NO NAME. In Three Volumes.
London: Sampson Low, Son, & Co., 1862. Original blind-stamped pebbled orange cloth with gilt-decorated spines.
First Edition of "the most unjustly neglected of all Wilkie Collins's novels" [Robinson]. Written at the peak of Collins's career just after THE WOMAN IN WHITE, Sampson Low paid Collins 3,000 for NO NAME, and then produced 4,000 copies -- all but 400 of which were sold by the afternoon of the first day [Gasson].
The novel centers about the theme of illegitimacy, and Collins's condemnation of the laws that govern it. It is the story of 18-year-old Magdalen Vanstone's attempt to regain control of her father's fortune (she and her sister are the children of a common-law marriage; just when their parents finally are able to marry, the father suddenly dies before writing a new will -- leaving the two girls with "no name" and thus with no claim upon his fortune). Though her elder (and quieter) sister Norah resigns herself to her impoverished fate, Magdalen enlists the aid of the "delightful scoundrel" Horatio Wragge ("charlatan, trickster, and petty blackmailer -- and the one really successful comic character in the pages of Wilkie Collins" [Robinson]), and even tries to entice the replacement heir into matrimony; Wragge's worthy antagonist, the heir's housekeeper Mrs. Lecount, is "one of Collins's most convincing Jezebels" [Ashley]. The surprise ending is truly ironic.
The novel probably represents Collins's best integration of exciting plot with social comment; one unusual feature is the uncertainty of who represents good and who evil in the tale. NO NAME also breaks new ground in that Collins discloses the book's one secret (the daughters' illegitimacy) right near the beginning; "from that point, all the main events of the story are purposely foreshadowed, before they take place" [from Collins's preface]. Also figuring in the plot is the drug laudanum (containing opium) -- with which that year Collins, suffering from gout, first began what would become a lifelong addiction.
Unfortunately for posterity, NO NAME was bound in a heavily-pebbled blind-stamped bright orange cloth, with the spine lettering done in reverse (lettering in orange cloth, against the gilt decoration). Even in the best of circumstances, gilt does not show well against orange, and due to the reverse-lettering and the extremely delicate endpapers, we have never seen (or heard of) a truly fine, bright set. This set is certainly near-fine: though the spines are a little darkened, the cloth has little soil, and there is only minor wear at the extremities; only one of the six fragile pale-yellow endpapers is cracked, and that is still tight. As is proper, there is a half-title in Vols I and II only. In all, a desirable set, in its attractive (though impractical) bright orange binding. After THE WOMAN IN WHITE and THE MOONSTONE, ARMADALE and NO NAME are Collins's most sought-after titles. Gasson pp 114-115; Parrish & Miller pp 45-46; Sadleir 601; Wolff 1371; Glover & Greene 77. Housed in an attractive cloth clamshell case. Item #15179