Friday, October 01, 2010

Evil Genius

Evil Genius. Wilkie Collins. 1886. 348 pages.

The gentlemen of the jury retired to consider their verdict.
Their foreman was a person doubly distinguished among his colleagues. He had the clearest head, and the readiest tongue. For once the right man was in the right place.
Of the eleven jurymen, four showed their characters on the surface. They were:
The hungry juryman, who wanted his dinner.
The inattentive juryman, who drew pictures on his blotting paper.
The nervous juryman, who suffered from fidgets.
The silent juryman, who decided the verdict.
Of the seven remaining members, one was a little drowsy man who gave no trouble; one was an irritable invalid who served under protest; and five represented that vast majority of the population -- easily governed, tranquilly happy -- which has no opinion of its own.

While I didn't love The Evil Genius as much as The Moonstone, I did enjoy it. What should you know? Well, it is NOT a mystery. It is a "domestic story." You should also know that it has a forty-page prologue (of sorts) that establishes the background of one of its main characters.

Readers first meet Sydney Westerfield as a child. Her father has died; her mother--at best--is disinterested. Her mom is all about her son. When her mother remarries and moves to America, she leaves her daughter in the care of her sister. Of course, she takes her beloved son. The aunt? Well, she's super-excited because she can use Sydney as a servant and a teacher-in-training. So poor Sydney has not known love in many, many years. Perhaps since her father died.

The novel opens when Herbert Linley seeks a governess for his daughter, Kitty. He brings home the young, the beautiful, the pathetic Sydney. After hearing her story, after seeing her kicked out of her aunt's home, he had to hire her. Mrs. Presty, his mother-in-law, is skeptical. She's been married twice, and she's convinced she knows a thing or two about men. And the fact that Sydney is so young, so beautiful, so innocent, so in need of love and acceptance, so sweet, well, she thinks that it is unwise to have her in their home. (Yes, Mrs. Presty lives with her daughter and son-in-law.) But Mrs. Linley meets Sydney and is enchanted. Her heart is big enough to accept Sydney without doubt, without reservation. And Kitty? Her daugher? Well, Kitty loves, loves, loves her governess! So it looks like Sydney may have found a happy home at last....

But. One late night stroll in the moonlight finds Mr. Linley and Sydney unexpectedly thrown together--they're locked out of the house--and Mr. Linley fancies himself in love with this ever-grateful young woman. He confesses as such. As soon as those words are spoken, both know that they cannot remain in this situation...

The Evil Genius, like Anna Karenina, focuses on marriage, adultery, divorce, and scandal. But it is so VERY different from Anna Karenina! Both Mrs. Linley and Miss Westerfield are sympathetic. And Mrs. Presty is great for comical relief! (Is she "The Evil Genius" of the family that contributes to its downfall?) The Evil Genius is never boring. It's extremely readable. 

I enjoyed it. There were places I loved it.
"Is there any human character, even the noblest, that is always consistently good?"
"One reads of them sometimes," she suggested, "in books."
"Yes," he said. "In the worst books you could possibly read--the only really immoral books written in our time."
"Why are they immoral?"
"For this plain reason, that they deliberately pervert the truth. Clap-trap, you innocent creature, to catch foolish readers! When do these consistently good people appear in the life around us, the life that we all see? Never! Are the best mortals that ever lived above the reach of temptation to do ill, and are they always too good to yield to it? How does the Lord's Prayer instruct humanity? It commands us all, without exception, to pray that we may not be led into temptation. You have been led into temptation. In other words, you are a human being. All that a human being could do you have done--you have repented and confessed." (324)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

4 comments:

Anonymous,  12:58 PM  

Great review, Becky - I'm really looking forward to it now. L.

Ed@Notebookonline 2:00 PM  

It sounds like an interesting book, but I get the feeling that it's not the book you hoped/thought it would be?

Or am I being unfair here...

Becky 3:12 PM  

No, I really enjoyed it. I didn't love, love, love it--in the way I did Moonstone. And I don't think it's as wonderfully complex as Armadale. But. I really, really liked it. I enjoyed the writing very much. And the characters were good too!

CharmedLassie 5:50 AM  

Thanks, I'll add another one to my list. As with every author, Collins can't be great all of the time. But I'll settle for enjoyment with Collins any day of the week.

Post a Comment

I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

Unique Visitors and Google PR Rank

Free PageRank Checker

Pageloads Counter

Search Book Blogs Search Engine

The background is based on a background I found here...with some small adjustments on my part so it would work with the template.
Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP