Monthly Archives: November 2012


After reflecting on No Name and starting to read Wilkie Collins’ adaptation of his novel, I think that my interest in affective collection should also take the circulation of objects and bodies into account, both literally and narratologically. In all of these novels and plays, large sums of money (usually, but not always, in the form of an inheritance) circulate in complicated trajectories, from one character to another. For example, in No Name, I’m not even sure I can trace the complete circuit of the Vanstone inheritance, and I just finished the novel a couple of days ago. The inheritance should go to Magdalen and Norah (it makes a small attempt to go to Mrs. Vanstone, but that doesn’t work out), but it goes instead to their uncle, Michael Vanstone. Before Magdalen can deal with that, Michael dies and the inheritance passes to Noel Vanstone. As Magdalen is in the middle of addressing that line of succession, Noel dies and it kind of goes to his cousin, George Bartram, but really to his uncle, Admiral Bartram. Also, part of it goes to Mrs. Lecount, but then she drops out of the story. Magdalen struggles to keep up, but before she can do anything about it, Admiral Bartram dies, and the inheritance is supposed to go to another cousin, but she has already died, so it goes back to where it really was before Admiral Bartram died–to George Bartram. Then George marries Norah, and it goes to her. Then she finds Magdalen, and it finally ends up with her, too. Then Magdalen agrees to marry Captain Kirke, and doesn’t need it after all. Wow. I’m really tired now.

Anyway, I think that my point is this: the circulation of inheritances in sensation novels creates a whirlpool effect, so that certain bodies are propelled into motion, following the fortune. Collections form around these moving bodies–for example, Magdalen’s governess costume, Frank’s lock of hair, fragments from her father’s letter and will… all of these things get arranged into collections along the path of her quest to follow her lost inheritance.

On the stage, interestingly, bodies circulate in a different way. Characters can be switched out, mixed, and matched. The Norah Vanstone of the novel–strong, healthy, able-bodied–gets swapped with another Norah Vanstone onstage: a sickly invalid who can’t work. The George Bartram of the novel–fair, gentlemanly, in love with Norah Vanstone–gets swapped for another George Bartram onstage: a George Bartram who’s in love not with the invalid Norah, but with Magdalen Vanstone. Alex Woloch’s taxonomy of minor characters in the 19th-century novel could also work for this line of narrative transmission from page to stage.

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