growing infatuation with her friend Niles.
As Lillian ages, she ventures out alone with Niles to his “magic pond”. Niles insists that the pond is magic because when you make a wish in front of it, the wish will come true. They end up sharing their first kiss at this magic pond. After enough stories about the pond’s magic, Eugenia begs to see it, so Lillian creates an elaborate plan to take her little sister there.
Unfortunately, Emily soon catches wind of their excursions plays a bunch of horrible pranks on Lillian to prevent her from taking Eugenia out committing sins. Still, Lillian can’t help herself. She and Niles take their budding sexuality a bit further. Lots of hardcore breast action takes place:
I saw his eyes drink in my bosom and when I closed my eyes, I envisioned his hands on my breasts. Right now, his right hand rested on my side. Slowly, I lowered my left hand to his wrist and then brought his hand up until his fingers grazed my breast. He resisted at first. I heard him take a deep breath, but I couldn’t stop. I pressed his palm to my breast and then brought my lips to his. His fingers moved until they settled over the nipple of my breast and I moaned.
Not as much breast as that scene from Honey, but it’s enough brast action to send Lillian into a spiral of moral paranoia. She runs home and find’s the doctor’s carriage in front of the estate house. Eugenia gets smallpox and you know what Lillian does to try to save her?
I’ve got to tell you all about what happened to me at school today and what Niles Thompson did to defend me. You want to hear that, don’t you? Don’t you, Eugenia? And guess what?” I whispered, leaning toward her. “He and I went to the magic pond again. Yes, we did. And we kissed and kissed. You want to hear all about it, don’t you, Eugenia? Don’t you?”
A Hostile Maternal Figure (+ Bonus Mean Girl!)
Lillian’s mother, Georgia isn’t so much a hostile figure as she is a hopeless romantic. Georgia switches from seeming like a caring mother to a self-obsessed and vain mother obsessed with hosting fancy parties. Then Eugenia dies and Georgia takes that classic Cutler tailspin into crazy-town.
Georgia stays in her room and rufuses to open the blinds. She gains weight (a classic V.C. Andrews trope to indicate one’s downfall) and loses her facial glow. Lillian grows concerned and attempts to get her father, Jed, and her sister Emily to help but both of them insist that Georgia should have prayed more.
Eventually Lillian attempts to confront her mother directly, only to find her sitting before her vanity, brushing her hair in a daze. Georgia then mistakes Lillian for her bio-mom, Violet:
“Don’t look at me like that. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I hate my marriage; I’ve hated it from the beginning. Those wails you heard coming from my room the night before my wedding were wails of agony. “
Georgia confesses the tragic reality of her arranged marriage to Jed Booth, along with her yearning for what Violet had with Lillian’s real father, Aaron. Georgia slips spends the rest of her days locked away in hallucination.
I struggle a lot with Georgia because she’s a wonderful tragic character, but the book pretty much just utilizes her for a plot-convenient death, which we’ll get to in a moment.
In the meantime, let’s take a moment to address Emily, who we all loved to hate in Secrets of the Morning:
I mean, that’s pretty much it. She does do some pretty heinous stuff for the sake of proving to Lillian that she’s a horrible evil no good very bad sinner. Examples:
- Drowning Lillian’s cat Cotton when Lillian and Eugenia get too obsessed with it.
- Hides Eugenia’s wheelchair in a barn with a skunk, so that Lillian gets sprayed with the skunk and has to get all her hair chopped off.
- Discovers Lillian walking out of the woods with Niles and goes and rats her out for being a total JEZEBEL to Papa.
Which leads us to…
Beloved Doting Paternal Figure
There is no “Daddy” in this book. It’s far from that. Jed Booth is your standard asshole dad who insists on being called Captain even though he never joined the military. White male privilege at its best. He runs The Meadows in a domineering manner, losing his temper whenever he sees fit.
He also eats obnoxiously. And he always shouts “God’s teeth!” when he’s frustrated, which is a phrase I’ve never heard before. Is that a real thing? Like a real phrase people used to say?
So yeah, Emily tells Jed that Lillian’s been whoring it up. Papa finally steps in, but instead of being fatherly, he goes full perv-mode and feels a teenage Lillian up in her bedroom. It’s an uncomfortable scene that I refused to bookmark which is fine because there’s much more nastiness to come.
One night, Niles climbs into Lillian’s bedroom window and the two engage in some PG-13 loving.
Lillian and Niles manage to stop themselves from going all the way, and Niles leaves in the night by climbing down the house’s drainpipe. Then the next morning, (of course!) Niles is found dead with a broken neck. Jed becomes furious with Lillian and has a doctor come in to check her hymen to see if she actually boned Niles or not.
In light of this plot point, and in light of recent celebrity news, please allow me to make one quick public service announcement:
AN INTACT HYMEN DOES NOT MEAN A WOMAN IS A VIRGIN.
WOMEN CAN BREAK THEIR HYMENS BY DOING THINGS OTHER THAN HAVING SEX, SUCH AS RIDING A BIKE.
SOME WOMEN NEVER BREAK THEIR HYMENS.
AN INTACT HYMEN IS NOT A SIGN OF VIRGINITY.
As The Meadows proceeds to lose money and staff is let go, Jed progresses quickly into alcoholism. One night he falls down the stairs and breaks his leg. Bound to his bed, he insists that Lillian assist him in his daily routines. Sure, she does a great job balancing the books, but he also makes her change him and give him sponge baths.
One night, Jed gets cold, so instead of asking for another blanket, he asks Lillian to get into the bed with him, and then we all know what happens next. Emily gets pregnant from this encounter, and of course, Jed refuses to take the blame:
“Why am I shouting? She’s pregnant with that dead boy’s baby. That’s why,” he said quickly.
“It’s not true, Emily. It wasn’t Niles,” I said.
“Shut up,” Emily said. “Of course it was Niles. You had him in your room and you did a sinful thing. Now you’re going to suffer for it.”
“There’s no reason to let anyone else know,” Papa said. “We’ll keep her hidden until afterward.”
“Then what will you do, Papa? What about the baby?”
“The baby . . . the baby . . . “
“It’ll be Mama’s baby,” Emily said quickly.
Lillian ends up confined to her room under threat of horsewhipping, even though every time she acts out she’s never reprimanded more than being forced to read a bunch of Bible verses. There’s little I remember of this portion of the book, up until the part when Lillian pretty much says “SCREW THIS”and escapes the house to visit the stupid magic pond again.
By this point, Lillian’s sporting a 7-month pregnancy belly and can’t make it all the way there, or all the way back. She flounders and collapses and drags herself as close as she can back to The Meadows. Then, just like Dawn, she gives birth to a preemie baby TWO MONTHS EARLY that somehow survives without any medical intervention.
A Rags to Riches Plot
Baby Charlotte is born to the world and passed around from woman to woman in the household. Lillian fails to have a decent bonding moment in the story, but she claims to love her daughter and blah blah blah. Once again, like Dawn, she fails to deal with any real postpartum issues at all. Then Georgia dies and Jed goes further into his drinking.
He begins having poker games and one night wages the entire estate to a man named Bill Cutler. Bill ultimately wins. Bill is also a gross perv who takes an eye to Lillian, and in a desperate attempt to save the only thing he has left, Jed trades the estate for Lillian’s hand in marriage.
Fantastic Psychological Horror
I quite like this plot development because it takes things full circle with Lillian having to live the exact same life that her adopted mother Georgia did. By this point in the book, Lillian’s pretty much down with the idea that she’s cursed for life. Her only worry is not being able to take Charlotte with her and she makes one last-ditch attempt to get Jed to do the right damn thing:
“I want Charlotte.” I want to be able to take her with me when I go,” I said.
“Charlotte? Take the baby?” He thought for a moment, his eyes fixing on the rain-washed windows. For a moment he was really considering it. My hopes began to soar. Papa had no real love for Charlotte. If he could get her of too . . . then he shook his head and turned back to me. “I can’t do that, Lillian. She’s my child. I can’t go giving up my child. What would people think?”
He promises that maybe Charlotte will get to spend more time with Lillian “in time”, and that’s pretty much the extent of Lillian’s protest for HER OWN CHILD. She’s totally fine with leaving HER OWN CHILD in that house of horrors.
So I suppose in a way, that’s some fantastic psychological horror, but I don’t think it’s the kind of psychological horror that Neiderman was going for.
In the end, Lillian marries and lives a loveless marriage with Bill Cutler at Cutler’s Cove. Bill Cutler ends up being quite the dud and so Lillian takes over the books and the management and pretty much everything else. She’s happy. She’s home. And there’s no sign of her turning into the horrible woman she’s manifested to by the time Dawn comes around.
A Vivid Gothic Setting
I dunno, we get to spend more time at The Meadows in the tail end of its glory days, which is cool, but the estate really isn’t much of a character in this book as it was in previous ones.
Some Good Olde School Misogyny
Lillian hits puberty at a young age (though it’s not explained what age, specifically). Of course, the first period scene is a grand moment of absolute horror, unlike the experience that most girls have with their first period. Cramps and blood and much sobbing occurs.
Then, of course, Georgia gives Lillian “the talk” and of course, it’s the wrong damn talk:
The changes in me that followed were a great deal more subtle. My bosom continued to sprout a little bit at a time until Mamma remarked one day that I had cleavage.
“That little dark space between our breasts,” she told me in a whisper, “fascinates menfolk.”
She went on to tell me about a female character in one of her books who deliberately sought out ways to reveal and make the most of it. She wore undergarments that would life and squeeze her breasts, “making them bulge and their cleavages deepen.” The very thought of such a thing made my heart pound.
“The men talked about her behind her back and called her a tease,” Mamma said. “You have to be careful from now on, Lillian, that you don’t do anything to lead men to believe you’re anything like that sort. Those are loose women who never win the respect of a decent man.”
None of this ultimately matters because Jed rapes Lillian and then Bill Cutler stalks her though the Meadows when she’s walking around with a baby of all things.
He stepped closer to me, so close I felt his breath on the back of my neck. “You do a lot around here, I bet, don’t you?”
“I do my chores,” I said, reaching down to give the baby one of her toys. I didn’t want to look at Bill Cutler. I was uncomfortable under such male scrutiny. When Bill Cutler gazed at me, he gazed at all of me, his eyes traveling up and down my body every time he spoke. I felt just like one of the slave girls must have felt on the auction block.
Some Really Bad Writing
I feel like I’m growing a little blind to the excessive paragraphs of melodrama. Lillian’s angst doesn’t resonate quite as effectively as Dawn’s did. Still, there a moments here and there when Lillian goes into a spiral of mind-pity.
We’re all being tested, I concluded. Deep in my heart, buried under mountains of pretend and illusion, was the realization that the biggest test of all was just ahead. It was always there, lingering over The Meadows like a dark cloud that was oblivious to the wind or to prayers. It hovered, waiting until its time came.
And then it released the rain of sadness over us, the drops so cold they were to chill my heart forever and ever.
Rain and cloud references frequent this novel. It’s a pretty standard reference in plenty V.C. Andrews books, but I particularly noticed them in this one. Here’s another cloud one:
I lowered my head and with a heart so heavy it made my steps ponderous, I headed toward the house. When I looked up, I saw that a long, heavy cloud had slipped over the sun and dropped a veil of gray over the great building, making all the windows look dark and empty, all except one window, the window of Emily’s room. In it she stood gazing down at me, her long white face casting a look of displeasure.
Another quirk that bugged me about this book was Niles’ stupid magic pond. At first it’s kind of cute. H takes Lillian there and tells her to make a wish and dip her fingers in. Simple. Easy. Then he gets all smarmy and manipulative, making up new rules about the pond every time they go there. IN this scene, he uses the magic pond to fix Lillian’s chopped-off skunk hair:
“Go on, close your eyes,” he urged. I did so and smile at the same time. I hadn’t smiled for days. I felt the drops sink through my shortened strands and touch my scalp and then, quite unexpectedly, I felt Niles’s lips touch mine. My eyes snapped open with surprise.
“That’s one of the rules,” he said quickly. “Whoever puts the water on you, has to seal the wish with a kiss.”
First, “Niles’s” is an actual typo in the book.
Second, Niles is a manipulative little turd and I’m glad he’s dead because if he had the chance to grow up, he’d be coaxing insecure girls to bone him in college.
My Final Thoughts
To be honest, I failed to retain much of this book. It’s hard caring about characters you hated originally. It’s hard forcing one’s self to commit to a new novel that I know will be lackluster. It’s the main problem with prequels, is knowing everything already. Some awful rape occurs and it’s difficult to really feel it justified when Lillian simply shrugs it off instead of really working through it.
My main qualm was a bulk of the plot focusing solely on Lillian’s life at The Meadows. I’d have preferred to see more of Lillian’s life after marrying Bill Cutler and growing into the woman she becomes by Dawn. I wanted to see her become a villain, not a typical V.C. Andrews character who we have to somehow fill the gaps with by novel’s end.
DARKEST HOUR (Cutler Series #5)
- Hello, Edwardian era!
- Lillian's IDAF attitude to her marriage with Bill Cutler is kind of awesome.
- Niles, a future stalker and gaslighter, dies.
- Georgia could have been a great character. Instead she was a plot device..
- Period inaccuracy, and not just of the menstrual variety.
- Jed never gets the what-for.