Skip to main content


  • Sundeep Bisla (a1)

In Walter C. Phillips's Classic Study of 1919, Dickens, Reade, and Collins, Sensation Novelists: A Study in the Conditions and Theories of Novel Writing in Victorian England, there comes an instant when the critic believes himself to have caught the last of his novelists in a moment of artlessness. Remarking on the comforting and seemingly-conformist opening of Wilkie Collins's No Name, Phillips comments that “in the early sixties . . . the popular drift toward realism – stories of domestic life – had compelled some modification of Collins's . . . original melodramatic scheme” (133). Collins's predilection for artfulness is well-established. Rejecting his suggestions for an earlier foreshadowing of the Dr. Manette subplot in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens comments in October 1859, “I do not positively say that the point you put, might not have been done in your manner; but I have a very strong conviction that it would have been overdone in that manner.” He goes on to characterize Collins's suggested revision as potentially off-putting for the readership because it would inevitably be discovered and the situation consequently judged “too elaborately trapped, baited, and prepared” (Letters 9: 127). This essay is in a sense an exploration of the special utility inherent in Collins's elaborately prepared traps for the reader. The elaborate plan can sometimes go places, make certain philosophical critiques, that the accommodative plot cannot. Collins was not known to be a writer who changed course easily in the face of criticism. Thus, it is surprising to find Phillips, as well as other literary critics, taking his opening in No Name seriously and as a sort of conservative retreat on Collins's part. But traps being what they are, that is, made to be fallen into, Phillips's misunderstanding is understandable. The opening of No Name does most assuredly invite such an interpretation. I will be arguing here, however, that, far from attempting to accommodate a newly emergent popular Victorian domestic taste, and pulling back from a previous subversive stance, Collins especially in his opening but also throughout his non-canonical masterpiece is actually covertly attacking that taste at its very foundations.

Hide All
Amidon Stephen. “Wilkie Collins.” British Writers: Supplement VI. Ed. Parini Jay. New York: Scribners, 2001. 91104.
Armstrong Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.
Ashley Robert. Wilkie Collins. London: Arthur Barker, 1952.
Austin J. L. How to Do Things with Words. 2nd ed. Ed. Urmson J. O. and Sbisà Marina. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975.
Austin J. L.. Sense and Sensibilia. Reconstructed from the Manuscript Notes by G. J. Warnock. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1964.
Bearn Gordon C. F.Derrida Dry: Iterating Iterability Analytically.” Diacritics 25.3 (1995): 225.
Bedell Jeanne F. “Wilkie Collins.” Twelve Englishmen of Mystery. Ed. Bargainnier Earl F.. Bowling Green: Popular, 1984. 833.
Bisla Sundeep. “Copy-Book Morals: The Woman in White and Publishing History.” Dickens Studies Annual 28 (1999): 103–49.
Collins Wilkie. Armadale. Ed. Sutherland John. London: Penguin, 1995.
Collins Wilkie. Basil. Ed. Goldman Dorothy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990.
Collins Wilkie. Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R. A. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1848.
Collins Wilkie. The Moonstone: A Romance. Ed. Stewart J. I. M.. London: Penguin, 1986.
Collins Wilkie. No Name. Ed. Ford Mark. London: Penguin, 1994.
Collins Wilkie. No Name. Ed. Blain Virginia. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.
Collins Wilkie. The Woman in White. Ed. Sucksmith Harvey Peter. [1980] Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.
Collins William. Memoirs of a Picture. London: C. Stower, 1805.
David Deirdre. “Rewriting the Male Plot in Wilkie Collins's No Name: Captain Wragge Orders an Omelette and Mrs. Wragge Goes into Custody.” Out of Bounds: Male Writers and Gender(ed) Criticism. Ed. Claridge Laura and Langland Elizabeth. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1990. 186–96.
Derrida Jacques. “Freud and the Scene of Writing.” Writing and Difference. Trans. Bass Alan. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978. 196231.
Derrida Jacques. Of Grammatology. Corrected Ed. Trans. Spivak Gayatri Chakravorty. [1974]; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.
Derrida Jacques. Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin. Trans. Mensah Patrick. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998.
Derrida Jacques. “Signature Event Context.” Limited Inc. Ed. Graff Gerald. Trans. Samuel Weber and Jeffrey Mehlman. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern UP, 1988. 123.
Derrida Jacques, and Ricoeur Paul. “Philosophy and Communication: Round-table Discussion between Ricoeur and Derrida.” Trans. Leonard Lawlor. Imagination and Chance: The Difference between the Thought of Ricoeur and Derrida. Ed. Lawlor Leonard. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992. 131–63.
[Dickens, Charles]. “The Sensational Williams.” All the Year Round 11 (1864): 1417.
Dickens Charles. The Letters of Charles Dickens: Volume 9, 1859–1861. Ed. Storey Graham. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.
Doody Margaret Anne. Introduction. Sense and Sensibility. By Jane Austen. Ed. Kinsley James. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. viixlvi.
Horne Lewis. “Magdalen's Peril.” Dickens Studies Annual 20 (1991): 281–94.
Hyder Clyde K.Wilkie Collins and The Woman in White.” PMLA 54.1 (1939): 297303.
Jones Anna. “A Victim in Search of a Torturer: Reading Masochism in Wilkie Collins's No Name.” Novel 33.2 (2000): 196211.
Michie Helena. “‘There is no Friend Like a Sister’: Sisterhood as Sexual Difference.” ELH 56.2 (1989): 401–21.
Milley H. J. W.The Eustace Diamonds and The Moonstone.Studies in Philology 36 (October 1939): 651–63.
Oliphant Margaret. “Novels.” Blackwood's 94 (1863): 168–83.
Page Norman, ed. Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974.
Peters Catherine. The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.
Phillips Walter C. Dickens, Reade, and Collins, Sensation Novelists: A Study in the Conditions and Theories of Novel Writing in Victorian England. New York: Columbia UP, 1919; New York: Russell & Russell, 1962.
Pratt Mary Louise. “The Ideology of Speech-Act TheoryCentrum NS 1 (1981): 518.
Pykett Lyn. “Collins and the Sensation Novel.” The Cambridge Companion to Wilkie Collins. Ed. Taylor Jenny Bourne. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. 5064.
Stange G. Robert. Rev. of Dover ed. of No Name, Nineteenth-Century Fiction 34.1 (1979): 96100.
Taylor Jenny Bourne. In the Secret Theatre of Home: Wilkie Collins, Sensation Narrative, and Nineteenth-century Psychology. London: Routledge, 1988.
Trollope Anthony. An Autobiography. Ed. Sadleir Michael and Page Frederick. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.
Whately Richard. “Modern Novels: Rev. of ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion.’ By the Author of ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘Mansfield Park,’ and ‘Emma.’ 4 vols. New Edition.” Quarterly Review 24 (January 1821): 352–76.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
  • URL: /core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 12 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 215 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.