Jezebel's Daughter, by Wilkie Collins

To Alberto Caccia

Let me begin by informing you, that this new novel does not present the proposed sequel to my last work of fiction —“The Fallen Leaves.”

The first part of that story has, through circumstances connected with the various forms of publications adopted thus far, addressed itself to a comparatively limited class of readers in England. When the book is finally reprinted in its cheapest form — then, and then only, it will appeal to the great audience of the English people. I am waiting for that time, to complete my design by writing the second part of “The Fallen Leaves.”

Why?

Your knowledge of English Literature — to which I am indebted for the first faithful and intelligent translation of my novels into the Italian language — has long since informed you, that there are certain important social topics which are held to be forbidden to the English novelist (no matter how seriously and how delicately he may treat them), by a narrow-minded minority of readers, and by the critics who flatter their prejudices. You also know, having done me the honor to read my books, that I respect my art far too sincerely to permit limits to be wantonly assigned to it, which are imposed in no other civilized country on the face of the earth. When my work is undertaken with a pure purpose, I claim the same liberty which is accorded to a writer in a newspaper, or to a clergyman in a pulpit; knowing, by previous experience, that the increase of readers and the lapse of time will assuredly do me justice, if I have only written well enough to deserve it.

In the prejudiced quarters to which I have alluded, one of the characters in “The Fallen Leaves” offended susceptibilities of the sort felt by Tartuffe, when he took out his handkerchief, and requested Dorine to cover her bosom. I not only decline to defend myself, under such circumstances as these — I say plainly, that I have never asserted a truer claim to the best and noblest sympathies of Christian readers than in presenting to them, in my last novel, the character of the innocent victim of infamy, rescued and purified from the contamination of the streets. I remember what the nasty posterity of Tartuffe, in this country, said of “Basil,” of “Armadale,” of “The New Magdalen,” and I know that the wholesome audience of the nation at large has done liberal justice to those books. For this reason, I wait to write the second part of “The Fallen Leaves,” until the first part of the story has found its way to the people.

Turning for a moment to the present novel, you will (I hope) find two interesting studies of humanity in these pages.

In the character called “Jack Straw,” you have the exhibition of an enfeebled intellect, tenderly shown under its lightest and happiest aspect, and used as a means of relief in some of the darkest scenes of terror and suspense occurring in this story. Again, in “Madame Fontaine,” I have endeavored to work out the interesting moral problem, which takes for its groundwork the strongest of all instincts in a woman, the instinct of maternal love, and traces to its solution the restraining and purifying influence of this one virtue over an otherwise cruel, false, and degraded nature.

The events in which these two chief personages play their parts have been combined with all possible care, and have been derived, to the best of my ability, from natural and simple causes. In view of the distrust which certain readers feel, when a novelist builds his fiction on a foundation of fact, it may not be amiss to mention (before I close these lines), that the accessories of the scenes in the Deadhouse of Frankfort have been studied on the spot. The published rules and ground-plans of that curious mortuary establishment have also been laid on my desk, as aids to memory while I was writing the closing passages of the story.

With this, I commend “Jezebel’s Daughter” to my good friend and brother in the art — who will present this last work also to the notice of Italian readers.

W. C.

Gloucester Place, London:

February 9, 1880.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/collins/wilkie/jezebels-daughter/preface.html

Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30