This is another book from my 2011 Reading List and it’s the fifth book which I’ve read by Wilkie Colllins. It was first published in 1852 and was the second book which he wrote. Although The Woman in White is his most famous book it isn’t my favourite, I think that that is still The Moonstone and I even enjoyed Basil more than TWIW.
Basil is the 24 year old younger son of a man of property and wealth. Basil’s father is in fact a terrible snob and the most important thing to him is his family name and its noble pedigree, he’s a very proud man and he likes everyone to know their place in society, and to stick to it.
So when Basil falls in love/lust at first sight with a beautiful young woman whom he meets on an omnibus, and he subsequently discovers that she is the daughter of a linen draper, he knows that his father would never approve of the situation. Such is Basil’s infatuation that he contacts the 17 year old Margaret Sherwin through one of her family servants and after only a few meetings with her Basil meets her father and agrees to a marriage with Margaret within a week. Mr Sherwin stipulates that the marriage must be kept a secret and, reading between the lines, unconsumated, for one year as Margaret is young and he hopes that Basil’s father will then accept the situation.
The book is just full of class snobbery with Mr Sherwin and his daughter being portrayed as vulgar gold-diggers, which is to be expected of someone in ‘trade’. Basil’s life falls apart and he eventually realises what a fool he has been.
If you enjoy Victorian melodrama and thrillers then you should give this one a go. There’s a lot more plot than I have written about.
I think it is quite funny that I was reading this book just before the William and Catherine wedding because I remember that James Whittaker commented quite recently that William wouldn’t marry Kate because her mother had been an air hostess (shock horror) and they were in trade, and we couldn’t have an heir to the throne marrying into that sort of family! Two fingers up to James Whittaker then!