The Biter Bit By Wilkie Collins

“The Biter Bit” by Wilkie Collins: A Deceptive Tale of Irony and Humor


“The Biter Bit” by Wilkie Collins, a master of the Victorian sensation novel and renowned for his intricate plots and vivid characters, is a humorous short story. Among his works, “The Biter Bit,” though less well-known than “The Woman in White” or “The Moonstone,” stands out as a delightful tale that showcases his talent for irony and humour. First published in 1858, this story diverges from Collins’s more serious narratives, offering readers a playful and satirical glimpse into the world of amateur detectives and con artists.

Plot Summary of “The Biter Bit” by Wilkie Collins

“The Biter Bit” revolves around Matthew Sharpin, a naive and self-assured rookie investigator who has been assigned to Scotland Yard. With instructions to try him out on a case, he is paired with the experienced officer Sergeant Bulmer. Sharpin, who holds an inflated view of his abilities, quickly demonstrates his ineptitude to everyone around him. The story is told through the correspondence of the key characters, with Sharpin’s rambling and incompetent reports taking centre stage. Despite his high opinion of himself, it becomes evident that Sharpin is not only inept but also corrupt. Chief Inspector Theakstone decides to bring Sergeant Bulmer back onto the case. He sends Bulmer Sharpin’s reports, confidently stating that Bulmer should be able to solve the case in five minutes based on these documents. Bulmer successfully interprets the evidence that Sharpin has seen but failed to understand. The clever listener or reader is also invited to try and solve the case, adding an interactive element to the story.

Themes and Style of “The Biter Bit” by Wilkie Collins

Collins’s adept use of irony is central to “The Biter Bit.” The story’s title itself is a nod to the outcome, where the would-be biter, Sharpin, is ultimately bitten by his incompetence and corruption. This theme of role reversal highlights the fallibility of human judgment and the unpredictability of outcomes, even for those who consider themselves shrewd and capable. The humour in the story is both situational and character-driven. Collins sketches Matthew Sharpin as a bumbling, overconfident detective whose earnestness and corruption make his eventual downfall all the more humorous. The narrative is laced with witty dialogues and ironic observations, enhancing the lighthearted tone of the story.

Character Analysis of “The Biter Bit” by Wilkie Collins

The characters in “The Biter Bit” are a study in contrasts. Matthew Sharpin, with his bumbling earnestness, overconfidence, and corruption, embodies the archetype of the inept amateur detective. His unwavering belief in his cleverness closes his eyes to the more sophisticated machinations of those around him. Sergeant Bulmer, on the other hand, is the epitome of an experienced and competent officer. His ability to correctly interpret the evidence and solve the case underscores his superior intellect and experience. The dynamic between these two characters drives the narrative and amplifies the story’s comedic and ironic elements.

Literary Significance

While “The Biter Bit” may not possess the same depth and complexity as Collins’s longer works, it is a testament to his versatility as a writer. The story blends elements of comedy and crime, serving as a precursor to the more elaborate detective fiction that would come to dominate the literary scene in subsequent decades. Collins’s influence on the detective genre is notable. His ability to craft compelling, multi-dimensional characters and his penchant for plot twists can be seen in the works of later writers, including Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. “The Biter Bit” reflects these qualities in a compact form, making it an essential piece for understanding the evolution of detective fiction. Furthermore, “The Biter Bit” serves as an early example of the subversion of detective genre tropes. While many detective stories focus on the triumph of justice and the detective’s superior intellect, Collins flips this expectation, highlighting the detective’s fallibility and the conman’s ingenuity. This inversion not only entertains but also invites readers to question the nature of justice and the often fine line between hero and villain.


Wilkie Collins’s “The Biter Bit” is a delightful exploration of deception, irony, and human folly. Its engaging narrative and humorous undertones make it a memorable piece that continues to entertain readers. While it may not be as celebrated as some of Collins’s other works, its clever plot and charming characters ensure its place in the annals of Victorian literature. For those looking to explore Collins’s oeuvre, “The Biter Bit” offers a perfect blend of wit and wisdom, showcasing the author’s lighter side and his enduring appeal as a storyteller. Through this story, Collins not only entertains but also subtly critiques the societal norms and expectations of his time, making “The Biter Bit” a work of lasting relevance and enjoyment.

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