Nights at the Play

Edward Dutton Cook (1831-1883) was a theatre critic from 1867 until his death in 1883. He started with the Pall Mall Gazette and then in 1875 moved to Edmund Yates’s newspaper The World. His book Nights at the Play reproduces 155 of these contemporary pieces from 1867 to 1881. It contains critiques of seven of Collins’s plays, about half his output. Although not biography – and there is no evidence that he ever met Collins – it is a rare collection of contemporary views of Collins’s dramas.

No Thoroughfare (1867) Black and White (1869) The Woman in White (1871) Man and Wife (1873)
The New Magdalen (1873) Miss Gwilt (1876) The Moonstone (1877)



[Adelphi Theatre.—December 1867]

ADAPTATION to the stage being generally the fate of the popular novel at some period of its career, it is not surprising that Mr. Dickens’s works should almost invariably have undergone the process of conversion into plays, although this proceeding has now and then taken place entirely without the author’s sanction, and indeed in disregard of his most earnest remonstrances. The readers of "Nicholas Nickleby" may remember the warm attack upon adapters put into the mouth of the hero of that story, on the occasion of his encountering at the Crummels’ farewell supper the literary gentleman who had dramatised in his time two hundred and forty-seven novels as fast as they had come out, some of them faster than they had come out, and "was a literary gentleman in consequence." The British novelist being without dramatic copyright in his productions —wholly unprotected by law in such respect—Mr. Dickens had nothing to do but (relieving his mind by as indignant a protest against the existing state of things as occurred to him at the moment) to submit to such outrage and degradation of his creations as the dullest of dramatists might choose to inflict upon them. In later days, however, he was enabled in some degree to combat his adapters by helping to forestall them Thus, the Christmas books were severally dramatised by Mr. Albert Smith from proof sheets supplied expressly by the author, and the plays were brought upon the stage simultaneously with the publication of the stories. In this way unauthorised adaptations were at any rate anticipated. Later still, Mr. Dickens himself aided and supervised the dramatising of his "Tale of Two Cities" by Mr. Tom Taylor. Until the present time, however, he has not presented himself to the public as his own dramatist. Now, however, we find the story of "No Thoroughfare," the Christmas number of All the Year Round, the joint production of Mr. Dickens and Mr. Wilkie Collins, appearing upon the stage of the Adelphi Theatre, the adaptation being announced as the work of the original authors. As Mr. Dickens was part-contriver of the story, so he is now part-adapter of it to the theatre.

The literary styles of the two writers are so dissimilar that it would not be difficult for an ingenious reader to apportion to each novelist his particular share in the production in question, though of course there would be some risk of error and misconception in so doing. But the fact that two hands and two minds have been at work in "No Thoroughfare’." is manifest enough throughout its pages. It is not a very compact story, and is in fact easily divisible into two distinct narratives, dealing with separate interests, characters, and incidents. With a little unpicking of the stitches tacking the two tales together, they would entirely fall apart and stand confessed as two novelettes, each complete in itself, one of which might be entitled "A Story of the Foundling Hospital," and the other "An Adventure in Switzerland," or some such names. There is a sort of incompatibility of temper, so to speak, between the works, and their union is effected with some difficulty. They sunder upon the slightest provocation, and it is only by rather violent means that they can be brought together again. The exigencies of one story are rather detrimental to the other, and in regard to the characters, we have continually to bear in mind Mr. Puff’s admonition relative to one of his dramatis personæ, "not to be too sure that he is a Beefeater." The requirements of one author rather embarrass the arrangements of the other, and the simple Beefeater of Mr. Dickens has to develop into something quite different in order to enable Mr. Collins to go on with his part of the narrative. Yet that the work succeeded in obtaining a large amount of public favour cannot be gainsaid. Indeed, with all its defects, its merits are very considerable.

The dramatic version of "No Thoroughfare" is in six acts, and occupies more than four hours in representation. The authors have been at great pains to make their plot thoroughly intelligible to the audience, so that even those who may visit the Adelphi unversed in the Christmas number of All the Year Round, can yet readily follow the complications and situations of the drama of "No Thoroughfare." In this respect there has been some needless insistence on small details of the narrative, and perspicuity has been gained at the cost of dull prolixity. The playgoer is less heedful about trifling discrepancies and incongruities in the entertainment set before him than is the novel-reader in relation to the pages occupying him. There is no stopping or turning back in a drama to see that all has been correctly and coherently ordered. Upon the whole, "No Thoroughfare," not being in itself particularly available for theatrical purposes, has been dramatised with much skill. The play is not, of course, a production of very high class, but it might be tolerably interesting if reduced to reasonable proportions. The defects of the story as a literary work are not concealed in its new shape. It is still plain that the Foundling Hospital and Switzerland have been brought together in a very curious kind of way, strange bedfellows introduced to each other by an imperative necessity. Certain changes have been made in the work, and the dialogue has been most inordinately lengthened and elaborated. Joey Ladle becomes a prominent character, and appears as the lover of Sarah Goldstraw. The clock-lock is transferred to the monastery of St. Bernard. The motive for Obenreizer’s theft arises out of his desire to make extravagant gifts of jewels to his ward Marguerite. These and other modifications are not altogether of a very commendable kind, and the necessity for introducing "front scenes" while complicated "sets" are in course of preparation, has induced recourse to prolonged conversations that are as wearisome in themselves as they are useless in regard to the furthering of the business of the play. Several scenes might with advantage be excised altogether. Indeed it is manifest that condensation must be brought about with a free and firm hand, if due consideration is to be paid to the powers of endurance of the public.

No pains have been spared by the Adelphi management in the production of "No Thoroughfare." Mr. Fechter has been retained to support the part of Obenreizer, Miss Carlotta Leclercq has been added to the company in order that Marguerite might have a competent representative, and Mr. Henry Neville has been withdrawn from the Olympic Theatre to appear as George Vendale. Mr. Webster has emerged from his retirement to personate Joey Ladle, Mrs. Mellon plays Sally Goldstraw, and Mr. Belmore gives ample significance to the character of Mr. Bintrey, the lawyer. Mr. and Mrs. Billington appear as Waller Wilding and the veiled lady, his mother, respectively. These characters were all very well played; Mr. Fechter’s Obenreizer being an especially finished and vigorous performance. Joey is perhaps found to be less humorous on the stage, and his frequently repeated joke about the pores of his skin is less effective than had been anticipated from perusal of the story. But nothing could have been better than Mr. Webster’s rendering of the part. The scenery by Mr. Grieve is entirely new, and the view of the Alpine pass in which Obenreizer attempts the murder of Vendale is certainly as beautiful a picture as has ever been seen upon the stage. [pp18-21]

No Thoroughfare (1867) Black and White (1869) The Woman in White (1871) Man and Wife (1873)
The New Magdalen (1873) Miss Gwilt (1876) The Moonstone (1877)



[Adelphi Theatre.—April 1869.]

THE scene of Mr. Wilkie Collins’s new play is laid in the island of Trinidad, and the events dealt with are supposed to have occurred some forty years ago, before the passing of the Emancipation Act. The characters, however, are careful to dress in the style of the present day. The hero of the story is one Maurice de Layrac, a French gentleman, who has encountered in Paris the West Indian heiress, Miss Milburn, and regarding her tenderly has accepted an invitation she had playfully given him to be present at a ball in Trinidad on the occasion of her birthday. Maurice’s gallantry places him in a most distressing situation. Arrived in the island it is forthwith discovered that he is the son of a quadroon, and a slave. The secret of his birth is disclosed to him by his dying mother, and unfortunately the revelation is not heard by him alone. Miss Milburn is listening at the door, and Stephen Westcraft, a fierce planter, who is also in love with the lady, has stationed himself on the roof of the but in which the painful story is told, and has lost no word of it. Neither of the listeners, however, is supposed to be conscious of the other’s presence. The situation is a striking one, if a little ludicrous, and too obviously referable to Mr. Puff’s principle that "if people who want to listen or overhear were not always connived at on the stage there would be no carrying on any plot in the world." Miss Milburn has now to struggle between her love for Maurice and her caste prejudices. Affection triumphs, and she resolves to overlook the taint of black blood in his veins, and to accept the Octoroon as her lover and husband. Still, Maurice’s plight is simply desperate. The plantation to which he pertains as part of the live stock is about to be sold by public auction. Westcraft publicly denounces him as a runaway slave in the marketplace of Trinidad, and causes him to be arrested and thrown into prison. Miss Milburn determines to invest her whole fortune, if need be, in the purchase of her lover, when he shall be put up for sale. She has more money than Wesicraft, and defies him to do his worst. He discovers that under the conditions of sale the estate may be disposed of by private contract without being brought to auction, and, paying the stipulated price, anticipates Miss Milburn’s plan and becomes the proprietor of Maurice. The fortunes of the lovers are now at their very worst, when, happily, David Michaelmas, the faithful servant of Maurice, after most arduous search, discovers papers that prove Ruth, the quadroon, to have been manumitted, and establish the fact that Maurice is a free man. The curtain falls upon the union of the lovers and the complete discomfiture of Westcraft, who has exhausted his means in the purchase of an estate he does not want, and whom it may be supposed further punishment awaits, in the fact that the British Legislature is about to abolish slavery altogether.

Although composed of no very new ingredients, and unpretending in regard to literary merit, the play, from its neatness of construction and the interest of its fable, is found to be unusually effective in representation. Of late melodrama has so allied itself with the involved and the incoherent, and the skill of the dramatist has been so sacrificed to the arts of the scene painter and the machinist, that it is a sort of relief to find once more a play endowed with an intelligible plot, legitimately stirring the audience by the unstrained development of its incidents, and affording good opportunities for histrionic effort to the actors engaged in the performance. The story can be readily followed, moves briskly, interests without perplexing, and is throughout closely and succinctly set forth. It is not a work of high order, but it is certainly a commendable specimen of its class. The least effective scene is, perhaps, the search for the lost papers in "the closed room at Brentwood House." Mr. Wilkie Collins has oftentimes made incidents of this kind available in his novels; but the minute details of hide and seek are more impressive when aided by the imagination of the reader than when substantially rendered on the stage; the "question of time" necessarily affecting the occasion with an air of hurry and abruptness in lieu of the protracted diligence and painstaking proper to it.

Mr. Fechter appears as Maurice, and has not for some time been so well suited with a part. Fervid demonstration of affection on the stage is apt to present itself to certain of the audience in something of a comic light. Mr. Fechter, however, is able to lift his love-making scenes out of danger of this kind, and even when, as sometimes happens his manner trembles on the verge of extravagance, he makes it felt that this is not, at any rate, a defect of a conventional kind, habitual in the English theatre, but is individual and personal, explicable by the fact of his nationality. He represents strikingly the condition of depression and shame into which Maurice is plunged by the discovery that he is slave-born, while he declaims. with remarkable vigour the speech in the market-place, in which he bids Westcraft defiance. Mr. Fechter is well supported by Miss Leclercq, who appears as the heroine. Mr. Belmore plays with good effect the part of Plato, a free negro, whose utterances, if not unctuously humorous, have yet a curious dry pleasantry about them. Plato is a Conservative black, who would obtain the colony for his race by a system of inaction or refusal to work, in opposition to the Liberal negroes who propose to attain a like end by a general massacre of the white population. [pp74-76]

No Thoroughfare (1867) Black and White (1869) The Woman in White (1871) Man and Wife (1873)
The New Magdalen (1873) Miss Gwilt (1876) The Moonstone (1877)



[Olympic Theatre.—October 1871.]

MR. WILKIE COLLINS’S famous novel, "The Woman in White," appeared upon the stage of the Surrey Theatre some ten years ago, but the adaptation then presented had not the benefit of the author’s supervision or even of his sanction. Mr. Collins has now prepared an elaborate dramatic version of his story. The work is in four acts, with a prologue or introductory scene, while a falling curtain subdivides the later portions of the play into tableaux after a fashion that has long prevailed on the Parisian stage.

Mr. Collins has on previous occasions manifested his dramatic skill, and done much to disprove an opinion too generally entertained, that a novelist is of necessity disqualified as a candidate for theatrical honours. No doubt certain fables are better suited for publication in a book than for representation on the stage; but the novelist and the dramatist both deal in fiction, and the main distinction between their occupations consists in regard for the requirements of the reader on the one hand, and of the spectator on the other. The story of a novel may be also told upon the stage, only it is indispensable that it should be told upon a different plan. It is allowable to perplex and mystify a reader to almost any extent; but it is found advisable to enlighten a spectator concerning the secrets of a plot at the earliest possible opportunity. A bewildered audience is apt to grow impatient, and to resent being treated with anything like want of confidence. Broadly stated, it may be said that while a novel depends for success upon its appeal to curiosity, a play wins applause in proportion to its power to move sympathy. The dramatis personæ may be exhibited in a state of great entanglement and confusion, but the audience in their position as "lookers-on" require to see not only more of the game but every move and turn in it. Mr. Collins has fully appreciated this view of the case, and has been heedful to present his story from first to last in an intelligible form. For the audience there is at no time any mystery; a series of complications is submitted to them, but a clue to the maze of incidents is always in their hands. Very free manipulation of the original work is thus involved, and indeed the drama of " The Woman in White " has claims to be regarded rather as an independent production than as an adaptation of an ordinary kind.

In bringing so intricate a story upon the stage, difficulty is inevitable in deciding how much to disclose by the conversation of the characters, and how much to represent palpably and in action before the audience. Mr. Collins has judged that the foundation-stone of his romance is the original tampering with the register of marriages in old Welmingham church by Sir Percival Glyde. This crime, detected or suspected by the half-witted Anne Catherick, leads to her confinement at his instance in a lunatic asylum, her escape, her meeting with Walter Hartright, and the subsequent events of the novel. Accordingly, the introductory act of the play is devoted to an exhibition of Sir Percival’s furtive visit to the vestry, and his forging the entry of his parents’ marriage with a view to proving his legal right to his baronetcy. This scene, admirably arranged and well acted, won great applause; but the necessity for its representation may be open to question. Playgoers are never loth to credit the iniquitous antecedents of the villain of a drama, and are quite willing at any moment to join in convicting him of forgery committed behind the scenes. Moreover, the introduction of the vestry suggests that the events of the story are to be closely followed on the stage, and that Sir Percival is to meet his doom from his inability to unlock the door after he has accidentally set fire to the church. But the play provides a different fate for the wicked baronet. He suddenly disappears, and is supposed to be drowned at sea while endeavouring to escape in an open boat from the officers of justice. This prologue, however, has the advantage of bringing upon the stage Walter Hartright, the hero of the novel, and his friend Pesca, the Italian professor, whose connection with a political plot leads ultimately to the assassination of Count Fosco for treachery to the secret society of which both are members. The two following acts are good examples of the author’s adroitness in connecting his incidents and condensing the interviews of his characters. Hartright departs disconsolate from Limmeridge Park; Miss Fairlie becomes the wife of Sir Percival; and Anne Catherick, escaping in a dying state from her asylum, is seen by Count Fosco, who at once conceives his plot for destroying the identity of Lady Glyde by compelling her to change places with her unfortunate half-sister. The second act is especially to be noted for the dramatic effect with which it is invested, for the marked interest it excites, and the artistic ingenuity of its scenic contrivances. It was received with tumultuous applause. In its closing acts the play languishes somewhat. The author had perhaps been better advised if he had contented himself with setting forth simply the rescue of Lady Glyde from the madhouse to which, in her character of Anne Catherick, she had been consigned, and the wresting from Count Fosco a confession of his share in the infamous conspiracy. Mr. Collins, however, has preferred to follow the details of his book, and to prove at undue length the discrepancy between the date of Lady Glyde’s departure from her husband’s house in Hampshire, and the date of Anne Catherick’s death in St. John’s Wood. This, an important point in the book, becomes of small value in the drama. The play concludes tragically, after the exciting interview between Hartright and the Count, with the death of the latter at the hands of the secret society, the murder being effected out of the presence of the audience. The curtain descends upon a picture of the devoted Countess Fosco fainting as she contemplates the slain body of her husband.

This sombre catastrophe excited some disapprobation, but, upon the whole, the reception of the play was favourable enough. If somewhat repellent in character, the force and ingenuity of the work are not to be denied. [pp118-121]

No Thoroughfare (1867) Black and White (1869) The Woman in White (1871) Man and Wife (1873)
The New Magdalen (1873) Miss Gwilt (1876) The Moonstone (1877)



[Prince of Wales’s Theatre.—February 1873.]

MR. WILKIE COLLINS has prepared a stage version of his novel, "Man and Wife." The subject did not seem to be especially suited to theatrical purposes, since it included many incidents of a painful kind avowedly founded upon events of recent occurrence; moreover, the author, while seeking to interest his readers in an elaborate and most entangled narrative, had engaged in a didactic mission: he strove to demonstrate the defective condition of the marriage law in Scotland, and to laugh to scorn the modern passion for athletic exercises. Nevertheless, Mr. Collins has successfully accomplished the end he had in view, and has proved himself to be a dramatist of unusual ability. His play is no confused transfer to the stage of select scraps and scenes which the spectator has to connect and digest as best he may with such help as he can derive from his memory of the book, but a complete and coherent work, endowed with an independent vitality of its own, and perfectly intelligible to those among the audience unsupplied with previous information upon the subject. The story, though still retaining a certain repellent element, which could scarcely, indeed, be altogether suppressed, is set forth with lucid art, while the author does not relinquish his impeachment of amateur gladiators and the eccentricities of the law of marriage. The drama is in four acts, the scene is laid in Scotland, and the period is supposed to be the present. The opening scene represents a summerhouse adjoining the croquet-lawn at Windygates, the country seat of Sir Patrick Lundie, a retired Scotch lawyer. The chief characters are here introduced, and the audience are enabled to understand that Arnold Brinkworth, a young officer in the merchant service, is the devoted lover of Sir Patrick’s step-daughter Blanche, that his affections are reciprocated by the lady, and that very urgent necessity exists for the speedy marriage of her governess, Anne Silvester, with Geoffrey Delamayn, a young man of rude manners and boorish tastes, a devotee of field sports. It is here that Mr. Collins’s confirmed inclination to subordinate truthfulness of character-painting to interest of plot unpleasantly asserts itself, and his heroine sustains much loss of sympathy in consequence. That Anne Silvester should have fallen a victim to the arts of so graceless a creature as Geoffrey is not credible; but the fact has to be conceded as imperatively necessary to the subsistence of the story. Reluctantly yielding to the entreaties of the lady he has betrayed, Geoffrey consents to redress her wrongs, and to meet her at the village inn of Craig Fernie, four miles distant from Windygates, in order that they may there declare themselves man and wife in the presence of witnesses, and so effect a marriage binding under the Scottish law. After Anne has started for Craig Fernie, however, Geoffrey is suddenly summoned to London in consequence of the serious illness of his father. He writes a hurried note to Anne informing her of his change of plan, and describing himself as her husband. This missive he entrusts for delivery to his friend Arnold Brinkworth, who proceeds to the village inn in Geoffrey’s stead. Here the first act concludes, and it may be noted that it is admirably dramatic, conducted with much art, and that it moved the interest of the audience in no ordinary degree. The second act is passed at the inn at Craig Fernie, and is of weaker constitution. The humours of the Scotch waiter Bishopriggs are redundantly exhibited, and the story moves forward but sluggishly. This is the scene of Arnold’s entanglement in a supposititious union with Anne, and the young sailor certainly connives a little too openly at the requirements of the intrigue when he addresses the lady as his wife in the presence of the hostess and the waiter, and, shrinking from quitting the inn at night, places Miss Silvester in a most cruel position, with no other excuse for his inconsiderate conduct than is afforded by the unfavourable condition of the weather. The act closes with the sudden arrival of Blanche Lundie at the inn, but the interesting situation thus brought about is insufficiently developed, and the dramatist seems here to have neglected a valuable opportunity. The scene ends abruptly, leaving a sense of dissatisfaction in the minds of the audience. The third act, after the occurrence of some pleasant love passages between Arnold and Blanche, is chiefly occupied with Geoffrey’s discovery that he can evade fulfilment of his promises to Anne Silvester by declaring her to be the lawful wife of Arnold Brinkworth. The scene in which Geoffrey throws off the mask and ventures to insult the woman he has so shamefully wronged is highly dramatic, and excited genuine enthusiasm. An intimation of the ultimate fate of Geoffrey is afforded at this period of the story by one Mr. Speedwell, an eminent surgeon, who volunteers in rather an unprofessional way an opinion upon the young man’s state of health in reference to his taste for violent muscular effort, and predicts for him early disaster. The concluding act is devoted to an informal, and, it must be said, rather an impossible, trial of the question whether Arnold Brinkworth, who has in the interval become the husband of Blanche, had not in such wise been guilty of bigamy, in that he had previously married Miss Silvester. The scene is the picture gallery at Windygates. Sir Patrick, notwithstanding the relation in which he stands to Blanche, sits as judge; Geoffrey is present, attended by his solicitor, and evidence is taken upon oath, objections to the questions put to the various witnesses being duly registered by the president of the private tribunal as though for reference to the decision of a superior court. The production of the letter written by Geoffrey in the first act is accepted as sufficient proof of his own marriage with Miss Silvester, and Arnold is found guiltless of the charge of bigamy. Miss Slvester’s reputation is thus fairly re-established, but she is yoked with a most unworthy partner. It is suggested, however, that her term of punishment in this respect will be but brief. Geoffrey, in the act of threatening his wife with brutal violence by way of revenging himself upon her for the frustration of his villany, is stricken with paralysis. With the doctor’s announcement that the athlete’s race is nearly run, the drama concludes. It will be seen that there has been here considerable departure from the arrangements of the original work.

" Man and Wife" is not to be classed among the pleasant plays which have hitherto been the staple entertainments of the Prince of Wales’s Theatre, in which wit and sentiment have been dexterously combined, and sketches of the quieter scenes of social life have been cleverly presented. Mr. Collins’s play is a production of a more forcible if more gloomy character, with a tendency towards melodrama and a severely tragical catastrophe. Its real interest, however, and the skill with which it is constructed and represented, will probably secure for it a popularity of some endurance. It is well and tersely written, the earlier dialogues being especially noteworthy for their point and vivacity. The performance exemplified the conscientious care and good taste which have invariably characterised Miss Wilton’s management. The play had been diligently rehearsed, and the stage arrangements and artifices left nothing to be desired. Mr. Coghlan personates the ruffianly Geoffrey with discreet power, and the unfortunate Anne Silvester finds a most sympathetic representative in Miss Foote. Miss Wilton is most sprightly and graceful in the part of Blanche Lundie, and Mr. Bancroft gives importance to the very subordinate character of the doctor. As Sir Patrick Lundie, Mr. Hare is enabled to reproduce one of his established portraitures of a shrewd, sarcastic, and yet kindly elderly gentleman. Mr. Dewar exhibits considerable humour as Bishopriggs, the Scotch waiter. Arnold Brinkworth is represented by Mr. Herbert, a young performer, who does not spare exertion, but whose art is at present in rather an immature state. The part of Lady Lundie is commendably sustained by Mrs. Leigh Murray. [pp177-180]

No Thoroughfare (1867) Black and White (1869) The Woman in White (1871) Man and Wife (1873)
The New Magdalen (1873) Miss Gwilt (1876) The Moonstone (1877)



[Olympic Theatres —May 18731

MR. WILKIE COLLINS has converted his story of "The New Magdalen’, into a play. A prologue or introductory act furnishes the spectators with a key to the plot. The scene represents the interior of a cottage on the French and German frontier; the period is 1870, and a battle is supposed to be imminent. Mercy Merrick and Grace Roseberry meet and exchange confidences. Grace is of Canadian origin, and having buried her father in Rome, is now on her way to England to make herself known to a distant relative, Lady Janet Roy, and to claim her protection. Mercy is a nurse wearing the Genevan Cross, and in attendance upon the sick and wounded victims of the war; but, as she frankly reveals, her antecedents have been of a deplorable kind. She has sold matches in the streets; she has suffered imprisonment, presumably for theft; and she has been an inmate of a refuge for fallen women. She has since, however, endeavoured to redeem her character by obtaining work as a domestic servant. In that capacity she has visited Canada, and is well acquainted with the district in which Grace’s early life has been passed But, the misery she has endured notwithstanding, Mercy is found to be possessed of great beauty, many accomplishments, and most refined manners. The audience duly enlightened in this respect, the German army is understood to advance, the rattle of musketry is heard, and a random bullet strikes Grace to the ground A French surgeon pronounces life to be extinct. Mercy then resolves to appropriate Grace’s papers and to personate her in England. In this way she hopes to secure a position in respectable society, which otherwise she feels to be quite hopeless of attainment. She departs armed with an order enabling her to pass unquestioned through the German lines. The privilege has been obtained for her at the instance of Horace Holmcroft, a young guardsman, acting as special correspondent to a London newspaper, who has been much impressed by the personal attractions of the adventuress. Before the prologue terminates, however, Mr. Collins, who is always disinclined to leave anything to the imagination of his public, introduces a German doctor to re-examine the body of Grace, to reverse the medical opinion of the Frenchman, and to declare that the young lady shall yet be restored to life. When the story is resumed, Merry, in the character of Grace Roseberry, is shown to be thoroughly established in the house of Lady Janet Roy at Kensington. She is affectionately regarded by all, and is engaged to be married to Horace Holmcroft, who has proved to be her ladyship’s nephew. The imposture has been thoroughly successful, although for a moment threatened with exposure when the Rev. Julian Gray, another of Lady Janet’s nephews, enters upon the scene. Mercy discovers in Mr. Gray the chaplain of the reformatory in which she had once been sheltered; but as the clergyman fails to recognise in her one of the members of his miserable congregation, she is relieved of her alarm on this account. Presently, however, the real Miss Roseberry appears, and thereupon the false Miss Roseberry falls senseless at her feet. Recovering, Mercy maintains the truth of her story, and Grace is denounced and ejected as a lunatic. She is without evidence in support of her claim, although she could probably obtain, eventually, proof of her identity from her friends in Canada. The later scenes of the play, which certainly declines in interest after the rival claimants have been brought face to face, are mainly occupied with an exhibition of Mercy’s waverings between good and evil. The clergyman’s lectures, which are much influenced by a love he has suddenly conceived for her, bring her at last to penitence. She makes confession to him of her guilt, but still hesitates to reinstate the unfortunate Grace in her rightful position, and, strange to say, Mr. Gray connives at her delay in this respect. Sufficient justice is accomplished at last, however. The real Grace enjoys her own again; Horace very naturally declines to take to wife the adventuress he had believed to be Miss Roseberry; and Mercy resolves to return penitently to her old reformatory. From this fate she is saved by the infatuated clergyman, who makes her an offer of his hand. It is suggested that he will repair with her to some distant region where the antecedents of the lady will not be inconveniently inquired into, and where a reputable position in colonial society will be freely accorded to both. Under these circumstances Mercy has no difficulty in transferring her affections from Horace Holmcroft to Julian Gray. The force and ingenuity with which this story is set forth upon the stage are insufficient to mask its essential unwholesomeness and its tone of morbid sentimentalism, which entitle it to be fairly classed with, dramatic writings of the school of Kotzebue. The author throughout appears as the uncompromising apologist and partisan of his heroine, and with a view to securing for her an undue share of sympathy he labours to present the poor woman who is the victim of her guilt in as odious a light as possible. Grace is supposed to be mean, sordid, and contemptible; she is denied her rival’s advantages in the way of personal charms, manner, and even, of dress. Still an excuse is scarcely thus afforded for filching from her the good name which undoubtedly belongs to her, for handing her over to the police as an impostor, or for locking her up in a lunatic asylum. In the same way, it is suggested that Horace acts ignobly when he warmly resents the fraudulent conduct of Mercy and withdraws from her his love. It is hard to see, indeed, that the guilt of Mercy is entitled to anything like the measure of commiseration which Mr. Collins demands for it. If her early misdeeds are to be charged against society, she must be fully credited with her crime in personating Miss Roseberry. This is a voluntary effort of her own, undertaken after she had so far recovered her lost reputation that she had become a trusted nurse of the sick and wounded. The spectators were somewhat perplexed by the author’s special pleading, but they certainly sympathised on the whole rather with the sufferings of Grace than with the sins of Mercy. The drama was well received, although its didactic tone and its diffuse dialogue were found to be oppressive, and attention languished much during its later scenes. The lengthy speeches of Mr. Gray, who is not a very probable clergyman, are better adapted for the pulpit than the stage, and might be abridged with advantage. The acting was some what unequal The arduous character of Mercy Merrick is undertaken by Miss Cavendish, but is incompletely grasped by the actress, whose manner is throughout too deliberate and artificial. Mr. Archer appears as Julian Gray, and, until overcome by his own sermonising, acquits himself satisfactorily in the part. Mr. Peveril plays Horace, and Lady Janet is fairly represented by Mrs. St. Henry. GraceRoseberry is well portrayed by Miss Ernstone. The scenic arrangements are of a liberal description, although some pains might be taken to render more impressive the warlike proceedings of the prologue. [pp196-199]

No Thoroughfare (1867) Black and White (1869) The Woman in White (1871) Man and Wife (1873)
The New Magdalen (1873) Miss Gwilt (1876) The Moonstone (1877)



[Globe Theatre.—April 1876.]

MR. WILKIE COLLINS’S new drama of "Miss Gwilt" is derived from his novel of "Armadale," first published in the "Cornhill Magazine" some fourteen years ago. The skill displayed by the author on former occasions when he has converted his stories into plays has not failed him in the present instance, albeit the difficulties encountered are such as might well have deterred and disheartened an adapter of ordinary constitution; for "Armadale" is a novel quite exceptional in regard to its elaborateness and complexity. Mr. Collins, however, has dealt with his production after a wisely courageous and unceremonious fashion; he has suppressed very many of his characters, he has thinned the incidents, excised almost every redundant speech, and so pared down the plot that it is invested with a new aspect of simplicity and directness; the result is a drama which, whatever else it may lack, is certainly not deficient in the qualities which secure impressiveness and effect upon the stage. Once more, indeed, Mr. Collins has proved himself a dramatist not less than a novelist. The public may or may not approve "Miss Gwilt," and probably considerable objection will be raised to the uniform unwholesomeness of the subject and to the excess of physical horror distinguishing the final scenes; no playgoer, however, can witness the play without recognising its power to rivet attention and to absorb in the intensest way.

"Miss Gwilt" is in five acts, and "unity of place" is so far regarded that no change of scene occurs in any of the acts, although now and then the stage is divided to allow of the spectators viewing two interiors at once. The first act is mainly devoted to the introduction of the dramatis personæ to the audience, and is certainly a little dull, owing to its abundance of explanatory and narrative matter, indispensable, however, to the intelligibility of the intrigue. But when the author has obtained full command over the movements of his puppets, he does not permit them to dally. Major Milroy and his daughter are not made interesting, nor can it be said that they ever attain to much semblance of vitality; while Armadale is perhaps even more inane in the play than in the novel, the inferiority of his theatrical representative depriving him even of those personal graces of bearing and look with which he was supposed to be highly endowed. On the stage an air of the counter attends him, and his method of dress is suggestive of the creatures who are known at music-halls as comiques. The characters supporting the burden of the story are Miss Gwilt, Dr. Downward, Midwinter, and, in a lesser degree, Captain Manuel; and of these, the villanous doctor is perhaps the most prominent. The play sets forth his project for enriching himself by securing for his ward and accomplice the hand and fortune of Allan Armadale. His scheme fails; for it appears that Allan Armadale greatly prefers Miss Milroy to Miss Gwilt; and that Miss Gwilt herself is inclined much less to Armadale than to his friend Midwinter. Then comes the discovery that Midwinter’s real name is Armadale, that the friends are in truth cousins, and that each is not only an Armadale, but even an Allan Armadale. The doctor forthwith plans that Miss Gwilt shall marry Midwinter, and that he shall on the occasion of his marriage assume his proper name; that the two Armadales shall then be removed from the scene, when Miss Gwilt, armed with her marriage certificate, will be enabled to proclaim herself the widow, not of Midwinter, but of the rich Allan Armadale, and to secure therefore her share of the wealth he has left behind him; it being understood that Dr. Down-ward is to benefit considerably by any improvement in the fortunes of Miss Gwilt. Midwinter and Miss Gwilt become man and wife. They are passing their honeymoon at Naples, Armadale joining them in his yacht. A certain Captain Manuel, a degraded wretch, formerly an officer in the Brazilian navy, who has been an early lover of Miss Gwilt, and is well informed of the infamy of her career, has been employed by Dr. Downward to effect the destruction of Armadale. It occurs to Manuel to scuttle Armadale’s yacht, and for some time belief prevails that both the Armadales have been in suchwise disposed of. But again the doctor’s schemes undergo discomfiture, Manuel is drowned and the Armadales escape. The play concludes with the luring of Armadale to the doctor’s sanatorium at Hendon, and with an exhibition of the attempt made to destroy him by poisoning the air of his bedroom. The drama now closely follows the novel, the curtain descending upon the suicide of Miss Gwilt and the apprehension of Dr. Downward by the police.

" Miss Gwilt" resembles one of those sombre but exciting dramas of the Boulevards in which crime and criminals figure considerably, and success is sought not so much by enlisting sympathy as by shocking sensibility and appealing to a love of the terrible. The supply of poisoned air is not confined to the last scene; the atmosphere throughout is oppressively miasmatic. With the exception of Midwinter, the leading characters seem expressly devised to stimulate objection, even to loathing. However, these are the conditions of the novel, and they necessarily accompany the play, although the author has recognised the fact that transfer to the stage has a certain coarsening and heightening influence, and often converts the comparatively unpleasant into the positively insufferable. With this view he has qualified somewhat the odiousness of his heroine, perhaps to the sacrifice in a degree of the harmony and coherence of his original design. The Miss Gwilt of the play makes some claim to pity and forbearance: her past is now less guilty than it was; she expresses contrition for her offences, and her love for her husband is placed beyond question; at the same time, upon the demands of the story, her penitence yields to an extraordinary vindictiveness. She boldly denies her union with Midwinter, and she is most urgent for the death of the inoffensive Armadale. Manuel is the conventional, unscrupulous, unredeemable ruffian of melodrama; the only marvel in his case is that he could ever have been the favoured lover of Miss Gwilt; and the fact casts a most unpleasant light upon the events of her early life. It is true that Manuel is supposed to have undergone many privations and sufferings, and to have fallen desperately from his former estate; but it is clear that his best must have been bad indeed. Dr. Downward is by no means a preferable miscreant; he is more oily and plausible of manner, and he rather prompts deeds of violence than accomplishes them with his own hands; but his wickedness is nevertheless of the most abandoned and atrocious kind. The dialogue pretends only to carry on the story after a matter-of-fact fashion, and is rarely chargeable with superfluity; it might be well, however, if Captain Manuel’s jests upon his poverty and his pulmonary disorders were reconsidered, and if certain of Dr. Downward’s more Pecksniffian utterances underwent retrenchment; laughter has a peculiarly jarring effect when it interrupts the critical scenes of serious drama. Altogether "Miss Gwilt" is likely to win the approval of those playgoers who affect entertainments of full flavour and high seasoning. It is, indeed, an acceptable work of its class, but its class is scarcely entitled to plenary admiration.

Miss Cavendish skilfully avails herself of every opportunity permitted by the dramatist. Miss Gwilt’s hold upon the compassion of the audience is very insecure, and the part is so far an ungrateful one. Yet the adventuress appears in many stirring scenes, and is intrusted with much histrionic duty of moment. Miss Cavendish plays throughout with sound judgment, and oftentimes exhibits genuine power. The later passages of the drama are rendered with an abandonment to the emotions of the scene such as the actress has rarely displayed on former occasions. Mr. Boyne, if he is scarcely the Midwinter of the novel, is not deficient in force and intelligence. The Dr. Downward of Mr. Cecil is an impersonation of surprising completeness. The actor’s every word, look, and gesture assist the representation of the drama; while unexpected power is revealed in his dealing with the horrors of the last scene. [pp314-318]

No Thoroughfare (1867) Black and White (1869) The Woman in White (1871) Man and Wife (1873)
The New Magdalen (1873) Miss Gwilt (1876) The Moonstone (1877)



[Olympic Theatre.—September 1877.]

THE new drama of "The Moonstone," which Mr. Wilkie Collins has founded upon his famous novel of that name, is perhaps more ingenious than interesting. The story in the course of its transfer to the stage has undergone considerable change, and especially suffers by the suppression of its more romantic qualities. The great yellow diamond stolen from the forehead of the God of the Moon at the siege of Seringapatam has been deprived of its supernatural attributes; it is no longer an object of veneration to mysterious Brahmins pertinaciously seeking for it, and capable of any crime in their anxiety to repossess it; the play presents matters after a more prosaic fashion, and greatly reduces the value of the gem -as a means of impressing and exciting. It is now simply a precious stone, endowed with little more historic interest than attaches to any other diamond contained in a jeweller’s shop; it is appropriated for a time by a gentleman in a somnambulistic state as the result of an indigestible supper; but it is ultimately recovered, and is destined, we learn, as the curtain falls, not to adorn again the forehead of the Indian idol, but to be broken up for the benefit of the poor. The incidents of the novel have, indeed, undergone a general process of simplification, retrenchment, and reform. Franklin Blake is no longer plied with opium; no Ezra Jennings appears to startle people with his piebald hair, and to dissolve the mystery of the plot by registering the delirious ravings of Mr. Candy, the Frizinghall general practitioner; and all mention is forborne of the eccentric housemaid Rosanna Spearman, whose unrequited passion for Franklin led to her secreting the smeared nightgown which proved his guilt in a japanned tin case buried in the Shivering Sand. Altogether, the drama gratifies less than the novel; the subject is better suited to narration than to representation. It is perhaps a defect in Mr. Collins’s art, when it becomes to be applied to the purposes of the stage, that it leaves nothing to the imagination of the audience; every incident in the story is formally set forth and fully proved, as it were, upon oath, like evidence in a court of justice; each link in the chain of events is duly forged, welded, and perfected. There is an artistic conscientiousness about this system of composition which tends greatly to the convincing and charming of the reader, who is far less disposed than is the playgoer to meet the author halfway, to take things for granted, and to connive cordially at his own illusion. Readers may be said to exercise the functions of a jury, and to pronounce a sober verdict upon circumstances that have been strictly and legally demonstrated; whereas playgoers more nearly resemble the irresponsible lookers-on in court, who are privileged to rush at random conclusions, to be swayed hither and thither by their prepossessions, and to applaud anything that happens to please them at the moment. A certain tediousness afflicts at intervals the play of "The Moonstone" from the dramatist’s devotion to circumstantial relation. It is somewhat trying to have to listen while curious cases are cited in proof of the phenomena of somnambulism, and extracts are read from such works as Combe on "Phrenology" or Elliotson’s "Human Physiology" in reference to diseased brains or disordered stomachs. But it is only fair to add that when the conditions under which Mr. Collins elects to write allow of his being dramatic, he is very dramatic indeed. The scene, for instance, in the third act where Rachel denounces her lover as a thief, and treats with pitiless scorn his protestations of innocence, is admirably forcible and effective. And generally it may be said that the author has displayed excellent skill in contriving a compact drama out of such superabundant materials. There is no incoherence or unintelligibility; the spectator is never required to refer to the book to obtain comprehension of the play. Mr. Collins’s constructive power has even tempted him to unusual regard for the prescriptions of the classical drama. The scene, representing the inner hall of Miss Verinder’s country-house, remains unchanged throughout, and the action is confined to a period of twenty-four hours.

"The Moonstone" is carefully, and sometimes very effectively, represented; the players so far following the author as to be thoroughly dramatic when he permits them, and in some degree dull when he is too prosily insistent upon detail. Miss Pateman seemed at first content to be but a fashion-book figure, artificial and apathetic: as the play proceeded, however, the lady developed unexpected resources, and the scenes of Rachel’s conflict with her lover Franklin were rendered with genuine abandonment to the passion of the situation. Miss Pateman’s energy and intensity received, as they well deserved, the heartiest applause. Mr. Neville is successful in the rather thankless part of Franklin Blake, whose monotonous occupation it is to be incessantly displaying amazement at his own dishonesty. Mr. Swinbourne, an actor well practised in the poetic drama, brings an air of Macduff or some such hero to his portrayal of Sergeant Cuff, the detective officer; the actor’s solemn sententious manner is impressive, however, and is not without a certain humour of its own. Betteridge, the old butler, is forcibly and elaborately represented by Mr. Hill, whose comicality will not he denied. Miss Clack, who in the play, it must be confessed, wearies far more than she amuses, is personated by Mrs. Seymour, an actress prone to exaggeration and indiscreetly anxious to be droll. [pp341-343]

No Thoroughfare (1867) Black and White (1869) The Woman in White (1871) Man and Wife (1873)
The New Magdalen (1873) Miss Gwilt (1876) The Moonstone (1877)

From Dutton Cook Nights at the Play - a View of the English Stage London 1883

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