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?

11 comments:

  1. Oh, I'm disappointed that you didn't love this one! It really was a fun, crazy read and Lydia is SO awful. I read this in the middle of a big sensation fiction phase though so I think it fit right in and didn't seem so outrageous at the time because every book I was reading was the same.
    The Dead Secret is good and so is The Law and the Lady. There's a book with a couple of novellas too that includes The Haunted Hotel. Those are fun stories. I think that's where I'm at with Wilkie. Maybe I'll try a new one later this year!

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    1. I liked it, just didn't love it like I did No Name. I do love a good Victorian sensation novel -- I think my favorite so far is Lady Audley's Secret.

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  2. Oddly, I didn't think Lydia was a terribly good villain. I thought she was so obvious about everything that I wondered why no one saw through to her! I loved the first quarter of this book, before she entered the plot, and wish it had continued on in that way, but I didn't like the parts with her at all, and it kinda ruined the book for me. Boo.

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    1. I agree, not the best villain ever created -- there are villains that are better crafted because they're better written with more dimensions. I just didn't get how everyone fell for her -- because she had red hair? I thought Midwinter was better than that.

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  3. I loved ARMADALE! But I'm partial to Wilkie Collins and the genre. Have you tried THE MEANING OF NIGHT by Michael Cox? It was written a few years ago but the author was a Victorian scholar and you can't tell it wasn't written 175 years ago.

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    1. It's definitely on my to-read list! I love neo-Victorians. I'll try to get to it as soon as I make some progress with all my unread books by Trollope and Hardy!

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  4. Ooh, this is on my TBR pile for this year!

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  5. I have a copy of this book sitting on my shelf waiting for me to read it...the only reason I haven't yet is because it's sooo long, and the print is sooo small. :) I'm beginning to wish I'd purchased No Name instead. I loved his book The Woman in White, and I enjoyed The Moonstone, too, although not quite as much. I've also read his shorter fiction piece The Haunted Hotel, but none of his other novels. Maybe this summer I'll give Armadale a try. Great post! :)

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  6. I liked this but I felt that the two parts of the book (with and without Lydia) did not fit together well. It seemed like a draft that should have been rewritten. I'm looking forward to No Name!

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  7. Sounds very convoluted! I really enjoy Woman in White, and have read it twice and plan to reread again someday. I was less enthralled with The Moonstone, but mean to give it another chance. Not sure I would read this one, although parts of it do sound fun.

    Lydia Gwilt sounds like Milady from Three Musketeers, or that wretched woman from Les liaisons dangereuses, or Becky Sharp, who I still insist was the prototype for Scarlett :)

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  8. I picked up Armadale a couple of months after I enjoyed No Name. But maybe the time wasn't right but I was so confused after about 100 pages that I had to bail. Never say never - someday I may return to it for the sake of Lydia. I can't resist a rip-roarin' villan like Count Fosco or Capt. Wragge.

    Review of No Name
    http://majoryammerton.blogspot.com/2015/12/mount-tbr-49.html

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