Helena Ifill
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Man and Wife
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This chapter returns to the topic of monomania. Hester Dethridge develops homicidal urges after murdering her abusive husband. Collins emphatically draws attention to the circumstances which lead to Hester’s mental condition in order to fulfil the main purpose of the novel, highlighting the dangers of the British marriage laws which disadvantage women. The novel’s secondary purpose is the disparagement of what Collins perceived as a harmful national obsession with physical prowess. The upper-class villain, Geoffrey Delamayn, has been raised to prize his physicality over intellectual and moral development, and as a result he is little more than a bestial thug. The final part of the chapter shows how Collins makes use of the strange and improbable coincidences that are a staple of sensation fiction. Rather than playing down such moments, Collins emphasises ‘the capricious mercy of Chance’ and uses it as a way of revealing the influence of unforeseen circumstances on his characters and their development. Overall this chapter shows that Collins depicts human beings with little capacity for agency, personal responsibility or self-determinism; seeming acts of free will are really the result of external influences (social, legal, educational and circumstantial), and can only ever be short-sighted.

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Creating character

Theories of nature and nurture in Victorian sensation fiction

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