Tuesday, July 17, 2012

After Dark

After Dark. Wilkie Collins. 1856. 404 pages.

From "Leaves From Leah's Diary"
26th February, 1827.—The doctor has just called for the third time to examine my husband's eyes. Thank God, there is no fear at present of my poor William losing his sight, provided he can be prevailed on to attend rigidly to the medical instructions for preserving it. These instructions, which forbid him to exercise his profession for the next six months at least, are, in our case, very hard to follow. They will but too probably sentence us to poverty, perhaps to actual want; but they must be borne resignedly, and even thankfully, seeing that my husband's forced cessation from work will save him from the dreadful affliction of loss of sight. I think I can answer for my own cheerfulness and endurance, now that we know the worst. Can I answer for our children also? Surely I can, when there are only two of them. It is a sad confession to make, but now, for the first time since my marriage, I feel thankful that we have no more.
I tend to love Wilkie Collins. And I did enjoy his short story collection, After Dark. But I didn't find all six of the short stories equally compelling. And while I *loved* some of the stories in this book, I didn't love them all. I found them all worthwhile, all entertaining.

There's a framework to After Dark. A portrait-painter, William, suffers damage to his eyesight, the doctor tells him he needs LOTS of time to recuperate if he hopes to be able to see again. He can no longer count on his painting to bring in the income and take care of his family, so, the family is forced to come up with plan B. Plan B just happens to be writing and publishing a book of stories. These are stories that have been told to the painter--usually while his subject is being painted--through the years. He will now recollect the best stories he's ever heard and relate them to his wife, Leah, who will write them down each night...after dark. (That is after her long day's work is through.)

The six stories are:

  • The Traveller's Story of a Terribly Strange Bed (1852)
  • The Lawyer's Story of a Stolen Letter (1854)
  • The French Governess's Story of Sister Rose (1855)
  • The Angler's Story of The Lady of Glenwith Grange (new for After Dark)
  • The Nun's Story of Gabriel's Marriage (1853)
  • The Professor's Story of the Yellow Mask (1855)
Five of the six short stories were reprints, only one story was brand new and written especially for this book.

In my opinion, the best, best, best short story in this collection is The French Governess's Story of Sister Rose. This story has DRAMA and action. It is set during the French Revolution. And in my opinion, this story is a MUST read. Not only if you're a fan of Victorian literature OR a fan of Wilkie Collins, but if you're a fan of historical fiction set during the French Revolution, you should really consider reading this novella. (In my opinion, it is closer to a novella than a proper short story. It has parts and chapters.) So Louis Trudaine made a deathbed promise to his mother to always be there for his sister, Rose, and protect her. Rose has fallen in love with a man Louis feels is unworthy of her, a Charles Danville. The marriage does happen, though not without some unpleasant exchanges on the eve of the wedding. But he never feels quite sure of his sister's husband, and so he chooses to remain nearby even if it means passing up a job opportunity. Years pass--we learn from the narrator--and the Revolution comes. And with it danger, drama, action, betrayal, and so much more. This story is so very, very, very good. It's quite intense and I loved every minute of it.

The Traveller's Story of a Terribly Strange Bed is actually Wilkie Collins first published short story. It is quite creepy! It also happens to be set in Paris, by the way, anyway, the narrator is a young man named Faulkner. His good luck at a gambling house almost proves fatal. For a very, very friendly man convinces him that it is much too risky to leave the house at that time of night and wander the streets carrying his winnings. No, no, it would be much much safer to stay there for the night. But is that the truth? Well, his insomnia may just be a lifesaver!

The Nun's Story of Gabriel's Marriage is another story set in France during the French Revolution. While it isn't as good as The French Governess's Story of Sister Rose, in my opinion, it was interesting to get another story set in France--in Brittany--from Collins. The theme of this one is forgiveness and reconciliation. If you want a story with a couple of BIG twists, this one may prove satisfying.

The Angler's Story of The Lady of Glenwith Grange is another story with a BIG, BIG twist. Ida has promised to always, always, always take care of her younger sister, Rosamond. (Their mother died when Rosamond was a baby.) So when Rosamond marries, it's agreed that Ida will always live with them. The marriage, as you might expect, does not exactly exactly go as planned. And readers...along with Ida...learn why.

The Professor's Story of the Yellow Mask is set in Italy, I believe. It has a larger cast of characters than some of the other stories in the collection. And it has its own share of drama. It is a darker story balanced perhaps in a way by a love story with many, many obstacles. It also has lots of twists and turns and such. That being said, I wasn't thrilled with it.

The Lawyer's Story of a Stolen Letter is a detective story. It was a nice enough story, I suppose, but I wasn't wowed by it. Still, it's enjoyable enough. 

Read After Dark
  • If you're a fan of Wilkie Collins
  • If you're a fan of Victorian literature
  • If you're a fan of mystery, suspense, detective, or sensation stories
  • If you like short stories
  • If you like "shocking" stories with plenty of drama and twists and turns
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sebastian Clouth said...


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Sebastian Clouth 
Books Editor

Juli Rahel said...

The Governess' Story does sound very good! And so does the Professor's Story, with the mixing of the dark tone and a difficult love!

Also, hop on over to my post on sexual rewrites of classics such as 'Jane Eyre'. I'd love to know what you think because you like Jane Eyre so much!

Juli @ Universe in Words