I'm afraid I'm starting to find Wilkie Collins a bit hit and miss. I read his most famous works, The Woman in White and The Moonstone and loved them, as well as Basil which though not as well known is great fun. Then I read No Name and that didn't go so well, and now Armadale which wasn't bad but I really didn't enjoy it. I'm now officially worried. I know one can't always love everything an author has written (even my beloved Zola has a handful of novels that dragged somewhat), but two on the trot is a little disappointing.
Armadale was first published between 1864-66 and it comes between the great The Woman in White (1860) and the even greater The Moonstone (1868), and it more or less followed No Name. Perhaps 1862 - 1866 wasn't a good time for Collins personally? Either way it is a true sensationalist novel that is partly based on the then infamous trial of Madeleine Smith, a socialite accused of poisoning her lover Pierre Emile L'Angelier with arsenic; a case that, I've just read, also inspired Collins' later novel The Law and the Lady (1875). In Armadale there are an abundance of characters called Allan Armadale. Allan Armadale the elder, who at the opening of the novel dies, leaves a confession that he had murdered a man, also called Allan Armadale; this confession is to be opened by his son, Allan Armadale, when he reaches adulthood. Nineteen years later, the son of the murdered Allan Armadale, Allan Armadale (not Allan Armadale the son of Allan Armadale the deceased) meets Ozias Midwinter whose real name is, why yes, Allan Armadale, who is the son of the deceased Allan Armadale (I think, I'm getting confused). The upshot is this: Allan Armadale (not Allan Armadale a.k.a. Ozias Midwinter), ought to have inherited a fortune were it not for the fact that the elder deceased Allan Armadale murdering his father Allan Armadale.
Mercifully we're sharp left with just two Allan Armadales and I've clearly already got them confused. Enter Lydia Gwilt: she is intent on marrying the heir to the Armadale fortune. From here I'm going to gloss over the rest because the fact is this review of mine is worthless - I could not follow this book for love nor money: Lydia Gwilt was a former maid to one of the elder dead Allans, and she poses as a governess to gain access into the family where she plans to marry Allan Armadale (not the one also known as Ozias Midwinter). When that does not go to plan, she instead decides to marry the other one, Ozias Midwinter; on the certificate of marriage his name will be his real name, Allan Armadale, after which she can somehow 'get rid' of the other Allan Armadale and convince everyone her husband Midwinter is the one who should inherit.
Writing all that was tiring, and to be honest I don't even know if I got it all right. As I say I could not get interested enough in this novel to really follow it. What really made it though was Lydia Gwilt - what a character! A true femme fatale: she's rotten to the core, scheming, manipulative, highly dangerous and very beautiful indeed. It's a real psychological thriller - Collins delves deep into his characters' psyche making it all the more real and compelling. I wish, I dearly wish, I had have been able to follow this novel better, I can only say that it was one of the ones I read when I was stuck in bed with my cold. Had Lydia Gwilt arrived a little earlier I think I would have loved this novel. The thing is though, I've been reading other people's reviews of Armadale online and it seems to me I'm the only one who didn't really like it, so you mustn't let me put you off in anyway! In the same spirit I'm not letting this novel put me off reading more Wilkie Collins: I own another three I'd like to read: The Dead Secret, Man and Wife, and the aforementioned The Law and the Lady. Until then: this novel and writing this 'review' has given me a headache. I'm happy to say I know the book I'm currently reading, Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant, will get five stars and soon, hopefully, we can all forget about this, the worst review I have ever written 🙂