The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins


A couple weekends ago, I found myself between “required” reads and thought I’d give this book a try. The Frozen Deep actually began its life as a play, co-written by Collins and his good friend Charles Dickens, but what I read was Collins’ later adaptation of the play into a novella. I haven’t read much Collins before, either, though his most famous work, The Lady in White, is sitting on my bookshelf. I did read his short story, “A Terribly Strange Bed” as part of the 2011 edition of my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge, but I think that’s about it.

I chose this novella, honestly, because of its title. “The Frozen Deep” seemed to fit in perfectly with the winter we’ve been having here in the American Midwest, and I had also realized I’d been reading (not consciously) a lot of “winter” material. (George R.R. Martin’s song of fire and Ice to name just a couple thousand pages)

It’s loosely based on the real life events of the English “Franklin Expedition” of 1845, which was charged with finding the Northwest Passage and disappeared to an unknown fate. (Later, not wholly substantiated reports from native Inuit people gave some hints of a perhaps grisly fate of the expedition.)

So, how to make a popular stage drama from all this? Its a simple recipe: Take one rising young officer (who declares his love for a charming lady on the eve of the expedition’s departure), then add a last minute volunteer for the expedition (who also had once entertained hopes in regard to this same young lady – hopes that were crushed also on the eve of the expedition), add a dash of the gift of “the second sight” to the young lady. Mix these ingredients together and place them in a large, remote and harsh wilderness lined with privations and conflict and let simmer for about 100 pages. Presto! You have the story “The Frozen Deep!”

I enjoyed the book for the most part. The conflict between “the spurned” and “the chosen” lay beneath the surface for the greater part of the book but blossomed nicely toward the end. An easy read also – perhaps you should make a note of it for next winter in case you find yourself with a spare couple hours on a cold and blustery day.

Have you read anything by Wilkie Collins?  What were your favorites, or what do you recommend by him?

(below: From wikipedia, a portrait of Wilkie Collins. I think he wrote remarkably well for being just a disembodied head…)



  1. Ti said,

    March 19, 2014 at 10:49 am

    I won a copy of The Lady in White…twice. Yep, two copies and I still haven’t read it. I really need to comb through my shelves to see what else is hiding there.


    • Jay said,

      March 20, 2014 at 7:40 am

      Shame on you, Ti! 🙂 Winning the second copy should have been interpreted as a sign from a higher power, and you should have read iIt immediately. 🙂


  2. Melissa said,

    March 19, 2014 at 10:59 am

    I’ve somehow never heard of this one, but now I’m intrigued. I loved The White Woman and struggled with The Moonstone. I think I need to try another dose of Collins.


    • Jay said,

      March 20, 2014 at 7:41 am

      Its not a big time investment. You should give it a try. 🙂


  3. March 19, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    The Woman in White and The Moonstone are almost guaranteed winners – not 100% guaranteed, though!

    No Name is quite good, too. I have not read Armadale. These four books form what is usually thought to be the peak period of Collins, roughly covering the 1860s.

    His character work, in the ones I have read, is a great treat. Each of them has two or three indelible characters.


    • Jay said,

      March 20, 2014 at 7:43 am

      Thanks for the recommendations, Tom. The Woman in White will likely be my next foray into Collins. It seems almost universally praised and, most importantly, I already have a copy. -)


  4. Dale said,

    March 19, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Jay, I’ve seen a lot written about Wilkie Collins on various book blogs, but I’ve never read any of his work. I hadn’t heard of this one, but it sounds good. I’ll have to check him out one of these days.


    • Jay said,

      March 20, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Hi Dale,
      This one’s short enough it would be a good, low-risk introduction to see if you like him. The short story I mentioned in the post is also oft-anthologized and might be easy to find.


  5. Paula Cappa said,

    March 20, 2014 at 9:22 am

    I do like Collin’s work. Woman in White has a hypnotic feel and I really enjoyed it. Reading winter stories in the depths of winter is always cozy to me. I may try this one for next winter. I’m too anxious for spring now and can barely stand to look at the dirty snow still frozen on my lawn.


    • Jay said,

      March 20, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      I’m the same way with “winter stories.” Reading the latter part of this one while snug and warm indoors somehow added to the experience. I also have a fond memory of reading Haruki Murakami’s story “The Ice Man” one morning in a cozy coffee shop before work – as I watched the beginnings of a “winter storm” commencing right outside the window…


  6. March 20, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    I really enjoyed The Woman in White and I hope to squeeze in the Moonstone sometime soon. I haven’t heard of this one but sounds right up my alley.


    • Jay said,

      March 23, 2014 at 6:22 pm

      I actually already have a copy of The Woman in White. Assuming it doesn’t disappoint, I’ll move on to Moonstone next afterward.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: