Wilkie Collins

Andrew Scott Mangham

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:
Wilkie Collins

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Wilkie Collins (b. 1824–d. 1889) was one of the most influential authors of the 19th century. He was credited with creating sensation fiction with his best-known work The Woman in White in 1860 and detective fiction with The Moonstone in 1868. He wrote novels, plays, short stories, and journalism. He was born into an affluent family of artists; his father, William Collins (b. 1788–d. 1847), was a Royal Academician and Wilkie’s younger brother Charles Allston (b. 1828–d. 1873) was an artist that later painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style. Wilkie Collins trained as a barrister in the 1840s but decided to become a writer. He met Dickens in 1851 and soon after become an employee of Household Words. From 1847 to 1859 Collins produced a number of novels and shorter pieces of fiction in addition to reams of journalism. The early novels were innovative and well crafted, but none enjoyed large popularity. In 1858 Collins met Caroline Graves; he would have an on-off relationship with her until his death in 1889. The author also fathered three children with Martha Rudd, whom he also continued to see until his death. In 1859, following an acrimonious split with the publishers of Household Words, Dickens started the new weekly periodical All the Year Round, commissioning Collins to write a novel. In the summer of that year, Collins began work on The Woman in White. What followed was Collins’s most successful and defining decade. The Woman in White was followed by No Name in 1862, Armadale followed in 1866 (for which the author was paid a record amount), and The Moonstone in 1868. It has been agreed generally that after 1870, Collins’s creative powers waned, although he did continue to write prolifically and successfully. He became increasingly addicted to laudanum and was seriously affected by the deaths of his mother, brother, and Dickens. Algernon Charles Swinburne’s damning couplet “What brought good Wilkie’s genius nigh perdition? / Some demon whispered—‘Wilkie! have a mission’” illustrates how Collins’s later work was considered weaker because it crusaded on behalf of a number of causes. Literary studies are beginning to appreciate these novels as important works of art in their own right, however, and the early novels are similarly attracting more sustained attention. When Collins died on the eve of the fin de siècle in 1889, his final novel Blind Love (1890) was completed by the novelist Walter Besant and was published posthumously.

Article.  8667 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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