Hide and Seek by Wilkie Collins
Dickens, Swinburne, and Macaulay all lavished praise on Hide and Seek, the third of Wilkie Collins’ novels (1854) and his first attempt at a mystery. In a letter to his sister-in-law, Dickens remarked: “I think it far and away the cleverest novel I have ever seen written by a new hand . . . In short, I call it a very remarkable book.” In this early effort, we find Collins—considered English fiction’s first detective novelist—experimenting with the detective story and honing the skills of narrative and plot construction brought to such a high level in his later masterpieces, The Woman in White and The Moonstone.
Besides its mystery-story elements, Hide and Seek succeeds as a warm, entertaining tale that blends domestic comedy, pathos, humor, and a smattering of social protest. It also enabled Collins to introduce a gallery of memorable characters: Mary Grice (nicknamed Madonna), the gentle deaf-mute whose mysterious origins and tragic early life form the basis of the novel; the engaging and voluble Zach Thorpe, of whom Mary is enamored; her guardian Valentine Blyth—a failure as an artist but a success as a human being—and Matthew Marksman, the strange and wild woodsman who finally unravels the shocking story of Mary’s true origins.
Hide and Seek is a distinct departure from the lurid melodrama of Collins’ second novel, Basil, and a milestone in the author’s progress toward maturity as a novelist. In its pages readers will find the ingenious plot construction and storytelling skill that Collins felt to be the true calling of the novelist.
Admirers of Wilkie Collins—and Victorian fiction in general—will savor the novel’s vivid descriptions of exciting events, its sustained power of imaginative suggestion, and the author’s shrewd and compassionate depiction of Victorian manners and morals.