The Revolution Is Dead! Long Live Sensation!: The Political History of The Woman in White

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Abstract:

This article examines the importance of Europe's revolutionary history in Wilkie Collins's creation of the sensation genre. During his literary apprenticeship in the 1850s, Collins wrote a number of stories set during the first French Revolution. By the end of that decade, however, the young novelist began to question the literary relevance of this history. I argue that in The Woman in White (1860), Collins undertakes the project of defining his relationship to the revolutionary past. On the one hand, Collins uses The Woman in White to announce that the era of political radicalism is dead, a victim of the failed European revolutions of 1848–49. On the other, he positions his new genre of domestic terror as a literary substitute for the now defunct politics of revolutionary terror. My argument depends on reading Collins's novel in its original context, alongside Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, the book serialized immediately before Collins's in All the Year Round.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7756/dsa.041.013.299-321

Publication date: June 1, 2010

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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