What distinguishes the true sensation genre, as it appears in its prime during the 1860s, is the violent yoking of romance and realism, traditionally the two contradictory modes of literary perception. . . . The chosen territory of the sensation novelists lies somewhere between the possible and the improbable, ideally at their point of intersection. ( Winifred Hughes, The Maniac in the Cellar1)
BASIL ( 1852) anticipates this characterization of the sensation novel by a decade. In its Letter of Dedication Collins announces his commitment to realism, the possible, and the bourgeois, all of which he subsumes in the Actual: 'the more of the Actual I could garner up as a text to speak from, the more certain I might feel of the genuineness and value of the Ideal which was sure to spring out of it' ( iii-iv). The Actual will, however, not be mundane: 'I have not thought it either politic or necessary, while adhering to realities, to adhere to every-day realities only.' The ability to fuse realism and romance grew out of Collins's earlier work--journalism, biography, historical romance, travel writing. To the reader of his best-known books, The Moonstone, or The Woman in White, these early works appear inexplicable, but paradoxically it is from them that Basil, his first characteristic novel, springs.
Of the articles and short stories which Collins reportedly wrote and published while still in his teens and articled to a London tea-merchant, only one is extant. Published in 1843 when he was only nineteen, 'The Last Stage Coachman' is a sub-Dickensian conceit crudely yoking the probable and the impossible in an as yet unsophisticated manner. The piece's emaciated and miserable hero explains to the narrator the social effects of the coming of the railway--his own decline,____________________