This mystery novel interweaves the stories of two Victorian households: the cheerless Sabbatarian residence of Zachary Thorpe and the lively, off-beat home of artist Valentine Blyth. Thorpe’s rebellious son Zack’s friendship with Blyth begins an interfamilial connection that Blyth unknowingly deepens when he adopts a deaf girl he finds in a country circus.

Blyth and his disabled wife Lavinia fear the living birth father of the girl they name Madonna will discover her existence and take her away. Their desire to hide Madonna is thwarted by a rough stranger, Mat Marksman, who seeks the man who impregnated and abandoned his sister--Madonna’s mother, who died soon after giving birth. Zachary Thorpe, Sr. is revealed as Madonna’s father, just in time to prevent a problematic romance between the half-siblings.


In Madonna Blyth, Collins wanted to represent "the character of a ’Deaf Mute’ as literally as possible according to nature," in contrast to the deaf characters featured in nineteenth-century stage melodramas. The novel offers a substantial "case history" of her accidental deafening, diagnosis, and treatment, based on religious writer John Kitto’s The Lost Senses (1845), a popular semi-autobiographical account of deafness and blindness. Like Kitto, Madonna is subjected to a host of invasive treatments and diagnosed as having a paralyzed auditory nerve produced by the shock of the impact. The particularities of "deaf behavior" Collins assigns her are partly drawn from Kitto’s book.

Collins’s construction of a deaf woman as desirable and desiring was radical for his time, as was his development of her case history. The novel’s discussion of Lavinia Blyth’s spinal disease is also more clinically detailed than most Victorian representations of illness and disability.

The adoption narrative is a significant narrative element, and memorably captures the Blyths’ fervor for Madonna and their anxiety about losing her. Collins portrays this family built through adoption as an idyllic triad, especially in contrast to the two miserable biological families in the novel. For twentieth-century readers, Hide and Seek highlights the ethical issues surrounding quick adoptions of disabled and other children perceived as "available" to anyone willing to take on their guardianship. This issue recurs in Dickens’s Christmas story "Doctor Marigold."


First published 1854; this edition is a republication of the revised 1861 edition.



Place Published

New York



Page Count