Book Review: The Dead Secret

Dead SecretThe Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins opens with the lady of the Treverton house facing the last hours of her life. She has a secret known only to herself and her maid which she has tried to share with her husband, but couldn’t. So she calls her maid, Sarah Leeson, in to help her write a note to be given to her husband after her death, despite Sarah’s protests. After the task is done, Mrs. Treverton makes Sarah swear that she will not destroy the note nor take it with her if she leaves the house, but she passes away before she can make her swear to give it to Captain Treverton. Sarah feels she can keep her word without actually giving the note to him by hiding it in an unused part of the house. Then, inexplicably, she writes Captain Treverton a note herself explaining that there was a secret but it won’t hurt anyone if it is not revealed, apologizing for leaving, and asking him not to search for her. Then she disappears.

The Captain does search for her, but to no avail.

The story then jumps 15 years ahead. The Treverton’s daughter, Rosamond, marries her love, Leonard Frankland, who became blind during their engagement. Leonard’s father now owns Rosamond’s old home, Porthgenna Tower. The Franklands plan to live in Porthgenna Tower and restore even the old unused rooms.

The rest of the book tells of learning about the hidden note in an unusual way, the search for it, what the secret was, and how it affects everyone involved. By the way, don’t look at the Wikipedia article for this book unless you want the plot totally spoiled in the opening paragraphs.

I had read and very much enjoyed Collins’ The Woman in White last year and wanted to read more of him. For this year’s Back to the Classics Challenge, I decided to read to try one of his earlier works for the forgotten or lesser-known classic category. Though Wilkie was a friend of Dickens, and this book contains that era’s descriptiveness and rambling indirectness that modern readers aren’t fond of, I felt Collins’ writing was a bit tighter than Dickens’ and not so rambly. Critics don’t seem to think this is one of his best, but I really enjoyed it. I had some idea what the secret would relate to, but the route to it and the details worked out differently from what I expected. I thought his characterizations of Rosamond, Leonard, Sarah, and Sarah’s Uncle Joseph (with whom she stays after leaving Porthgenna Tower) were quite well done. I am eager to read even more of Wilkie Collins.

A couple of my favorite sentences:

He was one of those tall, grave, benevolent-looking men, with a conical head, a deep voice, a slow step, and a heavy manner, who passively contrive to get a great reputation for wisdom without the trouble of saying or doing any thing to deserve it (Chapter 3)

She spoke on the principle of drowning the smallest possible infusion of ideas in the largest possible dilution of words (Chapter 4).

You can find The Dead Secret online at Project Gutenberg here or free for the Kindle here, or, of course, in paperback at various locations.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dead Secret

  1. Pingback: Reading Plans | Stray Thoughts

  2. Interesting! I have read the Moonstone and the Woman in White. I liked them both. He is a little bit mysterious, which I loved, and I thought his use of language was entertaining. Looking forward to reading this one, some time. Thank you for your review!

  3. I read Woman in White about a year ago, too! I agree that it’s a bit hard getting into the style of the era, but I enjoy it once I do. I do see similarities between Collins’ and Dickens’ writing styles. I’ll have to check this one out — I love that they are available on PGutenberg!

  4. Thanks, Barbara, for this great review! I enjoy getting a review like this to let me determine if the book is one I had to the ever-growing stack of books I am reading or plan to read. This sounds like a great one!

  5. Pingback: Back to the Classics 2015 Wrap-Up Post | Stray Thoughts

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  7. I read No Name by Wilkie Collins this year and loved it — I will have to add this to my reading list! Thanks for participating in the Back to the Classics Challenge!

  8. Pingback: Books Read in 2015 | Stray Thoughts

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