Saturday, April 23

Whims and Wills of Wilkie Collins

I promised you all yesterday that today I would share a little about Wilkie Collins' "unique" style.  I could go on and on trying to explain it intelligibly, or you can read his own explaination (extracted from the Preface and Chapter 1 of The Woman in White:

"The story of this book is told throughout by the characters of the book.  They are all placed in different positions along the chain of events; and they all take the chain up in turn, and carry it on to the end."  And later in Chapter 1, he adds "As the Jusge might once have heard it, so the Reader shall hear it now.  No circumstance of importance, from the beginning to the end of the disclosure, shall be related on hearsay evidence.  When his [Walter Hartwright's] experience fails, he will retire from the position of narrator; and his task will be continued, from the point at which he has left off, by other persons who can speak to the circumstances under notice from their own knowledge, just as clearly and positively as he has spoken before them.  Thus, the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness - with the same object in both cases, to present the truth always in its most direct and most intelligeble aspect..."

As Wilkie declares in the preface: "An experiment is attempted in this novel, which has not (so far as I know) been hitherto tried in fiction."  And as far as I'm concerned, it's never been done again with anywhere near as much success.  The Moonstone, Wilkie's second major novel, is constructed in the same style as The Woman in White, and I can tell you right here, right now, that his fresh, vibrant, kicking idea worked brilliantly.  Now, returning to his attempt, I very much hope that it will turn out to be as suspensful, intriguing, and stimulating as his final one. 

The thing that I loved the most about this idea as used in The Moonstone, was that, being a mystery novel, you were constantly working hard to get an opinion on who was the 'good guy', the 'bad guy' and 'the culprit'.  But Wilkie isn't one to leave you alone with your private thoughts.  Oh no!  By suddenly changing the narrator, you are exposed to a completely new point of view - and consequently, all your thoughts on the situation are changed.  You see the characters from a new perspective and you think, "oh, well I don't like them anymore" or "it could be him, it really could!"  and the whole process of it is so extremely exciting!  It's so stimulating, and I seriously think that it was one of the funnest books to read.

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