No Name by Wilkie Collins

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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.

  1. Collins had three mistresses at the same time, but only one with whom he had children.
  2. Seriously, why was I taking the novel so seriously?!
Reviewed on July 11, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Really?! I loved Magdalen. 😀 And I thought Kirk’s love for her was Wilkie mocking the superficiality of men. 😉 I haven’t read Armadale (I’m saving it), and I’m planning to reread Woman in White this year, so I’ve managed to forget most of the plot, so I can’t compare, but I really loved No Name. I imagine if you don’t like Magdalen you wouldn’t like the book as much though!

    • Eva » yeah, Magdalen was a little over the top for me…I liked Armadale more than this one. I’m looking forward to rereading Woman in White in a few months for my book group. I hope I still like it as much as I did the first time…

  • I agree. I thought the revenge element was way too much. There was a point where I felt there should have been a high road moment when she was no longer in pecuniary danger and could have just let it go.

  • I haven’t read it yet, but I want to. I’m not expecting it to be as awesome as my first Collins love, The Moonstone, or my second, The Woman in White. I just want a fun mystery, which it sounds like is exactly what this book is.

  • It seems that you didn’t really understand the times if you thought Magdalen’s situation could be solved by just “getting a life!” Laying down and accepting your plight isn’t as easy as you make it sound. I think she was driven mainly by the fact that her father’s letter to his lawyer said that he couldn’t “rest in his grave” if his daughters were left unprovided for. She loved him very much and wanted his wishes to be carried out. When she got her husband to make up his will after their marriage, she only had him leave her the exact amount of her father’s estate. I think she would have given up long before she did, if she hadn’t kept reading her father’s letter to his lawyer and imagining the horror her father was feeling because of his mistakes in life.I agree that there was also anger towards those who had executed this injustice and caused her to lose her finance and place in life, but it wasn’t her main motive.

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