Sensational Things

Souvenirs, Keepsakes, and Mementos in Wilkie Collins’s Fiction



In the Victorian sensation novel, things that bear witness to secrets, guilt, and past crimes proliferate. These pieces of evidence often belong to the category of the keepsake and come in the shape of jewels, textiles, or conserved fragments of cloth, hair, or paper, forming part of the novel’s object world.

This study examines how Wilkie Collins’s successful sensational plots are entwined with the histories and properties of the small, overlooked objects that bring past events into the present. It offers readings of Collins’s texts that adapt concepts from material culture studies and brings them to bear on literary analysis. The readings thus complement approaches based on gender, race, and contemporary medical discourses current in scholarship on Collins and integrates them with perspectives on keepsakes as a productive class of things in Victorian sensation fiction.