Book Review: No Name by Wilkie Collins (Four Stars)

Book Review: No Name by Wilkie Collins

Four Stars

“The hard handwriting of trouble had scored [her face] heavily at some past time.”

Like many novels of himself and his friend Charlies Dickens, Wilkie Collins addresses a grave social injustice with a captivating story. No Name deals with the issues–familial, legal and emotional–of illegitimacy in the society which hyperventilates about most everything moral or sexual. (In fact, sex as a verb is never even alluded therein.)

“The lasting preservation of a secret is a miracle which this world has never seen.”

Set in 1846-8 and published in 1862 for context the reader might review Sense and Sensibility or other stories of the vulnerability of young women, especially orphans, in Victorian England. No Name has the typical convoluted plot, chance meetings, and reverses one expects from such a master of the pen. Many actors work against each other with the best of intentions while others hasten disaster by their efforts to ameliorate it.

“The mercy of chance? No. The mercy of God.”

The novel itself is 300 pages of story squeezed onto 700 pages of book. The pace is glacial at first, but the reader is propelled forward by smartly drawn characters and the probability of seeing a really big train wreck down the line. Pages of arcane legal jargon, significant to the plot, slow the pace. The abundance of untranslated Latin epigrams is characteristic of the age. The reading public of the 1860s was assumed to be broadly literate than is true today. For all that, it is an excellent story, well told.

“Don’t think me mercenary–I merely understand the age I live in.”

I leave it to the reader to discover the meaning and import of “moral agriculture.”

“I don’t pretend to be infallible–I leave that to my juniors.”


2 thoughts on “Book Review: No Name by Wilkie Collins (Four Stars)

  1. Did you mean 700 pages squeezed into 300? While I love Dickens’ stories, in general the glacial pace of the prose of that era works against the story. Of course the story is the main thing!

  2. No, I meant the shorter story in the longer book. There’s lots of description and exposition that modern readers won’t tolerate. It helps place ourselves in his context.

    Yes, the glacial pace distinguishes Dickens and Collins, et al.

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