Wilkie Collins’s “Basil”
Basil, being one of Wilkie Collins‘s earlier works, was never going to be as exciting or thrilling as his later novels The Woman in White and The Moonstone. I ventured to expect this when I picked this book up to see the roots of the later masterpieces.
Basil is the beginning of the mystery thriller that Collins would adopt later on, and the inferiority of his treatment of this genre is easy to see. Whereas in The Moonstone things were difficult to predict, and unable to see where things are going, the signs in Basil are not discreet enough, there are no red herrings, what you read are the glaringly obvious hints that lead the story on and lead you to guess the subsequent events. This makes reading Basil a lot less thrilling to read, and will pale in comparison to what you may have read in The Woman in White and The Moonstone. If you have not read these two novels, and you want to give Collins a try, this is not a good introduction (unless you take the length of the novel into account, which took me a day to read, whilst his later novels take three days). There is too much foreshadowing, and too much of it is made very clear.
Basil has a good basic plot, but his characters verge on stereotypical which is demonstrated on Basil’s first dream of the two ladies in his life. One is dark, shrouded by wood in shadows, the other is pure and white, illuminated by sunshine and pleasant landscape. This is the basic concept of Margaret, his deceitful wife, and Clara, his virtuous sister. The protagonist can be difficult to like sometimes, his reasoning can be unconvincing, and his actions verge on stupidity, not on behalf of the character, but on behalf of Collins, on creating him. Other drawbacks are seen in the plot holes, and things that just wouldn’t make logical sense of any person to act. Such as Robert writing a whole confession on everything he had done, leaving evidence of himself and Margaret to other eyes. On top of that, he chooses to omit certain details of his confession which seems nothing more than a scape goat of Collins as he cannot think of a decent enough argument that might have swayed Margaret to act as she did (though her motives are clumsingly added later on).
This early work has flaws, but it’s only a short work, and if you wanted to enlighten yourself of Collins’ earlier work, this would be a good place to start as it foreshadows many themes to take hold of later novels, and also seems to have quite a bit of autobiographical detail which can allude to his secret life with his mistresses (the protagonist also has the exact same interest as Collins regarding his career). By all means, pick this book up, it’s surely inferior, but it’s highly readable and satisfies many curiosities that one may have of the author.