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The Law and the Lady

de Wilkie Collins

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6401727,501 (3.73)1 / 102
Probably the first full-length novel with a woman detective as its heroine, The Law and the Lady (1875) is a fascinating example of Collins' later fiction. Valeria Valerie Woodville's first act as a married woman is to sign her name incorrectly in the marriage register; this slip is followed by a gradual disclosure of secrets about her husband's earlier life, each of which leads to another set of questions and enigmas. Developing many of the techniques at work in The Moonstone in bizarre and unexpected ways, and employing both Gothic and fantastic elements, The Law and the Lady adds a significant dimension to the history of the detective novel.… (mais)
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Mostrando 1-5 de 17 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
woman determined to free husband of Scotch Verdict on murder of his first wife, discovers suicide note after long investigation
  ritaer | Jul 22, 2021 |
It's unfortunate that [[Wilkie Collins]] doesn't get much attention these days, for unusually among male Victorian writers, his female characters often illustrate an injustice in society, frequently in the way they are treated in law. [The Law and the Lady] differs somewhat from those novels, in that here it is a man who has suffered the perceived injustice at law, but his wife who will seek to correct it.

I use 'perceived' here as the law in question is Scots law, with its additional verdict of 'Not Proven', generally taken to mean that the jury cannot in all conscience declare the defendant innocent, but on the other hand the prosecution has not presented enough evidence to prove guilt. The defendant is set free, but naturally a taint of suspicion trails after him or her for life. Collins's protagonist, Valeria Woodville, being English, is unable to accept the validity of such a verdict. She called it cowardly, vowing to "...change that underhand Scotch Verdict of Not Proven into an honest English verdict of Not Guilty"*

[The Law and the Lady] is a detective novel at heart, a format at which Collins excelled. It is narrated by Valeria. Without giving too much away, it starts with Valieria's marriage to Eustace Woodville, following a brief courtship. It soon became evident that her husband had a secret past. Once Valeria discovered what it was, her husband left, telling her it was the only honourable solution. Determined to appeal the verdict at the heart of it all, Valeria set out to discover everything she could surrounding the trial.

Detectives were a new occupation in 1875, and female detectives were almost nonexistent. Valeria took on the role with all the zest and bravado Collins bestowed on his unconventional women. Her interviews and research, let alone her visits to Scotland, show just how hard it was for a female to get anywhere without a protector or intervenor. Although willing to defy convention Valeria soon realized she must make use of every male connection available to further her cause. Here is a woman who knew how to use social expectations to her own ends, often prevailing on men to help her against their own inclinations.

Amongst these was Miserrimus Dexter. Hideously deformed, brilliant, by turns completely rational and horrifyingly unpredictable, he is crucial to Valeria's quest. His condition and the discussions around it provide not only suspense, but also an insight into Victorian ideas on 'madness' and disability.

Was Eustace worth all this? Probably not. Although presented as an honourable man throughout, this is after all his wife narrating, nonetheless he egregiously decieved her before and after marriage by what could be seen as a sin of omission rather than one of commission. Secrecy and repression are another recurring theme here with Collins, through Valeria clearly advocating for openness, since misunderstanding and worse are otherwise their only outcome. The nature of marriage, property and what constitutes marriage, frequent Collins themes, are all seen from this view.

The pacing here was excellent. Even if some of the scenes were predictable, others were not, and all displayed the writer's skill. Unfortunately the ending was a nod to Victorian convention. It's possible Collins couldn't get the novel published without it, as he had already had to fight to keep in a crucial chapter his publishers considered salacious. Still, the ending is ambiguous enough: "Not as I thought it would end, not perhaps as you thought it would end" to offer possibilities.

--------------------
*emphasis mine
  SassyLassy | Sep 9, 2020 |
Bello! Bello! Bello! ( )
  elerwen | May 29, 2019 |
Summary: Valeria Woodville discovers her new husband has a past that is under the cloud of a "not proven" murder accusation, and pursues an investigation to fully vindicate his innocence.

Wilkie Collins is one of the early writers of detective fiction, most famous for his The Woman in White and The Moonstone, two works that established his reputation among the reading public of his time who eagerly awaited the serialized releases of each of his stories. The Law and the Lady is a later work (1875) with probably the first female sleuth in the genre.

Valeria Woodville's marriage to Eustace Woodville begins with an ill omen when she signs the wedding register with her married rather than maiden name. On her honeymoon she discovers the Eustace's real surname was Macallan after a chance encounter with her mother-in-law, who had disapproved of the marriage. Valeria recognized her from a photograph she had found among her husband's effects. She is discouraged by her husband from inquiring further into the circumstances that led to their marriage under an assumed name.

Instead she persists, returns to London, and tracks down Major Fitz-David, a ladies' man who, while refusing to divulge her husband's secret, permits her to discover it in his study. She finds a picture of her husband with another woman, Sarah Macallan, and after further searching finds a book with a narrative of the trial of Eustace Macallan for the murder of Sarah by arsenic poisoning. The trial ended with neither a "guilty" nor a "not guilty" verdict but a third allowed in Scottish law, "not proven." Such a verdict left Eustace under a cloud of suspicion, a permanent blot upon his reputation.

Valeria determines to remove that blot, even though Eustace, and her old family friend, Benjamin, urge her to leave it alone. When she refuses, Eustace leaves her to fight in a distant war in Spain, where he is later seriously wounded. Assisted by Benjamin, and Eustace's attorney, Mr. Playmore, who is eventually won over to her cause, she pursues an investigation to uncover the real murderer. Much of the inquiry centers around Misserimus Dexter, a friend of Eustace born without legs, an eccentric bordering on madness, whose testimony on behalf of Eustace may have saved him from a guilty verdict, and suggested suspicion of a female guest. In the course of the novel, Dexter descends into insanity, but one of his last, raving statements, taken down by Benjamin, leads Mr. Playmore to the discovery of the truth.

One of the distinctive features of the novel is that it is written as the first person narrative of Valeria. Combined with the fact that she is one of the first female detectives, the novel gives us one of the more memorable character portrayals in detective fiction that paved the way for other women detectives. Valeria's determination to read the trial accounts, to familiarize herself with the law, and to mount an investigation (helped by the fact that she was a woman of independent means), in defiance of all the urgings that she content herself in her husband's love, makes her a strong female character pushing the boundaries of Victorian role expectations.

At the same time, most critics do not consider this among Collins' best, and I would have to agree. Given Valeria's strength of character, at least this reader thought that Eustace wasn't worthy of her, and I wondered what she saw in him. But, the heart has its reasons! I wondered why Eustace, if innocent, did not himself pursue the efforts Valeria pursued to find his former wife's murderer but acquiesced in the "not proven" verdict. He chose instead to marry under an assumed name, and false pretenses. Even his mother, also a strong character, considers this unworthy of him. Also, there is a studied avoidance of the one possibility that turned out to be the truth, one that occurred to me early in the narrative. I can even think of some red herrings Collins might have used to put the reader off the track.

What redeemed it for me was the strong character of Valeria, who is the good wife in the best sense, and yet refuses to be "the good wife." Her persistence despite setbacks and apparent dead ends, and the bizarre character of Dexter and his household, her ability both to take counsel and make up and assert her own mind (even while expressing her inner misgivings in the narrative) offers us not merely a female detective but a woman of refreshing and unusual strength who must have appealed to Collins' female readers. Her strength combined with her loyalty suggests possibilities for a richer, yet unconventional, marriage with Eustace, possibilities it appears he only begins to grasp in his convalescence from his wounds. How interesting it would have been if Collins had made Valeria into a recurring character! ( )
  BobonBooks | Nov 25, 2018 |
Though I really enjoyed this book, I'm disappointed in the domesticity that takes over Valeria. It's not fair, I know, to apply my standards of feminism to a 19th century text, but dammit Collins! So close!! It's another paw turner with interesting characters, but the mystery wasn't as interesting as _The Woman in White_. I still recommend this as a great read, especially for Collins fans. ( )
  Sareene | Oct 22, 2016 |
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Wilkie Collinsautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculado
Taylor, Jenny BourneEditorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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"For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement."
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Probably the first full-length novel with a woman detective as its heroine, The Law and the Lady (1875) is a fascinating example of Collins' later fiction. Valeria Valerie Woodville's first act as a married woman is to sign her name incorrectly in the marriage register; this slip is followed by a gradual disclosure of secrets about her husband's earlier life, each of which leads to another set of questions and enigmas. Developing many of the techniques at work in The Moonstone in bizarre and unexpected ways, and employing both Gothic and fantastic elements, The Law and the Lady adds a significant dimension to the history of the detective novel.

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