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The Evil Genius: A Domestic Story by Wilkie…
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The Evil Genius: A Domestic Story

by Wilkie Collins

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This book was so different than I expected from the title I expected a spooky gothic story like Woman in White but alas that is not what this book was it’s the story of a marriage breaking up, a meddling mother-in-law, a child who suffers through it all and a young girl who seems to be taken advantage of no matter where she goes. This was an interesting look at divorce in a by gone era if a bit outdated.

The narrator of this one John Bolen isn’t a favorite, I don’t like his women’s voices at all and Mr. Linley (sp-audiobook) sounded like Mad Eye Moody from Harry Potter. His regular reading voice is fine but it almost seemed like he was trying too hard at all the different voices.

Like I said this book wasn’t at all what I expected it to be but it is written by Wilkie Collins so it is so well written that I kept listening. It wasn’t a bad story it was just not what I was hoping to read if you want to try Wilkie Collins don’t start with this one start with Woman in White or The Moonstone.

3 stars ( )
  susiesharp | Oct 22, 2011 |
Wilkie Collins is best known as a writer of sensationalist fiction: supernatural suspense, terrifying drama, complex mysteries, and all often used as a vehicle for his complaints against social injustices. The Evil Genius doesn't fall into that category by today's standards, but for Victorians, it's very subject matter was sensational and taboo. The Evil Genius is novel of marital infidelity, Divorce (yes, with a capital "D"!) and the scandal and injustice that often (in Collins' times) surrounds these issues.

Sydney, a young governess raised without parents to guide her in correct ways, finds her gratitude for her employer gradually slide into infatuation. Mr. Linley (the employer), finds his enchantment of Sydney returned by her infatuation, and an indiscretion is made and immediately regretted. Sydney loves Mrs. Catherine Linley, and considers her a dear friend, and she loves her pupil, Kitty with deep affection. They agree that Sydney must leave and Linley will confess all to Catherine. Catherine forgives, Sydney leaves for another position, and all would have returned to normal except that Kitty became grievously ill and wouldn't rest until she could see her dear Syd again. Accidentally alone, Sydney and Linley renew their forbidden love and are witnessed by Catherine. This time she can not forgive, and she banishes them both.

What follows in the meat of the novel is a, not always under the surface, discussion of the unfairness of the law and society toward women in this situation. For example, as long as they are married, Linley only is the guardian of the child, by law. Only if a Divorce occurs does legal parental guardianship go to the mother. One character, Catherine's lawyer, expresses hope that the future may see a change in this law.

When it is discovered by the residents of a small seaside resort that Catherine is Divorced, despite the fact it was her husband's infidelity, she and her daughter are shunned. Dear friends that are (as Collins puts it) "deeply religious", see any potential remarriage as a sin, in spite of the fact that (again, as Collins notes) the very verse they are quoting follows a verse that presumes the Divorced woman to have been the unfaithful one.

Collins is really stepping out of the Victorian mores and making some controversial statements with this novel, and yet it doesn't read like a morality tale. The prose is excellent and the point of view shifts gently, sometimes so subtly as to be nearly undetectable, between main characters and causes the reader to change views of the characters as the point of view shifts. While melodramatic by today's standards, the story is still tense and interesting. Granted, Collins found a bit of an easy way out with the ending, and one that I (as a non-Victorian reader) was not quite comfortable with as a resolution. This isn't a fault of either novel or novelist, though, it's just a symptom of the times, and shows that Collins, while revolutionary in some ways, was still a Victorian gentleman.

Collins has been one of my favorite novelist for many years, and The Evil Genius only increased my admiration for his talents. ( )
  Medbie | Jan 29, 2011 |
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Affectionately Dedicated

TO

HOLMAN HUNT
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Book description
... The story is motivated by the attraction between Herbert Linley and the woman he hires as governess for his child Kitty - the long-suffering Sydney Westerfield. As one expects with Collins, the story is driven forward with deft assurance. Yet he also treats the theme of adultery and divorce in a manner quite unconventional for his time ... (from Broadview Press blurb).

Charnwood edition:
When Sydney Westerfield's mother marries again and emigrates to America, she leaves her daughter in the care of her unmarried sister, who runs a school in London. The formidable Miss Wigger sees her only as someone she can exploit, and Sydney becomes drawn and pale as this bitter life takes its toll. Sydney secretly advertises for a position as a governess and Herbert Linley comes to seek her services. For the first time, she finds heartfelt compassion and sympathy and accepts his offer of employment in Scotland. Will the gratitude she feels toward her rescuer remain untainted by more complicated passions, or will the family live to repent her engagement?
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Kitty is the child of Herbert and Catherine Linley, a spoiled, coddled little girl who is at the same time-in the tradition of all Victorian children-adorable. The Evil Genius begins with the story of Kitty's ill-fated governess Sydney Westerfield, a girl thrown aside in the grand tradition of Jane Eyre and David Copperfield.And now an "evil genius" is threatening to rip apart the fabric of the Linley home. Who is it, and why? Is it the orphaned young governess, Sydney, for whom the father lusts? The brother-in-law who appears to help everyone but often succeeds in making things worse? The meddling mother-in-law whose good-intentioned interferences lead to greater heartache? The disloyal father? Or perhaps it is the unassuming daughter.… (more)

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