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WILKIE COLLINS (1824 - 1889)

(Full name William Wilkie Collins) English novelist, short story writer, travel writer, and playwright.

Considered a skillful manipulator of intricate plots, Collins is remembered as a principal founder of English detective fiction. His novels of intrigue and suspense, although as popular in Collins's day as...

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WILKIE COLLINS (1824 - 1889)

(Full name William Wilkie Collins) English novelist, short story writer, travel writer, and playwright.

Considered a skillful manipulator of intricate plots, Collins is remembered as a principal founder of English detective fiction. His novels of intrigue and suspense, although as popular in Collins's day as the works of such Victorian luminaries as Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and William Thackeray, were frequently dismissed by critics as sensationalist fiction. By the twentieth century, Collins began to receive recognition for his innovations in the detective genre, for his unconventional representation of female characters, and for his emphasis on careful plotting and revision, a practice that foreshadowed modern methods.


Collins was named for his father, William, a landscape painter, and his godfather, the artist Sir David Wilkie. Raised among artists and writers in England, Collins rebelled against the routine at the tea-broker's firm where, at the age of seventeen, he'd been placed by his father. He subsequently studied at Lincoln's Inn and was called to the Bar in 1851, but was to use his legal expertise only when writing fiction. After his father's death in 1847, Collins wrote Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R. A. (1848) and two years later a lengthy novel, Antonina; or, The Fall of Rome (1850). Soon after the publication of his first novel, Collins made the acquaintance of Charles Dickens, and the two became close friends, working together on Dickens's magazines, traveling together, and occasionally collaborating on stories. He achieved immense popularity after the publication of his sensation novel The Woman in White in 1860, which spawned a literary vogue for such fiction that peaked in 1868 with the appearance of his highly successful The Moonstone. Always a frustrated playwright, Collins made dramatic adaptations of these and several of his other works of fiction, which were produced in England and the United States with fair success. After rising to fame, Collins became the subject of considerable scrutiny due to his unconventional personal life. Collins lived with his mistress—said to have been the model for the "woman in white"—and supported, in addition, another woman by whom he had three illegitimate children. Although Collins was accepted by literary friends, he was often ostracized by society at large for his unorthodox way of life. His rage at hypocritical morals and perhaps his desire to emulate Dickens inspired Collins to compose the didactic novels of his later years. He died in London in September of 1889.


Collins's first novel, Antonina was an imitative, historical romance in the style of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii. It focuses on the siege of patriarchal Rome by a Gothic army. At the center of the tale is Antonina, a young girl who, after being wrongly cast out of her home by her father, falls in love with a Gothic soldier. Featuring an intricate plot and told through a series of monologues, The Woman in White is framed as a Gothic romance and offers two very different heroines: the strong and passionate Marian Holcombe and her half-sister, the beautiful and passive Laura Fairlie. The latter is manipulated by the novel's villain, Count Fosco, agrees to marry Fosco's henchman, and is subsequently robbed of her identity and forced into an asylum. Aided by her half-sister. she escapes and, along the way, uncovers numerous family secrets, including the story of the ghostly "woman in white" whom she has encountered in the past. Mysterious characters and vestiges like those used in The Woman in White also appear in "The Yellow Mask" (1856) and The Black Robe (1881).


Although Collins has been called "the father of the English detective novel," critics have begun to give his Gothic tales increased attention. In Antonina, several critics note that he provides a strong portrayal of the "female Gothic" through the title character and her nemesis (and, some commentators argue, double), Goisvintha. Critics have also noted Collins's use of the Gothic to recast history in this tale. Collins turned to social criticsm in The Woman in White, again utilizing the Gothic to frame his commentary on certain behaviors. Although this tale also introduced a less traditional, soon-to-be much-emulated character, the amateur detective, Fred Botting has noted that Collins cast this personage against a classicly passive Gothic heroine who represents loss and suffering. In addition, Botting notes Collins's introduction of the spectral title character as well as his employment of doubling and family secrets. Susan M. Griffin has posited that the Gothic elements of The Woman in White, as well as those in "The Yellow Mask" and The Black Robe, convey a particularly anti-Catholic sentiment. Critics have also noted in Collins's Gothic works a departure from the traditions of popular fiction to create an insightful and subtly critical portrait of Victorian society.

Principal Works

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Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R. A. (biography) 1848
Antonina; or, The Fall of Rome (novel) 1850
Rambles Beyond Railways (travelogue) 1851
Basil: A Story of Modern Life (novel) 1852
Hide and Seek (novel) 1854
After Dark (short stories) 1856
The Dead Secret (novel) 1857
The New Magdalen (novel) 1857
The Queen of Hearts (short stories) 1859
The Woman in White (novel) 1860
No Name (novel) 1862
Armadale (novel) 1866
The Moonstone (novel) 1868
Man and Wife (novel) 1870
Poor Miss Finch (novel) 1872
The Frozen Deep and Other Stories (short stories) 1874
The Law and the Lady (novel) 1875
The Two Destinies (novel) 1876
The Fallen Leaves (novel) 1879
The Haunted Hotel: A Mystery of Modern Venice (novella) 1879
A Rogue's Life: From His Birth to His Marriage (novel) 1879
Jezebel's Daughter (novel) 1880
The Black Robe (novel) 1881
Heart and Science (novel) 1883
I Say No (novel) 1884
The Evil Genius (novel) 1886
The Guilty River (novel) 1886
Little Novels (novellas) 1887
The Legacy of Cain (novel) 1889
Blind Love (unfinished novel) 1890

∗ This novel was rewritten as a play, The New Magdalen, in 1873.

Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Collins, Wilkie. "Miss Jéromette and the Clergyman." In Great Ghost Stories: 34 Classic Tales of the Supernatural, compiled by Robin Brockman, pp. 351-74. New York: Gramercy Books, 2002.

The following excerpt is from a short story originally published as "The Clergyman's Confession" in the 1875 August-September issue of The Canadian Monthly; it was retitled "Miss Jéromette and the Clergyman" and collected in Little Novels in 1887.


I had sent the housekeeper out of my study. I was alone, with the photograph of the Frenchwoman on my desk.

There could surely be little doubt about the discovery that had burst upon me. The man who had stolen his way into my house, driven by the terror of a temptation that he dared not reveal, and the man who had been my unknown rival in the by-gone time, were one and the same!

Recovering self-possession enough to realize this plain truth, the inferences that followed forced their way into my mind as a matter of course. The unnamed person who was the obstacle to my pupil's prospects in life, the unnamed person in whose company he was assailed by temptations which made him tremble for himself, stood revealed to me now as being, in all human probability, no other than Jéromette. Had she bound him in the fetters of the marriage which he had himself proposed? Had she discovered his place of refuge in my house? And was the letter that had been delivered to him of her writing? Assuming these questions to be answered in the affirmative, what, in that case, was his 'business in London'? I remembered how he had spoken to me of his temptations, I recalled the expression that had crossed his face when he recognized the handwriting on the letter—and the conclusion that followed literally shook me to the soul. Ordering my horse to be saddled, I rode instantly to the railway-station.

The train by which he had travelled to London had reached the terminus nearly an hour since. The one useful course that I could take, by way of quieting the dreadful misgivings crowding one after another on my mind, was to telegraph to Jéromette at the address at which I had last seen her. I sent the subjoined message—prepaying the reply:

'If you are in any trouble, telegraph to me. I will be with you by the first train. Answer, in any case.'

There was nothing in the way of the immediate dispatch of my message. And yet the hours passed, and no answer was received. By the advice of the clerk, I sent a second telegram to the London office, requesting an explanation. The reply came back in these terms:

'Improvements in street. House pulled down. No trace of person named in telegram.'

I mounted my horse, and rode back slowly to the rectory.

'The day of his return to me will bring with it the darkest days of my life.'… 'I shall die young, and die miserably. Have you interest enough still left in me to wish to hear of it?'… 'You shall hear of it.' Those words were in my memory while I rode home in the cloudless moonlight night. They were so vividly present to me that I could hear again her pretty foreign accent, her quiet clear tones, as she spoke them. For the rest, the emotion of that memorable day had worn me out. The answer from the telegraph-office had struck me with a strange and stony despair. My mind was a blank. I had no thoughts. I had no tears.

I was about half-way on my road home, and I had just heard the clock of a village church strike ten, when I became conscious, little by little, of a chilly sensation slowly creeping through and through me to the bones. The warm balmy air of a summer night was abroad. It was the month of July. In the month of July, was it possible that any living creature (in good health) could feel cold? It was not possible—and yet, the chilly sensation still crept through and through me to the bones.

I looked up. I looked all round me.

My horse was walking along an open high-road. Neither trees nor waters were near me. On either side, the flat fields stretched away bright and broad in the moonlight.

I stopped my horse, and looked round me again.

Yes: I saw it. With my own eyes I saw it. A pillar of white mist—between five and six feet high, as well as I could judge—was moving beside me at the edge of the road, on my left hand. When I stopped, the white mist stopped. When I went on, the white mist went on. I pushed my horse to a trot—the pillar of mist was with me. I urged him to a gallop—the pillar of mist was with me. I stopped him again—the pillar of mist stood still.

The white colour of it was the white colour of the fog which I had seen over the river—on the night when I had gone to bid her farewell. And the chill which had then crept through me to the bones was the chill that was creeping through me now.

I went on again slowly. The white mist went on again slowly—with the clear bright night all round it.

I was awed rather than frightened. There was one moment, and one only, when the fear came to me that my reason might be shaken. I caught myself keeping time to the slow tramp of the horse's feet with the slow utterance of these words, repeated over and over again: 'Jéromette is dead. Jéromette is dead.' But my will was still my own: I was able to control myself, to impose silence on my own muttering lips. And I rode on quietly. And the pillar of mist went quietly with me.

My groom was waiting for my return at the rectory gate. I pointed to the mist, passing through the gate with me.

'Do you see anything there?' I said.

The man looked at me in astonishment.

I entered the rectory. The housekeeper met me in the hall. I pointed to the mist, entering with me.

'Do you see anything at my side?' I asked.

The housekeeper looked at me as the groom had looked at me.

'I am afraid you are not well, sir,' she said. 'Your colour is all gone—you are shivering. Let me get you a glass of wine.'

I went into my study, on the ground-floor, and took the chair at my desk. The photograph still lay where I had left it. The pillar of mist floated round the table, and stopped opposite to me, behind the photograph.

The housekeeper brought in the wine. I put the glass to my lips, and sat it down again. The chill of the mist was in the wine. There was no taste, no reviving spirit in it. The presence of the housekeeper oppressed me. My dog had followed her into the room. The presence of the animal oppressed me. I said to the woman, 'Leave me by myself, and take the dog with you.'

They went out, and left me alone in the room.

I sat looking at the pillar of mist, hovering opposite to me.

It lengthened slowly, until it reached to the ceiling. As it lengthened, it grew bright and luminous. A time passed, and a shadowy appearance showed itself in the centre of the light. Little by little, the shadowy appearance took the outline of a human form. Soft brown eyes, tender and melancholy, looked at me through the unearthly light in the mist. The head and the rest of the face broke next slowly on my view. Then the figure gradually revealed itself, moment by moment, downward and downward to the feet. She stood before me as I had last seen her, in her purple-merino dress, with the black-silk apron, with the white handkerchief tied loosely round her neck. She stood before me, in the gentle beauty that I remembered so well; and looked at me as she had looked when she gave me her last kiss—when her tears had dropped on my cheek.

I fell on my knees at the table. I stretched out my hands to her imploringly. I said, 'Speak to me—O, once again speak to me, Jéromette.'

Her eyes rested on me with a divine compassion in them. She lifted her hand, and pointed to the photograph on my desk, with a gesture which bade me turn the card. I turned it. The name of the man who had left my house that morning was inscribed on it, in her own handwriting.

I looked up at her again, when I had read it. She lifted her hand once more, and pointed to the handkerchief round her neck. As I looked at it, the fair white silk changed horribly in colour—the fair white silk became darkened and drenched in blood.

A moment more—and the vision of her began to grow dim. By slow degrees, the figure, then the face, faded back into the shadowy appearance that I had first seen. The luminous inner light died out in the white mist. The mist itself dropped slowly downwards—floated a moment in airy circles on the floor—vanished. Nothing was before me but the familiar wall of the room, and the photograph lying face downwards on my desk.


The next day, the newspapers reported the discovery of a murder in London. A Frenchwoman was the victim. She had been killed by a wound in the throat. The crime had been discovered between ten and eleven o'clock on the previous night.

General Commentary

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SOURCE: Heller, Tamar. "Becoming an Author in 1848: History and the Gothic in the Early Works of Wilkie Collins." In Dead Secrets: Wilkie Collins and the Female Gothic, pp. 38-57. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992.

In the following excerpt, Heller asserts that Collins developed his later Gothic style in his earlier, non-Gothic, works.

Wilkie Collins' first work, published in 1848 when he was twenty-four, was a biography of his father, the respected painter and Royal Academician William Collins. In contrast to the matrilineal tradition of the female Gothic, Memoirs of the Life of William Collins is a monument to the male artist that celebrates the bond between father and son. Chronicling William's Franklinesque rise from poverty to prosperity through unrelenting industry, Collins eulogizes his father as an exemplary family man and, above all, an empowering predecessor. The Memoirs were, however, an anomaly in the career their publication launched. Not only was Collins to turn from writing biography to writing fiction, but the filial piety of the Memoirs was to be replaced by a melodramatic Gothicism that would have shocked the father who reportedly avoided in his painting all that was "coarse, violent, revolting, fearful"1—everything, in other words, that came to be associated with his son's art.

The Memoirs, then, can be seen as a generic dead end for Collins, as can his first novel, Antonina (1850), a bustling historical epic in the style of Scott and Bulwer-Lytton. Yet these often neglected early works have an important place in Collins' oeuvre as fictions of origins in which he interrogates the sources of his art and experiments with representational strategies. Most significant, the Memoirs and Antonina draft the kind of plot that was to become characteristic of Collins' later and more mature work from Basil onward, in which a narrative about literary authority is cast as a story about gender and, in particular, as a family romance in which the father is invested with the social and artistic power from which the mother is excluded.

In Basil, the son who is the figure for the emergent bourgeois artist defies the authority of his father and is subsequently disinherited. The plot concerning rebellion against the father is already embedded in the early works that are the focus of this chapter, but it is complicated by a nostalgia for the patriarchal power beginning to decline in the Memoirs and dramatically waning in the novel about the Fall of Rome, home of the paterfamilias. As I suggested above, the figure of William Collins looms large in the Memoirs as an image for masculine authority and as the Romantic predecessor, since he not only was a friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge, but also practiced in his landscapes a Romantic fidelity to Nature. Yet the father's Romanticism (like that of Wordsworth and Coleridge in their later years) was of a conservative variety that eschewed political radicalism in favor of "Toryism" (II, 55). If the Memoirs were a dead end for Collins, it was because the work suggested the end of the (paternal) line for this Romanticism as a form of art worthy of the son's emulation, not only because he was more liberal than his father but also because William's conservative philosophy no longer had validity in the politically stormy world of the 1830s and 1840s. Collins declared in a brief autobiographical sketch written in the early 1860s, "An author I became in the year 1848,"2 and his early works are about what it meant to launch an artistic career in the period culminating in the European revolutions of that year, but beginning in England with the movement for Chartist reform that Collins refers to in the Memoirs and represents in his historical narrative in Antonina.

Becoming an author in 1848 suggests an oedipal narrative in which the son can produce only once he has acknowledged, through the publication of the Memoirs, the death of his Tory father. Yet even as the Memoirs, and particularly Antonina, which is more explicitly about defying the father's rules, show how Collins departs from William's example, they are also pervaded by a sense of the newfound absence of paternal authority—a loss figured in his first novel as a crisis of male power that will become pronounced rather than diminished in the later fictions. This narrative about a crisis of male power is really about a crisis of definition, in which the post-Romantic and bourgeois male writer attempts to define his own authority in the absence of the father's. The fall of the father's authority is connected in turn with the rise of a hitherto repressed maternal or feminine power that, in a way similar to the fictions discussed in [chapter one of Dead Secrets] is associated both with revolution and with the Gothic. It is in fact Collins' uneasy relation to the Gothic, which comes to inspire his art, that forms the major generic and ideological tension of Antonina, a novel in which patriarchal Rome is besieged by the Gothic army that is embodied in 2a monstrous female figure of ressentiment. In this narrative, as would become more evident in such later novels as Basil and The Woman in White, Collins is simultaneously attracted to the rebellion associated with the feminine and repulsed by it, as he seeks to constitute an aesthetic authority structured by the ideology of bourgeois manliness.


Antonina: The Invasion of the Gothic

After he had finished eulogizing his father as patriarch and predecessor, Collins returned to the "classical romance"3 he had interrupted to write the Memoirs. In doing so, he turned from a narrative in praise of the father to one about rebellion against fathers. In Antonina; or, The Fall of Rome, published in 1850, the Roman paterfamilias Numerian, an ascetic bent on reforming the corruptions of the early Church, discovers his daughter Antonina hiding a lute, which she has been playing despite his commands that she avoid sensual pleasures. Smashing the instrument to pieces, he orders her to her room, where she is visited that night by Vetranio, the dissolute young aristocrat who gave her the lute and who forces this clandestine entrance in order to seduce her. In the midst of this scene, Antonina is again discovered by her puritanical father, who incorrectly assumes that she has been succumbing to temptation rather than virtuously resisting it. Dramatically disinheriting her, he exiles her from his house, thus thrusting her into the events surrounding the Fall of Rome and, figuratively, into the tumultuous history that lurks behind the stately facade of the Memoirs.

Collins himself drew the parallel between the events of antiquity in Antonina and the type of contemporary "fierce political contention" he alludes to at the end of the Memoirs. In a letter to Richard Bentley, the editor who accepted Antonina, he referred to the revolutionary events of 1848, and especially to the siege of Rome that followed: "I have thought it probable that such a work might not inappropriately be offered for your inspection, while recent occurrences continue to direct public attention particularly on Roman affairs."4 In making such analogies between his own world and that of the past, Collins had many antecedents. The nineteenth-century historical novel, developed most influentially by Scott, was often a vehicle for encoding responses to contemporary events. Moreover, the subgenre of historical fiction to which Antonina belongs—the novel about the decline of empire—was a particularly popular way of representing, as Lee Sterrenburg argues, "anatomies of failed revolutions" in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.5

The details of the siege of Rome in Antonina could have been influenced by accounts of the events of 1848–49, but the novel is more generally inspired by the idea of revolution itself, since Collins had started it prior to 1848. In particular, the portrait of Roman society in Antonina recalls how the class-stratified British society of the 1830s was startled by the emergence of the Chartist movement, which suggested the possibility of a new English revolution. The setting of the novel, indeed, illustrates the scene Collins described in the Memoirs where, during the "social and political convulsions" accompanying Reform Bill agitation in the 1830s, the "noble and wealthy," threatened by the "popular revolution" symbolically mirrored by the "mysterious pestilence" of cholera, had "little time … to attend to the remoter importance of the progress of national Art" (I, 344-45). Antonina begins with the Roman aristocracy, an Epicurean and "effeminate" lot,6 reluctantly but rapidly engulfed by the famine and plague overwhelming the city during the blockade of Rome by the Goths. The artist-figure Vetranio, the brilliant but debauched poet who gives Antonina her lute, is an image for the artistic and social decadence precipitating the Fall of Rome. Collins' diagnosis of the excesses of the Roman elite is reminiscent of the portraits in such other Victorian narratives of the corrupt ancien régime before the French Revolution as Carlyle's The French Revolution (1837) and Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (1859). The Goths at the gate in Antonina externalize the forces within Roman society that resist the venal tyranny of rulers called "the oppressors of the world" (375). Upper-class luxury and cruelty are juxtaposed with hints of covert lower-class mutiny and ressentiment, and the narrator claims that the "dangerous and artificial" position of the "poorer classes" was "one of the most important of the internal causes of the downfall of Rome" (76).

In the context of this political allegory, Collins' portrayal of the Fall of Rome tells a different story from the Memoirs of what it means to become an author in 1848. The biography clings to the image of the father as predecessor, even as it suggests that his art is no longer viable in 1848. Antonina, however, is a novel about how, amid a "world-wide revolution" (341), the power of fathers has come to lack meaning for the emergent artist, who is now aligned with the forces of rebel-lion against established hierarchies. The expulsion of Antonina from her father's house for insubordination (her presumed sexual fall figures her fall into art) is the darker narrative of familial conflict that the filial piety of the Memoirs papers over. With Numerian recalling, as Nuel Pharr Davis points out, the harsher and more intolerant qualities of William Collins,7Antonina spells out the oedipal narrative, hinted at in the father's biography, in which the transgressive child becomes an artist by being thrust out of the father's house into an atmosphere of turbulent historical change. Such a narrative associates the father with the outmoded aristocracy the revolution replaces, not inappropriately since, although William Collins is portrayed as the heroic bourgeois in the Memoirs, his patrons were largely aristocratic.

This oedipal narrative, however, is complicated by the sex change that transforms the portrait of the artist as a young man into the portrait of the artist as a young girl. Making the artist into a daughter revises the patrilineal plot of the Memoirs, in which the son inherits the father's artistic power. To feminize the figure for the son, in fact, hyperbolically underscores his alienation from the father's art; when Antonina is expelled from her father's house, she is cast out from the entire patriarchal tradition represented by the Fathers of the early Church who are Numerian's inspiration. In the absence of a masculine tradition, the artist is aligned with a feminine one that resurrects the figure of the mother repressed in the Memoirs, even if only to associate her with illegitimacy and exclusion from authority. By playing the lute, Antonina becomes connected in her father's eyes with her dead mother (a Spaniard, a foreigner), whom she dimly remembers singing to her "hour after hour, in her cradle" (122). Since Antonina's mother was unfaithful to her father, this feminine tradition is linked not only to art but also to adultery; as Numerian says when he discovers Vetranio in his daughter's room, "her mother was a harlot before her!" (195).

This association of feminine art with actual or presumed sexual fall implies that the feminine tradition is a renegade one that represents rebellion against the father's law. Such feminine rebellion, although it switches the sex of the child protagonist in the oedipal plot, retains that plot's emphasis on a struggle with the father. Still, Antonina's rebellion, unlike her mother's, is of the most mild-mannered kind, since she is neither a harlot nor defiant after her brutal treatment by her father; her greatest desire, in fact, is to be reconciled with him. In this case, then, femininity represents not so much an alternative form of artistic power to the father's as it does powerlessness and vulnerability. Not only does Antonina become an icon of terrified passivity (she spends vast portions of the novel either frightened or asleep), but she soon ceases to be a figure for the artist, preserving a fragment of her smashed lute but never again playing it.

In this sense, transforming the artist into a daughter minimizes the extent of the rebellion against the father, since she leaves his house only to be immediately transferred to the protection of another male figure. Wandering accidentally into the Gothic camp, Antonina is shielded by Hermanric, a young warrior, who swiftly falls in love with her. Antonina and "Her Man" are then exemplars of an embryonic domesticity that provides a private haven in a heartless world: "While a world-wide revolution was concentrating its hurricane forces around them … they could … completely forget the stormy outward world, in themselves" (341). This domestic ideal represents the new bourgeois ideology that rises, phoenix-like, from the fall of the aristocracy.8

Hermanric in particular emerges as a figure for the bourgeois manhood who, by controlling women within domesticity, is an alternative to the other classes, which are either too emasculated (the effeminate aristocracy) or too emasculating (the lower classes who revolt against those above them). Early in the novel, Collins ecstatically prophesies the rise of the middle classes following a vignette in which a stalwart Roman farmer vehemently denounces the aristocratic "tyrants" whose "rank had triumphed over my industry" (83):

By this time he had lashed himself into fury. His eyes glared, his cheeks flushed, his voice rose. Could he then have seen the faintest vision of the destiny that future ages had in store for the posterity of the race that now suffered throughout civilized Europe, like him—could he have imagined how, in after years, the "middle class," despised in his day, was to rise to privilege and power; to hold in its just hands the balance of the prosperity of nations; to crush oppression and regulate rule; to soar in its mighty flight above thrones, and principalities, and ranks and riches, apparently obedient, but really commanding—could he but have foreboded this, what a light must have burst upon his gloom, what a hope must have soothed him in his despair!


This paean to the messianic middle class accumulates clauses with a rhetorical feverishness that echoes the farmer's outburst. The bourgeois man thus seems to be allowed the rebellion against the ancien régime ("apparently obedient, but really commanding") denied to both the daughter Antonina and the insolent lower classes. Yet Hermanric, the novel's principal figure for this emergent bourgeois manhood, is rendered singularly powerless. Although in the passage following the farmer's speech Collins synecdochically compares the bourgeoisie to "just hands," Hermanric's hands become immobilized. To punish him for his transgression in protecting his Roman enemy Antonina rather than killing her, Hermanric's angry sister Goisvintha severs the tendons in his hand with a knife. That he is shortly afterward slain as a deserter by a posse of vengeful Huns adds an appropriate finale to this symbolic castration.

The eruption of the sister into the scene of proto-domesticity between Antonina and Hermanric points both to Goisvintha's importance in the novel and to the energy with which she disrupts its conventions. Literally female Gothic, she also figuratively signals the invasion of the Gothic genre into Collins' art. In the most obvious sense, her crazed desire to revenge her family, massacred by the Romans, recalls the obsessed melodramatic figures in the Gothic tradition. Goisvintha evokes Gothic conventions in a general way, but through her the genre also is associated more specifically with images of feminine power and violence. To explain her "mysterious and powerful influence" over her brother (217), Collins emphasizes how Gothic culture is structured around women's position as priests and seers, a "remarkable ascendency of the woman over the man" (215). In her first scene with Hermanric in the novel, indeed, it appears as if she had "changed sexes" (20) with her brother; the phallic woman, she seizes the knives and swords he will not wield against Antonina in an attempt to use them herself. Throughout the novel, the narrative voice disapprovingly comments on Goisvintha's usurpation of the male role: she is "harsh and unwomanly" (213), the "unappeasable and unwomanly Goisvintha" (381), who speaks in a "broken, hoarse, and unfeminine" voice (23).

This emphasis on Goisvintha's rebellion against gender roles links her to her Roman enemy Antonina (whom at one point she stabs with her ever-ready knife) as an embodiment of the daughter's covert rebellion against her father. In this position as doppelgänger, Goisvintha recalls the prominence of such doubles in the Gothic tradition, while also, more importantly, evoking the genre's representation of revolution. In Antonina, the Gothic gives Collins a language for figuring revolution, even as it aligns that language with the feminine. Goisvintha is the novel's figure for revolution; an early version of Dickens' Madame Defarge (for whom she may have been a model),9 she seethes with ressentiment against Roman tyrants. Her iconic embodiment of the monstrous mother (it is the death of her children that fuels her outrage) recalls Carlyle's image of the "insurrection of women" during the French Revolution as an uprising of mothers, "Judiths" and "Menads" defined by their power to mutilate and disempower men, as Goisvintha does to Hermanric.10

Goisvintha's feminine "insurrection" again ties her to Antonina, for if the female Goth is a rebellious mother, Antonina is connected through her mother with a tradition of feminine revolt against the father's law. Whereas the rise of the feminine rebellious energy that Goisvintha represents precipitates the waning of patriarchal power—during the course of the novel the rigidly ascetic Numerian becomes weak and senile—it poses an even more significant threat to the new bourgeois order signified by the domesticity of Hermanric and Antonina. In this bourgeois ideology, woman is not a rebellious but a submissive partner, a solace amid the storms of history (surely it is appropriate that Goisvintha stabs Antonina in the throat, as if to emblematize this type of silencing). Goisvintha, however, is sacrificed—quite literally—to restore domesticity. Captured by the demented Ulpius, who is obsessed with reviving the cult of the pagan gods, she is offered to them, as if in parody of her own phallic energy, by being impaled on a large sword. Yet Goisvintha's violent chastisement, which excises both feminine power and the Gothic energy that figures it, ultimately excludes history itself from the novel. After the deaths of both the female Goth and her crazed assailant, the energy of the historical narrative dissipates, allowing for the reconciliation of Antonina with her repentant father and the reestablishment of domesticity, albeit (since Hermanric is dead) in an impotent and desexualized form.

This exclusion of history has the paradoxical effect of making the novel subtitled "The Fall of Rome" elide that event. Concluding the story after the first blockade of Rome by the Goths, the narrator turns from the image of Antonina and her father mourning over Hermanric's grave to ask:

Shall we longer delay in the farmhouse garden? No! For us, as for Vetranio, it is now time to depart! While peace still watches round the walls of Rome; while the hearts of the father and daughter still repose together in security after the trials that have wrung them, let us quit the scene! Here, at last, the narrative that we have followed over a dark and stormy tract, reposes on a tranquil field; and here let us cease to pursue it!

So the traveler who traces the course of a river, wanders through the day among the rocks and precipices that lead onward from its troubled source; and, when the evening is at hand, pauses and rests where the banks are grassy and the stream is smooth.


The transitory nature of this final scene ("while peace still watches round the walls of Rome") reminds the reader that this domestic sunniness is soon to be interrupted, and perhaps destroyed, by the "dark and stormy" history it holds only imperfectly at bay.

In terms of Antonina's representation of 1848, such an ending is in one sense appropriate. By concluding the novel after the Goths' first blockade, the "world-wide revolution" of Rome's fall is still in the process of happening, just as, presumably, social conditions were ripe for revolutionary movements, even though the 1848 revolution did not travel to England. Still, the narrator's "No!" after he asks if he should linger in Rome recalls what Georg Lukács referred to as the "denial of history" in bourgeois literature following 1848. Surveying the historical novel after Scott, Lukács examines how the bourgeoisie, who had portrayed themselves prior to 1848 as revolutionary heroes in a drama of historical "progress," react to the threat of proletarian uprisings that contest their power as much as that of the upper classes. The form that this bourgeois reaction takes after 1848, Lukács argues, is to elide the representation of history as a type of rebellion of one class against another, dwelling instead on narratives that suggest the inevitability of bourgeois hegemony.11

Some recent critics have adopted and elaborated on Lukács' theory to trace how literature uses domestic ideology as a particularly powerful means of naturalizing bourgeois authority in the 1848 period. In his study of the English historical novel, Nicholas Rance locates 1848 as the moment of a shift from the historical fiction of Scott and Bulwer-Lytton to domestic fiction that normalizes bourgeois ideology.12 A more detailed history of this shift is provided by Nancy Armstrong, who underscores the separation between political themes and domestic ones that became pronounced in English fiction by the 1840s. As Armstrong argues, novels of the 1840s imply that the world of politics should be isolated from domesticity, even as they suggest that struggles between classes can be regulated in the same way as rebellions within families.13

By moving, at the end of Antonina, beyond history to take refuge in a patently fragile domesticity, Collins both participates in this narrative economy and points to its inherent weakness. Although Antonina embodies the energy of revolution and rebellion in female characters and then silences them, this maneuver does not restore male authority over the family, history, or the narrative itself: Numerian is senescent and powerless, and Hermanric is dead. Moreover, the conclusion of Antonina does not solve the problem of Collins' own literary authority, of his becoming an author in 1848. The novel that rejects the law of the father imagines art and rebellion as the provenance of female figures, who are in turn contained and circumscribed. In this novel about the invasion of the Gothic, the power concentrated in the figure of Goisvintha represents the narrative energy of the Gothic that invades Collins' art even as, in this revolutionary moment, he turns farther away from the father's example. The attempt to exorcise the Gothic or to hold it at bay anticipates the narrative pattern that would become more pronounced in the novels that follow Antonina, in which a crisis of power for the male artist is linked with the rise of a female power associated with or figured by the Gothic. The male artist's efforts to ally himself with or to contain the power of these female and Gothic figures form the major narrative tension of Collins' later fictions. In Antonina, however, these tensions are resolved only by an evasion of closure that suggests an inability to tell the narrative of 1848. Although the novel figures the waning of the patriarchal power eulogized in the Memoirs, at this early moment in his career Collins could not imagine an alternative image of either male or female authority.


1. W. Wilkie Collins, Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R.A., With Selections from His Journals and Correspondence (1848; reprint, Wakefield, W. Yorkshire: EP Publishing, 1978), II, 311. All references will be to this edition, a facsimile of the original two-volume edition, and are cited by both volume and page. Since Collins dropped the initial "W." in most of the books he published after the Memoirs, I refer to him in all subsequent citations of his works as Wilkie Collins.

2. Wilkie Collins, "Memorandum, Relating to the Life and Writings of Wilkie Collins" (1862), in Morris L. Parrish and Elizabeth V. Miller, Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade: First Editions (with a Few Exceptions) in the Library at Dormy House, Pine Valley, New Jersey (London, 1940; reprint, New York; Franklin, 1968), 4. This brief autobiographical sketch is printed in its entirety on pp. 4-5.

3. The phrase is Collins', from his "Memorandum," in Parrish and Miller, Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade, 4.

4. Wilkie Collins to Richard Bentley, 30 August 1849, quoted in Sue Lonoff, Wilkie Collins and His Victorian Readers: A Study in the Rhetoric of Authorship (New York: AMS Press, 1982), 68-69.

5. See Lee Sterrenburg, "Mary Shelley's The Last Man: Anatomies of Failed Revolutions," in The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Monster, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 326-27, where he discusses the numerous "post-Napoleonic works of literature and painting which shared analogous themes of the end of the race or the end of empire." An early pre-Napoleonic example of this type of work is Volney's Ruins of Empire (1791), which the monster hears Felix and Safie reading in Frankenstein; a later example is Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), probably a source for Antonina.

6. Wilkie Collins, Antonina; or, The Fall of Rome, vol. 17 of The Works of Wilkie Collins (New York: Peter Fenelon Collier, [1900]), 38. All references will be to this edition and are cited by page in the text.

7. Davis, Life of Wilkie Collins, 44.

8. There is one quite bizarre scene that underscores the importance of domestic ideology in Antonina while simultaneously pushing it into the realm of Gothic horror. When the decadent Vetranio holds his "Banquet of Famine," during which selected aristocrats and their lackies propose to commit mass suicide by drinking themselves to death, he places in a curtained alcove the body of a woman he found on the street, "propped up on a high black throne" with her arms "artifically supported" and "stretched out as if in denunciation over the banqueting-table" (501). This black humor is meant to emphasize, with Vetranio's characteristic cynical satire, the presence of mortality and the Roman's impending doom. When one of the plebeian guests, the hunchbacked and sinister Reburrus, rises to toast the figure Vetranio calls the "mighty mother" of "mystic revelations" (501), he realizes with horror that she is in fact his mother, whom he had spurned when she reproached him for his neglect. Overwhelmed with repentance, Reburrus collapses, repeating hypnotically "MY MOTHER! MY MOTHER!" (504). Thus although the figure of the mother here is indeed "mighty," an icon of violated domesticity that enforces that ideology, she is also a Gothic image that terrorizes men, much as does that emasculating female Goth, Goisvintha, whose role I discuss later in this chapter.

9. Dickens' portrait of Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities may have been influenced by Collins' Goisvintha, since he could have read Antonina either when it first appeared (he had subscribed to the Memoirs on their publication) or later, when he and Collins were more closely associated. Although Dickens' portrait of the revolutionary woman, like Collins', was surely also influenced by Carlyle's revision of Burke in The French Revolution, there are many specific similarities between Madame Defarge and Goisvintha. Both women are consumed by the desire to revenge their families (Madame Defarge even comes with her own sidekick, the Vengeance), and both egg on vacillating men (Hermanric, Ernest Defarge) who shrink from killing their female enemies.

10. See Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, in Works (Boston: Centennial Memorial Edition, [1904]), vol. I, chap. 4 ("The Menads"), 243: "descend, O mothers; descend, ye Judiths, to food and revenge!"

11. See Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel (1937), trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell, with an introduction by Fredric Jameson (1963; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), especially 171-250.

12. See Rance, The Historical Novel and Popular Politics (New York: Barnes, 1975), chap. 1, "The Historical Novel after Scott," 37-62.

13. In general, her Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) charts the rise of this representational strategy; see in particular the chapter "History in the House of Culture," 161-202.

The Woman in White

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SOURCE: "Recent Popular Novels: The Woman in White." Dublin University Magazine 57, no. 338 (February 1861): 200-04.

In the following excerpt, the critic offers a negative assessment of The Woman in White.

[In The Woman in White] the spirit of modern realism has woven a tissue of scenes more wildly improbable than the fancy of an average idealist would have ventured to inflict on readers beyond their teens. Mr. W. Collins has for some years been favourably known to the general reader as a painstaking manufacturer of stories, short or long, whose chief merit lies in the skilful elaboration of a startling mystery traceable to some natural cause, but baffling all attempts to solve it until the author himself has given us the right clue. Some praise is also due to him for the care with which these literary puzzles are set off by a correct if not very natural style, a pleasing purity of moral tone, and a certain knack of hitting the more superficial traits of character. When we have said all we can for him, we have said nothing that would entitle him to a higher place among English novelists, than the compiler of an average school-history would enjoy among English historians….

[Take the plot away from The Woman in White,] and there is nothing left to examine. There is not one lifelike character: not one natural dialogue in the whole book. Both hero and heroine are wooden, commonplace, uninteresting in any way apart from the story itself….

What character his personages have, the author prides himself on bringing out in a way which other novelists will do well not to imitate. If they neither say nor do aught characteristic on their own account, yet in connexion with the story most of them have a good deal to write about themselves or about each other. This, indeed, forms the main peculiarity of the book…. [As Collins claims in his preface:] "The story of the book is told throughout by the characters of the book," each of them in turn taking up the wondrous tale at the point where his or her shadow falls most invitingly across the scene…. What movement the story has could have been imparted by much simpler means; and we would rather have seen the characters developed in the usual way, than by a process about as credible and straightforward as that employed by the spirits who are supposed to move our drawin-groom tables….

But the attempt to combine newness of form and substance with reality of treatment has led to failure of a still more glaring kind. Throughout the book circumstances grotesque or improbable meet you at every turn. You are bidden to look at scenes of real modern life, described by the very persons who figured therein, and you find yourself, instead, wandering in a world as mythical as that portrayed on the boards of a penny theatre or in the pages of a nursery tale.


SOURCE: Oliphant, Margaret. "Sensation Novels." Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 91, no. 559 (May 1862): 564-84.

In the following excerpt, Oliphant discusses sensation novels and praises The Woman in White as an outstanding effort in the genre.

Ten years ago the world in general had come to a singular crisis in its existence. The age was lost in self-admiration. We had done so many things that nobody could have expected a century before—we were on the way to do so many more, if common report was to be trusted. We were about inaugurating the reign of universal peace in a world too deeply connected by links of universal interest ever to commit the folly of war again—we had invented everything that was most unlikely, and had nothing before us but to go on perfecting our inventions, and, securing all the powers of nature in harness, to do all manner of peaceable work for us like the giants in the children's story. What a wonderful difference in ten years! Instead of linking peaceful hands, and vowing to study war no more, we have turned Industry away from her vaunted work of putting a girdle round the world, and set her to forge thunderbolts in volcanic din and passion. In that momentous interval great wars have begun and ended, and fighting has come into fashion throughout the palpitating earth. We who once did, and made, and declared ourselves masters of all things, have relapsed into the natural size of humanity before the great events which have given a new character to the age. Though we return with characteristic obstinacy and iteration to the grand display of wealth and skill which in 1851 was a Festival of Peace, we repeat the celebration with very different thoughts. It is a changed world in which we are now standing. If no distant sound of guns echoes across seas and continents upon our ears as we wander under the South Kensington domes, the lack of the familiar sound will be rather disappointing than satisfactory. That distant roar has come to form a thrilling accompaniment to the safe life we lead at home. On the other side of the Atlantic, a race blasée and lost in universal ennui has bethought itself of the grandest expedient for procuring a new sensation; and albeit we follow at a humble distance, we too begin to feel the need of a supply of new shocks and wonders. Those fell Merrimacs and Monitors, stealing forth with a certain devilish invulnerability and composure upon the human ships and men to be made fire and carnage of, are excitement too high pitched for comfort; but it is only natural that art and literature should, in an age which has turned to be one of events, attempt a kindred depth of effect and shock of incident. In the little reflected worlds of the novel and the drama the stimulant has acted strongly, and the result in both has been a significant and remarkable quickening of public interest. Shakespeare, even in the excitement of a new interpretation, has not crowded the waning playhouse, as has the sensation drama with its mock catastrophes; and Sir Walter himself never deprived his readers of their lawful rest to a greater extent with one novel than Mr Wilkie Collins has succeeded in doing with his Woman in White. We will not attempt to decide whether the distance between the two novelists is less than that which separates the skirts of Shakespeare's regal mantle from the loftiest stretch of Mr Bourcicault. But it is a fact that the well-known old stories of readers sitting up all night over a novel had begun to grow faint in the public recollection. Domestic histories, however virtuous and charming, do not often attain that result—nor, indeed, would an occurrence so irregular and destructive of all domestic proprieties be at all a fitting homage to the virtuous chronicles which have lately furnished the larger part of our light literature. Now a new fashion has been set to English novel-writers. Whether it can be followed extensively, or whether it would be well if that were possible, are very distinct questions; but it cannot be denied that a most striking and original effort, sufficiently individual to be capable of originating a new school in fiction, has been made, and that the universal verdict has crowned it with success.

Mr Wilkie Collins is not the first man who has produced a sensation novel. By fierce expedients of crime and violence, by diablerie of divers kinds, and by the wild devices of a romance which smiled at probabilities, the thing has been done before now. The higher class of American fiction, as represented by Hawthorne, attempts little else. In that strange hybrid between French excitement and New England homeliness, we recognise the influence of a social system which has paralysed all the wholesome wonders and nobler mysteries of human existence. Hectic rebellion against nature—frantic attempts by any kind of black art or mad psychology to get some grandeur and sacredness restored to life—or if not sacredness and grandeur, at least horror and mystery, there being nothing better in earth or heaven; Mesmerism possibly for a make-shift, or Socialism, if perhaps it might be more worth while to turn ploughmen and milkmaids than ladies and gentlemen; or, if none of these would do, best to undermine life altogether, and find what creeping honours might be underground: here a Scarlet Letter and impish child of shame, there a snake-girl, horrible junction of reptile and woman. The result is no doubt a class of books abounding in sensation; but the effect is invariably attained by violent and illegitimate means, as fantastic in themselves as they are contradictory to actual life. The Master of English fiction, Sir E. B. Lytton, has accomplished the same end, by magic and supernaturalism, as in the wild and beautiful romance of Zanoni. We will not attempt to discuss his last wonderful effort of this class, which is a species by itself, and to be judged only by special rules, which space debars us from considering. Of all the productions of the supernatural school, there is none more perfect in its power of sensation, or more entirely effective in its working out, than the short story of the 'Haunted House,' most thrilling of ghostly tales; but we cannot enter upon this school of fiction, which is distinct from our present subject. Mr Dickens rarely writes a book without an attempt at a similar effect by means of some utterly fantastic creation, set before his readers with all that detail of circumstance in which he is so successful. Amid all these predecessors in the field, Mr Wilkie Collins takes up an entirely original position. Not so much as a single occult agency is employed in the structure of his tale. Its power arises from no overstraining of nature:—the artist shows no love of mystery for mystery's sake; he wastes neither wickedness nor passion. His plot is astute and deeply-laid, but never weird or ghastly; he shows no desire to tinge the daylight with any morbid shadows. His effects are produced by common human acts, performed by recognisable human agents, whose motives are never inscrutable, and whose line of conduct is always more or less consistent. The moderation and reserve which he exhibits; his avoidance of extremes; his determination, in conducting the mysterious struggle, to trust to the reasonable resources of the combatants, who have consciously set all upon the stake for which they play, but whom he assists with no weapons save those of quick wit, craft, courage, patience, and villany—tools common to all men—make the lights and shadows of the picture doubly effective. The more we perceive the perfectly legitimate nature of the means used to produce the sensation, the more striking does that sensation become. The machinery of miracle, on the contrary, is troublesome and expensive, and never satisfactory; a miraculous issue ought to come out of it to justify the miraculous means; and miraculous issues are at war with all the economy of nature, not to say that they are difficult of invention and hard to get credit for. A writer who boldly takes in hand the common mechanism of life, and by means of persons who might all be living in society for anything we can tell to the contrary, thrills us into wonder, terror, and breathless interest, with positive personal shocks of surprise and excitement, has accomplished a far greater success than he who effects the same result through supernatural agencies, or by means of the fantastic creations of lawless genius or violent horrors of crime. When we are to see a murder visibly done before our eyes, the performers must be feeble indeed if some shudder of natural feeling does not give force to their exertions; and the same thing is still more emphatically the case when the spiritual and invisible powers, to which we all more or less do secret and unwilling homage, are actors in the drama. The distinguishing feature of Mr Wilkie Collins' success is, that he ignores all these arbitrary sensations, and has boldly undertaken to produce effects as startling by the simplest expedients of life. It is this which gives to his book the qualities of a new beginning in fiction. There is neither murder, nor seduction, nor despair—neither startling eccentrics nor fantastic monsters in this remarkable story. A much more delicate and subtle power inspires its action. We cannot object to the means by which he startles and thrills his readers; everything is legitimate, natural, and possible; all the exaggerations of excitement are carefully eschewed, and there is almost as little that is objectionable in this highly-wrought sensation-novel, as if it had been a domestic history of the most gentle and unexciting kind….

The ordinary belief of the public, backed by recent experience, seems to be that there are few trades more easy than the writing of novels. Any man who entertains this opinion, would do well to take a backward glance over the early works of Mr Wilkie Collins. These productions, all of which have come into existence with elaborate prefaces, and expositions of a "purpose," will prove to the reader that the Woman in White is not a chance success or caprice of genius, but that the author has been long engaged in preparatory studies, and that the work in question is really the elaborate result of years of labour. Academical sketches and studies from the life are not always interesting to the general spectator; nor are painters apt to exhibit them, by way of showing how much pains were necessary before the picture could be composed, and the figures duly set and draped; yet when the great work is complete, there is an unquestionable interest in the fragments of suggestion from which, one by one, the perfect composition grew. We will not inquire whether the Woman in White is a sufficiently great work to merit such an exposition; but every reader who thinks so has it in his power to study the portfolio of sketches by which the author measured his strength. We confess that it has, up to a recent time, been a marvel to us what possible interest any human creature could be supposed to take in the motives which induced a rational man and tolerable writer to weave such a dreary web as the Dead Secret, or to commit to print and publicity such a revolting story as Basil. It appears, however, that the author knew what he was about; his last successful work has thrown a gleam of intelligibility even upon his prefaces, and it is with the respect due to persevering labour and difficulties overcome that we approach the book which shows how much he has profited by his probation. Let us not neglect such an opportunity for a moral. To judge this author by the portfolio of imperfect sketches which he liberally confided to the world before uncovering the picture for which they were made, nobody would have concluded him likely to open a new path for himself, or to produce a remarkable and thrilling effect by the most modest and subtle means. The sketches are often diffuse and washy—sometimes coarsely horrible—scarcely at all betraying that fine faculty of perception which can divine and seize upon the critical instant, neither too early nor too late, in which lies the whole pictorial force and interest of a lengthened scene. Mr Wilkie Collins has profited in the very highest degree by his preparatory labours. He has improved upon all his early works to an extent which proves in only too edifying and complete a way the benefits of perseverance and painstaking. The very excellence of the result tempts us to an ungracious regret. Would that those memoranda by which future generations may trace "the steps by which he did ascend," had but been less confidingly intrusted to the public! Such a disclosure of all the beginnings and early essays of a successful career is possible only to literature. Other crafts keep their experiments out of sight. Authors alone have that ingenuous confidence in the world, and belief in its candour and kindness, which emboldens them to submit the first utterances of the muse to its great ear, and confide to it all the particulars of their progress. Fortunately, the confidence is rarely misplaced. When the hour arrives, and the man becomes famous, the indulgent world applauds his success without pausing to remind him of his failures. Let us follow the charitable example. Mr Wilkie Collins has made many a stumble on the laborious ascent; his progress upward has been jolting and unharmonious by time; but now that he has reached a height upon which he can pause and receive the congratulations of his friends, let not ours be the hand to throw his earlier imperfections in his face. If he makes as much progress in time to come as he has done in the past, there is no predicting what future altitude may await the author of the Woman in White.

The novel itself is too well known to call for anything like a critical review at our hands. We need not discuss over again so familiar a tale, or dwell upon the characters which are, all but Fosco, undeniably subordinate to the story, and to the delicate succession of sensations by which that story is set forth. Mr Wilkie Collins insists upon the fact that readers have written to him expressing their interest in "Laura," and "Miss Halcombe," and "Anne Catherick;" a fact, indeed, which it is very easy to account for, seeing that there could be no story but by means of these figures. But in reality the truth is, that one cares very little for these characters on their own account, and that Mr Hartright and Sir Percival Glyde and the rest are persons whom we regard with but the mildest interest so far as themselves are concerned. The distinguishing characteristic of the book (always excepting Fosco) is the power and delicacy of its sensation incidents; the simple manner in which they are brought out; generally the perfect naturalness of the fact, and always the extremely effective manner in which the critical moment and event strike into the tale, giving it a precision and distinctness which no other expedient could supply so well.


SOURCE: James, Henry. "Miss Braddon." The Nation 1, no. 19 (9 November 1865): 593-94.

In the following excerpt, James lauds the realism in The Woman in White and maintains that Collins's skill as an author sets the novel apart from ordinary sensation fiction.

[The Woman in White,] with its diaries and letters and its general ponderosity, was a kind of nineteenth century version of Clarissa Harlowe. Mind, we say a nineteenth century version. To Mr. Collins belongs the credit of having introduced into fiction those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries which are at our own doors. This innovation gave a new impetus to the literature of horrors…. A good ghost-story, to be half as terrible as a good murder-story, must be connected at a hundred points with the common objects of life…. Less delicately terrible, perhaps, than the vagaries of departed spirits, but to the full as interesting, as the modern novel reader understands the word, are the numberless pos-sible forms of human malignity. Crime, indeed, has always been a theme for dramatic poets; but with the old poets its dramatic interest lay in the fact that it compromised the criminal's moral repose. Whence else is the interest of Orestes and Macbeth? With Mr. Collins … the interest of crime is in the fact that it compromises the criminal's personal safety. The play is a tragedy, not in virtue of an avenging deity, but in virtue of a preventive system of law; not through the presence of a company of fairies, but through that of an admirable organization of police detectives. Of course, the nearer the criminal and the detective are brought home to the reader, the more lively his "sensation." They are brought home to the reader by a happy choice of probable circumstances; and it is through [his] skill in the choice of these circumstances—[his] thoroughgoing realism—that Mr. Collins … [has] become famous….

Mr. Collins's productions deserve a more respectable name [than sensation novel]. They are massive and elaborate constructions—monuments of mosaic work, for the proper mastery of which it would seem, at first, that an index and notebook were required. They are not so much works of art as works of science.

Fred Botting (Essay Date 1996)

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SOURCE: Botting, Fred. “Homely Gothic.” In Gothic, pp. 113-34. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

In the following excerpt, Botting discusses the Gothic conventions in The Woman in White.

In The Woman in White the transgressions of individual desire threaten family and society from within. Wilkie Collins was preeminent among the sensation novelists of the 1860s. Sensational effects, however, owe much to Gothic, particularly Radcliffean, styles of evoking terror, mystery and superstitious expectation. The plot, figures and narrative form of The Woman in White also structurally resemble Radcliffe’s Gothic, though transposed into shapes more appropriate to the nineteenth century. Henry James, in the Nation (1865), credits Collins with ‘having introduced into fiction those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries which are at our own door’. ‘Instead of the terrors of “Udolpho”’, James goes on, ‘we were treated to the terrors of the cheerful country-house and the busy London lodgings. And there is no doubt that these were infinitely the more terrible’ (p. 742). None the less, Gothic patterns pervade Collins’s novel. The Gothic heroine, passive and persecuted, is presented as an image of

loss and suffering, especially when seen through the eyes of that new Victorian hero, the amateur detective. Anne Catherick, the woman of the title, is scarcely present in the novel, her spectral appearances in dark city streets, deserted graveyards and garden retreats gesturing towards the mysteries and terrors the narrative resolves. As a ghostly figure pointing to the past crimes of an illegitimate aristocrat and the sufferings and persecutions which he inflicts on her, Anne Catherick’s appearances also anticipate the trials of the novel’s Gothic heroine who, as a half-sister, is both literally and narratively her double. As a reminder of older Gothic family romance patterns, the double is also used to present a more terrible possibility as a figure that threatens the loss of identity.

The novel, indeed, is framed quite self-consciously as a Gothic romance. Towards the end, the hero, Hartright, reviews the story:

‘The sins of the father shall be visited on the children.’ But for the fatal resemblance between the two daughters of one father, the conspiracy of which Anne had been the innocent instrument and Laura the innocent victim, could never have been planned. With what unerring and terrible directness the long chain of circumstances led down from the thoughtless wrong committed by the father to the heartless injury inflicted on the child!

(p. 514)

Echoing Walpole’s partial justification for The Castle of Otranto, the oldest Gothic plot of all is re-enacted in the story of the consequences of secret paternal crime. The self-consciousness and the duplicity of the Gothic is presented in the text’s doubles: Anne and Laura, mirror images of female oppression, fortitude, passivity and sacrifice, within and in the name of the family, are not the only Gothic pairing. The role of villain is also doubled. One is Sir Percival Glyde, who persecutes Anne to keep his own dark family secret and marries Laura in the hope of dispossessing her of her inheritance. He is the selfish, brutish example of economic and oppressive villainy. The other, Count Fosco, is a figure of aesthetic and imaginative villainy. His diabolical cunning and creative intelligence are combined with a vain, self-indulgent and cruel character that, in a corpulent body, signal him to be the real and ambivalent object of horror. He devises the most callous schemes with the same delight that he exhibits playing games. His intellectual vanity and aesthetic self-consciousness are displayed with a flourish when, in the confession he is forced to write at the end, he recommends his idea of abducting and substituting Laura for Anne as a model plot for English romance writers (p. 568).

As in the Radcliffean romance, the mysteries surrounding the spectral appearance of Anne Catherick are finally furnished with a rational explanation. Through the investigative efforts of Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe, Laura’s relation, the aura of mystery and terror is disclosed as an intricate but material plot. Unlike earlier Gothic narratives, the interwoven narratives composing the novel—lawyers’ reports, domestics’ statements and villain’s confession—are presented as extended legal documents. The legalistic form is central to re-establishing a proper narrative against the webs of deceit woven by the villains. Law, reason and identity are thus linked as narrative forms. The careful comparison of narrative clues and temporal consistency regarding events, in the analysis of dates, times and timetables, provides the means to rescue the abducted Laura. The secret of Glyde’s illegitimacy is found in a text. Moreover, it is the manipulation of stories that enables the substitution of Laura for Anne, while a properly legal account of events proves her identity and establishes her rights to her inheritance and property.

A rational explanation of criminal mysteries by means of detection and law rather than the hand of Providence situates Gothic patterns in a thoroughly Victorian context. It is an amateur detective who comes to the rescue of a persecuted wife. Female persecution and imprisonment are of a more modern cast with the asylum replacing the convent and the country house the castle. The dark labyrinth of terror is located in the city, a ‘house-forest’ populated by spies and conspirators (p. 379). Fosco, an adept chemist, especially when it comes to drugs, embodies the villainous potential of scientific intelligence. As a refugee from a Europe that, in 1848, was wracked by revolutionary upheavals and subversive conspiracies, he is also associated with dangerous, and imported, political ideas. The superiority of English values of law, liberty and domesticity is reaffirmed only after the terrors of losing one’s identity, freedom and life have been encountered. Happy domesticity is restored in the marriage of Hartright and Laura, but only at the price of the sacrifice of her double. It is, moreover, a displaced sense of closure since, at the beginning of the novel, it was the spectral, mysterious and helpless appearance of Anne that excited Hartright’s interest and became his object of desire. Sacrificed, she became a sacred and impossible object, her ghostly distance and her death a sign of the fragility of a social order caught between the duplicitous power or impotence of fathers and husbands.

Closure is partial, a sense of loss remains. Threats to law, domestic relations and cultural and sexual identity are only temporarily rebuffed. In Victorian culture, too, a loss, increasingly irreparable by reason or law alone and articulated in terms of spiritualism and horror, governs perceptions of science, nature, crime, and social degeneration. Later in the century the threats to cultural identity reappear, to be presented, in a different combination of scientific rationality and sacred horror, as distinctly sexual in nature.

Works Cited

Collins, Wilkie, The Woman in White (1860), ed. Harvey Peter Sucksmith, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980.

James, Henry, ‘Mary Elizabeth Braddon’ (1865), Literary Criticism, ed. Leon Edel, New York, The Library of America, 1984.


SOURCE: Griffin, Susan M. "The Yellow Mask, the Black Robe, and the Woman in White: Wilkie Collins, Anti-Catholic Discourse, and the Sensation Novel." Narrative 12, no. 1 (January 2004): 55-73.

In the following essay, Griffin analyzes Collins's anti-Catholic discourse in "The Yellow Mask" and The Black Robe, and argues that Collins transforms this pattern of rhetoric into sensational Gothic narrative in The Woman in White.

Summarizing the Gothic history of sensationalism, Patrick Brantlinger traces a movement from the religious to the secular: "By a kind of metaphoric sleight of hand, the Gothic romance has managed to make secular mystery seem like a version of religious mystery." By the time of sensationalism, Brantlinger argues, there is "not even a quasi-religious content" (32). Without claiming that sensation novels are, as such, religious, I nonetheless want to suggest that anti-Catholicism can provide those masks, cloaks, and mysteries, ready-made, as it were.1 One way to achieve the sleight of hand by which the secular takes on a religious aura is by brandishing the narrative vestments and vestiges inherited from the Gothic.

The secularized mysteries of sensationalism replaced religion in another sense as well. In an 1863 Quarterly Review article deploring sensationalism, John Murray complained that "A class of literature has grown up around us, usurping in many respects, intentionally or unintentionally, a portion of the preacher's office, playing no inconsiderable part in moulding the minds and forming the habits and tastes of its generation; and doing so principally, we had almost said exclusively, by 'preaching to the nerves'" instead of to judgment, as preachers should do (252). "To think of pointing a moral by stimulants of this kind," Murray pronounces, "is like holding a religious service in a gin-palace" (262). While Murray mentions a few sensation novels that deal directly with religious subjects (e.g., Charles Maurice Davies's Philip Paternoster: A Tractarian Love Story), his larger point is that religious discourse informs the sensation novel less as content and more as form. The rhetorical persuasions of the pulpit are now displaced onto the pages of the sensation novel, and, counterintuitively, reading is more bodily than listening. These sensational sermons are exercises in repeated—eventually habitual—stimulation, "moulding minds, forming tastes and habits."

The phrase "preaching to the nerves" not only captures sensationalism's secularizing of religious rhetorical forms, but also indicates how sensationalism physicalizes ideology. Ann Cvetkovich has argued persuasively that sensationalism's embodiment of social structures, its naturalizing of representations and their meanings, is importantly political (25).2 The techniques of sensationalism underscore narrative's intimate and intricate dependence upon readerly affect. ("Think of her as you thought of the first woman who quickened your pulses within you that the rest of her sex has no art to stir. Let the kind, candid blue eyes meet yours, as they met mine, with the one matchless look that we both remember so well…. Take as her as the visionary nursling of your own fancy, and she will grow upon you, all the more clearly, as the living woman who dwells in mine," Walter Hartright famously asserts, instructing Collins's readers in the uses of sensory memory and association [50].) Individual Victorian reading experiences were, of course, diverse,3 but the majority of those readers who consumed Collins's narratives would have shared a history of experience with anti-Catholic discourse. Reinforcing a set of polemical Protestant prejudices in their audience and presenting the Papacy as a cultural, political, and economic force in nineteenth-century Britain, fictions that borrow from anti-Catholic discourse play on readers' fears, arousing their suspense and subsequent speculation. My argument, then, is not simply that the motifs of no-Popery found their way into sensation fiction (although they did), but that sensationalism's narrative structures, forming and formed by the learned associations of its audience, are borrowed in part from anti-Catholicism.

Wilkie Collins, that most secular and sensational of nineteenth-century writers, is rarely thought of as a novelist of religious polemic. Yet in 1855 and again in 1881, Collins published two fictions that conform closely to the patterns of anti-Catholic narrative: "The Yellow Mask" (appearing first in Dickens's Household Words and then in the 1856 collection After Dark) and The Black Robe (serialized in the Sheffield Independent in England, Frank Leslie's Magazine in the United States, and Canadian Monthly in Canada; published in three volumes by Chatto & Windus). Collins's other writings on religion are sparse: a piece on the Carmelite convent in Cornwall titled "The Nuns of Magwan," in Rambles Beyond Railways; "A Plea for Sunday Reform" for the left-wing Leader; a translation of Balzac's story of priests and nuns, "The Midnight Mass," published in Bentley's Miscellany; and comments on Rome and "Romanism" in his letters. William Collins, Wilkie's father, was a Tractarian who despised the Italian Catholicism that he encountered in Rome. He had hoped that Wilkie would attend Oxford and enter the Church—an astonishing instance of misplaced parental ambitions given the relentless unconventionality of his son. Yet, I want to argue that the conventions of religious polemic are at work in what we now perceive as Collins's fictional innovations, particularly in his strategies for readerly engagement.

Anti-Catholicism, which had been allied to the novel from its eighteenth-century beginnings in the work of Ann Radcliffe and other Gothic writers,4 persisted throughout most of the nineteenth century and manifested itself in characteristic fictional form.5 Its rhetoric, plots, imagery, and characters would have been familiar to Collins's popular readership. Harriet Martineau, for one, recognized the formulae: she stopped writing for Household Words because of what she perceived as its anti-Catholic bias, manifested specifically in "The Yellow Mask." In a letter to Charles Dickens, Martineau indignantly quoted from an advertisement for an American magazine's reprint of the story: "'the story is ingenious and fraught with considerable interest. The despicable course of "Father Rocco" pursued so stealthily for the pecuniary benefit of "holy mother church"; shows what stuff priestcraft is made.'" Martineau, like the American audience at which the advertisement was aimed, recognized standardized language of Protestant polemic—the quotation marks around "holy mother church," the term "priestcraft." She expostulated, "The last thing I am likely to do is to write for an anti-catholic publication; and least of all when it is anti-catholic on the sly" (422).6Punch, always astute at spotting genres and types, identifies Collins as the writer of a "No-Popery" in a cartoon from January 1882: Collins is portrayed in Linley Sambourne's caricature "As the Man in White doing Ink-and-Penance for Having Written The Black Robe." What both the American advertisement and the Punch cartoon assume is precisely what Collins himself counted on: a set of audience expectations and recognitions regarding Roman Catholicism.

Such trained audience reactions would have been particularly useful to a writer of sensation fiction, so named in part because of its insistent manipulation of readerly emotions. This essay looks at the functions of anti-Catholicism in two little-known Collins fictions and describes briefly the way that he reworks its standard elements in his most-read novel, The Woman in White. I suggest that in creating the genre of sensation fiction, Collins turns to what are already well-worn formulae. Tamar Heller's Dead Secrets has shown how much Collins's major works owe to the "female gothic" tradition that he draws on and distances himself from. Building on that insight, my study reads these three fictions as participating in and revising genres of anti-Catholicism. The yellow masks and black robes—the clichéd images that Henry James characterizes elsewhere as a "Scarlet Woman" who is "dressed out terribly in a table-cloth, and holds in her hands the drawing-room candlesticks" (Essays 862)7—are transformed in Collins's brilliant creation of a woman in white.

Woman in white, black robe, yellow mask. With the exception of The Wreck of the Golden Mary, a Dickens Christmas tale to which Collins contributed, Collins never again used a color in a title. Primarily what the colors point to is that these texts are in some sense costume dramas. All three garments—dress, robe, and mask—serve as identifying covers: signals that the figure is both in disguise and playing a standard role. For example, "black robe" stands for "Jesuit"; the book's first edition stressed the narrative's use of associative iconography by filling the cover frame with a stylized black robe marked with the words "The Black Robe." Two Punch cartoons for 1850 and 1851 display the polemical uses of costume, showing as well how the character types of anti-Catholic discourse had become near-folkloric. Foregrounded in Collins's titles, then, is his debt to generic plots and characters.

In his 1863 critique Murray explains (and complains about) how such visual cues position sensation novels as interchangeable commodities.8 In the railway stalls, consumers are enticed by book covers showing

A pale young lady in a white dress, with a dagger in her hand, evidently prepared for some desperate deed; or a couple of ruffians engaged in a deadly struggle; or a Red Indian in his war-paint; or, if the plot turns on smooth instead of violent villainy, a priest persuading a dying man to sign a paper; or a disappointed heir burning a will; or a treacherous lover telling his flattering tale to some deluded maid or wife. The exigencies of railway traveling do not allow much time for examining the merits of a book before purchasing it; and the keepers of bookstalls as well as refreshment-rooms, find an advantage in offering their customers something hot and strong, something that may catch the eye of the hurried passenger, and promise temporary excitement to relieve the dulness of the journey.

                              (253 emphasis mine)

In other words, the packaging of these goods relies on a now-familiar mechanism of consumer commodification: immediately recognizable "branding," here by means of genre-specific depictions (think of the studies of dime novels by Bill Brown and romance fiction by Janice Radway). Genre is made visible. The reader knows what she is buying. At the same time, of course, variation must ensure that this is not a product previously purchased. (In the preface to the 1860 edition of The Woman in White, Collins himself maintained that the "two main elements in the attraction of all stories" are "the interest of curiosity, and the excitement of surprise" [646].) The secular sermon that is the sensation novel is, finally, a matter of economics; as Murray puts it, "No divine influence can be imagined as presiding over the birth of his [the sensation novelist's] world, beyond the market-law of demand and supply" (252).

The specific market uses of anti-Catholic discourse are suggested by the way it informs Collins's travel piece "The Nuns of Magwan." Rambles from Railways is, as its title implies, a trip back in time, away from modern technology and timetables, exploring "one of the remotest and most interesting corners of our old English soil" (2). Cornwall, with its "primitive population" and ancient legends, is at once an exoticized destination and the space of England's past. Collins begins his visit to Magwan among the churchyard graves, proceeding to the "ancient" manor house, now converted to a convent, in which a group of twenty Carmelite nuns are immured. Cloistered nuns, and in particular the Carmelite order, held a particular fascination for nineteenth-century Protestants. Paintings like Charles Allston Collins's Convent Thoughts and John Everett Millais's The Vale of Rest portrayed the cloistered nun cryptically as a figure of sublimated passion, claustration, and death (Casteras). And in both Benjamin Disraeli's Lothair and Henry James's The American, the female character who turns away from life and marriage to the death-in-life of the convent does so by joining the Carmelites.

For Wilkie Collins, the Carmelite convent provides "a romance which we may still study, of a mystery which is of our own time" (144). Sounding like Nathaniel Hawthorne in the preface to The Marble Faun ("Romance and poetry, ivy, lichens, and wall-flowers need Ruin to make them grow" [3]), Collins seeks a means of infusing the present with mystery and finds it in the aura of ancient Rome: "Even to this little hidden nook, even to this quiet bower of Nature's building, that vigilant and indestructible Papal religion, which defies alike hidden conspiracy and open persecution, has stretched its stealthy and far-spreading influence. Even in this remote corner of the remote west of England, among the homely cottages of a few Cornish peasants, the imperial Christianity of Rome has set up its sanctuary in triumph—a sanctuary not thrown open to dazzle and awe the beholder, but veiled in deep mystery behind gates that only open, like the fatal gates of the grace, to receive, but never to dismiss again to the world without" (144). This brief characterization of Roman Catholicism indicates its usefulness for sensationalism. With the phrase "Papal religion," Collins seeks to trigger the British Protestant paranoia that sees Catholic conspiracies everywhere.9

Like the Italian secret society that tracks Count Fosco across England and France, the Papacy represents an international power that is, importantly for Collins's writerly strategies, both omnipresent and secret, thus inviting investigation. The sanctuary at Magwan, like the convent and the confessional in anti-Catholic polemic, provides a space for the audience's "knowing" projection, allowing for the participatory reading that was to become so essential to sensation fiction, especially in its serial form. Collins's emphasis throughout "The Nuns of Magwan" is on the nuns' hidden status, on how their faces, forms, and even voices are concealed from the outside world. Dwelling on the nuns' burial grounds and funeral rites, Collins analogizes the secrecy of convent life to that of the grave: "This is all—all of the lives, all of the deaths of the sisterhood at Lanhearne that we can ever know! The remainder must be conjecture. We have but the bare stern outline that has been already drawn—who shall venture, even in imagination, to colour and complete the picture which it darkly, yet plainly, indicates?" (149). Although Collins continues to argue that we should not attempt to imagine, and consequently to judge, the emotions of the nuns, his repeated use of rhetorical questions invites just such speculation. That is, his audience's familiarity with the forms of anti-Catholicism allows it to "colour and complete" the picture that the dark outlines of Roman Catholicism "plainly indicat[e]."

"The Yellow Mask" also depends upon Collins's audience's recognition of standard formulae: "of what stuff priestcraft is made," as the story's American publishers promised. "The Yellow Mask" tells of a poor, virtuous Italian maid, Nanina, who is accompanied through the streets of Pisa by her big, ugly, mongrel dog, the comically named Scarammuccia. Nanina becomes the beloved of a wealthy Pisan nobleman, Fabio d'Ascoli. Interfering with their love is Father Rocco, a priest convinced that a large part of the d'Ascoli fortune rightfully belongs to the Church. When we first meet Father Rocco, he is using a mirror to spy on Nanina and Fabio; later he manages to separate the lovers, secreting the young girl in a house where she is watched continually. Father Rocco's power comes not just from his secret network of operatives but also from the fact that he has trained his young parishioners in obedience. As part of his plan to enrich the Church, the priest manages to marry Fabio off to his niece. When she dies unexpectedly, Father Rocco's plotting becomes more elaborate: among his machinations are the manufacture of the ghostly "Yellow Mask," a figure dressed in the yellow fabric that decorated Fabio's first wife's apartments and whose mask conceals what looks to be the face of her corpse. In short, the priest attempts to scare the superstitious Fabio into submission to his will. The scheme fails, Father Rocco disappears, and Nanina and Fabio happily marry.

The standard features of this story—the priest who plots to "return" riches to the Church through a combination of trickery and guilt, a Catholic system of spies, religious training in unquestioning obedience, the beloved young woman held incommunicado, the living corpse, the alliance of Roman Catholicism and superstition—are mitigated here by the relative mildness of Catholicism's crimes. Unlike the sinister Jesuits who glide throughout much anti-Catholic fiction, this Italian priest is presented as generally virtuous and fair-minded, though willing to practice deception, not to mention enlisting the aid of a scheming, mercenary female prostitute in what he sees as the Church's best interests.

While Collins relies on Protestant preconceptions in this story, he is not yet "preaching to the nerves" of his audience. If, in Margaret Oliphant's famous characterization of the woman in white's hand, "Few readers will be able to resist the mysterious thrill of this sudden touch. The sensation is distinct and indisputable. The silent woman lays her hand upon our shoulder as well as upon that of Mr Walter Hartright" (118), the sight of the yellow mask raises scarcely a shudder.10 "The Yellow Mask," set "about a century ago" in "the ancient city of Pisa" and narrated with an arch irony, positions its readers at a historical and cultural distance. The comic tone that Collins flirts with throughout the narrative can be seen in the lengthy description of the nearly insurmountable problem of finding thirty virtuous young women to serve as shepherdesses at the fancy-dress ball at which the Yellow Mask eventually appears. And that terrifying vision is, we should remember, clad, not unlike Henry James's tablecloth-shrouded Scarlet Woman, in the bedroom curtains (setting the style for Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett O'Hara). Indeed, when he republished the story in After Dark, a collection in which each tale is introduced by a framing story of origination, Collins attributed it to a wizened Italian professor who is writing, Casaubon-like, an unfinished multivolume work on "The Vital Principle." Amidst the papers and books that overflow the professor's study, is a mangy stuffed dog—Scarammuccia had been lovingly preserved by his mistress, and it is his history that turns out to be the tale of "The Yellow Mask." With this frame, Collins glances slyly at the hoary props that sustain his tale. Like the character from commedia del arte for whom he is named, Scarammuccia is a stock comic character whose exploits are knowingly expected by his audience.

Unlike the half-mocking Gothic tale of "The Yellow Mask," The Black Robe is both an astute psychological study and Collins's most sustained attack on the Catholic Church. Like After Dark and The Woman in White, The Black Robe is a documentary narrative, incorporating manuscripts (diaries, letters, etc.) supposedly by several hands. The good and evil sides of "The Yellow Mask"'s Father Rocco are divided in this later novel. We get not one but two Jesuits—two Black Robes: the sincere young Father Penrose (who nonetheless falsely presents himself as the layman "Arthur Penrose") and the cynical older Father Benwell, both of whom disguise their affiliations and intentions, a combination familiar to Victorian readers from, among other sources, Frances Trollope's anti-Catholic Father Eustace, a Tale of the Jesuits. Collins's narrative revolves around the conflict between Stella Eyrecourt and Father Benwell for, in her case, the love and, in his, the fortune of Lewis Romayne—the characters' names hinting at their stereotypical narrative functions. "Would the priest or the woman win the day?" Collins's narrator asks (124). Would Romayne be a faithful husband and father or would he "restore" his riches to the Catholic Church? Finally, at the behest of the Jesuit Superior, Romayne renounces his wife and enters the Catholic clergy. He becomes a powerful, indeed "fanatical," preacher and an ambitious rising star in the Church hierarchy—a favorite of the Pope and selected for a cardinalship. However, he falls ill and, dying, realizes the wrongness of his retreat into the Catholic priesthood. He speaks three last "sacred" words: "Wife and Child" (446)—Collins countering Christ's last words of renunciation and what Protestants saw as Catholic preoccupation with the Four Last Things (Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell).11 Deathbed scenes in anti-Catholic fiction inevitably stage struggles over inheritance (church or family?) and test the truth of religion (the Protestant confident acceptance of death or terrified Catholic uncertainty?).12 Recognizing at last the "unnatural" wasted life of celibacy, Romayne affirms normative Victorian domesticity.

The Black Robe can, in fact, be read as one of a specific group of sensational fictions published during the 1860s–1880s that depicted a triangulated relationship between husband, wife, and priest. Writers like Eliza Lynn Linton, Robert Buchanan, and Emma Worboise describe Anglican clergymen who have become so entranced with High Church Ritualism that they are in danger of crossing over, with their spellbound flocks, to Rome. These novels become a site for discussion of the contemporary state of marriage in Britain.13 Like these fictions, The Black Robe attacks Catholic celibacy as deeply misogynist, as antipathetic to domesticity and family. Father Benwell cynically remarks that he has learned all about women in the confessional, a claim that would have resonated for Collins's readers. The British public, clergy, and Parliament had reacted vociferously to the attempted reintroduction of auricular confession as a Church of England practice in the 1860s and 1870s, a scandal that peaked with the publication of a secret manual for confessors, The Priest in Absolution, in 1866 and 1870. In her study of Victorian women as "confessional subjects," Susan Bernstein quotes W. J. Brockman's mid-nineteenth-century Letter to the Women of England on the Confessional: "I know not another reptile in all animal nature so filthy, so much to be shunned and loathed, and dreaded by females, both married and single, as a Roman Catholic priest or bishop who practices the degrading and demoralizing office of Auricular Confession" (41). Father Benwell's disgust for women marks him as just such a reptile: "I felt grateful to the famous Council which definitely forbade the priests of the Catholic Church to marry," Father Benwell muses. "We might otherwise have been morally enervated by the weakness which degrades Romayne—and priests might have become instruments in the hands of women" (133-34 emphasis mine).

Operative in what Collins sees as Catholic misogyny is also what he depicts as the homosocial, indeed, at times homoerotic, relations between men that comprise the Church hierarchy. The traditional Protestant critique of Catholic celibacy as fostering "unnatural" sexual attachments was intensified in nineteenth-century Britain by the seemingly "Papist" Oxford movement in the 1840s and Ritualism in the 1860s and 1870s—both of which proved attractive to the nation's elite young men. "UnEnglish and unmanly," these religious practices were thought to foster a hothouse homosexuality foreign to real Englishmen.14 What Collins represents in The Black Robe is the Jesuit Provincial's cynical manipulation of such a system—his scheme to have the innocent but desirable Penrose attach Romayne to himself and thus Catholicism. "Why do you want him so much—when you have got Me?" Stella asks vainly regarding Penrose (260), the intimate who addresses Romayne as "my more than friend—my brother in love—!" (312).

"UnEnglish" too is the "Retreat" to which Father Benwell sends Romayne to separate him from his wife. Like the convent at Magwan, the Retreat is represented as a foreign enclave hidden in Protestant England. Entering this deliberately unassuming building, protected by a "high brick wall," "The convert privileged to pass the gate left Protestant England outside, and found himself, as it were, in a new country" (335). Again, Collins echoes the polemical rhetoric of the day. In 1870, a Parliamentary Inquiry into Catholic "Conventual and Monastic Institutions" was instituted. Charles Newdegate, the inquiry's primary sponsor, argued that inspections of these Catholic clerical enclaves were necessary because "There is a growing feeling that the Conventual and Monastic Institutions are being treated by the House of Commons as if they were exempt jurisdictions, subject to Papal Authority, but … exempt from the authority of Parliament" (qtd. in Arnstein 146). Newdegate had proposed such an inquiry repeatedly in the past, arguing that, by making themselves not only immune but actually invisible to English law, convents constituted foreign sovereign territories situated within Great Britain. By 1870, his colleagues agreed that these imported, extrajuridical institutions needed to come under government control.

If The Black Robe reflects the religious and political controversies of its time, it also reveals how far Collins had come as a writer since "The Yellow Mask."15 The haunting of Fabio by his wife's ghost in the earlier fiction is reworked in The Black Robe into Romayne's persecution by a mysterious voice blaming him as an "assassin" for his killing of a man in a duel. Collins moves beyond the crude, preliminary manipulation of Fabio's guilt in "The Yellow Mask" and depicts the slow breaking down and remaking of Romayne's sanity: Father Benwell "wound his way deeper and deeper into Romayne's mind, with the delicate ingenuity of penetration, of which the practice of years had made him master" (351).16 The Jesuit's infamous ability to control minds, depicted in novels ranging from Trollope's Father Eustace to Eugene Sue's Wandering Jew, is detailed step by step, helping to structure Collins's plot. Here Collins's personal interest in the mesmerism that finds its way into novels like The Woman in White and The Moonstone is expressed through the machinations of "the Catholic system [that] … showed to perfection its masterly knowledge of the weakness of human nature, and its inexhaustible dexterity in adapting the means to the end" (336-37).17 In an 1854 letter regarding the Immaculate Conception, Collins describes what he saw as the readiness of Catholics to abandon their individual judgment and give themselves over to priestly control: "Does any Papist make use of his reason when he lets his Church give him his religion? Does not his Church expressly tell him he must give up his reason, and accept mysteries which outrage it, implicitly as matters of faith. Does not every good Papist who will not let his butcher, baker, wife, or children, rob him of one particle of his common sense if he can help it, voluntarily hand that common sense over altogether to the keeping of his Priest whenever his Priest asks for it?" (1:130).

The Collins character who most intrigued his nineteenth-century readers wields just such a priestly power18The Woman in White's Count Fosco, whose wife obeys him unquestioningly, who overrides Percival's every personal judgment, and who mesmerizes even the independent Marion: "They are the most unfathomable gray eyes I ever saw: and they have at times a cold, clear, beautiful, irresistible glitter in them, which forces me to look at him, and yet causes me sensations, when I do look, which I would rather not feel" (221). Margaret Oliphant's description of Fosco underscores the racial and nationalist assumptions that Collins's readership brought to the tale: "No villain of the century, so far as we are aware, comes within a hundred miles of him: he is more real, more genuine, more Italian even, in his fatness and size, in his love of pets and pastry, than the whole array of conventional Italian villains, elegant and subtle, whom we are accustomed to meet in literature" (566-67). Fosco spells out those assumptions to Marion, "You know the character which is given to my countrymen by the English? We Italians are all wily and suspicious by nature, in the estimation of the good John Bull" (245). Written in 1859, when Neapolitan exiles were flocking to London, and set in 1851, when the Great Exhibition seemed to have provided the perfect pretext for spies to enter the country, The Woman in White was guaranteed an audience who knew what to except from such foreigners (Peters 215; Sutherland ix).

Fosco himself lightly suggests, "I am a Jesuit, if you please to think so—a splitter of straws—a man of trifles and crotchets and scruples" (246), but the catalogue of Jesuitical characteristics that Collins's audience would recognize is less benign: a learned member of a secret society, clever at disguise, part of an international system of spies based in Rome, confessor-like in his knowledge of others' secret sins and failings, engaged in a voluminous foreign correspondence even as he intercepts others' missives, an Italian with ties to France. Fosco walks with the Jesuit's silent tread, and looks with his penetrating, mesmerizing stare. He even shares a trait commonly attributed to Catholic priests and nuns—a childlike greed for sweets—a trope that typically points to thwarted sexuality. And of course there is the eminently jesuitical plot he concocts: a marriage triangle, a contested inheritance, a kidnapping, blackmail, a deathbed defrauding of a fortune. Laura's warning about the man who has come between her and her husband—"Do not make an enemy of Count Fosco!"—reverberates with the frightened cries of heroines whose homes and marriages are invaded by priests: "God help me!" Stella Eyrecourt cries, "the priest has gotten between us already!" (274).

The story of Anne Catherick's and then Laura Fairlie's enforced immurement in and subsequent escape from an institution echoed popular nineteenth-century tales of escaped nuns, especially given the resemblance between their white clothing and a nun's habit and veil, and the frequent analogy that Protestant polemicists made between convents and lunatic asylums. ("If lunatic asylums are bound to admit a Government inspector, why should a nunnery, which is but another sort of lunatic asylum, be left altogether uncared for and unwatched?" asked a Morning Advertiser editorial [qtd. in Arnstein 135].) Escaped nuns were much on the English mind in the 1860s, a period in which seventy-one convents were founded in Great Britain, which saw hundreds of petitions calling for government inspection of convents, and, in 1869, a spectacular legal case regarding convent life, Saurin v. Star. All of these events led to Newdegate's success in finally passing the Convent Inspections Act.19

If convent stories are echoed in The Woman in White's confinement plot, they may also provide a less obvious structural model for the novel's sensationalism. From the beginning, what has most compelled The Woman in White's audience is its narrative construction: "As the Judge might once have heard it, so the Reader shall hear it now," Walter Hartright announces (5). Collins claimed to be the first to write a novel in which the narrative is presented by a series of documents by diverse hands from which the reader constructs the full story. Victorian critics, however, were quick to point out precedents (Wuthering Heights is a favorite example), and later scholars have followed suit, tracing the sensation novel's architectonics to trial records and newspaper reports. Anti-Catholic literature, specifically the renegades' tales told by escaped nuns and former priests that proliferated in Victorian America and Great Britain, suggests another compelling model. The most famous of these narratives was Maria Monk's Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery, an international bestseller first published in 1836 and never since out of print, but Monk's is only one of many such tales. These "factual" accounts are narratively constructed so as to confirm their status as evidence. The renegade is granted a privileged position as participatory witness—"I alone am escaped to tell you"—in books that stress the incontrovertibility of first-person experience and narration, claims to truth-telling echoed in Walter Hartright's insistence that "No circumstance of importance, from the beginning to the end of the disclosure, shall be related on hearsay evidence" (5). Escaped nuns' narratives are framed by and interspersed with authenticating documentation of multiple kinds and by diverse hands: affidavits, signed letters of introduction, confirmatory accounts, excerpts from newspaper reports, footnotes, maps, drawings.20 The publishers of Rebecca Reed's Six Months in a Convent assert that "the labor of seeing so many individuals, collecting such a mass of facts and testimony, and putting it together correctly … mak[e this narrative] … complete and unanswerable" (264). (Visible in these structures is, of course, the interpenetration of the Gothic—sensation fiction's other point of origin—and the anti-Catholic.) When Wilkie Collins includes "The Narrative of the Doctor" and "The Narrative of the Tombstone" in The Woman in White (indeed, when he frames the story of The Black Robe with an "eye-witness" account, an unfinished diary, and an order for a wedding dress), he draws on the popular generic forms of anti-Catholic discourse and on a readership who had learned from them how to assemble and judge a story.

The cultural training in anti-Catholic characters, plots, and narrative structures shared by The Woman in White's audience had been heightened by specific historical events at mid-century. Yet the patterns of anti-Catholic polemic that under-gird The Woman in White do not make it an anti-Catholic fiction. Unlike The Black Robe or even the playful "Yellow Mask," Collins's greatest sensation novel is markedly secular. Symptomatic is the fact that, while a church contains the novel's long-kept secret and serves as the primary scene of violence and punishment, it is only the vestry that is of importance; the mystery uncovered there is legal and moral rather than religious. (Henry James alluded to such secularism when, after calling Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon "our modern Euripides and Shakespeare," he explained that in the sensation novel "The play is a tragedy, not in virtue of an avenging deity, but in virtue of a preventive system of law" ["Miss Braddon" 123]). In neither visit to the church does Walter Hartright encounter a clergyman, only the lay clerk along with a row of empty vestments, described in the All-the-Year-Round and three-volume versions of the novel as a "bundle of limp drapery and wanting nothing but legs under them to suggest the idea of a cluster of neglected curates who had committed suicide, by companionably hanging themselves all together" (695).21 Like these priestly shrouds, the church itself, "an ancient, weather-beaten building, with heavy buttresses at its sides"—dating back, no doubt, to pre-Reformation England—figures the role of "Romanism" in the novel (506). Surrounded by an abandoned village, "worm-eaten" and "crumbling," littered with scraps of "old wood carvings from the pulpit, and panels from the chancel, and images from the organ loft," the building is, in effect, a ruin (508-509). In contrast to the organic cultural meaning that John Ruskin read in ancient Catholic cathedrals, this shrine is reduced to fragments that foster associative affect, not theology.

My point is not that the Catholic Church serves as a mere setting—The Woman in White is not, like Charles Kingsley's Hypatia, Or Old Foes with New Faces, an allegory for contemporary society set in antiquity. Instead, as in Collins's ruined church, the structures of anti-Catholicism allow sensationalism to intermix ancient forms and contemporary scandals. It is precisely this mixture that readers of sensation novels have, from the beginning, seen as constitutive of the genre, faulting or praising these fictions' claim to reveal the dark truths behind the facade of the ordinary. As the archbishop of York complained, "They want to persuade people that in almost every one of the well-ordered houses of their neighbours there [is] a skeleton shut up in some cupboard." Murray defined "proximity" as "one great element of sensation" (255). Describing what is "sensational" about the "sensation novel," Brantlinger states, "peace masks violence; innocent appearances cloak evil intentions; reality itself functions as a mystery until the sudden revelation of guilt which is always lurking in the shadows" (41).

The discourse of anti-Catholic polemic readily served the sensation novelist's technique of balancing the known and the unknown, inviting the reader's forward plot projection, providing recognizable figures of mystery, clothing them in typifying disguises. Jenny Bourne Taylor contends that:

Sensation fiction certainly shared a common pool of narrative tropes, but these were not stable, they drew on and broke down distinct methods of generating strangeness within familiarity, of creating the sense of a weird and different world within the ordinary, everyday one…. And it was through these intricate interactions that its appeal to sensation, to "nerves," had both such psychological resonance and social complexity, providing it with the means that enabled it to explore "those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries that are at our own doors" by bringing into play the possibilities offered by its central narrative feature—secrecy and disguise.


Summarizing Collins's career for Temple Bar in 1890, Edmund Yates captures the balancing act between the expected and the unexpected, the realistic and the outrageous, that is sensationalism. Characterizing Collins as a "manufacturer of plots," Yates explains, "Nobody imagines the misfortunes of Poor Miss Finch, and her blue-complexioned lover, the masquerades of Magdalen Vanstone, the machinations of the Romish Church in The Black Robe, the remarkable coincidences of Hide and Seek, or the melodramatic farrago of The Frozen Deep, to be precisely scenes from real life. But, truth being stranger than fiction, possibly they might be" (274-75).

Known and unknown, heimlich and unheimlich. Understanding the nature of anti-Catholic rhetoric allows us to recognize how this productive tension is both central to sensationalism's marketing success and generative of the epistemological uncertainty that Brantlinger, among others, sees as foundational to the genre. For modern, nineteenth-century Protestants in Britain and America, the Catholic Church was positioned as the uncanny.22 The teleology of Protestant history meant that "Romanism" was the primitivism that Protestantism left behind. But, maddeningly, the Church of Rome refused to be bypassed, refused to die. Within nineteenth-century polemical narrative, the Catholic is often analogized to the Jew—stubborn and unregenerate. What makes this (failed) story of religious progress particularly problematic is the fact that Protestantism needs to be able to trace its authority and authenticity back to Catholicism. This imperfectly repressed scene of origination makes Romanists what Catherine Sinclair, in her virulently anti-Catholic novel of 1852 Beatrice, calls "the unknown relative."

Winifred Hughes's comment on the role of masks in sensation fiction is suggestive here: "In sensation fiction masks are rarely stripped off to reveal an inner truth, for the mask is both the transformed expression of the 'true' self and the means of disclosing its incoherence. In the process, identity itself emerges as a set of elements that are actively constructed within a dominant framework of social interests, perceptions, and values. These novels thus focused on the ambiguity of social and psychological codes to insinuate that seeming, too, is not always what it seems to be" (8).23 Behind the yellow mask lies another—in this case a death mask. Wearing that death mask is the woman, once known as Teresa, now calling herself Brigida, with a hidden, disreputable past about which we never learn the details. Father Benwell presents himself as a lowly clergyman, "elderly, fat, and cheerful" (42), rather than revealing his true rank as the provincial of the Society of Jesus. He instructs Father Penrose, a Jesuit of lower rank, to appear as the layman Arthur Penrose. "Arthur Penrose"'s secular clothing covers his black robe, which itself cloaks the fundamentally decent man who is Arthur Penrose. Marion suspects Fosco of wearing a wig, and it turns out that his most distinctive—and unsettling—physical attribute, his size, is itself a mask, a fat suit.24 Even when he is displayed naked at the novel's end, he remains disguised: viewed through "a glass screen," Fosco has the costume of "a French artisan" hung above him, and the mark of the Brotherhood that he bears has been "obliterated" by a covering wound (the letter "T" for traitor)—this writing on the body vividly figuring Collins's authorial work (640). Epistemological ambiguity is imaged in these visible layers of "seeming."

But is the fact that the Woman in White and Count Fosco have secret identities ever really a secret? Recognizing that these two creations wear, among their other costumes, those of the stock polemical characters of nun and priest helps us to go a step further than Taylor. It is a signaled secrecy, an advertised disguise that are operative in sensationalism's readerly engagement, as when Count Fosco teases, "I am a Jesuit if you choose to think so" (246). Writing in the North British Review in February 1863, Alexander Smith characterized the experience of reading Collins: "If a young lady goes into the garden a moment before dinner, you know that some one is waiting for her behind the laurels. If two people talk together in a room in a hot summer day, and one raises the window a little, you know that a third is crouching on the gravel below, listening to every word, and who will be prepared to act upon it at the proper time" (141). Smith deplored the feverish excitement, "the passion of curiosity," that Collins, "the master of mystery," incites in his audience, but his description of the charged engagement of readers who rapidly turned the pages of The Woman in White is relevant here. Like the lurid covers that entice purchasers at railway stalls, robes and masks, when recognized as such, awake audience expectations—expectations based on prior experience—and direct reading modes. The figures and stories of anti-Catholic discourse, easily discerned by experienced Victorian readers, serve Collins well in developing his sensationalist style.

As so often, Punch gets it right in Sambourne's depiction of Collins in a transparent disguise, costumed absurdly for a role in a way that signals precisely that he is costumed. He is, ludicrously, a man (beard pointedly intact) dressed up in a bed-sheet and a woman's bowed cap, adopting a distinctly feminine stance (notice the little-girl position of his slipper-shod feet). Surrounded by emblems of his fictions (the moonstone, the athlete and supplicant female of Man and Wife, stacked books and floor covering marked with other titles), Collins holds a "Roman candle." His penitent's robe, along with his abashed stance, are clearly put on for the occasion. Is he being put to bed early for his naughtiness? Is his guise a corrective humiliation meted out by an angry Catholic confessor? Is he ineptly veiling his identity to escape punishment? In any case, Collins's repentance is nothing if not superficial (not even "skin deep"), for we are told that he does "Ink-And-Penance" for writing The Black Robe—that is, his penance for writing is writing. The implication is that he will give Punch's readership more of the same, that he will add to the stacks of books that surround him.

The caricature models as well the workings of anti-Catholic discourse in Collins's sensational writing. Caricature is an art form intimately tied to its audience's knowledge—a fact well-known to anyone who has ever shown Punch to a group of bewildered college freshman or, for that matter, puzzled over a Victorian political cartoon herself. Sambourne's wit is wholly dependent upon its viewers' history as experienced readers not only of Punch but also of Collins's own narratives.25

In fact, Wilkie Collins did not again take up the props and plots of anti-Catholic polemic, a tradition that was considerably weakened by the end of the century. Nonetheless, in a formulaic early fiction, a genre-defining novel at the height of his career, and one of his late didactic fictions, Collins made pragmatic use of habits both clerical and readerly. Anti-Catholic discourse offered Collins narrative forms (the multiple, evidentiary narratives of the renegade's tale), plot patterns (female escape from an institution), recognizable character types (the Jesuit), and iconography (a woman in white). It afforded him as well an audience already schooled in the participatory reading strategies so definitive of sensationalism. The open secrets of "Romanism" provided a configuration conducive to the play between known and unknown that mark both sensation fiction's epistemology and its marketability. Part of what made this new mode of writing and reading so "hot and strong" was that it borrowed from an old recipe in brewing the latest news. Sensation fiction was, as Murray says, "refreshment"—a reanimation of both traditional forms and the well-trained palates of its consumers.


1. While religious content is obviously not a generic requirement of sensationalism, there are sensation novels that center on religion; for example, Charles Reade's Griffith Gaunt, as well as those by Buchanan, Linton, and Worboise mentioned below. Although they are not speaking about polemical anti-Catholic literature, Helsinger, Sheets, and Veeder interestingly suggest that "America's most shocking fiction may in fact be women's religious novels" (123).

2. See also Loesberg and Miller for important discussions of the ideologies of sensationalism.

3. For example, see Altick's (in Common Reader), Brantlinger's, and Flint's explorations of the differences that class and gender make in reading.

4. On the anti-Catholicism of the eighteenth-century Gothic, see Tarr.

5. On anti-Catholicism and nineteenth-century fiction, see Franchot, Griffin, Maison, and Wolff.

6. Martineau's indignation was further fueled by the fact that she had had a story of her own, "The Missionary," turned down by Dickens for Household Words on the grounds that it presented a Jesuit priest positively. "I have had little hope of 'Household Words' since the proprietors refused to print a historical fact (otherwise approved of) on the ground that the hero was a Jesuit: and now that they follow up this suppression of an honourable truth by the insertion of a dishonouring fiction (or fact,—no matter which) they can expect no support from advocates of religious liberty or lovers of fair-play: and so fond are English people of fair-play, that if they knew this fact, you would soon find your course in this matter ruinous to your publication" (422). Martineau's 1861–1862 novella "Sister Anna's Probation" depicts Catholicism less positively. Perhaps Martineau's most famous statement on Roman Catholicism was her critique of Charlotte Brontë's Villette as anti-Catholic.

7. James's quip comes from a review of Benjamin Disraeli's Lothair. Given Disraeli's positive depictions of Roman Catholicism in his earlier novels, Lothair provides another surprising example of anti-Catholic fiction's pervasiveness.

8. On sensation novels themselves, and the sensations associated with them, as constructed commodities, see Cvetkovich.

9. On nineteenth-century British anti-Catholicism, see Arnstein, Best, Griffin, Norman, Paz, and Wolffe.

10. Swinburne, however, found "The Yellow Mask" an "admirable story" (263).

11. For another depiction of this Catholic meditative practice as a rejection of life, love, and domesticity, see Mary Ward's Helbeck of Bannisdale.

12. See, for example, Catherine Sinclair's Beatrice.

13. I am referring to Linton's Under Which Lord?, Buchanan's Foxglove Manor, and Worboise's Overdale; or, The Story of a Pervert: A Tale for the Times. See Griffin, Anti-Catholicism.

14. On the perceived connection between Romanism and homosexuality, see Hanson and Hilliard.

15. In making this statement, I dispute the standard chronology that sees Collins's writing as going only downhill after The Moonstone. Swinburne is probably the first and the most famous critic to make this claim: "What brought good Wilkie's genius nigh perdition? / Some demon whispered—'Wilkie! Have a mission'" (qtd. in Peters 313). While The Black Robe cannot be ranked with the masterpieces of the 1860s, it is an interesting psychological study that sold well in three countries (Peters 398).

16. There are other aspects to this novel that I slight here, including an earlier secret marriage on Stella's part and her eventual marriage to her first love, a missionary exile and rescue for Penrose, etc.

17. On Collins and mesmerism, see especially Taylor.

18. For nineteenth-century reactions to Fosco, see the reviews of The Woman in White collected in Page.

19. For the fullest discussion of these events, see Arnstein.

20. See Griffin, "Awful"; and Franchot.

21. On Dickens's revisions, see John Sutherland's note to the Oxford edition of The Woman in White (Collins 695). He notes that Kathleen Tillotson argued that Collins revised to avoid the similarity to Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit.

22. On the role of the uncanny in sensationalism, see Taylor.

23. See also Peters on "The Yellow Mask": "The characteristic device of a mask concealing a face which is in fact another mask, behind which lurks the face of the wrong woman, has the suggestive quality of layered deceit which intrigued him, and which was to be more fully developed in the novels he wrote in the 1860s" (150). For the Dublin University Magazine, this layering of masks and types represented a weakness in Collins's writing: "Sir Percival Glyde is made up of, at least, two utterly different beings: a two-fronted mask on top of a stage-cloak" (Review 105).

24. The clergy are not the only ones who conceal their pasts in Collins's novel: everyone from Stella's mother, who paints over her age and illness in order to sustain her social position, to Stella herself, who conceals a prior marriage.

25. On Punch and anti-Catholicism, see Altick's Punch.

Works Cited

Altick, Richard. The English Common Reader. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1957.

――――――. Punch: The Lively Youth of a British Institution, 1841–1851. Columbus: The Ohio State Univ. Press, 1997.

Arnstein, Walter. Protestant versus Catholic in Mid-Victorian England: Mr. Newdegate and the Nuns. Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1982.

Bernstein, Susan David. Confessional Subjects: Revelations of Gender and Power in Victorian Literature and Culture. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Best, G. F. A. "Popular Protestantism in Victorian Britain." In Ideas and Institutions of Victorian Britain, edited by Robert Robson, 115-42. London: Bell, 1967.

Brantlinger, Patrick. "What is 'Sensational' about the 'Sensational Novel'?" Nineteenth Century Fiction 37 (1982): 1-28.

Brown, Bill. Reading the West: An Anthology of Dime Westerns. Boston: Bedford, 1997.

Buchanan, Robert. Foxgolove Manor. 1884. New York: Garland, 1975.

Casteras, Susan P. "Virgin Vows: the Early Victorian Artists' Portrayal of Nuns and Novices." Victorian Studies 24 (1981): 157-84.

Collins, Wilkie. After Dark. 1856. Freeport: Books for Libraries, 1973.

――――――. The Black Robe. New York: Fenelon Collier, 1881.

――――――. The Letters of Wilkie Collins. Edited by William Baker and William M. Clarke. 2 vols. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

――――――. Rambles from Railways. 1851. London: Westaway Books, 1948.

――――――. The Woman in White. 1860. Edited by John Sutherland. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996.

――――――. The Yellow Mask. New York: Lupton, n.d.

Cvetkovich, Ann. Mixed Feelings: Feminism, Mass Culture, and Victorian Sensationalism. New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1992.

Flint, Kate. The Woman Reader, 1837–1914. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993.

Franchot, Jenny. Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Encounter with Catholicism. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1994.

Griffin, Susan M. Anti-Catholicism and Nineteenth-Century Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, in press.

――――――. "Awful Disclosures: Female Evidence in the Escaped Nun's Tale." PMLA 111 (1996): 93-107.

Hanson, Ellis. Decadence and Catholicism. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1997.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Marble Faun; Or, the Romance of Monte Beni. Vol. 4, The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Edited by William Charvat et al. Columbus: The Ohio State Univ. Press, 1968.

Heller, Tamar. Dead Secrets: Wilkie Collins and the Female Gothic. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1992.

Helsinger, Elizabeth, Robin Lauterbach Sheets, and William Veeder. The Woman Question. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989.

Hilliard, David. "UnEnglish and Unmanly: Anglo-Catholicism and Homosexuality." Victorian Studies 25 (1982): 181-210.

James, Henry. Essays on Literature, American Writers, English Writers. New York: Library of America, 1984.

――――――. "Miss Braddon." In Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage, edited by Norman Page, 122-24. London: Routledge, 1974. First published in The Nation, 9 November 1865, 593-95.

Kingsley, Charles. Hypatia, Or Old Foes with New Faces. London: Parker, 1853.

Linton, Eliza Lynn. Under Which Lord? 1879. New York: Garland, 1976.

Loesberg, Jonathan. "The Ideology of Narrative Form in Sensation Fiction." Representations 13 (Winter 1986): 115-37.

Maison, Margaret. Search Your Soul, Eustace: A Survey of the Religious Novel in the Victorian Age. London: Sheed and Ward, 1961.

Mansel, Henry. "Sensation Novels." Quarterly Review 113 (April 1863): 252-68.

Martineau, Harriet. Harriet Martineau's Autobiography. Vol. 2. London: Smith, 1877.

Miller, D. A. The Novel and the Police. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1988.

Monk, Maria. Awful Disclosures of The Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal, Revised, with an Appendix. 1836. New York: Arno, 1977.

Norman, E. R. Anti-Catholicism in Victorian England. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968.

Oliphant, Margaret. "Sensation Novels." Blackwood's 91 (May 1862): 564-84.

Page, Norman, ed. Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1974.

Paz, D. G. Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian England. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1992.

Peters, Catherine. The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991.

Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1984.

Reade, Charles. Griffith Gaunt, or, Jealousy. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1866.

Reed, Rebecca Theresa. Six Months in a Convent, or, The Narrative of Rebecca Theresa Reed, Who was Under the Influence of the Roman Catholics about Two Years, and an Inmate of the Ursuline Convent on Mount Benedict, Charlestown, Mass., Nearly Six Months, in the Years 1831–32 With Some Preliminary Suggestions by the Committee of Publication. 1835. New York: Arno, 1977.

Review of The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. In Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage, edited by Norman Page, 104-108. London: Routledge, 1974. First published in Dublin University Magazine, February 1861, 200-203.

Sinclair, Catherine. Beatrice; or, the Unknown Relatives. 1852. New York: Garland, 1975.

Smith, Alexander. Review of No Name, by Wilkie Collins. In Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage, edited by Norman Page, 136-38. London: Routledge, 1974. First published in Saturday Review, 17 January 1863, 84-85.

Sue, Eugene. The Wandering Jew. [London]: Chapman & Hall, 1844–45.

Swinburne, A. C. "Wilkie Collins." In Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage, edited by Norman Page, 253-64. London: Routledge, 1974. First published in Fortnightly Review, 1 November 1889, 589-99.

Tarr, Sister Mary Muriel. Catholicism in Gothic Fiction. New York: Garland, 1979.

Taylor, Jenny Bourne. In the Secret Theater of the Home. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Trollope, Frances Milton. Father Eustace: A Tale of the Jesuits. 3 vols. 1847. London: Garland, 1975.

Ward, Mary. Helbeck of Bannisdale. 1898. New York: Penguin, 1983.

Wolff, Robert Lee. Gains and Losses: Novels of Faith and Doubt in Victorian England. New York: Garland, 1977.

Wolffe, John. The Protestant Crusade in Great Britain, 1829–1860. Oxford: Clarendon-Oxford Univ. Press, 1991.

Worboise, Emma Jane. Overdale: or, the Story of a Pervert: A Tale for the Times. London: Clack, 1869.

Yates, Edmund. "The Novels of Wilkie Collins." In Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage, edited by Norman Page, 273-77. London: Routledge, 1974.

Further Reading

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Peters, Catherine. The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991, 500 p.

Provides a portrait of Collins's life.


Bernstein, Stephen. "Reading Blackwater Park: Gothicism, Narrative, and Ideology in The Woman in White." Studies in the Novel 25, no. 3 (fall 1993): 291-305.

Considers the relationship between the Gothic setting of The Woman in White and representations of class, gender, and genre in the novel.

Booth, Bradford A. "Wilkie Collins and the Art of Fiction." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 6, no. 2 (September 1951): 131-43.

Discusses the effect of Collins's love of melodrama on his novels.

Cvetkovich, Ann. "Ghostlier Determinations: The Economy of Sensation and The Woman in White." In Wilkie Collins, edited and with an introduction by Lyn Pykett, pp. 109-35. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Argues that the most sensational moments in The Woman in White enable the character Walter Hartwright's ascent to power to appear to be the result of chance occurrences.


Additional coverage of Collins's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: British Writers Supplement, Vol. 6; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1832–1890; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 18, 70, 159; Literature Resource Center; Mystery and Suspense Writers; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 1, 18, 93; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, Vol. 4; Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 1; and World Literature and Its Times, Vol. 4.

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Collins, (William) Wilkie