'The secret between us will remain a Dead Secret to the end of the world!'
1871 Smith, Elder yellowback
The first full length novel by Collins specifically written for
serialisation. Dedicated to Edward
Pigott. Collins's introduction
reveals he wrote the story to show 'the influence of a heavy responsibility on
a naturally timid woman, whose mind was neither strong enough to bear it, nor
bold enough to drop it altogether.' The
tragic servant figure reappears as Rosanna Spearman in The Moonstone.
A blind character is used again, to greater effect, in Poor
Miss Finch, and Mr Phippen, the hypochondriac friend of Dr Chennery,
foreshadows Mr Fairlie in The Woman in White (1860).
John Gilbert frontispiece to the 1861 Sampson Low one volume edition
In 1829, Mrs Treverton lies dying in Porthgenna Tower on the west coast
of Cornwall. She dictates to her
maid, Sarah Leeson, a deathbed confession for her husband, Captain Treverton.
Mrs Treverton dies before before she can make Sarah swear to give it to
the Captain but she has already extracted promises neither to destroy the
paper nor take it away from the house. Sarah
therefore hides the confession in the Myrtle Room in the derelict north wing
and after leaving a note for the Captain disappears from the house.
Fifteen years later, the young Rosamond Treverton is privately married by
Dr Chennery to the blind Leonard Frankland.
Chennery is a friend of both families and knows Leonard's father had
bought Porthgenna Tower from the Captain after the death of Mrs Treverton.
The Captain had quarrelled with his misanthropic brother, Andrew
Treverton, who had insulted his wife, a former actress.
Andrew lives a miserly existence in Bayswater with his equally
unpleasant servant, Shrowl.
A few months later, while Rosamond and Leonard are travelling through the
Somerset village of West Winston on their way to Porthgenna, Rosamond is taken
ill and gives birth prematurely. They
engage a temporary nurse, Mrs Jazeph, who alarms Rosamond by her strange
behaviour and a warning to keep out of the Myrtle room.
Mrs Jazeph is dismissed and flees to Truro to visit her uncle, Joseph
Buschmann. He is delighted to see
his niece, in reality Sarah Leeson, after an interval of many years.
Uncle Joseph, a passionate lover of Mozart which he plays incessantly
on his musical box, plans to help Sarah recover the secret paper from
Porthgenna. They gain entrance to
the house but before Sarah can reach the letter she faints, terrified by
mistaking the wind for a ghost. Sarah
leaves Porthgenna and to avoid any further questions loses herself in the
anonymity of London.
Dr Chennery writes to Andrew Treverton on Rosamond's behalf to identify
the Myrtle room. Treverton refuses
to help but Shrowl sells a copy of the plans and the Dead Secret is revealed.
Rosamond is really the illegitimate daughter of Sarah Leeson whose
lover, Hugh Polwheal, was killed in a mining accident before they could marry.
The childless Mrs Treverton passed off Rosamond as her own, both to
preserve the love of her husband and to save Sarah's reputation.
Rosamond's inheritance of £40,000, the purchase price of Porthgenna
paid by Leonard's father, rightfully belongs to the dead Captain's brother.
Andrew Treverton, staggered at finding two people who don't care about
money, forces them to take it back. Uncle
Joseph has meanwhile traced Sarah so that mother and daughter are reunited.
The frail Sarah dies happy in Rosamond's arms, at peace because the
ghost which perpetually haunted her has finally disappeared.
She is buried in Hugh Polwheal's grave in Porthgenna.
Household Words, 3
January--13 June 1857; Harper's Weekly, 24 January - 27 June 1857; and in
Littell's Living Age, Boston, 28 February - 18 July 1857.
2 volumes, Bradbury & Evans, London 1857.
Grey-purple cloth, covers blocked in blind, spines lettered in gilt,
cream end-papers. Half-title in
volume I. Published between 1-14
June 1857. Copies in brown cloth,
with yellow end-papers and Chapman & Hall advertisements are of later issue
viii + 304 pp
viii + 304 pp
(iv) + 332 pp
1 Volume editions
Sampson Low 1861 (new preface and frontispiece by J. Gilbert); Smith,
Elder 1865-1872; Chatto & Windus, 1875-1929.
Dover, New York 1979; Sutton, Stroud 1986; World's Classics 1997
(Critical edition, edited by I. Nadel).
Miller & Curtis, New York 1857; Peterson, Philadelphia: 
Russian, St Petersburg 1857, 1861; French, Paris 1858 (by E-D. Forgues);
Dutch, Amsterdam 1858; German, Leipzig 1862.
All material in these pages is © copyright Andrew Gasson 1998-2010