Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Victorian Authorship

By Lillian Nayder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Collins Joins Dickens's Management Team: “The Wreck of the Golden Mary”

Less than two weeks after telling Wills not to “conclude anything unfavourable with Collins” (Pilgrim, 8:189), and two months before Collins officially became a salaried staff writer at Household Words,1. Dickens sent his “scheme” for the upcoming Christmas Number to prospective contributors. The sixth in Dickens's annual series, “The Wreck of the Golden Mary” was a collaborative undertaking but only in a limited sense. Although several writers contributed to the story, Dickens formulated its plotline and defined its aims. The story was to center on the wreck of an English trading ship en route to Australia, Dickens explained, which “got foul of an Iceberg, ” and on the heroics of the captain, “a cool man with his Wits about him, ” who got his men and passengers into an open boat before the ship sank. Steering the boat and cheering his companions, who took turns rowing, the captain would encourage them to tell stories to keep them “from dwelling on the horrors of their condition.” These stories did not have to relate directly to the narrators, Dickens said, and could be told in either the first or third person, since “the whole narrative of the Wreck will be given by the Captain to the Reader in introducing the stories. Also, the final deliverance of the people.” As he did in “The Seven Poor Travellers” and “The Holly-Tree Inn, ” Dickens would take the central and authoritative role in the new story, that of the heroic captain, while reserving the roles of passengers and crew members for his subordinates at Household Words:

There are persons of both Sexes in the boat. The writer of any story may suppose any sort of person—or none, if that be all—as the Captain will identify him if need

____________________
1.
That is, when Dickens began to publish Collins's works without paying him for them individually—the first example of which was “A Petition to the Novel-Writers, ” published on 6 December 1856.

-35-

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