Wilkie Collins's investigation of illegitimacy and 'the woman question' in No Name (1862) compels with a wholly different order of suspense from that of The Woman in White or The Moonstone. For its family secret - the Vanstone daughters' illegitimacy, their consequent disinheritance and fall from social grace - is revealed early on, and as Magdalen Vanstone struggles to reclaim her identity, the plot uncovers many a moral, social and legal skeleton in the cupboards of Victorian society. Mercurial and unscrupulous, Magdalen is Wilkie Collins's most exhilarating heroine, one of the rare subversives in Victorian fiction and a woman dazzlingly versatile in her powers of self-transformation. Through her, with great comic vigour, No Name exposes how social identity is constructed, and how it can be dismantled, buried, borrowed or invented.
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