Occasionally, I’m going to spend some time talking about and recommending novels that are considered classics. First up: Wilkie Collins.
Gosh, it must be about 30 years ago that I first encountered the novels of Wilkie Collins. Have you ever had the pleasure of reading any of his books?
A little biographical information: Wilkie Collins was born William Wilkie Collins in London in 1824. He was the son of William Collins, a well-known painter. After receiving an education at home and at a boarding school (where he was bullied by a boy who would force him to tell him a story every night before he was allowed to go to sleep,) he traveled abroad with his family, spending time in Italy and France. He found work as a clerk for tea merchants, a job he disliked. Eventually, he studied law. His passion, however, was for writing.
In 1851, he was introduced to Charles Dickens who became a close friend and collaborator. Their friendship lasted until Dickens’ death. Collins toured with Dickens’ company of actors. He wrote plays for the company. He also started to write dramatic criticism, essays and short stories. He collaborated with Dickens on a play. He started to write novels which were serialized, which was the fashion of the day. Dickens’ novels were also serialized.
Along the way, he developed gout and eventually became addicted to laudanum (an opiate) which he took for pain.
In the 1860s, Collins was to publish the novels that he is known for today. He wrote The Woman in White, The Moonstone and Armadale. The success of these novels gave him international acclaim and financial success. He continued to suffer from gout and his dependence on laudanum. Eventually, Collins toured America as Dickens had some years before, reading from his works. In his declining years, he mentored other authors, and worked toward protecting his fellow authors from copyright infringement.
My two favorites are The Woman in White and The Moonstone.
The Woman in White: Considered to be one of the first mystery novels, a genre called ‘sensation novels’ in Collins’ day, The Woman in White is spellbinding. The young hero, Walter Hartright, encounters a mysterious woman in white early in the novel. He discovers she has escaped from an asylum. He goes on to his new position as a Drawing Master for a family living at Limmeridge House. There he meets Laura Fairlie, one of his students, who closely resembles The Woman in White, and becomes embroiled in the machinations of Sir Percival Glyde and his friend Count Fosco. I can’t tell you anything more than that, but I can tell you that Hartright uses many of the methods that later became a staple in detective fiction.
My take? It’s a riveting story. You can’t put it down. If you want to see who started it all, read Wilkie Collins.
The Moonstone: It is considered to be the first detective novel, some say the finest detective novel ever. The Moonstone is a diamond that is extremely valuable and associated with the Hindu god of the moon, Shiva. It was originally set in the forehead of a sacred statue. Rachel inherits the diamond from her uncle, a not-very-nice man who served in India. Since the diamond has strong ties to the Hindu religion, there are those who have vowed to recover it. At a party celebrating Rachel’s 18th birthday, she wears the diamond. Later that night, the diamond is stolen from her bedroom. The story that follows is written from the perspective of different narrators and involves the search for the diamond and the thief.
T.S. Eliot and Dorothy L. Sayers, among others, considered it to be the finest detective novel ever written.
My take? Completely engrossing. Fascinating story. A must-read.
If you like mysteries and detective stories, you should consider reading Wilkie Collins, the father of what has become the modern day detective story. The novels are rich and detailed, the plots are complex, with a rich cast of characters. The stories are simply wonderful.
Biographical information compiled from various sources on the web.
Have you read any Wilkie Collins?