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Basil: A novel (Wilkie Collin's novels)…

Basil: A novel (Wilkie Collin's novels) (original 1852; edition 1874)

by Wilkie Collins

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348831,427 (3.48)13
Title:Basil: A novel (Wilkie Collin's novels)
Authors:Wilkie Collins
Info:Harper (1874), Unknown Binding, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, queer

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Basil by Wilkie Collins (1852)


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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
This was an interesting story. Collins was a contemporary of Charles Dickens and there are some similarities in their style. This is a fictionalized autobiography of a young man from a very wealthy family who becomes infatuated and eventually secretly marries a woman, Margaret Sherwin.
Her family is from the mercantile class and therefore below him in status. Nevertheless he courts her and they agree to marry but not live together for one year. The author knows that his father will disown him, hence the secrecy. He does not inform his beloved sister Clara, nor his brother Ralph of his marriage. Margaret's family, seeking to benefit financially maintain the charade while the author seems blind to what is going on behind the scenes.
As the year end approaches, he has reason to suspect that all is not as it seems and that Margaret has been less than chaste with her father's assistant, Mannion. He tracks them to a hotel and beats Mannion to the point that he ends up in hospital with severe disfiguring injuries. Margaret contracts typhoid during a hospital visit and dies. You would think that this would release the author from his vows but Mannion seeks revenge.
Good descriptions of psychology and society of the times. ( )
  MaggieFlo | Feb 11, 2017 |
Kept me gripped throughout, even though some of the characters' actions and motivations seemed rather unlikely - Mannion's in particular. ( )
  AJBraithwaite | Aug 7, 2012 |
Although Basil is far from being one of Collins' best novels, I enjoyed it a lot; partly because I enjoyed thinking about this as an early example of Collins' writing and an early example of a Victorian sensation novel and partly because I really enjoyed the over-the-top melodrama of this story.

Basil is the youngest son of an English gentlemen of large fortune, one of the most ancient families in the country. We are told how proud Basil's father is of his pedigree and his family name; it's no surprise then that when Basil falls in love at first sight with Margaret Sherwin, the daughter of a linen-draper, he feels unable to tell his father of his plans to marry her. Basil decides that it will be best to present his father with a fait accompli, to marry Margaret, then somehow get her introduced to his father and wait for his father to get accustomed to her before informing his father that they are married. Margaret's father agrees, as long as Basil marries Margaret straight away, and promises for the first year of their marriage, never to see her except in the presence of a third person: they will be married but will not live together as man and wife.

The outcomes of this marriage are betrayal, insanity and death. Technically, I suppose those are spoilers but if a secret marriage wasn't enough to tell you that things aren't going to end well, there is a lot of rather heavy-handed foreshadowing in the first half of the novel. Basil was considered to be very shocking when it was first released and for a early Victorian novel there are a lot of sexual undercurrents in this work. To a modern reader, it's unlikely to be anywhere near as shocking, so it's a testimony to Collins' skill as a writer (albeit that his skill shows unevenly throughout this early work) that the central and pivotal scene in the book is still disturbing. ( )
1 vote souloftherose | May 22, 2012 |
I'm a big fan of Wilkie Collins. Basil is Collins' second published novel, and might be disappointing if you've only read The Woman in White and/or The Moonstone, although the seeds of the sensation novel are already in place in Basil: what Dorothy Goldman in her introduction calls 'domestic crime', madness, dark secrets and the odd femme fatale.

Basil is the younger son of a father proud of his lineage. When Basil falls in love with Margaret Sherwin, the daughter of a lowly linen draper, he knows his father will never approve of the marriage. He asks Margaret's father for permission to keep the marriage a secret until such time as he can present it to his father as a fait accompli. Mr Sherwin agrees, on one condition: that Basil should marry Margaret immediately, but not consummate the marriage until a year has passed.

The doubling in this novel is rather too obviously done: dark, dangerous, sexual Margaret is very obviously the opposite of Basil's sister Clara, who is fair and chaste. Goldman suggests that the two women 'subtextually form dual aspects of one woman'. Unfortunately they are presented in a very simplistic, stereotypical way.

Basil's dark double is Robert Mannion, a confidential clerk who works for Mr Sherwin. His background is a mystery, and Basil can't figure out either his personality, or the powerful hold he seems to have over the whole Sherwin family. Things begin to become clear when Basil follows Mannion, who has gone to collect Margaret from a party. Basil follows Mannion and Margaret to a seedy hotel, and - through a thin partition wall - listens to them talking...

Although not half as thrilling as Collins' more celebrated novel, this is nevertheless very readable and entertaining, although the final confrontation between Mannion and Basil is disappointing and somewhat perfunctory. [November 2007]
1 vote startingover | Feb 2, 2011 |
Our narrator, the Basil of the title, is the son of a rich gentleman who is proud of his family's ancient background and despises anyone of a lower social standing. When Basil meets Margaret Sherwin on a London omnibus he falls in love at first sight and becomes determined to marry her. Unfortunately Margaret is the daughter of a linen-draper, the class of person Basil's father disapproves of most of all, so he decides not to tell his family about her just yet.

Mr Sherwin agrees to Basil marrying Margaret - but he insists that the wedding must take place immediately and that Basil must then keep the marriage secret for a whole year, not even seeing his wife unless Mr or Mrs Sherwin are present. This unusual suggestion should have told Basil that something suspicious was going on but he's so blinded by love that he doesn't care - until it's too late...

Basil was one of Collins' earliest novels and it shows, as it's just not as good as his more famous books such as The Woman in White. The story took such a long time to really get started, with Basil introducing us to the members of his family, giving us every tiny detail of their appearance, personality and background. The second half of the book was much more enjoyable, filled with action, suspense and all the elements of a typical sensation novel including death, betrayal and adultery (Victorian readers apparently found the adultery scenes particularly shocking). There are lots of thunderstorms, people fainting and swooning, fights in the street, and everything you would expect from a Victorian melodrama.

All of Collins' books are filled with strong, memorable characters and this was no exception. There's Basil's lively, carefree brother Ralph, his gentle, kind hearted sister Clara, the poor, frail Mrs Sherwin and the sinister Mr Mannion. However, I thought the overall writing style of this book was slightly different to what I've been used to in his later books – although I can't put my finger on exactly what the difference was. This is not a must-read book but if you like the sensation novel genre, you'll probably enjoy this one. ( )
  helen295 | Jun 5, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192835483, Paperback)

In Basil's secret and unconsummated marriage to the linen-draper's sexually precocious daughter, and the shocking betrayal, insanity, and death that follow, Collins reveals the bustling, commercial London of the nineteenth century wreaking its vengeance on a still powerful aristocratic world. Contemporary reviewers vehemently disapproved of this explicit treatment of adultery; and even today the passionate and lurid atmosphere he creates still has the power to disturb the reader.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:07 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In Basil's secret and unconsummated marriage to the linen-draper's sexually precocious daughter, and the shocking betrayal, insanity, and death that follow, Collins reveals the bustling, commercial London of the 19th century wreaking its vengeance on a still powerful aristocratic world.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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