By the time The Law and the Lady appeared in 1875, The Woman in White and The Moonstone had already established Collins as the leading practitioner of "sensation fiction". The Law and the Lady builds on this tradition by introducing one of English literature's earliest women detectives, Valeria Woodville, who investigates the murder of her husband's first wife, in the attempt to prove him guiltless. Rich in plot and characters, including the extraordinary "man machine" Miserrimus Dexter and his female cousin "Ariel", the novel exposes the repression of Victorian domestic life and marriage. "The spectacle of a mental breakdown...provides the best suspense of the novel," writes David Skilton. "After Freud and R.D. Laing modern readers assume they know the answer, are fascinated to witness the way in which the nineteenth century will solve a twentieth century problem."
Despite the grave misgivings of both their families, Valeria Brinton and Eustace Woodville are married. But before long the new bride begins to suspect a dark secret in her husband's past and when she discovers that he has been living under a false name, she determines to find out why he is concealing his true identity from her. Soon she must endure an even greater shock: the revelation that her husband has been on trial for poisoning his first wife. Convinced of his innocence, Valeria is prepared to do anything to clear her husband's name, and in so doing upturns the conventions of polite nineteenth century society.
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Wilkie (William) Collins (1824-89) was a hugely successful and popular crime, mystery and suspense writer. He wrote the first full-length detective novels in English and set a mould for the genre as shown in The Moonstone and "The Woman in White."
David Skilton teaches at the University of Wales, Cardiff.
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