Not to long ago I read and posted on Wilkie Collins (1824 to 1889-born in London) master work, The Woman in White. I liked it a lot, as did almost all of the many who have blogged on it in the last year, and knew I wanted to read some more of his work. I am in the process of expanding my reading in the short story so I decided to read one of the many short stories of Collins. "The Dead Alive" was originally published in a weekly publication run by his good friend Charles Dickens. It is considered one of the first legal mystery stories, based on an actual case.
"The Dead Alive" is told in the first person by an English attorney, Mr Lefrank. He has just been advised by his doctor that he is headed for a complete breakdown from the strain of over work and needs a long rest away from his current enviorment. At first he dismisses the advise but after suffering severe confusions while in court he comes to realize he does need a rest. He has a distant relative in America, in New York State, whom he has never met but who has told him he is welcome at his farm.
"It is merely a question of time," he went on. "You have a fine constitution; you are a young man; but you cannot deliberately overwork your brain, and derange your nervous system, much longer. Go away at once. If you are a good sailor, take a sea-voyage. The ocean air is the best of all air to build you up again. No: I don't want to write a prescription. I decline to physic you. I have no more to say."As we can see, the style is straightforward Imperial British Empire Prose.
Mr Lefrank is met at the train station nearest the farm by Ambrose Meadowcroft, eldest son of the owner of the farm and a third cousin of the narrator. The atmosphere at the farm is anything but relaxing. The domestic management of the farm is left to the daughter of Mr Meadowcroft, the very stereotype of a bitter old maid. Mr LaFrank (something is made in the story of the families alteration of the name lessen its French origins) is a lover of the work of Alexander Dumas (by the merest coincidence I will be posting on Georges by Dumas for the Classics Circuit on May 5)
Supper-time was still an event in the future. I lighted the candles and took from my portmanteau what I firmly believe to have been the first French novel ever produced at Morwick Farm. It was one of the masterly and charming stories of Dumas the elder. In five minutes I was in a new world, and my melancholy room was full of the liveliest French company. The sound of an imperative and uncompromising bell recalled me in due time to the regions of reality.There are thinly veiled suggestions in "The Dead Alive" that American is a land of the insufficiently cultured. The action of the story concerns various love triangles between a beautiful distant cousin, a farm hand, and the daughter and a murder mystery that comes from these relationships. None of these affairs ever pass beyond a kiss. This story is exciting and the ending is not predictable so I will relay no more of the plot. The story is very well told. A complete believable world is created and we come to know the characters in the story, especially Mr Lefrank. I would suggest that anyone who is on the fence about reading one of the long novels of Collins try a short story first.
I read this on line at The Literature Network. They have a lot of Collin's short stories on line as well as wealth of other reading matters. There is no charge. I personally prefer the format of Dailylit.com but The Literature Network is also a great resource.
I was motivated to read a short story by Wilkie Collins by the very good post on his story "Volpurno or The Student by Journey.