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No Name

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'Mr Vanstone's daughters are Nobody's Children'.

Magdalen Vanstone and her sister Norah learn the true meaning of social stigma in Victorian England only after the traumatic discovery that their dearly loved parents, whose sudden deaths have left them orphans, were not married at the time of their birth. Disinherited by law and brutally ousted from Combe-Raven, the idyllic country estate which has been their peaceful home since childhood, the two young women are left to fend for themselves. While the submissive Norah follows a path of duty and hardship as a governess, her high-spirited and rebellious younger sister has made other decisions. Determined to regain her rightful inheritance at any cost, Magdalen uses her unconventional beauty and dramatic talent in recklessly pursuing her revenge. Aided by the audacious swindler Captain Wragge, she braves a series of trials leading up to the climactic test: can she trade herself in marriage to the man she loathes?

Written in the early 1860s, between The Woman in White and The Moonstone, No Name was rejected as immoral by critics of its time, but is today regarded as a novel of outstanding social insight, showing Collins at the height of his powers.

748 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1862

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About the author

Wilkie Collins

2,350 books2,300 followers
A close friend of Charles Dickens from their meeting in March 1851 until Dickens' death in June 1870, William Wilkie Collins was one of the best known, best loved, and, for a time, best paid of Victorian fiction writers. But after his death, his reputation declined as Dickens' bloomed.

Now, Collins is being given more critical and popular attention than he has received for 50 years. Most of his books are in print, and all are now in e-text. He is studied widely; new film, television, and radio versions of some of his books have been made; and all of his letters have been published. However, there is still much to be discovered about this superstar of Victorian fiction.

Born in Marylebone, London in 1824, Collins' family enrolled him at the Maida Hill Academy in 1835, but then took him to France and Italy with them between 1836 and 1838. Returning to England, Collins attended Cole's boarding school, and completed his education in 1841, after which he was apprenticed to the tea merchants Antrobus & Co. in the Strand.

In 1846, Collins became a law student at Lincoln's Inn, and was called to the bar in 1851, although he never practised. It was in 1848, a year after the death of his father, that he published his first book, 'The Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R.A'., to good reviews.

The 1860s saw Collins' creative high-point, and it was during this decade that he achieved fame and critical acclaim, with his four major novels, 'The Woman in White' (1860), 'No Name' (1862), 'Armadale' (1866) and 'The Moonstone' (1868). 'The Moonstone', is seen by many as the first true detective novel T. S. Eliot called it "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels ..." in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 558 reviews
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,465 followers
October 20, 2017
Everything in the Vanstone household is just tickety boo until a) father dear is killed in a train crash and b) mama dear dies in childbirth so c) their two lovely daughters are orphaned and there are complications whereby the estate is inherited by the estranged older brother who couldn't give a monkey's about the two lovely sisters so what are they to do? Well, actually, Wilkie is only interested in Magdalen, the sexier of the two, so let's rephrase that, what is she to do?

Does she

a) upload the demos she has been making of her own songs in her bedroom onto youtube, get discovered, go viral and get to be the Victorian Female Bieber? We all remember the old broadside ballad

Come all you roving gentlemen and listen to my song
All about the Female Bieber, it won't detain you long
Her waist it was so slender and her fingers long and small
And she played upon the mandoline the sweetest of them all

b) Take a cabriolet to King's Cross and consort her saucy wares in that notorious environs, become the reknowned consort of the vile and famous, and conclude by wielding unfathomable power behind the scenes in the highest circles, enabling her to reach down and crush the evil estranged brother like an ant?

c) get entangled in some ridiculous, unlikely and completely delicious plot twists and turns involving becoming an actress, perpetrating brilliant confidence tricks, fake marriage proposals, impersonations and the like with one of the great is-he-a-villain-or-is-he-a-hero characters in English fiction (Captain Wragge)?

Well, it's c). Because a) is anachronistic, this is not steampunk, and b) is interesting but a bit too Zola and not as fun as c).

To be read with an eager smile and a sachet of jellied eels.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book484 followers
June 14, 2020
No Name is Wilkie Collins’ tour de force of a novel about a woman bent on what some might deem vengeance and what others might simply call justice. In case you were wondering, I am in the later group. The law having failed to be just, Magdalene Vanstone and her sister, Norah, find themselves disinherited from their father’s fortune. The circumstances of their loss is heartbreaking and the lack of concern for them shown by the uncle who profits from their misfortune is infuriating. Norah is the proper lady and accepts her losses with resignation, Magdalene, on the other hand, determines to set things right by hook or crook.

What ensues is a nail-biter. Wilkie Collins puts modern day mystery writers to shame! There are so many twists and turns it makes you dizzy, but every one has a purpose and leads somewhere. I cannot imagine being a Victorian and having to read this in installments. My poor husband is celebrating that I have finished, because by the second half I was scarcely able to break from it long enough to fix his dinner.

Having read several of Collins novels, and long been aware of his close friendship with Charles Dickens, I must say this is the one novel where I could spot Dickens’ influence most readily. Many of the characters had a markedly Dickens flavor about them, particularly the Wragges. But Collins does something of his own that separates him from Dickens for me: he builds a true mystery into his work. Yes, I know, we anticipate when reading Dickens and there are plot elements that we long to find the explanation for that are mysterious, but Collins’ novels have more of the feeling of the mystery is the thing, the how will she ever pull this off element, the what is in that letter he just stuffed into his pocket intrigue, the oh my God, please catch that train on time fearfulness. Dickens preys on the heart, Collins on the mind.
Profile Image for Piyangie.
518 reviews414 followers
July 14, 2022
No Name is yet another beautiful book by Wilkie Collins. Touching on a different legal concept, the book takes quite a turn from his more famous work - The Woman in White. Merging a legal concept with a heart touching story seems to be Wilkie Collins's style. It is truly appealing, especially when he exposes the gaps in law by which the very persons who need the protection of the law are left unprotected.

No Name is a touching story of a woman's quest to redress an injustice that has caused her and her sister to become outcasts, penniless, and robbed of their rightful inheritance due to a mere legality.

When they were orphaned, Magdalen and Norah learn the bitter truth of their legitimacy. Their parents were unmarried at the time of their birth and as such, in the eyes of law, they are illegitimate children; in other words, they are nobody’s children and have “no-name”. In the absence of law or any other person to help them, Magdalen makes it her cause to remedy the wrong done to her and her sister, Norah by any means.

The principal heroine of the story is Magdalen. She is strong-willed and impetuous. Her vindictive nature is aroused when her uncle declines to take notice of them (due to their illegitimacy) and to provide for them or assist them. Stung to the core, she resolves to recover the fortune by any means. In the absence of law as a protector, deception becomes her protector and weapon by which to achieve her end.

Magdalen is not a heroine of Victorian liking. She is a criminal and a sinner in the eyes of a rigid Victorian society. Her conduct is far too modern for Victorian understanding. But Magdalen could be a modern heroine. The modern society though cannot condone her conduct, for no decent society can sanction deception, would understand Magdalen better; would appreciate the circumstances that drove her to act as she did. However, Collins doesn't abandon Magdalene to face Victorian social justice. He shows that Magdalene sees the reason of her follies under the kind guidance of her sister and her new love and that she was repentant at the end and is determined to become a better person worthy of her sister and husband.

Norah is a complete contrast to Magdalene. Her journey through their misfortune is one of patience and endurance. With her goodness and righteous conduct, she wins the battle with dignity. So Norah is a Victorian heroine. Both these characters were likable in their own way, but Magdalen was the better heroine for me despite all her sins. Her character had such colour and vibrancy so that the connection readers feel with her is instantaneous.

From the supporting characters, the two villains - one male and the other female - were the best. Their cunning battle to outsmart the other was quite interesting to read.

All the above would have failed however to make this book a fascinating read if it wasn't combined with Collins's beautiful prose and his sensitive and sincere writing. The descriptive writing paints a complete picture of the events and characters of the story; the cleverly executed plot and smooth flow of the story hold fast the readers to the story; the touch of humour here and there adds a bit of lightness to otherwise a grave story; the compassionate writing where Magdalen was concerned, emotionally moves the readers.

Collins has adopted a new style of writing here. He tells his story through a combination of narrative, chronicle, and epistolary writing. This method was very refreshing. It gives the reader a break from the monotony of the narrative. I very much enjoyed this style.

The story, the legal concepts, the characters, and Collins's beautiful writing made reading No Name pleasurable and memorable. This novel is truly a literary gem. I was very much surprised to learn that it is a lesser-known work by the author. I personally think that it is one great work by Collins. I feel privileged to have read it.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,221 reviews167 followers
January 6, 2023
"Mr Vanstone's daughters are Nobody's Children ... and the law leaves them helpless at their uncle's mercy!"

When Mr and Mrs Vanstone are killed in an accident, an understandable oversight and the misogynistic vagaries of Victorian law have left their daughters, Magdalen and Norah, orphaned and penniless. The Vanstone estate passes in its entirety to their embittered uncle who refuses to recognize the justice of their claim against his brother's wealth. A sanguine, disappointed and much more conventional Norah resigns herself to her fate and takes up a position as governess to support herself. But a furious and defiant Magdalen refuses to accept the loss of what she knows is rightfully hers and her sisters. With the help of an unscrupulous con artist, Captain Horatio Wragge, Magdalen embarks on a labyrinthine Machiavellian scheme to steal back her birthright.

In his own preface to NO NAME, Wilkie Collins acknowledged that while he wanted to use the success he had achieved with his first ground-breaking "sensation novel", THE WOMAN IN WHITE, he also wanted to push his story-telling into new divergent directions. Far from being a purely gothic or atmospheric mystery, NO NAME is astonishingly realistic and down to earth. Norah's and Magdalen's illegitimacy in law and their loss of social status and inheritance rights are all entirely believable. Beginning a theme which he returned to later in MAN AND WIFE, Collins used his writing as a platform to examine the legal, moral and social issues of Victorian law as it related to marriage and the status of women. And he certainly didn't hesitate to use that platform to express his deep dismay over the inequities that he perceived in those laws.

Interestingly, while Magdalen's quest to recover her fortune by any means available was quite understandable and, even to the most establishment bound Victorian reader, somewhat justifiable, she is not a particularly likable heroine. The dubious choices she made were certainly a substantial part of what made NO NAME such a scandalous book in its time and, equally certainly, are part of what makes NO NAME an enduring classic that allows readers to judge for themselves the virtues of what she does in the name of justice.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
May 23, 2012
Love you Mr Collins! You never cease to amaze me with your writing and uncanny ability to suck me into your books which look to be a million pages, but read as if they are a few hundred. I so enjoy the fact that you have always shown a respect and concern for women and you present them, while often flawed, as people you admire and trust. Oftentimes Victorian authors belittle their female protagonists and have inauspicious fates awaiting those who do not walk the Victorian line. (hear that Mr Dickens and Mr Hardy?)

Within this story lies loving parents, sisters, and deceit. Our main protagonist, Magdalen, and her sister, Norah, are given crushing news after their parents' death that rips the ground out literally from under them and propels them into an environment that they were little prepared for. Collins presents this story with what one can tell, his opposition to the laws of the court which will govern these girls destinies. He also provides a truly cruel uncle and his son who add the human aspect of unkindness and hatred.

Magdalen takes it upon herself, through any means to right the wrong that has been done to her sister and herself. She becomes a worthy and devious woman to a quite worthy adversary, one Mrs Lecount, a woman one can grow to hate quite easily. How Magdalen succeeds and fails is the gist of this novel and as always Mr Collins is able to weave out a tale that keeps the reader going through page after page. He is the master storyteller, never confusing one with lots of rhetoric or too many words.

I am always amazed that Mr Collins is not taught more in schools and is somewhat overlooked in the world of Victorian writers. He was a wonderful author who always thrills me and makes me very happy that I have read his works. Thanks, Mr Collins, for again keeping me up in the dead of night! You are well worth burning the midnight oil.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,286 reviews421 followers
December 7, 2019
The problem with having so many books of interest is that sometimes it is too long between reads of authors I enjoy. It has been over 3 years (!) since I last picked up a Wilkie Collins, and to be honest, it feels both much longer and much shorter. Where does the time go? I'd like to say it won't be so long before the next one, but I might be lying to myself, if only because he is one of so many I enjoy.

This is definitely not a mystery. Toward the beginning there is some information not immediately provided to some of the characters (and not to the reader, either), but that cannot constitute a mystery. That piece of information is known before the first part is behind us. No, this is more sensational fiction. Collins has been referred to as the King of Sensation Fiction.

No Name is divided into parts as are much of 19th Century novels. In No Name, these parts are called Scenes. Each Scene takes place in a different location and is further divided into chapters. The Scenes, told in third person, are separated by short sections called, appropriately, Between the Scenes. These are groups of letters from/to the various characters. The story is told in strict chronological sequence.

While this is an entirely different story than Dickens' Bleak House, both of the novels deal with the right of inheritance. In Dickens, the characters passively wait. Collins' Magdalen Vanstone chooses to take matters in her own hands. She meets with a Captain Wragge, a shirttail relative, who makes no bones about his being a swindler. The two form a partnership. So the professed swindler and his partner are not the villains? Not on your life. The true villain is a middle-aged housekeeper by the name of Virginie LeCount. And each side knows the other is the enemy, paring thrusts, thwarting advances.

Such fun! Who can outdo the other? I think I never saw so many twists and turns in a plot. I have never been good at foretelling what comes next - so poor that I don't usually even try. In this, my ideas came unbidden, and each of them was wrong, wrong, wrong. That is, until the very last Scene, when I was pretty sure the ultimate outcome. Even then there were things I didn't expect. The GR average rating just misses 4-stars, but I'm happy to see several of my friends rate it 5-stars. I'm with them!
Profile Image for Laysee.
498 reviews233 followers
August 10, 2020
‘No name’ is the plight of Norah (age 26) and Magdalen Vanstone (age 18), two abruptly orphaned young ladies, who lost their rightful claim to their father’s inheritance on a point of legality surrounding their parents’ marriage. The money that was to provide for them went to an estranged uncle (Michael Vanstone) who refused to give them a dime. Set in mid nineteenth century England, No Name is a highly dramatic story of revenge to reclaim lost family fortune. This serialized classic (almost 750 pages) with its many twists and turns in plot development held my attention (often against my will) as I followed Magdalen’s steely resolve and heart-stopping scheming to reverse her life circumstance, which hitherto was marked by parental indulgence, a fleet of servants, access to the theatre and high culture with nary a care in the world.

The elder sister, Norah, bore her change in fortune with quiet fortitude and became a governess to support herself, leaning on the support of the faithful Vanstone family governess and friend, Miss Garth. In contrast, Magdalen left home with one obsessive goal, come hell or high water, to regain what was due to her and Norah. Her determination and perseverance, while admirable, led her to employ devious and deceitful means at unimaginable cost to herself. I pitied her and feared for her as she was beset by enemies who had their own selfish agenda re the Vanstone fortune and were equally determined to keep her destitute and penniless.

This is my first Wilkie Collins’ novel and I marvel at his outstanding storytelling skills. A key strength is the intricate, brilliant, seamless, and riveting plot. There is not a single stray event or character that does not contribute to the story’s final conclusion. Another laudable quality is his vivid portrayal of the key characters. This story showcased several memorable characters: Magdalen, the beautiful, headstrong, and indomitable heroine; Captain Wragge, her maternal uncle, a clever, scheming but likeable rogue who helped her for his own gains; Mrs. Wragge, his feeble-minded wife whose eccentricities (trapped in the past and perpetually flipping an omelette in her mind) reminded me of Dickens’ Miss Havisham; Mrs. Lecount, Noel’s dastardly evil and self-serving housekeeper.

Yet another commendable quality is the consideration Collins’ story raised about moral justice and the cost of self- vindication. Is revenge worth it? Striving and scheming do damage most of all to its perpetrator who has to live with a degraded sense of self and psychological anguish. How will one live with the horror of oneself? It is sobering to remember that this was Victorian England and women without financial security had few options for survival. The Vanstone sisters were in dire straits. This is one story in which the women truly shine. Never underestimate the power of a woman.

I have to admit that even though the plot held my interest, I was distraught reading this story, wanted to quit midway, and just wanted it to end. There is something extremely disheartening and soul destroying when one reads a story where what is base and evil in man come so strongly to the fore. I am immensely relieved to have parted company with these desperate individuals.

The rating is merely a reflection of my response to the story. In terms of plot and characterization, Collins nailed it perfectly.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,967 followers
October 16, 2018
Wilkie Collins!

I should mention that this guy is one hell of an interesting writer if I can go by anything said by Dan Simmons in Drood, since the author is the main character!

Putting that all aside, which I probably should as it is a really, really bad idea in the first place, I must tamp down my initial presentiments and judge this book by its own merits. Hard. So hard.

What we've got here is a very sensationalist novel decrying all the worst aspects of inheritance law and the stigma surrounding bastards. Or bastardettes, as the case may be. These poor girls are cruelly separated from their inheritance, and soon after losing both papa and momma, are beset with poverty as well.

Fortunately, we're introduced to Magdalen, the most vivacious and forthgoing actress of her age to only show in a single production only to use her talents across every scheme, gambit, grift she can possibly imagine with her new friend Captain Rag to GET HER MONEY BACK.

And when we get to this part of the tale, I'll admit I was pretty much hooked. What a rollercoaster! There's death after death and a revolving-door fortune and so many schemes and setbacks and you KNOW the servant is the Biggest Bad in the tale. And just when you think that having to battle through household after household in this drama wasn't enough, we're slammed in the face with utter desolation.

Indeed, for Magdalen, there will never be a name she can call her own.

Or will there?

The moral of the story is pretty much as sensationalist as you can get for the time. Wilkie Collins is HOT for 1862.

Please don't expect ACTUAL murdering going on or selling herself on the streets or anything LEWD like a close-up description of the skin texture of a frog.

Oh... wait... maybe you can expect that last one.

Quite fun. Quite fun. :) It would make a really fantastic BBC production, I think. :)
Profile Image for Lesle.
192 reviews68 followers
April 3, 2018
Basically the plot a devastating legal issue. Norah and Magdalen parents are not legally married. Mr Vanstone was married before abroad and was unable to divorce.
The current Mr and Mrs lived together as husband and wife, finally made legal when the first wife died. Before they could make a plan for the girls, both parents die, Andrew is killed in a local train crash and the mother dies in childbirth.
Andrew's money goes to his older brother, who hated him and refuses to part with any of the money to his estranged nieces and he feels what he does is fate for what their parents did.
Norah and Magdalen are so used to living well and overnight everything is gone. The girls are sent away with very few of their belongings. They go to live with Miss Garth in London. Their Uncle's actions leaves the girls disinherited and without a name.
Shortly afterwards Magdalen disappears, and Norah and Miss Garth are left worrying. Norah becomes a governess and Magdalen decides to get their father’s money back no matter what.

The Novel is based on suspense and fear of what happens to Magdalen by her actions that takes her to shocking lows and nearly destroying herself in the process. With the involvement of Captain Wragge, Noel Vanstone, another marriage, and the appearance of Captain Kirke all help in the mystery of losing ones family fortune, reputation, and name.
Profile Image for Sean.
72 reviews64 followers
December 7, 2012
Before Wilkie Collins became an enormously successful novelist in the mid-nineteenth century, he studied law with the intent of becoming an attorney. Although he completed his studies he never actually practiced. His knowledge and interest in the field is revealed in the plots of many of his novels. No Name is an example of Collins’ training in estate law and the various intricacies of the rules and loopholes during that period in mid 19th century England.


The opening plot of No Name presents an interesting family problem. Two daughters discover that their parents are not married. This unusual family situation presents a very serious dilemma for them as the laws of the time do not allow them to entitlement of their father’s inheritance. Instead, the inheritance goes to their estranged uncle who is not fond of his brother (their father) and anyone in the immediate family. Legal action would be futile. One of these sisters is determined to get it back. This woman, even though according to the laws of Victorian England she was born with “no name”, will stop at nothing to ensure that her father’s inheritance is hers. What does she do? If I told you I’d have to kill you.


No Name is the fourth of Wilkie Collin’s four major works that I have read. This is another great read that is just as exciting and suspenseful as the authors more famous work. Next up on the list is the Law and the Lady. I can’t wait.
Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
569 reviews3,933 followers
November 22, 2018
Todo el mundo ama esta novela, y es una pena que yo no haya logrado disfrutar de esta historia tanto como esperaba, logró entretenerme, pero creo que no permanezca mucho tiempo en mi memoria...

Hay dos razones por las que 'Sin nombre' no ha terminado de cuajar conmigo, la primera, el empeño detectivesco de Collins que personalmente me abruma. No me gustan las novelas de detectives, y aunque 'Sin nombre' no es una de ellas, está concebida como si lo fuera, con sus personajes planeando intrigas minuciosamente y llenas de detalles que personalmente no podían interesarme menos. Es lo de siempre, el misterio no es lo mio.
El otro factor importante por el que no he conseguido conectar son sus personajes y particularmente la protagonista, Magdalen, que a pesar de ser compleja e interesante, me sacaba de quicio constantemente.
Tan solo un par de personajes me gustaron realmente, entre los que destaco sin duda al MARAVILLOSO Capitán Wragge, por su mera presencia, las 700 páginas de este libro merecen la pena, ¡Porque menudo personajazo! Épico y divertidísimo.

Por lo demás, esta es una novela victoriana interesante y atípica, que me ha entretenido pero de la que esperaba mucho más. Sinceramente creo que le sobran páginas, pero soy consciente que la mayor pega que le pongo es personal, la disfrutarán mucho a los que les diviertan las pesquisas detectivescas.

Me quedo con esa crítica a la sociedad victoriana, con el inicio, el final de la historia, y por supuesto, con el Capitán Wragge.
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,210 followers
March 19, 2013
When I turned the last page of "No Name" my first thought was " Why did I take so long to read this book?, so much time wasted!"
My only Collins experience had been some years ago with "The woman in white" and I wasn't disappointed. But I don't know why I kept postponing starting this novel, which had been in my shelves for quite a long time. Maybe its lenght, maybe (in my humble opinion) the too much simplified summary plot, maybe because I thought I knew what kind of book I was going to read...
Well, wasn't I mistaken!
I simply loved every single page of the 726 of the novel. Not for a single moment did I feel disconnected from the story or its characters, so varied and well developed. From the so different Vanstone Sisters to the sneaky Mr Wraggle or the cunning Mrs Lecount (what a clash of titans! I loved the psychological struggle between these two characters) to the knightly hero of Mr. Kirke.
The novel is divided into 8 scenes, each one of them clearly separated, taking place in different settings and with several characters who cross the path of the brave Magdalen Vanstone.
The story follows the unfair situation of two sisters left orphaned by the sudden death of their parents and how they take the fateful news that leave them destitute of their parents' fortune. Sweet and innocent Norah accepts her due and starts working as a governess but her younger and spirited sister Magdalen starts planning her revenge and schemes a trap to recover their fortune, no matter the cost.
Not only the thriller in itself, but also the unconventional way of presenting the facts, the battle of Magdalen's conscience between good and evil and the outcome of the story teaches a lesson which is still useful nowadays.
Maybe one of the best readings this year, I think this novel should be more valued and that it should be occupying the place it deserves, among the masterpieces to be read and reread over and over again.


Can't help writing the last sentences of the story...It was sublime!

" "Tell me the truth!" she repeated.
"With my own lips?"
"Yes!" she answered eagerly. "Say what you think of me, with your own lips."
He stooped, and kissed her. "
June 29, 2020
Shall I tell you what a lady is? A lady is a woman who wears a silk gown, and has a sense of her own importance.
While I’ve read Collins’s more famous The Woman in White and The Moonstone, both several times, I hadn’t read the other two of what are considered his four major sensation novels: No Name and Armadale. I’m glad that I’ve begun to correct that oversight with this fun, well-plotted, and highly addictive book.

No Name is filled with deceit, disguises, death, and, of course, laudunum—tropes you would expect in a sensation novel, but handled here with Collins’s expertise with law at the forefront. The two sisters, Magdalen and Norah, who find themselves illegitimate and therefore cast solely on their own resources, are painted very convincingly, allowing Collins to comment on the social and cultural restrictions for women at that time in daily life as well as in the letter of the law.

Magdalen, in particular, is a very unusual Victorian heroine, the likes of which I’ve not encountered before, and which made me long to re-read Gissing’s The Odd Women. Magdalen’s tenacious desire to regain the fortune that is rightfully hers and her sister’s makes up the bulk of No Names’s plot, which journeys all over England and sees some of the finest and most delicious villains which only Collins can make sympathetic rogues and anti-heroes. While there is some high melodrama—what sensation novel doesn’t have melodrama?—I think it was used quite convincingly and deliberately here, less intrusive or annoyingly so than in some of the minor works of, say, Braddon or Mrs. Henry Wood.

For those in quarantine, self-isolating, and in need of a literary diversion or escape, might I suggest a hefty, 800-page sensation novel? No Name's a compulsive one to get lost in, for sure.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 1 book2,812 followers
January 15, 2019
Maybe 3.5. I enjoyed the plot, but sometimes felt Wilkie Collins was writing about the wrong characters - the book focuses on one of two sisters, Magdalene, while I wanted to hear about the other sister, Norah. Nonetheless, the plot is gripping and intriguing, the ending lovely, and the exploration of morality and issues surrounding Victorian perspectives on illegitimacy really interesting.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
January 3, 2023
I don't read many classics these days, and this was my first Collins, which I read because it was chosen for a discussion in the Reading the Chunksters group which has been in progress for the last couple of months.

Since I was making detailed notes to use as chapter summaries for the group and I couldn't do this on the move, I read the book in fairly small chunks in between other books, but it was never difficult to remember the core story. Like many Victorian novels, the degree to which the plot depends on contrivance and coincidence takes some swallowing, and everything is subservient to the demands of the central injustices in the law which it illustrates.

At its heart are two sisters, Norah and the main protagonist Magdalen, who have been brought up in a Somerset country house. Their father has made a rash clandestine marriage in America in his youth, and is only able to marry their mother when the father's first wife dies. This marriage invalidates the father's will in which his estate goes to his wife and daughters. When both the father and the mother die in short succession, the estate goes to the father's elderly brother and the girls receive nothing because the law does not regard them as legal next of kin.

The rest of the story tells of Magdalen's attempts to regain her inheritance, by a series of adventures and subterfuges, and although this makes for an entertaining read, many of the characters are a little one dimensional.
Profile Image for Gitte - Bookworm's Closet.
464 reviews120 followers
February 9, 2016

A thrilling classic with a strong female character, a plot full of twists and turns, but too many details. Recommended for classic-lovers.

Two sisters in Victorian England: the sensible and compliant Norah and the somewhat spoilt Magdalen Vanstone come from a good family. At their parents' sudden death, a family secret is revealed and the sisters are disinherited and become 'Nobody's Children'. Norah makes her way by becoming a governess, while Magdalen sets out on a cruise for justice and revenge, using her acting skills.

Magdalen is an unconventional Victorian woman, but a true Wilkie Collins heroine: a strong and brave woman who defies gender roles and sets out to save the day. She reminded me a lot of Marian Halcombe from Collins' most famous novel, The Woman in White.

This novel has an amazing set of characters, some true villains, both male and female, and the plot is full of twists and turns, that kept me on the edge of my seat. At least for some of the time. The novel has its flaws IMO, namely the many details and repetitions of various legal documents. They became a bit tedious and I lost interest from time to time, which is why I'm only giving the novel 3 stars.

I listened to this as a free audio from LibriVox. It's read by volunteers, and I'm sad to say the quality wasn't always good. One of the narrators actually sounded a bit like Janice from Friends ...

Oh, and the shoes in the photo are by amazing Chie Mihara.

My blog: The Bookworm's Closet
Profile Image for Franky.
457 reviews50 followers
July 4, 2020
Maybe I’m a little bit biased and a just a plain old sucker for this type of literature, but I’ve been a fan of Wilkie Collins and his sensationalist style fiction since I read The Moonstone years ago. Since that time I’ve read several of his shorter novels and the other three of his lengthier ones—No Name, Armadale, The Woman in White.

I wanted to get back and re-read No Name and see if it was as good as it was the first time I read it, if it held up after about ten years.

I would say with flying colors it does so, and that No Name might be the best Wilkie Collins novel that flies under the radar of popularity.

As often the case with a Collins novel, No Name takes on various staples of the author: relevant themes and key moral issues of his day in a serialized format. And, as with other Collins’ works, No Name is a deep, complicated, intriguing, suspenseful novel despite its hefty length (over seven hundred pages). Specifically, No Name takes on the issue of illegitimacy, as two of its principle characters, Norah and Magdalen Vanstone, are in effect dubbed “Nobody’s Children” after a several of unfortunate events concerning their parents and, more specifically, their father’s will. Symbolically, the title takes on the meaning of the two sisters being, in effect, ostracized and cast out of society and having to fend for themselves.

Much of the plot concerns Magdalen Vanstone’s quest to gain back what has been wrongfully taken from her and her sister—the inheritance left by her father.

If you’ve ever read any Dickens, then you will definitely see some parallels with him and Wilkie Collins (as they were buddies and rivals in real life). Much like Dickens, Collins constructs a novel with engaging and vivid characters, twist and turns, and suspense as we head toward the finish line.

There are heroes and villains, as there are in many of his works as well. I really thought that Magdalen was a complex character who definitely goes against many of the Victorian conventions of her time (which is why some critics of Collins time rejected this novel). Unlike many of the other minor characters, she definitely has a character arc and there is a complexity to her, perhaps more so than any other character. Two other characters who come into play and are key to the plot are Captain Wragge (self-proclaimed scoundrel and scandalized member of the Vanstone family) and Mrs. Lecount, a faithful—and shrewd—governess for Noel Vanstone. Magdalen teams up with Wragge with her pursuits in mind, and probably the most entertaining essence of this novel is the chess match and battle of wits between Captain Wragge and Lecount as they try to outmaneuver each other in various ways through the course of so many shenanigans and deceptions.

As always with Collins, he nicely is able to thread and weave so many conflicts into one plot so seamlessly, and then tie them all together in the big reveal at the book’s conclusion. On reading the final page of this book, I felt satisfied with a very decisive and amazing conclusion to a great book and reading experience, but all the well knowing that it was over.

You know a book is good when you don’t want it to end.

I recommend No Name—or any Collins in general—to any Victorian lit or sensationalist lit fans.

Profile Image for Emma.
2,435 reviews828 followers
November 4, 2020
Highly enjoyable read, my favourite by Wilkie Collins to date. I absolutely adored the ‘battle’ between Captain Wragge and Mrs Lecomte. While I sympathised with Magdalen’s position, I didn’t much like her as a character. My favourites were Captain Wragge and his wife.
Profile Image for M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews.
4,075 reviews336 followers
June 25, 2020
After reading this book, I can say one thing - I am so glad to not have lived in this period. the 19th century, which advancing in various things including science and literature, was SO fucking backwards in many other aspects, especially womens' rights! Or the rights of illegitimate children for that matter, so to be a bastard female was a double-whammy, as the story shows.

So much of what Magdalen had done could be avoided if not for the laws back then that nowadays seem so fucking archaic. The ending is clche/cheesy as is true of many works of 19th-century British lit, but the novel is nonetheless enjoyable.
Profile Image for Matthew Gatheringwater.
156 reviews1 follower
August 25, 2008
I liked this novel first as an exploration of what happens to a person who knowingly chooses an action they believe to be immoral. The protagonist of this story has been injured by social mores she considers unjust and therefore she disregards the conventions of the community in which she lives to extract her revenge upon the people she holds responsible for injuring her family. I must admit, however, that 600-odd pages of this moral dilemma would have gotten tiring even for me, an enthusiast for Victorian-era problem novels, were it not for the way the author continually adds fascinating new characters to the story, perhaps due to the book's original serial publication in Charles Dicken's All The Year Round. Mr Wragg, a self-proclaimed "moral agriculturist" is an especial favorite and surely one of the most methodical con artists in fiction.

I can imagine how being written for a periodical could have added interest and narrative thrust to this story, but perhaps it is also an explanation for the inconsistent attitude the narrator seems to have about the protagonist's sister: she starts out as a bit of a pill but later becomes a dull embodiment of conventional morality in contrast to her sister. And there is just no excuse for the bizarre, abrupt, and (to modern sensibilities) inexplicable ending, which still apparently outraged some Victorian moralists who felt the poor protagonist hadn't been punished enough.

Much of the fun of this book has to do with following the protagonist down the path to immorality. "How far will she go?" and "Will she finally get her revenge?" are questions that must have titillated the original audience. They still thrilled me 146 years later.
Profile Image for Tina Tamman.
Author 3 books97 followers
March 12, 2017
This is a truly remarkable novel. There were moments when I could see quite clearly where we were going, and yet this didn't detract from the pleasure of reading the novel because I wanted to know how the author would achieve this end. And Wilkie Collins didn't disappoint! It is a novel of a complicated structure, with a whole host of characters; well worth reading for the feel of the 19th century alone. The legal angle only adds to the pleasure.
The plot is complex and centres around a series of situations in which one character is trying to persuade another. It takes time and skill until the desired effect is achieved, but success there is each time round. Even if to the 21st century eye the persuasion seems almost implausible, it is all fascinating, reads like a (slightly old-fashioned) thriller. There are also parallels with our own century where people seem to want to believe what they are told although a bystander would immediately recognise a scam for what it is.
The structure appeals to me in particular: third-person narration is interspersed with letters from various actors to further the story.
Hard to say whether there is a central character. There are really several. The middle section of the novel very convincingly belongs to Capt Wragge although the younger sister, Magdalen Vanstone, is perhaps the heroine throughout. However, who is likely to forget the giantess Mrs Wragge, the waspish Mrs Lecount or the odious Noel Vanstone?
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,029 reviews331 followers
March 23, 2019
No Name is the second of the four novels generally thought to be Collins's best, and I quite agree with general opinion. The plot centers on two sisters, Magdalen and Norah Vanstone, who find out that when their parents die that they weren't married at the times of the sisters' births, making them illegitimate; thus, they are disinherited by law and cast out from their childhood home by their estranged uncle. Norah submits to her fate and finds work as a governess, but Magdalen vows revenge and embarks on a series of plots to regain their inheritance.

This was a fairly long book (700+ pages), and I read it in one day, only putting it down when I absolutely had to. It must have been almost unbearable to read as a serial. The level of suspense Collins maintains is astonishing, and the characters are remarkably vivid, particularly the rebellious Magdalen herself, her accomplice the roguish and wily Captain Wragge ("the unblushing, the invincible, unchangeable, Wragge!"), and her main enemy, the devious Mrs. Lecount. But No Name isn't all about the sensational plot and characters; it's also a penetrating portrayal of the Victorian society and laws which drive Magdalen almost to ruin.
1,588 reviews86 followers
January 8, 2018
I stayed up way past midnight last night to finish this one, not because I was so engrossed but because I could not face another night reading it. I have this problem with so many of the 19th century British novels which were serialized at their publication, they drag for me. Had this been a third shorter, I would have given it 4 stars. It had much of what I like in fiction: exploration of an unjust social structure, personally and morally ambivalent characters, two cunning female figures whose wit was pitted against each other, plot twists that kept the reader wondering how the story would reach the foreshadowed outcome. There is much to appreciate in this book, it was simply over written for my taste.
Profile Image for Brian E Reynolds.
290 reviews42 followers
January 2, 2023
This story started off presenting us with two interesting heroines to identify with: sisters Magdalen and Norah. It also had a very interesting premise, with surprising past events and legalities disinheriting the sisters from both the family fortune and the family name. I thought I might finally be reading a great Collins novel.
By the end, the story turned out to be only moderately entertaining, suffering from a frustrating heroine in Magdalen and an overly long story. Due to its length, scenes were stretched out and each chapter often contained the same characters in scenes similar to the previous chapter.
Collins could have really improved this story if he had varied the story focus, so he could disperse his scenes among several storylines. In their long novels, both Trollope and Dickens successfully spin many side plots to add diversity to the scenes and scene participants. Trollope’s The Way We Live Now had so many storylines it needed about 8 closing chapters to close them all out. In this story, I kept expecting that Collins would develop an interesting side story for the 2nd sister, Norah, one he could switch to for the reader’s sake. I firmly believe this would have improved the story and prevented the reader’s interest from lagging.
Despite this, the result of Collins’ efforts here is still a solid example of what a sensation novel is. However, it needed to be about 1/3 shorter or contain another side plot or two to be more than a mediocre novel. Collins’ writing skill, however, does elevate this novel, flaws and all, to 3 stars.
Profile Image for Laura.
6,872 reviews556 followers
June 11, 2013
One of the few novels which treats deeply the stigma of illegitimacy in the Victorian times.

This is the story of the Vanstone family. After their father's death in a local train crash followed by their mother's death in childbirth, the two sisters, Norah and Magdalen, the girls discovered that their parents that their parents have only been married a few months and the wedding invalidated their will.

They are forced then to face life by their own way with the help of their loyal governess Miss Garth.

The plot shows Magdalen's obsession in order to re-gain her rights to her father's inheritance and no obstacle is hard enough to stop her to find her final destiny.

Another great masterpiece written by Wilkie Collins.

3* The Woman in White
4* The Moonstone
4* Who Killed Zebedee?
4* The Dead Alive
4* Mrs. Zant and the Ghost
3* A Fair Penitent
4* The Frozen Deep
4* The Haunted Hotel
4* The Law and the Lady
TR Poor Miss Finch
TR Blind Love
TR Armadale
Profile Image for Jersy.
756 reviews61 followers
April 19, 2021
While I already knew that I love Collins' plots and characters, I had my doubts if he could justify filling 600 pages with what sounded like a simple story. Little did I know that the tale of a young, joyful girl that fights for what is rightfully hers would turn into pretty much a story from a villain's POV. The character development is wonderfully intriguing, as are the turns this book takes. While there might be too much descriptions here and there and some dialogs go on a tiny bit too long, I'm convinced the length of the novel absolutely makes sense. There is room to explore the different stages of the story and focus for a while on aspects some books would glance other. The pacing never suffers, though, since some "between the scenes" developments are brought to you in letters.
I also love how there is no character I could just 100% get behind (moral ambiguity is always fun) but still rooted for what is basically a terrible person.
I was just fascinated and thoroughly entertained throughout.
Profile Image for Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore.
760 reviews170 followers
October 28, 2016
What I love about Wilkie Collins’ books—at least those that I’ve read so far—are his strong female characters. And No Name doesn’t disappoint on this count. Magdalen may be a touch naive—she is only eighteen when our story begins—but she has plenty of spunk and a great deal of courage too when one thinks about it. Her sister Norah is a polar opposite of sorts, quietly accepting her lot, also strong but in a different sense—her conduct more in line with the mores of the day. Magdalen as a result has a tougher time of it than she deserves. The book is a thoroughly good read and Collins is perhaps one of the few writers who could make such an exciting and thrilling tale (albeit not a mystery) out of the rather sombre subject of illegitimacy and the hardships it could bring.
Profile Image for Carla Remy.
836 reviews61 followers
August 6, 2017
I have enjoyed several Willie Collins books, but it requires patience I don't currently have. I always say about 19th century literature that they wanted a book that would last all winter. I think it was last year, I read some of his The Law and the Lady, and I had the same feeling I have with this: insipid plots appealing to a Victorian.
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