No Name – Wilkie Collins

A slightly late post for the Sensation Season Sunday this week but I don’t like to put the post up until have finished the book and had time to digest it for a while. I also have had what The Converted One is calling a full on ‘Bloggers Breakdown’ but more on that tomorrow. Back to the aim of Sensation Season Sunday and to the latest read in the season (which schedule change I will also be discussing tomorrow) and its another Wilkie Collins novel but would this one be the one to put me off Collins?

No Name is the tale of two sisters who have to face the hardest of times after the death of their parents.  Not only do they have the grief and loss to deal with but the unsettling discovery that leaves them shunned from society… their parents were not married when either of them were born. This storyline actually caused huge shock, but mass sales, when it was published and reading about that added to the books themes. The girls are disinherited and thrown out of the family manor leaving them to fend for themselves. After a life together the two sisters set out on very different paths that will change their lives forever.

Norah Vanstone is the more silent and submissive of the sisters and opts for a life of a governess; with the social stigma attached to her this is a hard path to follow and pushes her through poverty and much toil. Her strong willed sister Magdalen however decides that she will get her inheritance however possible and uncovers a tale that means not only does she want what is rightfully hers, she wants revenge at whatever cost. She does find a partner in this quest, a certain Captain Wragge who when is first depicted as a suspicious man all dressed in black with eyes of different colours you think may be a wonderfully evil character. Though he is a swindler we do see a very different side to him and I liked this twist with the book, the true villain when he shows up is utterly marvellous.

I think one thing that Wilkie Collins is incredibly good at, apart from mystery and intrigue which this book has in abundance, is writing great women. Be they femme fatales, villainesses, mad women or innocent victims of fate you know they will be well written and both sisters though their tales and personalities are quite, quite different they are both vivid. The book does tend to feature the wonderfully head strong Magdalen who I don’t think any reader could help but love but Norah in her own way has quite a journey. I also think with No Name that Wilkie Collins is trying to say something about the way society treats women over men and that was something I wasn’t expecting.

I thought from the title of the book (can I just say what a gorgeous cover this book has though Oxford World Classics new range is just stunning) that I might not enjoy this one and it wasn’t one that I had heard much about other than it was the book between the incredibly successful The Woman in White and The Moonstone. No Name is yet another gripping sensation novel with mystery, scandal and villains that also inter-mingles a real insight into Victorian Society and shows, through Captain Wragge, that you should never judge people by their appearance or what others may say. Another one to add to my never ending love of Collins books, surely they can’t all be this marvellous, but please say they are.


Filed under Book Thoughts, Sensation Novels

11 responses to “No Name – Wilkie Collins

  1. You’re absolutely right on Collins and great women. I haven’t read No Name, but I’m nearly done with Armadale and Miss Gwilt is one of the best villianesses I’ve encountered in literature. I’m especially impressed with the journal entries and seeing the workings of her mind; she ends up being more complex than a work of pure evil, but there’s no sense that her back-story is added to justify her evil acts. It’s marvelous.

    • Isn’t Lydia just amazing, seriously I am a huge fan even if she is diabolical. I find it fascinating how he gets so into womens (not just evil ones) minds and looks through their eyes its incredible. Am glad you are enjoying Armadale so much!

  2. You are such an inspiration, Simon. I have never read so many books by the same author — much less in such a condensed time frame.

    I am amazed how prolific Collins was — and yet each book seems to be as gripping as the last.

    I look forward to someday having my own Sensation Season and read all these fabulous classics.

    • Well don’t rave about me too much all is going to be changing on the sensation front over the next few weeks but more on that tomorrow.

      I would take any sensation season much slower than I have as these books are a great read if devoured but I am beginning to understand why the serials work so well, they shouldnt be rushed and thats my only critisism of myself with this season.

  3. No Name seemed to me to be a much more mature book than The Moonstone or The Woman in White. It had the same wit and smart plot twists but with more of a social conscience and more depth to the characters. I appreciate the variety in Collins’ books and I think that is part of the reason that they can each be great in their own way. I haven’t read a bad one yet!

    • Hoorah, the fact you havent read a bad one yet pleases me greatly as I am hoping there are no duds. I am kicking myself a bit as saw three titles of his I dont own at the weekend and for some reason didnt buy, I blame a full on meltdown.

  4. Oooh I have this and am going to read it very soon…it sounds wonderful and maybe a much ‘deeper’ read than The Woman in White, contemporary ‘issues’ wise. I am loving the Sensation Season Simon and I am so glad you are doing this – it has encouraged me to pick the ones I have up, finally, after meaning to read them for years.

    • It’s great Rachel and I am sure you will enjoy it. I think this book looks at the social aspect of things as well as the sensational and you are right it is in some ways deeper though still manages a kicking pace. If I had read any Dickens I would imagine I would be saying ‘this is the more Dickensian of his works’ though I do believe that honour belongs to Hide & Seek!

  5. Glad to hear, as I intend to get all the Oxford editions of Collins.. they’re all gorgeous, as you say.

  6. I haven’t read this but really enjoyed the radio 4 adaption a few years ago. I love Wilkie Collins – the pace of Dan Brown but with better sentences. I took The Moonstone into hospital when I had my daughter and couldn’t put it down – which makes life complicated during a c-section – even I couldn’t read then, but my mind kept straying back to the book.

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