The Two Destinies By Wilkie Collins

An AI-generated image portrays a romantic Victorian couple reminiscent of the love depicted in Wilkie Collins' The Two Destinies.

The Two Destinies by Wilkie Collins: A Victorian Tale of Love, Fate, and Mystery

Introduction to “The Two Destinies: A Romance” by Wilkie Collins

“The Two Destinies” by Wilkie Collins, a luminary of the Victorian literary scene, is a less renowned yet equally captivating novel among his extensive oeuvre, with the complete title “The Two Destinies: A Romance”. Collins is best known for his pioneering works in the mystery and sensation genres, such as “The Woman in White” and “The Moonstone.” This novel, published in 1876, blends elements of romance, supernatural occurrences, and social commentary, showcasing Collins’s narrative dexterity and his keen insights into human nature. Despite its relative obscurity, “The Two Destinies” offers readers a rich exploration of love, fate, and mystery.

Plot Overview of “The Two Destinies” by Wilkie Collins

“The Two Destinies” follows the intertwined lives of George Germaine and Mary Dermody, childhood friends separated by circumstances but destined to be reunited. The story begins with their idyllic friendship in rural Suffolk, where George, the son of a squire, and Mary, the daughter of a bailiff on George’s father’s estate, share an innocent bond. However, George’s father, envisioning a more prestigious match for his son, ensures their separation by moving his family to America. Years pass, and George and his mother return to England. George, now an adult, embarks on a search for Mary, guided by a series of supernatural visions. These visions form a critical element of the plot, as they reveal glimpses of Mary’s life and her struggles, drawing George inexorably towards her. Meanwhile, Mary, unaware of George’s search, endures hardships, including a perilous marriage proposal and financial difficulties. The narrative progresses through a series of dramatic episodes, culminating in a climactic reunion that hinges on the power of love and destiny. Throughout, Collins employs suspense and emotional depth, crafting a tale that is both engaging and thought-provoking.

Themes and Motifs

Fate and Destiny: As the title suggests, the concept of destiny is central to the novel. Collins explores whether our lives are predestined or shaped by our choices. George and Mary’s eventual reunion, despite numerous obstacles, underscores the power of fate. Can love truly conquer all?

Supernatural Elements: The novel’s supernatural visions set it apart from Collins’s more grounded mysteries. These elements add a layer of mystique and serve as a narrative device to bridge the distance between George and Mary. How do these visions influence their actions and choices?

Social Critique: Collins subtly critiques the rigid social hierarchies of Victorian society. Through George and Mary’s separation, he highlights the impact of class differences and societal expectations on personal happiness. What does this say about the constraints of social class?

Romantic Idealism: At its heart, “The Two Destinies” is a romance that celebrates enduring love. The protagonists’ unwavering devotion to each other, despite time and trials, embodies romantic idealism. How does their love defy societal norms and expectations?

Character Analysis of “The Two Destinies” by Wilkie Collins

George Germaine: As the novel’s protagonist, George’s journey from a naive youth to a determined man forms the backbone of the story. His steadfast love for Mary and his reliance on supernatural visions highlight his deep emotional and spiritual connection to her. George’s character also serves as a vehicle for Collins to explore themes of perseverance and the influence of destiny.

Mary Dermody: Mary represents the resilience and purity often idealised in Victorian heroines. Despite facing numerous challenges and societal pressures, she remains true to her love for George. Her experiences reflect the limited agency afforded to women of her time and the strength required to navigate such a constrained existence.

Van Brandt: Van Brandt is initially introduced as a mysterious and somewhat menacing figure whose intentions and behaviour create tension and conflict in the story. Van Brandt’s deceitful actions and proposal to Mary expose her vulnerability in Victorian society and serve as a foil to George’s sincerity. His role underscores the novel’s exploration of morality and the challenges faced by the protagonists on their journey to happiness.

Dame Dermody: Dame Dermody is Mary’s grandmother, and the father of Mary is the bailiff on George’s father’s estate. She asserts that true love is predetermined and blessed in heaven. She believes that souls meant to be together in the afterlife are tasked with finding each other and beginning their union in the mortal world. Hence, in her view, only marriages where these destined souls unite bring true happiness.

George’s Father: George’s father possesses a restless and speculative nature and is a complex character embodying the societal expectations of the upper class. He disapproves that his son and heir is in love with his bailiff’s daughter. His insistence on a socially advantageous marriage for George creates a central conflict in the narrative, illustrating the theme of social critique.

Literary Significance and Reception

Although “The Two Destinies” may not have achieved the same level of fame as Collins’s notable works like “The Woman in White” and “The Moonstone,” it showcases his versatility as a writer. The novel’s unique blend of romance, mystery, and the supernatural provides readers with a distinctive reading experience that diverges from the more conventional narratives of its time. While some critics have noted its sentimental tone and departure from Collins’s earlier sensationalist style, its exploration of fate and social commentary remains relevant, offering valuable insights into Victorian values and the human condition. Despite its initial lack of widespread popularity, “The Two Destinies” has garnered praise for its narrative complexity and thematic depth. Over time, it became an appreciated book for its innovative narrative techniques and its examination of timeless themes such as love, destiny, and morality. Today, the novel continues to be studied and analysed for its contribution to Victorian literature and its place within Wilkie Collins’s broader body of work.

Comparative Analysis

In comparison to Collins’s other works, “The Two Destinies” stands out for its emphasis on supernatural elements. While “The Woman in White” and “The Moonstone” are grounded in realistic mystery and suspense, “The Two Destinies” delves into the metaphysical, exploring themes of predestination, telepathy and spiritual connection. This divergence highlights Collins’s willingness to experiment with different narrative forms and themes, enriching his literary repertoire. Unlike “The Woman in White,” which focuses on legal and social injustices, and “The Moonstone,” which delves into colonialism and its repercussions, “The Two Destinies” shifts the focus to the internal struggles and spiritual journeys of its characters. By centring the narrative on themes of fate and destiny, Collins creates a unique entry in his catalogue that offers readers a deeper exploration of the human psyche and the forces that shape our lives. Through its exploration of supernatural elements and metaphysical themes, “The Two Destinies” adds a new dimension to Collins’s body of work, showcasing his versatility as a writer and his ability to engage readers with thought-provoking narratives that transcend genre conventions.

Contextual Analysis

Set against the backdrop of the late Victorian era, “The Two Destinies” reflects contemporary anxieties about class mobility and social structures. With societal norms in flux and the rise of the middle class challenging traditional hierarchies, the novel captures tensions arising from these changes. Additionally, its exploration of supernatural elements can be interpreted as a response to the Victorian fascination with spiritualism, prevalent during a time of scientific and technological advancement. The late 19th century witnessed a surge of interest in paranormal phenomena fueled by developments in science and technology. Spiritualism, in particular, gained popularity as people sought solace and answers in the face of societal upheaval and uncertainty. Wilkie Collins taps into this cultural zeitgeist, using supernatural visions and mysterious occurrences to add depth and intrigue to his narrative. By situating “The Two Destinies” within its historical and cultural context, readers gain a deeper understanding of the novel’s themes and characters. It becomes evident that Collins’s exploration of love, fate, and morality is not just a reflection of individual experiences but also a commentary on the broader anxieties and aspirations of Victorian society. As such, the novel continues to resonate with contemporary audiences, offering insights into the human condition that transcends time and place.

Narrative Techniques of “The Two Destinies” by Wilkie Collins

Collins employs several narrative techniques that enhance the novel’s thematic depth and reader engagement. The use of supernatural visions as a narrative device not only propels the plot but also creates an atmosphere of mystery and suspense. For instance, George’s visions often reveal crucial information about Mary’s whereabouts and condition, driving the narrative forward. This technique allows Collins to explore the inner lives of his characters more deeply, as their dreams and visions reveal hidden fears, desires, and connections. The novel’s structure, with its shifting perspectives and episodic nature, mirrors the unpredictability of fate. This narrative approach keeps readers invested in the characters’ journeys and maintains a sense of suspense throughout the story.

Symbolism and Imagery

Collins employs rich symbolism and imagery throughout “The Two Destinies” to enhance its thematic concerns. The supernatural visions that George experiences are filled with vivid imagery, symbolising the connection between the spiritual and physical realms. For example, these visions often include elements of light and darkness, reflecting the hope and despair experienced by the characters. The sea, a recurring motif, symbolises both separation and reunion. It represents the physical and emotional distance between George and Mary, as well as the possibility of navigating life’s uncertainties to reach a destined union. Similarly, the rural Suffolk landscape where George and Mary’s childhood friendship blossoms symbolise innocence and purity, contrasting with the harsher realities they face later in life.

Narrative Voice and Style in “The Two Destinies” by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins’s narrative style in “The Two Destinies” is characterised by its unique framing device. The anonymous narrator reads the manuscript written by George and Mary Germaine, who recount their love story. The narrative is presented from the perspective of a citizen of the United States visiting England with his wife. It recounts a dinner party attended by the narrator and hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Germaine to celebrate their marriage. Additionally, it mentions the circumstances under which the narrator was entrusted with the story that unfolds in the pages of the book. After reading the manuscript, Mr. and Mrs. Germaine allowed the narrator to decide whether to maintain their friendly relationship. Through this distinctive narrative perspective, Collins provides insights into the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters, offering a personal connection to their experiences. This approach enhances the reader’s understanding and engagement with the story, allowing for a comprehensive view of the characters’ motivations and conflicts. Moreover, Collins’s language is descriptive and evocative, effectively evoking the spirit of the Victorian era while making the characters’ emotions palpable. Overall, the combination of this narrative perspective, descriptive language, and emotional resonance contributes to the immersive and compelling nature of “The Two Destinies.”

Historical and Cultural Influences

The late Victorian period, during which “The Two Destinies” was written, was a time of significant social and cultural transformation. The rise of the middle class, changes in social mobility, and evolving attitudes towards marriage and gender roles all find echoes in the novel. Collins subtly critiques these societal shifts, mainly through the constraints placed on George and Mary’s relationship by class differences and societal expectations. The Victorian fascination with spiritualism and the occult is another critical influence on the novel. During the 19th century, there was a growing interest in the supernatural, with many people exploring séances, ghost stories, and other paranormal phenomena. Collins taps into this cultural zeitgeist, using supernatural visions not just as a plot device but also as a means to explore more profound questions about fate, destiny, and the human soul.

Psychological Depth in “The Two Destinies” by Wilkie Collins

One of the strengths of “The Two Destinies” is its psychological depth. Collins delves into the minds of his characters, exploring their fears, desires, and motivations. George’s visions, for instance, are not just supernatural occurrences but also reflections of his inner turmoil and longing for Mary. These psychological insights add layers of complexity to the characters, making their struggles and triumphs more relatable and poignant. Mary’s psychological journey is equally compelling. Her resilience in the face of adversity and her unwavering hope for a better future highlight the inner strength that defines her character. Through Mary, Collins explores themes of agency and self-determination, challenging the traditional Victorian notion of passive femininity.

Impact on Later Literature

While “The Two Destinies” may not be as widely studied as some of Collins’s other works, its impact on later literature is notable. The novel’s blend of romance, mystery, and the supernatural prefigures the development of genres such as paranormal romance and modern fantasy. Collins’s ability to weave supernatural elements into a realistic narrative paved the way for future authors to explore similar themes in more contemporary settings. Authors like Daphne du Maurier and Susan Hill, who skillfully combine elements of the supernatural with rich character development, can trace some of their narrative techniques back to Collins. Furthermore, the novel’s exploration of fate and destiny resonates with existential themes in 20th-century literature. Collins’s nuanced treatment of these themes anticipates the existential questions that would become central to modernist and postmodernist literature, particularly regarding free will, the nature of reality, and the search for meaning.

Reader Reception and Legacy of “The Two Destinies” by Wilkie Collins

Upon its publication, “The Two Destinies” received mixed reviews, with some critics praising its imaginative scope and emotional depth. In contrast, others found its supernatural elements less compelling than Collins’s earlier, more grounded works. The Spectator, for instance, lauded the novel’s emotional depth but noted its divergence from the more sensationalist style of Collins’s earlier successes. However, over time, the novel has gained appreciation for its innovative blend of genres and its exploration of timeless themes. Today, “The Two Destinies” is valued not only as a work of literary art but also as a historical document offering insights into Victorian society and culture. It continues to be studied for its narrative techniques, thematic richness, and its place within Wilkie Collins’s broader body of work.


“The Two Destinies” is a compelling addition to Wilkie Collins’s body of work, reflecting his narrative innovation and his ability to weave complex themes into engaging stories. It is a novel that deserves attention for its exploration of love and destiny, its supernatural intrigue, and its subtle social critique. For readers and scholars alike, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the multifaceted world of Victorian literature and the enduring power of narrative to capture the essence of human experience. In its exploration of fate, social constraints, and the supernatural, “The Two Destinies” offers a rich, layered narrative that continues to resonate with contemporary readers. Collins’s ability to blend genres and themes with such skill and sensitivity underscores his enduring legacy as a master storyteller of the Victorian era. This novel, with its unique blend of romance, mystery, and social commentary, remains an attestation of Collins’s literary genius and his deep understanding of the human condition.

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