I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015.
A Rogue’s Life – Wilkie Collins
This picaresque novella is more humorous than a satirical. Collins spoofs the milieu of shabby genteel professionals and clueless aristocrats. But he is not sending up the eponymous rogue who gets into trouble because he desires great returns with token effort. Collins understands his anti-hero is always looking for main chance because back in the 1850s, Collins’ own Everyman audience was struggling to get ahead too.
The rouge intrigues us and makes us laugh because Collins makes his faults – glibness, overweening confidence, candid greed – funny in a first-person narrative full of romance, suspense, and “boisterous gayety.” Usually boisterousness makes me tired but in a novella I can handle it.
In the first half-dozen the reader wonders if Collins has yet to figure out what he wants to the story to do. But the brisk pace and surprises in the last half captivated me. I recommend this short novel to readers who know they like Collins because they read The Woman in White and to readers who are wondering if they’d like Collins and to readers who think “short Victorian novel” is a contraction in terms.