The Stress of Her Regard
|Genre||Historical fantasy, Horror fiction|
|Publisher||Ace Books(Hardcover edition)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||392 pp (Hardcover edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-441-79055-0 (Hardcover edition)|
|LC Class||PS3566.O95 S87 1989|
The Stress of Her Regard is a 1989 horror/fantasy novel by Tim Powers. It was nominated for the 1990 World Fantasy and Locus Awards in 1990, and won a Mythopoeic Award. As with a number of Powers' other novels, it proposes a secret history in which real events have supernatural causes: in this case, the lives of famous English Romantic writers—as well as political events in central Europe during the early 19th century—are largely determined by a race of protean vampire-like creatures known as nephilim.
Drawing from European and Middle Eastern mythology, Powers depicts these beings as having qualities of vampires, succubi, incubi, Lamia, fairies, and jinn. Not only predators but sometimes benefactors of humans, they are the basis for both the Muses and the Graeae.
The novel's title is taken from the poem "Sphinx and Medusa" by Clark Ashton Smith ("...Yet thought must see/That eve of time when man no longer yearns,/Grown deaf before Life's Sphinx, whose lips are barred;/When from the spaces of Eternity,/Silence, a rigorous Medusa, turns/On the lost world the stress of her regard.").
The story begins shortly before the wedding of Michael Crawford, a doctor. The night before he marries Julia, he inadvertently places his wedding ring in the hand of a statue in a garden. When he goes to retrieve it, he discovers the statue has mysteriously vanished.
Despite this mysterious event, the wedding proceeds. Julia's disturbed twin sister Josephine serves as the maid of honor. The next morning, Crawford awakes to discover Julia's horribly mutilated corpse next to him in the bed. Knowing he will be suspected of murdering his bride, Crawford flees to London and passes himself off as a medical student. He meets John Keats, who is also studying medicine. One day while visiting the wards they encounter the grief-stricken Josephine, who attempts to shoot Crawford to avenge her sister. A mysterious apparition saves him.
Keats does his best to help Crawford understand what has happened. By placing the wedding ring on the statue Crawford unwittingly attracted the attention of one of the nephilim, who now considers herself Crawford's true wife. The nephilim killed Julia so she could have Crawford for herself. Keats, who has some experience with the nephilim, recommends that Crawford visit the Alps. There is a place high in the mountains where he may be able to free himself from "the stress of her regard".
While traveling on the Continent, Crawford is called upon to assist another Englishman who is suffering from a seizure. The man is Percy Shelley, and is accompanied by Lord Byron, John Polidori, and Claire Clarmont. Byron and Shelley are also connected to the nephilim, which they see as both a blessing and a curse. The nephilim can prolong the lives of humans and serve as muses who help to inspire great works of creativity, but they are extremely jealous and will destroy anyone they see as a rival. Crawford and the two poets make their way up the Jungfrau, where it is said one might be able to break the bond with a nephilim. After answering a version of the Riddle of the Sphinx Crawford manages to free himself from his "wife". In doing so he also learns more about the nature of the nephilim.
Yet the danger is not over for Crawford, the poets, and their loved ones. The nephilim are still active, and developments in Venice may threaten all humanity. Crawford, Josephine, Shelley, and Byron, all haunted by personal tragedy, must find a way to save themselves and the rest of the world from the nephilim.
Real people figuring in the novel include:
- George Gordon, Lord Byron and his involvement in the Carbonari
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
- Mary Shelley, her novel Frankenstein, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont
- John Keats and his poem "Lamia"
- John Polidori (Powers does not mention his influential story "The Vampyre")
- Leigh Hunt
- François Villon
- "1990 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-21.