Serialised fiction in the Bolton Weekly JournalThe Evil Genius (1885-86) by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins, The Evil Genius. Chatto & Windus, 1888.

The Evil Genius: A Domestic Story was the second Wilkie Collins novel to be serialised by the Bolton Weekly Journal (following the success of Jezebel’s Daughter, 1879-1880). Appearing in weekly instalments between 26 December 1885 and 1 May 1886, it was notably syndicated across a wider range of periodicals than many of the other works of fiction appearing in the Bolton Weekly; from the relatively local publication, the Leigh Journal and Times, to as far afield as The Fife Herald and the South London Press (Troy J. Bassett, 2021).  The novel received mixed reviews, more positive than negative. There are themes of divorce and child-custody. As Jenny Bourne Taylor observes:  

“With its lurid title and theme of marital infidelity centring on the well-worn figure of the governess, this promises to be a highly strung sensation novel. Instead, the narrative progresses in a deliberately low-key way, sympathetically balancing the perspectives of the mistress and the wronged wife and showing the husband (like so many of Collins’s male figures) to be weak and vacillating rather than villainous; the ‘evil genius’ of the title is neither seductress nor mad wife nor wicked husband, but meddling mother-in-law. Yet even here there are some odd disjunctions. The lengthy Prologue describing the bleak and loveless childhood of the governess Sydney Westerfield has the making of a detective story, featuring an insurance fraud, a missing diamond, codes and ciphers, together with a brother lost in America; but these mysteries are left open-ended once the story itself begins and they are never really resolved. ” (Taylor, 2006, 81-82)

This balance of sympathy between mistress and divorced wife did not go unnoticed at the time of publication. A reviewer for The Athenaeum reported that “The story as a whole is not as engrossing as some of Mr Wilkie Collins’s previous efforts, but it has many strong points. It will not be supposed that so clever an artist has drawn a picture of domestic infidelity in either a commonplace or a claptrap style. There is a great deal of delicacy in the portraiture of poor Sydney Westerfield, whom to no reader will have the heart to visit too harshly for her various shortcomings” (‘The Evil Genius’, 1886, p.367). Likewise, the Saturday Review noted that “The Evil Genius is not the strongest of Mr Wilkie Collins’s novel, but it is one if the pleasantest. There is real pathos in the figure of the two figures of the two women who sacrifice themselves in the most natural way in the world for a man immeasurably inferior to either of them [There is a delightful little girl, whose conversation is a constant pleasure. Altogether The Evil Genius will not disappoint Mr Collins’s admires, and it will perhaps agreeably surprise some who are not much disposed to regard his works with enthusiasm” (‘Four Novels’, 1886, p.488). 

Praise for the novel continued in an advertisement in the Athenaeum from the Morning Poet for ‘Wilkie Collins’s New Novel’ which concluded that: “The Evil Genius is original and captivating, as in all that comes from Mr Collins’s pen” (1886, p.546)



Anon. (1886) Four Novels. Saturday review of politics, literature, science and art. [Online] 9 Oct, 62(1615), pp.487-488. Available at: <> [Accessed 18 May 2021].  

Anon. (1886) The Evil Genius: A domestic story. The Athenaeum. [Online] (3073), p.367. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 April 2021]. 

Anon. (1886) Wilkie Collins’s New Novel [Advertisement]. The Athenaeum. [Online] (3078), p.546. Available at: <,+as+in+all+that+comes+from+Mr+Collinss+pen&pg=PA546&printsec=frontcover> [Accessed 18 May 2021]. 

Bassett, Troy J. At the Circulating Library Title Information: The Evil GeniusAt The Circulating Library. [Online] Available at: <At the Circulating Library Title Information: The Evil Genius (> [Accessed 16 May 2021]. 

Law, Graham. (Ed) (1994) Introduction. The Evil Genius. Peterborough, Canada: Broadview Literary Texts, pp. 9–17. 

Taylor, Jenny Bourne. (2006) The later novels. The Cambridge Companion to Wilkie Collins. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, pp.79-96.