Wilkie Collins and Other Sensation Novelists is about the phenomenon in the 1860s in England of the dominance of the market for fiction by what was designated as the ‘sensation novel’. I try to rescue the term from pejorative connotations which have clung to it, and particularly such as would tend to assimilate sensation fiction to melodrama. The best sensation novels, I suggest, derive their effects from subverting a diversity of early and mid-Victorian ideologies, but particularly the ideology of self-help associated with the name of and formulated by Samuel Smiles. In the 1860s, however, there was equally a diversity of sensationalisms. While differentiating the conservative sensationalism of Mrs Henry Wood from the radical sensationalism of Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, this book is partly concerned, too, with the fiction of novelists whose names now are yet more obscure than that of Wood — George Augustus Sala, James McGrigor Allan, Florence Wilford, Mrs Grey — but who, in their time, all helped to compose the public perception of what constituted the sensation novel. If the fiction of Collins looms largest, that reflects not merely a personal leaning, but his contemporary ranking among sensation novelists. Summing up the literary year in his diary on the last day of 1863, the publisher, George Bentley, having noted the success of sensation fiction generally and Braddon’s in particular, ackowledged Wilkie Collins, king of inventors, as the grand inaugurator of the vogue.


German Ideology Pejorative Connotation Weekly Serialisation Moral Hospital Contemporary Ideology 
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  1. 14.
    Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Nicholas Rance 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas Rance
    • 1
  1. 1.Middlesex PolytechnicUK

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