And there are fools who talk of a dog as an inferior being to ourselves! This creature’s faithful love is mine, do what I may. I might be disgraced in the estimation of every human creature I know, and he would be as true to me as ever. And look at his physical qualities. What an ugly thing, for instance—I won’t say your ear—I will say, my ear is; crumpled and wrinkled and naked. Look at the beautiful silky covering of his ear! What are our senses of smelling and hearing compared to his? We are proud of our reason. Could we find our way back, if they shut us up in a basket, and took us to a strange place away from home? If we both want to run downstairs in a hurry, which of us is securest against breaking his neck—I on my poor two legs, or he on his four? Who is the happy mortal who goes to bed without unbuttoning, and gets up again without buttoning? Here he is, on my lap, knowing I am talking about him, and too fond of me to say to himself, ‘What a fool my master is!’Bernard Winterfield, The Black Robe (1881), by Wilkie Collins
The prologue concerns a duel in France between an English and a French men over a card-sharper incident. As the story progresses, the plot insinuates deeper conflicts and meanings; the main characters are embroiled with a duel of inner struggles with their own. Each of their lives is overshadowed by and tormented with self-accusations and remorse that are only to be unveiled by contrivances and confessions.
I think this book written in Wilkie’s late life is not less multi-layered and important than his major works. Not only the Black Robe encapsulates the atypical Wilkie Collins’s mastery of epistolary writing, plotlines teeming with unsettling secrets and romance, but the subject of religionus pursuits is also heavily involved in the story which makes it really memorable and fascinating. The plot gets more poignant in time as we feel the sympathy and are saddened by the circumstances in which the protangonist is victimised. He could not come to terms with his inner struggles – that his regrettable past could not be consoled through working laborously and by those being close to him; social conventions and nuptial life only intensify his pain – this is the fundamental motive which he gets carried away by religious fervour other than adhering to an unmovable faith. The story records the details of gradual estrangement from his wife. The doctrine of Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) is what he is being converted to, and the conversion is unfortunately plotted by the contrivances of a capricious priest belonging to that senior order, who does all these with a self-denying but controversial motive (reinstitution of a propety which was once owned by the Roman Church before the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII). In this case, the Black Robe also highlights an clashing duel and rivalry between the “priestly pugnacity” and “petticoat government”.
“For once in your life, indulge in the amiable weakness of doing yourself justice.”
As readers, we get resonance with the novel. On one hand, we are reflective of our own actions in life, we are enjoined and impassioned to try our best endeavours; on the other, we are just as frail and vulnerable as the characters in the novel. We constantly flagellate ourselves with remorse, guilt and regrets without impunity. We are self-tormentors enough to distrust ourselves. We have high hopes, work laboriously to fight the obscurity, just to confront disappointments placed in the way. In other words, we instinctively care too much because we are highly complex moral beings. But we should be consciously aware of how far the burden we can endure, forbear, and take in.
There it is—the misdirected hard work, which has been guided by no critical faculty, and which doesn’t know where to stop. I try to admire it; and I end in pitying the poor artist. Look at that leafless felled tree in the middle distance. Every little twig, on the smallest branch, is conscientiously painted—and the result is like a colored photograph. You don’t look at a landscape as a series of separate parts; you don’t discover every twig on a tree; you see the whole in Nature, and you want to see the whole in a picture. That canvas presents a triumph of patience and pains, produced exactly as a piece of embroidery is produced, all in little separate bits, worked with the same mechanically complete care. I turn away from it to your shrubbery there, with an ungrateful sense of relief.
Her fall was her fault, she must take blame and shame as her deserved lot. – On penitentiaries and refuges, Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women (p.16)
(all page references are referring to Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women by Jenny Hartley (2008), unless indicated.)
I had read The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins this January. A novel first published in 1873, it is a didactic story with a mission which was dedicated to Wilkie Collins’s younger brother, Charles Allston Collins, upon his death of the same year (born 1828, died 1873). The heroine, Mercy, was inveigled by her own will to serve in a respectable lady’s house. She could put everyone off the scent except herself, and she felt guilty as she assumed another’s name to live comfortably under a hospitable roof. What draws pity from readers is her backstory. Her trials and tribulations began not because she voluntarily led herself to do so but it was due to her birth that she resorted to abhorrent means under every appalling circumstance in order to survive (“The dragon, pauperism was the villain”). Despite the fact that Mercy was admitted to a Magdalen refuge and repented day and night, she was not accepted by society. Once fallen, a woman was seen irretrievable in the pit: here was an impressionable and weaker sex who was deemed without a morsel of virtue left for herself. She stumbled and was inflicted with scorns and thorny paths along rowdy streets and dark alleyways.
“Even the flowers of the field cannot grow without light and air to help them!” – The New Magdalen, Wilkie Collins
Lately, upon reading a biography named Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women by Jenny Hartley (2008), I feel that The New Magdalen was exactly a tailor-made fiction for the girls at Urania Cottage, although the Institution seemed no longer active after 1862, as Charles Dickens got less involved with rescued work in 1858 and started shifting the focus on Nelly Ternan and his reading tours. The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins is a story in which the fallen heroine in the end did not yield and seek acceptance from the people who were only consumed with condescension, vanity and vileness but instead was enlightened and awakened by the idea of self-respect, acceptance, and redemption: she became a woman who learnt to love herself.
Helping those in need – Charles Dickens and the Urania Cottage
(1) “The good people who have established Refuges and Homes for those who repent have succeeded in making them repellent and intolerable.” (p.32)
Charles Dickens came up with the plan of opening a Home called Urania Cottage for young pauper girls in Shepherd Bush in London in 1847 with financial aid of Angela Burdett-Coutts. This biography is in many cases indicating Charles Dickens being a vanguard of his time and his rescue work in his nature; and those so-called refuges of his contemporaries were a far cry from the Home that Dickens set up and Burdett-Coutts helped founded.
In Dickens’s perspectives, chucking the sinned and fallen girls over workhouses and hospitals, forcing them to live in days of austere and self-effacing repentance was not actually helping them but only would they sink further deeper. In The House of Mercy at Clewer in Windsor (philosophy of abjection), established in 1848 by a Spanish widow of an English clergyman (widow being associated with High Church order), “inmates’ heads were shaved, and their unruliness punished by solitary confinement” (p.32). Especially in the case of religious charitable societies, the inmates were not allowed to talk freely lest they would make a sacrilege to God against the mission of the institutions. Mentioning the aura of “lethargic indifference” surrounding the refuges, Benjamin Drouet’s Pauper Asylum for Children at Tooting in South London (coined the “Tooting Farm”) was infamous for its savage treatment of over-crowded children in the midst of cholera. Situated in close proximity of open ditches, under damp, filthy, starving and abused conditions, 150 out of 1,372 children died in January 1849 (p.46). Among other contemporary organisations, inmates were also assigned to monotonous tasks like picking oakum and laundry work to support the institutions’ finance.
Regarding Urania Cottage, financial aid from Angela Burdett-Coutts was crucial. Charles Dickens supplied comfortable atmosphere of practical help and spiritual support to the inmates. Compared with The House of Mercy at Clewer, the girls at Urania Cottage would be at leisure to mend their gardens in spare time, go out chaperoned once a week, being adorned in clothes of sundry colours, rewarded with peer friendships, motherly love, and paternal education. Dickens was determined to make his Home in active and affectionate management rather than the commonly “lethargic indifference”. In a year or so, the girls would be ultimately promised an overseas voyage with their most intimate friends of the Home, and culminated with a happy matrimonial union after emigration. The girls were taught of the motto of not indulging in the reproachable past but hopefully looking for the “possibility and potentiality” out on the horizon.
Before the girls arrived at Home, they were in a way to undergo sessions of individual interviews, or to be more analytical these days, they had inadvertently so called “counselling therapy” in confiding to someone about their past who empathised and acknowledged their pains. The Listener would be none other than Charles Dickens himself; he was to know their history, examine their behaviour, and elicit whether the girls were corrigible to reform and start a new life overseas (places included Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand). Lamentable past and deeds of each girl were strictly kept secret from matrons at Home and among her friends; moreover, her subsequent history (life upon emigration), if known, was recorded in a “Case Book” invented by Charles Dickens. Although there was the Urania committee, the original and inimitable Dickens shone in glory with him “dispensing justice, order and mercy to his pocket-sized Utopia in west London” (p.113).
(2) “Did a little for a lot, aimed to do a lot for a few.” (p.148)
The House of St. Barnabas in Soho was a charity for distressed persons in London which helped the inmates find work. The Institution focused on the good deeds of helpers instead of the helped, which was similar to other contemporary charitable organisations. According to the mission of the House, it was “to give a definite sphere of united action to persons engaged in various worldly callings, who desire to give a portion of their time, as well as of their substance, to the poor, under fixed regulations, consistent with the discipline of the Church of England.” Helpers included middle- and upper-class volunteer helpers, some with a lack of experience who held presumptuous and subjective viewpoints of the inmates owing to the lack of trust and intimacy upon them. The House of St. Barnabas contained substantially short-stay inmates who took shelter for only two to three weeks. This organisation was found upon efficiency and statistical outcome of the numbers of paupers they had taken and being helped, with no interests of how former inmates coped afterwards. It could never satisfy and fulfill the uproarious demand from the metropolitan pauperism, and applicants with questionable characters were compulsory to be removed immediately.
Compared with the House of St. Barnabas, Urania Cottage which Dickens managed provided shelter for girls upon limited basis in each intake. The Home only consisted of thirteen girls in its first intake, and thereupon the number of admissions kept maintained round the same. After the Cottage had been in operation for five and a half years, there were only 56 inmates recorded in an article titled “Home for Homeless Women” in April 1853 issue of the Household Words.
(3) You must solemnly remember that if you enter this Home without such constant resolutions, you will occupy, unworthily and uselessly, the place of some other unhappy girl, now wandering and lost; and that her ruin, no less than your own, will be upon your head. (p. 255)
It was not until 1836 that the Foundling Hospital in London acknowledged the cities’ increasing demand by taking illegitimate children under its wing, only provided that the child was the first-born of the mother with her irreproachably moral character. According to page 23 of the Founding Museum guidebook, “the most meritorious case[…]would be that a young woman, having no means of subsistence, having no opulent relations[…]but yielded to artful and long-continued seduction and an express promise of marriage; whose delivery took place in secret, and whose shame was known only to one or two persons.”
Charles Dickens understood the young women’s shame instead of criticising their downfall. He did not expect the girls to be absolutely quiet and domestic; instead, he tolerated and was fascinated with the restlessness in them. The boarders of Urania Cottage ranged from “orphans, servants, child-carers, seamstresses, milliners, half-starving apprentices, to theatre-girls, prostitutes, tramps, petty thieves, and ones who attempted suicides” (p. 157). All walks of life he found and saved on streets and prisons, and salvaged downtrodden girls whom his companions and prison governors discovered and communicated in letters and persons to seek his help.
(4) In a distant country, they may become the faithful wives of honest men, and live and die in peace. (p. 255)
Emigration was not a popular notion in his time, considered by the contemporaries. In the 1840s, British government was sending out assisted migrants from cities and towns on assigned ships. Convicts were still being transported to Botany Bay and other parts of Australia due to the overcrowding of prisons and hulks. Emigration was regarded as the only solution to “shoveling out paupers”; women, on the other hand, were in demand in Australia to “redress the balance between the sexes” (p.18).
However, Dickens disregarded others’ opinions of the emigration plans. To him, Australia was a place he held high hopes for people he knew in intimacy for a new change. In 1865 and 1868, he respectively sent in two sons Alfred (aged twenty) and Edward (sixteen, nicknamed Plorn) with one-way tickets to Australia. In England, Charles Dickens came up with the verdict that Plorn was a stripling with “a want of application and continuity of purpose” (p. 189).
For the reformed girls back at Urania Cottage pleading a normal life, it was a rare chance for them to continually earn their means and at the same time, ignoring society’s norms and perspectives. Their situation was demeaning, and worse, their future unforeseeable. Dickens had visions of sending and helping the girls emigrate, in the first place, to Australia (mainly Adelaide), rather than disbanding the newly reformed girls back on the streets. Charles Dickens envisaged that “the new emigration projects had to distance themselves from the older, compulsory and punitive system”. Of course, deeming him a vanguard for the vision of emigration was an exaggeration, because Caroline Chisholm (1808-1877) also promoted the reunion and emigration for families and children upon her return to England in 1846. What was interesting was that some Uranian girls were still rebellious to abscond with their peers once they disembarked, and refused to meet the delegated pastor and recruiting agent assigned by Dickens and Burdett-Coutts in Australia. While some went to be a maidservant, got married, attained what Dickens had hoped for; many migrated to Melbourne to join the gold rush.
On a personal note – Charles Dickens, the Great Original, the inimitable
“I know my plan is a good one – because it is mine!” (p. 241)
Of course, it would be inescapable that some girls of Urania Cottage did not meet Dickens’s expectations. Some had constant and tempestuous outbreak, they carried on thieving at Home, some sneaked off in the middle of the night, some were too violent in their words and actions that they were expelled by Dickens back on the streets lest they would badly influenced other inmates at Home.
As regards Dickens, the biographer Jenny Hartley did not exclude all gossips about him: that he did not admit pregnant women and babies to the Refuge; that he founded this Home merely to escape his dullness of his real nuptial household; and that he rightly did so at the same time to fulfill literary gains in plotting ideas for his novels, including Dombey and Son (1846-48), David Copperfield (1849-50), and Bleak House (1852-53). Nonetheless, I find it amusing because the Author could amazingly relate to the healing journey of Dickens himself: during the process of listening to the girls’ story, he also had this gleam of light and aspiration to console himself through a way of retelling his history, especially in David Copperfield. This Urania Cottage was said by some critics as Dickens’s proud experiment; he let his own philanthropic reality conjured up from his steam-powered imagination. On the other hand, I think it was a soul asylum for Dickens too.
Talking of inspiration, at one point, I might think that Wilkie Collins might have extracted cases and history of the girls of Urania Cottage, confided by Dickens, for his foundation of the New Magdalen (1873), because the painful concatenation that Mercy had gone through as she told in her confession was too convoluted to be imaginable. But it would not be right to deduce it as Dickens purposely concealed the plight of girls before they were admitted to the Home except himself. Probably, Wilkie Collins did a bit of interview and research about the underprivileged women of the underworld.
“All people who have led hazardous and forbidden lives are, in a certain sense, imaginative.” (p. 68)
In this biography, I especially enjoy reading the chapter “Audacious Rhena Pollard” because Dickens was wonderfully portrayed as an ingenious master by Jenny Hartley. In this chapter, a matron informed Dickens that an inmate named Rhena Pollard kept insinuating to her privately that she wanted to announce at the committee meeting about her application to leave the Home. Dickens, in his fictional flair, contrived a ploy and a role with which he compelled and designated the Matron to play and comply. Dickens, in his letter to the Matron, cleverly premeditated all emotions, reactions and actions for Rhena Pollard when she was “allowed to leave the Home”, and so much to her violent temper, Rhena was distressingly and unknowingly “producing exactly the kind of public show Dickens had choreographed for her” (p.119). In the end, it is so much a humour in the chapter: Dickens wrote another letter which he asked the Matron to read aloud to all girls at the Home, alike a parent reading aloud to the children at fireside during winter, “…at this forgiving Christmas time, and at your request[…]the unfortunate creature, so young as so forlorn, can be brough back into the fold.” What a tearful letter! What a merciful father to a prodigal daughter! What a clever plot! Readers like me could not help admiring Dickens’s worldly knowledge of humanity and his brilliancy.
Two sides of a coin Dickens might have, the house of fallen women he founded was such an interesting and fascinating entity which signified a decade of his rescue work. On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed by the benefactress of the Home, Angela Burdett-Coutts, because in this biography, she gave me an impression of being a much more conservative and close-minded person compared with Charles Dickens, and was not as eccentric as I always wish her to be.
Regarding this novel penned by Mrs. Henry Wood, the main plot was set in a town named West Lynne where a condemned feud of murder was concerned some years ago; the perpetrator was believed to have got away in fear of trial and hanging. On the other hand, at the present time, in a house called East Lynne, bordered under the veneer of the most hospital roofs and situated some few miles off the Town, a shocking and disgraceful familial incident happened during a night which the mistress of the house was embroiled. Stories and speculations concerning the mistress and her whereabouts excited all residents of West Lynne. Although two incidents were temporally separated by a few years in between, both cases were eventually found to be interlinked with the same infamous and unrepentant man who selfishly and discreetly ascribed the fatal downfall to the two victims and led them to become subjects of reprehension and defilement at the Town.
An evening to herself in the grey parlour, a terrible evening; one made up of remorse, grief, rebellion, and bitter repentance: repentance of the wretched past, rebellion at existing things. (p. 425)
What is fascinating about the story of East Lynne is that both contemporary and modern readers are more interested in the tragic yet scandalous familial affair which besmirched a gentlewoman toward wretchedness than the other case of murder; in other words, the House exerts more significance than the Town itself. This eponymous abode is transmuted to a legendary place interred with a tragedy which spans through two generations up until the eventual downfall of its late mistress, Lady Isabel Vane. Both Isabel and her mother lived the final wasted years in East Lynne where their lives were never to be fulfilled and overshadowed by hopelessness and wrongdoings committed in the past which could only be relieved and reconciled by death.
Human passions and tempers were brought with us into this world, and they can only quit us when we bid it farewell to enter upon immortality in the next[…]We despise what we have, and covet that which we cannot get. (p.590)
Events are like flashes played upon with phantasmagoria; happiness could only be recalled when it is often intermingled with memories of indelible pain, regrets, anguish and shame. The novel seems all the more to emphasize strong emotions and untamed passion that women are constantly trying to overcome and being told to restrain for the sake of societal proprieties.
Women in sensation fiction are malleable to work with the flow of the plot, because, as seen by the contemporary societal views, they are impressionable and easy to be counterattacked and tempted only to lead a life of penance rather than reward, no matter whatever extent they place the trust and confidence upon themselves. However, in most stories, once they fall, they are most likely to take a mental servitude upon themselves with the utmost will to reflect and repent. Of course, women’s faults in contemporary sensation fiction are not so repugnant as they seem; many immoral decisions they might make, numerous sins they might commit; their actions are debatable, their true characters incite vacillating views, if readers are just humble enough to have the sympathy to feel their plight and suppression in the first place.
Love never yet came for the trying: it is a capricious passion, and generally comes without the knowledge and against the will. (p.199)
In East Lynne, female characters consider each other as rivals. On the other hand, they are resourceful in a way of building their inner strengths only by relying on men’s nods of approval and recognition, but so often they are only left to disappoint themselves with too much expectations, and flight of fancy. The novel concentrates on emotions and consequences based on this notion which determines the uncontrollable impulses of the female characters.
Take the case of Cornelia Carlyle, the spinster and sister of the protagonist (Archibald Carlyle) for example. Acting in a role of an overbearing disciplinarian in the story (comically, imagine Constance in the Blandings Castle series by P. G. Wodehouse; more seriously, imagine John Thornton’s mother in North and South), Cornelia represented herself as a splenetic yet respectable and pious figure, overseeing and managing the protagonist’s personal affairs and pecuniary interests. She disapproved of every young woman she and Archibald came across with; even when Archibald married Lady Isabel Vane, she intervened and moved into his nuptial household, causing such turmoil and displeasure to the married couple, especially Isabel, whom she inadvertently bombarded with vitriol. However, looking at the other angle, Cornelia was driven by her maternal instincts of being protective of her brother as well as feeling jealous to shield her brother from all other attractions. She was a woman with the sole vocation of attending a man’s interests and hoping her love and care towards her brother could be unequivocally requited. Little surprised her morale was to be utterly deflated.
Perhaps had you brought up a lad as I have brought up Archibald, and loved nothing else in the world, far or near, you would be jealous, when you found him discarding you with contemptuous indifference, and taking a young wife to his bosom, to be more to him than you had been. (p. 135)
In the case of another female character, Barbara Hare, who at the beginning developed an unrequited love for Archibald Carlyle; gradually and more frequently she ruminated and built up the fancies of thinking that her love and care would soon be rewarded. But she only realised that “while she had cherished false and delusive hopes, in her almost idolatrous passion…she had never been cared for by him.” (p. 134)
There never was a passion in this world, there never will be one, so fantastic, so delusive, so powerful as jealousy[…]Shakespeare calls jealousy yellow and green. I think it may be called black and white; for it most assuredly views white as black, and black as white. The most fanciful surmises wear the aspect of truth, the greatest improbabilities appear as consistent realities. (p. 182)
Regarding the case of Lady Isabel Vane, readers are able to catch glimpses of the hardship she had confronted in each stage: (1) the death of her father; (2) the marriage with Archibald; (3) desertion and downfall; and (4) in disguise of a governess returning to East Lynne.
In the first stage, she started to have a notion about reality and what penury was,
Since the previous morning, she seemed to have grown old in the world’s experience; her ideas were changed, the bent of her thoughts had been violently turned from its course[…]It has been the custom in romance to present young ladies, especially if they be handsome and interesting, as being entirely oblivious of matter-of-fact cares and necessities, supremely indifferent to future prospects of poverty – poverty that brings hunger and thirst and cold and nakedness; but, be assured, this apathy never existed in real life. (p.97)
Proceeding to her marriage with Archibald Carlyle, Isabel started to develop a feeling that her husband neglected her in actions. She thought he displayed indifference and coldness, whereas his affection was only not as demonstrative and passionate as it was before, and had “subsided into calmness”. It is her “excitable temperament” which infiltrated her mind with jealousy that her husband was in love with another woman.
With Isabel’s desertion from home that she helplessly precipitated into the sad abyss of irrevocable wretchedness, and her opportunistic return to East Lynne, we witness a child-like wife who in the beginning of the novel played a passive role and ensconced herself under the authority of men (father, custodian, husband) tried to extricate herself from chains of mental negations and confinement. She thought of means to rebel, rescue, and gain control of her life. However, the helpless state of inbred vulnerability and passivity under men’s authority remained symbiotic with the rest of her wasted and poignant life.
In this novel, every female characters in West Lynne have their notions of fancy – some stayed at where they are, some resorted to actions – but the root of their thoughts arise from the only wish of not making themselves a disagreement to the paternal authority.
What I admire Wilkie Collins’s works is that heroines are not oblivious to the notions that they are inferior in conception; they sometimes are also exploited and driven to a state of desperation. They might also have brimful of passions and fancies only to get invariably snuffled by reality, they would resort to break the shackles. But reading his novels, the messages all point out to a process of heroines seeking themselves, being enlightened and finding self-respect. They have sparks to shine in the novels.
It is not in the case of East Lynne, which I think in the end of the novel, female characters have still not been dealt with themselves, and are still under the state of mental confinement with actions and feelings guided by men; and all male characters, how virtuous they are, all are invariable and prosaic entity under the subordination of societal views. I could not be soothed and lightened the heart by the ending which I think is a total frustration. Although some characters act comical at some scenes of the novel, they do not help much to ease the aura of the women’s helplessness from the beginning to the end of the story. East Lynne comparably leaves me with a heavy heart, which somewhat overwhelms me with not a genuinely good way. But still, the book is an interesting read with its melodrama and cultural and historical backgrounds.
Amidst praises of contemporary literary critics and authors regarding East Lynne when the novel was first published in 1861, Wilkie Collins upturned his nose. He considered himself to be a “rather better novelist, with a rather wider reputation than Mrs. Henry Wood” and was aghast to acknowledge that the novel attracted such incredibly profitable sales. So, intrigued by what he once expressed, I make use of myself in two weeks’ time to find out if this is really the case.
It is curious, nay, appalling to trace the tread in a human life; how the most trivial occurrences lead to the great events of existence, bringing forth happiness or misery, weal or woe. (p. 116)
In the Introductory pages of East Lynne published by Oxford World’s Classics (2008), the Scholar points out that readers and protagonists of East Lynne are obliged to accept life’s little ironies enlarged in many Victorian sensation fiction of the day. They are sure to be met and dictated by “destiny” and “coincidence”, rather than “logic” and “rule” (p. xxi). Think of all difficulties being contrived and pried into the characters in the plot, think of how characters brace and react to those unprecedented circumstances with the help of their physical and social milieu; and finally, how destiny and coincidence await them at the end of the tunnel to redeem and require the characters to compensate for their deeds – the inescapable fate works alongside Authors of sensation fiction in order to help weave and crochet the most plausible plots (though readers might find it unconvincing at times) while Authors who endorse righteousness cudgel their brains to work out the fairest judgement on the characters they have created. Although reality always advocates the opposites, this dispensable conspirators named fate and destiny in sensation novels are always irresistible to readers which we could often find the most rewarding culmination and didactic messages confined in this fictional world. It is only through the most extravagant and seemingly most implausible circumstances that could best illustrate humanity with its most prominent contours.
With the above-mentioned aspects of fate, destiny, and circumstances which help Authors delineate the most recognisable features of humanity, East Lynne overtly espouses such melodrama with cleverly plots deliberately contrived which I appreciate rather than to discard what others might view as far-fetched and overly wrought out. For example, if the railway accident (similar in its nature to Staplehurst rail crash in 1865) had never hurled towards the fallen Heroine during the time when she banished herself in France, she would not have “carried the cross” and returned to her former abode in disguise of a governess to witness further humiliation which only herself would know; and she would never have felt how the world would have turned upside down. The dread of seeing a woman she envied of became the new love of her former husband ; comparing, contrasting, and reminiscing the happiness and the care which were formerly bestowed to her alone. The treads of fate and destiny which enforce its way to characters definitely are worth a second visit to readers.
(featured image: on the way to Bourton-on-the-Hill)
I recently read an article by Wilkie Collins, “A Journey in Search of Nothing”, subtitled under “Social Grievances”, said to be communicated by “an anonymous traveller”. Some bits in the passages remind me of hotel reviews on websites. For example, you always end up reading comments of holiday-makers and business travellers being unable to sleep at night – those thin partitions and doors – you can unintentionally overhear guests groaning and arguing next door, more so with party songs and shouts from drunken lads at the pubs below.
After consulting with the doctor, an assidious man in nature set off for a vacation that simply aimed not to do anything but nothing to pacify his humours and health.
“You must not read or write; you must abstain from allowing yourself to be excited by society; you must have no annoyances; you must feel no anxieties; you must not think; you must be neither elated nor depressed; you must keep early hours and take an occasional tonic, with moderate exercise, and a nourishing but not too full a diet—above all, as perfect repose is essential to your restoration, you must go away into the country, taking any direction you please, and living just as you like, so long as you are quiet and so long as you do Nothing.”
First of all, he and his wife accommodated themselves in an “unsophisticated inn” called Nag’s Head in a retired idyllic village, thinking that it was the best place for peace and quiet. Peace and quiet over for the day! What awaited them at around three o’clock in the morning were some cheerful fowls’ pecking, clucking, and birds crowing. A stroll at the back garden later on came the greetings of three dogs near the yard, which seemed to speak out of turn to the couple.
A shrill dog who barks rapidly; a melancholy dog who howls monotonously; and a hoarse dog who emits barks at intervals like minute guns.
Noise of hammering and wheels of wagons were the loudest as ever. Sounds of trivialities in busy and bustling London appeared bigger and unbearable.
Children, next. Only five of them, and they have not been able to settle for the last half hour what game they shall play at. On two points alone do they appear to be unanimous—they are all agreed on making a noise and on stopping to make it under our window.
At night, the couple were entertained and enlivened by rowdy and imbibing Tom, Dick, Sam, Jem, Bill, and Bob under the window. “No man can ask a question without adding a mark of interrogation at the end in the shape of an oath”. The tavern closed at eleven, but not until “the clerk of the weather” humoured the couple and arrived in time to disperse “the Nag’s Head Night Club”.
Think of doing nothing
Well, after enduring three days and two nights of annoyance at a lodging tavern, couple disembarked the countryside next morning to a “large watering-place” where you could see plenty of sea. (probably not Ramsgate? A favourite Kentish place of Wilkie Collins)
The sea—yes, yes, the sea! Very large, very grey, very calm; very calm, very grey, very large. Anything else about the sea? Nothing else about the sea.
Breakfast over (himself having shrimps, for shrimps took “such a long time to eat”, but I recommend pomegranates), restless and gifted mind of diligence cunningly crept on the man with his struggle against restless boredom and idleness in this coastal town. Walking along the cliff overlooking the ship-builder yard, he found himself totally enlivened and admired by an old man on the vessel, who could work from morning till afternoon on that one-and-only crooked nail and hammer all day trying to make it straight.
Wonderful man, can I ever hope to rival him? Will he condescend to talk to me? Stay! I am not free to try him; the doctor has told me not to excite myself with society; all communion of mind between me and this finished and perfect idler is, I fear, prohibited. Better to walk on, and come back, and look at him again.
Coming home he bored into his wife, wondering whether the logic of her hour-glass figure, round tips of her fingers (instead of taper) were right, all that which made himself drive off the wall and end up writing this gruntling piece of record!
So, all in all, is quietude hard to find? Is idleness ideal in human nature? Regarding contemporary writers of Wilkie Collins, take the examples of Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope and those notable early morning risers with a hectic schedule and restless minds, surely to tell them do nothing to improve health must be excruciating! I am sure Wilkie Collins must be writing this lighthearted article inspired by his own experience!
Our living environ and those little things around shape our different emotions, but it seems hard to change our habitual lives. But we can consult our nature, what we consistently love doing in solitude and connect it with our soul, then we need not to lose it and know that by doing it, it makes us feel enriching and satisfied within.
From Wilkie Collins, Short Story: Miss Morris ad the Stranger, from Little Novels
“Sandwich is a melancholy place, miss.” He was so rapidly improving in politeness, that I encouraged him by a smile. As a citizen of Sandwich, I may say that we take it as a compliment when we are told that our town is a melancholy place. And why not? Melancholy is connected with dignity. And dignity is associated with age. And we are old. I teach my pupils logic, among other things – there is a specimen. Whatever may be said to the contrary, women can reason. They can also wander; and I must admit that I am wandering. Did I mention, at starting, that I was a governess? If not, that allusion to “pupils” must have come in rather abruptly. Let me make my excuses, and return to my lost stranger.
“Is there any such thing as a straight street in all Sandwich?” he asked.
“Not one straight street in the whole town.”
“Any trade, miss?”
“As little as possible – and that is expiring.”
“A decayed place, in short?”
My tone seemed to astonish him. “You speak as if you were proud of its being a decayed place,” he said.
I quite respected him; this was such an intelligent remark to make. We do enjoy our decay: it is our chief distinction. Progress and prosperity everywhere else; decay and dissolution here. As a necessary consequence, we produce our own impression, and we like to be original. The sea deserted us long ago: it once washed our walls, it is now two miles away from us – we don’t regret the sea. We had sometimes ninety-five ships in our harbor, Heaven only knows how many centuries ago; we now have one or two small coasting vessels, half their time aground in a muddy little river – we don’t regret our harbor. But one house in the town is daring enough to anticipate the arrival of resident visitors, and announces furnished apartments to let. What a becoming contrast to our modern neighbor, Ramsgate! Our noble market-place exhibits the laws made by the corporation; and every week there are fewer and fewer people to obey the laws. How convenient! Look at our one warehouse by the river side – with the crane generally idle, and the windows mostly boarded up; and perhaps one man at the door, looking out for the job which his better sense tells him cannot possibly come. What a wholesome protest against the devastating hurry and over-work elsewhere, which has shattered the nerves of the nation! “Far from me and from my friends” (to borrow the eloquent language of Doctor Johnson) “be such frigid enthusiasm as shall conduct us indifferent and unmoved” over the bridge by which you enter Sandwich, and pay a toll if you do it in a carriage. “That man is little to be envied (Doctor Johnson again) who can lose himself in our labyrinthine streets, and not feel that he has reached the welcome limits of progress, and found a haven of rest in an age of hurry.”
As you know, females characters are abound with charms and peculiarities in Wilkie Collins’s novels. There are very ambitious, condescending and enigmatic beauties (e.g. Lydia Gwilt in Armadale), devoting and dignified little creatures (e.g. Anne Silvester in Man and Wife and Emily Brown in I Say No), self-effacing wrecked youths (e.g. Rosanna Spearman in The Moonstone and Miss Minerva in Heart and Science), and so forth. We feel for their cruel intentions, their tragic plight, and their love unrequited but not being unveiled unless they confessed it. These heroines also build up the plot and sensation along the stories. How about in this post, I shed some lighter light of love and romance by referring some other lovable Wilkie Collins’s short stories and essays?
“After all, my dear,” she remarked, “you needn’t be ashamed of having spoken first. You have only used the ancient privilege of the sex. This is Leap Year.” (Miss Morris and the Stranger, Little Novels)
Miss Morris is a governess who has lately come out of age. She is originally from a decayed town (an opinion quoted by the stranger in the story) named Sandwich. There, while she is walking back to her employer’s family home she encounters a stranger who consults her the way to the Inn. Sandwich has “not one straight street in the whole town” and the stranger is a very shy gentleman. “He was not only a gentleman beyond all doubt, but a shy gentleman as well. His bluntness and his odd remarks were, as I thought, partly efforts to disguise his shyness, and partly refuges in which he tried to forget his own sense of it.” Of course, with an unified empathy and amicability of feminine qualities, it is so very pleasant and sweet to find the heroine takes the initiatives to the stranger in the end. Also, because that time is the Leap Year.
I believe many of you know that Leap Year is the time of tradition that ladies could have the unmissed opportunities to pop the question to gentleman under little risks that their proposal should be refused. (but not that I know of after I read this story!) One of the most most iconic leap years during the 19th century must be the Royal Wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Although Queen Victoria proposed around late Autumn of 1839 but they were pronounced man and wife in 1840. Apart from that, there was one notable and significant philanthropist in the contemporary who had the guts and courage to make offers of union to respectable men – Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906). At her later stages at 67 she married 29-year-old William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett. Angela Burdett-Coutts was one of the women in her days who defied others’ opinions and norms.
While I am browsing online the antique postcards of women proposing in leap year, I often find, particularly in the late 19th century and beginning of 1900, some pictures of ladies ensnaring men on the streets. In this case, the pictures seem animating strongly by women’s act and not by their sweet tooth and words. I think it is kind of rollicking that eligible gentlemen were victimised in that way, but it also somehow shows that the fairer sex, always being conceptualised as restrained and submissive of that time are hopefully envisaged on that day and year that they could finally, like the time of suffragette movement, be more liberating and domineering to subdue rather than subduing, to react ferociously in taking the lead regarding their once-in-a-lifetime decisions. The pictures could be satirical and ironic but are they somewhat humorous, and duly warm to the hearts of women? I think so. Moreover, the alternative calling “Bachelor’s Day” should be deemed such a reward to men that women could usurp the gender role and take the initiatives.
I AM a shy young man, with a limited income. My residence is in the country; my hair is light; my cheeks are rosy; my stature is small; my manners are mild; my name is Koddle.
In an article of A Shy Scheme by Wilkie Collins published in Household Holds in 1858. Written in the perspectives of a shy young man, he seems to think in his time the ladies and the whole society are still caged by the norms of how they should behave and handle as regards romance and matrimonial aspects. Although “the wisdom of the ancients seems to have sanctioned some such salutary change of custom as that which I propose, at the period of Leap-year”, “the practice has fallen into disuse; and the modest men of the community have suffered unspeakably in consequence”. To this shy young man, we ladies could call him lazy, laid-back, indifferent, irresponsible, but deep down, the inherent law of courtship is a torture to him; often he would retreat at his eleventh-hour, and all his efforts of proposing go into futility and haze. He praises many qualities of shy young ladies in his days. Although they are coy in person, they are more effortlessly sociable on the outset to divert any embarrassment on the part of gatherings and courtship.
To refer to my own case, I have remarked that my charmer’s shyness differs from mine in being manageable, graceful, and, more than that, in being capable of suppressing itself and of assuming a disguise of the most amazing coolness and self-possession on certain trying occasions. I have heard the object of my affections condemned by ignorant strangers as a young woman of unpleasantly audacious manners, at the very time when my intimate familiarity with her character assured me that she was secretly suffering all the miseries of extreme confusion and self-distrust. Whenever I see her make up a bold face, by drawing her hair off her forehead, and showing the lovely roots all round; whenever I hear her talking with extraordinary perseverance, and laughing with extraordinary readiness; whenever I. see her gown particularly large in pattern, and her ribbands dazzlingly bright in colour; then, I feel certain that she is privately quaking with all the most indescribable and most unreasonable terrors of shyness…My experience has not been a large one; but that is my humble idea of the real nature of a woman’s shyness.
The shy young man then moans that every other year should be considered “for matrimonial purposes, a Leap Year, and give the unhappy bashful bachelor a good twelvemonth’s chance of getting an offer”.
Article: A Shy Scheme
All in all, taking the lead in courtship and romance in the olden days seemed to concern social positions, others’ perspectives and norms, that it might not be the case of women in those days to change reversely the role if they were to do so. In these days, where women are more salient and willing to confess their love are the places of fan clubs, red carpets, songwriting and social media. In reality of speaking in words, what would the Victorians think if men in these days are still being treated as the managerial role in courtship and proposal in marriage? Well, I think, being narrow-minded as I am, women are supposedly bolder these days. But I never heard in my circles that women are the ones who take initiatives in courtship.
Although My Lady’s Money (1878) by Wilkie Collins is a relatively short story compared with his other works, it is still instilled with a few Wilkie Collins’s elements. It is teeming with social objects, care and observations of undistinguished persons of his contemporaries and this novel really deserves some recognition.
Mr. Troy made no answer. In the melancholy experience of humanity to which his profession condemned him, he had seen conscious guilt assume the face of innocence, and helpless innocence admit the disguise of guilt: the keenest observation, in either case, failing completely to detect the truth.
This story draws the quotidian misconceptions and societal mores which exist in everyday life. Hearing the cousin of Late Husband, James Tollmidge, passed away, Lady Lydiard decided to draw out her 500-pound bank note in order to support financially Tollmidge’s family, but to enclose it in a letter anonymously and get it dispatched to the clergyman’s hands. As the letter was left unsealed on the table when being called upon an emergency concerning the health of her canine friend Tommie, the bank note was found missing when it was communicated to the clergyman’s hands. As visitors came and went, all persons who were present before the letter was sent were all suspected of theft. Through the interrogations of Mr. Troy, Lady Lydiard’s lawyer, a person was pointed out as the only suspect of theft – Isabel Miller, a young girl who was employed as the reader, companion for almost two years, and regarded as the adopted daughter by Lady Lydiard, as she was the one who was instructed to seal the letter. However, the interrogation was devoid of comprehensive search and questioning, persons concerned who were of rank and reputation were out of the question of theft.
“Now listen. Here’s the guinea opinion: Suspect, in this case, the very last person on whom suspicion could possibly fall.” (Old Sharon)
Accidents and mystery always happen in the most hospitable roofs, appearances do not always look like what they really seem to be. If not for the obstinacy and loyalty in proving her innocence to Lady Lydiard, she would never clear her name and further investigations would not be conducted. It was not until the appearance of Old Sharon, a ragged, unconventional “detective” who gave out this useful advice that we start to see the light for the story in culminating with a satisfying conclusion.
One thing I love about Wilkie Collins’s works is that he always delineates the social standards of his times to conflict them. The Victorian moralities are always referred to and appreciated these days but fiction writers of those times were always looking for all points of contemporary perspectives and mores, observing and accepting the irregularities, constructing their points, refuting, debunking, and wrestling with them. In the case of this story, it tackles the misconceptions that a person with ranks and said reputations should be much respected and devoid of wrongdoings. One of the most interesting scenes in the novel is the interaction between Miss Pink and Lady Lydiard. Miss Pink, a retired schoolmistress of a young girls’ academy, and the aunt of Isabel Miller, is the character who is exactly the anomaly and juxtaposition of Lady Lydiard. She is absent of title and rank but she desires it, she imitates the proprieties, refined but ostensible qualities which she considers as the criteria that only a titled person would acquire. “Miss Pink’s highly-trained conversation had perhaps one fault – it was not, strictly speaking, conversation at all. In its effect on her hearers it rather resembled the contents of a fluently conventional letter, read aloud.”Placing the primness and pride on top she was overwhelmed with shock concerning her meeting with Lady Lydiard with her “coarse terms and vulgarities”. Miss Pink and Lady Lydiard are respectively the living images of South Morden (a dull remote countryside) and London (a vivacious and fast-paced capital). Despite a place with its beautiful and pastoral nature its residents do not constitute it to become a desirable place of abode as it seems.
Thus far he had stood apart, watching her and listening to her in silence. Not a look that had crossed her face, not a word that had fallen from her, had escaped him. Unconsciously on her side, unconsciously on his side, she now wrought on his nature with a purifying and ennobling influence which animated it with a new life. All that had been selfish and violent in his passion for her left him to return no more. The immeasurable devotion which he laid at her feet, in the days that were yet to come – the unyielding courage which cheerfully accepted the sacrifice of himself when events demanded it at a later period of his life – struck root in him now. Without attempting to conceal the tears that were falling fast over his cheeks – striving vainly to express those new thoughts in him that were beyond the reach of words—he stood before her the truest friend and servant that ever woman had.
In Wilkie Collins works, he occasionally upholds dispositions of vibrancy and energy like P. G. Wodehouse concerning the aged and elderly. For example, Bertram Wooster always describing his aunts as “aged relatives” but when troubles get them, they could fiercely steam up their temper like a boiled teapot. Not without mentioning Hon. Galahad, in the case, a friendly and energetic raconteur in the Blandings series, one of my favourite characters apart from Frederick Threepwood.
“Cousins!” exclaimed her Ladyship, suddenly descending from the lofty ranges of sentiment to the low. “I hate the very name of them! A person who is near enough to me to be my relation and far enough off from me to be my sweetheart, is a double-faced sort of person that I don’t like. Let’s get back to the widow and her sons. How much do they want?”
In My Lady’s Money, characters in old age are in no way undermined as dull. They are full of energy and they know how they live their lives.
Although you might have never heard of a short story named A Step in the Dark by Kate Eyre (serialied in Cassell’s Magazine in 1887) , but Lady Lydiard really resonates the pleasant personalities of Lady Vane in person (a woman in her eighties), and I would quote one passage here,
Somehow it saddened me to watch her, Why, I can hardly tell, possible only because it is not what one looks for in a woman of her age. Yet with all her worldliness, her bitter tongue, and her love of sarcasm, I doubt if Lady Vane is any worse than many a sedate old dame, correct in manner, but hard of heart. Seldom indeed does her ladyship turn a deaf ear to the poor and needy- always provided the poor and needy do not come to her in the guise of relations – but the fact that her gifts are nearly always accompanied by cruel, stinging words, takes away from them much of their charm…
And this is a description about this mischievous Lady Lydiard,
Accurately described, Lord Lydiard’s widow was short and fat, and, in the matter of age, perilously near her sixtieth birthday. But it may be said, without paying a compliment, that she looked younger than her age by ten years at least. Her complexion was of that delicate pink tinge which is sometimes seen in old women with well-preserved constitutions. Her eyes (equally well preserved) were of that hard light blue color which wears well, and does not wash out when tried by the test of tears. Add to this her short nose, her plump cheeks that set wrinkles at defiance, her white hair dressed in stiff little curls; and, if a doll could grow old, Lady Lydiard, at sixty, would have been the living image of that doll, taking life easily on its journey downwards to the prettiest of tombs, in a burial-ground where the myrtles and roses grew all the year round.
Not only Lady Lydiard but also Robert Moody, the Lady’s steward, is a great and important character in the novel. Although in a relatively old age comparing with the youngsters in the story, he is always maturing and transforming, just like the protagonist in a bildungsroman novel. In the beginning he is a lackadaisical steward whose love we find is always unrequited; but till the middle of the story, when the theft incident happens, he becomes a revered, patient, committed, and a noble warrior of love. This is the power Wilkie Collins instilling to the aged and the underprivileged in all his works. Although the characters are of frail bodies but they are not the faint-hearted. Last but not least, the story has the exemplary ending of consolation and refuge for the soul of a reader.
Good-by to Miss Pink—who will regret to her dying day that Isabel’s answer to Hardyman was No.
Good-by to Lady Lydiard—who differs with Miss Pink, and would have regretted it, to her dying day, if the answer had been Yes.
Good-by to Moody and Isabel—whose history has closed with the closing of the clergyman’s book on their wedding-day.
Good-by to Hardyman—who has sold his farm and his horses, and has begun a new life among the famous fast trotters of America.
Good-by to Old Sharon—who, a martyr to his promise, brushed his hair and washed his face in honor of Moody’s marriage; and catching a severe cold as the necessary consequence, declared, in the intervals of sneezing, that he would “never do it again.”
And last, not least, good-by to Tommie? No. The writer gave Tommie his dinner not half an hour since, and is too fond of him to say good-by.
In Mrs Zant and the Ghost (The Ghost’s Touch), Wilkie Collins implies two concepts or conflicts of the contemporaries: supernatural vision of persons and the agreed matrimonial act imposed by an ecclesiastical belief.
In the story, protagonist, Mr Rayburn, and his daughter, Lucy, encountered a young lady (Mrs Zant) in Kensington Gardens whom they believed was distressed by agitation and troubled by illness. Mrs Zant seemed to overlook their presence but approached them, saw through them with an unspeakable fear. Intrigued by her presence and concerned about her helplessness, Mr Zant followed her to a lodging house with his daughter and contrived to find out the truth. Through Mrs Zant epistolary confession, she experienced a certain kind of vision, not by sight but by feelings. While she wandered under the tree, she felt everything in reality disappeared before her eyes, every sound of hearing among the surroundings was completely erased and only her sense remains. “I felt an Invisible Presence near me. It touched me gently.” The unknown entity touched and embraced her and she felt a rapture of joy. She acknowledged the unknown entity to be her husband, who died of consumption (or the overdose of sleeping drops) after they had not married to each other for long. According to the letter to Mr Rayburn, she returned to the Park for the first time since she had convalesced from brain fever; and this was the place where she used to take a stroll with Mr Zant when they were betrothed.
“Judged from the point of view of the materialist, Mrs. Zant might no doubt be the victim of illusions (produced by a diseased state of the nervous system), which have been known to exist — as in the celebrated case of the book-seller, Nicolai, of Berlin — without being accompanied by derangement of the intellectual powers.”
In this story, Wilkie Collins mentioned the case of Nicolai, who had seen supernatural figures during the days incessantly, for two years, while his habitual treatment of bloodletting was ceased. One morning in February 1791, out of his nervous mood and annoyance with his business, he saw phantasms for the first time, which were only seen by him, and did what the mortals did in the daytime at the market – transacting businesses, some were even on horsebacks, and some were with dogs. The figures also spoke to him occasionally. It seemed like a pleasing view, a normal spectra. But once he applied bloodletting again, the phantasms never reappeared. There was a paper of his called “A Memoir on the Appearance of Spectres or Phantoms occasioned by Disease“, in which Nicolai acknowledged that this vision was subjected to his bodily ailments, “the whole panorama was exhibited on his own retina, and the working brain behind was the manager and scene-shifter of the show”. Compared with this context, Mrs Zant did not reflect what her passing fancies of her brain into her vision, but according to the preface of the story, a plausible and unknown supernatural presence “reached mortal knowledge through the sense which is least easily self-deceived: the sense that feels”. In Wilkie Collins’s contemporaries, illusions and ghostly encounters were gradually superseded by scientific explanation under the progression of secularism, but in my point of view, Wilkie Collins really tried to ascertain that every man is certainly with feeling, and immortality, supernatural entities, religions, and superstitions are still some requisite components to propel his stories in reflecting the beauty of fate, faith, hope, and a belief which can constitute humans value better virtue, and even exert a moral and fatal punishment on the misdeeds, just as what we had read in Man and Wife, The Two Destinies, and The Moonstone.
“In his way of thinking, if one man may marry his wife’s sister, and no harm done, where’s the objection if another man pays a compliment to the family, and marries his brother’s widow? My master, if you please, is that other man. Take the widow away before she marries him.”
As we had read in Wilkie Collins’s novels, he was concerned much about the welfare and state of women in their matrimonial lives. In Man and Wife, a doubt arises in Scotland on couples that could be announced as husband and wife legally when the third witness is present, as well as mentioning the case of Irregular Marriage in Ireland. In Woman in White, we learn the unfair Married Women’s Property Act in Victorian England; however in Evil Genius, we see lenience towards the fairer sex in marriage act concerning the divorced law implemented in Scotland.
In the case of Mrs Zant and the Ghost, the story touches the subject of Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act, which stipulated in 1835 that a widower was illegal to marry the late wife’s sister. It was considered incestuous as husband and wife were made one flesh upon marriage. However, perhaps as to be seen more “protective” to women and due to “moral” concerns, a widow was allowed to be married into a husband’s brother’s household. In this opinion, it was based on the fact that the in-law family needed the wife to conceive of a future heir, or to accept the in-law daughter under a roof so that she would not be left destitute. This act was not repealed until 1905. It is a shame I have not read it, but Dinah Maria Craik and Felicia Skene wrote Hannah and Inheritance of Evil Or, the Consequences of Marrying a Deceased Wife’s Sister, respectively, based on this law. In Mrs Zant and the Ghost, Wilkie Collins, in my point of view, might be questioning the Parliament if this act of “levirate marriage” was really without consequences and if it was really in every nuptial case without misdeeds and immoral motives on the male’s part.
In this story, we can see again another case of Wilkie Collin’s challenging the contemporaries. Although Mrs Zant and the Ghost might not be an eye-catcher compared with his other works, but all works could be treated as gems if they are to be digged diligently.