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Armadale by Wilkie Collins
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Oct 04, 2010

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Read from September 12 to October 04, 2010

This 1866 work by Wilkie Collins is the first long Victorian novel I've read in quite a few years. Recognize the time commitment called for before you begin it. (I read it on Kindle, so pagination wasn't that easy to follow, but I was curious after I read for what seemed a long time and was only at 28%, so I checked: the Penguin Classics edition was 752 pages!) It traces the complexities and dynamics of assumed and mistaken identities, particularly as they affect two sets of central figures, fathers and sons, across generations. Everyone seems to be named Allan Armadale (well, five separate characters that I counted)--but stick with it and it will all make sense. The main villianess, Lydia Gwilt, turns up first in premonitions and then in person, a redheaded lady bountifully blessed with allure and chutzpah; she is the spark that drives the plot forward and keeps things interesting.

The central question posed by this work is one that preoccupied Victorian Christians--particularly those coming out of Calvinist traditions--much more than it does many folks today: How much of what happens to us is Fate, predestined and preordained, and how much depends on the assertion of Free Will? And a second inquiry soon follows: Should the rational approach of reasoned thinking be our guide in coping with things greater than we are, or should we submit to the recognition that the glory and the ferocity of the sublime operate beyond any hope of human understanding? More directly for the main characters: will the sins of the fathers call for accounting in the lives of the sons? Read it and learn the response Collins would give to these questions, his message clearly conveyed in the deathbed letter of a kindly old clergyman, counseling a troubled young man as we move toward the inevitable ultimate confrontation between the forces of good and evil at the novel's end, a highly dramatic climax that occurs in an almost empty rural Sanitarium for the nervously deranged.
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message 1: by Gwen (new)

Gwen Just finished Woman in White,,,and I loved it! Superb characterization.

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