This is a rather long, somewhat confusing, but extremely engaging book. First of all, there's an Alan Armadale who is in the process of dying in a Swiss health resort. He's there with his mulatto wife and his young son, also named Alan Armadale. Before he dies, he writes a confession, which is to be read by his son, but only after he reaches his majority.
It seems the Elder Armadale inherited a plantation in the West Indies, provided he took on the name Alan Armadale. This he did. He was also supposed to go off to Madeira and meet a young lady with whom he was supposed to marry. But he was held up by circumstances, and someone else snuck off to Madeira, impersonated himself as Alan Armadale, and, with much help from a 12- or 14-year old lady's maid, took the woman off and married her just before the "real" Alan Armadale showed up. Then, on the trip from Madeira back to England, the "real" Alan Armadale comes across a foundering ship in a storm. Everyone is saved, with the exception of the "fake" Alan Armadale, whom the "real" Alan Armadale locks in the captain's cabin to drown. Something like that.
The murderer feels guilty and is sure that his sin will be meted upon his son's head. His son is also named Alan Armadale, and is bi-racial, his father having married a West-Indian woman. Anyway, the father dies and his son is taken off with his mother and abused by a Scottish gentleman who has taken the mother to wife. This Alan Armadale, we'll call him the "dark" Armadale, runs away and lives a rough life on his own. He changes his name to Ozias Midwinter.
Eventually, Midwinter, still a wanderer at 21 or so, finds himself deathly sick. He is visited, be-friended, and nursed back to health by a jolly young fellow of similar age. The jolly young fellow is fair and is named Alan Armadale (hereafter the "fair" Armadale). He is the son of the "fake" Armadale and the young woman with whom he eloped. They become the best of friends, and remain so even after the "dark" Armadale finally reads his father's warning never to have dealings with anyone associated with the tragedy in which he murdered the "fake" Armadale. He is to eschew relations with anyone named Alan Armadale, and more importantly, with the lady's maid who is more-or-less responsible for having engineered the original fraud.
Well, as you can tell, the story is convoluted, but becomes even more so when the lady's maid who helped with the earlier elopement comes back into the story. She's hoping to charm the "fair" Armadale and share in his riches. But, she's really taken with the "dark" Armadale.
Well, I'm sure you all are confused as hell by now. So am I. Whatever, it's a very interesting and compelling book. Collins was a wildly popular Victorian author, like Dickens, but unlike Dickens, he is much less read today. Pity that.
I can't leave off without dissing, once again, the folks at Amazon. In their recent kindle offerings they claim to provide "real" page numbers. Well, this book has just under 300,000 words in it (I counted them), but Amazon's "real" page numbering algorithm credits the book with 425 "real" pages. Can anyone point me to a significant number of novels that have 700 words per page? The normal word count for novels is between 250 and 400 words per page
. For example, my Modern Library edition of Brothers Karamazov
has 940 pp. That novel runs 350,000 words (I counted them). Modern Library editions are known for small margins and small font sizes. Even so, we're only talking 372 words/page for Brothers K
, just over half what Amazon considers valid for this particular edition. Clearly, whoever came up with this "real" page algorithm doesn't even have the competence of an average 12-year old nerd. WTF?