Wilkie Collins and the Inheritance Plot

PODZIEWSKA, Julia (2018). Wilkie Collins and the Inheritance Plot. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00182


The paramount question this study seeks to answer is why, in the midst of massive and contentious commercial property reform and a flood of accessible printed matter about it, did the leading cultural form of mid-nineteenth century England, the novel, and above all some of the most popular, widely-read, best-selling novels of this time and place—Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, No Name, Armadale and The Moonstone—centre on inheritance, a post mortem and long established mode of property transfer, and along with it the related instrument of the marriage settlement, rather than commercial transactions. The thesis seeks to find an answer by working within the following overarching research question: what is the precise relationship between the novel during the 1860s and the revolutionary reconceptualization of property effected by the Companies Acts of 1844-1862. The textual and contextual investigation of the four novels serialised between 1859 and 1868, which traces the interconnections between inheritance plot motifs within each novel in turn, shows that the texts describe transfers of property that fail to follow anticipated paths; protagonists and reader alike trace property passing with ease and speed through numerous, unfamiliar and unknown hands. It is here, the thesis demonstrates, that the novels display their most immediate connection with the new property forms authorised in response to the cyclical crises that convulsed British economic life during the very years Collins consolidated his career as a novelist; and it is here that we can begin to understand the novelistic qualities for which Collins is best known and celebrated: his plotting. Despite many decades of scholarly attention, critical acclaim for skilful plotting, and the recognition of the centrality of inheritance in Collins’s novels, the integral relationship between novelistic form and property has not been recognised. The novels further deal with problematic, contested, threatened and unstable identity, and concomitant to that, and linked with the new commercial phenomenon of limited liability, fluctuating degrees of responsibility through mental states affected by fever, derangement, idiocy, trauma, drugs and sleep. The study as a piece of literary history is weighed towards determining the manner in which and the extent to which new modes of capital formation leave their impress on Collins’s novels.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Earnshaw, Steve
Additional Information: Director of studies: Steve Earnshaw "No PQ harvesting"
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00182
Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 19 Jun 2019 08:57
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2021 11:02
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/24734

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