Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • Kylee-Anne Hingston (a1)

Victorian sensation literature was inextricably related to identity and the body: its primary purposes were to elicit a physical response from the senses of readers and to question “the social formation of the self” (Taylor, The Secret 2). Sensation fiction regularly relied on different, deformed, or diseased bodies to provoke fear or unease in its readers, and it created anxiety by juxtaposing the domestic with scandal, crime, and Gothicism to disturb the perceived stability of the home and social identity. Lyn Pykett argues that the genre reproduces the “real mid-nineteenth-century anxiety” that domestic selfhood “could be disrupted by danger, death or disease on the one hand, and the vagaries of the law, the banking system or the stockmarket on the other” (“Collins” 59). Nineteenth-century critics’ reactions to sensation novels connected anxieties about the body to fears about the instability of social identity: contemporary reviews described sensation literature and its works as “feverish” (Smith 141), “a collective cultural nervous disorder” (Taylor, The Secret 4), and as “symptoms of . . . social disease” (Pykett, “Collins” 51). In his 1880–81 series of essays, “Fiction Fair and Foul,” John Ruskin argues that the “[p]hysically diseased, ‘deformed,’ and ignobly dead bodies [in Collins's and Dickens's novels] are symptomatic of diseased and deformed genres, produced by morally and physically ill writers to cater to the tastes of morally and physically diseased urban readers” (Holmes, Fictions 92). These extreme critical responses, as well as the extreme popularity of sensation fiction, call attention to Victorian preoccupation with the body and social identity and with the instability of both. This paper, through analyzing the instability of bodies and identities in Wilkie Collins's sensation novel No Name (1862) and its serial context, challenges readings by both Victorian and more recent critics that distinctly interpret diseased and disabled bodies in the novel as either symbolic of or a result of social deviance.

Hide All
Bailin, Miriam. The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction: The Art of Being Ill. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.
Bogdan, Robert. “The Social Construction of ‘Freaks.’” Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. Ed. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. New York: New York UP, 1996. 2337. Google Book Search. Web. 15 Oct. 2010.
Brantlinger, Patrick. “What is ‘Sensational’ about the ‘Sensation Novel’?” Pykett 30–57.
Chorley, H. F. “Unsigned Review.” Athenaeum 3 Jan. 1863: 10–11. Rpt. in Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Norman Page. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. 131–33.
Collins, Wilkie. No Name. 1862. Ed. Blain, Virginia. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.
Collins, Wilkie. No Name. All the Year Round 15 Mar. 1862 to 17 Jan. 1863.
Collins, Wilkie. No Name. Harper's Weekly. 15 Mar. 1862 to 24 Jan. 1863. Surridge. Web. 8 Oct. 2008.
“Coming into a Fortune.” All the Year Round 20 Dec. 1862: 354–55. Google Book Search. Web. 20 Nov. 2008.
Cornes, Judy. Madness and the Loss of Identity in Nineteenth Century Fiction. Jefferson: McFarland, 2008.
David, Deirdre. “Rewriting the Male Plot in Wilkie Collin's No Name.” Pykett 136–48.
Davis, Lennard J.Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions. New York: New York UP, 2002.
“Do You Want Luxurious Whiskers or Mustaches?” Advertisement. Harper's Weekly 22 Mar. 1862: 191. Surridge. Web. 8 Oct. 2008.
Flint, Kate. “Disability and Difference.” Taylor 153–67.
Fulford, Tim. “Romanticizing the Empire: The Naval Heroes of Southey, Coleridge, Austen, and Marryat.” MLQ 60.2 (1999): 161–96. Web. 4 Dec. 2008.
Grubbs, Gerald Giles. “The Editorial Policies of Charles Dickens.” PMLA 58.4 (1943): 1110–24. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.
Harper's Weekly. 15 Mar. 1862 to 24 Jan. 1863. HarpWeek. Ed. John Adler. Web. 26 Feb. 2009.
Herndl, Diane Price. Invalid Women: Figuring Feminine Illness in American Fiction and Culture, 1840–1940. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1993.
Holmes, Martha Stoddard. “‘Bolder with Her Lover in the Dark’: Collins and Disabled Women's Sexuality.” Reality's Dark Light: The Sensational Wilkie Collins. Ed. Maria K. Bachman and Don Richard Cox. Tennessee Studies in Literature Vol. 41. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2003. 59–93.
Holmes, Martha Stoddard. Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture. The Corporealities Series. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2004.
Hughes, Linda K., and Lund, Michael. The Victorian Serial. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1991.
McLenan, John, Illus. No Name. Wilkie Collins. Harper's Weekly 15 Mar. 1862 to 24 Jan. 1863. Surridge. Web. 8 Oct. 2008.
Mitchell, David T., and Snyder, Sharon L.. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000.
Oliphant, Margaret. “Sensation Novels.” Blackwood's Magazine May 1862: 564–84. The Internet Library of Early Journals. U of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford. Web. 20 Nov. 2008.
O'Neill, Philip. Wilkie Collins: Women, Property and Propriety. Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1988.
“Pinchback's Amusements.” All the Year Round 31 Mar. 1862: 71–72.
“Pinchback's Cottage.” All the Year Round 24 Mar. 1862: 31–34.
“Princely Travel in America.” All the Year Round 1 Nov. 1862: 174–80. Web. Google Books. 11 Jan. 2011.
Pykett, Lyn. “Collins and the sensation novel.” Taylor 50–64.
Pykett, Lyn. The Sensation Novel from The Woman in White to The Moonstone. Northcote House with the British Council: Plymouth, 1994.
Pykett, Lyn, ed. Wilkie Collins: Contemporary Critical Essays. New York: St. Martin's P, 1998.
Rance, Nicholas. Wilkie Collins and Other Sensation Novelists: Walking the Moral Hospital. London: MacMillan Academic and Professional, 1991.
Ruskin, John. “Fiction – Fair and Foul.” The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review 7 (June 1880): 941–62. Literary Theory Full-Text Database. Web. 6 April 2010.
Smith, Alexander. “Unsigned Review.” North British Review Feb. 1863: 183–85. Rpt. in Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Norman Page. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. 140–42.
“Soldiers’ Leisure.” All the Year Round 19 Apr. 1862: 125–28.
Surridge, Lisa, ed. “No Name in Harper's Weekly.” UVicMoodle Course 200809 Eng 550. Web. 8 Oct. 2008.
Talairach-Vielmas, Laurence. Moulding the Female Body in Victorian Fairy Tales and Sensation Novels. Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007.
Taylor, Jenny Bourne. In the Secret Theatre of Home. London: Routledge, 1988.
Jenny Bourne, Taylor, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Wilkie Collins. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006.
Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1997.
“To the Nervous and Debilitated.” Advertisement. Harper's Weekly 22 Mar. 1862: 191. Surridge. Web. 8 Oct. 2008.
“Two Works.” Advertisement. Harper's Weekly 14 Jun. 1862: 383. Surridge. Web. 8 Oct. 2008.
“Unsigned Review.” Saturday Review 17 Jan. 1863: 84–85. Rpt. in Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Norman Page. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. 136–37.
Wagner, Tamara S.‘Overpowering Vitality’: Nostalgia and Men of Sensibility in the Fiction of Wilkie Collins.” MLQ 63.4 (2002): 471500. Web. 6 Nov. 2008.
Wynne, Deborah. The Sensation Novel and the Victorian Family Magazine. Houndmills: Palgrave, 2001.
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: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed