Read Basil: A Story of Modern Life by Wilkie Collins Free Online
Book Title: Basil: A Story of Modern Life|
The author of the book: Wilkie Collins
Edition: Start Classics
Date of issue: March 21st 2014
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
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Loaded: 1808 times
Reader ratings: 4.9
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 351 KB
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I am now about to relate the story of an error, innocent in its beginning, guilty in its progress, fatal in its results …
All hail serendipity! I did not know of the existence of Wilkie Collins’s novel Basil until a few days ago, when I finished reading William Godwin’s Caleb Williams, and saw Collins’s novel cited as analogous to Godwin’s in respect of its subject matter. That prompted me to follow it up, and I’m very glad I did.
The only works by Wilkie Collins I had read before are his great novels of the 1860s: The Woman in White, Armadale, No Name, and The Moonstone, all superb. Basil is early—it dates from 1852—and I can’t say it is as good as the later works. You can see all the same elements here, but they haven’t yet shaken down and resolved themselves into a harmonious composite; there is something jarring and excessive about this piece. On the other hand, I found Basil intriguing precisely on account of its unresolved quality. There’s something wild and weird about it that appealed to me, despite its flaws.
One thing I like very much about Collins’s later novels is his way with women characters, whom I find far superior to those of his mate Dickens. I found Basil disappointing in this regard. The two main female characters here, Basil’s angelic, desexualized sister Clara and his more equivocal love interest Margaret, are fairly stereotypical and stereotypically treated, even down to their contrasted colouring—Clara the pale and blushing English rose, Margaret ominously foreign in her dark and sultry looks. Enough already! Much more interesting, in terms of gender, is Collins’s experimentation with a male protagonist at the extreme of femininity. If you were to total up Basil’s and Clara’s various moments of paleness, faintness, and general vapourousness throughout the novel, it would be a very close call.
What I found mainly appealing in Basil is its odd combination of realism and social observation with a much stranger, Romantic and Gothic streak. This mixture is all the more striking because the Gothic emerges out of the realist and prosaic; we spend the first half of the novel in an entirely different world to that of the second. The first is a novel of social observation, set in an intriguingly transitional London, where ancient landed aristocratic families pursue their elegant lives in select squares, while nouveau riche tradesmen throw up flashy villas on the outskirts of the city, and dangerous novelties such as horsedrawn omnibuses bring the different strata of society into fatal juxtaposition. The second half of the novel, increasingly melodramatic, jolts us into a world of full-on romanticism, complete with dream-visions, foul fiends, fated revenge pursuits (the thematic tie-up with Caleb Williams), and numerous bouts of madness, illness, and violence. It’s all a bit chaotic and feverish, but no one could accuse it of being predictable. And since the novel’s shift in tone coincides with a catastrophe in the life of the protagonist, and we are seeing his life through his eyes, it can perhaps lay claim to a certain psychological realism.
Basil is sometimes described as the first Victorian ‘sensation novel’, as I have discovered reading up on it since I finished the novel (there’s a very good 2000 article available free online, http://wilkiecollinssociety.org/resur..., and I also looked at the 2013 The Cambridge Companion to Sensation Fiction). I hadn’t really registered the sensation novel as a phenomenon before, but it seems useful as a way of making sense of the transition between Romanticism and the mature traditions of Victorian fiction. Perhaps that is ultimately what I like about this early example of the genre. You can see literary history here in the making, and with something still rather molten in the mix.
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Read information about the authorA close friend of Charles Dickens from their meeting in March 1851 until Dickens' death in June 1870, William Wilkie Collins was one of the best known, best loved, and, for a time, best paid of Victorian fiction writers. But after his death, his reputation declined as Dickens' bloomed.
Now, Collins is being given more critical and popular attention than he has received for 50 years. Most of his books are in print, and all are now in e-text. He is studied widely; new film, television, and radio versions of some of his books have been made; and all of his letters have been published. However, there is still much to be discovered about this superstar of Victorian fiction.
Born in Marylebone, London in 1824, Collins' family enrolled him at the Maida Hill Academy in 1835, but then took him to France and Italy with them between 1836 and 1838. Returning to England, Collins attended Cole's boarding school, and completed his education in 1841, after which he was apprenticed to the tea merchants Antrobus & Co. in the Strand.
In 1846, Collins became a law student at Lincoln's Inn, and was called to the bar in 1851, although he never practised. It was in 1848, a year after the death of his father, that he published his first book, 'The Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R.A'., to good reviews.
The 1860s saw Collins' creative high-point, and it was during this decade that he achieved fame and critical acclaim, with his four major novels, 'The Woman in White' (1860), 'No Name' (1862), 'Armadale' (1866) and 'The Moonstone' (1868). 'The Moonstone', is seen by many as the first true detective novel T. S. Eliot called it "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels ..." in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe.
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