Wilkie Collins (1824-1889)
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wilkie Collins (1824-1889)
I was banking on another awesome adventure from Wilkie after being blown away by The Woman in White. Sadly, Armadale didn't quite live up to the high expectations. Written in 1866, Armadale, like WIW, is mostly letters and remembrances of the characters. Unlike WIW, Armandale is sometimes rambling and boring. We start in a small town in Germany where a rich guy is dying. He puts down his will and kicks the bucket. The will reveals a story of love and murder in the Caribbean and England. The dead guy's name is Armadale, but it wasn't always that way. He lived in the Caribbean and was hand picked by the owner of the Armadale estate to take his name and take over operations because his son, the rightful inheritor, is a bum.
This is where the trouble begins. The new Armadale falls in with a stranger while running the estate in the Caribbean. They become great friends. Eventually the new Armadale gets hooked up with a lady in England who he's supposed to marry. She's loaded and he gets ready to head across the Atlantic to meet her. Well, his buddy disappears the day before he's supposed to leave. New Armadale takes off and finds that Old Armadale has moved in on his scene and married the lady. New Armadale is enraged and challenges his impostor friend to a duel. The married Armadale tries to flee in a boat which gets caught in a storm. The lady and some of the crew is rescued, and the rescue boat (manned by New Armadale) heads back to the foundered boat. Old Armadale finds New Armadale in the hull of the ship trying to save the lady's jewelry. They lock eyes and New Armadale locks the door on him, in effect murdering the traitor. The lady is pregnant from her brief marriage and Living Armadale marries a beautiful slave upon his return to the Caribbean. The resulting children are born a year apart and both named Allen Armadale.
Now comes the main part of the story. The dead father insists that "Dark Armadale" never meets the "Light Armadale." Well, what happens but they meet and become buddies. "Dark Armadale" goes by the alias Ozias Midwinter. Well, Josias finds out that he's an Armadale and that's when things start getting weird. The real star of the book is finally introduced, Lydia Gwilt. Lydia is a conniving, corrupt, and shockingly beautiful woman. She decides to go to Thorpe-Ambrose, the Armadale estate, and hook up with the rich Armadale. Well that breaks up a romance between Armadale and Miss Milroy, a 16 year old living on the estate. Eventually Miss Gwilt comes up with a plan to get the Armadale property without marrying Armadale. She seduces Midwinter, knowing his secret, and marries him. She then plans to murder Midwinter and Armadale and return to Thorpe-Ambrose as the rightful inheritor. Well, things go awry to say the least. First of all, Lydia falls in love with Midwinter. This screws the machinations of the plan up. Eventually we end up in a insane asylum and Gwilt tries to gas Armadale, but ends up realizing that Midwinter is in the room. She saves his life and gases herself. The End.
The central theme of this book is fate. The two Armadales are fated to meet. When they do Light Armadale has a dream with several prescient scenes. Throughout the book these scenes come to pass and Midwinter notices every time. He believes deeply in the prophecy that as long as he's around Armadale will die. Yet, everytime he tries to leave Midwinter tries o leave he is drawn back by some mechanism. In the end, however, fate is averted because the Armadale lives. The murderer's son is not the ruin of the victim's son.
Rating-7/10: It's a good read, but not as good as WIW. Still, once Lydia Gwilt is introduced things really get rolling in a good way.