Behind closed doors: the theatrical uncanny and the panoptical viewer in the dramas of Wilkie Collins

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Wilkie Collins's dramas, The Red Vial, Miss Gwilt and The Moonstone, all shared a process of 'arrangement' between stage and novel. In this article I consider how, in the dramatic versions, Collins uses the onstage door as an exit to the dead/alive theatre space offstage emphasizing the uncanny. Placing the dramatist in the position of the observer, the actors can be viewed as conforming to Foucault's description of Bentham's Panopticon, in which the offstage rooms and cells they inhabit 'are like so many small cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualised and constantly visible'. Located not only within the disciplinary locations of the asylum, hospital, mortuary but also within the home, doors open onto an intermedial theatrical space in which suspended animation, madness and opium-induced trances are similarly rendered visible within the audiences’ imaginations. I will emphasise Collins’s carefully formulated use of the offstage in evoking the uncanny through a comparison of Bramwell’s adaptation of The Dead Secret.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-98
JournalNineteenth Century Theatre and Film
Issue number1
Early online date1 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015