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Your 2021 Just Desserts hiatus reading suggestion: The formative mysteries of Wilkie Collins

During Just Desserts’ traditional end-of-year holiday hiatus in November and December 2019, we’re going to continue to remain active…but only in a virtual sense. During these two months, although we won’t be gathering for an in-person meeting, members are encouraged to read either one or both of Wilkie Collins’ two classic mystery novels, which helped set the tone of mystery fiction for decades after their release — The Woman in White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868). You are encouraged to read either or both of older novels, then visit this very discussion post on the Just Desserts Blog and leave a comment in a response to that post, sharing your thoughts on whichever novel you sampled.

For those who are unfamiliar with Wilkie Collins, and these two novels, here’s some general background, and an overview of the novels:

From his Wikipedia entry: William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) was an English novelist and playwright known for The Woman in White (1859), and for The Moonstone (1868), which has been posited as the first modern English detective novel. Born to the London painter William Collins and his wife, he moved with the family to Italy when he was twelve, living there and in France for two years and learning Italian and French. He worked initially as a tea merchant. After publishing Antonina, his first novel, in 1850, Collins met Charles Dickens, who became a friend and mentor. Some Collins work first appeared in Dickens’s journals Household Words and All the Year Round. They also collaborated on drama and fiction. Collins gained financial stability and an international following by the 1860s, but began to suffer from gout and became addicted to the opium he took for the pain, so that his health and writing quality declined in the 1870s and 1880s. Collins was critical of the institution of marriage: he split his time between widow Caroline Graves – living with her for most of his adult life, treating her daughter as his – and the younger Martha Rudd, by whom he had three children.

The Woman in White: This dramatic tale, inspired by an actual criminal case, is told through multiple narrators. Frederick Fairlie, a wealthy hypochondriac, hires virtuous Walter Hartright to tutor his beautiful niece and heiress, Laura, and her homely, courageous half sister, Marian Halcombe. Although Hartright and Laura fall in love, she honours her late father’s wish that she marry Sir Percival Glyde, a villain who plans to steal her inheritance. Glyde is assisted by sinister Count Fosco, a cultured, corpulent Italian who became the archetype of subsequent villains in crime novels. Their plot is threatened by Anne Catherick, a mysterious fugitive from a mental asylum who dresses in white, resembles Laura, and knows the secret of Glyde’s illegitimate birth. Through the perseverance of Hartright and Marian, Glyde and Fosco are defeated and killed, allowing Hartright to marry Laura.

(This description comes from the Encyclopedia Brittanica)

The Moonstone: Rachel Verinder, a young English woman, inherits a large Indian diamond on her eighteenth birthday. It is a legacy from her uncle, a corrupt British army officer who served in India. The diamond is of great religious significance and extremely valuable, and three Hindu priests have dedicated their lives to recovering it. The story incorporates elements of the legendary origins of the Hope Diamond (or perhaps the Orloff Diamond or the Koh-i-Noor diamond). Rachel’s eighteenth birthday is celebrated with a large party at which the guests include her cousin Franklin Blake. She wears the Moonstone on her dress that evening for all to see, including some Indian jugglers who have called at the house. Later that night the diamond is stolen from Rachel’s bedroom, and a period of turmoil, unhappiness, misunderstandings and ill luck ensues. Told by a series of narratives from some of the main characters, the complex plot traces the subsequent efforts to explain the theft, identify the thief, trace the stone and recover it. .

(This descriptions comes from the Wikipedia entry)

Catalog Links: The libraries own several editions of both of these novels, however they are also now in the public domain, and so many, many eBook versions proliferate throughout the electronic marketplace, at cheap rates or even as free editions.

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