1. If, as Lilian Nayder suggests in Unequal Partners, Collins was sympathetic to Indians in spite of the recent events at Lucknow and Cawnpore, why does he refer in "A Sermon for Sepoys" to the initial recipients of the "Indian lesson" as "Betrayers and Assassins"?

2. In A Handbook to Literature (2000), Harmon and Holman subdivide the genre of the essay into the formal and informal, the periodical and personal. Chris Baldick in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (1991) defines the essay as a minor literary form "that discusses a subject or proposes an argument without claiming to be a complete or thorough exposition" (p. 75). Explain briefly how "A Sermon for Sepoys" can be classified as both an informal essay, a literary essay, an Eastern tale, and an exemplum (a story told to reinforce the general theme of a sermon).

3. "In the early nineteenth century the founding of new types of magazines, and their steady proliferation, gave great impetus to the writing of essays" (M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, p. 57). Since Collins's essay may be regarded in the context of contemporary journalism, what aspects of "A Sermon for Sepoys" were topical and even "newsworthy" and controversial in early 1858 in Great Britain?

4. What is the relevance of Collins's concluding moral (in capitals) to the essay itself, and to the readers of Household Words in 1858?

5. To what extent does the body of the essay support the moral stated at its conclusion?

6. Dickens's intention in Household Words, according to Bentley et al in The Dickens Index (1990), was "to inform and entertain a wide readership through original articles and stories, many on subjects of social concern" (124). Explain which aspects of "A Sermon for Sepoys" inform and which aspects entertain.

7. The English vogue for things Eastern and exotic seems to have originated in the late seventeenth century (coinciding with, for example, John Dryden's heroic tragedy Aureng-Zebe; or, The Indian Queen, in 1675), and is reflected in fashion (e. g., the fan), in pottery (e. g., the Willow Pattern), and even in architecture (e. g., George IV's Brighton Pavillion). How precisely does Collins inject an Eastern flavour into "A Sermon for Sepoys"?

8. Born into the respectable, upper-middle-class family of London landscape painter William Collins in 1824, Wilkie Collins was educated by private tutors and traveled abroad (notably to Italy) prior to entering Lincoln's Inn to study law in 1846. A number of false career starts included working in a wholesale tea importer's office. In 1851, he met novelist Charles Dickens while engaged in amateur theatricals, and soon after became a regular contributor to the great writer's weekly journal Household Words. He collaborated with Dickens on numerous journalistic pieces, as well as such Christmas stories for Household Words as The Wreck of the Golden Mary (1856) and The Perils of Certain English Prisoners (1857), and the melodramas The Lighthouse (1855) and The Frozen Deep (1857). His early novels include the crime-and-detection serials Hide and Seek (1854) and The Dead Secret (1857). For additional biographical information, see "Wilkie Collins (1824-89): A Brief Biography." What aspects of Collins's life prior to writing this article seem to have prepared him to compose "A Sermon for Sepoys"?

9. What biases and values does "A Sermon for Sepoys" reflect? Explain.

10. Why has Collins utilized an omniscient point of view in his opening, then switched to two first-person points of view?


Collins, Wilkie. "A Sermon for Sepoys". Household Words: A Weekly Journal No. 414 (27 February 1858): 244-247.

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

Victorian Web Wilkie Collins British Empire India

Last modified 23 June 2004