In the Hot Seat: The Divine Dita from Echoes in the Darkness by @JaneGodman #Gothic

In the Hot Seat Series, we interview a character from a book and pose twenty probing questions.

Today, we have Dita Varga from Echoes in the Darkness by Jane Godman in the hot seat. Check out the interview.

1.                   Welcome to our blog, Dita. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement to date has been my ability to stay one step ahead of a man called Sandor Karol, who has been searching for me across Europe. He believes I belong to him and he has sworn to find me. By avoiding him, I have also managed to stay alive because once he knows I will not succumb, he will kill me.  

2.                  What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Ah, this question takes me back to a wonderful, rainy afternoon in Paris when I lost my head and ended up in bed with a gorgeous Englishman whose name I still do not know! Sadly, I had to leave him before anything more could happen between us. I have made myself a promise that Sandor will never be allowed to hurt another person because of me. He would kill any man I became close to.  

3.                  What is your current state of mind?
I’m frightened, confused and I don’t know who I can trust. My friend  Magda in Vienna had written to tell me that Sandor was on his way to Paris (the city that has been my home in recent months), so I have come to England with my friend Eddie Jago. Eddie has had to return to Cornwall because his father is ill. But his home, Athal House (also known as Tenebris), although beautiful, is a terrifying place and his family scare me.
Eddie himself has changed since we arrived here. He is a beautiful, volatile man who is one of the wilder artists in the Montmartre district of Paris. We met when I found him naked and asleep in my apartment! His moods have become even darker now and I feel I no longer know my sweet friend. His father Tynan, the Earl of Athal, seems happy enough to see us, but he is clearly tense and worried. Tynan’s mother, Lucy, disliked and distrusted me on sight. She seems to think I have some ulterior motive for being here. His sister, Eleanor, is sweet and pretty, but oddly child-like.
And then, of course, there is the brother I have never met. Cad Jago is a man whose scandalous reputation is legendary. I asked Eddie if his brother was happy to be known by the nickname ‘cad. It is, after all, generally applied to those who are dishonourable and without principle.
“When you meet Cad,” he told me with a grim smile, “you will understand.”
From the look on Eddie’s face when he speaks of his brother, I’m not sure I do want to meet Cad Jago.

4.                  What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t have many possessions. When you have to move around as often and as quickly as I do, you cannot become too attached to material things. But I love nice clothes, so I suppose I would say that my Parisian dresses are my most treasured possessions. 

5.                  What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I can’t help myself, it is my mysterious golden eyed stranger. I fell in love with him at first sight in a Parisian attic when I was posing nude for a portrait. Does that sound scandalous? It was, but I will never forget him and I don’t think I will ever feel the same way about another man.
I had heard men described as “beautiful” and dismissed the phrase as overly poetic. But suddenly, when I saw him, I knew exactly what it meant. This man’s masculinity was so perfect—so pure—that my breath caught in my throat just to look at him. His smile was as devastating as the first ray of sunlight breaking through storm clouds. I knew, beyond rational thought or reason, that this was a defining moment, a point from which there was to be no return. This man was going to change my life. Nothing can compare to that.

6.                  What is your most marked characteristic?
Other people will tell you it is my beauty, and I am not going to pretend to be falsely modest. I am beautiful. I am known in Paris as The Divine Dita because of my beautiful face and the perfection of my figure. I can earn a fortune by posing nude for the artists of the Montmartre district.
But I like to think that my most marked characteristics are my resilience and my loyalty to the few friends (like Eddie) I have been able to make on my travels.

7.                  When and where were you the happiest?
Once again it would have to be when I was with my handsome stranger. Those few hours we spent together were wonderful. Whenever I am alone, I find my mind returning to dwell on the memory of those few sweet hours.
I remember a conversation I had with Eddie when we first arrived in England…
“They say if you fall in love in Paris, your heart will remain forever there,” Eddie said. He sat back in his chair, twirling the amber brandy around in his glass while he studied my face. “What about you, Dita? Did you leave your heart behind in the city of light and love?”
I remained silent. I wanted to reassure him, and perhaps myself, that no part of me could be claimed by Paris. But, if I said that, I’d have been lying. The events of one drizzling never-to-be-forgotten night had made sure of that forever.

8.                 What is it that you most dislike?
At the moment it is the look in Eddie’s mother’s eyes when she studies me. Lucia Jago, Countess of Athal is a formidable woman yet her own story was not so very different to mine. She came to Tenebris as a penniless poor relation and was drawn into a web of murder, sex and intrigue before she married Tynan. She was forced to accept the dark secrets of this place and the way the legacy of the Jago past comes back to haunt its present.
Perhaps it because of those things that she seems so suspicious of me?      

9.                  What is your greatest fear?
It should be that Sandor will catch up with me, and that certainly troubles me, but there are more sinister goings on around me at Tenebris.
Firstly, this place appears to be haunted. Athal House was built on the site of the medieval castle that had been the Jago home for centuries. The castle burned to the ground on Tynan’s twenty first birthday, which was also his and Lucy’s wedding night. But sometimes the house appears the revert back to the original castle. I can be walking along a modern corridor and suddenly find myself in a narrow medieval passages with flaming wall sconces and cold seeping into my bones. Even more disturbing are the shadowy couple on the periphery of my vision who are locked in a timeless, sensual embrace.
From the window of my room I see a man on a black stallion riding across the cliff top at such a break neck speed that I fear he must ride to his death over the edge. I dream of him taking me up on the saddle before him for a wild ride through the night. When I wake in the morning I can taste the salt on my lips and feel the tangles of the wind in my hair. But it is just a dream. I can’t possibly have ridden through the night with a golden-eyed phantom. Can I?
But even more frightening than all of these things are the murders. When I was in Paris there were a series of brutal murders of young girls, one of them only yards from my door. Now the same thing is happening here in Cornwall. It is as if the murderer has followed me…     

10.              What is your greatest extravagance?
That would be my clothes again, although I have never had as much money as I would like to spend on them. Taking my clothes off for money has proved quite lucrative, but by the time I have paid for rent and food I am usually left with very little to indulge my love of fashion. But Cornwall in November is so cold! My elegant gowns were not designed for this climate. Eleanor has promised to take me to a woman in the town who will make me some warmer clothes, but will I then start to look like a dowdy frump?

11.               What is your greatest regret?
That I had to leave my golden-eyed Parisian lover without us even knowing each other’s names. But I could not risk putting him in danger from Sandor by spending any longer with him. I am even more regretful because I know he too wanted there to be more between us. I made an excuse to leave him, saying that I had to go and fetch a change of clothes and he told me to hurry back. I never returned. 
After I left him, I made my way along the familiar streets, finding them altered by new emotions. It was then that I realised I didn’t even know his name. It didn’t matter. He was destined to forever remain a beloved, anonymous memory, and the reason my heart belonged to Paris.

12.              What is the quality you most like in a man?
Strength. Oh, I don’t mean muscles—although those are good!—I want a man to have strength of character. I think that Eddie’s father Tynan has it, even though his body is weak. I worry that Eddie himself is not emotionally strong, although physically he is perfection itself. In order for me to be able to accompany him to Cornwall, we have entered into a mock engagement. He felt that he could not make this journey without me at his side, but we did not feel that his family would accept me—a nameless, nude model with whom he has shared an apartment for many months—into their home. So we concocted this charade so that I could support him. But he seems weaker than ever now.
If I ever break free of Sandor, I hope to find a man who is strong enough to care for me no matter what comes our way. Does such a man exist? I think he may…but, as I have already said, I had to leave him behind in Paris.      

13.              What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I can be inflexible. I have had to take care of myself for so long and make my own decisions and that means that I can sometimes close my mind to the opinions of others. Or perhaps I am just always right?

14.              What is the trait you most deplore in others?
When they judge without knowing. Much as Lucy has done with me now. If she took the trouble to know me, she would find out that I care about Eddie and that I would not hurt him. I overheard her saying to her husband that Eddie must have fallen in love with my face, which she admitted was dazzling. She said that I had taken advantage of the fact that he was susceptible to physical beauty to trap him into proposing to me. Even though our engagement is a sham and I will be gone from here soon, those words are hurtful.      

15.               What do you most value in your friends?
Loyalty. My friend Magda, in Vienna, is the only person who knows the truth about my past and she keeps my secrets well. She lets me know about Sandor’s movements so that I can stay ahead of him. It was a note from her, just the words ‘Liebling, he knows’ that meant I was forced to flee Paris. 

16.              Who is your favorite heroine, fictional or real?
Queen Marie Antoinette. It’s the clothes thing, you know? She had a very tragic life, but she always managed to look good.

17.               On what occasions do you lie?
I have lied throughout my life about my background and even about my name. The truth is that my mother was the daughter of an English vicar and my father was a notorious Hungarian betyar (or bandit). He kidnapped her when she was travelling through Europe and took her as his captive. I was the result. She stayed with him because of me, they never married. When my father died, he bequeathed his criminal empire to his second in command, Sandor Karol. Sandor assumed that included me. He was, and still is, obsessed with me. My mother and I went on the run, but Sandor came after us. When she died, I kept running. At the age of seventeen, I found I could make my living by taking my clothes off for money. The artists of Vienna were bemused by the fact that I would let them paint my tits but not my face. Ever since then, I have kept moving whenever Sandor gets close.
And, of course, I am lying now about my engagement to Eddie!

18.              Which is your favorite word or phrase?
My favourite word is ‘bouche’. It is the French word for mouth. It was the nickname that my golden-eyed Parisian lover gave me when he said I have a beautiful mouth.  

19.              What is your least favorite word or phrase?
Tenebris. It is the Latin word for darkness. The motto of the Jago family is Lucent in Tenebris, which means ‘shine in darkness’. They call their home Tenebris and, although it is an apt name for somewhere so dark, it sends a shiver down my spine. And yet, it draws me and calls to me as well. As much as it frightens me to say it, Tenebris is the place I feel I was always meant to be.   

20.             If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would change my past. I would be an unremarkable English rose who could go and find my golden-eyed lover…but if that was the case we would never have met, would we? I wouldn’t have been lying naked on the sofa when he came to call. He wouldn’t have run an ice cube around my nipples to make them stand out for the portrait. We wouldn’t have kissed in the rain under every streetlamp. He wouldn’t have removed an item of my clothing on each of the twelve stairs up to his apartment then lifted me up against the wall to drive himself into me. Because unremarkable English roses don’t behave that way, do they?
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. I have never met Eddie’s scandalous younger brother before tonight, but Cad Jago has come home…  

Thank you to Dita and Jane for indulging us.
Find out more about Echoes in the Darkness by Jane Godman, read an excerpt and check out Maya's Review here.

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