Sunday, April 17, 2016

The 1938 Club: National Provincial by Lettice Cooper



Just in time for the end of The 1938 Club, I finished National Provincial by Lettice Cooper. I'd read and loved The New House several years ago, so when I realized she'd published another book that fit the parameters, I put in an ILL request immediately. It arrived in time but took me much longer to finish than I expected. 

Set in the 1930s, this is an ambitious work about several families living in the fictional town of Aire, in Yorkshire. The book begins with a egg woman named Mary Welburn, who's leaving her job as a journalist in London to start work at a smaller regional paper close to her childhood home, mostly so she can help with her disabled mother, since her sister is about to get married. The reader begins to learn about the local residents of different classes and their intertwining lives. Mostly, the characters and setting are a microcosm of British society, examining the conflict between the classes and the ongoing changes in society, both social and political, against the backdrop of the late 1930s, just before the war. 

As Mary begins reporting, we learn about some of the prominent families and events going on in the area. The Harding family used to be the wealthiest landowners, but one half the family lost money (but not status) after a business failure during the depression. The younger son, Stephen, took a job with a local factory owner, Mr. Ward, who was born poor but created a manufacturing empire by dint of hard work and determination. His wife would love nothing more than to be accepted by the local gentry, but sadly, she's viewed as a social climber and not the right sort. She and her husband try to keep a tight rein on the lives of their two young adult children. Mary befriends the daughter, Marjorie, who has left school and can't join the family business since it "wouldn't be ladylike." Her brother Leslie is at the local university, and befriends two of the younger professors and their wives, with mixed results. 


Mary's sister is engaged to marry a local cricket star, and she's close to her childless aunt and uncle. Uncle John is the union rep for Ward's clothing factory, and has a young protege, Tom, but the two begin to disagree about wages at the factory. Tom also has a shallow, self-absorbed girlfriend named Olive, who's embarrassed by her brother's girlfriend who works as a domestic for one of the Harding's sons.

This book covers about a year and a half and follows real events, including the death of George V, the abdication of Edward VII, and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. It's very interesting to read this knowing that Cooper didn't know exactly what was going to happen in Europe, though some of the characters definitely suspect that war is looming on the horizon. This was such a contrast to the other Cooper novel that I read, The New House, which took place entirely over one day with one family. National Provincial was more than 600 pages in my edition, and includes several extended families as well. (One of my few quibbles about the book is that there are so many characters I sometimes confused them, and there were a few stories that I found unresolved). 

Overally, I really enjoyed this book. I found the characters really well developed and realistic -- nobody is completely bad, and nobody is completely good either. I thought Cooper did a really good job showing both sides of various conflicts, especially some of the political struggles with the Union at Ward's clothing factory. 

As I read this, I couldn't help being reminded of some of my favorite British novels, including Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South; Winifred Holdby's South Riding; and even a little bit of Downton Abbey. It's a really great book and I'm so glad I read it! I'm really intrigued by the novels of Lettice Cooper and I'm email Persephone books to suggest it as a reprint. I'm also going to order another of Cooper's novels called Fenny which was reprinted by Virago back in the 1980s. 

Has anyone else read anything by Lettice Cooper that you recommend? And how did everyone enjoy the 1938 Club! Thanks again to Simon and Karen for hosting, and to Cosy Books who mentioned National Provincial as a possible read.


Monday, April 11, 2016

The 1938 Club: The Baker's Daughter by D. E. Stevenson


I was really struggling to find a book to read for The 1938 Club Readalong, hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. It seemed I'd read all the best books already (including the P. G. Wodehouse classic The Code of the Woosters, which I finished just days before the readalong was announced). Nonetheless, the librarian in me refused to give up and I kept hunting; I finally and came up with not one but three books from 1938 that I wanted to read. 

The first book I read was The Baker's Daughter by D. E. Stevenson. I'm thrilled that Sourcebooks is reprinting her works, I just wish they would published more than two a year! The Baker's Daughter just came out in January, (though I was actually able to get my hands on a different edition from ILL, as I just can't bear to buy another book right now). Anyway, alight charming book by Stevenson was just the thing.

The setup: set in the 1930s, Sue Pringle is in her early 20s, living with her stepmother, younger brother, and curmudgeonly father, the baker, in a small town in Scotland. Her late mother's parents own a successful grocery shop and would love for Sue to come and live with them, as she doesn't much get along with her stepmother. One day, while visiting her grandmother at the shop, a customer has an unusual request -- not just groceries, but an actual cook. The customer is the Mrs. Darnay, wife of an artist who's just left glamorous London rented a cottage so he can paint in the wilds of Scotland. Sue, bored with her dull life, is intrigued by the idea of an artist, jumps at the chance and agrees to take on the job. After Mrs. Darnay suddenly does a runner back to London, Sue takes pity on Mr. Darnay, and stays on to keep house for him and keep him from starving, as he's so absorbed in his work. Naturally, one thing leads to another, and Sue finds herself falling in love with the reclusive artist. 


This was a quick, light read, and if you've read Miss Buncle's Book or any of Stevenson's other novels, you'll find few surprises here. It's a charming little novel with a fairly predictable outcome, though there were some interesting twists along the way. I liked the characters, especially Sue's grandparents, and I liked how Stevenson really seemed to appreciate Scotland, with nice descriptions of the scenery. She also gave the characters depth and color without making them too stereotypical.

However, there was an attempt at one plot twist that I thought was really unnecessary, and a weird anti-Semitic remark that kind of came out of left field, with a reference to Hitler. I'm not sure if Stevenson was criticizing what was happening politically in the late 1930s, but it seemed really incongruous to the storyline. Also, the ending was kind of abrupt. But overall, it was a very enjoyable book and a perfect comfort read if you like middlebrow women's fiction from that time period. 

There are two other Stevenson reprints by Sourcebooks I haven't read yet, Celia's House and The Listening Valley. My library actually owns both of them but I'm rather torn, I don't know if I should read them now for free or read up more of my TBR shelves now and save those for later, since I can actually buy them from Sourcebooks later. Bloggers, have you read any other books by D. E. Stevenson? Which do you recommend? And are you enjoying The 1938 Club?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Exciting News


So after nearly eight years in Texas, the military has decided that it's time for my family to relocate. . . (drumroll, please) and we're going to . . . . 

Germany!!!

Not my new house. It's Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. 

We'll be moving sometime this summer, probably late June or early July -- only three months away. I'm going to do my best to keep up with blogging, but of course I have lots to do with sorting, packing, and putting our house up for sale. I hope everyone will understand if I'm not posting as much as usual. Of course we're sad to leave all our friends here in Texas, but I'm really excited to be moving to Europe -- especially because I lived in Germany on a summer exchange program back in high school.  

And what to do with all my books??? I have to decide how many to take with me -- unread books, or beloved favorites? A combination? And I have to decide if I should read as many library books as possible before I leave -- (the base library won't have nearly the selection as the millions of books here in our public library system) -- or read my own books so I don't have to pack them! 

I'm also trying to decide if I should read lots of shorter books and knock them off my TBR list, or try and read some of the big fat books because they're heavier and take longer. I'll have so much to do I suspect I won't be tackling any especially taxing books in the next few months -- probably a lot of easy comfort reads in the near future. Bloggers, what would you do? And which German authors do you recommend? 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

New Grub Street by George Gissing


I'm really trying no read as many as my own books as possible this year, so I picked New Grub Street by George Gissing as my Classic the a Place Name in the Title for my current read. (Also one of the last nine books on my Classics Club list -- a win/win!).

Basically, this is the story of how awful it was to be an unsuccessful or mildly successful writer in late 19th century London. Published in 1891, it follows several families: Jasper Milvain, a somewhat cynical and opportunistic journalist and writer, and his two sisters, Dora and Maud; the bitter Alfred Yule and his wife and grown daughter, Marian; and Marian's cousin Amy Reardon, and her husband Edwin, a semi-successful novelist on a downward spiral.

All three of these families are dealing with the financial difficulties of supporting one's family as a writer, to varying degrees. Alfred married a woman he considered beneath himself, and blames her for his not getting ahead among the society of writers. His daughter Marian is talented and does a lot of her father's research and some writing of her own, but rarely gets the credit for it. Alfred dreams  of editing his own literary journal, but lacks funds or connections. 

Edwin Reardon showed early promise, and after a legacy left him temporarily flush with cash, married the beautiful Amy. Now that they have a small child and money is tight, Amy doesn't want to economize and the subsequent stress over finances is causing Edwin to lose focus on his writing. 


Jasper is attracted to Marian, who seems his intellectual match, but he cynically believes that he needs a wealthy wife to help him get ahead in literary society. His sisters have become friendly with Marian but are also aware of their brother's character and ambition. Also, Alfred Yule is convinced that Jasper wrote an unflattering piece about him, so he is persona non grata. Their lives all intertwine in the literary London of the early 1890s, and the action really picks up after Alfred's brother dies, and his will changes the lives of these three families. 

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. George Gissing isn't nearly as popular as Dickens or Hardy or even Trollope -- he wrote 23 novels but as far as I can tell, only three of them are in print anymore. Gissing's writer is quite easy to read, and his characters were really well developed -- I found myself really rooting for some and booing others as the story progressed. Parts of it were quite sad, as these starving writers struggle to churn out enough pages to keep from being thrown into the workhouse and splitting up their families. Gissing makes some really good points about women writers. There were some really dramatic bits and in the end, I wanted to strangle one of the characters (though I wasn't surprised one bit how his story was going to shake out). 

Overall, a very satisfying book, and it's giving me courage to try reading some of the more obscure Victorian writers. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope


I'm really trying to read only books from my own shelves, and I know in my head it would be so much faster if I read all the short books so that the unread number would be smaller. But sometimes, I just get a craving for a big fat Victorian triple-decker that will just totally absorb me. And that's when it's time for some Trollope. 

I originally picked Phineas Redux because the audio was available on audio download free from my library -- it's a three-week checkout, but seriously, in a city of a million people, who else besides me would want to read it? I wanted a good classic on audio for dog walking, and I figured I could stretch it out for awhile. Well, I got completely hooked on the story and zoomed through it in just a couple of weeks. I was so pleasantly surprised, because this book is just brilliant. I knew the Pallisers were supposed to be as great as the Barchester Chronicles, but of the four books I've read in the series, this one is by far my favorite. It has satire, romance, politics, intrigue, and lots of my favorite characters from previous novels in the series. 

I should back up a little. Phineas Finn, the eponymous Irish politician from the second Palliser novel, is back in London after several years out of public life. At the end of Phineas Finn, he left Parliament, went back to Ireland, and married his childhood sweetheart Mary. She tragically died shortly after their marriage, leaving him childless, and he is approached by some MPs to see if he wouldn't consider attempting to try for a seat in a  borough which could be won without much trouble or financial output. Phineas has a little money and no family left, so he has nothing to lose. 

Of course, he's thrown back into society with three of his old paramours -- Lady Viola, now happily married to Lord Chiltern; her sister-in-law, Lady Laura, who is separated from her husband, the cantankerous George Kennedy; and Madame Max Goesler, the rich widow who proposed to Phineas and offered to support his political aspirations. (Madame Goesler very nearly became a Duchess when the elderly Duke of Omnium proposed to her, but she turned him down, since she could very well have been the mother to the next Duke, thereby ousting the heir apparent, Plantagenet Palliser. She sensitively turned him down rather then incur the wrath of of her friend Lady Glencora, Palliser's wife). Following all this so far? This is just the setup!


At first, I thought this was a pretty standard Trollope. There are love triangles, and proposals, and broken engagements, plus the aforementioned political machinations. (There's also the reappearance of the devious Lady Eustace from The Eustace Diamonds, who has a small but pivotal role.  However, just about halfway through, there's a pretty significant plot twist, and what I thought was a minor quarrel turns into a murder, and much of the book is taken up with the trial and its aftermath.  Although I suspected it would all turn out alright in the end, it was still riveting.

One thing I really love about Trollope is how great his female characters are -- unlike Dickens, who tends to write females as either brainless ingenues or comic older women. In this book alone, there are no less than six strong females with fully realized characterization. Of course, most of them had already been introduced in the previous books, but the female characters are the heart and soul of his books. Lady Glencora, Madame Goesler, and even the detestable Lizzie Eustace are all worth reading about. I just love that about Trollope -- the women get just as much time in the books as the men, or nearly so. (I wish some graduate student would do a study about this!)

My only quibble with the novel is that I'm really starting to see an anti-Semitic bias in Trollope that makes me uncomfortable. There's a character who is painted as an absolute villain who is Jewish, and there are some pretty derogatory remarks made about him. Also, one character is terribly jealous of Madame Max Goesler, who is a foreigner, and there are a couple of nasty jabs from her rival as well. I remember a minor Jewish character from Rachel Ray that had some anti-Semitic remarks about him, but at the time I read it, I was unsure if Trollope was satirizing anti-Semites or was one himself. I'm starting to think it was Trollope. I understand this is just a reflection of the times, but still, it's disappointing because I love Trollope's books so much. Even Charles Dickens responded to public pressure about Fagin and wrote a much more sympathetic character in Our Mutual Friend.


I also wish I had read it a little closer to Phineas Finn -- it had been almost a year, and some of the details from the first book were a little fuzzy. I suppose chronologically it comes after The Eustace Diamonds, but I certainly don't want to wait an entire year to read the final two books in the series!

I'm counting this as my 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I'm also thinking about reading more Trollope for the other Back to the Classics categories -- I do have some unread volumes of his short stories, and I also have a couple more Trollopes that might qualify for the Classic With a Place in the Title category.

Has anyone else read the Palliser novels? Which are your favorites? How's everyone else doing with the Back to the Classics Challenge? 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Top Ten Books If You're Sad About Downton Abbey Ending


I haven't participated in a Top Ten Tuesday for a long time, but I'm a little bereft at the end of my favorite Masterpiece show. Sure, it was really a gorgeously shot period soap opera with fabulous costumes, and the ending was mostly predictable, but here are some suggestions to fill the void until there's a new Masterpiece obsession. All but one of these has been adapted into a movie or TV miniseries, some of them more than once. 


In no particular order, here are ten Downton-esque novels that I've read and loved (some are series):


1. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford.  Two books in one! These are the first two in Mitford's hilarious satires of upper-crust life in country mansion. Mitford's own father is skewed as the bellowing Uncle Matthew. Also a great BBC adaptation with the luminous Rosamund Pike.





2. The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse. Bertie Wooster is ensnared by his Aunt Dahlia to steal an antique silver cow creamer while simultaneously trying to save the engagements of two friends. Jeeves just wants to go on a cruise around the world, but saves the day anyway. Highclere Castle (the real-life Downton Abbey) was the location for parts of the BBC episode of Jeeves & Wooster that adapted this book (it's Season 2, Episode 1 if you want to watch the DVD, or it's available on demand from Amazon.)


3. The Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro. What if Carson wrote a book about his life at Downton? A long-suffering butler reflects on his years in service. 


4. The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton. Cora Crawley isn't the only American heiress to marry a cash-poor British aristocrat. Her last novel is the story of four American debs on the hunt for titled husbands. Wharton died before finishing the last third of the novel, which was completed based on her notes. 


5. The Light Years and the entire Cazalet series by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Great family saga about an extended British family that starts in the 1930s and continues through WWII and the aftermath. And there are five books, enough to fall in love with all the characters. 


6. The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley. Forbidden love on an estate between a wealthy young woman and a handsome farmer, as viewed by a twelve-year old boy. 


7. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Fanny Price isn't actually a servant, but her snobbish cousins treat her like a second-class citizen after they take her in. Lots of scandalous behavior upstairs, enough to rival Downton Abbey.





8. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. A shy, introverted paid companion of a rich American meets a handsome, wealthy English widower in Monte Carlo, and after a brief and odd courtship, he marries her and takes her home to the family estate in Cornwall, where the secrets of his first marriage are exposed. Great atmosphere and a seriously messed-up housekeeper make this one of my all-time favorites. 


9. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. Another Masterpiece favorite, this book moves through the Victorian, Edwardian, and WWI eras of English history, and shows how an upper-class family changing to keep up with the times. Originally published as three books, it won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932. 




10. The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt. Another saga about an extended family, this one in the Edwardian era and beyond. It's basically a really great history lesson about English society as it transitions from the Victorian Era to the horrors of the Great War, with the family of an eccentric children's book author as a microcosm. It hasn't been adapted as a TV miniseries yet, but it would be amazing if someone adapted it. BBC, are you reading this? 

And of course there are lots more books about the Edwardians, WWI, and 1920s, both fiction and nonfiction. Bloggers, what do you recommend? And what are you watching now that Downton is all over? 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Classics Spin #12


Another Classics Club Spin! If you're not familiar, participants post a list of 20 books on their Classics Club list. On Monday morning, a random number will be posted, and I'll read the corresponding title from my list and put up my post on May 2. I've had great like with the random spin picks, so it's always fun to have someone else choose the next read from my list.

I only have nine books left, so I'm going to have to repeat the list to get to an even 20.  In no particular order, here's my list:

1. Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
2. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
3. The Four Feathers by A. E. W. Mason
4. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
5. New Grub Street by George Gissing
6. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
7. The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
8. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
9. A Dance to the Music of Time (First Movement) by Anthony Powell

Now the repeats:


10. Portrait of a Lady
11. New Grub Street
12. The Mystery of Edwin Drood
13. The Man in the Iron Mask
14. The Four Feathers
15. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
16. The Mystery of Edwin Drood
17. A Dance to the Music of Time (First Movement)
18. Lark Rise to Candleford
19. New Grub Street 
20. The Man in the Iron Mask

Right now I'm kind of hoping for The Man in the Iron Mask, Portrait of a Lady, or A Dance to the Music of Time.  I'm kind of dreading Hunchback -- I tried listening to the audio version and it's moving incredibly slow.


Bloggers, have you read any of these books? Which should I hope for?

Updated: The Spin has given me #8 -- The Hunchback of Notre Dame! I'll just have to buckle down and give it another try. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit


After finishing Journey to the Centre of the Earth, I was still in the mood for a some good adventures. I remembered a copy of The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit that I'd picked up years ago at a library sale. How is it that I completely missed out on Nesbit in my youth? I suppose my hometown library just didn't have them. Well, I've now completed five of her books and loved all of them. This one ranks right up at the top of great classic children's fantasy, right up there with the Wizard of Oz books and the entire oeuvre of Roald Dahl.

Published in 1904, The Phoenix and the Carpet is the second in the series of that began with Five Children and It. Instead of a magical sand fairy, the a family five children find both a magic carpet and a magical bird, a legendary phoenix. By a series of mishaps (well, basically, they decide to try out fireworks inside the house) they have to get a new carpet for the nursery. Their parents buy a second-hand carpet which, when unrolled, is found to include a strangely glowing egg. The children attempt to return it, but no go. After the egg accidentally rolls into the fireplace, it hatches and out comes the phoenix, who explains that the carpet is also magic, and can give them three wishes a day.

If you're looking for serious high fantasy, this isn't it. Although the children are occasionally transported to faraway places, their adventures are pretty tame, though humorous. As in Five Children and It, the children quickly realize that wishes don't always work out quite like you plan. Of course it's a children's story, so most everything comes out right in the end, but Nesbit's chapters are cleverly plotted, so I really wasn't sure how everything was going to shake out. And the writing is both wry and witty, with a few sharp observations. It's both entertaining and funny as the kids get in and out of scrapes. My only quibble as that in some their adventures, they encounter "savages" who are quite obviously people of color, and the racism that tinges these episodes.

Cover of the new Puffin Classics edition

Overall, though, it was quite a delightful read, and tI'll probably include it among my favorite books of this year. I'm counting it as my Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Dystopian Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne


Determined to knock off a few books from my own TBR shelves, I picked up Journey to the Centre of the Earth the other day. I'd just finished Armadale, after a month-long read, and just couldn't bear committing to another dense Victorian. Specifically, I picked this one up because it had an introduction by the late Diana Wynne Jones -- which is why I probably purchased it in the first place. It's one of the charming Puffin Classics editions packaged for children. (Ithink it was a buy one, get one special at Barnes & Noble.)


So, if you were wondering about the plot, it is exactly as the title states. After finding an ancient code tucked in an old book, Young Axel and his eccentric scientist uncle, Otto Liedenbrock, leave their comfortable home in Hamburg and attempt to explore the center of the world, via a volcano in Iceland. Axel nervously agrees to the crazy scheme, believing there's no way they will actually get that far.


But clearly, they do, and make astonishing discoveries along the way, with the help of an Icelandic guide named Hans. The first quarter of the book are pretty standard let's-go-on-a-trip with all the preparations, sea voyage, and encounters with a different culture. But eventually, they make their descent through an dormant volcano, Sneffels, (better known in Iceland as Snaeffelsjokull).



The actual Snaeffelsjokull in Iceland.

Things get pretty interesting after they descend into the a series of underground caverns, with dangers and discoveries and miraculous escapes (of course). Suffice to say it's all slightly ridiculous to the modern reader, but for its time, it must have been pretty fantastic. I'm not sure how this version compares to others (this one was translated in 1965 by Robert Baldick) but it was a quick, easy read. I do know that a lot of the translations in English made a lot of abridgments -- one audio version actually changes the names of the characters completely! But I mostly liked it, though in retrospect, the characters weren't very practical about planning and packing for the journey, and there's one part that's sort of racist which I found a little annoying. There's also a lot of geology and such that I will admit I mostly skimmed.

A couple of years ago I tried listening to an audiobook of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but I eventually gave up on it -- after awhile I got bored and I remember it just seemed like a lot of lists of undersea flora and fauna. I did get a bit of that in Journey to the Centre of the Earth as well -- I know Verne did a lot of research and I can only guess that he wanted to pack everything in.  I'm afraid I did tend to skim over a lot of the scientific details of this book, especially the parts about calculating depth and suchlike. However, it has inspired me to consider visiting the Natural Bridge Caverns, which are just a short drive away.



Underground lake in Natural Bridge Caverns.
I had originally intended to count this as my Classic Science Fiction choice for the Back to the Classics Challenge, but I don't know that I'd necessarily call it sci-fi -- though one could call it that because of the speculative nature of their discoveries, I'm really more inclined to count it as my Adventure Classic -- really, most of the book is taken up with exploration and discoveries (though if someone else wants to count this as their Science Fiction Classic, that's fine with me).

Monday, February 15, 2016

Armadale by Wilkie Collins


Wilkie Collins is really well known for his early detective novels, and his Victorian sensation stories.  His most famous novels by ar are The Moonstone and The Woman in White, by he was quite a prolific author. Two of the books I added to my Classics Club list are from his lesser-known works; I read and enjoyed No Name just a couple of months ago, so I was eager to read Armadale. 

I'd planned originally to count this as my 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge. Some of Wilkie Collins' works definitely qualify to count as Detective Fiction (especially The Moonstone and The Woman in White), but I wasn't sure about this one. However, this book involves a lot of private investigating, plus they do mention Scotland Yard, so I've decided this will count as my Classic Detective Fiction.


The plot of this novel is really hard to sum up quickly. For convoluted reasons, there are two men who are named Allan Armadale, as were both their fathers. The story begins with the father of one of the men making a long deathbed confession as his toddler son plays nearby. After his father's death, this Armadale takes the name of Ozias Midwinter, after a foster father (which is very convenient for the plot, since it makes them easier to tell them apart. When he comes of age, he learns his father's terrible secret, which involves the father of the other Allan Armadale. Due to the miraculous coincidences of the Victorian sensation novels, Midwinter has by chance befriended the other Armadale, and come to love as a brother. He is horrified and vows never to reveal the secret to his dear friend. Unfortunately, there is one other person in the world who knows the secret -- a villainous woman named Lydia Gwilt, who decides to use this secret to her advantage.


There are few women in literature who I believe were created with such villany as Lydia Gwilt. She is a temptress, a schemer, a manipulator, and an all-around Jezebel. She makes Scarlet O'Hara look like a pushover in comparison. Seriously, if I had to make a list of Top Ten Literary Villains, she would be on it, and probably at or near the top of the list. Overall, there really aren't any positive female characters in this book, now that I think about it. Most of the men are pretty awful too.

Overall, I did enjoy this book, but it took me an awfully long time to finish it -- almost a month, compared to a relatively short ten-day read for No Name. It started out pretty well, but the middle really dragged for me. I think I got really annoyed with both Armadales and their relationship with Miss Gwilt -- they were such pushovers for a pretty face. Most of the men in this book were just putty in her hands; also, there's a young ingenue named Miss Milroy that was straight out of Dickens, she was so annoying. I was rather surprised after reading about the strong female characters in No Name. 

Also, I found the ending of the book to be overly dramatic and rather convoluted, as well as rather predictable. Overall, not my favorite by Wilkie Collins, but not a terrible read. I still want to read Basil and some of Collins' other works. And has anyone else read something by Wilkie Collins? I've read four of his novels so far. Which do you recommend?