Myopic Medicine and Far-Sighted Femininity: Wilkie Collins’s Armadale and Heart and Science
One of the many paradoxical features of Wilkie Collins’s novels is that they transform generic and thematic traditions at the same time that they meticulously chronicle the cultural status quo. Collins’s dual success as a “king of inventors” (as Catherine Peters entitles her biography of the novelist1) and as a vigorous scribe of Victorian mores reaches its peak in his 1860s novels – The Woman in White (1860), No Name (1862), Armadale (1866), and The Moonstone (1868). The later novels of the 1870s and 1880s follow Collins’s plot innovations in such a formulaic way that the mistaken identities, nervous disorders, professional missteps, and Mary/ Magdalene dichotomies (to note some of his favorite features) lack the earlier novels’ ingenuity and potential to disturb. But throughout his canon, Collins’s reflection of cultural trends stays current, and to such a degree that several of his later novels read like indexes of late Victorian controversies: Heart and Science (1882) has such a relationship to vivisection, as does The Evil Genius (1886) to divorce law, and Blind Love (1889) to the movement for Irish independence.