The New Magdalen, W.W.Collins

Today, I would like to talk about a novel written by William Wilkie Collins entitled The New Magdalen. First, I’m going to speak a little bit about the author and about the title of the novel. Then, I’m going to present the plot and give my opinion about this book.

W.W. Collins lived in the 19th century. He was a friend of Charles Dickens (they wrote some books together). Several of his books were criticized because of their “immorality”. Effectively, he talked about sensitive subjects (women in the society for instance) or made some criticisms about the society. But even if some of his novels were judged with disapproval, he became well-known. Indeed, he is considerate as one of the first English writer of detective/suspense novels. Now, I must tell you something about the title: when you read it, you probably asked yourself “if the main character is the new Magdalen, who is the original one?” Mary Magdalene (there are different spellings) is in fact a biblical character. I didn’t know a lot about her so I made some researches and, to recap, in popular tradition, she was considered as a repentant prostitute. And if you’ve read this book, you can understand the reference to Mary Magdalene (but I’m going to explain it soon).

Let’s talk about the story line. The story unfolds during the Franco-Prussian (also named Franco-German) War (1870-1871); in the middle of the Victorian era in Britain (1837-1901). The two leading characters are named Mercy and Grace. They are English and meet on the Franco-German front: Mercy is a military nurse who takes Grace in. Mercy has a degrading past: she is a reformed prostitute –reference to Mary Magdalen- and it is very difficult for her to find a job and have a decent situation. Concerning Grace, she has to go to England to become Lady Janet’s female companion (Lady Janet has never seen her). When a smell falls on Grace, Mercy decides to take Grace’s place, Grace’s identity, so she can go to England where nobody knows her. But a few times later, there is an unexpected event which is going to change Mercy’s life…

This a story about a fallen woman, about sexual discrimination and about a world ruled by social origins. This story is touching and makes us feel a lot of emotions. The reader takes pity on Mercy and thinks that it’s terrible that the social conventions are more important than love or friendship.

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