‘Mr Cosway and the Landlady’ by Wilkie Collins ***

I downloaded the Complete Collection of Collins’ work to my Kindle some time ago, and must admit that I had completely forgotten about it until I was scouring my device for something to read on holiday. My original plan had been to read it through in its entirety. Obviously that has not happened, and is still rather unlikely to going forward. Whilst Collins is an author I have very much enjoyed in the past, he isn’t one whom I feel I need to read the work of immediately. 9781447470809

Mr Cosway and the Landlady is one of his pieces of shorter fiction. I really enjoyed the opening paragraph, and as with Collins’ longer work, I felt that he set the scene nicely: ‘The guests would have enjoyed their visit to Sir Peter’s country house – but for Mr Cosway. And to make matters worse, it was not Mr Cosway but the guests who were to blame. They repeated the old story of Adam and Eve, on a larger scale. The women were the first sinners; and the men were demoralized by the woman’.

The description of Mr Cosway himself too helps to create a picture in the mind of the reader: ‘Mr Cosway’s bittersweet enemy could not have denied that he was a handsome, well-bred, unassuming man’. He is ex-Navy, and arrives at the house on an income left to him by his late parents. He is rather a mysterious presence: ‘With perfect courtesy, he baffled curiosity, and kept his supposed secret to himself’. Perhaps most surprisingly in the piece, he is shows a great sense of relief when his wife drowns; it is only when the piece goes back in time to explain Mr Cosway’s past that we understand why this is. Collins’ reasoning is inventive and well-wrought; I shall not give it away for the surprise of any future readers.

Mr Cosway and the Landlady has a far more modern feel to it than both The Woman in White and The Moonstone; its prose style does to feel quite characteristic, as I was expecting it would. Whilst an interesting little tale, it did not feel wholly finished; rather than write fully about Mr Cosway, he does not feel a fully developed character as the work progresses. The interesting elements of the story petered out after a while. It had a good and promising start, but rather a disappointing end.

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