Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Quick-n-dirty wrapup

Is it bad that I felt just sliiiiightly underwhelmed by the end of The Moonstone? I mean, none of the characters in this book live up to Fosco, much less Marian.

1. When Bruff told Franklin Blake that Sergeant Cuff "has retired from the police. It's useless to expect the Sergeant to help you," I thought -- well, you know what I thought; I'm pretty sure if you were writing a movie nowadays and put a line in there you would be guilty of a misdemeanor if Sergeant Cuff didn't then sweep in and solve the thing. But Wilkie cannot be contained by your storytelling cliches, and the Sergeant's subsequent involvement was fairly minimal, I thought, on the whole.

2. Also, I like that Bruff considers Blake's idea of interviewing all the attendees of the dinner as "something too purely fanciful to be seriously discussed". What! Asking all the witnesses if they noticed anything unusual! What are you, crazy!

A rich old lady--highly respected at the Mothers' Small-Clothes-Conversion-Society, and a great friend of Miss Clack's (to whom she left nothing but a mourning ring)--had bequeathed to the admirable and meritorious Godfrey a legacy of five thousand pounds.
It's official, I can't help it: I know Wilkie thinks it's hilarious and karmic and whatnot, but I can't laugh at an old spinster who gets the shaft from the few people she might hope for some help from.

4. Ahhhh, opium. The "all-potent and all-merciful drug". And another thing to add to the list of Things that are Totally Normal in Wilkieland that are Totally Bonkers in the Real World: tricking your patients into taking opium.
Every medical man commits that act of treachery, Mr Blake, in the course of his practice. The ignorant distrust of opium (in England) is by no means confined to the lower and less cultivated classes. Every doctor in large practice finds himself, every now and then, obliged to deceive his patients, as Mr Candy deceived you.
Haha. Oh Wilkie you old drug addict, tell us more about how misunderstood your favorite substance is.

YOU assume that the Hindoo conspirators could by no possibility commit a mistake. The Indians went to Mr Luker's house after the Diamond -- and, therefore, in Mr Luker's possession the Diamond must be! Have you any evidence to prove that the Moonstone was taken to London at all?
HEY. GOOD POINT. Although it did turn out to be true that the diamond was pawned to Luker. Still.

6. Mrs Merridew and the "explosion" -- an easy joke but a good one.

7. From the suggestion that Candy could have drugged Blake to the completion of the experiment was kind of a lot of pages and kind of not much happening... no?

8. Really, the one lone element of Shocking Shock in this final portion of the book was Bad Ol' Godfrey Ablewhite. That was some classic Wilkie. Sergeant Cuff was all
"He's pulling off his wig!"
and then he was all
"Read the name, Mr Blake, that I have written inside."

SO! It turns out that Godfrey Ablewhite was ABLE to WHITEwash his filthy, filthy lies, or something.
The side kept hidden from the general notice, exhibited this same gentleman in the totally different character of a man of pleasure, with a villa in the suburbs which was not taken in his own name, and with a lady in the villa, who was not taken in his own name, either.
Wait, so his secret life was "in the suburbs"? I think you missed a trick there, Wilks. This would all have been much weirder, and dare I say more believable, if his Sin Villa had been in France or something.

9. And then we close with Murthwaite disguised as a "Hindoo-Boodhist" (LOL spelling) testifying that the diamond has made its way back to the idol. Ooh, spooky.

Sigh. Well, that's another readalong in the books. I guess now I have to... read alone? Boo hoo. Hugs to all my fellow reader-alongers!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

We need to talk about Rachel

I will get to my usual numbered points in a minute, but whoa you guys.

Everyone in this book has gone on and on about how Rachel couldn't possibly be guilty of stealing her own diamond -- "if you knew our Rachel" blah blah blah. There were some serious crimes of Telling Not Showing being committed in this book. And all the while, Rachel was acting guilty like sin.

AND THEN, Wilkie drops the bomb. I NEVER saw this coming; I would never have guessed that she saw Franklin take it (oops, spoiler). Insanity. And it totally explains all her behavior, which I really could not make sense of.

Get yours! Be a cool kid!

And once again, I'm left thinking that Wilkie has used "bad writing" (or just dull/cliche writing) deliberately as a red herring. "Once again" because in Woman in White I had a similar reaction once the craziness broke loose of Walter "Boring" Hartright's initial narration.

Well, well, well.

1. How tempted was I to change the name of this blog to "Rampant Spinster"? Most excellent.

For a week I and my people waited, encamped on the borders of a desert.
Once again, Wilkie sends his heartbroken hero out on some sort of ludicrously adventurous quest in order to forget his lady love. REAL TALK: Franklin Blake and Walter Hartright, in reality, would have just spent several months moping around their mothers' basements. But no, Wilks sends them to the ends of the earth.

3. Oh, Betteredge.
"Facts?" he repeated. "Take a drop more grog, Mr. Franklin, and you'll get over the weakness of believing in facts!"

4. I thought Rosanna's letter was fairly harrowing, myself. Maybe because it was so incredibly long? Girl held nothing back. Her bitterness about Miss Rachel not being all that pretty...

"By-the-bye, Mr Franklin, you will be sorry to hear that the little doctor has never recovered that illness he caught, going home from the birthday dinner. He's pretty well in health; but he lost his memory in the fever, and he has never recovered more than the wreck of it since. The work all falls on his assistant. Not much of it now, except among the poor. THEY can't help themselves, you know. THEY must put up with the man with the piebald hair, and the gipsy complexion--or they would get no doctoring at all."
Setting aside the fact that this is OBVIOUSLY going to be become significant (could a South Asian complexion be mistaken for "gipsy" in WilkieWorld?) how ridiculous is this? How is Mr Candy still a doctor?

6. Also, on what planet is "Ezra Jennings" an ugly name? Oh Wilkie.

7. I can't even comment on the ridiculous characterizations of Indians in this book. Victorians: so special. And racist.

8. Also, LOL women.
But women, as you may have observed, have no principles. My family don't feel my pangs of conscience. The end being to bring you and Rachel together again, my wife and daughters pass over the means employed to gain it, as composedly as if they were Jesuits.
Somehow, whenever Wilkie writes this kind of thing, he manages to do it in such a way that it sounds like he's teasing his female readers: you know, throwing something really outrageous out there to ruffle some feathers and see what happens.

After the lapse of a minute, I roused my manhood, and opened the door.
That's FILTHY.

I saw her, and heard her, no more.

Just pretend it says "next week" instead of "manana".

Friday, August 17, 2012

Another crackpot idea becomes real thanks to the internet

Make Custom Gifts at CafePress

If you feel the need to advertise your love of the author of The Moonstone and Woman in White publicly (albeit slightly cryptically), you can now get the "official" (?) Wilkie Collins readalong shirt from CafePress. There's one design up with a quote on the back, and of course I can put one up with whatever you want, if only you will tell me.

 I suppose I should add that this is only for fun and to gratify the people of Twitter who liked the idea; it's not my intention to make any money off of this (or in life generally, really, or so it sometimes seems). They don't make it easy but I have tried to set the markup to $0 across the shop.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paper and ink versus words and ideas

Regretsy once again has set out to make us cry:

Yeah, it's "a great way to display vintage books" if by "books" you mean "part of books". "The part that makes the actual valuable part of the book possible".

The offensive stupidity of this craft project being given, I have to say I am not the hugest fan of old books these days. When I was a young lass I was an enthusiastic buyer of crumbling old books and had a "collection" of items I had gathered up at library book sales. But there's a fine line between "delightful old book smell" and "gross moldy stank" just as there is between "quirky old stories" and "boring stuff that probably isn't worth reading anymore." Once upon a time I was all about the romance of decrepit old used book stores, and now, I gotta be honest, dust and brittle pages are just not worth it for me 99% of the time. The content of some old books can be better conveyed through digital copies, frankly. While I am all in favor of libraries and archives preserving the past, I also recognize that some specimens are maybe... superfluous, whether because there are already versions of the book available for those who need them, or because an individual copy is beyond help.

Not that I don't own and delight in plenty of gross offenders on all these points. Alice got me an old etiquette book for Christmas last year that leaks some sort of charcoal-like black powder from its broken-down spine; but it has hilarious old-timey advice and endpapers, and I absolutely love it even if I do have to wash my hands after handling.

Is it maybe okay if some books get chopped up for "craft projects"? I feel like that's where I'm working around to here, but I just can't go there. As my mother said so many times as I was growing up, That's not how we treat our books.

Maybe what I dislike most is this notion that such crafts are "giving old books new life" as the subtitle of this manual of horrors book suggests. If you want to give an old book new life, read it, write about it, tell people about it. That's the only way to give it "new life". Otherwise you're just recycling the paper. Which I guess I'm okay with, if the book, for whatever reason, is in fact trash.

I think my bottom line is, if you want to admire the beauty of books, then admire some freaking books, not parts of books that have been reassembled into decorative items. It's ridiculous to destroy a book in order to "repurpose" it into something supposedly celebrating your great love of books.

Still and all, I do love those endtables shaped like a giant stack of books. Classic.

Update: Lemony Snicket says: "It has always been my belief that people who spend too much time with my work end up as lost souls, drained of reason, who lead lives of raving emptiness and occasional lunatic violence. What a relief it is to see this documented."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Moonstonier and moonstonier

Here we are, in week two of the readalong! I wanted to thank you all for your wonderful and frequently hilarious comments last week. I am the absolute worst at replying to comments at the best of times, and I've somehow been even worse -- yes, worse than worst -- this past week. But I love you all, and you're all awesome and so on.


1. I can't quite remember where we left off (Kindllle!) but I think it was before Rosanna killed herself? My first thought was that maybe someone had engineered this to make it seem like she had killed herself, but in fact she was still alive somewhere. Oh sure, that sounds crazy, but this is a Wilkie Collins novel. I think she's really dead though.

2. Sergeant Cuff describes himself as having spent his career "employed in cases of family scandal, acting in the capacity of confidential man." Confidential man like... con man? (LOL, fun with evolving language.) Remember in Woman in White when Laura gets an anonymous letter warning her about Percy Glyde, and everyone's like, "oh, one of those"? In this novel, having someone in your family run up an enormous secret debt and then engineer an elaborate fraud in order to pay it off is just part of life.

3. I don't buy the brilliant Sergeant Cuff's explanation though. He's being safe and unimaginative with this "debt" nonsense. Think crazier, man!

"I have several worthy ambitions, Betteredge; but what am I to do with them now? I am full of dormant good qualities, if Rachel would only have helped me to bring them out!"
AHAHAHAHA! Hilarious.


On Friday, nothing happened -- except that one of the dogs showed signs of a breaking out behind the ears. I gave him a dose of syrup of buckthorn, and put him on a diet of pot-liquor and vegetables till further orders. Excuse my mentioning this. It has slipped in somehow.

6. Miss Clack, of course, fills us in at length (and, as it turns out, more than once) about the parameters she is supposed to stick to in her account. Does Collins think this is more authentic? Does he generally think we're too stupid to get it? It doesn't bother me, but it bothers me, y'know?

7. Miss Clack lives in "a Patmos amid the howling ocean of popery" of France. Rad.

8. Genuine question here: Miss Clack says "my aunt and her daughter (I really cannot call her my cousin!) had arrived". W-why can't she call her "cousin"? Did I miss something, or is this foreshadowing about the True Character of Rachel?

9. Wilkie "The Wilk Master" Collins is absolutely in his element in coming up with the names of the various "good works" of Miss Clack and her ilk. A tract titled "A Word With You On Your Cap-Ribbons"? The Mothers' Small Clothes Conversion Society? "Satan under the Tea Table"? The British Ladies' Servants' Sunday Sweetheart Supervision Society?

Clack Tract
10. What's really fascinating in all this is what Wilks has done to Mr Godfrey. When he was introduced, he was sort of a golden boy, with his Ladies' Societies: maybe a little bit suave and even unmanly, but nothing especially special. A guy who spends all his free time helping the administrative end of charities might be a little boring and goody-two-shoes, but whatever. Now, though, Wilkie shows us what he really thinks: that these Ladies' Societies are risible and useless, and that Godfrey is toadying up to pathetic old ladies.

I looked through the window, and saw the World, the Flesh, and the Devil waiting before the house--as typified in a carriage and three horses, a powdered footman, and three of the most audaciously dressed women I ever beheld in my life.
I really want an opportunity to say "You look like the World, the Flesh, and the Devil in that dress!"

12. I can't help but be genuinely sad that Miss Clack didn't get anything in Lady Verinder's will, and she missed out on the gift she was promised. Sure, she's maybe not the most lovable character, but gee.

We've been given a lot of information in this section, and yet it is still completely unclear what the heck is going on. Why is Rachel acting so crazy, and what has she done? And what has Godfrey done? What did Lady Verinder know? Why have I totally passed over the weird kidnapping thing? Who can say!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Aww yeah. You thought I was out of it, didn't you? You thought I wasn't participating in the Wilkie Collins Moonstone read-along hosted by Alice, and all because I missed the first post. "She couldn't get it together to even write a throw-away introduction post," you said. "She's finished." NOPE. I was sick and things last week, WHATEVER. I am following my dreams, and reaching for the stars, and in it to win it like a Chinese race walker.


1. So apparently the "moonstone" is not in fact a moonstone but a yellow diamond?

I feel like he's doing this just to be annoying.

2. Once again we have the "various narratives" thing along with the "laborious explanation of the various narratives" thing.
I beg it to be understood that what I write here about my cousin (unless some necessity should arise for making it public) is for the information of the family only.
How titillating must this have been for a society that was so precise about who was allowed to know and communicate what types of information to and about whom.

Powerless to recover their lost treasure by open force, the three guardian priests followed and watched it in disguise. The generations succeeded each other; the warrior who had committed the sacrilege perished miserably; the Moonstone passed (carrying its curse with it) from one lawless Mohammedan hand to another; and still, through all chances and changes, the successors of the three guardian priests kept their watch, waiting the day when the will of Vishnu the Preserver should restore to them their sacred gem.
Wait, you mean like

4. This bit kinda made me happy:
He brought the invaluable faculty, called common sense, to bear on the Colonel's letter. The whole thing, he declared, was simply absurd. Somewhere in his Indian wanderings, the Colonel had picked up with some wretched crystal which he took for a diamond. As for the danger of his being murdered, and the precautions devised to preserve his life and his piece of crystal, this was the nineteenth century, and any man in his senses had only to apply to the police.

5. We find out that the Moonstone is "as large, or nearly, as a plover's egg!" Setting aside the fact that "a plover's egg" is not a particularly helpful unit of measurement, Wilkie, this was disappointing to me because I had been picturing it as the size of a bar of soap. Yeah, I know that's not very realistic, but I was also picturing it as a moonstone rather than a yellow diamond. So... basically a shiny opalescent soap-like rock.

Here is an equally unhelpful visual aid. "Oh, so it's less than half the size of a swan egg!"

6. Wilkie, Wilkie, Wilkie. Where other authors describe women as "plain" or whatever, Wilkie's just all Daaaayyymn, that girl was ugg-lee!
"It isn't very likely, with her personal appearance, that she has got a lover."
The ugly women have a bad time of it in this world; let's hope it will be made up to them in another.
Rosanna doesn't seem likely to be quite as awesome as Marian, though. In fact, I don't see a lot of especially strong women so far in this book at all; although we keep being told that Lady V is so awesome, and Penelope isn't too shabby.

7. "Sergeant Cuff"? There is one thing Dickens does better, and Collins needs to stop trying to compete.

8. What happened to us in the 20th century that we lost so much type-setting awesomeness?
"Can you guess yet," inquired Mr Franklin, "who has stolen the Diamond?"
     "NOBODY HAS STOLEN THE DIAMOND," answered Sergeant Cuff.
C'mon, that's fantastic.

(NOTA BENE - I translate Mrs Yolland out of the Yorkshire language into the English language.)
Amen/thank you.

The biggest question mark floating over my head right now is whether the diamond will actually turn out to have a curse on it, or whether Wilkie will debunk all the supernatural stuff. My inclination is toward the latter but I'm looking forward to seeing how he does it. After the Woman in White read-along, I think we all know the depths of insanity to which this author is willing to go (goodie goodie).

I also can't wait to get on to another narrator. I have a vague memory that Walter Hartright did go on this long at first but still, the fun really begins when we get a new viewpoint SO...