Decorated initial 'W'hether an allusion is explicit or indirect, its effectiveness depends upon its being sufficiently well- known that the intended audience will recognize its meaning and its suitability in context. According to M. H. Abrams, "Most allusions serve to illustrate or enhance a subject, but some are used in order to undercut it ironically by the discrepancy between the subject and the allusion" (8-9). Writing before the fashion changed and allusions became deliberately private and obscure, as in the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Wilkie Collins employed allusions to the lost Franklin Expedition and Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comedy of manners The Rivals (1775) in order to add breadth to the action, to intensify the suspense, and to comment on the characters in his sensation novel No Name.

Just as in the opening chapter of A Tale of Two Cities (1859) Charles Dickens characterizes the chronological setting of his story through a series of evocative historical allusions to events as well known as the 1774-5 Continental Congress in the American colonies and to personages as little known as the visionary Joanna Southcott, so in No Name (1862) Wilkie Collins recalls to the life a more recent period through allusions to the lost Franklin Expedition. However, whereas Dickens's text is rife with overt allusions to history, literature, and the Bible, Collins's text has relatively few allusions, and those he does include are oblique. Dickens draws attention to an image that is a crucial analogue and pointed foreshadowing through a biblical allusion — that is, to "a hospital procession of negro cupids, several headless and all cripples," by having the decapitated cherubs "offering black baskets of Dead Sea fruit" (Book 1, ch 1, p. 52). Collins highlights his analogue for Magdalen's fruitless quest, an allusion to the Franklin Expedition's perishing in search of the North-West Passage, through repetition ("Freeze-your-Bones" and "the Arctic Passage" are favourite metaphors for Old Mazey) and placement (the passage so designated in Admiral Bertram's house is closely associated with an important, hidden document that holds the key to Magdalen's hopes for retribution and recovery of her father's propery). Through old Mazey's terming "the Banketing-Hall" (522) at St. Crux "Freeze-your-Bones" (523) and through his master Admiral Bertram's nick-naming it "the Arctic Passage" Collins establishes the nautical backgrounds of both man and master, possibly also providing an oblique reference (yet one which his mid-Victorian readers would have recognized) to the Franklin Expedition, topical in both 1848 (the year of this part of the story's action) and 1859. The latter date is sufficiently close to the mid-1861 composition of No Name that one may still classify "Freeze-your-Bones" and "the Arctic Passage" as topical rather than historical allusions. Connecting the two wings of the strange house, the gallery where Magdalen Vanstone faces and fails her final challenge seems huge and ominous. Later, in Norah's memory, it seems to be a city block in length. Its exaggerated size and its nicknames suggest that this chilly passage is connected with Sir John Franklin's search for the North-West Passage to the wealth of the Orient through what is now the Canadian North-West Territories to the Pacific Ocean. Old Mazey's deriding the gallery as "Freeze-your-Bones" is perhaps a less oblique reference to the fate of the Franklin party, whose end was not discovered until 1859.

When last sighted on 26 July 1845, Sir John Franklin's vessels Erebus and Terror (a novelist could hardly have found two more prophetic names) were at the entrance of Lancaster Sound. Early in 1848 (and Magdalen's first day as a disguised maid at St. Crux is February 25th of that year) the Admiralty organized a three-fold search, the reward for news of the expedition being ten thousand pounds. In August, 1851, Franklin's winter quarters on Beechey Island were discovered, along with the graves of three members who had died early in 1846. The 10,000 was claimed by a Hudson's Bay Company physician, Dr. John Rae, who while on a sledging trek had learned of the expedition's fate from Inuit hunters. They reported having spotted Whitemen dragging a boat southward along the western shore of King William's Island, and gave Rae various articles conclusively identified as having belonged to members of Franklin's party.

When Dr. Rae published his account in The Illustrated London News for 28 October 1854, Charles Dickens attempted to refute any imputations of cannibalism in "The Lost Arctic Voyagers" in his own magazine, Household Words, in December, 1854. However, the fate of Franklin and his fellows continued to prey upon Dickens's imagination, giving him and his collaborator, Wilkie Collins, a "mighty original notion" (Letters, I, 433). for a new play in the spring of 1856. By mid-September of that year he and Wilkie Collins had produced a Franklin-inspired melodrama, The Frozen Deep, whose prologue specifically sets the main action "Where PARRY conquer'd and FRANKLIN died" (9).

In 1859 Captain M'Clintock in the Fox solved the mystery of the fate of the Franklin Expedition when he found skeletons and a written record hidden in a cairn at Point Victory (further irony indeed). Apparently, Erebus and Terror, jammed in the pack-ice, were abandoned on 22 April 1848. Although Franklin himself died on 11 June 1847, he is regarded as the discoverer of the North-West Passage since his ships had been halted on the very brink of American waters. Recent exhumations strongly suggest that the expedition failed because it was too well provisioned: instead of planning on having his men live by hunting Arctic animals, Franklin ordered an immense quantity of tinned goods — so great were the number of tins required (8,000) and the haste with which they had to be produced (the order was placed 1 April 1845, and the departure date was 19 May) that some were defective in their seals. Recent exhumations have revealed that many of Franklin's men probably died from lead poisoning (see "Lead Solder" and Beattie and Geiger, 160). Although Collins could not have known about this further irony in the expedition's fate, he would have had access to the general history. He also would have known what the cairn document recorded up to 25 April 1848. Reference to Collins's letters (as yet unpublished) may clarify his position on Rae's accusation of cannibalism, and may also indicate whether The Frozen Deep reflects Dickens's rather than Collins's feelings about the Franklin Expedition.

This background is necessary for analyzing the effects of the allusion in the first chapter of the Seventh Scene in No Name. Thwarted by both her vindictive uncle and her parsimonious cousin, as well as by the malicious Mrs. Lecount, Magdalen has adopted her ultimate disguise in order to ascertain the stipulations of the Secret Trust. Realizing that direct application to the holder of the trust, Admiral Bertram, would be pointless since Lecount will have poisoned him against her, Magdalen has adopted the identity of her faithful maid Louisa in order to infiltrate the household at St. Crux. Upon the verge of discovering the truth, the Secret Trust actually in her hands, she is again frustrated — this time by old Mazey. Like Franklin and his party, she is brought to a halt within clear sight of her goal. As a consequence of anxiety and severe chill of "Freeze-your- Bones" the Admiral dies, while Magdalen, succumbing to the extreme emotional stress of her defeat having been snatched out of the jaws of victory, falls into a near-fatal fever. The morbid atmosphere of St. Crux's "Arctic Passage" is intensified by "a dismal collection of black, begrimed old pictures, rotting from their frames, and representing battles by land and sea" (Seventh Scene, Ch. 1: p. 523). These recall both the tribulations of the Franklin Expedition and Magdalen's ordeals at Lambeth, Aldborough, and Balliol Cottage, and in particular her counting of the ships to determine whether she should commit suicide. St. Crux, true to its name, has provided her with an even greater difficulty or puzzle: where is the Secret Trust hidden? As in the mysteries of Poe, Conan Doyle, and Christie, the final resting place of the document is in plain sight, in the ashes of the banquetting-hall's "gaunt ancient tripod" (523), which in conjunction with "a huge cavern of a fire-place" (523) surmounted by a mantlepiece of black marble dominates "the wilderness of the room" (523).

The sepulchral fireplace suggests the grave of Gethsemane, for the room to which it offers cold comfort becomes the point of transition for Magdalen and a turning point in her career of disguise and deception. Having failed in her last endeavour despite the pains she has taken with her assumed identity, Magdalen collapses into a coma, from which she awakens as her old, moral self. Her ripping up of the letter found among the ashes is evidence of her having renounced both personal vengeance and her vain hopes for restoring the past. She embraces the moral order of middle-class society and accepts the love of Captain Kirke, whose name perhaps suggests social orthodoxy and a proper role for Magdalen in a "good" marriage.

The credit for the conception that Collins is making an oblique allusion to the Franklin Expedition in the "Freeze-your-bones" passage of St. Crux must go to Professor Peter Caracciolo of Surrey's Royal Holloway and Bedford College, since it was he who prompted this writer's investigation of the possible connections. So, too, should credit for the notion that Sheridan's The Rivals forms a sort of subtext or coda for the main action of No Name, although Virginia Blain notes the "particularly suggestive ramifications" (xiii) of the "play within the play." For example, the elegant word-play of Collins's Captain Wragge is foreshadowed by the speech of Mrs. Malaprop, and the letter that Lucy presents Sir Lucius as coming from "Delia" anticipates such deceptive letters as that which lures Madame Lecount away from her master, Noel Vanstone. In fact, letters assume an importance in both the play and the novel, both as vehicles for self-expression (as with Lydia's from "your unknown friend" in the play — compare Rivals I: ii to No Name, 11) and deception (as with the "Delia" letter). Wragge's inventory of past impostures and catalogue of profits in Collins's novel are reminiscent of the devious Lucy's account of her gains from numerous deceits in Sheridan's play.

In general, the play in which Magdalen takes several roles prepares the reader of No Name for the disguises, marriage intrigues, rivalries, and dual roles of the duplicitous protagonist, Magdalen Vanstone, as a lady (Sheridan's Julia) and a scheming servant-girl in search of wealth (Sheridan's Lucy). As Blain argues, "the duality of [Magdalen's] early role in The Rivals is echoed in all her subsequent behaviour" (xiv). Just as the Sheridan script presents certain difficulties for an actress who aspires to take both roles, so the action of the novel repeatedly presents situations in which the reader is held in suspense by the anticipation that Magdalen is going to be detected. Her romantic interest for much of the novel, Frank Clare, proves to be as self-centred and unsatisfactory a lover as Sheridan's Faulkland, the part into which Magdalen impresses Frank for the Marrables' home theatricals so early in the novel. Indeed, Collins's use of The Rivals is so functional that the play's setting (a fashionable English resort), level of society depicted, and even many of its lines alert the knowledgable reader as to what is to come in the novel, Sheridan's comedy providing a dramatic overture to the main lines of the novel that encloses it. "While on one level the element of plot contrivance in the introduction of these theatricals is obvious, . . . on another level, they also have a covert role in foreshadowing the outcome of the story" (Blain xiii). Collins almost seems to expect that his reader will approach the text of No Name with a detailed knowledge of the action and characters of The Rivals.

While writers prior to the nineteenth-century had every expectation that allusions to classical and biblical literature would be decoded easily by an intelligent reader, Collins in No Name is going beyond the erudite reference typical of eighteenth-century writers and anticipates the twentieth-century technique of intertextuality in his functional allusions to the Franklin Expedition (contemporary) and to The Rivals (literary). The ironic echoing of the matter of these allusions in the main text's characters and actions seems a prelude to the technique of such a deconstructionist as David Lodge, who ultilizes Gaskell's North and South and Dickens's Hard Times as informing subtexts in Nice Work. Although these two Collins allusions are hardly as recondite and specialized as those of Joyce, Pound, and Eliot (he was, after all, aiming at the general public rather than a select, academic circle or an aesthetic and educated elite), in No Name he is moving away from the sort of reference that most readers will recognize without the aid of such scholarly annotation as this article provides. Furthermore, No Name explores allusion as it employs "melodramatic incident" — as a "vehicle for certain aspects of characterization" (Blain viii). In her doubling in The Rivals Magdalen "gives expression not only to her own potential for "good" (Julia) or "bad" (Lucy) behaviour, but also to the possibility that each of these extremes contains within itself the seeds of its own reversal" (Blain xiv). For the perceptive and informed reader, the mainsprings of plot and character lie dormant within the allusions to the Franklin Expedition and Sheridan's The Rivals. The absence of these subtleties of design in Wybert Reeve's dramatic adaptation of No Name may be one of the reasons behind the stage version's failure.

While the play-within-the-play,The Rivals, comments upon the action of No Name (divided, like a drama, into 'scenes') in a manner reminiscent of "The Mousetrap" in Shakespeare's Hamlet, the oblique references to the Franklin Expedition are hardly as germane or as thoroughly imbedded in the text. Clearly the inclusion of Sheridan's comedy of intrigue reflects Collins's intention — but what of the allusions to the lost Arctic explorers? The extent to which Dickens was responsible for re-shaping the text of Collins's Frozen Deep is sufficient, as Brannan argues, to render him co- dramatist, and Lonoff offers some reasoned speculations on the extent to which Dickens in his capacity as editor ofAll the Year Round affected the serial text of No Name. Given his preoccupation with the fate of the Franklin Expedition, one cannot help but wonder to what extent such allusions in the novel reflect Dickens's rather than Collins's concerns. As Lonoff notes, although Collins "rarely rejected technical advice or advice that improved the credibility of character or incident," he sometimes asserted himself, and "did not always follow Dickens's suggestions."

Related Materials


Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 5th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1988.

Beattie, Owen, and John Geiger, Frozen In Time: Unlocking the Secrets of the Frankin Expedition. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1988.

Blain, Virginia. "Introduction" and "Explanatory Notes" to Wilkie Collins's No Name. (World's Classics) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Collins, William Wilkie. No Name . New York: Dover Publications, 1978.

All references to No Name, unless otherwise specified, will be to this illustrated edition, which reproduces the American (Harper and Brothers, New York) single-volume text, with sixteen illustrations by American artist John McLenan, published in 1873.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities . Ed. George Woodcock. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.

_____. The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. Mamie Dickens and Georgina Hogarth. London: Chapman and Hall, 1880. Vol. 1 (1833-1856).

Dickens, Charles, and Wilkie Collins. The Frozen Deep, in Under the Management of Mr. Charles Dickens: His Production of "The Frozen Deep,". Ed. Robert Louis Brannan. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1966.

"Lead Solder 'Big Factor' in Deaths of Explorers." Times-Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia) 1 February 1990: B9.

Lonoff, Sue. "Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 35, 2 (September 1980): 150-170.

Sheridan, Richard Brinsley. The Rivals; A Comedy. Ilkley Scolar Press, 1973 [Reprint of London: J. Wilkie, 1775].

Other Works Consulted

Baker, William. "The Manuscript of Wilkie Collins's No Name." Studies in Bibliography 43 (1990): 197-208.

_____."Wilkie Collins, Dickens, and No Name." Dickens Studies Newsletter 11, 2 (June 1980): 49-52.

"The Fate of Sir John Franklin." The Illustrated London News. 28 October 1854. 421-422.

"The Franklin Relics." The Illustrated London News. 4 November 1854. 433-434.

Lodge, David. Nice Work. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988.

Reeve, Wybert. No Name. A Drama, in Five Acts. Chicago: The Dramatic Publishing Company, n. d.

Stange, G. Robert. "Wilkie Collins, No Name." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 34, 1 (June 1979): 96-100.

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Last modified 8 July 2004