If I can finish Wilkie Collins's No Name by the end of next month I'll be very pleased indeed, and as I am already moving along at a nice clip, I might even manage it. Along with short stories it is my sole reading goal for the RIP Challenge, though if I can squeeze in a few shorter novels as well that will be a bonus. I just read that Charles Dickens considered No Name Collins's best work and considering the subject matter I wouldn't be surprised. Although sensational in nature, many of his novels were concerned as well with social issues of day particularly those involving women. The main themes of No Name are identity and illegitimacy.
Due to an oversight in their father's will Norah and Magdalen Vanstone are left penniless at the death of their parents. Their inheritance goes instead to an uncle. The more sedate and conventional Norah will become a governess, but Magdalen with her exuberant personality decides to fight for what should be theirs.
Alas, I am getting ahead of myself as I am not quite that far into the story. Best to begin at the beginning. The reader is presented with several mysteries at the start of the story. In the preface Collins notes that the only secret in the story will be revealed midway through the telling of the tale--I think he was criticized in his time for revealing too much too soon, but I think there is going to be more to this one than simple (or not so simple) mysteries being solved. First a letter arrives from New Orleans, which causes much excitement, but Mr. Vanstone is not forthcoming about the contents. As a matter of fact he rebuffs any questions about the letter. Instead preparations are quickly made for Mr. and Mrs. Vanstone to travel to London as soon as possible. Next, Mrs. Vanstone is harboring a secret. Her intention for traveling to London with her husband is to see a certain celebrated physician--the reason why is unknown. And last, whilst the Vanstones are in London a strange visitor arrives at Combe-Raven by the name of Captain Wagge. He appears to be a distant relative of Mrs. Vanstone and likely has come to ask for money.
So all this by way of a little background. My teaser actually has to do with Magdalen, who is going to prove to be an important character in the book, so how about a little description of our heroine?
"The whole countenance--so remarkable in its strongly-opposed characteristics--was rendered additionally striking by its extraordinary mobility. The large, electric, light-grey eyes were hardly ever in repose; all varieties of expression followed each other over the plastic, ever-changing face, with a giddy rapidity which left sober analysis far behind in the race. The girl's exuberant vitality asserted itself all over her, from head to foot. Her figure--taller than her sister's, taller than the average woman's height; instinct with such a seductive, serpentine suppleness, so lightly and playfully graceful, that its movements suggested, not unnaturally, the movements of a young cat--her figure was so perfectly develped already that no one who saw her could have supposed that she was only eighteen. She bloomed in the full physical maturity of twenty years or more--bloomed naturally and irresistibly, in right of her matchless health and strength."
Wilkie Collins always creates strong female characters (villainesses, too), and I can see Magdalen will be no different.