August 18, 2020
We are back for more Cocktail Talking from 1800s writer Wilkie Collins’ lesser-known gem No Name. If you haven’t read the No Name Part I Cocktail Talk, then I strongly suggest you do, to get a little background on the book, and the author (and if you really want to go into history, of a slightly less recent sort, but far more recent than the author himself, check out another Wilkie via The Yellow Mask and Other Stories Cocktail Talk). Did all that? Fan-Victorian-tastic! In this, our second No Name treat, our heroine Magdalen Vanstone is (in disguise – just letting you know that to be intriguing!) getting a tour of a house from one of its occupants, the charming (and tipsy) old sailor Mazey, who is a well-done memorable character, especially when he’s talking about monks drinking grog!
“No more, my dear — we’ve run aground here, and we may as well wear round and put back again,” said old Mazey. “There’s another side of the house — due south of you as you stand now — which is all tumbling about our ears. You must go out into the garden if you want to see it; it’s built off from us by a brick bulkhead, t’other side of this wall here. The monks lived due south of us, my dear, hundreds of years afore his honor the admiral was born or thought of, and a fine time of it they had, as I’ve heard. They sang in the church all the morning, and drank grog in the orchard all the afternoon. They slept off their grog on the best of feather-beds, and they fattened on the neighborhood all the year round. Lucky beggars! lucky beggars!”
–Wilkie Collins, No Name
August 11, 2020
First published in serial form in 1862/1863, No Name is not the book name (see what I did there!) that first pops up when one thinks of Mr. Wilkie Collins; instead, it’s The Moonstone, and then The Woman in White. Both of which have also had recent television adaptions. It makes some sense, too, especially as The Moonstone is in many ways arguably (gently, cause there is no need for a ruckus) the first, or one of the first, detective novels, kicking off a massive industry, and The Woman in White has a little of that action, too. However! Collins wrote many more novels, some good, some not as good, and strongly in the good column is No Name. It had been, maybe, twenty-odd years since I read this the first time, and on the second reading recently I was struck by just how good it is, and left wondering why more haven’t taken it up. It has, as you might expect, a fair dollop of Victorian melodramatics – meaning, lots of cliff’s edges or “oh that didn’t happen” ramped up moments, like a silent movie in a way, or like a fair amount of modern movies now that I think about it – and gets wordy at over 500 pages. But the story/stories of two sisters (Magdalen and Norah Vanstone) abandoned when their parents die, and left none of their inheritance due to the ridiculous legality of the times, and how they deal with it and the loss of standing and fortune (not to mention grief, degradation, all that) is done quite well, and gives us a heroine (Magdalen) that many readers at the time weren’t fond of, but which I quite liked in her “do whatever it takes” and “I’m not going to sit in a place others tell me to” attitude. It could, I think, also make a swell miniseries! Plus, it was Collins’ pal Charles Dickens favorite (of the Collins canon), and has a couple nearly Dickensian characters, including the rascally Captain Wragge, and his nemesis, the calculating Mrs. Lecount, who below gives us – along with cruel fool Noah Vanstone – our first of three Cocktail Talks from the book.
“The man has been drinking, sir,” said Mrs. Lecount. “It is easy to see and to smell that. But he is evidently used to drinking. If he is sober enough to walk quite straight–which he certainly does–and to sign his name in an excellent handwriting–which you may see for yourself on the Will–I venture to think he is sober enough to drive us to Dumfries.”
“Nothing of the sort! You’re a foreigner, Lecount; you don’t understand these people. They drink whisky from morning to night. Whisky is the strongest spirit that’s made; whisky is notorious for its effect on the brain. I tell you, I won’t run the risk. I never was driven, and I never will be driven, by anybody but a sober man.”
–Wilkie Collins, No Name
March 20, 2009
It’s a dog-gone dreary first day of spring here, with clouds, wind, and intermittently nasty and extra-nasty rain, and I’ve had a cold/flu/allergy/asstastic thing all week (my sinuses hate me, I swear), and am generally in a woe-is-me state of mind (cause, well, I have to work, when I should be under the covers drinking a hot drink and watching the Thin Man or some such). With that, I’m turning to two quotes from Wilkie Collins short stories, quotes about warming up with a drink and fire, a situation I’d much like to be within. Being that Mr. Collins (old schools Dickens era writer and partier) is most remembered for rolling out some formative ancestors to our current detective yarns and mysteries, and has a habit of putting his characters in unfriendly situations, maybe I shouldn’t wish to be one of his characters–but dang, that “gin and water hot” sounds dreamy right now.
He said, ‘All right?’ and walked back to the inn. In the hall he ordered hot rum and water, cigars, slippers, and a fire to be lit in his room
After settling these little matters, having half-an-hour to spare, I turned to and did myself a bloater at the office-fire and had a drop of gin and water hot and felt comparatively happy.
–Wilkie Collins, The Yellow Mask and Other Stories
PS: Just realized “The Yellow Mask” would be a pretty great name for a drink. It’d need to be a bit creepy though (the story is). But hey, if anyone reading this wants to take a shot at a drink that fits the name, go to—just let me know how it turns out.