[ Plot Summary ]  [ Publishing History ]


No Name by Wilkie Collins - first edition in orange cloth.

No Name by Wilkie Collins -variant binding in blue cloth.

1st English edition in 3 volumes, Sampson Low 1862; original scarlet cloth. New edition in 3 volumes, Sampson Low 1863; remainder binding in blue cloth.


Published in 1862 at the peak of Collins's career, one of his four major novels.  Dedicated to Francis Carr Beard, his doctor and long standing friend.  Following the success of The Woman in White, Sampson Low paid Collins £3,000 for No Name and published a large first edition of 4,000 copies.  All but 400 sold by the afternoon of the first day.  An early didactic novel, it addresses the theme of illegitimacy.  In spite of its popular success many of the critics were scathing about the topic and disapproved of the heroine's near-criminal career.  H. L. Mansel of The Quarterly Review wrote, 'We have often heard an illegal connexion and its result euphemistically designated a 'misfortune;' but this is the first time as far as we are aware in which a lawful marriage has been denominated an "accident."'  The novel features one of Collins's most dynamic heroines, and one of his most engaging rogues, Captain Wragge.

No Name by Wilkie Collins - Smith, Elder yellowback.

No Name by Wilkie Collins - Smith, Elder New Edition.

1870 Smith, Elder yellowback 1877 Smith, Elder new edition


Millais frontispiece to the 1864 one  volume Sampson Low edition. Illustration fom the Chatto & Windus 1890 Piccadilly Novels


Magdalen Vanstone is a headstrong girl of 18, with a gift for amateur dramatics.  She lives a prosperous and respectable  life in the country with her parents, her quieter older sister Norah, and their governess and friend Miss Garth.  Magdalen falls in love with a weak young man, Francis Clare, the son of an acerbic neighbour.  They become engaged, though neither Magdalen's parents nor Clare's father are in favour of the match.  Clare is sent first to London and then to China to make his fortune.  


The middle-aged Andrew Vanstone and his wife are dismayed when they discover that Mrs Vanstone is pregnant once more.  Worse is to follow.  Mr Vanstone, on his way to see his lawyer in London, is killed in a railway accident and Mrs Vanstone goes into premature labour on hearing the news; both she and the child die.  The family lawyer Mr Pendril breaks the news to Magdalen and Norah that they are illegitimate - they have 'no name'.  Their father and mother had only recently been able to marry after the death of Mr Vanstone's first wife in Canada.  They are also penniless, since their father had been on his way to sign a new will, essential after his recent marriage.  Now the estate will go to his estranged brother Michael Vanstone who vindictively refuses to give his nieces any fair share of their father's fortune.


Norah stays with Miss Garth, their staunch friend, and becomes a governess.  Magdalen, resolved to earn her living on the stage, runs away to York.  Here she encounters a disreputable cousin by marriage, Captain Wragge, an amiable villain who persuades Magdalen he can help her.  She lives with Wragge and his simple-minded wife, and prepares a one-woman stage show playing various 'characters'.  Her career, managed by Wragge, is a great success.


When Michael Vanstone dies, leaving no will, Magdalen appeals to his physically and mentally feeble son Noel.  She receives a dismissive reply from his formidable housekeeper Mrs Lecount.  Determined on revenge, she visits Noel in London, disguised as Miss Garth.  Her request for half the fortune is rejected.  Mrs Lecount sees through her disguise and snips a piece of cloth from her dress as evidence.


Magdalen now decides to retrieve her inheritance by marrying her cousin Noel - her engagement to Francis Clare has been broken off.  With Wragge's help, she follows Noel to *Aldborough and is introduced as Wragge's niece, Susan Bygrave.  Mrs Lecount is again suspicious but Wragge lures her away to her family in Zurich with a forged letter.  Noel is fascinated by Magdalen and proposes.  Magdalen, horrified at the prospect of marriage to a man she loathes, buys a lethal dose of laudanum and contemplates suicide, but finally goes through with the match.


Mrs Lecount returns and convinces Noel that he has been deceived into marrying his cousin.  Finding Magdalen's bottle of laudanum, she also persuades him that Magdalen planned to poison him.  Noel alters his will, leaving the fortune to a cousin, Admiral Bartram, with a secret letter passing the inheritance to the Admiral's son George Bartram, on condition he marries within six months.  Noel, who has a weak heart, collapses and dies.


Magdalen, convinced that the legacy to Admiral Bartram conceals a secret intention, disguises herself as a maid, and takes a position in the Admiral's house.  She narrowly fails in an audacious attempt to find the secret letter and escapes to London.  Penniless and desperately ill, she is nursed back to health by Captain Kirke, whom she first met at Aldborough. They fall in love and marry.  Meanwhile Norah, without knowing anything of the will, has met and married George Bartram.




All the Year Round, 15 March 1862--17 January 1863; and Harper's Weekly, 15 March 1862--24 January 1863.

Book Publication

First edition, 3 volumes, Sampson Low, London 1862.  Scarlet embossed cloth, covers blocked in blind, spines lettered in scarlet on gilt, pale yellow end-papers.  Half-titles in volumes 1 and 2.  Published between 14 and 31 December 1862.

Vol I         x + 340 pp

Vol II        (iv) + 364 pp

Vol III       ii + 408


New edition, 3 volumes 1863, scarlet cloth; and remainder binding, blue cloth.

1 volume editions

Sampson Low 1864 (with frontispiece by Millais); Smith, Elder 1865-1886; Chatto & Windus 1890-1932.  Dover, New York 1978; World's Classics 1986 (Critical edition, edited by V. Blain).  

1st US editions

Harper, New York 1863; Gardner Fuller (2 volumes), Boston 1863 (Parrish gives priority to this edition which was probably pirated); West & Johnson, Richmond, Virginia, 1863.


Russian, St Petersburg 1862; German, Leipzig 1862-63; Dutch, Amsterdam 1863; French, Paris 1863 (by E-D. Forgues).

No Name - Harper's New York edition in wrappers.

No Name - pirated edition by Gardener Fuller.

1863 Harper's edition - probably the authorised publication.

1863 Gardiner Fuller edition in 2 volumes - probably pirated.


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