'I tell you she would shrink from no means which a desperate woman an employ, to force that closed hand of yours open, or die in the attempt!'
I was terribly excited back in February when the spin number was announced and the lucky number 20 was pulled from the hat. Number 20 meant that I was being handed the opportunity to spend even more time with my one and only, Wilkie Collins. If you've been reading this blog for a bit, you'll be more than familiar with my love for this cheeky chappy and will probably be able to imagine my delight upon realising which book the spin number corresponded to. I can't deny that there was squealing.
ANYWAY. I was super excited to read No Name so I found myself a Penguin Classics from the 90s (pictured) which I love, and dove in head first.
'Shall I tell you what a lady is? A lady is a woman who wears a silk gown, and has a sense of her own importance.'
No Name is an epistolary novel that tells the story of the disinheritance of the Vanstone sisters. Their illegitimacy is revealed early on in such tragic circumstances that are spot on in terms of plotting. The majority of the novel in concerned with Magdalen Vanstone's relentless struggle to reclaim her identity and her money. There's death, disguise, deceit, sailors, Somerset and a giantess - what more could you want?
As ever with Wilkie, it is the characters that are the stand out element of the novel. All his characters are imaginatively and sympathetically devised in such detail that you can almost see them in the room with you (that might just be me...). We have the conniving Mrs Lecount, the giantess Mrs Wragge and her sly and cunning husband who is 'on the wrong side of fifty'. Then there's the standard governess character Miss Garth, and Kirke, the knight in shining armour. Finally there is the sickly, whiny and tightfisted Noel Vanstone. It is almost a month since I finished this book and they're all still there. Magdalen is perhaps the least tangible character because of her marvellous penchant for disguise, but it is this element of disguise and her ability to create and recreate herself as situations require that make her such a subversive character.
This is another Victorian Sensation novel, of the type that Wilkie invented, but for modern readers it is perhaps less sensational that his others. Although I could see how it could be labelled as such, and my own senses were frequently on the verge of unravelling, the element of sensation really comes from the context. Magdalen is a young, unmarried and illegitimate woman who goes to really quite shocking lengths to recover her inheritance and her name. I think the reason I enjoyed it so much even without the sensational factors that The Moonstone or The Woman in White have, is how educational it is. It is yet another example of the female role in Victorian England and demonstrates how entirely dependent they were on male relatives. Magdalen's actions seem a bit pointless to the modern reader and she can seem seriously martyr-ish at times, but if I was in her circumstances, I like to think I'd go to the same lengths.
No Name hasn't been my favourite Wilkie Collins novel to date but it was a thoroughly entertaining read and I'm surprised by how much of it has stuck around in my head. I'm planning on making The Law and the Lady my next Wilkie pick, though I could be persuaded to go for Armadale instead. We shall see.
'It's like a scene in a novel - it's like nothing in real life.'
How did you do with your Classics Spin?