Book Review: No Name by Wilkie Collins


I am convinced that my interest in the work of Wilkie Collins has something to do with all the letter writing involved. Of course there is also intrigue and suspense and all sorts of other goings on that make his novels page turners. But I love the fact that despite the fact that the action of the books clip along at a quick pace, if you think about how it would have played out in real time, it would have been like watching paint dry. Imagine trying to get to the bottom of any mystery without the aid of the telephone, car, email, Internet, forensic science and any number of other methods of investigation. And think about it on a personal level. Have you ever had something that you needed answered immediately and the time it took to get an email reply, even though it may have just been minutes, felt like an eternity? Imagine if you had to wait 14 days to get an answer via mail from Zurich. That would certainly slow down your plans wouldn’t it? And it is all those furious letters and documents and meetings with solicitors and trusting interviews with landladies, coach drivers and servants, that make these “detective” stories so enjoyable for me. I am willing to suspend my disbelief for these Victorian mysteries in a way that I cannot for more modern mysteries.

Like other of Collins’ sensation novels No Name takes place on the fringes of propiety. Those ruffled edges of polite society where perfectly moral people teeter on the edge of social oblivion due to some technicality that turns them into pariahs overnight. This is my third Wilkie Collins novel and my fourth sensation novel (Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret) and they all rely heavily on the fact that women had so few independent rights at the time. How awful to be in a position to not be able to earn your living because a man is going to take care of it and then something happens to the man and you left with nothing and no way to do anything about it.

In No Name Magdalen (18) and her sister Norah (22, I think) find out after losing their parents that they are technically illegitimate children and are now destitute thanks to an evil uncle and cousin. So for six hundred pages the plots thicken and thin and then thicken again, the letters fly, and in the end it all comes up roses. Most, of Collins’ novels were written as serials so verbal economy is not the order of the day. For anyone who has ever liked a costume drama but wants to read something a little more racy than Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins is your man.

When looking for an image to include with this post, at the bottom of the tenth page of a Google image search using the terms “no name wilkie collins” one stumbles across a picture of Rachel from Book Snob. That photo led me to Rachel’s much more complete (and well written) review.

I have an extra copy of No Name to give away. Just let me know in the comments if you are interested. (US only please, the older Dover edition I have to give away is kind of heavy.)

13 thoughts on “Book Review: No Name by Wilkie Collins

  1. Karen K. June 1, 2011 / 9:40 am

    Curse these Victorians and their 800 page novels! It seems like as soon as I finish one Victorian doorstop, it's time to start another (so far this year I've read Villette, The Three Musketeers, and Dombey and Son, and I'm about halfway through Daniel Deronda).

    I really enjoyed The Woman in White, The Moonstone not as much, but this sounds like exactly the sort of thing I'd like. I'll definitely read it someday. And thanks to the link to Rachel's review.


  2. verity June 1, 2011 / 9:51 am

    Collins does always provide an excellent read, it is just too bad that I am always put off by the small type.


  3. reviewsbylola June 1, 2011 / 1:37 pm

    The Woman in White is the only Collins I have read, but I intend to read more. The size of his books is always intimidating though!


  4. Ti June 1, 2011 / 2:10 pm

    Perhaps the lack of communication methods is why I find books like this so charming. There is a sense of urgency, that you don't get when an answer is just moments away. Very true.

    I would love to win a copy.

    bookishchatter AT gmail DOT com


  5. Darlene June 1, 2011 / 3:41 pm

    Rachel and I read this one as a read-along, it was a fabulous book! Captain Wragge and his 'down-at-heel' wife are unforgettable.


  6. Desperate Reader June 1, 2011 / 5:25 pm

    I do like Wilkie Collins, and so far most all of the sensation novels I've read but I long to read more about them. Have you any recommendations for critical works?


  7. Susan in TX June 1, 2011 / 6:10 pm

    So far, I'm 2/2 on enjoying Collins, but I, too, feel like I have tomes piled to the sky. I'm adding this one to my list of books to be on the lookout for once I read more of the ones that I've already got piled up, though. :)


  8. linds June 1, 2011 / 6:34 pm

    I loved The Woman in White. Your No Name review has me perfectly intrigued.


  9. lemonhead June 2, 2011 / 2:34 pm

    I really enjoyed Woman in White.. Please may I put my name in the drawing? Thanks a bunch.

    PS I love your blog. :-)



  10. Ash June 2, 2011 / 9:41 pm

    Your opening paragraph had me laughing like crazy. It's so true! I haven't read this one yet, I'm still a little Wilkie Collins-ed out after the class I took… a year ago. Might be up for some Mary Elizabeth Braddon though!


  11. Thomas at My Porch June 3, 2011 / 10:04 am

    Karen: They are huge. I loved The Three Musekteers when I read it a few years back on a road trip vacation. I think I may take The County of Monte Cristo to Maine this summer.

    Verity: The type in my Penguin edition wasn't too bad.

    Lola: The Woman in White was my first Collins too. No Name seemed quite a bit shorter.

    Ti: I can hear the sound of the ink pen on the paper…

    Darlene: Captain Wragge is hilarious, but I felt sorry for his wife.

    Hayley: No recommendations for critical works on the sensationalists (!).

    Susan: I read one that was a little boring, but I can't remember what it was called.

    Linds: Worth a look.

    Liz: Thanks for stopping by.

    Ash: Good, I love it when I make people laugh. I am not sure how I would feel about a whole class.


  12. Juxtabook June 3, 2011 / 1:30 pm

    I haven't read No Name but I did manage to catch a radio serialisation by the BBC a few years ago. It was drama not reading, and was excellent. If it ever comes out on CD it would be worth getting hold of.


  13. Regina Beth Parale Moreno March 4, 2014 / 2:29 am

    Hi! My first Wilkie Collins book was The Woman in White, then The Haunted Hotel, then Jezebel's Daughter, and just last weekend, I've finished No Name. By the time I find Magdalen at Aaron's Building, I found myself in tears and weeping over her predicament. I must confess I found the beginning a bit slow, but I decided to persevere, trusting in the previous 3 novels that I've enjoyed. In the end, I must say, No Name has become my favorite among the 4 books I've covered. Sometimes it's hard to believe that these great works were written more than a hundred years ago. Such is the genius of Wilkie Collins. … Have started with Armadale last Sunday.


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