Introduction to 'The Frozen Deep'

Collins wrote this account of the history of 'The Frozen Deep' and 'The Dream-Woman' for its first book publication in Canada in April 1874 - seen above. It was republished largely the same in America and London and the version here is from 1875. It also contains an account of the performances of 'The Frozen Deep' and comments on Dickens's acting. Full textual history is at the end. The playbill can be seen by clicking on the link in the text. It can be compared with the bill for the original production which is on the 1913 Berger page.


(Relating the Adventures and Transformations of The Frozen Deep.)

 As long ago as the year 1856 I wrote a play called “The Frozen Deep.”

The work was first represented by amateur actors, at the house of the late Charles Dickens, on the 6th of January 1857. Mr. Dickens himself played the principal part, and played it with a truth, vigour, and pathos never to be forgotten by those who were fortunate enough to witness the performance. The other personages of the story were represented by the ladies of Mr. Dickens’s family, by the late Mark Lemon (editor of “Punch”), by the late Augustus Egg, R.A. (the artist), and by the author of the play.

The next appearance of “The Frozen Deep” (played by the amateur company) took place at the Gallery of Illustration, Regent Street, before the Queen and the Royal Family, by the Queen’s own command. After this special performance other representations of the work were given, first at the Gallery of Illustration, subsequently (with professional actresses) in some of the principal towns in England—for the benefit of the family of a well-beloved friend of ours, who died in 1857—the late Douglas Jerrold. At Manchester the play was twice performed—on the second evening in the presence of three thousand spectators. This was, I think, the finest of all the representations of “The Frozen Deep.” The extraordinary intelligence and enthusiasm of the great audience stimulated us all to do our best. Dickens surpassed himself. The trite phrase is the true phrase to describe that magnificent piece of acting. He literally electrified the audience.

I present here, as “a curiosity” which may be welcome to some of my readers, a portion of the original playbill of the performance at Manchester. To me it has now become one of the saddest memorials of the past that I possess. Of the nine amateur actors who played the men’s parts (one of them my brother; all of them my valued friends) but two are now living besides myself—Mr. Charles Dickens, jun., and Mr. Edward Pigott.

The country performances being concluded, nearly ten years passed before the footlights shone again on “The Frozen Deep.” In 1866 I accepted a proposal, made to me by Mr. Horace Wigan, to produce the play (with certain alterations and additions) on the public stage, at the Olympic Theatre, London. The first performance took place (while I was myself absent from England) on the 27th of November, in the year just mentioned. Mr. H. Neville acted the part “created” by Dickens.

Seven years passed after the production of the play at the Olympic Theatre, and then “The Frozen Deep” appealed once more to public favour, in another country than England, and under a totally new form.

I occupied the autumn and winter of 1873-74 most agreeably to myself, by a tour in the United States of America, receiving from the generous people of that great country a welcome which I shall remember proudly and gratefully to the end of my life. During my stay in America, I read in public, in the principal cities, one of my shorter stories (enlarged and re-written for the purpose), called “The Dream-Woman.” Concluding my tour at Boston, I was advised by my friends to give, if possible, a special attraction to my farewell reading in America, by presenting to my audience a new work. Having this object in view, and having but a short space of time at my disposal, I bethought myself. of “The Frozen Deep.” The play had never been published, and I determined to re-write it in narrative form for a public reading. The experiment proved, on trial, to be far more successful than I had ventured to anticipate. Occupying nearly two hours in its delivery, the transformed “Frozen Deep” kept its hold from first to last on the interest and sympathies of the audience. I hope to have future opportunities of reading it in my own country, as well as in the United States.

Proposals having lately been made to me, in England and in America, to publish my “readings,” I here present “The Frozen Deep” and “The Dream-Woman.” The stories, as I print them, are in both instances considerably longer than the stories as I read them; the limits of time in the case of a public reading rendering it imperatively necessary to abridge without mercy developments of character and incident which are essential to the due presentation of a work in its literary form. I have only to add, for the benefit of those who may have seen, and who may not have forgotten, the play, that the narrative version of “The Frozen Deep” departs widely from the treatment of the story in the First Act of the dramatic version, but (with the one exception of the Third Scene) follows the play as closely as possible in the succeeding Acts.

The third and last story in the present collection (entitled “John Jago’s Ghost”) was suggested to me by a printed account of a remarkable trial which took place in America some years since. This little work was written during my stay in New York and was published (periodically) in England in “The Home Journal.”
W. C.
September, 1874. 

[INTRODUCTORY NOTE.—The original version of this story was published, many years since, in “Household Words,” and was afterwards printed in the collection of my shorter stories called “The Queen of Hearts.” In the present ver­sion—written for my public readings in the United States—new characters and new incidents are introduced; and a new beginning and ending have been written. Indeed, the whole complexion of the narrative differs so essentially from the older and shorter version, as to justify me in believing that the reader will find in these pages what is, to all practical intents and purposes, a new story.—W. C.]

From The Frozen Deep And Other Tales London 1875.

The introduction was originally written for Readings in America which contained ‘The Frozen Deep’ and ‘The Dream-woman’ and was published by Hunter, Rose & Company, Toronto, 1874. This original version was identical to the one printed above except for two things.

Also, the punctuation conformed to North American standards. 

An identical introduction to the Canadian but dated August 1874, appeared in The Frozen Deep William F. Gill, Boston 1875. The paragraph about ‘The Dream Woman’ did not appear as that story was omitted from the US edition.

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