Tuesday, February 16, 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?