Monday, July 5, 2010

Hudson in Literature

Anya Seton, Dragonwyck (1944)
Dragonwyck is a historical novel in the tradition of Gothic Romance. The story, which takes place in 1844 and 1845, unfolds against the backdrop of actual events, among them the Anti-Rent Wars and the wreck of the steam boat Swallow. The novel is named for its primary setting: Dragonwyck Manor, a fictional Hudson River mansion of Gothic design somewhere north of Hudson, which is the ancestral home of Nicholas Van Ryn, one of the last of the Patroons. The main character, Miranda Wells, is a cousin--a poor relation--who is brought to Dragonwyck to be a governess for Van Ryn’s daughter, Katrine, and finds herself instantly attracted by the dark charm of her rich cousin.

In this passage, Miranda and Van Ryn travel to Hudson to take Katrine to see a doctor. Thanks to Timothy Dunleavy for reminding me of this passage’s existence.

By noon they reached the Dugway Road and pulled up the sharp hill on Second Street into Hudson.

‘How pretty the town is!’ cried Miranda. She would on that day have thought a collection of squatters’ huts on a mud flat pretty. But the little town did have charm. Its neat houses were of brick or fieldstone and plainly showed their New England origin. Hudson had been settled by Nantucket Quakers who sought after the Revolution a newer and safer whaling port, and though encircled by land-loving Dutch farmers, the Folgers and Macys and Coffins had been profitably going down to the sea in ships for fifty years.

‘Where’s Diamond Street?’ asked Miranda. ‘Cousin Johanna said that Doctor Hamilton lived there--for Katrine’s finger.’

Nicholas shook his head. ‘Hamilton’s an old fogy. He knows no remedies but calomel, bark and brandy. Take the child to young Turner. He seems very capable.’

‘But he’s so rude, and he’s a down-renter!’ cried Miranda, startled into protest by the aversion she had felt to the brusque young doctor.

‘All the more reason to flatter him with my patronage,’ answered Nicholas easily. ‘He’ll soon lose his silly views if I make him the Manor physician.’

‘Oh--' she said. ‘I see.’ How clever Nicholas was!

He gave the coachman instructions, turned back to her. ‘I’m going to see Mayor Curtis and the sheriff. There’s been more trouble in collecting the rents. I’ll order this ridiculous business settled once for all. Then I’ll meet you at the Hudson House at two.’

He got out of the carriage, stood hat in hand until the horses started. She watched his tall figure--made even taller by the high beaver hat--walk rapidly down the street. People stared, whispering. Once he uncovered his head and bowed to an old lady in gray and his wavy hair shone black in the sunlight.

The carriage turned down Union and she could no longer see him. It stopped at a low brick cottage on Front Street near the river. A tin sign nailed on the whitewashed door said ‘Jefferson Turner, M.D.’

Miranda sighed. ‘Come, Katrine. This is the doctor’s.’


  1. Very interesting to have these references to Hudson in literature. Thank you.

  2. As a child in rainy Ireland I was a big reader, snug by the fireplace. Dragonwyck was one of my favorite books and Anya Seton a favorite author. Maybe the seed of Hudson was placed in my brain back then, and I never knew it. All I knew was I wanted to go to America.

  3. The movie version of this novel (1946) starred Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Vincent Price, Anne Revere and Spring Byington. It was directed by Joseph Mankiewiz.

    You can get it on Netflix.