WILKIE COLLINS 1824-1889
By
Jennifer Carnell

Wilkie Collins in 1861.

From the earliest critiques of the 1860s, the pioneer sensation novels were held up to be Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White and Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, with Braddon following Collins's example.


' "Come back and sign!" cried Sir Percival from the other side of the table."
Frontis illustration showing Laura, Marian, Count Fosco and Sir Percival Glyde.
Published in the first one volume edition of The Woman in White in 1861.

Braddon greatly admired Collins, and always considered herself indebted in her early works to him, later stating: 'I always say that I owe Lady Audley's Secret to The Woman in White. Wilkie Collins is assuredly my literary father.'

The Court Journal observed in 1862 that Braddon 'seems likely to equal, if not succeed, that of Mr. Wilkie Collins in popular estimation' and one reviewer accused Collins of following Braddon's criminous influence when he wrote Armadale.

Braddon and Collins had other things in common too; both were interested in and influenced by French literature, and their knowledge of theatre and theatrical settings can be seen in novels such as No Name (1862) and Eleanor's Victory (1863). The two writers knew each other socially, and Braddon paid homage to Collins in her novels Rough Justice (1898) and His Darling Sin (1899) with her detective John Faunce. Faunce is described as a 'living incarnation' of Cuff from The Moonstone, and Faunce's own avid reading of crime includes both Charles Dickens and Collins:

'It is only natural, perhaps, that a man of my calling should take a keen interest in stories of crime than in any other form of fiction; and I am not ashamed to confess a liking for those novels in which some mystery of guilt is woven and unravelled by the romancer [...] I have hung spellbound over Bulwer's "Lucretia", over "Armadale", and "The Woman in White", over "Martin Chuzzlewit", "Bleak House", and the unsolved problem of "Edwin Drood".'

Recommended reading about Wilkie Collins:
Biography etc.:
William Baker, Andrew Gasson, Graham Law, Paul Lewis (editors), The Public Face of Wilkie Collins: The Collected Letters (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2005). This is a four volume edition of Wilkie Collins's letters.
William M. Clarke, The Secret Life of Wilkie Collins (London: Allison & Busby, 1989).
Andrew Gasson, Wilkie Collins: An Illustrated Guide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).
Catherine Peters, Wilkie Collins: The King of Inventors (London: Secker & Warburg, 1991).
Literary Criticism
Sue Lonoff, Wilkie Collins and His Victorian Readers (New York: AMS Press, 1982).
Audrey Peterson, Victorian Masters of Mystery (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1984).
Lyn Pykett, The Sensation Novel from The Woman in White to The Moonstone (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1994).
Nicholas Rance, Wilkie Collins and Other Sensation Novelists: Walking the Moral Hospital (London: Macmillan, 1991).
Jenny Bourne Taylor, In the Secret Theatre of Home: Wilkie Collins, Sensation Narrative, and Nineteenth Century Psychology (London: Routledge, 1988).
Website Recommendations
Wilkie Collins website, run by Paul Lewis: http://www.wilkiecollins.com
Wilkie Collins Information Pages, by Andrew Gasson (author of Wilkie Collins - An Illustrated Guide): http://www.wilkie-collins.info/

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