Dead Secrets


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Wilkie Collins and the Female Gothic

Tamar Heller

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Readers have long been enthralled by the novels of Wilkie Collins, whose The Moonstone is considered the first modern detective novel. This book by Tamar Heller—the most comprehensive study of Collins's work ever written--places Collins within Victorian literary history, showing how his fiction transforms the conventions of the traditionally female genre of the Gothic novel and can be read as a critique of the gender and class distinctions that structured Victorian society.

Heller offers an insightful account of the ways in which Collins's work in the female Gothic tradition influenced his characteristic themes and imagery. She also explores how this association with the genres of the Gothic and with controversial "sensation fiction" linked Collins with women writers and literary and social marginality during an era when novel writing was increasingly a male-defined and male-dominated profession. Heller argues that Collins's fictions reflect his own contradictory status as a Victorian writer; his novels focus on the relation of the writer to the literary marketplace and also on the intricate and ambivalent dialectic of masculine literary authority and feminine marginality.

This study of Collins makes an original contribution to feminist literary criticism by demonstrating its value for the reexamination of an important male writer. In addition, by exploring the complexity of the relationship of a male writer to a feminine literary tradition, the book breaks new ground in the study of literary influence and in critical discussions of the literary canon.

"The first book-length, revisionary study of Collins' work that sensibly makes use of modern theory, fusing Gothic, gender, marketplace, and class issues."—Sue Lonoff

"Shows how the English writer used the female Gothic tradition to write novels about class and gender distinctions in Victorian society, and how his association with a female literary genre gave him an ambivalent position in the literary marketplace."—The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Well-written, brilliantly argued and intellectually demanding...yields an abundance of rich, strange fruit...Heller makes the intriguing case that Wilkie Collins was a sort of walking battleground on which a set of highly charged conflicts—political, sexual, economic, literary—played themselves out. . . . Does much to explain the continuing vigor and viability of the Gothic as a subversive genre."—Patrick McGrath, Newsday FanFare

"[This] important reassessment of Wilkie Collins weaves feminist modes of discovery with acute historical contexting to explore that most puzzling of Victorian phenomena, the female Gothic . . . Densely reasoned, frequently brilliant, and compelling throughout, Heller's study is an important model for feminist scholarship on male writers."—Patrice Caldwell, Rocky Mountain Review

"Dead Secrets contributes significantly both to the new direction in gender studies and to the current boomlet in reappraisals of Wilkie Collins and the other sensation novelists. . . . Heller manages to preserve the essential spirit of Collins as the incorrigible iconoclast while enriching our awareness of the self-reflexiveness of his texts and his scrupulous devotion to the craft of writing."—Winifred Hughes, Nineteenth-Century Literature

ISBN: 9780300045741
Publication Date: February 26, 1992
208 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4