The Athenaeum reviewer of Armadale (1866) was only one of the contemporary critics horrified by Lydia Gwilt, the bigamist, husband-poisoner and laudanum addict whose intrigues spur the plot of this most sensational of Victorian 'sensation novels'. When Miss Gwilt flings herself from the first-class deck of a Thames steamer, her attempted suicide sets off events that lead to Allan Armadale inheriting Thorpe-Ambrose in Norfolk, romantic rivalries, espionage, counter-espionage and greedy plans for murder. Wilkie Collins drew upon popular newspaper headlines and new technology - particularly the penny post and the telegraph - to lend extra pace and veracity to his brilliantly elaborate and gripping melodrama. T. S. Eliot regarded Armadale as being, after The Woman in White and The Moonstone, 'the best of Collins's romances'. Modern readers will find the flame-haired Lydia Gwilt refreshingly, if alarmingly, different from the general run of heroines in Victorian fiction.
When the elderly Allan Armadale makes a terrible confession on his death-bed, he has little idea of the repercussions to come, for the secret he reveals involves the mysterious Lydia Gwilt: flame-haired temptress, bigamist, laudanum addict and husband-poisoner. Her malicious intrigues fuel the plot of this gripping melodrama: a tale of confused identities, inherited curses, romantic rivalries, espionage, moneyand murder. The character of Lydia Gwilt horrified contemporary critics, with one reviewer describing her as "One of the most hardened female villains whose devices and desires have ever blackened fiction." She remains among the most enigmatic and fascinating women in nineteenth-century literature and the dark heart of this most sensational of Victorian "sensation novels."
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
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."
John Sutherland is the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and wrote the introduction to Chekhovs The Shooting Party for Penguin Classics.
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