Action and Attitude: Wilkie Collins and the Language of Melodramatic Gesture

by Simon Cooke

In his introduction to After Dark, W. A. Brockington remarks that Wilkie Collins was fascinated by the stage, and offers the opinion that the writer “understood the world of theatre … better than [he] … understood the world of real life” (xiii). Brockington’s comment is significant, for it identifies the “staginess” that features not merely in the sharply-focused episodes of After Dark, but throughout the author’s narratives. Reflecting his belief, as he explains it in the preface to Basil (vi),1 that “Novel and Play are twin sisters in the Family of Fiction”, and might easily merge, Collins’s prose is clearly influenced by the melodramatic stage. Writing as a novelist who enjoyed a parallel career as a playwright responsible, alone or with others, for no fewer than sixteen plays,2 he explicitly conceived his fictions, in the concise terms of Saintsbury (290), as “melodrama in narrative form.”

His stories can certainly be characterized by their use of melodramatic properties. Heightened emotionalism, terse dialogue, the unfolding of secrets, sharp conflicts, racy narratives, criminality implied or actual, domestic settings, the preponderance of villains, the division into scenes and acts, rapid exits and entrances, the focus on climactic units of action, exaggerated facial expressions, theatrical gesture: all of these are melodramatic conventions that feature as forcibly in Collins’s fiction as they do on the stage. Drawing on a “standard iconography” of stock elements (Meisel, 356), Collins ensures that his fictions are closely linked to his own set of plays (of which The Lighthouse (1855) and The Frozen Deep (1857) are probably the best examples) and to the theatrical traditions embodied in such works as Hazlewood’s version of Lady Audley’s Secret (1863), or Lewis’s The Bells (1871).

The effect of these borrowings is one of melodramatic intensification, as generations of critics have observed.3 By appropriating the key conventions of the play, the author recreates the melodramatic frisson, the lurid action and extreme situations that are central to his (and all) Sensationalism. Writing a theatrical hybrid that seems decidedly at odds with his insistence on “plain facts,” he creates a type of fiction that some have admired for its “dramatic power” (Harry Quilter, cited in Page, 241), but others have vilified for its “rhetorician’s exaggeration” and emphasis on “strong effects.”4 However in stressing the heightened effect of the whole, little analysis has been directed at the functioning of individual elements. Largely overlooked has been the treatment of melodramatic gesture. Briefly mentioned in an article by C. H. Muller, and identified in passing by Peter Wolfe, this use of gesture is, I suggest, a principal technique in the heightened representation of his dramatic personae; indeed the manipulation of gesture as a means to write character, and how those gestures can be read, are central to Collins’s dramatic approach. This article examines the use of the gestural convention, the gestures that Collins chooses to deploy, and the process of interpretation that we, as readers, are compelled to adopt.

It is important to stress from the outset that Collins’s knowledge of the gestural taxonomy was substantial. Pervading his fictions, used with an unusual specificity in his plays, and mentioned in his theatrical criticism, this sort of stage-business was clearly well understood by the novelist. Embodying what Peters describes as a “lifelong obsession with theatre” (Peters, 334), his knowledge was derived from several sources.

An obvious influence, and one which continued throughout his life, was his exposure to contemporary plays and acting. An inveterate playgoer who not only wrote plays but enjoyed watching them, Collins witnessed many productions in which melodramatic gesture was routinely employed. He was particularly impressed with Frederick Lemaitre’s performance in the Parisian production of Thirty Years of a Gambler’s Life (1856), which he and Dickens regarded as the most impressive acting that they had ever seen. He also scrutinized the gestural style of Ristori, whom he saw in a less than successful production of Paradise Lost in 1856 (Robinson, 91), and watched with interest the performances of actors such as Frank Archer, Charles Fechter, and the Bancrofts. Personal friends, these performers provided him with a direct insight into acting style; starring in The New Magdalene (1873), Black and White (1869) and The Moonstone(1877), they gave him the opportunity to observe their interpretation at every stage of its preparation (Archer, 147, 160-1, 243-53; Field, 154-73; Bancroft, vol.1 p.417, vol.2 pp.62-3). Moreover his knowledge of gesture was surely augmented by his experience as an amateur actor playing opposite Dickens in their collaborative production of The Frozen Deep (1857); Collins was terrified by Dickens’s wild gesticulations (Peters, 170), whose extremity is vividly shown in a contemporary illustration (Fig. 1). Adopting the acting style that he had seen on the stage Collins must have learned from its direct application in a work of his own. Based on a combination of observation and practice, his knowledge may also have been derived, finally, from the acting handbooks that contained detailed descriptions of “how to gesture;” for although his library contained only generalist publications on theatre (see Library of the Late Wilkie Collins), he may also have been aware of such popular works as Henry Siddons’s Practical Illustrations of Rhetorical Gesture (1807), Leman Rede’s The Road to the Stage (1827) and Garcia’s The Actor’s Art (1888).

We can be sure on the evidence of his work that Collins knew and understood that melodramatic gesture was not merely a convention, but a legitimate semiology. Endowed with a stable notation that was derived from the rhetorical acting of the eighteenth century (see Rogerson; Smart), this discourse is a structured code which Collins himself describes as part of an “expressive language of the stage” (The Evil Genius, 164). In fact this type of gesture provides a form of visual shorthand, a mode of structured externalization in which the actors’ inner lives are vividly revealed, through the physical enactment of the code, in the disposition of what in effect are gestural signifiers. As one observer remarks, “gestures are the exterior and visible signs … by which the interior modifications of the soul are manifested and made known” (Siddons, 27). Routinely used in the melodramatic play, this manipulation of a visual “language” as a means to show or enact what lies “within” is carefully inscribed in the author’s gestural directions.

In particular Collins manipulates the semiology so as to give the sharpest definition of his characters’ traits. Calculatedly exploiting their “interesting outsides” (Baker, vol.8, 197), he uses gesture as a method of focus and distillation, in which the complexities of mind are condensed, in a series of visual tokens, into a gestural text. Blurring distinctions between novel and theatre, he writes his characters as if they are actors on a real melodramatic stage: dramatis personae whose gesturings are as tightly controlled, and revealing, as those of their flesh and blood counterparts. Identified by contemporaries,5 this point is stressed by the emphasis that is placed on characters who are quite literally thespians—such as Magdalen Vanstone in No Name and Mrs. Treverton in The Dead Secret—and by constant allusions to the stage. Forced to perform, his character/actors are placed in a sort of conceptualized playhouse, a “Secret Theatre of Home” (Basil, 58) in which the “domestic drama” (Poor Miss Finch, 43) of their inner lives can unfold, as it were before the playgoing eyes of the audience, through the exercise of their gestural signifiers.

Recreating the configurations of stage-business, Collins focuses on two varieties of significant acting: “action” which involves the moving gestures of gait and demeanour; and “attitude” in which the characters make a point or freeze into a static pose. The first of these is a representation of the fixed traits of personality, so that how a person moves denotes his or her moral, intellectual and spiritual characteristics; whilst the second is an externalized depiction of the character/actors’ passions, which are focused, usually at a moment of climactic intensity, in the adoption of an articulate stance (Booth 1965, 195-6; Booth 1991, 120-9).

In both cases the gestures provide a focused text, which, read in relation to the language of the stage gives much (if not necessarily all) of the information that the reader needs to know. Yet the process of reading these tokens can be problematic: for although Collins’s original audience were theatrically literate, and knew the gestural language, this knowledge is not generally shared by the readership of today, which at best will have seen late representations of the code in silent films of the 20s. Confronted by a sign system which has lost its currency, a modern interpreter is unable to penetrate the code with the same facility as a Victorian counterpart. Nevertheless Collins’s gestural configurations can be decoded by linking them to the written descriptions that are given in the gestural manuals by Siddons, Garcia, Rede and others. By reading intertextually, we can engage with the inner lives of the characters and decode them, as melodramatic performers, in considerable detail.

Used to define many, though by no means all of Collins’s personae, the legible gestures of “action”—or “kineomorphs”—are organized into four distinctive sets. These consist of movements that are stiff and unyielding; vital and energetic; nervous and convulsed; or lazily inert. These “characteristic mannerisms” (Wolfe, 29) provide concise representations of four definite types.

Gestures that involve an upright stance, a fixed gaze and stiff manner are always to be taken, according to Siddons and Rede, as the conventionalized signifiers of pride (Fig. 2). For instance, the aristocratic pride of Basil’s father is indicated by his “unchanging manner” and “commanding” gaze (Basil, 6). Although Basil insists, in a characteristic piece of misreading, that his father is by no means a type of “conventional pride” (Basil, 4), the details of his manner are unequivocal. Immersed in what are soon revealed to be the fragile trappings of “ancestral prejudices” (Basil, 6) Basil’s father appears to be, and is, a selfish egotist: a man who, despite his redeeming smile and occasional emotionalism, is more concerned for the family’s name than for his son’s welfare. Inflexible on the outside, his “firmness and dignity” (Basil, 6) act as a sort of fingerprint, a gestural token of the ossified soul within. Moreover this rigid stance can be further interpreted as the representation of pride that is not only fixed, but self-absorbed, unemotional, “cold and … concentrated” (Siddons, 153). Mannion, in Basil again, is a case in point, his inert stance, when he is first seen by the main character, denoting an emotional frigidity and self-possession that only collapses into mania in the final sections of the text (Basil, 92). However the “hardest” character, both physically and in terms of his personality, is Richard Turlington in Miss or Mrs? Labelled with a gait that is “quite without a bend” (Miss or Mrs?, 3), Turlington is a type of ruthless pride, an automaton in which the regulating elements are his sense of personal importance, his obsessiveness, and his cold contempt for anyone who stands in his way. Programmed like a robot, Turlington has only one function to perform—the winning of Natalie; arrested in that task, his inflexible pride drives him to another sort of mania.

In complete contrast are movements that are languid or luxurious. Typified by limp wrists and hands, postures that involve “lounging” (Man and Wife, 74), and walks that “saunter” (Man and Wife, 286), this action generally denotes a type of personality that is weak and ineffectual. “Repose of the body,” Garcia (61) indicates, is an indication of “calm sentiments, such as indifference (and) submission.” Within this classification there are nevertheless several connotations. In one sense languor equals stupidity, a “quiet” set of movements being an indication that “all is numbed and quiet in the mental regions” (Siddons, 50). Such indolence, in which deadness of the mind is exemplified by inertia of the body, is used to identify some of Collins’s most bovine individuals, and is typically applied to his weakest and most passive females. Mrs. Vesey in The Woman in White is defined in this way, the character’s vapidity being evidenced by her stultifying languor. Endowed with movements that are “snugly comfortable,” “tranquil” and “serene,” Vesey does little more than “sit through life” in a mental vacuum—a torpid vacuity that Hartright, with uncharacteristic bluntness, likens to the state of the cabbage (The Woman in White, 37). The same is true of vapid females such as Laura Fairlie and the hopeless Bride who appears in The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices. Barely moving, these characters are types of helplessness, stereotypical females who despite moments of self-will—such as when Laura challenges Glyde—are essentially melodramatic victims, “feminine” young women whose identity and very existence is under threat, and who need to be rescued by capable young men. As limp as rag dolls in a doll’s house, all such women are presented as versions of “nothing,” “credulous, incapable, helpless” and “weak” (Collins & Dickens “Lazy Tour,” 195).

But if languid movements are used to reinforce the notion of woman as invalid or thing, then sauntering and flopping also connotes a type of masculine weakness. Transferring “female” signifiers to a masculine setting, Collins manipulates these “weak” movements to show that “gentle actions” are the stage-signs of “timid and irresolute” men, who lack courage or are morally feckless (Garcia, 164-165). A prime example is Frank Clare in No Name, whose mincing gait, “delicate hands” and “languid grace” show him to be an ineffectual weakling; as Collins tartly observes, he looks like a “convalescent Apollo” (No Name, 53). So do Noel Vanstone from No Name and Mr. Fairlie from The Woman in White. Weak in their movements, these characters invoke the stereotype of male homosexuality dominant in the period: spineless fops whose lack of “masculine” resolve is suggested in their gait before it is revealed in the dismal unfolding of their narratives.

Conversely, energetic movements are the melodramatic tokens of a good and generous heart, there being a direct relationship, according to Siddons (113), between the vigour of the “raised hand” and other affirmatory gestures, and the “raptures of vivacity” and “good will.” Realized in the form of a bustling gait, these dynamic movements are used to label the light-hearted (but doomed) personalities of Mr. Vanstone (No Name) and Allan Armadale. Least troubled is Valentine Blyth (Hide and Seek), whose action is as breathless and robust as Fairlie’s is still:

He appears to walk principally on his toes, and seems always to be on the point of beginning to dance, or jump, or run … When he speaks he has an odd habit of turning his head suddenly … (Hide and Seek, 31).

Moving with the restlessness of artificial youth, Blyth possesses what the reviewer in The Athenaeumdescribed as a “child-like integrity” that is never less than “charming” (24 June 1854, 775). Denoted by his energy and stance, and stressed by his cherubic face and suggestive name, Blyth is a sentimental version of the adult as innocent.

But this sort of vigour should not be confused with the movements of agitation. Typified by twitching, fidgetting, and walking uncontrollably “in all possible directions,” (Siddons, 80) agitation connotes the reverse of lightheartedness. In a general sense it implies a type of nervous disorder or febrile restlessness. In Collins’s words—which he used to describe his own state of mind as he struggled to complete The Moonstone—constant movement encodes a “wretched” condition of “shattered nerves” (Letter to Mrs. Lehmann, May 1868, in Coleman, 116). It further stands as the melodramatic evidence of a troubled conscience, of struggling to cope with the overwhelming consciousness of some “racking and insupportable idea” (Siddons, 82); indeed in Collins’s prose, as on the stage, characters who twitch are “tormented” by some knowledge or secret that consumes their personalities. One such “wretch” (Siddons, 82) is Sarah Leeson in The Dead Secret. Over-burdened by the responsibility of knowing and hiding the Secret, Sarah’s turmoil is concisely visualized by her “strange inconsistency of gait” (Dead Secret, 25) and “agitation of manner” (Dead Secret, 4). So is the torment of Percival Glyde in The Woman in White, who, despite being a crook, with the handsome looks and smooth (gliding) manner that was conventionally associated with the stage-villain, occasionally displays the pangs of conscience. It is noticeable, for instance, that when he has Laura firmly under his control he paces “nervously” (Woman in White, 202) and adopts a “comfortless” stance (Woman in White, 188). Scoundrel he may be, but in giving him a restless gait Collins identifies his personality not as that of a cold- hearted villain—such as the fiendishly static Mannion—but as a soul in torment, a man who is wicked rather than amoral, who knows that his crimes are heinous. Yet the greatest suffering is that of Mr. Sherwin in Basil. Reduced to a shivering mass of nervous tics, he is physically overwhelmed by the consciousness of some “wrong action” (Garcia, 164). First visualized by Basil, Sherwin is the very epitome of melodramatic turbulence:

… his eyes were small, black, bright, and incessantly in motion; they were affected by nervous contractions and spasms that were constantly drawing up and down in all directions the brows, the mouth, and the muscles of the cheek … (Basil, 47).

The text fails to elucidate what is consuming him—can it be that he plans to deceive Basil the moment he sees him, and is trying to conceal his shame? or is it that he has something else to hide? But it is clear enough, on the evidence of his action, that Sherwin is troubled, and, by implication, will be a troublesome adversary. The tragedy is that Basil misreads his movements as surely as he misunderstands the action of his father. Reading him only as a domestic “tyrant” who is “little-minded” (Basil, 47), Basil fails to see that Sherwin is as psychologically unstable, as convulsively febrile, as the twitching in his face and movements. Watching this Secret Theatre at close quarters the reader/playgoer engages in a dramatic irony in which the gestures are illegible to the main “actor” who moves within the “play,” but can be interpreted, as the exercise of a code, from the “auditorium.”

Revealing his personality in the way that he moves, Sherwin epitomizes the legibility of Collins’s characters/actors. Presented in terms of their gestural configurations, and revealing their psychological profiles to everyone who is gesture-literate, all of them are traditional types that were current at the time. Written as characters who are Tormented, Proud, Weak or comically energetic, they are clearly part of a melodramatic typology that is all-inclusive and highly prescriptive. This conventionality is stressed by comparing the personae with the types that appear in contemporary performances. For example, the nervousness of Sarah Leeson, as a tormented type (The Dead Secret), is paralleled by the starts and staggering of the conscience-ridden Mathias in Lewis’s The Bells, a part that was first played to febrile excess by Henry Irving in 1871; whilst the energetic acting of the kind-hearted Blyth bears direct comparison with the movements of the “bustling, bothered, scolding and kindhearted” character of Mrs. Cratchit, as she was played by Mrs. Mellon in 1860 in the dramatization of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol(Morley, 206). Exploiting this typology to achieve the highest degree of focus, Collins ensures that his characters are both condensed and transparent.

Equally legible are the gestures of “attitude,” which are sometimes described as constituents in the “language of the passions.” Manipulated, as I noted earlier, as a means to visualize the characters’ feelings, these signifiers provide a sort of dumb-show in which the overriding emotion is conveyed in a static display of “terminal wordlessness” (Brooks, 61). Written as if they were show-stoppers on the stage, which would normally be accompanied by the dropping of the curtain, Collins’s attitudes are presented as single forms, or as elements within a compound tableau, or “picture.” In both situations the emphasis is on a narrow range of signifiers which encode the awful emotions that are central to Collins’s effects, and, as before, can be “read” by relating them to the gestural taxonomy.

The hand that is raised above the head connotes the emotions of surprise, astonishment and bewilderment. Featuring at key moments when a character is affronted by an unexpected twist in the plot, it concisely reveals the passing frisson of surprise. So, when Miss Jillgall (The Legacy of Cain, 81) is surprised we are told her hands “flew up into the air” and “expressed the climax of astonishment by quivering over her head.” More soberly the burden of despair is encoded in gestures that Garcia (160) generally describes as “desponding”— characteristic forms being heads that droop on bosoms, the downcast gaze, hands clasped over the face, fainting and prostration. These gestures are typically used, in another assertion of female weakness, in the treatment of stage victims, there being numerous occasions when Laura, Sarah and Antonina clasp their hands, adopt a downcast look, and allow their heads to droop. Yet male characters despair as well. There could be no better climax of despair than the grotesque interview between Basil and his father, when Basil has to tell him of his misalliance. Overcome with “shame” as he makes the revelation, Basil’s head droops on his breast, with his head “bent down.” When he looks up, however, he sees his father in the classic melodramatic pose of all-consuming anguish (Fig. 3) “with his hands clasped over his breast.” Overwhelmed by their emotions, they freeze into a static tableau, a moment of terrible “truth,” that is held for “some minutes” (Basil, l52). And even more intense are the gestures of fear. Depicting the characters’ response to the confrontations of the strange, these signifiers denote a wide range of fearful emotions.

The “sudden start” encodes fearful shock, or nervousness (Rede, 80). Visualized as a frozen recoil, in which the whole body withdraws from the threatening situation, this gesture is obsessively used as a means to convey the febrile intensity—the perpetual condition of fear—that is so characteristic of Collins’s anxious personae. Charting the fretfulness of those who live in a world of threatening uncertainties, it externalizes the suffering of Mrs. Sherwin (Basil), Anne Catherick (The Woman in White), and Noel Vanstone (No Name). Consumed by “painful startings and hurryings” (Basil, 58), and “agitation” (The Dead Secret, 4) these characters are neurotics who live on the very edge of their nerves, progressing from one set of shocks to the next; an unsettling effect which is often wound up into the higher realms of horror and terror.

Terror is conveyed by the gesture of the outstretched arm, in which the character/actor tries to repulse the object (Siddons, 85; see Fig. 4). Thus in “Mrs. Zant and the Ghost” the petrified John Zant tries to deflect the vision with his “rigid” arms (Little Novels, 28), only to find (terror of terrors) that they have been grasped by something supernatural. Allan Armadale is similarly possessed with the desire to escape when he dreams his terrible dream aboard the blighted ship, his anguish being conveyed once again by arms that stretch in front of him (Armadale, 128). By contrast horror is shown in a transfixed stare, literally a “horrified look” that involves the grotesque enlargement of the eyes and the taut orientation of the body. Used by Collins within his face-to-face confrontations, this signifier represents the very climax of emotional disturbance. When Mat confronts Thorpe in Hide and Seek, for instance, Thorpe’s horror is vividly conveyed by his “panic stare” (Hide and Seek, 343). This condition that is wrought to a “terrible” intensity in the confrontation between Ozias Midwinter and Lydia Gwilt, when, seeing her in widow’s weeds, Midwinter demands to know the explanation (Armadale, 612); reduced to the level of crazed bestiality, Midwinter is overwhelmed by his horrified confusion.

Moreover these signifiers of fear are sometimes combined to create a terrifying tableau in which all of the conditions of fearfulness are brought together. One such episode is given in “Gabriel’s Marriage.” Marking the moment at which the grandfather has a premonition, this tableau is heightened to the point of hysteria:

Gabriel ran to the bedside. The old man had raised himself into a sitting position; his eyes were dilated, his whole face was rigid with terror, his hands were stretched out convulsively towards the grandson. “The White Women”, he said … The children, with cries of terror, flung themselves into Perrine’s arms; even Gabriel uttered an exclamation of horror, and started back from the bedside. (After Dark, 209).

Intensified by sound before it resolves itself into a static composition, the episode provides a dynamic interaction of varieties of fear. Gabriel’s start denotes his panic, which is echoed by the children’s recoil; while the Old Man’s mingled expression of horror and terror is distilled in the details of his eyes and arms that are stretched convulsively outward. Supported by the use of the key terms “horror” and “terror,” but autonomous in itself, this scene is one of the fearsome tableaux that feature at key moments throughout Collins’s narratives.

Speaking more generally, Collins’s tableaux provide a structured montage of heightened emotions. Arresting the quick flowing narratives with “pictures” of visualized feelings, they compel the reader to read a series of emotional shocks in which the main focus is placed on bewilderment, despair and fear. Insisting that in his father’s art there is nothing that is “coarse, violent, revolting (or) fearful,” Collins ensures that his own work is an emotional switchback in which a prime emphasis, as we “watch” the characters’ agonies, is focused on creating a “thrill of horror” (Memoirs, vol. 2, 311-2). “Directing” his personae to adopt the conventional configurations of attitude, in which their emotions are acted out, he recreates the lurid excess, the Sturm und Drang, that was so characteristic of the melodramatic stage.

Considering both attitude and action, it can be argued, in short, that Collins creates a melodramatic prose in which the “language of the stage” provides a distinct classification of visualized extremes: of neurotic characters who twitch, proud ones who strut, horrified faces that stare or recoil, desperate clasping of the hands, and terrified extending of the arms. Exploiting gesture in order to condense and heighten the representation of his dramatic personae, he ensures that their inner traits are encoded in traditional forms which, despite being part of an obsolete discourse, can still be read. Written as a text that is enacted by melodramatic “puppets,”6 the gestures of the stage infuse Collins’s prose with a combination of legibility and transparency, heightened emotionalism and dumb- show grotesquerie—which seems at its most extreme to recall the static displays of waxworks as much as tableaux vivant.

Fused and conflated into one, this treatment of significant gesture lies at the heart of each of his texts. Nevertheless it is interesting to note as a final complication that Collins’s critical attitude to the “language,” as he voiced it in his reviews and letters, is not always as clear as his fictional manipulatons would seem to imply. Although his writing of gesture is heightened in the traditional manner, he sometimes proclaims a dislike for this sort of extremity. In assessing the performance of Ristori in a letter to E. M. Ward (8 March 1856, in Coleman, 47), he roundly condemns “its perfect conventionality of the most hopelessly stage kind,” and elsewhere speaks disdainfully of the artifice, as it appeared in theatrical painting, of melodramatic “frenzy” (“Exhibition of the Royal Academy,” 618). Insisting that he prefers acting that is based, as, according to him, Fechter’s was based, on “truth to nature,” (Field, 156) his preference is paradoxically at odds with his mode of writing. Yet in the clash between naturalism and gestural artifice the stage-like, as this article has shown, strongly prevails. Believing that his “faculty” was “primarily a dramatic one,”7 Collins may certainly be understood, in the memorable words of Brockington, as a melodramatist who understood the world of theatre better than the world of plain facts.

Works Cited

Allen, Walter. The English Novel. London: Phoenix House, 1954.

Archer, Frank. An Actor’s Notebooks. London: Stanley Paul, 1912.

Baker, Earnest A. The History of the English Novel. 10 vols. New York: Barnes, 1963.

Bancroft, Squire & Marie. Mr and Mrs Bancroft: On and Off the Stage. 2 vols. London: Bentley, 1888.

Booth,BradfordA.”Wilkie Collins and the Art of Fiction.” In Nineteenth Century Fiction 6 (1951-52) 131-143.

Booth, Michael R. English Melodrama. London: Jenkins, 1965.

_________. Theatre in the Victorian Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Brooks, Peter. The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama and the Mode of Excess. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.

Coleman, William Rollin, ed. The University of Texas Collection of the Letters of Wilkie Collins. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas, 1975.

Collins, Wilkie. After Dark. Introduced by W. A. Brockington. London: Gresham, n.d.

_________. Memoirs of the Life of William Collins. 2 vols. London: Longman, 1848.

_________. “The Exhibition of the Royal Academy.” In Bentley’s Miscellany 29 (1851) 617-627.

_________. Wilkie Collins Novels: A New Edition. 29 vols. London: Chatto & Windus, 1889- 1908.

_________, & Charles Dickens. “The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices.” In No Thoroughfare. Stroud: Sutton, 1991.

Field, Kate. Charles Albert Fechter. Boston: Osgood, 1882.

Garcia, Gustave. The Actor’s Art: a Practical Treatise. 2nd edition. London: Simpkin, 1888.

Library of the Late Wilkie Collins. London: Puttick & Simpson, 1890.

Meisel, Martin. “Perspectives on Victorian and Other Acting: the Actor’s Last Call, or, No Curtain Like the Shroud.” In Victorian Studies 6 (1962-63) 355-360.

Morley, Henry. The Journal of a London Playgoer. Introduced by Michael Booth. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1974.

Muller, C. H. “Incident and Characterization in The Woman in White.” In Unisa English Studies 11 (1973) 33-50.

Page, Norman, ed. Wilkie Collins: the Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974.

Parrish, M. L., ed. Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade: First Editions Described with Notes. New York: Burt Franklin, 1968.

Peters, Catherine. The King of Inventors: a Life of Wilkie Collins. London: Secker & Warburg, 1991.

Rede, Leman. The Road to the Stage. London: Smith, 1827.

Robinson, Kenneth. Wilkie Collins: a Biography. 1951; London: Davis-Poynter, 1974.

Rogerson, Brewster. “The Art of Painting the Passions.” In Journal of the History of Ideas 14 (1953) 68-94.

Saintsbury, George. The English Novel. London: Dent, 1919.

Siddons, Henry. Practical Illustrations of Rhetorical Gesture and Action. 1807; New York: Blom, 1968.

Smart, Alastair . “Dramatic Gesture and Expression in the Age of Hogarth and Reynolds.” In Apollo 82 (1965) 90-97.

Wolfe, Peter . “Point of View and Characterization in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone.” In Forum 4 (1965) 27-29.


  1. Citations in the text from the novels of Wilkie Collins refer to Wilkie Collins Novels: A New Edition, the “Library” edition issued by Chatto and Windus from 1889. []
  2. Collins’s plays are as follows: The Lighthouse (1855); The Frozen Deep (1857); The Red Vial (1858); A Message from the Sea (1861); Armadale (1867); No Thoroughfare (1867); Black and White (1869); No Name (1870); The Dead Secret (1877); The Woman in White (1871); Man and Wife (1873); The New Magdalene (1873); Miss Gwilt (1875); The Moonstone (1877); Rank and Riches (1883); and The Evil Genius (1885). Black and White was written with Fechter; A Message from the SeaThe Frozen Deepand No Thoroughfare with Dickens; and The Moonstone with Marcus Clarke. []
  3. See, for example, the review of “Basil” in The Leader (27 November 1852) 1141-1142; Allen, 207; or Booth, 135. []
  4. Unsigned review of Antonina in The Spectator (11 March 1850) 257, cited in Page, 39. []
  5. See, for example, the unsigned reviews of Armadale in The Reader (3 June 1866) 538, and 7 []
  6. Unsigned review of Armadale in the Saturday Review (16 June 1866) 726-7, cited in Page, 151. []
  7. “Memorandum Relating to the Life and Writings of Wilkie Collins,” letter to unnamed recipient, 21 March 1862, reproduced in Parrish, 5. []

Action and Attitude: Wilkie Collins and the Language of Melodramatic Gesture by Simon Cooke
The Wilkie Collins Journal 01 (1998)

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