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The Law and the Lady (thoughts)

November 3, 2009

classics2modI am so pleased to be today’s stop for the Classics Circuit‘s inaugural author tour: Wilkie Collins. The brainchild of Rebecca the Classics Circuit aims to give classic authors the same five-star publicity treatment recently published authors receive, by arranging blog tours for them. Kim kicked things off yesterday with an informative look at serial novels and Collins’ role in them. And to see where Collins will be the rest of the week, check out the helpful schedule. Note that a different book is being reviewed each day, so be sure to get your fill of Collins yumminess!

I’ve been excited ever since Rebecca first suggested the idea of the Classics Circuit (I love me some classics!), but I was especially excited that Wilkie Collins won the poll. I read him for the first time in 2007, and since then he’s become a particular favourite. I’d already read four of his novels (The Moonstone, The Woman in White, No Name, and The Dead Secret), so when it came time to decide on a title for the tour, I popped his name into my library catalogue and read all of the book descriptions. Let me tell you, it was difficult to choose just one; Collins is a masterful storyteller, and each blurb sounded enticing. But in the end, I plumped for The Law and the Lady, in large part because its protagonist is described as one of the earliest female detectives in English literature.

It’s difficult for me to talk about the book’s plot, without giving away the suspense of the first volume. It opens with Valerie Brinton marrying the love of her life, Eustace Woodville. She expects things to be blissful, but early in the honeymoon she begins to notice strange things. Soon, she realises that her husband must have a dreadful secret, and she attempts to find out what it is. Now, having read the back-of-the-cover blurb, I already knew what the secret was, and I still enjoyed reading the first volume (about one hundred pages). So if you don’t mind some slight spoilerage, I can explain why she’s described as an early female detective. But feel free to pop down to the next paragraph if you’d like to go into the book blind. Ok, you’ve decided? You’re good with the spoiler? Well, Valeria discovers that her husband stood trial for the murder by poison of his first wife-and while he wasn’t convicted, he also wasn’t found innocent. He was tried in Scotland, where there was a third option: “not proven,” which essentially means the jury doesn’t want to commit. Obviously, there’s a lot of stigma attached to that, and Eustace runs away, too ashamed to live with Valeria now that she knows the truth. So Valeria decides to read the trial transcript, and track down the witnesses, in order to prove her husband’s innocence and save her marriage.

wilkie-collinsThe spoiler-y bit is over. ;) Now I’ll tell you what made me love the book. I think Collins writes female characters wonderfully well, and Valeria was a perfect narrator. She writes in first-person, directly to the reader as it were, and I truly felt her pain and triumphs with her. Valeria is a stubborn, determined woman, and she’s not going to rest until she achieves her goal. That being said, don’t expect any kind of feminist ‘we are women! see us detect!’ kind of thing. Valeria is quite Victorian; her motivation for becoming a detective (of sorts) is utterly domestic, she’s blindly devoted to her new husband (despite his at times asinine behavior), she regularly references her gender in a self-deprecating way, and she is sometimes a bit dense. That being said, as a proud feminist, I still loved this book. For a Victorian woman, Valeria felt like a true hero; she stands up to the various male advisors in her life, and she travels about and puts herself in risky situations rather than give up. While her love for her husband is blind, I also found it admirable, and it never felt false, as if it was a mere novelistic device. I have friends today who are just as madly in love with their partners, and Valeria leaps off of the page to feel like a real woman. Also, since I mentioned how wonderfully Collins draws female characters, I must say I loved Valeria’s mother-in-law. It’s all too easy to stereotype mothers-in-law; something Collins uses to play into the reader’s prejudices in the beginning of the novel. But he subverts all expectations, by making the mother-in-law also strong and supportive, a true friend who gives her best advice to Valeria. It was nice to see a close mother/daughter-in-law relationship in literature for once! Most of the other characters are men, but they don’t come off wonderfully by any means. Collins is a Victorian, but I’ve never felt anything even vaguely misogynistic in his books. And if you’re a regular reader, you know I can be kind of sensitive to that stuff. ;)

LawandtheLadySo, marvelous characters? Check! What else did I expect from Collins? A juicy plot of course. And oh, does he deliver. I’m not going to give away anything spoiler-y, but in reading this book you’ll meet a crazy man, get to read a scandalous trial transcript, even visit a war front. Now, it’s not like any of the Collins novels I’ve read are boring. But The Law and the Lady is easily the most fast-paced, grab-the-reader-and-don’t-let-her-go I’ve encountered yet. The cliffhangers ending chapters would do Michael Crichton proud. I read large chunks at a time, and couldn’t wait to get back to it whenever I had to put it down.

I checked to see when this novel was published, and I wasn’t surprised to see it came out in 1875, towards the latter third of Collins’ career. In this book, I felt like I was in the hands of an experienced writer, who knew what he wanted from his novel and how to get it. Besides, there are definitely some of Collins’ trademarks (trial transcripts, stories told by minor characters, melodrama) present in the book. I can’t say it’s my very favourite-that place still belongs to No Name-but this is a wonderful book, and I think it would be a great pick if you’re new to Wilkie Collins or if you’ve already read his more famous books and want to try more. I also think this would be a book to recommend for those skeptical about the classics…unlike some of his better-known works, The Law and the Lady attempts little overt social commentary or literary experimentation. Instead, it’s simply fun! Also, it’s pretty short (under 500 pages), and feels even shorter because of the page-turning writing and vivid characters. I’m so glad the Classics Circuit motivated me to read another book by Collins, because this has cemented his place as one of my favourite authors. Good thing I’ve got about 30 books of his left to explore! ;)

Have you read any Wilkie Collins? What’s your favourite book by him? (Or which one’s highest up on your TBR list?)

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40 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2009 5:57 am

    I have owned The Woman In White since I was eighteen and I still haven’t read it. How bad is that! I did get it out of the storage boxes in the garage last week though.

  2. justabookreader permalink
    November 3, 2009 6:11 am

    I’ve not read any of Collins’s books…maybe it’s time! Great post!

  3. November 3, 2009 6:16 am

    I too have loved Wilkie Collins’ character development: even though I wasn’t crazy about the mystery in The Moonstone I LOVED the characters so it was still so fun. I’m so glad he makes this Victorian lady a strong one. It does sound like a fun book.

    Thanks so much for participating in the tour. I’m so excited to learn about all these not-as-well-known books by Collins — and to see what people think visiting the others for the first time.

    PS. What does it tell you about an author that a “shorter” book means less than 500 pages….

  4. November 3, 2009 6:44 am

    LOL – I guess under 500 pages could be considered ‘short’ for Collins! Had no idea this was one of the first female detectives, and will add it to my list.

  5. November 3, 2009 6:59 am

    The classics circuit is indeed a wonderful idea! I must confess I have not yet read any Wilkie Collins, but never fear! He is on my to-read list.

  6. November 3, 2009 7:03 am

    Thank you so much for this raving review! Now I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy :)

  7. November 3, 2009 7:31 am

    I just finished The Woman in White and I loved Marian Holcombe. Sounds like Collins wrote some great female characters like Valeria — it’s refreshing to read about more strong women after all the Dickens I’ve been reading.

  8. November 3, 2009 7:33 am

    I looooove me some Wilkie Collins girl. He is the MAN! My favorite so far is The Woman in White. It was just so, so, so excellent. The Rogue’s Life is another favorite. I have The Moonstone, have read half and, while I was enjoying it, I set it aside to read something else. So I really need to get back to that one. I haven’t read any of his later work yet even though I do own most of it and I will be interested to see how different it is from his earlier work. Especially with that addiction to laudanum!!

    I don’t think I have The Law and the Lady, I’ll have to remedy that. Don’t you just love Collins’s absolute contempt for marriage?

    Great post, I love anything about Wilkie!!!

  9. November 3, 2009 7:37 am

    What a great review! I’ve been nervous about branching out from Collins’ best-known two books into giving his other books a try, but sounds like I don’t need to be. I LOVE this title too.

  10. November 3, 2009 7:39 am

    Ooh, this one sounds quite good. I’ve only read two of his books now – TWiW and The Haunted Hotel. I’m looking forward to reading more.

  11. November 3, 2009 8:14 am

    This sounds like great fun. I’m in the midst of my first Collins, The Woman in White, and I am enjoying it very much. I am so glad to know there are lots of other books by him to look forward to enjoying!

  12. November 3, 2009 8:31 am

    You know, it wasn’t all that long ago when I thought Wilkie Collins only had two published books to his name! Then when I discovered there were others, I thought that perhaps there was a reason why people only really talk about The Moonstone and The Woman in White – perhaps the other books were just not that great. But it looks like you really enjoyed this book, and I guess I’m going to have to pull up my socks and try Collins soon! I have a copy of TWIW, but I think I’m going to wait a bit longer to get to it, as you know that I’m working on increasing my chunkster endurance!

  13. November 3, 2009 8:50 am

    I know you don’t want to read An Abundance of Katherines, but I seriously think it’s one of the best young adult books I’ve ever read and that’s saying a lot since I read so much. Seriously, you gotta read it, you’ll love it! I’m going to read Paper Towns soon, and I can’t wait, so thanks for the good review on it. If you want to see my review on An Abundance of Katherines go here:
    http://thebookiemonster.blogspot.com/2009/10/i-just-want-to-matter.html

  14. November 3, 2009 9:01 am

    Why do I tell myself that classics aren’t for me?!! Why? Because seriously, it sounds like I would absolutely LOVE this book. It really does. Step out of your comfort zone, Debra Anne. Step out of your comfort zone.

    Thanks, Eva! This review was absolutely wonderful, and I truly am sold!

  15. November 3, 2009 9:32 am

    I have been reading lots of Wilkie Collins of late and next up is The Dead Secret as part fo my sensation season. So far he hasnt written a bad book and I think I have now read six of them… I loose count. Armadale and No Name are recent favourites.

  16. November 3, 2009 10:01 am

    Yummy! Now I know I have to give Collins a try. :)

  17. November 3, 2009 10:11 am

    30 books by Collins?! Wow, I didn’t know he had written that many. I’ve finished one and am just beginning the second for my turn at the Classics Circuit, and I’m wishing that I had discovered Collins sooner. So far, from what I’ve read, Collins seems supportive of females, especially considering that he’s from the Victorian era — if that makes sense– I don’t think I’m expressing that thought well (it’s early in the morning).

  18. November 3, 2009 10:12 am

    Great review–and thanks for the heads up on the spoiler section. I skipped it as I like not knowing too much going into a book.

    I’ve only read The Women in White and am about 2/3 done with The Moonstone, and I’ve read his story in The Haunted House, which I thought was the best in the collection.

    >Collins is a Victorian, but I’ve never felt anything even vaguely misogynistic in his books.

    I agree–I think he’s realistic in that his women are individuals, not types. I’m also discovering the Collins had a good sense of humor and love for the bizarre, which is fun to read.

    >But The Law and the Lady is easily the most fast-paced, grab-the-reader-and-don’t-let-her-go I’ve encountered yet. The cliffhangers ending chapters would do Michael Crichton proud.

    Can’t wait to read this one–hadn’t heard of it before, but it sounds like a real treat.

  19. November 3, 2009 11:45 am

    Well, I suppose that I may be saying this a lot during the Classics Circuit Collins tour, but WOW I think I just found my next Collins read. This book sounds wonderful! I never would have thought that he wrote one of the first detective novels featuring a female detective, but I guess it’s not that surprising. I’ve only ever read The Moonstone, but I am starting No Name today. In The Moonstone I adored Miss Clack. Even though she was a tad over-the-top, she just made me laugh so much. I can’t wait to start No Name this afternoon!

  20. November 3, 2009 2:13 pm

    I’ve got Woman in White sitting on my shelf waiting for me to read it. This sounds like another one I should add. I do love strong female characters so this sounds right up my alley. Thank you so much for such a great and through review!

  21. November 3, 2009 2:41 pm

    Pook… I’m kind of worried about my review now – I’m about 3/4 of the way through No Name, and I really don’t like it…. sorry Eva… :/

  22. November 3, 2009 2:50 pm

    I am embarrassed to admit that I still haven’t gotten around to reading Wilkie Collins! I’ve heard so much about him in the blogosphere. At least I do have a copy of The Woman in White ready to go on my shelves!

  23. November 3, 2009 2:52 pm

    Really great and thoughtful post, Eva! I have only read one of Collins’ books and admit I wasn’t hugely enamored with Armadale. But maybe I’ll give The Moonstone a try- have that one on the shelf, too.

  24. November 3, 2009 3:04 pm

    Great review! I have only read The Woman in White so far. I’d really like to read The Moonstone next!

  25. November 3, 2009 3:28 pm

    I haven’t read a Collins novel yet but have added a couple to my TBR list after reading about him on your blog.

  26. November 3, 2009 4:06 pm

    Ooh, I love the idea of the Classics Circuit! What a fabulous way to highlight older authors.

    THE LAW AND THE LADY sounds awesome. I only recently read my first Wilkie Collins, (THE WOMAN IN WHITE; I know, how typical of me), but I’ll certainly be reading some more once my TBR is down. I’ll be adding this one to the list.

  27. November 3, 2009 4:08 pm

    I read The Woman in White years ago in Finnish and loved it. This autumn I bought it in the original language and plan to reread it in the not too distant future. I also own a copy of The Moonstone, but have not read it yet. The Law and the Lady sounds really interesting. I think, I have to add it to my to-be-read -list. :)

    Greetings,
    Tiina

  28. November 3, 2009 4:31 pm

    I am currently reading The Woman in White for this tour and loving it so far. You’re right–Collins is a great story teller. I may have to read this one too!

  29. November 3, 2009 6:57 pm

    I love Wilkie Collins since he was such an advocate for women’s rights and I love sensation fiction. I even did my thesis on Armadale. I’ve still got to read The Moonstone though and I recently bought The Haunted Hotel and No Name.

  30. November 3, 2009 9:36 pm

    I’m engrossed in my first Collins novel..The Woman in White. And I don’t think he’s misogynistic at all…he’s more than willing to make both men and women out to be the baddie.

  31. November 3, 2009 10:07 pm

    I loved The Moonstone. And if Wilkie Collins created the first female detective, I am going to have to read this one (skipped your spoiler section; thanks for the warning!). Thank you!

  32. November 4, 2009 11:39 pm

    Great review! I am very intrigued. I remember seeing the Moonstone on PBS as a child and recently read The Lady in White. I will put this one on my list.

  33. November 5, 2009 12:29 am

    Vivienne, it’s a fun read, so I hope you get to it eventually. :)

    JustaBookReader, definitely give him a go!

    Rebecca, Moonstone was my least fave Collins. lol…the shorter book is to me-I don’t think a book is long until it’s 800 pages, and for me if any classic is less than 500 it’s short! ;)

    JoAnn, see what I told Rebecca baout the short thing! ;)

    BookshelfMonstrosity, isn’t the Classics Circuit awesome?!

    Gnoegnoe, I hope you enjoy it. :D

    Karen, yeah…I am not a Dickens fan. But Marian was awesome!

    Heather, I haven’t read The Rogue’s Life yet. And lol @ his laundanum addiction! I didn’t mention that in my post, but maybe that’s why he became less experimental late in his career. :)

    Jenny, thanks! I hope you do try some of Collins’ less well known books.

    Amanda, yay for another new Collins fan! :)

    Stefanie, Woman in White was so much fun!

    Steph, I always wonder how some of an author’s books become more famous than others.

    Noslias, maybe I’ll read it at some point. ;)

    Debi, classics are for you! They are, they are, they are! ;) Hope that helped. :D

    SavidgeReads, the Dead Secret was neat; since you’ve read No Name, you’ll see quite a bit of resemblance between the two. Awesome that you’ve read six!

    Andi, for sure!

    Valerie, I think your comment made perfect sense, and I agree. :)

    JaneGS, glad you enjoyed the review! Hope you enjoy the book when you get to it. :)

    DailyWords, No Name is so awesome!

    Zee, I hope you get to read a Collins one soon!

    Jason, lol-I promise not to send out the book police. :p But I LOVED that one, so I guess we just have different taste. ;)

    Kathleen, don’t be embarrassed-there are lots of authors I haven’t gotten to yet!

    Aarti, thanks. :) I haven’t tried Armadale yet…Moonstone is my least fave of his so far, fyi. ;)

    Laura, I wonder what you’ll think of The Moonstone!

    Dana, awesome! :)

    Memory, isn’t it great?! I read Moonstone and Woman in White first-I think it’s normal to start w/ an author’s best known books!

    Tiina, enjoy your Collins reads. :D I’m so impressed you can read classics in their English original.

    Lola, I’m glad you’re enjoying Woman in White!

    Mae, how neat (about your thesis)! You’re going to LOVE No Name. :)

    Jill, I totally agree!

    DS, I hope you enjoy it!

    CLM, I think a movie adapation of The Moonstone would be great fun. :D I’m glad you liked me review.

  34. November 5, 2009 8:55 pm

    I’ve read 4 Collins books and 3 novellas and have three more novels sitting here at home including this one that you reviewed. I adore his writing and Armadale is definitely a favorite although I haven’t disliked anything that I’ve read by him. The diversity and depth of the characters that he writes is amazing.

  35. November 16, 2009 1:20 pm

    Kristen, I can’t wait for Armadale! :)

  36. terry102 permalink
    November 4, 2011 4:49 pm

    Excellent review – sums up exactly what I feel about the book, but more cogently expressed than I could have done. Can I just mention the existence of the Wilkie Collins Society – based in the UK but with a worldwide membership – which publishes fascinating articles about and reprints of Wilkie’s work. I have read all of his novels – most of them twice – and what I love about them is the way that his humour and humanity always shines through. For anyone who hasn’t read one yet, I think The Law and the Lady would be a good place to start, before going on to the “Big Four’ – The Moonstone, The Woman in White, Armadale and No Name.

  37. Kate Ray permalink
    May 8, 2014 9:16 am

    I’ve recently read The woman in white and at the moment it’s my favourite book.The plot is perfect and i like that there are a lot of narrators throughout the story.My favourite character is Marian Holcombe.I’m pleased to see a strong female character but i’m sorry for her that she’s not married and she’s not going to be.After having known about the other great books by Wilkie Collins i’m looking forward to reading more.

Trackbacks

  1. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  2. The Big Read V: The Woman in White « what we have here is a failure to communicate
  3. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins | Kay's Bookshelf

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