Undoubtedly Post-1865 Man and Wife is another Wilkie Collins masterpiece, and I am not in the slightest doubt that he will always be my favourite authors of all no matters how many authors I have read in my life.
I love reading Wilkie’s novels published by Oxford World’s Classics because apart from its beautiful covers (source of my interest in Pre-Raphaelite art) I would always go back to the introductory pages after finishing the novels, in which a lot of background information about the novels and the social circumstances are stated and described in great details. According to these pages, I have gathered that Man and Wife was inspired by the nuptial case between William Yelverton and Theresa Longworth. They were Protestant and Roman Catholic respectively; however they stated their vows before a Catholic priest and married in Ireland, and they soon found that the ceremony was actually announced null and void. This irregular marriage case somehow brought the adoption of Married Women’s Property Act and the reform of Irish and Scotland’s scandalous marriage law. Fascinating facts!
In this novel, Wilkie actually had a mission of narrating, of which one is called “Athleticism” – that was mentioned in the preface:
Is no protest needed, in the interests of civilization, against a revival of barbarism among us, which asserts itself to be a revival of manly virtue, and finds human stupidity actually dense enough to admit the claim?
That he stated that in society that everything emphasized the heroism of athletic morals he could undoubtedly find a material epitome in writing the character of Geoffrey. I think that was why Wilkie comparably chose Sir Patrick with physical flaws to be the hero of the novel. His stance was actually detailed in the beginning chapters of the dialogue between Sir Patrick and Geoffrey Delamayn, for example, would Geoffrey’s moral thoughts win over his physical attributes when there was something disadvantageous, especially mercenary matters, got in his way? Impossible especially in uncommon risks stood before him that he could definitely resort his evil means resulted in unforgivable crimes. With Geoffrey’s betrayal to Arnold Brinkworth, Sir Patrick was foreshadowing Geoffrey’s vile upcoming events with Anne Silvester. By the way the footrace chapters are actually intense and exciting that I can definitely smell the atmosphere as if I was one of the lookers-on at the field.
Apart from that, Wilkie also dealed with the moral and social issues humoredly, for example, the sarcasm on married couples’ honeymoon travelling, that no married couples would be more willing to see each other’s faces rather than beautiful scenery, unless their marriages came to a crisis. It is interesting, in this technological-advanced days what would the couples do? Upload their travelling pictures on the internet of course. Other issues were also explicitly mentioned, such as the slavery of love from woman, no matter how virtuous a woman was, she must come across a monstrous man in her life; or that in the case of vacious character of Mrs. Glenarm, for she was encountering a man who caused uproar between “assertion of her wealthy influence and “the assertion of his will”. I also love the opening lines and comments in Wilkie style of narrative when setting the scene, for instance, before commencing the talking of Lady Lundie and Mrs. Glenarm, he linked the correlation between respectability and virtue together with posture, whether it was in horizontal or perpendicular way, and I found that quite amusing.
As to the themes and psychological developments of characters of the novel, it mainly concerned 1) debt, 2) sacrifice; and 3) fate. The Debt between Anne and Blanche that already existed in the last generation (recurring but interesting story plots in Wilkie novels); and the debt between Arnold and Geoffrey were crucial in developing the sacrifice of Anne and Anrold along in the story. Only that Anne would be the sacrifice of more of an echo of her virtues and of an altruistic one but Arnold could inevitably and harmfully be linked to the betrayal subject to Geoffrey’s character and his villainy. It is especially interesting in Anne’s case as she had an ambivalent struggle between her self-respect and her sacrifice to Blanche. She protested against Mrs. Glenarm’s marriage with Geoffrey for the sake of Blanche’s welfare but at the same time she also did this for her own sake of self-preservation that herself is not married to Arnold and she is still a lady in virtues, and also a revenge to Mrs. Glenarm . But how could she respect herself to marry such a man like this? This sacrifice then accrued to the unprecedented danger of confinement and murder. Then, finally, fate was the outcome and aftermath of their choices and decisions. It seemed to be a choice of their own but it was inescapable to the fate, characters were all yielding to it. In Lady Lundie’s case debt and sacrifice was an exceptional one. Her debt was to her deceased husband and sacrifice is liable to her Christian characters.
Finally, some factors gravitated me to the world of Wilkie’s works and his trademarks, namely, the development of the characters, the rivalry, and the style of writing in his novels, undoubtedly this one as well. First of all, his novels always have some doppelgänger and double entities, this novel were Anne and Blanche, as well as paranoid delusion of Hester when she encountered the apparition of the double self. Physical deformity portrayal is also fantastical trait of Collins: Hester in Man and Wife is of the most interesting character; her deformity and seclusion and apparent dumbness made herself eccentric in front of the others, and her isolation from society came to rescue of Anne in the end. From the first appearance of Hester I always knew there would be a revelation of her past as the story goes on. I think she reminded me of Sarah Leeson in The Dead Secret. Both are victims of men, both are servants and isolated, only that one is timid and one is “merciless”. Of course, Epistolary writing appears at some points of this novel…All hail to the King of sensation novels!
By the way, I would love the respective Publishing House could do some more Wilkie Collins’s books in future!