Thursday, 22 July 2010

Basil - Wilkie Collins

This was Collins's second published novel. I'm reading a lot of Victorian novels at the moment, both those written in that era and those about that era. Collins is always good to read for research, as he wrote about social issues of the time. Basil, though not as good as his better-known novels - The Woman in White, or The Moonstone - is enjoyable and also educational about just how shocking adultery and marrying outside your class were considered in the mid 1800s.

A young man from a rich and noble family falls in love at first sight with a tradesman's daughter. He marries her in secret, but is forced by her father to agree not to live as man and wife for a year. Just as he's about to claim her she is unfaithful, and hence starts a tragic chain of events.

This book gave me an insight into just how serious class issues were at that time. Basil's father cuts him out of the family completely when he finds out about the marriage. He'd have preferred almost any other form of bad behaviour from Basil than this. His reaction shocks today's readers probably in a similar way to how the depiction of adultery shocked the novel's first readers in the 1850s.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Rose of Sebastopol

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

I bought this one for 10p from a community centre book sale, and what a bargain it turned out to be! I'm immersing myself in novels writtten during or about the Victorian period at the moment, and this one was a cracker.

Set during the Crimean war. Repressed Mariella is engaged to doctor Henry Thewell. He, and Mariella's cousin captivating and headstrong Rosa go separately to the Crimea, to lend their services in the hospitals there. News arrives that Henry is sick, and has come back as far as Italy. Rosa's letters cease. Mariella and a maid, Nora, go first to Italy and then find themselves drawn to the war in search of Rosa. Mariella has to face uncomfortable truths as she realises Henry has fallen in love with Rosa. She uses her impressive sewing skills to make herself useful in the Crimean hospitals, and continues the hunt for Rosa. During this time she changes from being a shallow, ineffectual young girl to a strong, determined woman. She finds love, she finds Rosa, but the real story is that she finds herself.

I very much enjoyed this novel, and will certainly search out more by this author.