The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins

The Frozen Deep 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.

18 thoughts on “The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins

  1. mesetageresenfranglais says:

    I didn’t know this book at all. So far I read the woman in white and the secret. Like you, Collins is an author that I really like. So talented and unknown by many people. I will remember the frozen deep for a next time thank you for your review!

  2. LauraC says:

    This was my first Wilkie Collins and since I knew that this was not his best work, I enjoyed it. It was quite obvious that this was written originally as a play, but like you I wish that the story had been fleshed out more beyond dialogue for the novella. I am going to go on to try The Woman in White. So many book bloggers love this one, I am hoping that I have the same reaction.

  3. Lisa says:

    How interesting that he is your favorite Victorian author! I don’t feel that I really know his work, though I’ve read The Moonstone, which I enjoyed. I’ve also read The Woman in White, but many years ago, and I have no memory of it whatsoever, so it’s on my re-reading list. I also collected a couple of his books in used-book stores last year, so I’m looking forward to finding out more about his work.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you enjoy re-reading The Woman in White…it’s good that you’ve forgotten what happens as it means you can be surprised by all the twists and turns of the plot again!

  4. Fleur in her World says:

    I liked this when I read it a couple of years ago, and even though it isn’t his best work it still showed off his wonderful skill at spinning a yarn. I’m reading The Moonstone at the moment, and enjoying it second time around just as much as I did when I first read it,

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed re-reading The Moonstone. I’ve only read that one once myself and didn’t like it as much as The Woman in White or Armadale, but that could change when I get round to reading it again!

  5. Katherine Cox says:

    I hadn’t heard of this one! It’s such fun to find the lesser known works. I just started reading Collins’ No Name, I love the way it’s opening– very cinematic descriptions. I was introduced to Collins last year with The Moonstone.

  6. Alex says:

    I do tend to get stuck on the big four where Collins is concerned but this sounds like one I might give a read. What really struck me was that I know about the Franklin expedition but had never really placed it in time as earlier than Dickens and Collins. I should get my dates sorted out.

    • Helen says:

      There’s a good reason why those four books are his most popular as they are definitely the best, but I’ve read quite a few of the lesser known novels now and found most of them worth reading.

  7. Cassandra says:

    I came to your blog for the first time today after reading a comment you had left on another blog and here I’m stumbling upon a magnificent coincidence! Guess which book I have finished and reviewed today? Exactly, The Frozen Deep!
    I can hardly believe it!

    Anyway, I agree that Collins should have turned it into a full-length novel. I liked it a lot and the story definitely had the potential. Oh, Wilkie Collins. It’s really a shame how unknown such a fantastic author can be!

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