Mrs Zant and the Ghost by Wilkie Collins

In Mrs Zant and the Ghost (The Ghost’s Touch), Wilkie Collins implies two concepts or conflicts of the contemporaries: supernatural vision of persons and the agreed matrimonial act imposed by an ecclesiastical belief.

In the story, protagonist, Mr Rayburn, and his daughter, Lucy, encountered a young lady (Mrs Zant) in Kensington Gardens whom they believed was distressed by agitation and troubled by illness. Mrs Zant seemed to overlook their presence but approached them, saw through them with an unspeakable fear. Intrigued by her presence and concerned about her helplessness, Mr Zant followed her to a lodging house with his daughter and contrived to find out the truth. Through Mrs Zant epistolary confession, she experienced a certain kind of vision, not by sight but by feelings. While she wandered under the tree, she felt everything in reality disappeared before her eyes, every sound of hearing among the surroundings was completely erased and only her sense remains. “I felt an Invisible Presence near me. It touched me gently.” The unknown entity touched and embraced her and she felt a rapture of joy. She acknowledged the unknown entity to be her husband, who died of consumption (or the overdose of sleeping drops) after they had not married to each other for long. According to the letter to Mr Rayburn, she returned to the Park for the first time since she had convalesced from brain fever; and this was the place where she used to take a stroll with Mr Zant when they were betrothed.

“Judged from the point of view of the materialist, Mrs. Zant might no doubt be the victim of illusions (produced by a diseased state of the nervous system), which have been known to exist — as in the celebrated case of the book-seller, Nicolai, of Berlin — without being accompanied by derangement of the intellectual powers.”

In this story, Wilkie Collins mentioned the case of Nicolai, who had seen supernatural figures during the days incessantly, for two years, while his habitual treatment of bloodletting was ceased. One morning in February 1791, out of his nervous mood and annoyance with his business, he saw phantasms for the first time, which were only seen by him, and did what the mortals did in the daytime at the market – transacting businesses, some were even on horsebacks, and some were with dogs. The figures also spoke to him occasionally. It seemed like a pleasing view, a normal spectra. But once he applied bloodletting again, the phantasms never reappeared. There was a paper of his called “A Memoir on the Appearance of Spectres or Phantoms occasioned by Disease“, in which Nicolai acknowledged that this vision was subjected to his bodily ailments, “the whole panorama was exhibited on his own retina, and the working brain behind was the manager and scene-shifter of the show”. Compared with this context, Mrs Zant did not reflect what her passing fancies of her brain into her vision, but according to the preface of the story, a plausible and unknown supernatural presence “reached mortal knowledge through the sense which is least easily self-deceived: the sense that feels”. In Wilkie Collins’s contemporaries, illusions and ghostly encounters were gradually superseded by scientific explanation under the progression of secularism, but in my point of view, Wilkie Collins really tried to ascertain that every man is certainly with feeling, and immortality, supernatural entities, religions, and superstitions are still some requisite components to propel his stories in reflecting the beauty of fate, faith, hope, and a belief which can constitute humans value better virtue, and even exert a moral and fatal punishment on the misdeeds, just as what we had read in Man and Wife, The Two Destinies, and The Moonstone.

“In his way of thinking, if one man may marry his wife’s sister, and no harm done, where’s the objection if another man pays a compliment to the family, and marries his brother’s widow? My master, if you please, is that other man. Take the widow away before she marries him.”

As we had read in Wilkie Collins’s novels, he was concerned much about the welfare and state of women in their matrimonial lives. In Man and Wife, a doubt arises in Scotland on couples that could be announced as husband and wife legally when the third witness is present, as well as mentioning the case of Irregular Marriage in Ireland. In Woman in White, we learn the unfair Married Women’s Property Act in Victorian England; however in Evil Genius, we see lenience towards the fairer sex in marriage act concerning the divorced law implemented in Scotland.

In the case of Mrs Zant and the Ghost, the story touches the subject of Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act, which stipulated in 1835 that a widower was illegal to marry the late wife’s sister. It was considered incestuous as husband and wife were made one flesh upon marriage. However, perhaps as to be seen more “protective” to women and due to “moral” concerns, a widow was allowed to be married into a husband’s brother’s household. In this opinion, it was based on the fact that the in-law family needed the wife to conceive of a future heir, or to accept the in-law daughter under a roof so that she would not be left destitute. This act was not repealed until 1905. It is a shame I have not read it, but Dinah Maria Craik and Felicia Skene wrote Hannah and Inheritance of Evil Or, the Consequences of Marrying a Deceased Wife’s Sister, respectively, based on this law. In Mrs Zant and the Ghost, Wilkie Collins, in my point of view, might be questioning the Parliament if this act of “levirate marriage” was really without consequences and if it was really in every nuptial case without misdeeds and immoral motives on the male’s part.

In this story, we can see again another case of Wilkie Collin’s challenging the contemporaries. Although Mrs Zant and the Ghost might not be an eye-catcher compared with his other works, but all works could be treated as gems if they are to be digged diligently.


Wilkie Collins – My Soul Asylum

The Cliff Path, by Edmund Leighton

I haven’t read Wilkie Collins’s works for a while, as there are some books I think I have been wanting to read for long, I have accomplished some of them, but some are still left on the shelf. Honestly as reading those novels, the emotions are not as strong as reading Wilkie Collins’s stories. There is always a time I feel I need to go back to the basics and get to read some of his books again; especially recently I am finding myself at lost, feeling listless when I am back home. I do not have much social life, do not know where to go to and what to do apart from my assiduous nature to work, work, work.

When in solitude, I resort and correspond myself to the characters of Wilkie Collins’s works. He is an irreplaceable author and occupies a significant portion in my reading world. Some characters are too Eccentric and feel at ease only on their own. Being of course the essential and indispensable existence of the books, the stories which are full of sensation and mystery would not be so much fascinating and absorbing without them. On the other hand, on an emphatic scale, they are eagerly waiting to have someone who is willing to delve into their minds and understand their poignancy. As a reader, eccentricity in Wilkie Collins’s stories is one of the most tantalizing aspects and always ends up to be my favourite part of the plots. I get to know and feel the characters through their confessions, their monologues and epistolary writings. Rosanna Spearman and Ezra Jennings from The Moonstone, Hester Dethridge from Man and Wife, Sarah Leeson from The Dead Secret, Miserrimus Dexter from The Law and the Lady, Miss Dunross from The Two Destinies, and so forth. They are always alone, they are phlegmatic, full of regrets, and they long to love and admire a person, to be forgiven of the sins that had committed in the past, to be accepted and respected by whoever that is tolerant enough and has a big heart. As a quote from one of Wilkie Collins’s novel, everyone tends to have a time who is prone to be alone, to observe the aura and the surrounding atmosphere. It is impossible of a person who had grown up and been in solitary moments is not stirred in emotions by the eccentric characters that Wilkie Collins protrays. Being in solitude is the moment in real life that you can develop an unique self.

They are not sociable; they are hardly ever seen to make acquaintance with each other; perhaps they are shame-faced, or proud, or sullen; perhaps they despair of others, being accustomed to despair of themselves; perhaps they have their reasons for never venturing to encounter curiosity, or their vices which dread detection, or their virtues which suffer hardship with the resignation that is sufficient for itself. (I Say No, Wilkie Collins)

Reading Wilkie Collins’s stories, you read about Reconciliation. That is why you always have a good feeling when reaching the end of the stories. In Hide and Seek, there are regrets for readers, of course, that the unrequited love on the aspects of man-and-woman endearment between Madonna and Zack is not fulfilled in the end though it is compensated with the most affectionate tenderness. However, more importantly, it is the comradeship between Matthew Grice and Zack Thorpe that should be considered and regarded as the best solution in the story. The friendship is subtle in the beginning but grows into a passionate nature in the end emphasizing with that astounding secret they share. Even between The Two Destinies, the common feature of reconciliation in the end is similar – the separation, the rumination, the abandonment of oneself into an unknown place, and finally, the undying, limitless love, and the recognition of one to another. There is no wordy decoration, the recognition of love is simple, straight-toward and without pretension. That is why I always adore Wilkie Collins’s writing.

The time came; and on either side, the two comrades of former days — in years so far apart, in sympathies so close together — lived to look each other in the face again. The solitude which had once hardened Matthew Grice, had wrought on him, in his riper age, to better and higher ends. In all his later roamings, the tie which had bound him to those sacred human interests in which we live and move and have our being — the tie which he himself believed that he had broken — held fast to him still. His grim, scarred face softened, his heavy hand trembled in the friendly grasp that held it, as Zack pleaded with him once more; and, this time, pleaded not in vain.

“I’ve never been my own man again” said Mat, “since you and me wished each other good-bye on the sandhills. The lonesome places have got strange to me — and my rifle’s heavier in hand than ever I knew it before. There’s some part of myself that seems left behind like, between Mary’s grave and Mary’s child. Must I cross the seas again to find it? Give us hold of your hand, Zack — and take the leavings of me back, along with you.” (Hide and Seek, Wilkie Collins)

Another essence is the Empowerment in Wilkie Collins’s stories. Talking about empowerment, I mean a woman’s empowerment, a progress of self-realization and enlightenment, a consciousness that a heroine can believe herself as she has the ability to execute her power, to achieve and accomplish, and an ability to be her own self. A heroine can also be reticent and sufficient to protect and defend what she thinks is right, which it should not be regarded as sacrifice but a moral act. For instance, in The Law and the Lady, isn’t Valerie the propeller to assert her husband’s innocence against the notorious verdict of “not proven” in that case? In Man and Wife, Anne Silvester is a strong character who is initially teeming with ambivalence of whether to submit or to defend the dignity of herself against the protagonist’s control which she finds that the harmful relationship has been eclipsing her own free will. In the end, she toughens herself. The disposition of the heroines in Wilkie Collins’s might not be uncommon in his contemporaries, but it is the enlightenment of a woman who is resilient and satisfied at the same time that she could decide her life on her own. It is not important to focus on whether a woman could set to be free from a man’s life in the end, but it is important that a woman has a story, has a past, can think proactively, and gets to have an opportunity to explore and execute her power.

The first instinct of girls in general, on being told of anything which interests them, is to ask a multitude of questions, and then to run off, and talk it all over with some favourite friend. Rachel Verinder’s first instinct, under similar circumstances, was to shut herself up in her own mind, and to think it over by herself. This absolute self-dependence is a great virtue in a man. In a woman it has a serious drawback of morally separating her from the mass of her sex, and so exposing her to misconstruction by the general opinion. (The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins)

I might not be focusing on Wilkie Collins’s works on literary aspects, but these are some of the reasons for my love of his works; that he is considerate and treats every character as an individual, which also includes us readers. It is his contrivances of genuineness, virtue and beauty to compose a story that moves me.

“If love is the law then this is a crime…” Blind Love by Wilkie Collins

9781551114477[T]he one unassailable vital force in this world is the force of love. It may submit to the hard necessities of life; it may acknowledge the imperative claims of duty; it may be silent under reproach, and submissive to privation – but, suffer what it may, it is the master-passion still; subject to no artificial influences, owning no supremacy but the law of its own being.

Blind Love is the last novel which Wilkie Collins assiduously worked on until the forty-eighth chapters followed by Walter Besant with the remaining sixteen under “actual detailed scenario” and “fragments of dialogue” left by Wilkie’s instructions. Moral obligations are ubiquitous in this story; the nature of relationships gives powerful impact upon the characters with relative consequences.

“This misplaced love of mine that everybody condemns has, oddly enough, a virtue that everybody must admire. It offers a refuge to a woman who is alone in the world.” – Iris Henley

“Blindness” refers to one’s inescapable irrationality within the scope of relationships and the self. In this story, the historical backgrounds of  “Irish business”, under the unionist’s point of view, was irrational, and the underlying meaning of “being insured for life” in the 19th century would ironically lead to a life destruction.

Indeed, this novel has a pessimistic tone in it; every character has life’s little uncontrollables which are completely not sober in human nature out of his and her own being. However, gleams of hopeful light are shed on the readers the moment when each character is awakened by his or her own circumstances. One of the reasons for Wilkie Collins’s works being so enticing is the enlightenment and empowerment when a character who is always regarded inferior by his or her ranks toughens up against the hard life’s necessities.

In Blind Love, the female voice is one of the strongest and remarkable in Wilkie’s works, and we should not disregard the significance of this story being more inferior to his other notable works. We see the struggle of the three female characters in this story – Mrs Vimpany (a former actress and an infamous doctor’s wife), Iris Henley (whose husband was of a noble rank but being disinherited from his family’s fortune), and last but not least, Fanny Mere (a fallen woman / housemaid). Each was once impressionable and fettered by a distorted love.

In Iris’s case, however, the feeling of implicit trust in her husband was still ambivalent and not being destructed nearly until the end of the story. She was infatuated with the man and married to the scope of Norland’s domesticity against her friends’ wishes. In her solitary hours, she was more sober to see through the veil of his recklessness, but in the darkness of time, Lord Harry’s sweet tooth, high spirits and talks of “self-reproach” filled her up with hope again. The veil was not lifted up until she could discover a vile conspiracy concerning Lord Harry’s association with a bad company – Mr Vimpany, a notorious doctor in his profession, alike Count Fosco in The Woman in White with a pecuniary greed.

“You have been brought up to believe, perhaps, that people in service are not men and women. That is a mistake – a great mistake. Fanny Mere is a woman – that is to say, an inferior form of man; and there is no man in the world so low or so base as not to be able to do mischief. The power of mischief is given to every one of us. It is the true, the only Equality of Man – we can all destroy. What? a shot in the dark; the striking of a lucifer match; the false accusation; the false witness; the defamation of character; – upon my word, it is far more dangerous to be hated by a woman than by a man. And this excellent and faithful Fanny, devoted to her mistress, hates you, my lord, even more”… – Mr Vimpany

The inner struggle of Iris Henley might try readers’ patience, but it is the duel against the misandristic (a treat for us reader, but thankfully she wasn’t one in the end) Fanny Mere (the hunter) and Mr Vimpany (the prey) which makes the plot much more exciting. It is an unexpected rival of the ranks. Each has own secrets not to be divulged. Fanny Mere’s background, unluckily, was not a mystery. We get to know where her hard life came from, and from there she got hold of her strength and stamina to compete against the villain of the story.

Regarding the plot, some are disappointing to me, for example, the story does not touch on the grief of Hugh Mountjoy concerning the assassination of his brother, and the restitution and payback of the money to the insurance company is a bit unbelievable.

However, readers who are familiar with Wilkie Collins’s works might feel bits of excitement when some of his notable elements are drawn into the story, for instance, the mental seclusion from society with an ill-fated marriage, the banishment of the man and wife, and the domestic environment likened to the living of a solitary confinement set within the prison walls…the extremity would always imply that main characters, normally a heroine, would proactively conduct her next move to defy the current hardship and life, with satisfactory outcomes to us readers.

Although the plot and the tension might not be up to my liking compared with his other works, the female voice, the doppelgänger, the atonement (one of my favourite elements of his works) are within in this novel, so I would want more fellows who like his works not to evade this story nevertheless.


Death and Mr. Pickwick

“Suddenly he sat up. He opened a notebook and wrote down: ‘What if the gullible man not only believed the preposterous stories to be factual – but he travelled in search of similar stories, believing himself to be on a scientific expedition? Suppose he sought such nonsense because he thirsted for “useful knowledge”!’ (p. 204)

515vomDjgdL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgDeath and Mr. Pickwick is a faction endeavouring to bring up the justice which once has been dismissed in the case of Robert Seymour (1798 -1836), who was the illustrator for the first two serial installments of The Pickwick Papers and also believed to be the originator / mastermind of the Novel rather than Boz himself. Regarding my familiarity with Pickwick Papers, I read that around three years ago and left with very vague memories except the court case of Mrs. Bardell against Pickwick, tales of the Convict’s Return, the Talking Chair, and the hallucination of the drunken clown. However I was intrigued by Death and Mr. Pickwick mostly because it is set in the nineteenth century and has 800-page long which is intended to resemble the ramblings of Dickens’ work. Apart from that, I am always especially interested in books which concern the personal and lesser-known life of Dickens; for example, A Girl in Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold – a novel which focuses on the lamented love and marriage between Catherine Hogarth and Dickens with Catherine’s perspective. Not without mentioning The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin, which is a brilliant biography imparting the life of Ellen Ternan, a gaslight fairy and much-concealed mistress of Dickens.

Night and Morning. Robert Seymour

“The caricature of Seymour is in itself an article and Seymour has shown how insignificant are dashes of our pen compared with the superhuman digs of his iron-veined pencil.” (p. 245) – Gilbert à Beckett

Darnley Mausoleum near Cobham Hall (picture from National Trust)

The author of Death and Mr. Pickwick is a great raconteur. This book is a cornucopia of tales leaning in the Georgian era,  which offers brilliant Pickwickian backdrops. There are special mentions of wonderful eccentrics such as Anne Siggs, Bristol Riots, sensational penny-dreadfuls such as the Red Barn Murder and Burke and Hare, the tale of immoral and monstrous killing of Chunee the elephant, and so forth.

Pray remember the poor debtors having no allowance
engraving – Pray remember the poor debtors having no allowance

As well as that, there are stories of how certain pubs and inns originated across England (e.g. George and Vulture), fascinating accounts of sundry locations among London and other counties: the legend of Prince Bladud, White Hart Inn (Bath), the Golden Cross Inn (London), printing houses operated by Hannah Humprey; last but not least, with Seymour’s eyes, we happened to meet Moses Pickwick, a proprietor of a coaching business operating between Bath and London, who is the modern muse behind the Pickwick Papers. Many are animated into sets of whimsical drawings by Seymour under days’ toil. Not without mentioning Ely Stott, Caroline Norton, Joseph Grimaldi and notable lot of the nineteenth century who incessantly inspired Dickens continuing to write Pickwick. I was very voracious and was indulged in these interesting historical accounts and details while reading the book.

Walking by Steam
Shaving by Steam
“Browne saw that one short-sighted old engraver, who had the decency to return the nod, was at work on the muscles of an arm, meticulously giving it depth by a succession of close lines – the engraver himself may have looked undernourished, but the biceps on the steel was surely fashioned in the gymnasium. Another engraver, a cloth specialist, used the alternation of closely and widely dispersed lines to indicate the way a cloak hung, while yet another specialised in sky, and was just passing the plate to a specialist in trees…whatever their pictorial concern, all held the burin steady, turning the plate this way and that on a small leather cushion, making their hard-won furrows, building up a picture detail by painstaking detail…” (p. 556)

“There was no short cut to mastery of etching, only the long road of practice: the acid ate his cuffs, his throat was sore from fumes, his eyes smarted and his fingertips turned a shade of yellow…During the day, he pinned tissue paper over his window to soften the light and see the lines better in the wax. After sundown, he filled a bowl with water and placed it before his oil lamp to diffuse the illumination. Eventually he would lie down, and close his eyelids. By that time, he could barely see from the strain of concentration and the soreness of his eyes.” (p. 178)

What Death and Mr. Pickwick overwhelms and touches me in between the pages are the steam-driven power and restlessness of those talented bodies with their stubbornness and lifelong attachment to their arduous tasks –  James Gillray, Joseph Grimaldi, Robert Seymour, Robert William Buss, as well as Mr. N., who appeared in the later story. To me, “Passion” and “Mission” are the spiritual essence which encompasses the book. It is filled with pleasant and atmospheric aura for readers in experiencing historical figures being inspired and haunted by missions in a lifetime. Some work hard and see the accomplishment and adulation of the day; some toil but only get the disappointment and be incessantly stumbled by the failure and amateur criticisms for the remaining of their lives. Still, their hearts stay on in the work they love, which, in this case, echoes very much with the author of Death and Mr. Pickwick who in his effort spending twelve years’ time researching and gathering materials to compose this book, as well as having found the long-neglected tombstone of Seymour in Islington and let that be restored at the Dickens’s Museum, that to me is an incredible achievement.

“I sometimes think, Mr Seymour,” said Boz, “that artists turn to caricature because in the distraction of laughter views will not notice so readily the weaknesses and deficiencies in draughtsmanship.” (p. 529)

One of the most gripping plots is the disputes between Seymour and Boz. From the drawing of portmanteau to the not-so-much authorised tale approved by Seymour of the clown’s hallucinations retold by Dismal Jemmy, Seymour is triggered by Boz of the bitter argument with Gilbert à Beckett earlier on the subject of the appointed illustrations for Figaro in London hence leading to his fatal suicide which he once attempted twice before. But Death and Mr. Pickwick does not end here. It continues to pick up important dates and events related to people who once connected with Pickwick Papers and how this 19th century masterpiece keeps influencing the twentieth century Britain since the day it was introduced to the world. Yes, some changes go on, old ways and things could be eliminated, but hopefully Pickwickian spirit stays on.

To most characters in Death and Mr. Pickwick, Death is a speechless protest. It is depressing, it is tragic. Perhaps it is also the way to reminisce the soul and the excited mind (some see this mad) each had awaken to pursuit their passions once upon a time in the mortal life.

The Evil Genius (1886) by Wilkie Collins

9781551110172“Is there something wrong in human nature? or something wrong in human laws? All that is best and noblest in us feels the influence of love – and the rules of society declare that an accident of position shall decide whether love is a virtue or a crime.” – Mr. Sarrazin

Wilkie Collins possesses every nuance of insights into human nature, relationships, and societal system of his day. Beginning with Man and Wife (1870), Wilkie Collins boldly emphasizes the missions which encompasses his sensation novels. For example, in Man and Wife (1870), he deals with a series of distinctive and disputable court cases of irregular marriages in Victorian Ireland and Scotland mingled with the issues of Athleticism prevailing in contemporary society. Through the Law and the Lady (1875), he looks into the loopholes of Scots law concerning the court verdict of “not proven” instead of “guilty” and “not guilty”. Tracing the influences of circumstances upon characters, Wilkie Collins dexterously contrives one sensational plot after another with such delicacy that each novel richly dissects how characters of his contemporaries apply their inherent vices/virtue to make themselves compatible with/struggle to get free of the traps of fields such as medicine and health which constantly shape the peerless Victorian Britain.

“It cannot be supposed that a woman who enjoyed even a comparative, chequered, and uncertain happiness at home, would change her social position as a respected wife; her daily and hourly communion with her children; for the chance of obtaining a legal order occasionally to visit her children in the custody of others! – It is monstrous to represent that as a temptation, which can at best be but a slight mitigation of misery.” (Caroline Norton – The Separation of Mother and Child by the Law of Custody of Infants Considered)

In the Evil Genius (1886), a novel dedicated to William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), Wilkie Collins uses the distinctive marriage acts in Scotland as a backdrop of the story. Going through the substantial legal reform of ecclesiastical to civil marriages in Victorian England in 1836, custody act in 1839 and divorce act in 1857, the petition of divorce alone was applied by the wife only when her husband committed adultery with combinations of “cruelty, bigamy, incest, or bestiality”. On the other hand in Scotland, adultery alone was sufficient enough to be granted a divorce on the feme covert‘s side, added to this, the wife also anatomically gained access and custody to her legitimate child. With this knowledge, we are introduced to a middle-class family in Scotland. Saddened with the marital fault committed by the husband- Herbert Liney – with the governess, Sydney Westfield; Catherine, wife of Liney, separates from Herbert and later makes a resolution to divorce him with the help of the lawyer, Mr. Sarrazin.”When I was left in the solitude of the night, my heart turned to Kitty; I felt that any sacrifice of myself might be endured for her sake. It’s the remembrance of my marriage, Mr. Sarrazin, that is the terrible trial to me…Those whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder. Is there nothing to terrify me in setting that solemn command at defiance?…My child is my one treasure left. What must I do next? What must I sign? What must I sacrifice? Tell me – and it shall be done. I submit! I submit!” 

“The stealthy influence of distrust fastens its hold on the mind by slow degrees. Little by little it reaches its fatal end, and disguises delusion successfully under the garb of truth.”

The novel portrays the secular reaction from society, the circumstances of the exposure and “social suicide” that the wife has to endure and commits are reflected by other characters including her neighbours, the mother (the evil genius Mrs. Presty), brother-in-law (Randal Liney) and the suitor and philanthropist, Captain Bennydeck. Though granted to untie the knot, Catherine is reprimanded and unfairly disadvantaged by the Lord President at the court of not fulfilling the conjugal duties to help her husband prevent against the temptation of the governess; Mrs. Presty contrives to allude to the others that Catherine is a widow by protecting her daughter’s reputation from a second marriage. Interestingly, Mrs Presty is like the view of Wilkie Collins’s reading our minds- that we consider ourselves the “evil genius” and stickler of righteousness in asserting opinions of people’s characters and behaviour around us. It is to be noted that isolation and hostility could be found in the divorced wife other than the sinful couple. On the other hand, Wilkie Collins delineates the poignant life and distrust shared by Sydney Westfield and Herbert Liney, that readers are admitted to the guilt and penitence of the sinful husband after the separation with his wife. It is to be believed that a series of misunderstanding and a flight of passion and a need for paternal love from Sydney contribute to this affair.

“…Clap-trap, you innocent creature, to catch foolish readers! When do these consistently good people appear in the life around us, the life that we all see? Never! Are the best mortals that ever lived above the reach of temptation to do ill, and are they always too good to yield to it? How does the Lord’s Prayer instruct humanity? It commands us all, without exception, to pray that we may not be led into temptation. You have been led into temptation. In other words, you are a human being. All that a human being could do you have done – you have repented and confessed. Don’t I know how you have suffered and how you have been tried! Why, what a mean Pharisee I should be if I presumed to despise you!” 

What makes the Evil Genius delectable is that this story is  a morality tale with a bit of reflection of the importance of a nuclear family at the time, and place an emphasis on mortal creatures. Although society is set with a standard of moral rightousness, it’s not merely a dichotomy of what is good and evil, but it is fulfilled with a message that individuals are able to be concerned as an entities that are able to forgive and be forgiven. The definitions that Bennydeck gives in his philanthropic institution of “the Home” could actually be applied to the domestic sphere.

The Two Destinies by Wilkie Collins

  • “Man!” returned the Sibyl, “you speak lightly. Have I spoken lightly to You? I warn you to bow your wicked will before a Will that is mightier than yours. The spirits of these children are kindred spirits. For time and for eternity they are united one to the other. Put land and sea between them – they will still be together; they will communicate in visions, they will be revealed to each other in dreams. Bind them by worldly ties; wed your son, in the time to come, to another woman, and my grand-daughter to another man. In vain! I tell you, in vain! You may doom them to misery, you may drive them to sin – the day of their union on earth is still a day predestined in heaven.”
  • It was only when my unknown Mary was parted from Van Brandt – in other words, it was only when she was a pure spirit – that she felt my influence over her as a refining influence on her life, and that the apparition of her communicated with me in the visible and perfect likeness of herself. On my side, when was it that I dreamed of her (as in Scotland), or felt the mysterious warning of her presence in my waking moments (as in Shetland)? Always at the time when my heart opened most tenderly toward her and toward others – when my mind was most free from the bitter doubts, the self-seeking aspirations, which degrade the divinity within us. Then, and then only, my sympathy with her was the perfect sympathy which holds its fidelity unassailable by the chances and changes, the delusions and temptations, of mortal life.

Just like Brasil, this book, added with some supernatural elements, works delicately concerning the isolation of every character alongside the geographical locations set in the United Kingdom –  Saint Anthony’s Chapel in Scotland,  and Shetland. I am particularly interested in Miss Dunross and it is hardhearted of readers not to sympathise with her. She is also one of the marginal but influential characters among other Wilkie’s novels to influence the protagonists’ decisions, to keep the pace moving and steer the plot along. This is another exciting and gripping work which I am fairly impressed with.

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

somnambulist“My eye was drawn to the far right-hand corner where the shadowy silhouettes of two men were following at a distance, as if fearing to wake her in case she fell. But, I suddenly knew there must be a third man, and I couldn’t believe I’d not noticed before…a second shadow fell over the path, right next to her own, thrown down by the light someone else must be holding, towards which she steadily progressed, and in two or three steps she would surely be saved by whoever was waiting, just out of the frame…”

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This book is quite an enjoyable rendition of a Victorian sensation novel to me, flourished with backdrop of Wilton Music Hall and references of some famous people and acts of the Era, for instance, George Leybourne with his famous song “Champagne Charlie” and the “contrivance”  of spiritualism. Indeed, this is a difficult read to me at times, with literary references existing throughout the book which kept racking my brains out deducing the symbols and metaphors that the author implies; and acknowledging at times that my English level was incompatible and a hindrance. Still, I could feel the passion and the message that the author conveys in her novel. I think like the same with the painting, the Somnambulist by Millais, everything has two sides of a coin. With the secrets exhumed along in the plot, we could be on one hand appalled towards characters with their misdeeds but feeling their emotions and motivations drive every action and thought in one’s prespectives which resulted in unbearable fates, consequences and conflicts in connection with one another. With that said, it is an enjoyable journey for novel-aholics to dissect strengths and weakness of humankind, and undoubtedly to practice a kindness of empathy in a hostile world when sinful characters in a book voice out a painful confession to us jury so as to seek acquittals and sympathy, like Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, or Jezebel’s Daughter by Wilkie Collins with his absorbing epistolary writing.

There are interesting matters not related to the book connected to my reading experience. One is the character of Cissy (Mrs Stanhope), the once famous stage singer who returned to perform Acis and Galatea. When I read the first few pages, she reminds me of an actress named Mrs Jordan (1761 – 1816), one of the mistresses of William IV due to the fact that they were both unmarried but calling themselves “Mrs”. Indeed, many contemporary strolling players and theatrical performers need to endure a series of unfortnate events. They both shared high-profile of glamour and glitters on stage but untold tragedy and misery down under. Only Mrs Stanhope has an affair with the proprietor of the Samuel’s Emporium but not the King.

Another matter is the indiscreet act and obsession towards Cissy Stanhope in view of Nathaniel Samuels. This “cringing” fascination, which would be regarded as abnormal pedophiles to date, was prevalent phenomenon of the Victorian time. This relationship reminds me of a biography of Effie Gray by Suzanne Fagance Cooper that mentions a trgic life of one of the Pre-Raphaelite muses and sister of Effie Gray, Sophy. In this biography, the author underlines that the illness Sophy endured throughout her life – anexoria – was triggered by subscious mind of staying in puberty and physical innocence just like her irresistible protrayals in paintings. She died at a young age of 38. Just like the biography, this novel also implies the unspeakable truths and misery underneath the “fairer sex” of the time playing with readers’ minds. I actually feel a kind of prejudgement while reading it when the author in the beginning seems to emphasize the innocuous and virginal physicality of a 17-year-old Phoebe. In this case, I tend to have views towards her own behavior similar to Maud Turner because Pheobe grows an excitable affection toward the opposite sex in a physical way with the revealing sex scenes, which is nothing but opposition of vice to me. However, as it grows out, I could also feel suppression as regards the unfair treatment of men in the physical contact with the “weaker sex”, that the actions are crude indeed.

With the view of her niece and heorine of the story, Phoebe Turner, the curtain rises, going along the novel, her psychological development is underlined along the journey and in this case finding that the secrets are hidden underneath and all that glisters is not gold. What I am also overwhelmed and immersed regarding the Somnambulist is the faith of unversalism and salvation in the story, just like the name of “Stanhope” (Stand hope). It might not always be a religious case, or Christian universalism of the “Hallelujah Army” mentioned in the story and the rivulary between Maud Turner and Cissy Stanhope on one’s advocation of mericful and philanthropic acts against her sister who rots in Hell because of her lascivious vice and theatrical career, but the acknowledged belief of Victorian authors that concatenation of muserable consequences are disguises of silver lining; while the act of valour and virtue are instilled in oneself, blessings will come in the end with the ultimate enlightenment of a brighter hope and strength.

All in all, I think it might be a fair choice to read this book alongside Victorian classics, as you might develop some deep thoughts in mind after reading it.