Wilkie Collins's novels abound in melancholic male protagonists. These dispirited heroes are an important key to Collins's conception of gender difference, since they dramatise what he saw as an identity crisis plaguing mid-Victorian men. It may not be the case, as D. A. Miller once famously argued, that Collins saw all sensation as feminine, or that he set his heroes the task of conquering emotionalism of any kind. But in order to act, Walter Hartright, Franklin Blake, Ozias Midwinter and other Collins protagonists must at the very least overcome their persistent wallowing in sadness, loss, dejection and self-criticism. Such struggles can tell us a great deal about the psychological and cultural dynamics within which Victorian masculinity was constructed, about the historical shifts in gender norms that Collins helped both to articulate and to modify, and about the social transformations that his melancholic men portend. Collins grappled most strenuously with a particular type of melancholia, a form of the malady that seemed - somewhat paradoxically - to fuel narcissistic excess. Although it may seem counterintuitive to believe that melancholia has an affinity with exaggerated narcissism, such an affinity has a long history in British cultural assumptions about male cultural elites. At least since the Renaissance, melancholia had been associated in British culture - and in European thought generally - with the man of genius. Borrowing lofty, flattering images of male melancholia from the Italian poets Torquato Tasso and Francesco Petrarch, sixteenth- and seventeenth century British writers construed such images as signs of male creative and intellectual power.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities(all)