William Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins by Rudolph Lehmann

Wilkie Collins' name may not be as familiar as his close friend's, Charles Dickens, but his output was certainly just as prolific. Collins and Dickens also collaborated on a number of works, and Dickens published Collins' novels in his periodical All the Year Round. Collins suffered from debilitating rheumatic gout, for which he took opium in the form of laudanum. He became addicted, and his later works, according to some critics, did not retain the high standards of his earlier ones. I have just recently become familiar with the works of Collins, so I am not qualified to make a personal judgment yet. However, I will say that The Moonstone and Hide and Seek were two of the best novels I have ever read. Both are exciting mysteries, filled with twists and turns, and lots of humor. Collins, like his more famous friend, had a knack for creating odd and quirky characters.

Collins was born in London in 1824, his first name, William, after his father, and his middle name, to which he became known, after his godfather, David Wilkie. His parents were strict churchgoers, which Collins didn't like. (His adult life was definitely not guided by churchgoing!).

Like most of these Victorian authors, their fathers chose a career for them that they held little interest. In Wilkie's case, it was first the clergy, then law. He did pass his bar exam, but his passion was for writing. His first novel, Iolani, or Tahiti as it was. A Romance, was written in 1844, but rejected. It was fairly recently published in 1999. After his father's death in 1847, he wrote book of his memoirs, published in 1848. His fist published novel was Antonina, in 1850. He met Dickens in 1851, and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Dickens become his mentor, and supported his writing. And though he never practiced law, his legal knowledge came in handy for his novels.

Collins' attitude toward marriage was, shall we say, unconventional in Victorian England. In fact, I think it would even appear a bit unconventional here in 2018. He began living with the widow Caroline Graves and her daughter Harriet, whom Collins raised as a father, in 1858. She left him for two years and married Joseph Clow. This was a terrible period in Wilkie's life anyways, because he had a severe attack of gout, mother was dying, and he was in the process of writing The Moonstone, serialized in Dickens' magazine. (You may read more about that on that novel's review page.) Caroline returned to Collins two years later, and they lived together the rest of their lives.

In 1868, while still living with Graves, Collins became involved with 19-year old Martha Rudd. She bore him three children, under his "alternate" name William Dawson, and he remained involved with both women for the last twenty years of his life, all of this, according to Wikipedia. Their article, however, does not state whether the two woment knew about each other . . . .

To each his own, I guess. Collins died of a stroke in 1889, London, at the age of 65. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery beside Caroline, who died in 1895.

Wilkie Collins Monument at Kensal Green Cemetery

Wilkie Collins by his brother Charles Allston Collins

Works by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White

The Moonstone

Armadale

Novels

Armadale
The Haunted Hotel: A Mystery of Modern Venice
Hide and Seek
The Moonstone
A Rogue's Life
The Woman in White

Collaborations With Charles Dickens

The Haunted House

Story: The Ghost in the Cupboard Room

Short Stories in Multi-Author Collections

Classic Ghost Stories by Wilkie Collins. . . and Others

Mrs. Zant and the Ghost

Basil

The Dead Secret

Little Novels

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