The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins


“THE DEAD SECRET” made its first appeal to readers, in periodical portions, week by week. On its completion, it was reprinted in two volumes. The edition so produced having been exhausted, the story makes its public appearance in the present form.

Having previously tried my hand at short serial stories (collected and reprinted in “After Dark,” and “The Queen of Hearts”), I ventured on my first attempt, in this book, to produce a sustained work of fiction, intended for periodical publication during many successive weeks. The experiment proved successful both in this country and in America. Two of the characters which appear in these pages — “Rosamond,” and “Uncle Joseph” — had the good fortune to find friends everywhere who took a hearty liking to them. A more elaborately drawn personage in the story — “Sarah Leeson” — was, I think, less generally understood. The idea of tracing, in this character, the influence of a heavy responsibility on a naturally timid woman, whose mind was neither strong enough to bear it, nor bold enough to drop it altogether, was a favourite idea with me, at the time, and is so much a favourite still, that I privately give “Sarah Leeson” the place of honour in the little portrait-gallery which my story contains. Perhaps, in saying this, I am only acknowledging, in other words, that the parents of literary families share the well-known inconsistencies of parents in general, and are sometimes unreasonably fond of the child who has always given them the most trouble.

It may not be out of place, here, to notice a critical objection which was raised, in certain quarters, against the construction of the narrative. I was blamed for allowing the “Secret” to glimmer on the reader at an early period of the story, instead of keeping it in total darkness till the end. If this was a mistake (which I venture to doubt), I committed it with both eyes open. After careful consideration, and after trying the experiment both ways, I thought it most desirable to let the effect of the story depend on expectation rather than surprise; believing that the reader would be all the more interested in watching the progress of “Rosamond” and her husband towards the discovery of the Secret, if he previously held some clue to the mystery in his own hand. So far as I am enabled to judge, from the opinions which reached me through various channels, this peculiar treatment of the narrative presented one of the special attractions of the book to a large variety of readers.

I may add, in conclusion, that “The Dead Secret” was admirably rendered into French by Monsieur E. D. Forgues, of Paris. The one difficulty which neither the accomplished translator nor anyone else proved able to overcome, was presented, oddly enough, by the English title. When the work was published in Paris, its name was of necessity shortened to “Le Secret” — because no French equivalent could be found for such an essentially English phrase as a ”dead secret.”

Harley Street, London

January, 1861

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