&151; Globe and Mail
Iolani; or, Tahiti as It Was: A Romanceby Wilkie Collins
Written 150 years ago, never published, and presumed lost for nearly a century, Wilkie Collins's earliest novel now appears in print for the first time. Iolani is a sensational romance--a tale of terror and suspense, bravery and betrayal, set against the lush backdrop of Tahiti. The book's complicated history is worthy of a writer famous for intricate plots hinging on long-kept secrets. Collins wrote the book as a young man in the early 1840s, twenty years before The Moonstone and The Woman in White made his name among Victorian novelists. He failed to find a publisher for the work, shelved the manuscript for years, and eventually gave it to an acquaintance. It disappeared into the hands of private collectors and remained there--acquiring mythical status as a lost novel--from the turn of the century until its sudden appearance on the rare book market in New York in 1991. This first edition appears with the permission of the new owners, who keep the mystery alive by remaining anonymous.
The novel is set in Tahiti prior to European contact. It tells the story of the diabolical high priest, Iolani , and the heroic young woman, Idia, who bears his child. Determined to defy the Tahitian custom of killing firstborn children, Idia and her friend Aimata flee with the baby and take refuge among Iolani`s enemies. The vengeful priest pursues them, setting into motion a plot that features civil war, sorcery, sacrificial rites, wild madmen, treachery, and love. Collins explores themes that he would return to again and again in his career: oppression by sinister, patriarchal figures; the bravery of forceful, unorthodox women; the psychology of the criminal mind; the hypocrisy of moralists; and Victorian ideas of the exotic. As Ira Nadel shows in his introduction, the novel casts new light on Collins's development as a writer and on the creation of his later masterpieces. A sample page from the manuscript appears as the frontispiece to this edition. The publication of Iolani is a major literary event: a century and half late, Wilkie Collins makes his literary debut as he originally intended it.
&151; Globe and Mail
The New York Times Book Review
"It is dramatic and picturesque. It has the immense merit T.S. Eliot found in his later works, 'of never being dull'. Most significantly, it has a spunky heroine of unconventional morality."Lynne Truss, The Times (London)
"There are plenty of characteristic Collinsian mysteries. . . . [F]or anyone who enjoys Collins's mature work, it is intriguing to see how many of his later preoccupations appear in Iolani."Catherine Peters, The Sunday Telegraph
- Princeton University Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.85(w) x 8.75(h) x 0.99(d)
Read an Excerpt
From Present to Past
Another year had passed over the Island, as Idía halted by the shores of the Great Lake, at the same spot as that described at the introduction of this narrative, and almost at the self same hour of the night. On this occasion, however, she was not accompanied by the Priest, but by a woman and a child.
After pausing for a few moments of rest and deliberation, the little party entered a canoe that had been left on the shore, and paddled swiftly and cautiously towards one of the extremities of the Lake, where the rocks rose precipitously from the very water[']s edge and the forests beyond them, were most immense and impenetrable. On arriving at their destination, the vessel was suffered to drift past the steeps with the current, while the elder woman, seated at the bow, minutely examined, by the help of the soft brilliant moonlight, every variety in the precipitous shore, as they glided past it. Suddenly, she made a sign to her companion at the other end of the bark; and the next instant, by a stroke of the paddle, its sides grated against the rugged surface of the rocks.
At this particular spot, the forest vegetation had found a bed of earth at the top of the precipice, and having taken in its luxuriant increase, a downward direction, it now hung so low, as almost to touch the waters beneath, and wholly to obscure a wide natural archway, formed at this point, in the rock. Forcing aside, with great difficulty, these natural obstructions to their landing, the voyagers entered a little creek, whose strip of shingly beach had once been accessible from the forest beyond, by a wild gloomy dell.
At present, however, from the yearly and unrestrained aggression of briar and tree, this woodland cavity had become all but impassable; and the only practicable approach to the inlet now, was from the Lake.
From their hurried and anxious demeanour, the women could have had but one object, in seeking such a place, at such a time,—concealment. Having dragged the canoe up on the shore and safely disposed their small provision of baked bread fruit—two arduous achievements in such a situation as their's, where the moonlight scarcely penetrated the tangled masses of brushwood overhead, and the actual space of dry land was contracted in the extreme, they sat down in their strange hiding place—the younger woman and the child, nestling together; the elder....
The reader will already have anticipated that Idía's companions in her vigil by the waterside, were no others, than the companions of her hours of misery in the lonely cave. Still a girl, in years and in feelings, Aimáta was now a woman in form and beauty. With her, Time had visited but to adorn; with the other two, his approach had been ever to harm. The child, at its birth so promising, was now weakly and diminutive in form, and strangely sad and un-childlike in appearance. Of the mother[']s former attractions, scarce a vestige remained. Her pale, pinched lips, sunken eyes and wan, haggard cheeks presented a mournful contrast, to her former self. There was the charm of expression in her still; but, the charm of feature, was gone for ever.
Ere, however, we proceed farther, it will be necessary to notice the more important incidents of the year that has passed, since the birth of Ioláni's ill-fated offspring.
Some days after the scene in the cavern, Idía and Aimáta departed with the child for another district of the Island; such a proceeding, being their only apparent prospect of escape, from the machinations of the Priest. By travelling only in the night, and keeping themselves carefully concealed in the day, they contrived to elude Ioláni's efforts to prevent their escape, with the utmost success; and reached their destination in safety. The part of the country they had chosen for their retreat, was governed, at the period of their arrival, by a young chieftain, as the representative of the authority of the King, whose ancestors had been celebrated, not only for their military prowess, but for their attachment and service to the crown, for several reigns. The present ruler, however, though lenient in the exercise of his authority, and beloved by the whole body of the people, was the secret, but bitter enemy, of the reigning King and his principal assistants in the government of the Island. An insult from Ioláni, originated his disaffection to the royal cause; its confirmation, being occasioned by the refusal of the King (who acted under fear of his wily brother) to do justice to the injured party. The chieftain was too wise to resent this outrage immediately. He returned to his district without even a word of remonstrance, and patiently awaited the occasion for retribution; the time of Idía's arrival in his domains, being the time of his return from this unsuccessful application for justice, to the ruling powers.
The fugitives had remained long enough in their new abiding place, to enlist the sympathies of the people for the sorrows, of the one, and their admiration for the beauty, of the other, when Ioláni discovered their retreat, and imperiously demanded them from Mahíné, (their protector) as rebels against his authority, and insulters of his high and holy office. Delighted, at the opportunity thus afforded him of thwarting his ancient enemy, the chieftain refused compliance with the application of the Priest, until he had succeeded, before a council of the elders of the land, in proving his charge. It may be necessary to add, that Mahíné was further moved to this bold determinating by his attachment to the girl Aimáta, and his fears, from the known character of Ioláni, that if once delivered into his power, she was lost to him for ever.
Too chary of his power and influence, to trust either, to the perilous ordeal of false accusation, the Priest abandoned his first plan for obtaining possession of the fugitives. To expose himself as a sensualist, was rather to heighten than to diminish his reputation, among the sensual inhabitants of the land. But, to risk detection as a liar and hypocrite, would be for one in his situation, a fatal mistake. His cunning still held the rule over his revenge, and he knew by experience, that the safest guarantee of success, is to await the opportunity and not to make it.
It would have been an easy task for him, by using his influence with his brother, to have obtained by force, that which was denied to dissimulation; but, there were three valid objections to such a course of proceeding. The first, was the necessity of embroiling the country in war, by thus compassing his wishes. The second, was the loss of his popularity from the people's attachment to his victim; as well as the risk of his power and existence, should they be vanquished in battle; and the third—even supposing that might, would as usual, triumph over right—was the certainty, that by thus satisfying his vengeance, he would secure rather a martyrdom for Idía, than a triumph for himself.
And here, let it not be supposed impossible, that so trivial an offence as Idía's, should excite in the heart of Ioláni, so deadly a determination for revenge. He was a man who either hated, or loved to excess. He possessed no inferior emotions; or rather, no emotion excited within him, was matured in mediocrity; if it past not away in its very birth, it at once became a dominant passion. In the present instance, mere indifference, immediately ripened into implacable hate. Whatever he now saw, or felt, affected him now, but in one way. Actions and incidents the most indifferent, he unwittingly distorted into direct encouragements of his one, absorbing desire. Sleeping, or waking, in labour, or in rest, slowly, surely and incessantly, he fed the fire that was burning within him. He had none to partake; and, consequently, none to weaken its intensity; for, it was a remarkable feature in his character, that he had never trusted a confidant, nor reposed himself on friend. The virtue of never betraying a comrade, is a common human quality; but, the virtue of never betraying oneself, is the rarest of superiorities. This accomplishment, necessary to a good man, is indispensable, to a villain; and it was possessed to perfection, by the Priest.
Neither let it be imagined, that in thus dilating, upon the political cunning, of the rulers and the talent for stratagem, among the people of the Pacific Islands, we represent a capacity for intrigue—a quick, ready intelligence of character, too refined to exist in any other than a civilised community. Wanting, as the inhabitants of Polynesia are, in all that is loftiest and most abstracted in intellect; in those mental qualities, that circumstance can originate and experience direct, they are far from deficient. Their policy, has had its Machiavelli; and their battle-field, its Caesar; though, their religion, has never possessed its Luther; nor their language, its Homer. As a nation, of the actual mental virtues, they have few, if any: of the doubtful, they have many, if not all.
Foiled, but not intimidated, Ioláni departed from the chieftain's territory. Never had his reputation among the people, stood so high as at the present moment. The circle of Idía's partisans in her native place began already to narrow. It was given out, that the Priest had scorned to prove that, which should have been believed, from such a man, upon assertion. There was a rumor, that on his return from Mahíné's District, the King, indignant, at the chieftain's disrespect towards his brother, had offered him his army to lay waste the obnoxious territory, and that Ioláni had preferred rather to suffer the indignities that had been heaped upon him, than to embroil the people in war, and thereby, make the innocent suffer for the guilty. Such a thing had been unknown before. It was the first instance of consideration for human life, having overpowered the desire of satisfying private enmity, that had happened in the Island. Warriors of rank and renown, hurried to Ioláni in crowds, to offer him the service of private assassination; but, with the utmost gentleness and dignity, while their attachment was praised, the method they had taken to prove it, was severely rebuked. Soon, the Priest's conferences with his gods, became longer and more frequent; and it was whispered abroad, that his outraged dignity would be avenged by spiritual interposition, and not by the interference of man.
Meanwhile, in Mahíné's District, matters hardly went on so smoothly as usual. In his love-wanderings with Aimáta, the chieftain was as gentle as was his wont; but, among his councillors and warriors, his manner became peevish and gloomy. His late triumph over Ioláni, had made him long for more important successes against his ancient enemy; and he chafed at the obstacles, that prudence, obliged him to offer to his own desires. He dropped vague hints on the imbecility and uselessness of the King, and on the advantage that would accrue to his people and himself, from an enlargement of their district. These hints were not lost on those to whom they were addressed; and the wise among the fighting men, began already, in secret, to furbish their arms.
The great mass of the people, too, though ignorant of the treason that was hatching among their betters, had become indolent and discontented, and, therefore, ready for the watchword of rebellion, whenever it should be called. Their chieftain's attention towards them, had latterly somewhat abated. Strange men had been seen wandering among them; and some, went so far as to declare, that Ioláni was of their number. There was a mystery about this which they could not comprehend, and this want of penetration on their part, and the evident existence of it on the part of the intruders, galled them to the quick. In addition to this, many of their war-chiefs, had of late, been more than usually vigorous, in demanding from their agricultural possessions, those tributes which an unjust custom permitted them occasionally to exact. These, and many other causes, contributed to raise a spirit of murmuring among them that Mahíné observed with delight, as adapting them admirably, to aid his seditious purpose. Victory over the King, would not only secure the ruin and downfall of the Priest, but gain him the throne. Ambition and enmity both urged him to attempt so glorious an achievement. He could count upon many of the disaffected from different parts of the country and from other islands. The muster of his own fighting men was—notwithstanding the long peace—considerable and effective; and he looked forward to the result of his enterprise as sure, could the suffrages of the people and the favor of the gods, be obtained ere it was commenced.
For some months more, matters went on as usual in the Island, until the summer had again come round, and the schemes, that Ambition and Vengeance, had so long and so craftily fashioned, were ready to work.
About this period, a personal application to the King was again made by Mahíné, in the matter of his old quarrel with the Priest. His petition, as he hoped and expected, was treated with disdain; and he left the royal dwelling, with the threat, that his own power should right him, as the mediation of the rules of the land, was unjustly denied to him, a second time. That same day, picked bands of marauders from the chieftain[']s district, made incursion on the territories directly watched over by the King, sacked and pillaged the dwellings of the industrious husbandmen, with remorseless cruelty, and returned in triumph to their camp. The demand from head quarters, for their delivery to the government, was refused; and the messengers who bore the requisition, were beaten and most savagely ill-treated, in the presence of the rebel chiefs. These acts of violence, were immediately avenged by the royal party. The once peaceful villages along the coast, became scenes of riot and bloodshed; and the peasantry, abandoning their possessions, crowded with their women and children, to the camps of their respective rulers. The King's flag was sent round the island to gather together his fighting men[;] Mahíné left no means untried to spread treason in the land, and the solemn preparations incidental to the commencement of war, were begun on each side.
A human sacrifice was first offered by both parties. By the one, to conciliate the gods in favor of their treachery; and by the other, to obtain their aid, in the righteous cause of defending King and country. Then, on Mahíné's side, might be seen the hurried and desperate preparations of men in rebellion, for the great crisis of their lawless attempt. Bands of desperadoes from other islands, athirst for blood, craving for slaughter, fighters for the great cause of carnage, landed at the shores and crowded to the rebel camp. The same utter recklessness of consequences, the same glory in the Present and defiance of the Future, animated all ranks and all tempers. It was terrible, to see the apathy of the gentler among the population—the women and children—to the prospect of rapine and bloodshed, that now opened before them. Among some, wild hilarity—awful at such a period—reigned supreme. Others, watched in stolid astonishment, the preparations for the battle. Here, might be seen a woman, adorning with childish delight, the warrior[']s gear. There, you beheld young girls hurrying joyously about the camp, and increasing by their presence, the wild infuriate glee of the fighting men impatient for the battle. Hard by the streams of blood from the sacrifices both of man and beast, were children playing with the horrible remnants of the offerings to the gods; their shrill cries, now drowned by the war of voices from the camp, now by the yells of the tortured men and animals, now by the screams of the half infuriate priests, prophesying success to the rebels and heaping the most hideous imprecations on the enemy's head. Then, in the distant wilds, startling the awful loneliness that hung over the forsaken villages, was heard the hurried tread of fresh recruits hastening to the camp. Forth from the woods and solitudes, their fierce countenance showing wan and ghastly in the moonlight, (for they travelled by night) tramped the husbandman, his bludgeon armed with shark's teeth on his shoulder; the chief, with his three-bladed iron-wood sword and his turban-formed fillet of cloth wound over his brow; and the young men, with their spears and slings. On they sped, singing their wild war-songs, and exulting in the prospect of the fight! Onward! onward! swelling with every hour, the ranks of ferocity and crime, they hurried to the gathering place; and the heart of Mahíné leaped within him, as he watched them pouring in, from the pinnacle of the camp!
This scene of riot and debauchery, lasted for several days. The preparations for war—always complicated and many in the Pacific Islands—were, on this occasion, particularly dilator, on both sides. The solemn observances, however, went on with the utmost regularity, until the final human sacrifice to commemorate the starting of the warriors, was all that was wanting, at last.
With the King's party, at the period described above, the gathering for the battle was accomplished with comparative discipline and order. The confusion, usual among the people on such an occasion, was hardly observable in the royal camp, for the minds of the populace were concentrated upon one serious design—the apprehension of the last victim for the wargod; the doomed wretch, being no other, than the unhappy object of the former love and present enmity, of the great Priest.
While the altars were yet reeking with the primary sacrifices, he called together the whole mass of the populace, and commanded them, with fiery eloquence, to obey the requisitions of his god and capture, as the victim that was to close the ceremonies of war, the ill-fated Idía. He left no attempt untried to arouse their passions and to flatter their bravery and cunning. He represented his former unwillingness to avenge himself of the woman's offence, as the result of a direct communication from the idol, commanding him to reserve the ill-doer for its own will and pleasure. He solemnly declared, that the appointed hour was now come, that the god called for this sacrifice at last, and that their success in the battle that was near at hand, depended upon that offering alone. The effect of this appeal was instantaneous. The wild energy of his language, the mingled dignity and agitation in his demeanour, his poignant outward sorrow, that the idol could only be appeased by the death of one whom he had once loved, and now sincerely pitied and forgave, fired the hearts and aroused the reverence of the superstitious crowd around him. Detached parties of the most experienced spies that the camp possessed, started off immediately, to the stronghold of the enemy. Alive, or dead, they were determined to possess themselves of the victim, though they openly hunted her to the rebel ranks.
Two days passed away; and on the third, the pursuers returned, dispirited and shamed. They had, at first, attempted to capture the woman by stratagem, in order that she might be slain in triumph at the altar of the god; but their efforts had been of no avail. They had then, openly attempted, by bribes, to incite the more disaffected of the villagers, to the betrayal of her hiding place; but, the answer of everyone they attempted to corrupt, was the same—"She had left their camp, and they knew not whither she had gone". That she could have escaped from Tahíti, was impossible; for the King's canoes had, latterly, watched the ocean round Mahíné's territory, to intercept all communication with the neighbouring islands. On their way homeward, they had searched every lurking-place with care; a few of their comrades, who were still on the watch, might discover the victim yet; but, for their parts, they had utterly failed.
And but little wonder was it, that their undertaking proved abortive. While Ioláni had sent forth his spies, Mahíné had not been idle, in using the same advantage, with regard to the councils of the King. His emissaries, had attended the Priest[']s convocation of the people, and, without delaying to hear more than the main point of the harangue, hurried back with their intelligence to the rebel camp; for, they judged that the chieftain, from the woman's intimate connexion and great influence with his beloved, would be anxious to preserve her from the vengeance of the relentless Priest.
They had deemed rightly. Mahíné, the moment he heard their tidings, commanded the presence of Idía and her companion; but neither were to be found. One of the spies, had incautiously communicated his intelligence to some idlers round the outskirts of the camp. It had spread with wild rapidity, from one to the other, & had reached the ears of Idía and the girl. They were sought for by order of the half distracted chieftain, but without success. It was supposed, that they had taken advantage of the confusion in the village, and effected their escape. All that could be discovered of them, was the little that was soon afterwards gathered from a half-witted old man, who declared, that he had seen them pass him on the borders of the forest, and that he had been commanded, by the woman, to give this message to Mahíné—"Be of good courage; I am guarding her for thee; battle it quickly and stoutly, and Aimáta shall be thy reward."
The scene described at the commencement of this chapter, will sufficiently hint to the reader, the destination of Idía's flight. Horrified at the crime and confusion attendant upon the preparations for war, and fearing for the innocence of the girl, among such a host of wretches as surrounded her, she had for some time contemplated taking refuge from the uproar of the villages, in the silence of the woods. The intelligence of the fate in preparation for her, immediately determined her in this purpose. She was appalled, but not overpowered, at so terrible a display of Ioláni's malignity. Danger and distress had done their utmost for her, and whatever their form, they now came as companions and not as strangers. She felt her position in an instant. None knew so well as she, how deep and how successful was the cunning of the Priest. When dependant for protection on others, she was open to betrayal; but, when trusting to herself, she was sure that her concealment was safe from discovery, either by force, or fraud, and could be frustrated by chance alone. She only waited to consult the wishes of Aimáta, whose situation was less perilous than her own, before she set forward on her flight. The girl, terrified at all she saw and heard under the protection of her lover, hesitated not an instant in her choice; and they started for the woods, together.
In choosing Vahíria as her place of refuge, Idía seized her only chance of preservation from the impending danger. There were caverns by the shores of the Lake, known only to the Priest and herself; and as there was but little chance, at such a critical period for his country, that Ioláni could be spared to prosecute the search himself, this was the spot of all others, that offered them the greatest security. For some days, they lurked about the different nooks and crannies by the waterside, gathering, as best they might, a scanty supply of provision; and that labour accomplished, they betook themselves to the strange hiding place, described at the beginning of the present chapter.
Ioláni, though furious at the result of his undertaking, was neither discouraged, nor dismayed. He saw that the ill-success of the search for the victim, had diminished the interest of some, in the sacred ceremonies, and had dispirited others. To risk a battle now, was, consequently, almost to ensure defeat. He found, from intelligence received from the spies, that the enemy had concluded their offerings and were on the point of marching upon him. A consultation was held with the chief warriors, the result of which, was the organisation of a strong party of skirmishers, picked from the desperadoes of the forces, for the purpose of embarrassing the advance of the rebels. To this band, the slightest prospect of pillage and bloodshed, was as sufficing an incitement to engage, as was the ascertained favor of the god, to the general members of the army. After having proceeded about ten miles, (half the distance between the two districts) they encountered, in the wilds of the forest, the first rank, or advanced guard, of the enemy. Assisted by superior knowledge of the ground, they slaughtered them to a man; and the main body of the insurgents, ignorant of the actual number of their assailants, and unable to act in any force in so confined a space, were seized with a panic and retreated to their stronghold, in great confusion.
This good fortune, seemed to secure Ioláni's success in the object dearest to this heart. In all probability, considerable time would elapse, before the rebels were again enabled to take the field; and in that period, ample opportunity would be afforded, to hunt down the fugitive and sate his revenge. The people were more than ever devoted to his cause. They looked upon their success in the skirmish, as a direct manifestation of the favor of their god; and the cry for the victim, rose louder and louder, among all ranks. On the evening of this day of victory, Ioláni commanded a second attendance, on the following morning, before the Temple walls, to hear the result of another supplication to the god and to ascertain if he still willed the sacrifice of the victim he had demanded on the former occasion; for, the Priest declared that his hope of saving the woman, by appeasing Oro with other offerings, was the sole motive of his venturing a second application to the oracle of War.
So far, then, had this intricate entanglement of events advanced, when the populace prepared on the eventful morning, to attend the solemn invitation of the Priest. A reckless triumph and delight ruled all their hearts, and the once formidable insurgents, were now thought of with disdain. How wise was this contemptuous estimate of the energy of the rebels, will hereafter be seen.
What People are saying about this
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >