Magdalen and Norah Vanstone’s story (which cannot really be discussed without spoilers, i.e., don’t read the back cover) left me less satisfied than usual with Mr. Wilkie Collins, but there is no denying that No Name (first published 1862) was a page-turning, suspenseful book. As with other Wilkie Collins novels, there are mistaken identities, disguises, tricks on both the good and bad, memorable characters, and opportune deaths. I couldn’t wait to see how it was all resolved.
This post contains spoilers of No Name. I really want to discuss it, so if you’ve read it, please leave me a comment!
As those who’ve read the novel know, No Name revolves around two women who are left without an inheritance after the untimely deaths of their parents, who had not been married when the girls were born. I had been wanting to read this book for quite some time, because when I read a biography of Wilkie Collins, I learned that he had a number of children by his mistress and was ever worried that they’d not receive an inheritance because of the laws of the time. Good old Wilkie did not want them left penniless on his death. 1
I think the reason I didn’t like No Name as much as other Collins novels I have read was because of Magdalen herself. She irked me. She was supposed to be the character we sympathized with, and the story revolved around her. But her quest for revenge made her out to be a rather superficial one-sided bad character. I didn’t ever really grasp her quest, and I frequently thought she needed to get a life and move on. Norah did. 2 Lydia Gwilt in Armadale was likewise a bad-but-good character: I liked her deep down, though. Even having finished the novel, I am not certain I liked Magdalen. I felt myself rooting for the far more despicable Noel Vanstone and Mrs Lecount a few times, just because I didn’t like Magdalen’s methods of deceit.
The ending too. Ugh. Why did Magdalen deserve the fall-in-love-at-first-sight man? What good had she done through the novel? And why did Kirke like her, other than finding her pretty? He didn’t know a thing about her!
So, although I enjoyed reading No Name, I had issues with it. It wasn’t a favorite Wilkie Collins novel for me.
What did you like about it? Or did you, like me, find it unsatisfying?
Cover image from UK Vintage Classics edition.