Crime and subversion in the later fiction of Wilkie Collins
Although some good work on Collins is now beginning to emerge, complex and central elements in his fiction require fuller exploration. More consideration is due to the development of Collins's thinking and fictional techniques in the lesser-known novels, since out of a total of thirty-four published works most have received scant attention from scholars. This is particularly true of the later fiction. It is to work of the later period (1870-1889) that I devote the fullest consideration, whilst giving due attention to the novels of the 1860s which are usually regarded as Collins's major novels. Collins perceived that established discourses on criminality, deviance, femininity and morality functioned as mechanisms with which the dominant masculine and middle-class hegemony attempted to confirm and maintain its power. His later fiction reveals the anxieties of masculine and middle-class narrator-figures. In his novels written in the 1860s Collins explored narrative and subnarrative. He developed the technique of using the accounts of various characters to challenge the perspective of the narrator-figure and created the persona of an omniscient narrator whose response to his creations reveals his own anxieties. The novels of Collins's later period develop such techniques to explore masculine apprehension at the changes occurring in late-Victorian society in which women and the working-classes were gaining greater freedom and middle-class dominance was threatened. Although narrators overtly argue the validity of standard discourses, their views are subverted by a level of sub-textual meaning at which the inadequacy of the narrators and their ideologies is revealed. Sub-textual meaning in the novels reveals tensions and anomalies within ideas of criminality, the Victorian ideal of womanhood, medical discourses and the idea of the gentleman and his counterpart, the knight errant figure. Collins's later fiction presents itself as an impressive attempt to explore the ideological and social tensions of rapidly changing late-Victorian England.