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Wilkie Collins

Wilkie CollinsAKA William Wilkie Collins

Born: 8-Jan-1824
Birthplace: Marylebone, London, England
Died: 23-Dec-1889
Location of death: Marylebone, London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Kensal Green Cemetery, London, England

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Novelist, Playwright

Nationality: England
Executive summary: The Moonstone

Author of many a three-volume novel (a genre poked at in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest), Wilkie Collins was originally apprenticed into the tea business by his father. Upon discovering his literary talent -- or rather, literary facility -- with the publication of his first story, The Last Stagecoachman (1843), he withdrew from that trade and began focusing on writing popular fiction while studying law. Following his father's death in 1847, Collins wrote and published The Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R. A. (1848), a memoir of his father; from that point on, he would release a novel every year or so, along with a smattering of short stories. His books were popular enough to suffer first being serialized, then republished in book form, then revised and republished a few times, and eventually adapted for the stage.

Collins penned one of the first detective novels, The Moonstone (originally serialized, pub. 1868, revised 1871), succeeding Poe's three Auguste Dupin stories. The book is enjoyable fluff -- a little hackeneyed 100 years later, but reasonably endearing and a quick enough read despite its length. T. S. Eliot called it "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels", though Collins himself subtitled it "A Romance". Archetype of many a jewel-thief movie, the story hinges on a large, precious diamond looted from an Indian temple by a plucky British soldier. The stone is passed down to his niece on her 18th birthday, only to be stolen late one night from inside her locked jewelery box. Franklin Blake, the protagonist, launches an investigation, mostly to convince the girl that he is not the thief so he can marry her. The rest of the novel is a swirl of swarthy cultists, obstreperous spinsters, drugs, delusions, and death, told through Blake's collection of eyewitness accounts.

Much of the story conveniently prefigures Freud for the reader who only looks for the three-volume pornography blanketed up inside the authorial perambulator. Coming from someone other than Collins, subtle narratological involutions (viz. widow Threadgall's anachronisms) might provoke a second or third reading of the text; the critical reader should at this point recall that Collins was paid by the word, and that the only thing easier to write than melodrama is sexually euphemistic melodrama. Set on the "Shivering Sands", a puckering tidal quicksand, the following scene is provided as a convenience to the reader who gropes with Freud at low-hanging fruit:

I advanced, in this manner, more than halfway along the stick, without encountering anything but the edges of the rocks. An inch or two further on, however, my patience was rewarded. In a narrow little fissure, just within reach of my forefinger, I felt the chain. Attempting, next, to follow it, by touch, in the direction of the quicksand, I found my progress stopped by a thick growth of seaweed -- which had fastened itself into the fissure, no doubt, in the time that had elapsed since Rosanna Spearman had chosen her hiding place. [...] I took up the stick, and knelt down at the brink of the South Spit.

In this position, my face was within a few feet of the surface of the quicksand. The sight of it so near me, still disturbed at intervals by its hideous shivering fit, shook my nerves for a moment. A horrible fancy that the dead woman might appear on the scene of her suicide, to assist my search -- an unutterable dread of seeing her rise through the heaving surface of the sand, and point to the place -- forced itself into my mind, and turned me cold in the warm sunlight. I closed my eyes at the moment when the point of the stick first entered the quicksand.

The instant afterwards, before the stick could have been submerged more than a few inches, I was free from the hold of my own superstitious terror, and was throbbing with excitement from head to foot. Sounding blindfold, at my first attempt -- at that first attempt I had sounded right! The stick struck the chain.

Taking a firm hold of the roots of the seaweed with my left hand, I laid myself down over the brink, and felt with my right hand under the overhanging edges of the rock. My right hand found the chain.

I drew it up without the slightest difficulty. And there was the japanned tin case fastened to the end of it.

Much of The Moonstone was dictated while Collins was bedridden from gout and in extraordinary pain. Collins took heavy does of laudanum for his ailment; not coincidentally, opium plays a major role the book.

Collins was a close friend of Charles Dickens, with whom he collaborated on several projects.

Father: William Collins (painter; d. Feb-1847)
Mother: (d. 1868)
Brother: Charles Collins (d. Apr-1873)
Girlfriend: Caroline Elizabeth Graves (dated 1859-1868 until she married; dated again in the 1870s)
Girlfriend: Martha Rudd (3 children; dated 1868-1875)
Daughter: Marian Collins (b. Jul-1869)
Daughter: Harriet Constance Collins (b. May-1871)
Son: William Charles Collins (b. Dec-1874)

    Garrick Club
    Risk Factors: Gout, Opium

Author of books:
Antonina; or, the Fall of Rome (1850)
Rambles Beyond Railways; or, Notes in Cornwall Taken A-Foot (1851, travel essays)
Mr Wray's Cash-Box; or, the Mask and the Mystery (1851)
Basil: A story of Modern Life (1852)
Hide and Seek (1854)
After Dark (1856, stories)
The Dead Secret (1857)
The Queen of Hearts (1858, stories)
The Woman in White (1860)
No Name (1862)
Armadale (1866)
The Moonstone. A Romance (1868)
Man and Wife. A Novel (1870)
Poor Miss French. A Novel (1872)
The New Magdalen. A Novel (1873)
The Frozen Deep and Other Stories (1874, stories)
The Law & the Lady. A Novel (1875)
The Two Destinies. A Romance (1876)
The Haunted Hotel: a Mystery of Modern Venice (1879, stories)
A Rogue's Life: From his Birth to his Marriage (1879)
The Fallen Leaves (1879)
Jezebel's Daughter (1880)
The Black Robe (1881)
Heart and Science: A Story of the Present Time (1883)
"I Say No" (1884)
The Evil Genius: A Domestic Story (1886)
The Guilty River (1886)
Little Novels (1887, stories)
The Legacy of Cain (1889)
Blind Love (1890, posthumous, completed by Sir Walter Besant)
The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices, etc (1890, stories, posthumous)
Iolani, or Tahiti as it was. A Romance (1999, posthumous)

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