Within the Maze (1872) is essentially the story of two brothers and their wives and the complex interweaving of family secrets that can be traced back to a single foolish and criminal act. The older brother Adam Andinnian has been sent to prison for shooting a man who was stalking and paying lecherous advances towards Rose Turner whom Adam is secretly married to. Karl Andinnian, the younger brother is engaged to marry Lucy Cleeves but the marriage is not forthcoming because Karl is not seen as suitable in the eyes of Lucy's snobbish parents. Mrs. Andinnian who has always favored Adam over Karl is heartbroken when Adam is sentenced to hard labor for life in a penal colony on a remote British island. She cannot allow him to suffer there, nor can she live without him by her side. And so Mrs. Andinnian schemes with her servant whose husband is a guard at the prison to allow an escape to take place. The prison escape fails miserably, however, and ends in a violent shootout. Adam, another prisoner, and the guard all perish. One of the bodies is never recovered and the man is presumed to have drowned when the boat was attacked by prison officials and police. With Adam now dead and buried Karl has inherited the family title as well as the Andinnian fortune left to them by their grandfather Sir Joseph. The marriage between Karl and Lucy can now take place. All of this happens within the first fifty pages. You think that's involved? I left out a lot of detail and only highlighted the basics. But there's more to come, of course, in this 425 page novel. Karl and Lucy are not going to have a very happy first year as newlyweds.
A religious zealot named Theresa Blake who has her nose in everyone's private affairs becomes a lodger in the home of Karl and Lucy. Miss Blake quickly develops a morbid interest in Sir Karl's frequent visits to a house known aptly as "The Maze" as it is sheltered by a hedge maze. The sole occupant of "The Maze" is the reclusive Mrs. Grey who according to rumor has a husband who lives and does business in London though he has never been seen and very rarely ever visits his wife. Miss Blake being a sanctimonious religious hypocrite obsessed with immorality immediately jumps to the conclusion that Karl and Mrs. Grey are engaged in an adulterous affair. And of course the first person she tells is Lucy. The remainder of the book consists in Karl and Lucy confronting each other about their secrets, a complete misunderstanding of what each other is talking about, and Lucy's descent into a private misery wavering in and out of deep love and devotion to and utter distrust of her husband. Miss Blake complicates matters by her constant eavesdropping, spying and coincidentally being in the same place as Karl at the most inopportune moments. Karl, on the other hand, believes that Lucy knows the true secret of the occupants of "The Maze" and cannot understand why she is making herself more and more depressed and physically ill over something that he is dealing with as best as he can.
This is in fact one of Wood's few genuine crime novels. Eventually, the police get involved when Karl and Mrs Grey inadvertently stumble upon the possibility of another escaped prisoner guilty of forgery and financial chicanery living in the quiet little village of Foxwood. The story then gets doubly complicated with the police misinterpreting Karl's interest in the forger and the appearance of a mysterious man who seems to have vanished in The Maze. Some of those who witnessed his appearance believe him to be a ghost. Detective Burtenshaw is assigned to watch the home. His persistent efforts uncover the presence of a man hiding in The Maze. He is convinced it is the escaped forger Philip Slater, but Karl thinks the police are after "Mr. Grey" and fears his life will fall apart if the identities of Mr. and Mrs. Grey are ever made public, especially by the police. Karl begins to visit The Maze more and more frequently employing clever subterfuge with the help of Mrs. Grey and her servant Ann Hopley to prevent the secret being known. Meanwhile, Miss Blake continues to interfere and gossip and Lucy continues to languish in fear, depression and misguided jealousy making herself more and more ill. Yet in the end all will turn out for the best with some stunning plot twists.
|Miss Blake receives a tea-rose from|
the mysterious Mr. Smith
The inability for people to communicate properly with one another and harboring their secrets is at the heart of this book very much about the mind and spirit. This theme is brought up as early as the first section when Karl attempts to get his mother to confess her involvement of the prison escape "[Mrs. Andinnian] had always been a strangely independent, secretive woman: and such women, given to act with the daring independence of man, but not possessing man's freedom, may at time drift into troubled seas." The words dishonor and disgrace occur throughout the novel. The characters are fearful of tarnished reputations, afraid of how they will be viewed by others if they ever open up with total candor. Clinging to these secrets not only leads to depression but it makes them physically ill. Lucy, Mrs. Grey, Adam, and Margaret Sumnor all succumb to what amount to psychosomatic ailments. Some of them are chronic, some of them prove fatal. All because no one is willing to speak the truth.
|The busybody Theresa Blake spies on|
Sir Karl and "Mrs. Grey" together in London