Wilkie Collins and the Sensation Novel

When Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White was first published in serial form in 1859 it not only transformed him into one of the most famous of Victorian writers, but launched a whole new genre of sensation fiction, drawing on aspects from melodrama, Gothic fiction, and the Newgate fiction which adapted crime stories for the entertainment of the newly literate working class and middle class consumers. His own life was sensational enough: sickly, and addicted to opium, he managed to maintain two mistresses and their children. His female characters are probably the best written by any Victorian male – but then he did have twice the sources of insight than most married men had.


  • Online


  • Mary Braddon. Lady Audley’s Secret (Oxford University Press: 1987)
  • Wilkie Collins. Armadale (Penguin Classics: 1995)
  • Wilkie Collins. The Moonstone (Penguin Classics: 1998)
  • Wilkie Collins. No Name (Penguin Classics: 1994)
  • Wilkie Collins. The Woman in White (Penguin Classics: 2003)
  • Thomas Hardy. Desperate Remedies (Penguin Classics: 1998)
  • Charles Reade. Griffith Gaunt, or Jealousy (University of Michigan Library: 2006)
  • Ellen Wood. East Lynne (Oxford University Press: 2012)


  • Childhood and early writing: Son and brother of artists, Wilkie Collins was qualified as a lawyer, but was able to start his real career of writing with the publication of his father’s biography.
  • Charles Dickens Meeting: Charles Dickens changed Collins’s life. Older, more experienced, and more successful, Dickens acted as mentor as well as friend, and later in-law.
  • Caroline Graves: Wilkie Collins, for all his sympathetic treatment of women characters and women’s issues, never married. But he set up home with Caroline Graves (with one significant gap) for the rest of his life.
  • The Woman in White: This was the book that transformed Collins into one of the best selling authors of the Victorian era, tantalising readers through the initial serial publication, with some of the themes and techniques – pacing and cliff hangers, contemporary technology and shifting identities - that played with a reader’s sensations.
  • Sensation Novels: The Sensation Novel was enormously successful for a brief but influential period. We will look at the sources, characteristics, and key works in this genre, and discuss the traces that can still be seen in contemporary fiction.
  • No Name and Armadale: Two of his four masterpieces are unjustly forgotten by the majority. Armadale was his personal favourite and featured one of the great femme fatales of literature.
  • Martha Rudd: In the midst of his huge creative and commercial success, Collins set up another household with Martha Rudd, while maintaining his home with Caroline. His mother knew of neither.
  • The Moonstone: Regarded by T.S. Eliot 'the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels' The Moonstone is a multiple perspective story that helped launch the mystery genre.
  • Later writing: While the decade of the 1860s was undoubtedly his peak, Collins continued to write prolifically and successfully. Books like The Lady and the Law and Poor Miss Finch might not be at the level of the Big Four, but they still contain fascinating elements and characters.
  • Characteristics: We will conclude by discussing some of the distinctive characteristics of Collins’s writing: his narrative structure and themes, and his inclusion of characters with disabilities and strong female characters.
$65 Limited

<p>When Wilkie Collins’ novel <em>The Woman in White</em> was first published in serial form in 1859 it not only transformed him into one of the most famous of Victorian writers, but launched a whole

30 Oct
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