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The Victorian Sensation Novel

Par David Amigoni : Professeur de Littérature Victorienne - Keele University , Sophie Lemercier-Goddard : Maître de conférences - ENS de Lyon
Publié par Clifford Armion le 02/05/2008

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The sensation novel developed in Britain in the 1860s with Wilkie Collins as its most famous representative and has been increasingly presented as a sub-genre revealing the cultural anxiety of the Victorian period. Its complex narrative which relies on a tangle of mysteries and secrets introduces the character of the detective while heavily resorting to the Gothic machinery with the figure of the persecuted maiden and that of the villain.
dossier préparé par Sophie Lemercier-Goddard

The Sensation Novel: Interview with David Amigoni

David Amigoni analyses the specificity of the Sensation Novel and explains how gothic elements inherited from the Gothic novel (from Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto [1764] to Maturin's Malmoth the Wanderer [1820]) are integrated into a narrative which relies on the contemporary medical discourse, the law and on the fast developing newspaper culture, to explore the deep cultural anxiety of the period.



Excerpts from Charles Dickens's "The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain" (1848), Bleak House (1853) and Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White (1860).

Charles Dickens, "The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain" (1848)

In the last of Dickens's five Christmas Books, the figure of the ghost is both a döppelganger - a double of Redlaw the chemist - and a Faustian figure who offers the haunted man to erase all his painful memories. Redlaw agrees to the pact but progressively finds out that without memory he is but 'a man turned to stone' (ch.3). Eventually he will beg to have the gift reversed.

Extract: The Pact (Ch.1)

As the gloom and shadow thickened behind him, in that place where it had been gathering so darkly, it took, by slow degrees, - or out of it there came, by some unreal, unsubstantial process - not to be traced by any human sense, - an awful likeness of himself!

Ghastly and cold, colourless in its leaden face and hands, but with his features, and his bright eyes, and his grizzled hair, and dressed in the gloomy shadow of his dress, it came into his terrible appearance of existence, motionless, without a sound. As he leaned his arm upon the elbow of his chair, ruminating before the fire, it leaned upon the chair-back, close above him, with its appalling copy of his face looking where his face looked, and bearing the expression his face bore.

This, then, was the Something that had passed and gone already. This was the dread companion of the haunted man!

It took, for some moments, no more apparent heed of him, than he of it. The Christmas Waits were playing somewhere in the distance, and, through his thoughtfulness, he seemed to listen to the music. It seemed to listen too.

At length he spoke; without moving or lifting up his face.

"Here again!" he said.

"Here again," replied the Phantom.

"I see you in the fire," said the haunted man; "I hear you in music, in the wind, in the dead stillness of the night."

The Phantom moved its head, assenting.

"Why do you come, to haunt me thus?"

"I come as I am called," replied the Ghost.

"No. Unbidden," exclaimed the Chemist.

"Unbidden be it," said the Spectre. "It is enough. I am here."

Hitherto the light of the fire had shone on the two faces - if the dread lineaments behind the chair might be called a face - both addressed towards it, as at first, and neither looking at the other. But, now, the haunted man turned, suddenly, and stared upon the Ghost. The Ghost, as sudden in its motion, passed to before the chair, and stared on him.

The living man, and the animated image of himself dead, might so have looked, the one upon the other. An awful survey, in a lonely and remote part of an empty old pile of building, on a winter night, with the loud wind going by upon its journey of mystery - whence or whither, no man knowing since the world began - and the stars, in unimaginable millions, glittering through it, from eternal space, where the world's bulk is as a grain, and its hoary age is infancy.

"Look upon me!" said the Spectre. "I am he, neglected in my youth, and miserably poor, who strove and suffered, and still strove and suffered, until I hewed out knowledge from the mine where it was buried, and made rugged steps thereof, for my worn feet to rest and rise on."

"I am that man," returned the Chemist.


"Thus," said the Phantom, "I bear within me a Sorrow and a Wrong. Thus I prey upon myself. Thus, memory is my curse; and, if I could forget my sorrow and my wrong, I would!"

"Mocker!" said the Chemist, leaping up, and making, with a wrathful hand, at the throat of his other self. "Why have I always that taunt in my ears?"

"Forbear!" exclaimed the Spectre in an awful voice. "Lay a hand on Me, and die!"

He stopped midway, as if its words had paralysed him, and stood looking on it. It had glided from him; it had its arm raised high in warning; and a smile passed over its unearthly features, as it reared its dark figure in triumph.

"If I could forget my sorrow and wrong, I would," the Ghost repeated. "If I could forget my sorrow and my wrong, I would!"

"Evil spirit of myself," returned the haunted man, in a low, trembling tone, "my life is darkened by that incessant whisper."

"It is an echo," said the Phantom.

"If it be an echo of my thoughts - as now, indeed, I know it is," rejoined the haunted man, "why should I, therefore, be tormented? It is not a selfish thought. I suffer it to range beyond myself. All men and women have their sorrows, - most of them their wrongs; ingratitude, and sordid jealousy, and interest, besetting all degrees of life. Who would not forget their sorrows and their wrongs?"

"Who would not, truly, and be happier and better for it?" said the Phantom.

"These revolutions of years, which we commemorate," proceeded Redlaw, "what do they recall! Are there any minds in which they do not re-awaken some sorrow, or some trouble? What is the remembrance of the old man who was here to-night? A tissue of sorrow and trouble."

"But common natures," said the Phantom, with its evil smile upon its glassy face, "unenlightened minds and ordinary spirits, do not feel or reason on these things like men of higher cultivation and profounder thought."

"Tempter," answered Redlaw, "whose hollow look and voice I dread more than words can express, and from whom some dim foreshadowing of greater fear is stealing over me while I speak, I hear again an echo of my own mind."

"Receive it as a proof that I am powerful," returned the Ghost. "Hear what I offer! Forget the sorrow, wrong, and trouble you have known!"

"Forget them!" he repeated.

"I have the power to cancel their remembrance - to leave but very faint, confused traces of them, that will die out soon," returned the Spectre. "Say! Is it done?"

Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853)

In the last part of his preface to the first edition, Dickens justifies his treatment of his character Mr Krook who dies of spontaneous combustion. But his final words can be understood as a larger comment on the nature of what soon would become known as the sensation novel:

"In Bleak House, I have purposely dwelt upon the romantic side of familiar things. I believe I have never had so many readers as in this book. May we meet again!".

Extract 1: Spontaneous Combustion : supersition and rationality

Mr Krook, Nemo's landlord, is obsessed with the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case. His death by spontaneous combustion reflects his evil nature (ch.32, p.510-12). Dickens justifies Krook's death citing contemporary medical cases (ch.33, p. 523-24).

Mr. Guppy takes the light. They go down, more dead than alive, and holding one another, push open the door of the back shop. The cat has retreated close to it and stands snarling, not at them, at something on the ground before the fire. There is a very little fire left in the grate, but there is a smouldering, suffocating vapour in the room and a dark, greasy coating on the walls and ceiling. The chairs and table, and the bottle so rarely absent from the table, all stand as usual. On one chair-back hang the old man's hairy cap and coat.

"Look!" whispers the lodger, pointing his friend's attention to these objects with a trembling finger. "I told you so. When I saw him last, he took his cap off, took out the little bundle of old letters, hung his cap on the back of the chair - his coat was there already, for he had pulled that off before he went to put the shutters up - and I left him turning the letters over in his hand, standing just where that crumbled black thing is upon the floor."

Is he hanging somewhere? They look up. No.

"See!" whispers Tony. "At the foot of the same chair there lies a dirty bit of thin red cord that they tie up pens with. That went round the letters. He undid it slowly, leering and laughing at me, before he began to turn them over, and threw it there. I saw it fall."

"What's the matter with the cat?" says Mr. Guppy. "Look at her!"

"Mad, I think. And no wonder in this evil place."

They advance slowly, looking at all these things. The cat remains where they found her, still snarling at the something on the ground before the fire and between the two chairs. What is it? Hold up the light.

Here is a small burnt patch of flooring; here is the tinder from a little bundle of burnt paper, but not so light as usual, seeming to be steeped in something; and here is - is it the cinder of a small charred and broken log of wood sprinkled with white ashes, or is it coal? Oh, horror, he IS here! And this from which we run away, striking out the light and overturning one another into the street, is all that represents him.

Help, help, help! Come into this house for heaven's sake! Plenty will come in, but none can help. The Lord Chancellor of that court, true to his title in his last act, has died the death of all lord chancellors in all courts and of all authorities in all places under all names soever, where false pretences are made, and where injustice is done. Call the death by any name your Highness will, attribute it to whom you will, or say it might have been prevented how you will, it is the same death eternally - inborn, inbred, engendered in the corrupted humours of the vicious body itself, and that only - spontaneous combustion, and none other of all the deaths that can be died.


Out of the court, and a long way out of it, there is considerable excitement too, for men of science and philosophy come to look, and carriages set down doctors at the corner who arrive with the same intent, and there is more learned talk about inflammable gases and phosphuretted hydrogen than the court has ever imagined. Some of these authorities (of course the wisest) hold with indignation that the deceased had no business to die in the alleged manner; and being reminded by other authorities of a certain inquiry into the evidence for such deaths reprinted in the sixth volume of the Philosophical Transactions; and also of a book not quite unknown on English medical jurisprudence; and likewise of the Italian case of the Countess Cornelia Baudi as set forth in detail by one Bianchini, prebendary of Verona, who wrote a scholarly work or so and was occasionally heard of in his time as having gleams of reason in him; and also of the testimony of Messrs. Fodere and Mere, two pestilent Frenchmen who WOULD investigate the subject; and further, of the corroborative testimony of Monsieur Le Cat, a rather celebrated French surgeon once upon a time, who had the unpoliteness to live in a house where such a case occurred and even to write an account of it - still they regard the late Mr. Krook's obstinacy in going out of the world by any such by-way as wholly unjustifiable and personally offensive. The less the court understands of all this, the more the court likes it, and the greater enjoyment it has in the stock in trade of the Sol's Arms. Then there comes the artist of a picture newspaper, with a foreground and figures ready drawn for anything from a wreck on the Cornish coast to a review in Hyde Park or a meeting in Manchester, and in Mrs. Perkins' own room, memorable evermore, he then and there throws in upon the block Mr. Krook's house, as large as life; in fact, considerably larger, making a very temple of it. Similarly, being permitted to look in at the door of the fatal chamber, he depicts that apartment as three-quarters of a mile long by fifty yards high, at which the court is particularly charmed. All this time the two gentlemen before mentioned pop in and out of every house and assist at the philosophical disputations - go everywhere and listen to everybody - and yet are always diving into the Sol's parlour and writing with the ravenous little pens on the tissue-paper.

At last come the coroner and his inquiry, like as before, except that the coroner cherishes this case as being out of the common way and tells the gentlemen of the jury, in his private capacity, that "that would seem to be an unlucky house next door, gentlemen, a destined house; but so we sometimes find it, and these are mysteries we can't account for!" After which the six-footer comes into action and is much admired.

Extract 2: Gothic London

In Dickens's famous opening, the gloomy description of a foggy and dark afternoon in Chancery announces the shortcomings of British justice, the intricacy of the cases and the blindness of the system. The Gothic geography in the novel thus no longer encompasses the traditional estates of Bleak House and Chesney Wold but also London itself (ch.1, p. 49-50).

CHAPTER I. In Chancery

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes - gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time - as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.

Extract 3: Chesney Wold

In his description of the Dedlocks' rural estate Chesney Wold, Dickens uses traditional gothic conventions, like the Ghost's Walk. But this first presentation of the aristocracy is also political with a clear emphasis on immobility and sterility. Even if - or precisely because - Lady Dedlock sits at the top of the fashionable tree the mouldy atmosphere sounds particularly ominous and can be read in the light of contemporary parliamentary reform initiated with the first Reform Bill of 1832 (ch.2, p. 55-58).

It is not a large world. Relatively even to this world of ours, which has its limits too (as your Highness shall find when you have made the tour of it and are come to the brink of the void beyond), it is a very little speck. There is much good in it; there are many good and true people in it; it has its appointed place. But the evil of it is that it is a world wrapped up in too much jeweller's cotton and fine wool, and cannot hear the rushing of the larger worlds, and cannot see them as they circle round the sun. It is a deadened world, and its growth is sometimes unhealthy for want of air.

My Lady Dedlock has returned to her house in town for a few days previous to her departure for Paris, where her ladyship intends to stay some weeks, after which her movements are uncertain. The fashionable intelligence says so for the comfort of the Parisians, and it knows all fashionable things. To know things otherwise were to be unfashionable. My Lady Dedlock has been down at what she calls, in familiar conversation, her "place" in Lincolnshire. The waters are out in Lincolnshire. An arch of the bridge in the park has been sapped and sopped away. The adjacent low-lying ground for half a mile in breadth is a stagnant river with melancholy trees for islands in it and a surface punctured all over, all day long, with falling rain. My Lady Dedlock's place has been extremely dreary. The weather for many a day and night has been so wet that the trees seem wet through, and the soft loppings and prunings of the woodman's axe can make no crash or crackle as they fall. The deer, looking soaked, leave quagmires where they pass. The shot of a rifle loses its sharpness in the moist air, and its smoke moves in a tardy little cloud towards the green rise, coppice-topped, that makes a background for the falling rain. The view from my Lady Dedlock's own windows is alternately a lead-coloured view and a view in Indian ink. The vases on the stone terrace in the foreground catch the rain all day; and the heavy drops fall - drip, drip, drip - upon the broad flagged pavement, called from old time the Ghost's Walk, all night. On Sundays the little church in the park is mouldy; the oaken pulpit breaks out into a cold sweat; and there is a general smell and taste as of the ancient Dedlocks in their graves. My Lady Dedlock (who is childless), looking out in the early twilight from her boudoir at a keeper's lodge and seeing the light of a fire upon the latticed panes, and smoke rising from the chimney, and a child, chased by a woman, running out into the rain to meet the shining figure of a wrapped-up man coming through the gate, has been put quite out of temper. My Lady Dedlock says she has been "bored to death."

Therefore my Lady Dedlock has come away from the place in Lincolnshire and has left it to the rain, and the crows, and the rabbits, and the deer, and the partridges and pheasants. The pictures of the Dedlocks past and gone have seemed to vanish into the damp walls in mere lowness of spirits, as the housekeeper has passed along the old rooms shutting up the shutters. And when they will next come forth again, the fashionable intelligence - which, like the fiend, is omniscient of the past and present, but not the future - cannot yet undertake to say.

Sir Leicester Dedlock is only a baronet, but there is no mightier baronet than he. His family is as old as the hills, and infinitely more respectable. He has a general opinion that the world might get on without hills but would be done up without Dedlocks. He would on the whole admit nature to be a good idea (a little low, perhaps, when not enclosed with a park-fence), but an idea dependent for its execution on your great county families. He is a gentleman of strict conscience, disdainful of all littleness and meanness and ready on the shortest notice to die any death you may please to mention rather than give occasion for the least impeachment of his integrity. He is an honourable, obstinate, truthful, high-spirited, intensely prejudiced, perfectly unreasonable man.

Sir Leicester is twenty years, full measure, older than my Lady. He will never see sixty-five again, nor perhaps sixty-six, nor yet sixty-seven. He has a twist of the gout now and then and walks a little stiffly. He is of a worthy presence, with his light-grey hair and whiskers, his fine shirt-frill, his pure-white waistcoat, and his blue coat with bright buttons always buttoned. He is ceremonious, stately, most polite on every occasion to my Lady, and holds her personal attractions in the highest estimation. His gallantry to my Lady, which has never changed since he courted her, is the one little touch of romantic fancy in him.

Indeed, he married her for love. A whisper still goes about that she had not even family; howbeit, Sir Leicester had so much family that perhaps he had enough and could dispense with any more. But she had beauty, pride, ambition, insolent resolve, and sense enough to portion out a legion of fine ladies. Wealth and station, added to these, soon floated her upward, and for years now my Lady Dedlock has been at the centre of the fashionable intelligence and at the top of the fashionable tree.

The page numbers refer to the 1985 Penguin Classics edition (ed. Norman Page).

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1860)

In his preface to the first edition of The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins prides himself on experimenting for the first time the device of multiple first-person viewpoints. Though Emily Brontë preceded him in 1847 with Wuthering Heights, Collins links the structure of his multiple narrative, each character taking up in turn the telling of the story, to the nature of his novel, forcing him "to keep the story constantly moving forward":

An experiment is attempted in this novel, which has not (so far as I know) been hitherto tried in fiction. The story of the book is told throughout by the characters of the book. They are all placed in different positions along the chain of events; and they all take the chain up in turn, and carry it on to the end.

If the execution of this idea had left to nothing more than the attainment of mere novelty of form, I should not have claimed a moment's attention for it in this place. But the substance of the book, as well as the form, has profited by it. It has forced me to keep the story constantly moveing forward; and it has afforded my characters a new opportunity of expressing themselves, through the medium of the written contributions which they are supposed to make to the progress of the narrative. (1860 Preface).

Extract 1: A strange encounter

Walter Hartright, absorbed in his thoughts about Limmeridge House where he is going to teach water-colour painting to two young women, encounters a distressed woman dressed in white in the middle of the night. One of the two most dramatic scenes in English literature, according to Collins' friend, Dickens, was inspired both by a similar encounter in Collins's own life and by a news item which he had read in the papers about a lunatic who had escaped from an asylum (ch.1, p.14-16).

I wound my way down slowly over the heath, enjoying the divine stillness of the scene, and admiring the soft alternations of light and shade as they followed each other over the broken ground on every side of me. So long as I was proceeding through this first and prettiest part of my night walk my mind remained passively open to the impressions produced by the view; and I thought but little on any subject - indeed, so far as my own sensations were concerned, I can hardly say that I thought at all.

But when I had left the heath and had turned into the by-road, where there was less to see, the ideas naturally engendered by the approaching change in my habits and occupations gradually drew more and more of my attention exclusively to themselves. By the time I had arrived at the end of the road I had become completely absorbed in my own fanciful visions of Limmeridge House, of Mr. Fairlie, and of the two ladies whose practice in the art of water-colour painting I was so soon to superintend.

I had now arrived at that particular point of my walk where four roads met - the road to Hampstead, along which I had returned, the road to Finchley, the road to West End, and the road back to London. I had mechanically turned in this latter direction, and was strolling along the lonely high-road - idly wondering, I remember, what the Cumberland young ladies would look like - when, in one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop by the touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly on my shoulder from behind me.

I turned on the instant, with my fingers tightening round the handle of my stick.

There, in the middle of the broad bright high-road - there, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven - stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments, her face bent in grave inquiry on mine, her hand pointing to the dark cloud over London, as I faced her.

I was far too seriously startled by the suddenness with which this extraordinary apparition stood before me, in the dead of night and in that lonely place, to ask what she wanted. The strange woman spoke first.

"Is that the road to London?" she said.

I looked attentively at her, as she put that singular question to me. It was then nearly one o'clock. All I could discern distinctly by the moonlight was a colourless, youthful face, meagre and sharp to look at about the cheeks and chin; large, grave, wistfully attentive eyes; nervous, uncertain lips; and light hair of a pale, brownish-yellow hue. There was nothing wild, nothing immodest in her manner: it was quiet and self-controlled, a little melancholy and a little touched by suspicion; not exactly the manner of a lady, and, at the same time, not the manner of a woman in the humblest rank of life. The voice, little as I had yet heard of it, had something curiously still and mechanical in its tones, and the utterance was remarkably rapid. She held a small bag in her hand: and her dress - bonnet, shawl, and gown all of white - was, so far as I could guess, certainly not composed of very delicate or very expensive materials. Her figure was slight, and rather above the average height - her gait and actions free from the slightest approach to extravagance. This was all that I could observe of her in the dim light and under the perplexingly strange circumstances of our meeting. What sort of a woman she was, and how she came to be out alone in the high-road, an hour after midnight, I altogether failed to guess. The one thing of which I felt certain was, that the grossest of mankind could not have misconstrued her motive in speaking, even at that suspiciously late hour and in that suspiciously lonely place.

"Did you hear me?" she said, still quietly and rapidly, and without the least fretfulness or impatience. "I asked if that was the way to London."

Extract 2: The veiled woman

On his return from Central America where he has tried to forget Laura Fairlie, now Lady Glyde, Walter Hartright learns of her death and visits her tombstone. After confronting "the narrative of the tombstone" and meditating on his lost love, Walter suddenly faces two veiled women (ch.26, p.377-78).

The first sound that came after the heavenly peace rustled faintly like a passing breath of air over the grass of the burial-ground. I heard it nearing me slowly, until it came changed to my ear - came like footsteps moving onward - then stopped.

I looked up.

The sunset was near at hand. The clouds had parted - the slanting light fell mellow over the hills. The last of the day was cold and clear and still in the quiet valley of the dead. Beyond me, in the burial-ground, standing together in the cold clearness of the lower light, I saw two women. They were looking towards the tomb, looking towards me.


They came a little on, and stopped again. Their veils were down, and hid their faces from me. When they stopped, one of them raised her veil. In the still evening light I saw the face of Marian Halcombe.

Changed, changed as if years had passed over it! The eyes large and wild, and looking at me with a strange terror in them. The face worn and wasted piteously. Pain and fear and grief written on her as with a brand.

I took one step towards her from the grave. She never moved - she never spoke. The veiled woman with her cried out faintly. I stopped. The springs of my life fell low, and the shuddering of an unutterable dread crept over me from head to foot.

The woman with the veiled face moved away from her companion, and came towards me slowly. Left by herself, standing by herself, Marian Halcombe spoke. It was the voice that I remembered the voice not changed, like the frightened eyes and the wasted face.

"My dream! my dream!" I heard her say those words softly in the awful silence. She sank on her knees, and raised her clasped hands to heaven. "Father! strengthen him. Father! help him in his hour of need."

The woman came on, slowly and silently came on. I looked at her - at her, and at none other, from that moment.

The voice that was praying for me faltered and sank low - then rose on a sudden, and called affrightedly, called despairingly to me to come away.

But the veiled woman had possession of me, body and soul. She stopped on one side of the grave. We stood face to face with the tombstone between us. She was close to the inscription on the side of the pedestal. Her gown touched the black letters.

The voice came nearer, and rose and rose more passionately still. "Hide your face! don't look at her! Oh, for God's sake, spare him..."

The woman lifted her veil. Sacred to the memory of Laura, Lady Glyde...

Laura, Lady Glyde, was standing by the inscription, and was looking at me over the grave.

The page numbers refer to the 1992 OUP edition (ed. H.P. Sucksmith)

Further reading


E-texts of The Woman in White and Bleak House are both available from the Gutenberg project:

Online ressources

"The Victorian Sensation Novel, 1860-1880 - 'preaching to the nerves instead of the judgment'", Philip V. Allingham, Associate Professor of English, Lakehead University (Canada): http://www.victorianweb.org/genre/sensation.html

The Victorian Web: a huge selection of articles, extracts and images on Victorian literature, history and culture


The Wilkie Collins Website: with links to e-texts of Wilkie Collins's fiction; biographical material and discussion of his relationship with Dickens


Selected bibliography

A selection of books and essay on the sensation novel and victorian literature:

Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. Oxford University Press, 1990.

Bown, Nicola, Carolyn Burdett & Pamela Thurschwell, The Victorian Supernatural. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Boyle, Thomas. Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead: Beneath the Surface of Victorian Sensation. Penguin, 1990.

Gallagher, Catherine. The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel. Princeton University Press, 2008.

Garrett, Peter K. The Victorian Multiplot Novel: Studies in Dialogical Form. New Haven and London: Yale U P, 1981.

Gilbert, Sandra & Gilbert, Susan. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination. Yale UP, 1978.

Homans, Margaret. Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Hughes, Winifred. The Maniac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s. Princeton: NJ. Princeton U P, 1980.

Jackson, Rosemary. Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. Routledge, 1981.

Kalikoff, Beth. Murder and Moral Decay in Victorian Popular Literature. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research, 1986.

Lévy, Maurice. Le Roman gothique anglais, 1764-1824. (1968) Paris: Albin Michel, 1995.

Miller, D.A. The Novel and The Police. University of California Press, 1989.

Nayder, Lillian. Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Victorian Authorship. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell U P, 2002.

O'Neill, Philip. Wilkie Collins: Women, Property and Propriety. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998.

Oulton, Carolyn W.L. Literature and Religion in Mid-Victorian England: from Dickens to Eliot, Palgrave, Macmillan, 2003.

Poovey, Mary. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1984.

Poovey, Mary. Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England. 1989.

Punter, David, & Byron, Glennis. The Gothic (Blackwell Guides to Literature). Blackwell, 2004.

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Wynne, Deborah. The Sensation Novel and the Victorian Family Magazine. Palgrave MacMillan, 2001. 

Télécharger la bibliographie : sensnovbibliography_1209735183207.pdf


Pour citer cette ressource :

David Amigoni, Sophie Lemercier-Goddard, "The Victorian Sensation Novel", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), mai 2008. Consulté le 20/06/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/litterature-britannique/epoque-victorienne/the-victorian-sensation-novel