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Wilkie Collins

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Published : 256 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : 8/1/1824
Death : 23/9/1889
Views : 3065

Novelist. Attended a private school in Highbury. Admitted at Lincoln's Inn, 1846; called to the bar, 1851; interest lay in writing, rather than in law. First signed story appeared in Douglas Jerrold's Illuminated Magazine, 1843; later contributed to Bentley's Miscellany, Cornhill, Cassell's, Temple Bar, Belgravia, Canadian Monthly, and other periodicals. In 1848 published memoir of his father, WilIiam Collins the artist; in 1850, Antonina, the first of his some thirty works of fiction. Achieved fame as writer of sensation and detective novels; turned to writing propaganda novels; wrote also plays.


Collins met Dickens in 1851 and became, stated Forster, “for all the rest of the life of Dickens, one of his dearest and most valued friends" (Life, Book VI, sect. v). Collins came to share in many of Dickens’s activities. He took part in theatricals, which included presentations of his plays The Lighthouse (in 1855) and The Frozen Deep (in 1857). He was Dickens’s companion for convivial evenings, as well as for holiday excursions at home and on the Continent. He was a frequent guest at Dickens’s home.

In their literary association, the two writers collaborated on stories and plays; they consulted each other about their writings, Dickens frequently giving ColIins helpful advice and criticism. Most critics agree that each influenced the writing of the other, though some contend that Dickens's writing was not influenced by Collins's. Collins held a high opinion of some of Dickens's novels; others he thought badly written. A Tale of Two Cities he mentioned in his preface to The Woman in White as "the most perfect work of constructive art that has ever proceeded from [Dickens's] pen". Marginalia in his copy of Forster's Life record his opinion that Martin Chuzzlewit was in some respects Dickens's finest novel, Barnaby Rudge his weakest; that Oliver Twist, though badly constructed, was admirable for its character of Nancy; and that the latter half of Dombey "no intelligent person can have read without astonishment at the badness of it" (Robinson, Wilkie Collins, p. 258). Collins dedicated Hide and Seek, 1854, to Dickens as a token of admiration and affection". Dickens thought it “a very remarkable book", "in some respects masterly" (to Georgina Hogarth, July 22, 1854). He had similar high praise for other of Collins's novels. The literary kinship that Dickens felt with Collins, as also his affection for him, appears in a letter of October 14 1862. Having learned that Collins, while working on No Name, had become seriously ill, Dickens offered to take over the writing at any moment that Collins might ask him to: "Absurdly unnecessary to say that it would be a (makeshift! But I could do it at a pinch, so like you as that no one should find out the difference". Certain of Dickens's friends found the close friendship and literary association of the two men difficult to explain, seeing in it a kind of degradation of Dickens to the level of a man whom they considered his inferior. (Some commentators on Dickens have held the same attitude.)

Sala, after Dickens's death, expressed the hope that either Forster or Collins (would write the authorized biography of Dickens. Both writers, he stated, "had opportunities of studying and of judging: the personal character of Charles Dickens—opportunities possessed by none other of his contemporaries" (Charles Dickens, p. 95).

Collins began to contribute to H.W. the year after he had become acquainted with Dickens. Dickens valued him highly as a writer for that periodical and for its successor; various of his letters mention Collins's industry, his dependability, his capacity for taking pains. And Dickens was eager to retain Collins as a H.W. contributor as Collins's reputation, in time, brought him offers from other periodicals. In a letter to Wills, April 1 1856, Dickens instructed him to pay Collins fifty pounds for "A Rogue's Life", explaining:
"I think it [the payment] right, abstractedly, in the case of a careful and good writer on whom we can depend for Xmas Nos. and the like. But further, I know of offers for stories going about—to Collins himself for instance—which make it additionally desirable that we should not shave close in such a case". The letter implies that Dickens considered the amount a generous payment; actually, it was a few shillings less than the standard rate of a guinea a page.

After Collins had been a
H.W. contributor for four and a half years, Dickens induced him to join the editorial staff. His salary was to be five guineas a week. The offer was not, as Collins saw, a very advantageous one to him; he accepted it only on the agreement that a novel by him be serialized in H.W., with his authorship announced. The Dead Secret was so announced, first on December 6 1856 (in the Christmas number "The Wreck of the Golden Mary"). After October 25 of that year the Office Book records no further payment to Collins for individual items. Toward the end of 1857, Dickens increased Collins's salary by an "extra Fifty" per year. "... I have no doubt of his being devoted to H.W., and doing great service", he wrote to Wills, October 2.

Collins's principal work as staff member was to write original material for the periodical, sometimes—as in "Highly Proper!"—articles on subjects suggested by Dickens. What his other duties were the Dickens-Wills correspondence does not specify. The fact that the Office Book does not list his name jointly with the names of outside contributors implies that revising contributed material was probably not part of his work.

"Highly Proper!", dealing with social prejudice in private schools, is assigned in the Office Book to
Collins alone. It was probably revised by Wills, in accordance with Dickens's instructions to him (September 24 1858) that there be left in it nothing that might be "unnecessarily offensive to the middle class"; Collins, Dickens remarked, always had "a tendency to overdo that". The two articles published in 1858 to which Dickens's initials are attached jointly with Collins's name—"A Clause for the New Reform Bill" and "Doctor Dulcamara"—were not actual collaborations of the two writers; the articles were written by Collins and revised or added to by Dickens (see Stone, ed., Charles Dickens' Uncollected Writings from Household Words). "The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices", however, was an actual collaboration of Dickens and Collins; each narrated a part of their uneventful "tour", and each contributed a story to the account. Certain of the Christmas numbers were also collaborations of Dickens and Collins. The original idea of "The Perils of Certain English Prisoners" was Collins's; Collins wrote the second chapter of the story, Dickens writing the first and third. "Each revised the work of the other" (Robinson, p. 118). For "The Wreck of the Golden Mary" and "A House to Let" Dickens devised the framework. In the working out of his idea, in the actual writing of the framework, and in fitting into it the stories that form a part of the numbers, Collins was his close collaborator, as Dickens's letters make clear. (Of these two Christmas numbers, as also of the 1854 and 1855 Christmas numbers, certain sections that the Office Book assigns to Collins alone are reprinted by Stone, in Charles Dickens' Uncollected Writings, as in part by Dickens).

Among Collins's
H.W. stories for which Dickens had high praise were "Sister Rose" and "The Diary of Anne Rodway". "The Diary" moved him to tears. Among CoIlins's non-fiction items that Dickens particularly liked were "The Cruise of the Tomtit", "To Think, or Be Thought For?", "A Petition to the Novel Writers" and "The Unknown Public".

At least two of Collins's H.W. contributions brought a remonstrance to the editorial staff: Harriet Martineau, in her indignant letter to Wills, cited "The Yellow Mask" (which she had not herself read) as an instance of H.W’s vicious anti-Catholic policy that in part motivated her determination no longer to write for H.W. (Autobiography, II, 94-95); and a son of the theatrical manager Robert William Elliston wrote to Dickens in protest against the epithets that Collins, in his article "Douglas Jerrold" had applied to Elliston (My Miscellanies, II, 85-86n). The articles "To Think, or Be Thought For?" and "Dramatic Grub Street", stated Collins, provoked "some remonstrance both of the public and the private sort" (My Miscellanies, II, 193n).

A complimentary reference to Collins appeared in
H.W. the month before he became a contributor. In "If This Should Meet His Eye," Dixon mentioned him and "his pleasant book" on Cornwall—i.e., Rambles beyond Railways. Later, in addition to the announcement of Collins's authorship of The Dead Secret, there appeared thirteen advertisements for the novel "By WILKIE COLLINS" as a 2-volume Bradbury & Evans publication. (A Child's History of England and Hard Times were the only other books so advertised in H.W.).

On the cessation of
H.W., Collins served for a time on the staff of A.Y.R. Some years later he assisted Wills for a time in editorial work during Dickens's American reading tour. Collins wrote for A.Y.R., aside from short items, The Woman in White, No Name, and The Moonstone. Dickens had high praise for the first two novels and also, on his reading its opening chapters, for The Moonstone. It was undoubtedly an estrangement between him and Collins (see Charles Collins) that prompted Dickens's later comment that the construction of The Moonstone was "wearisome beyond endurance" and that the "vein of obstinate conceit" in the novel made enemies of its readers (to Wills, July 26 1868). Actually, according to Tinsley (Random Recollections, I, 114-15), both The Woman in White and The Moonstone did much to increase the circulation of A.Y.R. Collins contributed an occasional item to A.Y.R. under the editorship of Charles Dickens, Jr.

Of the items listed below as not reprinted, one of those that appeared in
H.W. after Collins's brother had begun to write for the periodical is assigned in the Office Book merely to "Collins" and is not referred to in Dickens's letters as by Wilkie Collins. This is "A Sermon for Sepoys". The fact that no payment is recorded for the item indicates that it is by Wilkie Collins and not by his brother. Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature attributes the item to Wilkie Collins. "A Column to Burns" also listed below among items not reprinted, is not included in the Office Book. It consists of a letter from a H.W. reader in Glasgow, introduced by a paragraph of editorial comment. The motivation for the letter was Collins's article on Burns in a preceding number. Since Collins was on the staff, it is logical to assume that correspondence concerning his own article should have been referred to him and that he should have written the editorial comment prefaced to the Glasgow letter. Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature attributes the item to him.

Harper's
reprinted "A Terribly Strange Bed" without acknowledgment to H.W.; it reprinted "The Fourth Poor Traveller" as "A Lawyer's Story. By Charles Dickens." According to the Dickensian (June 1916, pp. 143-44), a Philadelphia publisher reprinted "Sister Rose", probably in the year of its publication in H.W., as a work by Dickens.

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The Wilkie Collins Pages

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