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Important invitation to all Collins No Name followers/participants!

As part of the Being Human national UK festival of the Humanities, Dickens Journals Online and the Victorian Studies Centre at the University of Leicester are inviting you all to join a workshop chaired by members of the original blogging team to discuss the aftermath of the experience, as part of a series of social/analytical events called Defining Digital Dickens.

We have travel grants to assist with getting you there (of up to £25) and full details, directions, and a simple booking method (it’s free–and refreshments are provided!) can be found at:– 

It would be fantastic if you were able to join us at the University of Leicester on Thursday 19th November at 3pm. We look forward to meeting you!

John Drew & Gail Marshall
Director, Dickens Journals Online / Director,Logo

Victorian Studies CentreBeing-Human-logo-black#SMALL


Our Mutual Friend Reading Project

Some of you may be interested in joining a new Dickens reading project, looking at Our Mutual Friend from May 2014 to November 2015 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the novel’s original publication in May 1864 and to celebrate the forthcoming 10th anniversary of Birkbeck’s online journal 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century.

You can read the first instalment here and we will be blogging and commenting in May — date TBC.

We do hope you’ll be able to join us!

Invitation to the Drood readalong

For those of you looking for further adventures in nineteenth-century reading by instalment, can I recommend the following?

Cloisterham Tales

We are offering a warm invitation to one and all to join us in a Drood readalong as we countdown to the opening of the Drood Inquiry.

Dickens originally published The Mystery of Edwin Drood, like all of his novels, in instalments. Thanks to the generosity of the University of Aberdeen, The Drood Inquiry now have digital scans of all six instalments which we will be sharing each month from April to September to mimic their first release back in 1870. It’s a rare opportunity to see Dickens’s story in its original format, even down to the monthly adverts, and truly get a feel for what it might have been like to first read it 144 years ago.

Meanwhile, over here at Cloisterham Tales we’ll be posting regular blogs, and inviting comments from readers as the story develops, to see how our perception of the story and characters is affected…

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Week 45: Musings on Endings and Happily-Ever-Afters

And so we finally reach the end of our journey. But how do we feel about the destination? Surprised? Satisfied? A little frustrated? Or a combination of these emotions? Personally, I’m a little conflicted, for reasons I will explain below. Many contemporary reviewers of the novel were critical of Collins’s resolution, seeing it as clichéd, contrived, improbable, and, in some cases, immoral. Margaret Oliphant took exception to Magdalen’s ‘rebirth’, calling it ‘a great mistake in art, as well as a falsehood to nature’. For Oliphant, and others, the heroine’s ‘career of vulgar and aimless trickery and wickedness, with which it is impossible to have a shadow of sympathy’ made her unworthy of the happy ending which Collins bestows. Moreover, it wasn’t just the questionable morality of Magdalen’s happy ending that displeased Oliphant, but the ease with which she perceived the transformation to have been effected: ‘he intends us to believe that she emerges, at the cheap cost of a fever, as pure, as high-minded, and as spotless as the most dazzling white of heroines’ (Oliphant, ‘Unsigned Review’, Blackwoods, August 1863, p.170). That’s perhaps rather harsh, since Magdalen suffers in other ways than simply through her serious illness and, in Collins’s defence, I don’t think he presents her as ‘spotless’ at the end. Isn’t it rather the point that she has grown and developed through a recognition of her own flaws, her ‘perversity’? I think it’s relevant here that what Kirke is said to admire in Magdalen is honesty, and Collins makes a point of emphasizing her awareness of her past mistakes and misdemeanours.  

Magdalen’s ‘happy ending’ (reunited with Norah and Miss Garth, endowed with the fortune she has sought – regardless of whether she chooses to reject it – and set for a life of marital bliss with the rugged Captain Kirke) is definitely unusual in Victorian fiction, given her past ‘crimes’. Sinning heroines are, of course, more commonly ‘killed off’ at the end, even if, like Isabel Vane in East Lynne, they achieve redemption and forgiveness through death. Within novels labelled sensation fiction in the 1860s, it’s not entirely without precedent though: Mary Elizabeth Braddon provoked similar controversy by granting her heroine Aurora Floyd a happy ending of domestic fulfilment with the man she loves, despite the fact that she has been tainted by bigamy and the suspicion of murder.

I liked Pete’s comment last week about the ‘fallen’ Magdalen being saved by the Christ-like figure of Kirke, although I’m not fully convinced that I see Kirke in this way. In fact, the problem for me is that I’m not entirely sure how I see Kirke, because his characterisation is arguably underdeveloped at best and implausible at worst; he remains for me a recognisable ‘type’ rather than a fully-formed, believable character. Perhaps, in part, this is because he appears so little throughout the novel, and then so suddenly in the final chapters. There are, then, two separate issues at stake in Magdalen’s ‘happy ending’, which Oliphant’s comments point to: one related to what I will broadly call realism and the other to questions of morality.

Modern readers arguably will have less of a problem with the moral aspects of the question of Magdalen’s rebirth and reform. I for one can’t agree with Oliphant that ‘it is impossible to have a shadow of sympathy’ with Collins’s protagonist. Following her so closely over the course of 45 weeks makes it very difficult not to sympathise with Magdalen or feel invested in her future happiness. Yet the means by which Collins effects this happiness is another question. In terms of realism, his resolution arguably leaves itself wide open to one of the criticisms frequently levelled at sensation fiction in the 1860s: the over-reliance on improbable coincidence and serendipitous circumstance. Frank and Kirke falling into each other’s path is just one of those coincidences. We might argue that they were both in China, but China is a big place! Norah’s effortless finding of the letter after all Magdalen’s failures seems similarly unlikely, as does Kirke’s serendipitous arrival on the scene at precisely the right time to save Magdalen. But there are bigger questions here, which I have neither space nor time to explore fully. For instance, is Collins actually concerned with acquiescing to the ‘rules’ of mid-Victorian realism here, particularly if we think about the emphasis on the drama in No Name? In many ways, the resolution feels more like a play than a novel, and perhaps this is fitting in some ways.

Regardless of my reservations about the ending, I do applaud Collins for defying conventional expectations and allowing Magdalen to achieve happiness, despite her transgressions. I have very much enjoyed the experience of reading this novel in its original weekly installments. It has given me insights into many aspects of the text that reading a modern edition of the novel doesn’t provide in the same way, and I’m going to miss my weekly fix very much.  

Week 45—This Post has No Name

This week’s instalment provided me with my last chance to use the above name for a post, so, after thinking for months about using it, I’ve finally done so.

Obviously, if you treat the last two words of the name as a reference to the novel instead of as a reference to the name itself, then the name’s apparent self-contradiction disappears.

The situation is reminiscent of that regarding Magritte’s La trahison des images (from here).


When people complained about the caption that he’d included in his painting, Magritte insisted that the falsity of the caption was only apparent, because what had appeared above it in the painting wasn’t in fact a pipe; instead, it was only the representation of a pipe.

Anyway, enough of this, my only excuse for which is that I feel in certain respects like a student about to be let out of school for the holidays!

In this post, I’ll first get back onto the legal merry-go-round for one last circuit. I’ll next deal with an addendum to my post on the week 24 instalment and I’ll then move on to my final topic ever so far as No Name’s concerned, another of my attempts to find the real-life model that Collins might have used for one of his fictional places.

Read more…

Wraggedy man…goodbye!

(One for the Dr Who fans there)

So, Wragge is back – frankly from that point forth Collins could do no wrong this week in my book. Well nearly; it’s a rather sedate Wragge, an honourable Wragge, no less, who apparently has put his tricks behind him (though whether being a salesman of a miracle cure justifies his claims of being honest is of course open to debate). It was all a bit Wizard of Oz, with our heroine waking up with her wild friends there in a somewhat tamer form. At other times Magdalen’s confused perspective from the sickbed was reminiscent of Dombey and Son, while the frustrated love of Kirke is very Austen. Or can we see this honest, artless hero’s unlikely romance with a devious temptress (note how Collins describes her artful questioning and his unsuspecting naivety) as another Adam and Eve, or Samson and Delilah?

But of course the parallel we’re all thinking of as No Name draws to a close is Raiders of the Lost Ark. No? Really? Just me? Alright I’ll explain: there is a popular/unpopular discussion among film fans that Indiana Jones is an ineffectual protagonist in Raiders; that for all his whip-cracking and snake-avoiding, he doesn’t influence the plot and the Nazis would still lose even if he wasn’t there. So, I ask you: is Magdalen a nineteenth-century Indiana Jones? Have her many plans been pointless? Will the plot resolve in such a way that makes all her actions irrelevant? Let’s review – she has no money, still. We can presume Norah will, and would have, married George either way. Would Noel have lived longer without his troublesome wife to raise his blood pressure? Possibly, certainly eventually. His will has ended up being much as it would have. Wragge, as I say, is still a rascal. So what are we to say of Magdalen’s purpose in the book’s plot? Has the whole enterprise just been a very convoluted trek to meeting Kirke? Your thoughts, please.

Week 44—Roguish Wragge Reappears, Reveals Running Remunerative Racket re Remedies; Relieved Readers Render Rapturous Reception

In this week’s instalment, we’re treated to the return of Captain Wragge, dressed “in a [superfine] suit of glossy black, with a speckless white cravat, and a rampant shirt-frill”. (Except for the bracketed adjective, which is Wragge’s, the description of his clothing is the narrator’s.)

With a nimiety typical of him, Wragge describes himself as being “the picture of a prosperous man”, “remarkably well off”, “a man with an income”, “solvent, flourishing”. “Here I am”, he adds, “with my clothes positively paid for; with a balance at my banker’s; with my servant in livery, and my gig at the door”.

In short, since last we saw him, Wragge has transformed himself into a “piller of society”. Read more…