Armadale – Wilkie Collins

Oops… I know, I know this is a day later than it should have been. As I mentioned yesterday I have no excuses for not finishing this book in time for one on my ‘Sensation Season Sunday’s’ apart from the fact that Armadale is very long, actually Wilkie Collins longest novel of all, and it just took me much longer than anticipated to devour frankly. Here though, one day late, I can finally give you my thoughts on Armadale for what they are worth ha. It’s going to be interesting because this book is incredibly complex and goes through generations, don’t let that put you off though. 

I have always wanted to read Wilkie Collins ‘Armadale’ partly because I think he is a genius and I love the sensational fiction he writes. I also wanted to read this because I had heard so much about the villainess (am not giving anything away its on the blurb of the book) Lydia Gwilt “flame-haired temptress, bigamist, laudanum addict and husband poisoner” in fact so malicious and evil that publishers were incredibly shocked and refused to believe that women could behave in such a manner and the book was almost never published, I think people also tried to ban it. So imagine my surprise when 150 pages in she still had yet to even show up. Hang on I have gotten ahead of myself…

The book opens as a dying man arrives in the German town of Wildbad (Collins as ever is a genius with names in this book) where the water is said to restore ones health, sadly for Allan Armadale it is too late, as he dies he has one wish and that is for someone to write his young son a letter. As the only English writing person on site Mr Neal becomes embroiled in the telling of a shocking murderous tale. All this and we are only in chapter one of ‘book the first’. What does become apparent is the misuse of identity which has led to two young Allan Armadale’s and the end of the letter states…

And, more than all avoid the man who bears the same name as your own. Offend your best benefactor, if that benefactor’s influence has connected you one with the other. Desert the woman who loves you, if that woman is a link between you and him. Hide yourself from him, under an assumed name. Put the mountains and the seas between you; be ungrateful; be unforgiving; be all that is most repellent to your own gentler nature, rather than live under the same roof, and breathe the same air with that man. Never let the two Allan Armadale’s meet in this world; never, never, never!

Of course through endless Collins-like coincidences, which if you have read him you will know and love, the two do meet. What happens I cannot tell you, see this could be very rubbish ‘review’; I just so do not want to give any of the magic away. I did find this part of the book the hardest going, once Lydia appears everything sort of speeds up, but with a novel like this you need the background information and eventually the prose and characters won me round. I also think that actually without the very cleverly weaved plot and history between the two Allan’s meeting the book wouldn’t end up having the same effect, and so its much needed and I am glad I bared with it all. A small qualm to be honest, and actually you get delayed gratification once Lydia does suddenly appear.

It is however after the two have met that Lydia appears and becomes in some way a catalyst to chaos and devious doings. Initially she appears through letters with another despicable woman, which make for some very, very wicked and very, very amusing (if you have a dark sense of humour) reading. Is she as wicked as the blurb promises? Absolutely! She is also incredibly complex and a truly fascinating character full of hidden depths, darkness and desires. I found her utterly enthralling. In fact I am amazed this hasn’t been turned into a film as I would imagine many actors would give their right arms to play her. I naturally loved her despite everything and revelled in the melodrama and the cunning. A must read, possibly my favourite Wilkie Collins read yet (and I have read The Woman in White which is marvellous) and also possibly the most sensational.

Though this s of course fabulous it leaves me in a slight quandary… no not quandary, it leaves me with a slight worry. What if all the other Wilkie Collins novels don’t match up? What if I have so early on read the most sensational of sensation novels? I am trying to calm the palpitations am sure its all going to be fine. Please tell me its going to be fine, ha!


Filed under Books of 2009, Penguin Classics, Review, Sensation Novels, Wilkie Collins

13 responses to “Armadale – Wilkie Collins

  1. Oh my goodness! This sounds terrific!!! I didn’t think The Woman in White could be bettered so this must be amazing! I will be joining in for No Name as I already have a copy so I am so looking forward to exploring more of Wilkie, even more so after this review!

    • Rachel this book is utterly fabulous and actually I didn’t mention that it’s in many ways also a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I think there are still more good Wilkie Collins novels to be had, and am looking forward to the journey of discovering them.

  2. novelinsights

    You caught me up! Well done on getting through it so quickly, I love it so far so will be finding some special time to finish it this week, as well as reading I served the king 🙂

    • It took quite some effort (and cancelling two nights out) in order to get close to doing it by Sunday…then lots of tube rides on Sunday just managed to get me finished by the time I got home. I saw Dorian again, loved it even more the second time.

  3. Armadale is my favorite Collins just because it was so complex and emotional. I have the same worry as you … that I read the best too soon. I think that I read No Name next after Armadale and while it was good, it didn’t have that same gripping pull. But it had its own strengths and I hope this is the same with the ones I haven’t read yet.

    Have you read Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel? I thought the two had quite a few similarities.

    • Oh no Kristen, don’t say the best is already done and dusted… I have another ten to go!

      As yet I have not read My Cousin Rachel though I do have a copy, I am holding off until have gotten through most of Du Maurier’s other novels as I want to save one of the best ones for last!

  4. Are you kidding me? Flame-haired temptress, bigamist, laudanum addict and husband poisoner? She’s my kinda gal! This all sounds like vintage Collins, and I must read it. It does seem that the novels of this era do tend to build slowly, then start to gain speed, then all of the sudden you are moving so fast you can’t even focus on anything else. If this is what I have to look forward to with My Cousin Rachel, I’m stoked. (BTW, just finished Rebecca. It will definitely end up on my top 10 list!)

    • I am not kidding you at all Sandy, she is utterly brilliant. Though I do feel slightly misunderstood hahahaha.

      This is a very slow build but in hindsight it only shows just how clever with plot Wilkie Collins is. People say he is a poor mans Dickens. Itried Dickens once and found him quite alienating, we will see how I fair over Christmas.

  5. This will be my next Collins! I’m reading The Woman in White now, and loved The Moonstone, too.

  6. novelinsights

    Thank you for introducing me to this Mr Savidge, I loved this (as you can tell from my post) and have already bought a copy for my Mum’s birthday – I’m spreading the word!

  7. Pingback: Books of 2009 « Savidge Reads

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