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Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading if you are a Collins fan, 12 May 2013
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This review is from: Basil (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
Really I think this book deserves 3.5 stars - it doesn't rank amongst the best of Collins' productions but it is worth reading if you have read all the rest and are eager for more, or are interested in how he developed as a writer. It is quite a short novel, and an easy read, so won't find yourself ploughing through and counting how many pages to go - even at this early point in his writing career, Collins had the knack of writing a page-turner.

In fact, the book is astonishingly explicit about adultery and sexual attraction for a mid-nineteenth century novel, and certainly caused a bit of a stir on that front at the time. There are examples of the ideas and themes which occur much later: written in the form of a personal memoir it also contains letters by characters explaining their actions, there is some mystery and suspense, late-night rambles about London, and adventures in the half-built suburbs of the growing city. There is some wonderful domestic detail in the description of a suburban villa interior, and analytical filleting out of class differences, with some interesting questions posed as to what really makes a 'gentleman', one of those recurring themes in Victorian fiction. Here we have would-be gentlemen, once gentlemen, and very definite gentlemen, all of whom behave in ways which cause the reader to question what actually constitutes gentlemanly behaviour. Poor Basil acts according to a very gentlemanly and chivalric code but is accused of being unmanly; his brother who is far more conventionally 'manly' and most definitely would be seen by society as a gentleman leads a most 'ungentlemanly' life, and both 'marry' across class boundaries. What effect this has on their exceeding gentlemanly and honour-obsessed father I will not reveal, as I don't want to give away too much of the plot.

There is not one tyrannical father but two, an insane but prescient mother, and a scarlet woman and a white one - all characters who not only reappear in a more fully developed form in later Collins works, but also stalk the pages of Dickens, Bronte and other nineteenth-century novelists, so it is a particularly interesting read if you are familiar with Victorian fiction in general.

In conclusion, if you have enjoyed Collins so far, and enjoy Victorian novels, then do give this one a try. If you are new to Collins, or new to nineteenth-century literature, then I would recommend The Woman in White (Penguin English Library) or The Moonstone (Wordsworth Classics) first, and maybe save this one until you have read all the greats and are desperate for more.
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