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By Wilkie Collins
First American Edition, First Printing
DESCRIPTION: Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins has sadly started to slip into obscurity here in the 21st century, or at least he's no longer a household name like his good buddy Charles Dickens still is; and that's a shame, because Collins was actually the second biggest-selling novelist of the entire 19th century (next to Dickens himself), and the man who virtually invented what we now know as "noir" or "detective" tales, which at the time was called "sensation stories" by a scandalized public. Take Armadale, for example, the third of his explosively popular barnburner epics from the 1860s (after The Lady in White, the book he's still most remembered for, and the equally popular No Name); clocking in at just under a thousand pages, it tells a convoluted story about three different generations of men all named Allen Armadale, and how a family feud turned into a curse that was passed down from father to son to grandson, fated to ruin the lives of all the Armadale men no matter what they might do to try to stop it.
Hmm, or is it? That's the question under discussion in this surprisingly modern-sounding tale, of whether we are destined to befall to things like family fates or whether we have control via free will over our futures, told mostly through the story of the youngest Armadale and his bizarrely coincidental adventures with the cousin who supposedly is fated to be his killer, who has changed his name to Ozias Midwinter and has spent his twenties as a vagabond specifically to avoid this curse, just to end up through strange random circumstances within Armadale's closest circles against his will. Granted, a big part of enjoying this book is being able to accept the ludicrous amounts of coincidences and deus ex machina plot turns that make this story work, a forte of Collins' writing and something that used to be a much more common element of this genre, back before the 20th century pared it down into the more hardboiled version we know today; but it also has all the hallmarks of the kind of noir stories we enjoy even in the 21st century, including all the sex and violence within a tranquil domestic environment you would expect, and Collins' trademark emphasis on strong, complex and layered female characters, something nearly unheard of in his day (and not too common even in our own age, to tell the truth). For any collector interested in the seminal 1800s books that eventually produced our modern literary genres, Wilkie Collins' work is a must-have in your library; and at its extremely affordable price today (but see "Condition" below for more), this makes a great addition for beginners and those on a budget.
CONDITION: Good Minus (G-). Today's copy being auctioned admittedly has several major condition issues, which is why it's being sold for the affordable price it is (copies in Fine condition go for literally ten times the amount). Flaws include an outer spine cover that fell off sometime in the past and was glued back on; an inner flap page that comes included with the book but that has been completely torn out; a second signature that is intact but loose; browned page edges; and just the tiniest start of foxing on the inner flaps. Issued without a dust jacket. Note that this is the first American edition, which was released to the public a month before the British edition, including an advertisement for Harpers Weekly that serves as the first printed page of the manuscript.
PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at The Strand bookstore, New York City, July 2012.