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

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

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

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

Synopsis

In the first book centering on the collaborative relationship between Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Lillian Nayder places their coauthored works in the context of the Victorian publishing industry and shows how their fiction and drama represent and reconfigure their sometimes strained relationship. She challenges the widely accepted image of Dickens as a mentor of younger writers such as Collins, points to the ways in which Dickens controlled and profited from his literary "satellites," and charts Collins's development as an increasingly significant and independent author.

The pair's collaborations for Household Words and All the Year Round explicitly addressed Victorian labor disputes and political unrest, and Nayder reads the stories in terms of the social and imperial conflicts that both provided their themes and enabled Dickens and Collins to mediate their own personal and professional differences. Nayder's discussion of the collaboration and its principals is greatly enriched by archival research into unpublished and unfamiliar material, including the manuscripts of The Frozen Deep.

Excerpt

On 3 October 1856, three days after he sent his scheme of “The Wreck of the Golden Mary” to prospective contributors, Dickens wrote to Angela Burdett-Coutts, describing the “immense excitement” created at his home, Tavistock House, when Collins arrived “with the first two acts of his play in three”: “Dispatches were sent off to Brighton, to announce the fact. Charley exhibited an insane desire to copy it. There was talk of a Telegraph Message to Mr. Stanfield in Wales. It is called The Frozen Deep, and is extremely clever and interesting—very serious and very curious” (Pilgrim, 8:199). The excitement that the new play raised in the Dickens circle was understandable; Dickens's two daughters, then in Brighton, would be anxious to hear about rehearsals, since they both had roles in the melodrama, as did Charley, the eldest son. Clarkson Stanfield, the scene painter for the play, would need to know of Collins's progress. But as Dickens comically suggests in speaking of “dispatches . . . to Brighton” and “telegraph message[s] to ... Wales”—and, later, in describing Tavistock House in a “state of siege” during rehearsals (Pilgrim, 8:242)—he perceived The Frozen Deep to be a source of national as well as domestic excitement. Indeed, Dickens conceived of the melodrama as a defense of the national honor; it was to safeguard the values embodied by Sir John Franklin and his lost band of Arctic explorers, national heroes in whom he had long been interested and on whose experiences the melodrama was loosely based, but who were alleged to have become cannibals in their failed struggle to survive.

Not only did these allegations sully the memory of Franklin, who had fought with Nelson at Trafalgar and governed Van Dieman's Land. More generally, they threatened social and imperial ideals. Because cannibalism was associated . . .

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