I love Victorian literature and if I had to choose a favourite Victorian author it would probably be Wilkie Collins. The Woman in White was the first book of his that I read, in 2006, and within a year I had also read The Moonstone, Armadale and No Name. Since then I’ve read several of his lesser-known books, most of which I’ve reviewed on this blog, and while they weren’t as good as his ‘big four’ novels, I still found something to enjoy in all of them. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, though, and it’s now been a few years since I’ve felt like reading any of Wilkie’s books. But when the Estella Society announced their Wilkie in Winter event I decided to join in and read one of the titles I hadn’t already read, The Frozen Deep.
The Frozen Deep is a novella which Collins based on a play he had written, with the help of Charles Dickens, in 1856. The story was inspired by reports of a voyage to the Arctic led by Sir John Franklin in 1845 during which the members of the expedition disappeared without trace.
At the beginning of the book we meet Clara Burnham who is saying goodbye to the man she loves, Frank Aldersley, whose ship is leaving the next day in search of the Northwest Passage. However, another man is also in love with Clara. His name is Richard Wardour, and when he discovers that she has become engaged to somebody else, he vows to take his revenge on the man he believes has stolen her from him. Clara, who is gifted with the Second Sight, is convinced that Richard will succeed in finding and destroying Frank – and when she learns that Richard has also joined the same Arctic voyage she becomes even more afraid.
I really enjoyed reading The Frozen Deep. It’s not one of Collins’ best books, but I hadn’t expected it to be so I wasn’t disappointed and with less than one hundred pages it was perfect for those busy days just before Christmas when I was looking for something quick and entertaining to read. But while I was impressed that Collins could tell such a compelling story in so few pages, I do think there was the potential for it to have been expanded into a full-length novel. I would have liked more details of the Arctic expedition itself and the experiences of the men left stranded by the ice-bound ships. And I thought Richard Wardour could have been a fascinating character, if only there had been time to explore his thoughts and emotions in more depth.
Although this book wasn’t without some flaws, I thought it was very enjoyable and I’m hoping to find time soon to read (or re-read) another of Collins’ books.