Category Archives: Sensation Novels

The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone is the final Wilkie Collins read of the season (though thankfully I have still many Wilkie books to go or I would possibly be in despair). This is possibly one of the most famous of Wilkie Collins novels and so telling you all about it and my thoughts on it might really be preaching to the converted.

The book opens in 1799 when during a siege of the Indian town of Seringapatam when Colonel John Herncastle steals ‘The Moonstone’ from a religious statue not knowing that the stone is cursed. He comes back to be ostracised by his family and so in an act of revenge disguised in giving kindness he leaves the stone to his niece Rachel in the hope the curse passes onto her. However her cousin Franklin Blake finds out the secrets of stone and the real reason for its inheritance when he brings it to Rachel. It is when she receives it that after years of keeping the stone protected and hidden she merely leaves it in her bedroom cabinet where of course it disappears during the night. What follows is one of the greatest detection novels in history, and one that I think it would be wrong to give anything more away about, other than stating that it is brilliant.

The book is just as filled with wonderful characters as ever such as the reticent Rachel, the mysterious Rosanna Spearman, the brilliant Sergeant Cuff (who steps in after the police are all inept) and my favourite ‘Limping Lucy’. However characterisation isn’t really the point of The Moonstone, it is clearly plotting that is and unlike other sensation fiction we aren’t looking at bigamy, murder and social mysteries this is a full on mystery of theft. Naturally as a Collins novel you can expect many thrills, red herrings and as much suspense as you could wish for.  

In many ways this book is very different in terms of his other sensation fiction, in fact really I would say this was much more a full on adventure romp than sensation. Being the first proper detective novel (and look what it spawned) it caused quite some sensation at the time. It does share a theme with the other books however, as it does look at social attitudes and, in a way, looks at how people of colour were treated in England at the time through three Indians who appear in the book. I also think that Collins made a concerted effort through his strong female characters in particular Rachel (who I wondered if inspired Du Maurier’s ‘My Cousin Rachel) he tried not to make this too much of a boys book and I think as ever he succeeded. This book is absolutely brilliant; I don’t think I can say more than that.

I cannot believe that we are already at the penultimate Sensation Season read. I am especially sad that this is the last Wilkie read I will have for a while, like I said before though at least I have made sure I have many more of his works left for the future. It’s all gone a little too fast with only one more to go as we see the New Year in which is Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ in two weeks. I hope you will all join in. So who out there has read The Moonstone and what did you think? Remember no plot spoilers please, though am not sure there are many people who haven’t read this are there?

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

East Lynne – Ellen Wood

I mentioned the other day that out of all the sensation season reading material so far Ellen Wood’s (or Mrs Henry Wood) ‘East Lynne’ has been by far the most complex and difficult to get through. I want to make it clear that I don’t mean that in a bad way. In fact the main reason it’s quite a book to get through is because of a whole host of characters (initially a village full) and a whole host of plots. This isn’t for those of you who are looking for a throw away sensational read you have to dive in and just go for it. Once you have read the final page though you will be left in no doubt that this is a masterpiece and may, as many say, be the mother of all sensation novels.

East Lynne is a grand old house not to far from the village of West Lynne, you will learn to love the village and all of its wonderful (even if some are downright evil) characters. From the first chapter we are introduced to the main character of the book Isabel Vane or as the first chapter is called ‘The Lady Isabel’ who lives in East Lynne with her father not knowing he has sold the house to local solicitor Archibald Carlyle. We join them as they first meet and naturally Carlyle falls in love with her one site, as one must this is after all a sensation novel.

The very same night Lady Isabel meets Captain Francis Levison a charming man who she instantly falls in love with though he proves a real rogue. Isabel’s father dies shortly after and Isabel finds herself left with a not so nice member of the family before accepting Archibald Carlyle’s hand in marriage admitting to him she doesn’t love him but one day she may. Throw in a possessive half sister, the wonderfully named Cornelia Carlyle, a local girl Barbara Hare who is clearly in love with Archibald and keeps meeting him in secret (though its actually because her brother is wanted for a murder he didn’t commit – see lots of stray storylines) send the delicate Isabel to France for respite where she meets Captain Levison again and you have the perfect recipe for one hell of a sensational novel… and that is not even half of the story. I can’t give away anymore and no one should as it would spoil such a wonderful, wonderful book.

The faults that I have seen reported in other thoughts on this book are that it’s too far fetched and yes in a way the plot is quite implausible… but this is sensation fiction (and fiction in general does this Nineteen Eighty-Four anyone?) and that in part is what its about. Though, if you research it, actually at the time divorce was becoming available in society. This book does look at the social history of the time along with the sanctity of ‘family’ in that period as step mothers who were from second marriages, not from the death of the first wife but of divorce instead, started to appear more things for women were changing again as naturally divorces were always in favour of the male party.

Enough of the social history and back to the book… I just thought the characters were wonderful. I loved the delicate, often flighty and slightly idiotic Isabel. She isn’t calculating just rash and fanciful and in a way her story is quite a tragic one and shows the lengths some people could go to for family, I can’t give anything more away than that. I though the bubbly Barbara Hare was a very interesting character with hidden depths. Naturally it was for me the icy, sister in law spinster Cornelia Carlyle who just for me walked off every page of the book as if she was in the room filling it with her (often wrong or prejudiced) opinions and thoughts. A magnificent character, in fact a magnificent set of characters. Throw in all of the plots, back stories and twists and I was left quite breathless by its brilliance.

This book has not only made me want to read everything that Ellen Wood (or Mrs Henry Wood) has ever written it has in many ways opened me up more to the idea of reading many more books that have such a grand scale and are so filled with several plots and characters which is giving me hope for reading Dickens in the future. I can certainly see why everyone at the time bought this book in their droves; it’s just a shame that they don’t do that now. I am hoping this will help, I will make sure I pop and say thank you to Ellen Wood every time I pass her at Highgate, she deserves more recognition.

If you are wondering why I haven’t used the most famous quote in the book, and it is very famous, it’s because it gives away quite a lot when you know some of the plot, so don’t go searching for it. So who else has read this? If you haven’t why on earth not you must run out and get it now.

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Filed under Books of 2009, Ellen Wood, Mrs Henry Wood, Oxford University Press, Review, Sensation Novels

Another Sensational Shuffle

You may have noticed that yesterday I didn’t do a Sensation Sunday as part of the Sensation Season. Well blame The Converted One! It’s not as dramatic as it sounds but with the big ‘three o’ for The Converted One being today the weekend was a surprise party and who knew just how much time and cunning that would take organising. Fortunately it all went fabulously and I wasn’t killed for organising something that The Converted One didn’t initially want to celebrate. So oddly enough book reading went a little out the window.

Add to this the fact that East Lynne is utterly, utterly marvellous it does also have the whole of West Lynne village in it’s cast and about twelve plots going all at once and I just couldn’t read it as quickly as I thought I would be able to. I also didn’t want to rush something I am enjoying so much and so have been reading it as the people in the late 1800’s would and have been serialising the amount I read each day and its delightful. I now know every character much better and their motives and plots are much more apparent. I am not saying you can’t read it any other way, nor am I saying I should have read the previous sensation novels this way, I am just using my circumstances to try something a bit different. I also don’t want to stop enjoying one of my favourite forms of fiction and have even postponed another sensation novel until sometime in 2010.

The fact that I pass Ellen Wood, or Mrs Henry Wood, everytime I am in Highgate (so once a week or every other week) has instilled the thought that I must respect this book even more. It seems to me that she is a much forgotten author and though having scouted on certain sites have seen there are a lot more of her works out there they arent as available as ‘East Lynne’ which in its own way is a forgotten classic. So when you are next in Highgate do ask the guides (unless its me) to point her out as I think she should get much more attention than she does… in so many ways.

East Lynne will be up for discussion next Sunday when Granny Savidge Reads will also be in town. So much to look forward to at the weekend already, makes Monday so easier. Well that and the fact have today off for celebrating someone’s 30th – oh am not supposed to have mentioned that am I?!?

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The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

It is always a slight worry that if you re-read a favourite novel, and The Woman in White is indeed one of my favourites, then you may just not love it as much as you did the first time and in fact all that you found charming and wonderful about it in the first place is dashed to pieces on a second read. The Sensation Season has already seen me re-read Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and fortunately I loved it once more, would I feel the same way about this classic? The answer is of course YES, it is Wilkie Collins after all and so far, though there is still time, he hasn’t written a word wrong in my mind.

The Woman in White opens with a slightly spooky encounter on Hampstead Heath when our hero of the novel drawing master Walter Hartright comes across a mysterious ‘woman in white’ who is in apparent distress, he then finds she has escaped from an Asylum. Leaving London the next day he thinks no more of it until he meets his new students at Limmeridge House Laura Fairlie and her half sister Marian Halcombe. He finds Laura bears a startling resemblance to the ‘woman in white’ and he then discovers that there may be a link between the women he has met through such a coincidence.

You see this shows why Collins is such a genius as there are lots of other intermingling plots going on that it hard to try and explain them all. I won’t apart from the fact Laura and Walter naturally fall in love but she is already betrothed to Sir Percival Glyde so Collins throws in some romantic drama in for good measure too. It is after their honeymoon when Sir Percival and Lady Laura Glyde return to Limmeridge House with a guest Count Fosco and dastardly things start to happen. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoiling it by letting you all know too much which would ruin it if you haven’t read it.

Suffice to say being a Sensation Novel and being Wilkie Collins there are lots of dark deeds and dubious doings going on with many plot twists to keep you turning the pages to the very end. I also loved the fact that this was narrated by different characters, you felt like you were playing detective with Walter and yet had one up on him as you were getting more clues than he was. It also makes for very interesting reading getting into all the different characters minds.

As I mentioned before this is the second time that I have had the joy of reading The Woman in White and I got just as hooked as the first time and actually I think (as I will admit I last read it in my early twenties) responded to it more this time around. I had forgotten all the twists and turns when they fall. I found Fosco just as brilliantly dark and was much more charmed by Marian this time around and her gutsy attitude. I think also with the last read I didn’t really think of the literary aspect of it just that it was a good mystery, so good in fact it has stuck with me ever since. This time it was how the plotting and scene was set that impressed me just as much as well as all the characters and their strengths and flaws. All in all a wonderful, wonderful read that I personally think should be compulsory.

Next in the Sensation Sunday reads is East Lynne by Ellen Wood and is the mother of all Sensation Novels according to some sensation experts. I might pop up the road and see her this afternoon as when you read this I will be doing my volunteering at Highgate Cemetery. Anyway back to today’s sensation read… who else has read The Woman in White, what were your thoughts? What other books have you re-read and then found just as good if not better on the second reading?

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

Aurora Floyd – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon is the eight novel I have been reading for my Sensation Season. I didn’t notice until today that I am well over half way through and I know I will miss it when it’s done and dusted. It’s actually made me feel much happier that I chose to reduce the amount and have several sensation novels to read in the future other wise I would feel quite bereft. It’s been a season of much Wilkie Collins, who has fared better and better officially becoming one of my favourite authors. Mary Elizabeth Braddon wrote another of my favourite books of all time; will Braddon become one of my favourite authors after reading another of her novels?

Aurora Floyd confused me slightly at the start until I realised the opening chapter wasn’t actually about our heroine, though whether that’s a justifiable label for her is debatable during the book, and is in fact about her mother. Once the tale of Aurora herself starts we head into sensation territory with a big secret that Aurora carries.

Now though the blurb on the back of the book gives everything away (why do publishers do this), I don’t want to. Suffice to say that once happily married, after quite a turbulent set of proposals and suitors, the past comes back to haunt Aurora as she nestles happily married to John Mellish, a character I adored, and becomes a lady of the country. What the blurb doesn’t give away is though the secret becomes revealed a murder takes place leaving a wonderful whodunit suddenly and the whole feel of the book changes once more. I am saying no more but its brilliantly written and amateur detectives amongst you will revel in it like I did.

I will admit that I did struggle with this book to start of. Whilst by the end I understood the need for Aurora’s heritage to be shown, at the beginning it seemed an irrelevant chapter and I wont lie it did throw me into a small confusion, in fact the first few chapters did as everything gets set up very quickly before a hundred and fifty pages of gentle hinting and romantic interludes which didn’t thrill me. It was the last 170 pages or so that made the wait worthwhile as the twists and turns I wasn’t expecting suddenly came to light and then I could barely put the book down.

I will also admit that the plot in many ways isn’t too differential from what you may have already read in Braddon’s earlier sensation classic Lady Audley’s Secret although this novel has more of a whodunit feel in many ways. I do think that Braddon’s writing improved with this novel, I didn’t think it was bad before as you know I loved it, but the characters seemed to walk off the page that much more with this one. The evilness of Mrs Powell and Steven ‘Softy’ Hargreaves was wonderful and the fact she actually went into their heads as well as Aurora’s made for fascinating reading and touched on social stigmas too.

Reading this back I sound like I am disappointed with this book and that’s not the case. I don’t think it packs the punch that Lady Audley’s Secret did as after a flurried start it goes very calm before the climatic ending which could put people off. I wavered a few times in the middle and had some ‘oh this is hard work’ moments but never enough to give up reading to the end and thank goodness for that. It just goes to show how and ending or the last 100 or so pages can utterly change your opinion of a book and I am thoroughly glad I persevered. I am looking forward to reading more Braddon with ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ in a few weeks time, I must read Madame Bovary first though as apparently there are parallels! Next week it is the infamous Wilkie Collins classic, and one of my favourite novels, ‘The Woman in White’.

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Filed under Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Oxford University Press, Review, Sensation Novels

The Dead Secret – Wilkie Collins

So now it is time for me to divulge all of my thoughts on the latest Sensation Sunday read. I was tempted to call this post ‘a sensationally sick Sunday’ as I have been hit by some bug that’s made me feel unbelievably tired, throaty and nauseous hence why the post is a bit late… have been doing a lot of Sunday snoozing! Something must be going around, though I do find it most unfair that it has chosen a time when I am relaxing with a few weeks off to make me feel so rubbish. Hopefully is just a twenty four hour thing and will be back in my stride tomorrow. I have noticed though that since I had swine flu my immune system has been really poor. Anyway, enough about me lets move onto more about my latest foray into another fictional world of Wilkie Collins.

The Dead Secret is one of the Wilkie Collins novels that I have been looking forward to the most and not just because of the wonderful title. I have been really looking forward to it because people in the know, from many Wilkie Collins sites, say that this book is an incredibly important book in his career as it was the first book published for the purpose of serialisation and was in many ways the book that influenced his style in the future on the following novel he wrote which happens to be the legendary ‘Woman in White’ which is also one of my very favourite books. Also one of the main characters, a tragic servant figure, in this book then appears in ‘The Moonstone’. This is why I have started to do my research on books as I read them as its fascinating but what of the actual plot and book itself.

It is a scene on a death bed that aptly opens this novel as Mrs Treverton dictates her own (you guessed it) deadly secret onto her maid whom she also implicates in whatever the secret may be. I would tell you all but then what would be the point of the book as though in typical Wilkie style you are given some big clues, and plenty of red herrings, nothing is fully revealed until much later on or why would anyone read it? The maid against her mistresses’ wishes does not pass on the secret to Mr Treverton instead hiding it in the disused part of the Treverton’s home, the dark, wonderfully rambling and mysterious Porthgenna Tower in the knowledge no one will find it.

Fifteen years later though Porthgenna Tower has been sold on Mrs Treverton’s daughter Rosamond becomes the new mistress. On her way back to become mistress of her childhood home fate intervenes, through Rosamond’s giving birth, and a last minute nurse imparts the message ‘when you go to Porthgenna, keep out of the Myrtle Room’. Naturally and given to the fact that Rosamond is a wonderfully flighty yet headstrong character she resolves that that is the very thing she will do, but what is The Dead Secret she will uncover?

How Wilkie Collins does all this in just over 350 pages (one of his shortest novels) is quite amazing. This book is filled with mystery from the start and shows the true meaning of ‘page turning’ and cliff-hanger chapter endings which Collins became so famous for. I was utterly gripped from the gothic death bed opening scene until the final word of the last chapter. What this book also has in abundance, which so far in the sensation season I hadn’t noticed so strongly, is quirky and wonderful characters which even if are only used for a chapter are drawn in such depth you would read about every single one. Be they the leads character such as Rosamond or the hilarious and slightly irritating hypochondriac and whittler Mr Phippen, the sneaky deviousness of Mr Shrowl, the indignant Mrs Norbury or the ever happy Miss Sturch. This book has everything and I think shows exactly why Wilkie Collins not only became one of the great and most popular writers of his time and over 100 years on has become one of my most favoured writers. A must read if ever there was one.  

The next Sensation Season read is Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, which I am already looking forward to, and will be next Sunday. I am now off to find some comfort reading though what my exact ‘comfort reading’ is I am never quite sure. What’s the latest sensation book you have read, will you be adding this to the TBR? I do hope so.

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Filed under Books of 2009, Oxford University Press, Review, Sensation Novels, Wilkie Collins

Sensation Season Sunday Update

Now just a quick post from me but I thought that the day after Halloween would be the perfect one (as its also a Sunday) to update you all with just what the devil is happening with the Sensation Season and fingers crossed you should be able to go and find the new schedule just here.

Now as you will be able to see I have moved things around abit what I have made sure I don’t do with opnes which people seem keen to read-a-long with the most is move them forward and in fact I have in the main moved The Woman in White, The Moonstone and East Lynne back so that it gives people more of a chance to read them. I will admit that sadly I have gotten rid of a couple of the books and joining Poor Miss Finch are Hide and Seek and Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins but this is in part because I actually don’t want to have read all of his work before 2010, I wouldnt have anything to look forward to. I have only just noticed I will have read everything by Mary Elizabeth Braddon that you can currently get but thats just how the cookie crumbles. The other part of getting rid of a few was that a few weekends are manic and though I love reading might offend people such as my Gran if I have my face in a book the whole time!

Now then I also wanted to take this opportunity to finally announce the winner of The Man in the Picture giveaway that I promised you all weeks and weeks ago. I put all the names in an empty pumpkin last night and got oneof the twins I am looking after to pull a name out. The lucky winner as chosen by one year old Iris (I hope Maisie doesn’t sulk at not picking a winner when she grows up, note that she wasnt interested and was much more enthralled by the toys her big cousin brought from London) is Lizzy Siddal so please email me your address and it will be popped in the post pronto.

Now back to original as opposed to modern Sensation novels, the next one will be next Sunday and its the one with my favourite title… The Dead Secret! Hopefully some of you will be joining in? How are you all getting on with Sensation novels if you are joining in or just reading them at your own pace? Which one I havent read yet are you most looking forward to? Let me know.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Sensation Novels

No Name – Wilkie Collins

A slightly late post for the Sensation Season Sunday this week but I don’t like to put the post up until have finished the book and had time to digest it for a while. I also have had what The Converted One is calling a full on ‘Bloggers Breakdown’ but more on that tomorrow. Back to the aim of Sensation Season Sunday and to the latest read in the season (which schedule change I will also be discussing tomorrow) and its another Wilkie Collins novel but would this one be the one to put me off Collins?

No Name is the tale of two sisters who have to face the hardest of times after the death of their parents.  Not only do they have the grief and loss to deal with but the unsettling discovery that leaves them shunned from society… their parents were not married when either of them were born. This storyline actually caused huge shock, but mass sales, when it was published and reading about that added to the books themes. The girls are disinherited and thrown out of the family manor leaving them to fend for themselves. After a life together the two sisters set out on very different paths that will change their lives forever.

Norah Vanstone is the more silent and submissive of the sisters and opts for a life of a governess; with the social stigma attached to her this is a hard path to follow and pushes her through poverty and much toil. Her strong willed sister Magdalen however decides that she will get her inheritance however possible and uncovers a tale that means not only does she want what is rightfully hers, she wants revenge at whatever cost. She does find a partner in this quest, a certain Captain Wragge who when is first depicted as a suspicious man all dressed in black with eyes of different colours you think may be a wonderfully evil character. Though he is a swindler we do see a very different side to him and I liked this twist with the book, the true villain when he shows up is utterly marvellous.

I think one thing that Wilkie Collins is incredibly good at, apart from mystery and intrigue which this book has in abundance, is writing great women. Be they femme fatales, villainesses, mad women or innocent victims of fate you know they will be well written and both sisters though their tales and personalities are quite, quite different they are both vivid. The book does tend to feature the wonderfully head strong Magdalen who I don’t think any reader could help but love but Norah in her own way has quite a journey. I also think with No Name that Wilkie Collins is trying to say something about the way society treats women over men and that was something I wasn’t expecting.

I thought from the title of the book (can I just say what a gorgeous cover this book has though Oxford World Classics new range is just stunning) that I might not enjoy this one and it wasn’t one that I had heard much about other than it was the book between the incredibly successful The Woman in White and The Moonstone. No Name is yet another gripping sensation novel with mystery, scandal and villains that also inter-mingles a real insight into Victorian Society and shows, through Captain Wragge, that you should never judge people by their appearance or what others may say. Another one to add to my never ending love of Collins books, surely they can’t all be this marvellous, but please say they are.

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Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

So now we are already onto the fifth of the sensation season (a page I really need to redo along with my favourite reads as Waterstones selfishly revamped their site and my pictures have all gone wrong) reads and this week it was Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon a book that I read five years ago and almost instantly became one of my very favourite books of all time. I don’t often re-read books and so there was the worry that five years on a very different me is reading the book, would I like it so much second time round or could this shatter my illusions of the book for good?

Lady Audley’s Secret caused a lot of controversy when it was first published amid the Sensation period in the Victorian times. Initially scorned by reviewers, critics and the press at the time the public disagreed and it became a huge success despite being labelled immoral. The book opens with the poverty stricken but incredibly beautiful governess of a small town doctor, Lucy Graham, marries the wealthy widower Sir Michael Audley.

All is well and happy until the arrival of Sir Audley’s nephew Robert and his friend George Talboys. The later who has not long come back from Australia where he has made his fortune hunting for gold though once back finds the wife he left behind has died. However the new Lady Audley refuses to see Robert and his friend and then suddenly George vanishes from the house leaving a mystery as to why.

Robert being the good and true friend that he is decides he must find out what has happened to his friend and becomes amateur detective discovering more about his friends past and that events and people at Audley Court may have some connection to the mystery. That’s all I shall say on the plot as to give any more away would ruin the book (makes giving book thoughts on sensational fiction so difficult).

I do think, and if you have read it or once you have you will also hopefully agree, that the plotting is just incredible. Ok so there are some moments when you have to suspend disbelief, could a letter actually travel slower than a person one year and faster the next to suit the tale its sensation fiction. I do think this book does have one of the most thrilling and gripping chase scenes as the villainess and the hero race to get to the same destination, brilliant. It thoroughly pleases me that the public opinion over rode the critics opinions of this absolutely wonderful book or it could easily have been lost forever and that simply wouldn’t do!

Did I love the book as much the second time round? Yes of course I did, I don’t see how anyone could fail to love what I think is one of the most sensational of sensationalist novels. I did notice I was much more critical second time around and for a while wasn’t sure the motives in the book were quite explained or made sense (without giving a huge part of the book away I cant comment on that further) and yet in some ways I was even more lost in the book than I was the first time round especially in the chase scenes which I wasn’t expecting and found very interesting.

I do wonder if as I get older I get more cynical? As everything being tied up just so and so delightfully, though a wonderful ending, left me wanting something a little darker but still for me one of my all time favourites. I wonder if the same will be said for The Woman in White when that gets a re-read in a few weeks time!

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Filed under Books of 2009, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Penguin Classics, Review, Sensation Novels

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.

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

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!

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

Armadale Admition…

Well I have always said that I will be 100% honest with this blog and so I need to fess up. I havent come close to finishing Armadale… well am only 240 pages off, but I simply can’t give you my book thoughts with that much left to go, it’s just not the way that I like to do the blog.

Now I do feel that I am allowed to be a bit behind as it is the longest Wilkie Collins of the lot and I think I can also say that it’s actually, for me at least, been the hardest one to get into. I am now gripped so I know that I will have finished it after today (have lots of tube rides ahead to various Victorian Cemeteries and Jack The Ripper walks – or the cinema for Dorian Gray again if it rains) and so should have something delightful later this evening when have finished it and can compile all my thoughts and cannot wait to hear all yours? I also blame Catharine Arnold and her wonderful book ‘Necropolis‘ which I forgot I had and found on a ‘sensation search’ (more on that Monday or Tuesday) this weekend and now can’t put down, it was only meant to be along-side reading!!! It’s just brilliant and perfect timing for the weekends events and all things sensational really.

So for now I thought would ask you all a non book question. I am celebrating my 10th anniversary with London (it’s now been a decade since I moved here aged 17 this very week) and am having some dates with London of places in ten years I really should have been and am appalled I have neglected. Funnily enough they all have a late 1800’s vibe/link to them, can’t think why? So what are you all up to this weekend, or what have you been doing that doesnt involve reading at all? It’s like a getting to know you exercise, do let me know.

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What Makes A Modern Sensation?

When I first set out to originally have a ‘Sensation September’ one of the reasons it swiftly became a ‘Sensation Season’ instead was that there were not only too many sensation novels from the original era that I wanted to read, but also too many what I would deem ‘modern sensation’ novels too. But what on earth makes a modern sensation novel, I hear you cry. 

Well as I am not Wikipedia I can’t give you the official definition of a modern sensation novel because there isn’t one… as yet! However I can happily make one up instead, maybe the Savidge Reads guide for modern sensation fiction could catch on? So here are what I deem the rules for modern sensation fiction… 

  • It must be set in the Victorian era or if modern be set in a spooky old house (preferable a manor or bigger and also maybe with a spooky old wood near by).
  • There must be much secrets and intrigue.
  • There must be plenty of plot twists and quite a few red herrings.
  • There need to be a lot of coincidences.
  • It needs to contain adultery, theft, bigamy, kidnapping, insanity, forgery, abduction or murder. Or even better all of these ingredients.
  • It can have a ghost or two in it… at a push!

Now taking all this into account I think that you could actually have quite a lot of ‘modern sensation’ novels. Half of the current (and past classics, such as Agatha Christie) crime fiction could be linked back to sensation fiction with just the murder part! I think the modern sensations need to have all of the above and a little ‘sensation magic’ which isn’t easy to describe, so instead here are the first five books I could think of that have all of these elements but were written recently. I have read one, am going to re-read another and read the other three for the first time over the next few weeks…

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – ‘We were all more or less thieves at Lant Street. But we were that kind of thief that rather eased the dodgy deed along, than did it. We could pass anything, anything at all, at speeds which would astonish you. There was only one thing, in fact, that had come and got stuck – one thing that had somehow withstood the tremendous pull of that passage – one thing that never had a price put to it. I mean of course, Me.’ Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, is born among petty thieves – fingersmiths – in London’s Borough. From the moment she draws breath, her fate is linked to another orphan, growing up in a gloomy mansion not too many miles away.

The Observations by Jane Harris – So there I was with two pens, my two titties, Charles Dickens, two slice of bread and a blank book at the end of my first day in the middle of nowhere. Except as it turned out it wasn’t quite the end …Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy Buckley – the wide-eyed Irish heroine of “The Observations” – takes a job as a maid in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabella. Bessy is intrigued by her new employer, but puzzled by her increasingly strange requests and her insistence that Bessy keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts. And it seems that Arabella has a few secrets of her own – including her near-obsessive affection for Nora, a former maid who died in mysterious circumstances. Then, a childish prank has drastic consequences, which throw into jeopardy all that Bessy has come to hold dear. Caught up in a tangle of madness, ghosts, sex and lies, she remains devoted to Arabella. But who is really responsible for what happened to her predecessor Nora? As her past threatens to catch up with her and complicate matters even further, Bessy begins to realise that she has not quite landed on her feet.

The Séance by John Harwood – ‘Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there…’ London, the 1880s. A young girl grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance Langton takes her to a seance. Perhaps they will find comfort from beyond the grave. But that seance has tragic consequences.Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest will blight her life. So begins “The Seance”, John Harwood’s brilliant second novel, a gripping, dark mystery set in late Victorian England. It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains – and murder. For Constance’s bequest comes in two parts: a house, and a mystery. Years before a family disappeared at Wraxford Hall, a terrifying stately home near the Suffolk coast. Now Constance must find the truth behind the mystery, even at the cost of her life. Because without the truth, she is lost.

The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams – From her lookout on the first floor, Ginny watches and waits for her adored younger sister to return to the crumbling mansion that was once their idyllic childhood home. Vivien has not stepped foot in the house since she left, forty seven years ago; Ginny, the reclusive lepidopterist, has rarely ventured outside it. The remembrance of their youth, of loss, and of old rivalries plays across Ginny’s mind. Why is Vivi coming home? Ginny has been selling off the family furniture over the years, gradually shutting off each wing of the house and retreating into the precise routines and isolation that define her days. Only the attic remains untouched. There, collected over several generations, are walls lined with pinned and preserved Bordered Beauties and Rusty Waves, Feathered Footmen and Great Brocades, Purple Cloud, Angle Shades, the Gothic and the Stranger …

The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling – This work is set in Lambeth, London, in the year 1859. By the time Dora Damage discovers that there is something wrong with her husband, Peter, it is too late. His arthritic hands are crippled, putting his book-binding business into huge debt and his family in danger of entering the poorhouse. Summoning her courage, Dora proves that she is more than just a housewife and mother. Taking to the streets, she resolves to rescue her family at any price – and finds herself illegally binding expensive volumes of pornography commissioned by aristocrats. Then, when a mysterious fugitive slave arrives at her door, Dora realizes she’s entangled in a web of sex, money, deceit and the law. Now the very family she fought so hard for is under threat from a host of new, more dangerous foes. Belinda Starling’s debut novel is a startling vision of Victorian London, juxtaposing its filth and poverty with its affluence. In “Dora Damage” we meet a daring young heroine, struggling in a very modern way against the constraints of the day, and whose resourcefulness and bravery have us rooting for her all the way.

What do you think… about all of it?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Sensation Novels

The Law & The Lady – Wilkie Collins

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!

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Filed under Penguin Classics, Review, Sensation Novels, Wilkie Collins