Over the last few days I have been working on a classic Victorain serial which is considered to be one of the first sensationalist novel. Written in 40 parts over a span of 10 months in the literary magazine All Year Round, William “Wilkie” Collins delivers a pretty awesome novel. You can tell that a lot of future works borrowed heavily in the narrative strategy department of how to make people gasp in surprise. If you are interested in reading this one on your own then stop reading now because spoiler alerts follow like crazy.
As I always say, pacing is a big issue. If you read the book straight up you are going to find a lot of discrepancies in chapter length. There are a few short ones here and there but a few long ones just seem to drag on. However, if you read it in the serialized installments(which I only know thanks to a book thatcontains the original breaks for a lot of Victorian serials) , each subsection is almost uniform in length and tend to end with a gasp worthy cliffhanger. In order to try and keep as close to serial reding experience as possible, I take breaks at each installment break, mostly an excuse to rest eyesight, do some pushups, facebook break or whatever but this does help me take a moment and reflect where the story has been and surmise where it is going. The narrative is predictable in its unpredictability in that you know that something crazy is just right around the corner.
I don’t know if my serial senses are sharpening, I read some review a while ago which I don’t actively remember, or if it was just a lucky guess but I was able to notice Chekov’s Gunman early on in the novel. While the mysterios and elusive Anne Catherick is mentioned several times as someone to keep an eye on, but mild mannered Italian Professor Pesca who only shows up in the first chapter (and again near the end) caught my eye. Especially, once Yokozuna sized 20 Charisma Count Fosco is shown to be the real villain of the story.
Spoilers show in the story already through two particular forms. First off is the index. A lot of books will have chapter titles that can range from obvious summary to subtle thing you’ll figure out later. The weird thing is that all the chapters are numbered without a title per se, but they do have the character that wrote different parts of the novel. Hence you know that barring any weird flashbacks or whatever, you know that Walter Cartright and a few other people still have an important role to play out. The other ppoint is the narrative framing of the book itself. It is set up as the characters going back and writing about their events. In the case of Marian Halcombe, they show her actively keeping a journal, which can be assumed as collected at some moment afterwards but other characters deliberately said they convinced him to write about this long after the fact of these events and that the reader should not worry about how they got it. Because it’s portrayed in hindsight you get a lot of moments where the suspension of disbelief is strained as to whether the characters will survive, succeed, etc.
Here’s the quick summary of major plot points, I swaer if any students come here to avoid their literary responisbilities, whis will only help a bit. Read the actual thing.
Walter Hartright is a drawing teacher and has heard about a job, room and board for a few months. On the way there, crazy girl dressed completely in white (Anne Catherick) talks with him. He is friendly, they talk a while, lets her go, turns out she just escaped the Asylum.
Hartright gets to Limeridge where half sisters Marian Halcombe (the smart dependable but kind of old at the age of 32 and ugly one) and Laura Fairlie (hot one who cries all the time, about to turn 21). Walter immediately falls in love with Laura but it turns out she’s engaged. Depression ensues as love is obvious but they can’t. Walter leaves and tries to do something completely different far away but will send some letters to Marian because she is super friend zoned. Laura gets a book of drawings which she keeps in secret.
The fiancee is a 40 year old dude called Percival Glyde, technically Sir Glyde because he is a Baronet. Laura all but begs him to call off the wedding because she loves someone else but Glyde is a dick and refuses. His anger management issues also become apparent. There are some issues as to how money will be split up, because property laws in Victorian England are harsh and suck for women. There are a few moments of hope but in the end they get married.
After a long honeymoon, SIr and Lady Glyde return to England with the weirdly evil Count Fosco and his wife come with them. This is the type of guy that can compliment you and make you feel horrible for it. Dude’s creepy as hell and everyone knows it. Glyde is being aggressive and screaming all the time so it seems like he is the most evil of the two but who is really in charge becomes pretty clear. Crazy girl Anne who looks exactly like Lauren, keeps popping up and it turns out that Sir Glyde was the one that put her in the Asylum. She has hero worship towards Lauren’s mom. Marian continues the investigation of this as Percival is doing some maneuvering to get more of his wife’s money soon. Marian eventually figures out that Fosco and Glyde have a really evil plan to basically steal all the money. She ends up sick and then an even crazier and super evil plan comes out.
Marian is super sick, Fosco keeps arguing with the doctor, Lauren is distraught. Somewhere down the line, Marian slightly recovers and she leaves with Fosco somewhere else. Glyde tells this to Laura who decides to go see her sister. Then it turns out that Marian had never left, Laura was sent to a trap. Then we hear that Laura is dead. WTF?!?! I know.
Walter comes back and hears about what heppened, he goes to see the tomb and finds Marian, next to Laura. Turns out that the person they killed and buried was Anne. Without much evidence or money, Walter, Marian, and Laura, join forces incognito to figure things out and just survive. Walter takes center stage and starts investigating once again. Glyde tries to bury the evidence of his parents never being married which means that he should never gotten money or title. In the processs he sets an old church on fire and dies.
The only way to restore Laura’s honor and identity is to get a confession out of Fosco, who is clearly the smartest character in the novel, also the most pompus.. Thanks to Chekov’s Italian Professor, we find that this guy and the Count are actually a part of a secret order of something from Italy, with secret scar insignias and everything.. Walter puts up a Batman Gambit and gets the confession (which is printed in the novel and is just plain super fopish and crazy. Fosco is let go to escape in exchange for cooperation but mysterious short Italian guy that keeps popping up stabs him in the middle of France. Laura and Walter end up married with a kid and happily ever afters show up for everyone not evil.