Before I start I must say that although I have not read the book before, I know the story broadly, from an abbreviated audio book version I once listened to and from a film version seen many years ago.
Below you will find minor SPOILERS, so be warned.
I found out when I read the Moonstone that Wilkie Collins was a master at creating wonderfully live characters. They might sometimes appear at first sight to be drawn in broad strokes, but then they surprise you by saying or doing something you would never expect that particular stereotype to say or do, and so they stop being stereotypes.
Collins was also a master of creating characters it is difficult to be indifferent to. Mr. Fairlie is one such character – one realises almost from the start and certainly from Mr. Gilmore’s narrative onwards, that he is in large measure to blame for the whole disastrous events that follow, because of his indolence and unwillingness to act in the best interests of his niece. I have got to the point of his instructions to Laura before the wedding, and if I could reach into the book I would do so and slap him, hard.
Laura Fairlie comes across as disastrously naive and even a bit stupid, but honourable and good-hearted, while one likes and dearly wants the sharply intelligent and likable Marian Halcombe to turn out to be the real heroine of the story.
This is good - I don't have to like the characters in a book order to enjoy it but I can never enjoy a book with characters I am indifferent to.
The social aspects are fascinating – I might mention Laura’s honourable if misguided insistence on putting her dead father’s wishes before her own happiness, and also the impossibility of marriage between her and Hartright which seems to be class-based rather than because she is rich and he is not.