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Iolani; or, Tahiti as It Was
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 069103446X, Hardcover)Wilkie Collins, whom many consider the originator of the modern detective story in novels such as The Moonstone and The Woman in White, wrote this novel when he was 19 and fired up with dreams of far-off places and heroic derring-do. Set in Polynesia in the days before European colonization, Iolani is filled with beautiful and long-suffering dusky-skinned women (with European features and heaving bosoms), wicked high priests, and even wild-eyed wild men from the forest. There are pitched battles between tribes, horrid pagan rituals, and plenty of damsels in distress, all played out against an exotic, tropical background of white beaches and swaying palm trees. In short, this is exactly the kind of overwrought romance one might expect from an imaginative young man with literary longings. Iolani, the title character, is the villain of the piece; shortly after his wife, Idia, gives birth to a son, he decides that in keeping with the religious practices of their tribe, the child must be put to death. Idia objects and ends up fleeing with the newborn and a beautiful young friend to seek protection from another tribe. Much melodrama ensues as Collins tries to fit the sensational conventions of the gothic potboiler popularized by writers such as Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe into a South Seas setting.
Never published during its author's lifetime, this is a novel that probably only Collins scholars could love. But even in the overheated prose and patently second- and third-hand descriptions of exotic locales, one can detect the seeds of his later, more successful works. Certainly Collins's fascination with sensational plots is evident here, but so is his radical (for the time) depiction of strong and unconventional women. Read Iolani for its historical interest; then take a look at The Moonstone to see how well Wilkie Collins grew up. --Margaret Prior
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:16 -0400)
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