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Wilkie Collins
BornWilliam Wilkie Collins
(1824-01-08)8 January 1824
Marylebone, London
Died23 September 1889(1889-09-23) (aged 65)
London
Period1840s–1880s
GenreFiction, drama
Children3

Signature

William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) was an English novelist, playwright, and short story writer. His best-known works are The Woman in White (1859), No Name (1862), Armadale (1866) and The Moonstone (1868). The last is considered the first modern English detective novel.

Born into the family of painter William Collins in London, he lived with his family in Italy and France as a child and learned French and Italian. He worked as a clerk for a tea merchant. After his first novel, Antonina, was published in 1850, he met Charles Dickens, who became a close friend, mentor and collaborator. Some of Collins's works were first published in Dickens' journals All the Year Round and Household Words and the two collaborated on drama and fiction.

Collins published his best known works in the 1860s and achieved financial stability and an international reputation. During that time he began suffering from gout. After taking opium for the pain, he developed an addiction. During the 1870s and 1880s the quality of his writing declined along with his health.

Collins was critical of the institution of marriage and never married; he split his time between Caroline Graves, except for a two-year separation, and his common-law wife Martha Rudd, with whom he had three children.

Early life[edit]

Collins was born at 11 New Cavendish Street, Marylebone, London, the son of a well-known Royal Academician landscape painter, William Collins and his wife, Harriet Geddes. Named after his father, he swiftly became known by his middle name, which honoured his godfather, David Wilkie. The family moved to Pond Street, Hampstead, in 1826. In 1828 Collins's brother Charles Allston Collins was born. Between 1829 and 1830, the Collins family moved twice, first to Hampstead Square and then to Porchester Terrace, Bayswater.[1] Wilkie and Charles received their early education from their mother at home. The Collins family were deeply religious, and Collins's mother enforced strict church attendance on her sons, which Wilkie disliked.

In 1835, Collins began attending school at the Maida Vale academy. From 1836 to 1838, he lived with his parents in Italy and France, which made a great impression on him. He learned Italian while the family was in Italy and began learning French, in which he would eventually become fluent. From 1838 to 1840, he attended the Reverend Cole's private boarding school in Highbury, where he was bullied by a boy who would force Collins to tell him a story before allowing him to go to sleep. "It was this brute who first awakened in me, his poor little victim, a power of which but for him I might never have been aware...When I left school I continued story telling for my own pleasure", Collins later said.[4]

In 1840 the family moved to 85 Oxford Terrace, Bayswater. In late 1840, he left school and was apprenticed as a clerk to the firm of tea merchants Antrobus & Co, owned by a friend of Wilkie's father. He disliked his clerical work but remained employed by the company for more than five years. Collins's first story The Last Stage Coachman, was published in the Illuminated Magazine in August 1843. In 1844 he travelled to Paris with Charles Ward. That same year he wrote his first novel, Iolani, or Tahiti as It Was; a Romance, which was submitted to Chapman and Hall but rejected in 1845. The novel remained unpublished during his lifetime.[1] Collins said of it: "My youthful imagination ran riot among the noble savages, in scenes which caused the respectable British publisher to declare that it was impossible to put his name on the title page of such a novel." It was during the writing of this novel that Collins's father first learned that his assumptions that Wilkie would follow him in becoming a painter were mistaken.[4]

William Collins had intended Wilkie for a clergyman and was disappointed in his son's lack of interest. In 1846 he instead entered Lincoln's Inn to study law, on the initiative of his father, who wanted him to have a steady income. Wilkie showed only a slight interest in law and spent most of his time with friends and on working on a second novel, Antonina, or the Fall of Rome. After his father's death in 1847, Collins produced his first published book, Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R. A., published in 1848. The family moved to 38 Blandford Square soon afterwards, where they used their drawing room for amateur theatricals. In 1849 Collins, exhibited a painting, "The Smugglers' Retreat", at the Royal Academy summer exhibition. Antonina was published by Richard Bentley in February 1850. Collins went on a walking tour of Cornwall with artist Henry Brandling in July and August 1850.[1] He managed to complete his legal studies and be called to the bar in 1851. Though he never formally practised, he used his legal knowledge in many of his novels.[4]

Early writing career[edit]

An instrumental event in his career was an introduction in March 1851 to Charles Dickens by a mutual friend, through the painter Augustus Egg. They became lifelong friends and collaborators. In May of that year, Collins acted with Dickens in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's play Not So Bad As We Seem. Among the audience were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Collins's story "A Terribly Strange Bed," his first contribution to Household Words, appeared in April, 1852. In May 1852 he went on tour with Dickens's company of amateur actors, again performing Not So Bad As We Seem, but with a more substantial role. Collins's novel Basil was published by Bentley in November. During the writing of Hide and Seek, in early 1853, Collins suffered what was probably his first attack of gout, which would plague him for the rest of his life. He was ill from April to early July. After that he stayed with Dickens in Boulogne from July to September 1853, then toured Switzerland and Italy with Dickens and Egg from October to December. Collins published Hide and Seek in June 1854.

During this period Collins extended the variety of his writing, publishing articles in George Henry Lewes's paper The Leader, short stories and essays for Bentley's Miscellany, dramatic criticism and the travel book Rambles Beyond Railways.[4] His first play, The Lighthouse, was performed by Dickens's theatrical company at Tavistock House, in 1855. His first collection of short stories, After Dark, was published by Smith, Elder in February 1856. His novel A Rogue's Life was serialised in Household Words in March 1856. Around then, Collins began using laudanum regularly to treat his gout. He became addicted and struggled with that problem later in life.

Collins joined the staff of Household Words in October 1856. In 1856–57 he collaborated closely with Dickens on a play, The Frozen Deep, first performed in Tavistock. Collins's novel The Dead Secret was serialised in Household Words from January to June 1857 and published in volume form by Bradbury and Evans. Collins's play The Lighthouse was performed at the Olympic Theatre in August. The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices, based on Dickens's and Collins's walking tour in the north of England, was serialised in Household Words in October 1857. In 1858 he collaborated with Dickens and other writers on the story "A House to Let".

1860s[edit]

According to biographer Melisa Klimaszewski, "The novels Collins published in the 1860s are the best and most enduring of his career. The Woman in White, No Name, Armadale, and The Moonstone, written in less than a decade, show Collins not just as a master of his craft, but as an innovater and provocateur. These four works, which secured him an international reputation, and sold in large numbers, ensured his financial stability, and allowed him to support many others".

The Woman in White was serialised in All the Year Round from November 1859 to August 1860 and was a great success. The novel was published in book form soon after serial publication ended, and it reached an eighth edition by November 1860. His increased stature as a writer made Collins resign his position with All the Year Round in 1862 to focus on novel writing. During the planning of his next novel, No Name, he continued to suffer from gout, and it now especially affected his eyes. Serial publication of No Name began in early 1862 and finished in 1863. By this time the laudanum he was taking for his continual gout became a serious problem.

At the beginning of 1863, he travelled to German spas and Italy for his health, with Caroline Graves. In 1864, he began work on his novel Armadale, travelling in August to do research for it. It was published serially in The Cornhill Magazine in 1864–66. His play No Thoroughfare, co-written with Dickens, was published as the 1867 Christmas number of All the Year Round and dramatised at the Adelphi Theatre on 26 December. It enjoyed a run of 200 nights before being taken on tour.

Collins's search for background information for Armadale took him to the Norfolk Broads and the small village of Winterton-on-Sea. His novel The Moonstone was serialised in All the Year Round from January to August 1868. His mother, Harriet Collins, died that year.[4]

Later years[edit]

In 1870, his novel Man and Wife was published. This year also saw the death of Charles Dickens, which caused him great sadness. He said of their early days together, "We saw each other every day, and were as fond of each other as men could be."

The Woman in White was dramatised and produced at the Olympic Theatre in October 1871.

Collins's novel Poor Miss Finch was serialised in Cassell's Magazine from October to March 1872. His short novel Miss or Mrs? was published in the 1872 Christmas number of the Graphic. His novel The New Magdalen was serialised from October 1872 to July 1873. His younger brother, Charles Allston Collins, died later in 1873. Charles had married Dickens's younger daughter, Kate.[1]

In 1873–74, Collins toured the United States and Canada, giving readings of his work. The American writers he met included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and Mark Twain, and he began a friendship with the photographer Napoleon Sarony, who took several portraits of him.

His novel The Law and the Lady, serialised in the Graphic from September to March 1875, was followed by a short novel, The Haunted Hotel, which was serialised from June to November 1878. His later novels include Jezebel's Daughter (1880), The Black Robe (1881), Heart and Science (1883) and The Evil Genius (1886). In 1884, Collins was elected Vice-President of the Society of Authors, which had been founded by his friend and fellow novelist Walter Besant.[1]

The inconsistent quality of Collins's dramatic and fictional works in the last decade of his life was accompanied by a general decline in his health, including diminished eyesight. He was often unable to leave home and had difficulty writing. During these last years, he focused on mentoring younger writers, including the novelist Hall Caine, and helped to protect other writers from copyright infringement of their works. His writing became a way for him to fight his illness without allowing it to keep him bedridden. His step-daughter Harriet also served as an amanuensis for several years. His last novel, Blind Love, was finished posthumously by Walter Besant.

Death[edit]

Collins died at 82 Wimpole Street, following a paralytic stroke. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, West London. His headstone describes him as the author of The Woman in White.[18] Caroline Graves died in 1895 and was buried with Collins. Martha Rudd died in 1919.[1]

Personal life[edit]

In 1858 Collins began living with Caroline Graves and her daughter Harriet. Caroline came from a humble family, having married young, had a child, and been widowed. Collins lived close to the small shop kept by Caroline, and the two may have met in the neighborhood in the mid-1850s. He treated Harriet, whom he called Carrie, as his own daughter, and helped to provide for her education. Excepting one short separation, they lived together for the rest of Collins's life. Collins disliked the institution of marriage, but remained dedicated to Caroline and Harriet, considering them to be his family. Caroline had wanted to marry Collins. She left him while he wrote The Moonstone and was suffering an attack of acute gout. She then married a younger man named Joseph Clow, but returned to Collins after two years.[4]

In 1868, Collins met Martha Rudd in Winterton-on-Sea in Norfolk, and the two began a liaison. She was 19 years old and from a large, poor family. She moved to London to be closer to him a few years later. Their daughter Marian was born in 1869, their second daughter, Harriet Constance, in 1871 and their son, William Charles, in 1874. When he was with Martha he assumed the name William Dawson, and she and their children used the last name of Dawson themselves.

For the last 20 years of his life Collins divided his time between Caroline, who lived with him at his home in Gloucester Place, and Martha who was nearby.[4]

Like his friend Charles Dickens, Collins was an unorthodox Christian.[20]

Works[edit]

Collins's works were classified at the time as "sensation novels", a genre seen nowadays as the precursor to detective and suspense fiction. He also wrote penetratingly on the plight of women and on the social and domestic issues of his time. For example, his 1854 Hide and Seek contained one of the first portrayals of a deaf character in English literature. As did many writers of his time, Collins published most of his novels as serials in magazines such as Dickens's All the Year Round and was known as a master of the form, creating just the right degree of suspense to keep his audience reading from week to week. Sales of All The Year Round increased when The Woman in White followed A Tale of Two Cities.[citation needed]

Collins enjoyed ten years of great success following publication of The Woman in White in 1859. His next novel, No Name combined social commentary – the absurdity of the law as it applied to children of unmarried parents (see Illegitimacy in fiction) – with a densely plotted revenge thriller. Armadale, the first and only of Collins's major novels of the 1860s to be serialised in a magazine other than All the Year Round, provoked strong criticism, generally centred upon its transgressive villainess Lydia Gwilt, and provoked in part by Collins's typically confrontational preface. The novel was simultaneously a financial coup for its author and a comparative commercial failure: the sum paid by Cornhill for the serialisation rights was exceptional, eclipsing by a substantial margin the prices paid for the vast majority of similar novels, yet the novel failed to recoup its publisher's investment. The Moonstone, published in 1868, and the last novel of what is generally regarded as the most successful decade of its author's career, was, despite a somewhat cool reception from both Dickens and the critics, a significant return to form and reestablished the market value of an author whose success on the competitive Victorian literary market had been gradually waning in the wake of his first perceived masterpiece. Viewed by many to represent the advent of the detective story within the tradition of the English novel, The Moonstone remains one of Collins's most critically acclaimed productions, identified by T. S. Eliot as "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels... in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe,"[21] and Dorothy L. Sayers referred to it as "probably the very finest detective story ever written".[22]

After The Moonstone, Collins's novels contained fewer thriller elements and more social commentary. The subject matter continued to be sensational, but his popularity declined. The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne commented: "What brought good Wilkie's genius nigh perdition? / Some demon whispered—'Wilkie! have a mission.'"[23]

Factors most often cited have been the death of Dickens in 1870, and with it the loss of his literary mentoring, Collins's increased dependence upon laudanum, and his penchant for using his fiction to rail against social injustices. His novels and novellas of the 1870s and 1880s are generally regarded as inferior to his previous productions and receive comparatively little critical attention today[when?].[citation needed]

The Woman in White and The Moonstone share an unusual narrative structure, somewhat resembling an epistolary novel, in which different portions of the book have different narrators, each with a distinct narrative voice (Armadale has this to a lesser extent through the correspondence between some characters.

Notable works[edit]

Main article: Wilkie Collins bibliography

Works[edit]

Screen adaptations of his novels[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ abcdefThe Cambridge Companion to Wilkie Collins; Chronology. Cambridge University Press. 2006. pp. xiii–xix. ISBN 0-521-84038-4. 
  2. ^ abcdefgClarke, William M. (2003). Introduction to The Legacy of Cain. UK: Alan Sutton. pp. v–x. ISBN 0-7509-0453-4. 
  3. ^Kensal Green Cemetery, Grave Number 31754, Square 141, Row 1.
  4. ^http://wilkiecollinssociety.org/wilkie-collins-an-interpretation-of-christian-belief/
  5. ^Deirdre David, The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p.179.
  6. ^Sharon K. Hall, Twentieth Century Literary Criticism, University of Michigan Press, 1979, p.531.
  7. ^Algernon Charles Swinburne, Studies in Prose and Poetry, Chatto & Windus, 1915, p. 127.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ackroyd, Peter (2012). Wilkie Collins. London: Chatto & Windus. 
  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 81. 
  • Robert Gottlieb, "'Make 'Em Cry, Make 'Em Laugh, Make 'Em Wait'", The New York Review of Books, vol. LXIV, no. 10 (8 June 2017), pp. 25–28.
  • Klimaszewski, Melisa (2011). Brief Lives: Wilkie Collins. London: Hesperus Press. ISBN 978-1-84391-915-5. 
  • Olive Logan. "Wilkie Collins's Charms"

External links[edit]

Monument, Kensal Green Cemetery
Monument detail, Kensal Green Cemetery

Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins, the elder of the two children of the painter William John Thomas Collins (1788–1847), and his wife, Harriet Geddes Collins (1790–1868), was born at 11 New Cavendish Street, St Marylebone, on 8th January 1824. He was named after his godfather, the painter, David Wilkie.

According to his biographer, Catherine Peters: "He was born with a prominent bulge on the right side of his forehead, and his head and shoulders were disproportionately large for his short body and very small hands and feet. He was short-sighted, clumsy, and unathletic, though otherwise healthy as a child, and he later wore glasses."

In 1826 the family moved to Hampstead. His brother, Charles Allston Collins, was born two years later. He was at first educated by his mother, who had worked as a governess before her marriage. In January 1835 he was sent to a day school, the Maida Hill Academy. However, in September 1836, William John Thomas Collins, decided to go on a two year tour of France and Italy. He later recalled that he learned more "among the scenery, the pictures, and the people, than I ever learned at school".

On their return in 1838 the family settled in St John's Wood and Collins attended a boarding-school at 39 Highbury Place, London. Influenced by their father, both boys painted and Wilkie had one of his paintings hung in the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1849. However, unlike his brother, Charles Allston Collins, he had no interest in working full-time as an artist.

In 1841 Collins found work as a clerk in the Strand offices of a tea merchant, Edward Antrobus. In his spare-time he wrote stories and The Last Stage Coachman appeared in Illuminated Magazine . Collins enrolled as a student of Lincoln's Inn in 1846. He never practised law, but he did obtain a great deal of legal information that he was later to use in his fiction.

William John Thomas Collins died in 1847 leaving his son with enough money to become a full-time writer. His first published book was a biography of his father, Memoirs of the Life of William Collins (1848). This was followed by Antonina (1850), a historical novel set in ancient Rome. Although it received excellent reviews, Collins's next publication was a travel book, Rambles Beyond Railways (1851), based on a journey through Cornwall.

Collins met Charles Dickens in 1851. Peter Ackroyd has argued in Dickens (1990): "Wilkie Collins was... slight, short, bulbous-headed young man (some twelve years younger than Dickens) who was notable for his geniality, his good temper and his cheerfulness... There was a great deal, in other words, to bring them together. Of course there were also many and great contrasts between them, but these personal differences seemed only to endear Collins to Dickens; the younger man was untidy, unpunctual, indolent and alarmingly vague on occasions but for once Dickens did not seem to mind. It is almost as if he saw in Collins some alternative image of himself... The older man had always been too ambitious, too concerned to win money and fame, to allow himself to taste the real pleasures of the young. Was this now something he was trying to recapture in his new friendship? Could he forget himself with Collins; forget his fame, forget his responsibilities, and for a passing time become young again? "

Claire Tomalin , the author of Dickens: A Life (2011), has pointed out: " Wilkie Collins... was a dedicated Bohemian. Dickens saw that he was gifted, a good journalist and a striking storyteller, and found his way of life, easy and unconventional in its dealings with women, interesting. The two men shared a taste for brightly coloured clothes. Collins might appear in a camel-hair suit with broad-striped pink shirt and red tie, and even in sober colours his physical appearance was odd, with his big head and small body, a cast in one eye and a tendency to tics and fidgets.... Wilkie hero-worshipped Dickens, who had risen so high that he did not need to worry any longer about whether lie was a gentleman or not. He became Dickens's chosen companion for many of his escapes and jaunts."

The two men soon became close friends and Collins became a regular contributor to Dickens's periodical Household Words . In 1852 he published Basil (1852), his first novel of contemporary life, which received hostile reviews for its outspoken depiction of sexual obsession. Collins's next novel, Hide and Seek (1854), was dedicated to Dickens was well-liked by the critics. As the author of The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins has pointed out: "The novel has a deaf heroine, the first exploration in his work of the effects of physical handicap on perception and character. This, with the altered states of consciousness caused by mental disturbance, became a lifelong preoccupation, and a feature of his fiction."

In October 1853, Collins joined Augustus Leopold Egg and Dickens on an extensive journey to Switzerland and Italy. Collins's first play, The Lighthouse (1855), was given several performances at Dickens's home, Tavistock House before being professionally produced, with great success, at the Olympic Theatre. Collins's next book, After Dark (1856) was a collection of short stories.

In 1856 Collins spent six weeks in Paris with Dickens. Catherine Peters has argued: "Dickens began to treat Collins less as a disciple and more as a collaborator. Much of their free time was spent together, wandering by night in the less respectable areas of London and Paris, looking for material for their novels and journalism." Kate Dickens later recalled: "I liked him (Wilkie Collins) and my father was very fond of him and enjoyed his company more than that of any other of his friends - Forster was very jealous of their friendship. He had very high spirits and was a splendid companion, but he was as bad as he could be, yet the gentlest and most kind-hearted of men. He took large quantities of opium a day, and consumed sufficient laudanum at night to kill six men."

Collins's health began to deteriorate but he continued to be a productive writer and his novella A Rogue's Life, was serialized in Household Words in 1856. Later that year Dickens managed to persuade Collins to become a member of the regular staff of the journal. In his articles he wrote about the plight of the poor and disadvantaged.

Charles Dickens was unhappily married and he often talked about his domestic problems with his two main friends, Collins and John Forster. In April 1856 Dickens wrote to Foster saying "I find that the skeleton in my domestic closet is becoming a pretty big one." He also said that he feared that "one happiness I have missed in life, and one friend and companion I have never made." Dickens disliked the way his wife had put on weight. He told Collins how he had taken her to his favourite Paris restaurant where she ate so much that she "nearly killed herself".

At this time became sexually involved with Caroline Elizabeth Graves (1829–1895), a young woman with an illegitimate daughter, who ran a shop near his home in Fitzroy Square. The author of The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins (1992) has pointed out: "He suffered from rheumatic disorders and nervous tics that worsened as he aged. He wore clothes that were eccentric in colour and cut. He also, like many ugly men, possessed a charm that made him irresistible to women."

In 1857 Dickens agreed to serialise Collins's Dead Secret in Household Words . Collins was now accepted as one of Britain's leading novelists. The critic, Edmund Yates, argued that Collins's fiction, was exceeded only by that of Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray and Charlotte Brontë.

Collins's ambition to succeed in the theatre was still strong and in 1857 he wrote The Frozen Deep. The inspiration for the play came from the expedition led by Rear-Admiral John Franklin in 1845 to find the North-West Passage. Charles Dickens helped Collins with writing of the play and offered to arrange its first production in his own home, Tavistock House. Dickens also wanted to play the part of the hero, Richard Wardour, who after struggling against jealousy and murderous impulses, sacrifices his life to rescue his rival in love.

Dickens, who grew a beard for the role, also gave parts to three of his children, Charles Culliford Dickens, Kate Dickens, Mamie Dickens and his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth. Dickens later recalled that taking part in the play was "like writing a book in company... a satisfaction of a most singular kind, which had no exact parallel in my life". Dickens invited the theatre critic from The Times to attend the first production on 6th January, 1857 in the converted schoolroom. He was very impressed and praised Kate for her "fascinating simplicity", Mamie for her "dramatic instinct" and Georgina for her "refined vivacity".

The star of the play was Dickens, who showed he could have had a career as a professional actor. One critic, John Oxenford, said that "his appeal to the imagination of the audience, which conveyed the sense of Wardour's complex and powerful inner life, suggests the support of some strong irrational force". William Makepeace Thackeray , who also saw the production, remarked: "If that man (Dickens) would go upon the stage he would make £20,000 a year."

The temporary theatre held a maximum audience of twenty-five, four performances were given. A private command performance, with the same cast, was also given for Queen Victoria and her family on 4th July and three public benefit performances were given in London in order to raise money for the widow of Dickens's friend, Douglas Jerrold. The play was given three performances in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Dickens, playing the lead, met and fell in love with one of the actresses in the play, the eighteen-year-old Ellen Ternan.

Collins set up house with Caroline Graves at 124 Albany Street. His biographer, Catherine Peters, points out: "He treated her daughter Harriet as an adopted child for whom he took complete responsibility. However, although he made no secret of his domestic arrangements, he was still a man of his time. He never attempted to make Caroline Graves a part of his social life, and although she was introduced to his circle of male friends, she never met their wives or stayed in their houses, where Collins appeared as a bachelor."

In May 1858, Catherine Dickens accidentally received a bracelet meant for Ellen Ternan. Her daughter, Kate Dickens, says her mother was distraught by the incident. Charles Dickens responded by a meeting with his solicitors. By the end of the month he negotiated a settlement where Catherine should have £400 a year and a carriage and the children would live with Dickens. Later, the children insisted they had been forced to live with their father.

Dickens claimed that Catherine's mother and her daughter Helen Hogarth had spread rumours about his relationship with his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth . Dickens insisted that Mrs Hogarth sign a statement withdrawing her claim that he had been involved in a sexual relationship with Georgina. In return, he would raise Catherine's annual income to £600. On 29th May, 1858, Mrs Hogarth and Helen Hogarth reluctantly put their names to a document which said in part: "Certain statements have been circulated that such differences are occasioned by circumstances deeply affecting the moral character of Mr. Dickens and compromising the reputation and good name of others, we solemnly declare that we now disbelieve such statements." They also promised not to take any legal action against Dickens.

Against the advice of Wilkie Collins and John Forster, in June, 1858, Dickens decided to issue a statement to the press about the rumours involving him and two unnamed women (Nellie Ternan and Georgina Hogarth): "By some means, arising out of wickedness, or out of folly, or out of inconceivable wild chance, or out of all three, this trouble has been the occasion of misrepresentations, mostly grossly false, most monstrous, and most cruel - involving, not only me, but innocent persons dear to my heart... I most solemnly declare, then - and this I do both in my own name and in my wife's name - that all the lately whispered rumours touching the trouble, at which I have glanced, are abominably false. And whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as wilfully and as foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before heaven and earth." Dickens also made reference to his problems with Catherine: "Some domestic trouble of mine, of long-standing, on which I will make no further remark than that it claims to be respected, as being of a sacredly private nature, has lately been brought to an arrangement, which involves no anger or ill-will of any kind, and the whole origin, progress, and surrounding circumstances of which have been, throughout, within the knowledge of my children. It is amicably composed, and its details have now to be forgotten by those concerned in it."

The statement was published in The Times and Household Words. However, Punch Magazine, edited by his great friend, Mark Lemon, refused, bringing an end to their long friendship. William Makepeace Thackeray also took the side of Catherine and he was also banned from the house. Dickens was so upset that he insisted that his daughters, Mamie Dickens and Kate Dickens, brought an end to their friendship with the children of Lemon and Thackeray. Despite these attempts to cover up his affairs, Dickens was forced to resign from the Garrick Club.

Most of Dickens's friends turned against him over his behaviour towards his wife. Elizabeth Gaskell and William Makepeace Thackeray believed that publicizing his domestic problems was as bad as the separation itself. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was appalled by his behaviour: "What a crime, for a man to use his genius as a cudgel against his near kin, even against the woman he promised to protect tenderly with life and heart - taking advantage of his hold with the public to turn public opinion against her. I call it dreadful." Collins remained friendly with Dickens but it cannot be said that his treatment of his wife did not harm their relationship.

In November 1859, Wilkie Collins agreed for his next novel, The Woman in White to be serialised in All the Year Round . It is considered to be among the first mystery novels and an early example of detective fiction. It was an immediate success and when the novel was published in book form the following year it enabled Collins and Caroline Graves to move to the more expensive Harley Street. Collins was now in a position to employ two servants to help Caroline with the domestic work.

In 1860, Dickens's daughter, Kate Dickens, married Wilkie's brother, Charles Allston Collins. Dickens did not like her new husband and this caused a further rift between the two men. Dickens, who felt he was not free to live with Nellie Ternan , also seemed to disapprove of Collins's open liaison with Caroline Graves.

Wilkie Collins, now financially secure but increasingly unwell, resigned from the staff of All the Year Round to concentrate on writing his novels. Collins followed his success with The Woman in White with three more sensation novels - No Name (1862), Armadale (1866) and The Moonstone (1868). During this period he suffered from "rheumatic gout" and claimed he could not write without taking large doses of laudanum.

Collins also began a sexual relationship with Martha Rudd (1845–1919), a Norfolk shepherd's daughter then working as a servant in the Great Yarmouth area. She was to become the mother of his three children: Marian (4th July 1869), Constance Harriet (14th May 1871) and William Charles Collins (25th December 1874). The author of The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins (1992) has pointed out: " Though more Victorian men than is generally supposed had dual homes and families, Collins avoided marrying either of his two mistresses, Caroline Graves and Martha Rudd. Unwilling to abandon either, he negotiated a compromise where each was aware of the other and eventually accepted the situation."

James T. Fields met him for the first time in November 1873: "Our first visit with Mr. Wilkie Collins - a small man with an odd figure and forehead and shoulders much too large for the rest of him. His talk was rapid and pleasant but not at all inspiring... A man who has been feted and petted in London society, who has overeaten and overdrunk, has been ill, is gouty, and in short is no very wonderful specimen of a human being.

Wilkie Collins died after an attack of bronchitis on 23rd September 1889, at his home in Wimpole Street.

By John Simkin (john@spartacus-educational.com) © September 1997 (updated August 2014).

Primary Sources

(1) Claire Tomalin , Dickens: A Life (2011)

A different kind of friend appeared in 1851 in the shape of Wilkie Collins, introduced to him by the artist Augustus Egg. Twelve years younger than Dickens, Collins was the son of a successful artist and just making his way as a writer of fiction. He had read for the Bar, but only at his parents' insistence, and he was a dedicated Bohemian. Dickens saw that he was gifted, a good journalist and a striking storyteller, and found his way of life, easy and unconventional in its dealings with women, interesting. The two men shared a taste for brightly coloured clothes. Collins might appear in a camel-hair suit with broad-striped pink shirt and red tie, and even in sober colours his physical appearance was odd, with his big head and small body, a cast in one eye and a tendency to tics and fidgets.... Wilkie hero-worshipped Dickens, who had risen so high that he did not need to worry any longer about whether lie was a gentleman or not. He became Dickens's chosen companion for many of his escapes and jaunts. In this he replaced Maclise, but he did not replace Forster as the most trusted friend, and Forster continued to receive confidences that were never made to Collins.

(2) Kate Dickens, interviewed in Dickens and Daughter (1939)

I liked him (Wilkie Collins) and my father was very fond of him and enjoyed his company more than that of any other of his friends - Forster was very jealous of their friendship. He had very high spirits and was a splendid companion, but he was as bad as he could be, yet the gentlest and most kind-hearted of men. He took large quantities of opium a day, and consumed sufficient laudanum at night to kill six men.

(3) James T. Fields, diary entry (6th November, 1873)

Our first visit with Mr. Wilkie Collins - a small man with an odd figure and forehead and shoulders much too large for the rest of him. His talk was rapid and pleasant but not at all inspiring... A man who has been feted and petted in London society, who has overeaten and overdrunk, has been ill, is gouty, and in short is no very wonderful specimen of a human being.

(4) Peter Ackroyd , Dickens (1990)

Wilkie Collins was... slight, short, bulbous-headed young man (some twelve years younger than Dickens) who was notable for his geniality, his good temper and his cheerfulness. He already knew such friends of Dickens as the artists Augustus Egg and Daniel Maclise - and this because his father had been a famous painter while his brother, Charles, was already a modestly talented one.

In addition, Collins was a keen admirer of amateur theatricals and had in fact arranged some of his own before joining Dickens's Guild troupe; at the time he met Dickens, he also had plans of becoming a novelist. There was a great deal, in other words, to bring them together. Of course there were also many and great contrasts between them, but these personal differences seemed only to endear Collins to Dickens; the younger man was untidy, unpunctual, indolent and alarmingly vague on occasions but for once Dickens did not seem to mind. It is almost as if he saw in Collins some alternative image of himself. This was what he meant when he described himself as the "Genius of Order" and Collins the "Genius of Disorder". There were also some ways in which Collins was more unconventional than Dickens. He was still a bachelor living with his mother when he first became acquainted with the famous novelist, but within a few years his private life was to take a bizarre turn.

It was not long before Collins was writing for Household Words itself, and eventually he became a member of its small permanent staff. Certainly he began to take his writing seriously after he formed a friendship with Dickens, and there is no doubt that Dickens encouraged and advised the younger man; his first proper novel Basil, was published the year after they met and it seems probable that Collins not only listened to but also took Dickens's advice on the craft of fiction. There were many occasions when they discussed such matters (it also surfaces in their extant correspondence) and as a result Collins came to share the older man's own high claims about the "order" of novelists. He also came to understand the need for care and labour in the preparation of fiction, and it was not long before Dickens was prophesying success for him in the high art which they both espoused. In fact it would not be going too far to say that Wilkie Collins became Dickens's protege and, with the exception of Harrison Ainsworth, it could also fairly be said that he was the only novelist with whom Dickens ever formed a close relationship. Of course their friendship was not founded on literary matters alone - even if Dickens did not subscribe to Collins's "code of morals", as he put it, he realised that he was an easy-going companion with whom he could explore the darker recesses of urban life. In that sense Collins took over the place which Daniel Maclise had once held in his life; as Maclise became more reclusive and wayward, Dickens turned to the young man for companionship in what he would describe as voluptuous or sybaritic jaunts. By which he seems to have meant nothing more than a kind of high-spirited lounging through the more louche areas of London and Paris, as well as visits to the "low" theatres of both capitals. Wilkie Collins was part of a younger generation, in other words, and there is a sense in which he embodied for Dickens all the easy-going and open-hearted bravura of youth which he himself had never experienced. The older man had always been too ambitious, too concerned to win money and fame, to allow himself to taste the real pleasures of the young. Was this now something he was trying to recapture in his new friendship? Could he forget himself with Collins; forget his fame, forget his responsibilities, and for a passing time become young again?

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