And so it is already to the second of The Sensation Season novels and Wilkie Collins ‘The Law & The Lady’. Now before I do go on to discuss my ‘book I do feel a little bit of a con-man as I still have about twenty (gripping, I am sure) pages to go. I am shortly about to get a bus to Wimbledon so will no doubt finish it on there so technically I am almost done. I just wanted to say as I don’t feel quite right writing about a book I haven’t quite finish, it does feel like cheating. But if I don’t pop a post up now won’t be able to for hours. Anyway, sorry to digress, back to the book…
‘The Law & The Lady’ was Wilkie Collins 27th novel (that’s right 27th – good to know I have so many left to go) and actually came out in the middle of his sensation period, though really all of his books were sensation novels. Here we meet our narrator Valerie Brinton just as she becomes Valerie Woodville on the fateful day of her marriage. In his own way that only Wilkie Collins does he manages to set the scene in your head within the first page.
The church was in one of the dreary quarters of London, situated between the City and the West End; the day was dull; the atmosphere was heavy and damp. We were a melancholy little wedding-party, worthy of the dreary neighbourhood and the dull day. No relatives of friends of my husband’s were present; his family, as I have already hinted, disapproved of his marriage.
In a few sentences within the opening page of the book we are not only firmly in dark Victorian sensation London; we also have a hint that something isn’t quite right. Why would the family of Eustace Woodville not agree with his marriage? I found it interesting that like in his novel The Haunted Hotel we have a character whose marriage is completely disapproved of as one of the main characters and one of the big themes in the book.
The hints keep coming as Valerie looks back at their courtship, you never doubt for a minute that they are completely besotted with each other. However, friends won’t give him more than minimum references of his conduct to Valerie’s uncle (both her parents are dead) and he even at one points offers to leave her though why she is never quite sure.
I love Collins style, every chapter moves the story forward, builds your intrigue, gets slightly darker and you know you are being woven into something incredibly clever with some big twists on the horizon and a reason to read the next chapter as soon as you finished the last. I also love the use of coincidence.
A prime example of both of these is early on (I am trying not to spoil the plot though for some reason publishers give a lot away in Collins blurbs sadly) when Valerie is going through her husbands things the day after their wedding night in Ramsgate and comes across a picture of his mother. That day on the beach a woman drops a letter on the beach and who should it be? It is of course his mother who then goes on to not recognise her daughter in laws surname and when meets Eustace and finds out of his new wife the chapter ends with her walking away turning and saying ‘I pity your wife’. How can you not read on that instance?
What I wasn’t expecting is partly the change that overcomes our narrator, though to say more would spoil things, and then also the amount of Victorian law we get to see. This should have been obvious in the title ‘The Law & The Lady’ but in my mind I had a story of a female highwayman embedded in my head, not a court case of which there is one. Do not let that put you off as though yes there is some legal schpeel in this part there is of course, as ever with Wilkie Collins, some shocks and high drama. A brilliant book that managed to add sensation to law, plenty of trademark twists and has a narrator who “upturns the conventions of polite nineteenth century society” what more could you want than that?
Can you tell that I loved this, yet another brilliant sensation novel from Wilkie Collins? Next week’s sensation novel, which I think I will have to start fairly imminently, is Armadale. One of the Wilkie Collins books that I have been most looking forward to reading for a long time and for some reason (possibly to deny myself having read it and it being done, does anyone else do that?) have held off reading. Hopefully some of you will be joining in on that as its meant to be a real corker!