Oh, Wilkie Collins. I love you so much! The Woman in White was delightful and may have been better written than Armadale (a reread is in order to determine if that is so). The Moonstone, as a mystery, was well developed but simply okay for me, a non-mystery person. But Armadale just topped them both in terms of suspense and emotional attachment. No one beats Lydia Gwilt as a complicated villain.
Who is Who?
Twenty years ago, two boys named Allan Armadale vied for the attention of a young woman. Now (in 1851), their two orphaned sons – each also called Allan Armadale – cross paths. The mysterious money-hungry redhead Miss Lydia Gwilt shows up and things get a little bit crazy.
Like the other Wilkie Collins novels I’ve read, Armadale dealt with the question of identity: people had multiple identities and multiple names. It also dealt with generational identity as the Allan Armadale that form the bulk of the action are the children of men of the same name. Armadale seemed to ask questions: Are these young men destined to be their father’s sons? Are they, by nature, destined to similar wrong choices, for example? Collins also drew heavily on superstition because the story keeps circling back to Allan Armadale’s mysterious dream. Do these characters have choices or are events destined?
Good vs Evil
Another theme that seemed central was the one I most enjoyed, the question of good and evil. The first two hundred pages of this chunkster seemed a bit slow, but once Lydia Gwilt began to interact with the men at Thorpe Ambrose, I did not want to put it down.
Miss Gwilt is a villain through and through, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Wilkie Collins doesn’t quite excuse her actions but as we progressively learn more about her, the story truly becomes hers and we see a bit of where she is coming from. I liked her, ridiculous and bad as she was even on good days.
Wilkie Collins as the Author
I absolutely loved how Collins created her character, for she makes this story the fascinating page-turner that it is. She was captivating in a way no one else in the novel was. Collins gave us pages of her journal (progressively more throughout the book) so we’d see just what she was thinking and how she was developing. Though the book is called Armadale, I believe that Miss Gwilt is the main character within it.
Collins puts in plenty of excitement (poison, attempted murder, coincidence, and a lunatic asylum), yet it is utterly convincing and real. I feel I have barely touched on the main points and the depth that is in Armadale. Believe me when I say it is a fun ride.