Wilkie Collins is one of my favourite authors. I just love his characters, mostly because they are not what you would think of as common main characters. In The Woman in White, you have a female lead solving the mystery and saving the day. In The Moonstone you have a foppish landlord, the villain in most stories, saving the day. And A Rouge’s life is about, you guessed it, a rouge. The narration is a bit different than his usual fare, but at the same time this type of story is right up my alley. I love how he is playing everything that’s so absurd, so straight. It’s not a black comedy, which is where I usually get this kind of storytelling, but it’s close enough.
The story is simple enough. Our rouge, Frank Softly, is somewhat upper class, but is soon estranged from his family for being a good for nothing. Then his uncle leaves it in his will that Frank’s sister will inherit a fair amount of money, if Frank lives longer than Lady Milkenshaw, a lady 50 year his senior. Suddenly it’s very important to keep our rouge alive, since Lady Milkenshaw is living large and don’t plan on dying any time soon.
While my father was uncertain what to do with me, a new profession was suggested by a friend, which I shall repent not having been allowed to adopt, to the last day of my life. This friend was an eccentric old gentleman of large property, much respected in our family. One day, my father, in my presence, asked his advice about the best manner of starting me in life, with due credit to my connections and sufficient advantage to myself.
“Listen to my experience,” said our eccentric friend, “and, if you are a wise man, you will make up your mind as soon as you have heard me. I have three sons. I brought my eldest son up to the Church; he is said to be getting on admirably, and he costs me three hundred a year. I brought my second son up to the Bar; he is said to be getting on admirably, and he costs me four hundred a year. I brought my third son up to Quadrilles—he has married an heiress, and he costs me nothing.”
I just love spending time with Frank. He is very streetwise, yet completely clueless at the same time. Like the time he is enamoured with a woman he sees on the street, follows her and doesn’t even understand that the woman is running AWAY from him when he pops into a shop and out their back-door. He is an anti-hero, there is no good quality in him, except he is so charming you can’t help falling for him. Having the story told in first person from his point of view was a brilliant idea.
It’s fairly short as well, less than 150 pages (depending a bit what copy you are using). The story isn’t bogged down, nor do you feel that you are missing anything when it’s done. Just like our rouge, it’s just right as short tale that will make you smile.
Anyhow, we are all made happy—all pleased with each other—all benefited alike. Kindness is propagated and money is dispersed. Come along, my boy, and make an Old Master!