The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins

The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins is Victorian melodrama pure and simple.  We have a man harboring a secret, poison, deformity, insanity, a murder trial, a faithful family retainer, a near-fatal illness, and the list just goes on and on.

Valeria marries Eustace against the wishes of both their families.  On their honeymoon, she discovers he is harboring a dark secret.  Eustace leaves because he can't face her knowing the truth which is that he had been married before and his wife died of poison.  Eustace was tried for her murder and a verdict of Not Proven was brought in.  This meant there was not enough evidence to convict him but, at the same time, he was not totally cleared.  Valeria has a blind faith in her husband and decides to clear his name.

Despite her tendency to come over faint at the slightest provocation, Valeria makes progress in her quest, possibly because she encounters coincidences at every turn.  She is allowed to search a room that contains a vital clue, people tell her stories that just happen to fill in necessary information, she accidentally meets just the person she needs to talk to.  She forges ahead, only occasionally suspecting the wrong people, and what would melodrama be without unjust suspicion?  I think it is a foregone conclusion that she ends the book reclining in her bed, her baby by her side, Eustace hovering lovingly over both of them.

There really isn't much mystery to this book.  I was pretty sure from the beginning how it was going to end and also knew how they would find the vital clue.  I don't think you read it for any mystery, it is the drama all the way.

I did basically enjoy this.  You have to suspend all belief and just let yourself roll along with the story.  I liked Valeria.  She was determined and strong.  She had a definite personality and was not just a cookie cutter character moving through the melodrama.  Eustace, on the other hand, was not developed at all.  He was off the scene for most of the book and might as well have been for the rest.  I felt Valeria deserved a bit more of the man she loved.  There was one other character vital to the story, Miserimus Dexter, the disabled, half-mad, semi-genius.  Isn't that quite the name and description?  I felt he took over the story a bit too much.

I have read a few of Wilkie Collins' novels and this one was not one of his best. He is good at melodrama, The Woman in White is a great book, but this one is too loosely written.  I could see it as a short story but this is a Victorian novel so you know that wasn't going to happen.  If you haven't read Wilkie Collins before I would start with The Woman in White but if you are working your way through all his novels then make yourself a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy the drama.

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