Basil – Wilkie Collins

A very late Sensation Sunday post from me but I do have my reasons as you will see later and so I hope you will forgive me. Despite being on something of a break and having some relaxing and very much needed ‘me’ time, this doesn’t seem to be an appropriate time to be scheduling posts. I digress though, lets move swiftly on to this weeks Sensational Novel…

Basil was only Wilkie Collins second novel written before some of his better known works and so to me was something of a mystery. It is a shorter tale than most of Collins works and looks at the relationships between men and women in the main. The narrator of the tale Basil, who the book is named after, who tells us ‘the story of an error, innocent in it’s beginning, guilty in its progress, fatal in its results’. Now what that tale is I shall not divulge too much as in typical Collins style there are many a twist in this tales… erm… tail ending.

The book opens with Basil (who oddly at the start of the book wants to remain nameless only then through Clara his sister suddenly tells us his name) one day randomly ends up on an omnibus where he is instantly smitten with a young woman. So smitten in fact that not only does he believe that he has experienced ‘love at first sight’ but also follows her to her home. There he learns her name, Margaret Sherwin, and then to his dismay the fact that she is of a family of lower rank than himself and this he knows would be something his father would never allow.

Along with the nurse he soon plots to meet Margaret and then in plotting with her father he organises a secret wedding, however there are conditions and the conditions are they will marry within a week though no one, other than the people are involved, can ever speak of it. It must remain unknown for a year and then Basil can have Margaret to himself. Sounds like there must be something mysterious going on there doesn’t it? And of course indeed there is. All seems to be going well at first and then Mr Sherwin’s right hand man Mr Mannion appears on the scene (bringing with him a lot of storms, whenever there is a big scene the clouds thunder and the rain storms) and things start to become a little darker.

The characters are wonderful. We have the disapproving feared father, the sweet angelic sister, the dandy brother and that’s just Basil’s family. Margaret starts sweet and innocent but still waters might run deep, her father is a greedy self obsessed man, her mother a pale frail weeping woman and Mr Mannion is just brilliantly creepy. Don’t let those descriptions make you assume that the likely end could come from this synopsis as it isn’t the case.

I don’t want to give anything away and if you have read it then please don’t either. I will say that this book did shock generations as it dealt with adultery, not something for polite society to read, though of course I am sure they loved gossiping about it. Who is the adulterer, I couldn’t possibly say but that wasn’t the only shock that Collins has in store. A wonderful novel that shows how Collins was honing his skills to create the sensation novels that came later, this early gem shouldn’t be missed. 

So why was I so late in posting this? Well as I am seriously throwing myself into all things sensational and as part of my break, part of my getting to know London better (on our ten year anniversary) I ended up in Kensal Green Cemetery today and not only did I get lost in some Victorian catacombs I also got to have a very special moment as I visited the grave of a man who has become one of my all time favourite authors and who I am so looking forward to reading more of.

A special moment for Savidge Reads

I was quite surprised as to how understated Wilkie Collins grave is compared to some of the mausoleums and gothic buildings many chose to have above them after their death. We also visited Thackeray and Trollope, though Wilkie did something neither of the other authors did. Whilst they had no mention of being authors or having any fame at all it is inscribed on Wilkie Collins final resting place that he was “the author of ‘The Woman in White’ and many other works” just in case we should ever forget. I don’t think with such wonderful writing we ever could. So that’s why the delay… I wanted to share a snap shot of what was a very special Sensational moment for me.


Filed under Oxford University Press, Review, Sensation Novels, Wilkie Collins

10 responses to “Basil – Wilkie Collins

  1. How wonderful to be able to visit Wilkie’s grave! It is under-stated and I think the inscription is tragically sweet.

    • It was a very special moment for me as The Woman in White has been such a favourite for so many years! I liked the inscription though Trollope and Thackeray just had names and dates and actually were even more understated than Collins!

  2. This sounds like another brilliant Wilkie!! I’ve never been to Kensal Green but I now want to go and see his grave, as well as explore another of the ‘Magnificent Seven’.

    I have got my copy of Lady Audley’s Secret ready for next week! I’m so excited to read it!

    • Lady Audley’s Secret is wonderful, am wondering if I will love it as much the second time around, we will see. There is a very interesting show on bbciplayer about Kensal Green that I have just popped in a quick post!

  3. novelinsights

    Oh I do like the pic, very atmospheric.

    This one sounds good… I’d like to read Lady Audley but have yet to finish Armadale which I will be doing this week hopefully 🙂

  4. Pingback: Sensational Book Based Bits You Might Like… « Savidge Reads

  5. Kim

    How interesting that Collins grave should be so understated.
    I have almost finished The Woman in White which I have scarfed down in a few days. Because of your Sensation Season I too am now a Wilkie Collins fan. Thank you, Simon and to think I have all the rest of his work to get through. So exciting!

  6. What a fantastic opportunity while you are in full Wilkie Collins appreciation mode. I think that it might not matter how big the physical memorial to him stands because his books are the true memorial and they are frequently visited by people who love and respect the man.

    I have Basil here at home but have been caught up in other reading. I think I will grab it sooner than later!

  7. That’s very cool that you could visit Wilkie Collins’s grave, and especially cool since you’ve been reading all of his works. I am so excited to read more Collins’ books. Only have read Woman in White but all your reviews get me excited for more!

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