Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Armadale (1864–1866) by Wilkie Collins is a Victorian mystery and suspenseful thriller. Armadale is the name of four different men in this story, who are pairs of fathers and sons. This name is the key to their fortunes and is a cause of shame and secrecy. Each of the four Allan Armadales has his own set of motivations that determine the course of novel’s events.

The drama and sensational aspects of the novel are woven together perfectly and kept me on my toes. From the opening death bed confession to a suicide attempt off a ship to a dream which comes true little by little, I was excited by what came next. At times, I knew what to expect, but not when.

One of the main characters, Ozias Midwinter, often works against what he believes to be his fate, but at other times, he is reconciled to what his fate brings him. The young Allan Armadale is a generous and often foolish man who is powerless to persuasion. Along with Ozias, the most compelling character is Lydia Gwilt. Lydia is a heroine and villainess rolled into one. At times I sympathized with her because she is the most intelligent character in the novel, and I wanted to see her succeed. At other times, I hated her, and wanted her to fail. She’s both a criminal and a temptress.

No character in the book is perfect; no one is purely good. Each character’s combination of motivations, secrets, and balance of good and bad is what drives the novel to its final pages. Wilkie Collins was a masterful storyteller, who controlled complicated plots with seeming ease. Armadale is one of his masterpieces. Although, Collins is best known for The Moonstone and The Woman in White, Armadale deserves equal acclaim.

Purchase and read books by Wilkie Collins:

Armadale by Wilkie Collins The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins


Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Summer by Edith Wharton

Summer by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton showed such skill in portraying the universal emotions of women. In Summer (1917), the novella counterpart to her winter-themed story Ethan Frome, Wharton tells the story of a young woman named Charity Royall.

Charity came from the mountain. Her birth parents were poor and gave her up for adoption to Mrs. and Mr. Royall, a family in North Dormer, a town in New England. Living with her adoptive parents, Charity is kept in check from her true wants by the confines of her upbringing. She feels trapped in the village and senses she has no prospects. In spite of these constraints, Charity is a thoughtful young woman, with whom readers can identify.

After her adoptive mother dies, Charity is left alone with Mr. Royall. He lusts after Charity and tries entering her bedroom, but she refuses him. Charity gets a job as a librarian to earn a small living of her own. She has little interest in her job, but defends it because it belongs to her.

As the summer goes on, Charity falls for a visitor named Lucius Harney. She holds herself back to prove to herself that she’s not loose and that she is serious unlike other women. Eventually though, she gives in, and she and Lucius secretly meet and have sex. She is thrilled with passion for her new lover. Charity believes Lucius is truly devoted to a life with her and doesn’t think he’s just a man fooling around on his vacation. Unfortunately for Charity, Lucius has taken advantage of her, and he leaves Charity after promising to come back for her. Charity learns he’s engaged to another woman in town, and her happiness recedes with the summer.

Alone and now pregnant, Charity is left with the choice of whether she should have an abortion. She is unsure what she should do with her life. Charity returns to her birthplace in the mountains and sees her birth mother on her deathbed. She realizes that the mountain she looked to as her escape is not a place she wants to remain. Seeing no alternative, Charity agrees to marry Mr. Royall. Although Charity can’t achieve her dreams of a love-filled romance and marriage, she manages to escape life as an impoverished, single mother or having to turn to prostitution.

Charity can’t cling to her dreams. As the seasons change, and summer ebbs away, she has to move on and seek what she can from life. The story is simple, and its themes are still relevant today, a century later. It is understandable why Wharton ranked Summer as one of her favorites among her novels.

Portrait of Edith Wharton, 1905

Edited portrait of Edith Wharton, The World's Work, 1905. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Related Reviews:
The Reef by Edith Wharton
Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton

Purchase and read books by Edith Wharton:

Summer by Edith Wharton Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton