The natives are eternally restless in Victorian suspense-master Collins's hitherto unpublished first novel, rejected by both Longmans and Chapman and Hall in 1844. The manuscript disappeared from public view in 1903 and only reemerged in 1991. Editor Nadel (English/Univ. of British Columbia) has crafted a punctillious critical edition of a tale clearly designed to tap the popularity of Herman Melville's roughly contemporaneous Typee: or a Peep at Polynesian Life. The narrative follows the fortunes of the king's scheming brother, Iol†ni, priest of the war-god Oro, and his helpmeet, Id°a, after they break decisively over his demand that she kill their firstborn son, as is the Tahitian tradition. Id°a and Aim†ta, an orphan she has taken under her wing, fall into the protective hands of rival chieftain Mah°nÇ, who loves Aim†ta. When an oracle tells Iol†ni that Oro demands the sacrifice of Id°a, he leads a party that recaptures her, but a counterattack by Aim†ta's band rescues her in the nick of time, banishes Iol†ni and the king, and installs Aim†ta as the new ruler. Given the unrest and resentment among the islanders, not to mention Iol†ni's new alliance with the sorcerer Otah†ra, you can be sure that more intrigue is in store. Despite all the melodrama, the presentation remains static, hobbled by the second hand nature of Collins's exoticism (unlike Melville, he had learned about his setting only from books) and by the ceremonious formal rhetoric, which sounds more 18th-century than 19th. Although it airs some of Collins's most cherished themes—the oppressiveness of patriarchal cultures and the courage of women who revolt against them, the unexpected hospitality of pariahs—there's not a trace in this text of the vividness and economy that distinguish The Woman in White and The Moonstone. Collins scholars will want to see the young author's debut. Less committed readers may well accept the verdict of Longmans and Chapman and Hall.
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