Man and Wife was Wilkie Collins’ ninth published novel. It is the second of his novels (after No Name) in which social questions provide the main impetus of the plot. Collins increasingly used his novels to explore social abuses, which according to critics tends to detract from their qualities as fiction.
In three months from the memorable day when his solicitor had informed him that he was a free man, Mr. Vanborough possessed the wife he desired, to grace the head of his table and to push his fortunes in the world–the Legislature of Great Britain being the humble servant of his treachery, and the respectable accomplice of his crime.
The social issue which drives the plot is the state of Scots marriage law; at the time the novel was written, any couple who were legally entitled to marry and who asserted that they were married before witnesses, or in writing, were regarded in Scotland as being married in law. The suspense (and much of the commentary) is built around the marriage laws, which recognized “irregular marriages” in which men and women, who wittingly or not, represented themselves as married were indeed married under law.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wilkie Collins, a close friend of Charles Dickens from their meeting in March 1851 until Dickens’ death in June 1870, was one of the best known, best loved, and, for a time, best paid of Victorian fiction writers. But after his death, his reputation declined as Dickens’ bloomed.
Now, Collins is being given more critical and popular attention than he has received for 50 years. Most of his books are in print, and all are now in e-text. He is studied widely; new film, television, and radio versions of some of his books have been made; and all of his letters have been published. However, there is still much to be discovered about this superstar of Victorian fiction.