on 5 May 2006
I stayed up night after night until I had finished this book, and was exhausted physically and emotionally afterwards! After a slow start (only a few pages, go with it), I couldn't get enough of it. It is by far the best book I have ever read. Lydia Gwilt and Mother Oldershaw are glorious examples of cunning and connivance, and I couln't help thinking that Allan Armadale deserved it to some extent, being at times annoyingly naive. I was left at a loss for days after finishing it, and what glorious character names Collins comes up with - where else would you find such a name Ozias Midwinter. If you like a touch of the gothic running through your Victoriana, then this is the book for you.
on 14 October 2000
Wilkie Collins is often seen as a poor man's Dickens. I see him as Dickens without the exaggerated characters and ridiculous names. His novels also seem more naturally written and less formulaic than Dickens.
The first chapters of Armadale open with a dramatic death-bed scene which sets the atmosphere for the rest of the book - 'The sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children'. The book is based around one of Collins' pet themes - doubles - in this case two men with the same name. The viewpoint of the book shifts between various characters and in places, letter-writing is used to carry the story (a favourite Collins device).
As ever with Collins, the the character construction is outstanding. You live these people's lives and experience their emotions. Weeks after reading the books, you can still feel their existence. Of course the author spends most time on the main two or three characters, but Collins always singles out a few more to give his attention to. In this case, two of the most poignant supporting characters in English fiction - an embittered bedridden older woman who believes any woman is after her homely husband; and an astonishingly unattractive middle-aged man who is so besotted by our heroine that he would give up everything. Masterfully, Collins builds these people up as pathetic, powerless, individuals but the strength of emotion in each is able to cause chaos.
And so to our heroine, Lydia Gwilt - the classic nineteenth-century adventuress. The great achievement of Armadale is the reader's changing perception of her as the narrative shifts perspective. This perception varies from seeing her as a remote object of fear to a criminal to a victim to an object of desire. As the perspective of the book shifts, you desperately want her to succeed and be happy. This creates conflict in the reader due to the things she has done (there was probably a lot more conflict for the reader of the last century).
As with Woman in White, the book seems to have a natural split halfway-through. If the book finished at this point, everybody would have lived happily ever after, but of course that would have been too easy.
Taken as a whole, there is something slightly dissatisfying about the book, so it must be rated behind The Moonstone and The Woman in White. Still highly recommended.
on 19 April 2009
I came to Armadale after reading the Woman in White, which I had very much enjoyed. The Woman in White was a victorian sensationalist masterpiece, but I think that Armadale just about manages to surpass it, if only through its sheer scale. The action in the novel takes place across several decades, and stretches from the West Indies to a German spa town, to Naples and England. By the end of the novel I truly felt that Collins had taken me on an epic journey through the victorian world.
The character of Lydia Gwilt is quite possibly the best female character to appear in nineteenth century fiction. She is an endlessly fascinating figure, and by far the strongest character in the book. Many of the other characters are also very interesting, though perhaps a little clichéd.
There are a few flaws, the theme of fatalism is somewhat overdone at times, and frankly the book would be better without the recurring problem of 'the dream', however useful it was as a plot device. It is also fair to say that the pace in the first half sometimes slackens, but it is never dull. I raced through the last two hundred pages, reading into the small hours, and I can promise that the climax does not disappoint, even if you did (sort of) wish for a different ending, as I did. I shall definitely be reading the rest of Collins' work, next up the Moonstone!
on 28 September 2009
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. 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! 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.
on 16 May 2005
With Wilkie Collins, you dive into his stories and come up, gasping for air at the end, and never more so than with Armadale.
He shows great depth with the characters in Armadale which makes the ending of this lurid and dream-like novel disturbing, exciting and tragic in equal measure. The beautiful Lydia Gwilt is hugely appealing, even if she is one of the scariest of Wilkie Collin's women. I love Marion in The Woman in White but for sheer ruthlessness, Lydia takes the prize.
I enjoyed this book very much, though I found the first part(with Allan Armadale and Ozias Midwinter) rather slow going and often absurdly sentimental and lachrymose. But once we are introduced to Mother Oldershaw and Lydia Gwilt, the pace really picks up, everything becomes crisper, more exciting, more fun, with superb observations and a real feeling of suspense. Lydia is an amazing character--a real villain, but you also feel sorry for her. There is good in her but so much bitterness that it's drowned out the good, pretty much. I loved the way Collins presented her to us, through her letters and diaries--they are so immediate and strong.
I don't think the book as a whole is as good as the brilliant Woman in White or the Moonstone (Collins' great strength, it seemed to me, was in the kind of ''documentary'' first-person narrative found in those novels and in the first-person bits dealing with Lydia Gwilt in Armadale, rather than in straight third-person narrative.) But nevertheless Armadale is a very good read, and deserves to be read by all Collins fans.
on 29 August 2009
In some ways this is a traditional Victorian melodrama; rather long, lots of coincidence, lots of varyingly plausible twists and turns. However, looked at from the 21st century, it seems much more subtle than it may have seemed to some readers at the time.
Much of the story is told from the viewpoint of the 'villain', Lydia Gwilt. We know she has 'evil designs' to marry the rich Alan Armadale, a 'good', but rather idiotic young man. Not until some way in do we find out details of her evil past. But pause a moment and think about it. Actually, for most of her past life she was a put-upon victim, villified for doing something mildly bad at 12 years of age at the coertion of her mistress, Alan Armadale's mother (who is viewed as an innocent victim of Lydia), abused by two men...
In addition to the two possible interpretations of her past life, Lydia is an intelligent, witty and very fascinating woman, a masterpiece of characterisation by Wilkie Collins.
In the same way as with Eliot's Adam Bede, I find myself wondering if the author was really clever enough to write a novel that worked according to the mores of his time, but works just as well, if very differently, according to our mores.
on 17 June 2008
Don't argue, don't read any other reviews, just read it.
The depths that Collins' character Gwilt will go to just to further herself in life are chilling to say the least but the thing that clinched it for me and made the book more real is that she loved her husband (not giving the game away here!) You do keep the characters with you and relate to the dream in your own life.
Collins showed an incredible insight into women's thinking when he wrote the correspondence between Gwilt and the old woman.
stop reading this review, buy the book and lose yourself in it. Its worth it!
on 1 August 2007
After reading all four of Wilkie Collins' most famous novels, Lydia Gwilt is without a doubt the most intriguing character i have ever encountered. Collins has a certain, un-matched knack for manipulating the reader's perception of the characters he presents and furthermore he knows it! As in The Woman in White, where he knows exactly what the reader is thinking and uses this knowledge to his full advantage, creating mystery, suspense and excitement resulting in a thoroughly good read, proving himself to be a genius of his generation.
on 28 January 2014
This book is not without its flaws, the chief of which is that we have to wait so long for the astounding Lydia Gwilt to make her entrance. And I’d say that the latter portion doesn’t have the same spark and magic as what has gone before. This is one of the perils, possibly, with books which were written for serialisation – the deadlines loomed and you had to knock the stuff out!
Nonetheless, this is another classic Collins – convoluted plot, plenty of coincidence and some great characters. Head and shoulders above them all, and perhaps above pretty much any female character in any Nineteenth Century novel I’ve ever read is Miss Gwilt. The book having been written when it was, the reader knows she can’t end happily and yet she is such an utter delight you almost feel like re-writing the book to change what happens. Collins has a marvellous dry wit and he gives her so many great lines in her diary you just laugh. And she’s so modern as well in her feisty, determined, take no prisoners attitude.
There’s no point trying to describe the book in detail it’s so complex. All I can say is if you enjoy Nineteenth Century writing and have read the Woman in White and the Moonstone, definitely read this. Lydia Gwilt would have torn Fosco and Glyde to pieces!