Armadale by Wilkie Collins

January 19, 2010

armadale Plot summary (with spoilers): The plot centers on two young men who are the best of friends but who are haunted by a murderous history involving their fathers. Only one of the friends knows of this history. Both of the young men are named Allan Armadale, as were both of their fathers. They are in fact very distant cousins, but again, only one of the men knows this. And because he has dropped the Allan Armadale name and goes by Ozias Midwinter, it’s unlikely that anyone else will make the connection between the two men.

As the friendship between Midwinter and Armadale blooms, Midwinter can’t help but feel very apprehensive about where the relationship may lead. Indeed, he was warned by a letter written by his father on his deathbed to stay away from the other Allan Armadale — otherwise terrible things would happen. For many years Midwinter didn’t believe that there was a chance their paths would cross, but obviously it’s a different story now. Midwinter confides his fears to Mr. Brock, a mutual friend, who counsels him to stay with Armadale, but to keep his true identity a secret.

After Armadale inherits a substantial estate at Thorpe Ambrose, he and Midwinter move in to run the place. There they meet the Milroy family, who are tenants on the land, as well as Miss Lydia Gwilt, governess to sixteen-year-old Miss Milroy. Miss Gwilt has come to Thorpe Ambrose on purpose to try to snare Armadale in her web and become mistress of the estate. The fact that Armadale carries on a flirtation with Miss Milroy for several weeks prior to Miss Gwilt’s arrival clouds the picture — but only for a little bit.

The rest of the novel then shows how Miss Gwilt methodically plots and schemes to achieve her ends. When it’s clear that she’ll never be able to marry Armadale, she sets her sights on Midwinter — and hits upon another devious plan once she finds out that his real name is Allan Armadale as well.

Liked:

  • I thought the friendship between the two Allan Armadales was interesting. It’s too bad that Collins didn’t explore that angle more deeply.

Disliked:

  • I thought this novel dragged on unnecessarily. There were so many sections that could have been excised without impacting the main plot whatsoever, and had that been done, I think I might have felt differently about the work as a whole. As it was, however, there were just too many boring parts to slog through and the ending simply wasn’t a sufficient payoff.
  • I hated all the sections consisting of Lydia Gwilt’s diaries. It felt like an endless stream of boring exposition, which, I guess, was exactly what it was.
  • I didn’t understand some of the social conventions in the novel, like when Armadale was “forced” to escort Miss Gwilt to London just because she asked him to. This book was written about 150 years ago, so obviously things were different back then, but still… it seems odd to this modern reader that Miss Gwilt’s nefarious plan had a chance to work because Armadale couldn’t say no.
  • The Bashwood character annoyed me to no end. As with Miss Gwilt, it seemed ridiculous that a senior citizen would fall so head over heels in love with Miss Gwilt that he would do anything she asked. Is anyone really that beautiful? And even when he learned of her history, he didn’t despise her. Whatever.
  • Speaking of Miss Gwilt’s beauty, I had a hard time believing that the 21-year-old Armadale and the 20-year-old Midwinter would also lose their heads over her. She was 35, for god’s sake!! Not even the best face cream in the world could make her look age-appropriate to Armadale and Midwinter. Even supposing for argument’s sake that she did look to be in her late 20’s when the light was just right, it still makes no sense that these two men wouldn’t be able to control themselves.
  • The dream stuff was irksome as well. As soon as Midwinter forced Armadale to repeat it in great detail so he could write it down, I knew it would be referred to again and again and again, and that real-life events would play out as in the dream. BORING!

Rating:

The only previous experience I had with Wilkie Collins was with The Woman in White, which I read in high school and vaguely remember as having been “pretty good”. I’m making a concerted effort to read more classics this year, and thought Armadale might be a good start. How wrong I was! This book was too long and boring, with unbelievable characters and circumstances. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

Leave a Reply