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John Sutherland

15 September 1988
The Secret Life of Wilkie​ Collins 
by William Clarke.
Allison and Busby, 239 pp., £14.95, August 1988, 0 85031 960 9
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Wilkie CollinsWomen, Property and Propriety 
by Philip O’Neill.
Macmillan, 238 pp., £27.50, September 1988, 9780333421994
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... According to Gordon Ray, writing in 1956, all that posterity could reasonably expect to know about the elusive WilkieCollins was his name and dates of birth and death. This has proved to be an exaggeration. Thanks to Kenneth Robinson (whose revised WilkieCollins, A Biography came out in 1974) and now, preeminently, to ...

In Praise of Spiders

Caleb Crain: Wilkie Collins’s Name Games

11 September 2008
The Woman in White 
by Wilkie Collins.
Vintage, 609 pp., £5.99, October 2007, 978 0 09 951124 3
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... out to be a sham because my parents were never really married? If all else failed, there was always laudanum, which blurred the edges very nicely. It was in these improper fantasies that the novelist WilkieCollins found his raw materials. In his world, the tags are always falling off the luggage. The narrator of Basil (1852) has been ‘obliged in honour to resign’ his surname, because his father has ...

The butler didn’t do it

Bee Wilson: The First Detectives

19 June 2008
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or the Murder at Road Hill House 
by Kate Summerscale.
Bloomsbury, 334 pp., £14.99, April 2008, 978 0 7475 8215 1
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... Could it be the garment the murderer was wearing as she killed the infant? A general feeling gathered that if only the guilty – bloodied – nightdress could be found, the case would be solved. WilkieCollins borrowed this clue for The Moonstone, though he turned it from a bloody garment to one splattered with fresh paint. Because of the breast flannel and the nightdress, every woman at Road Hill ...

My Missus

John Sutherland

13 May 1993
Popular Reading and Publishing in Britain, 1914-1950 
by Joseph McAleer.
Oxford, 284 pp., £35, December 1992, 0 19 820329 2
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American Star: A Love Story 
by Jackie Collins.
Heinemann, 568 pp., £14.99, March 1993, 0 434 14093 7
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... a trawl through London bookstalls – that middle-class litterateurs like himself knew (and cared) less about working-class literature than about Lapland. In a much quoted essay twenty years later, WilkieCollins, after a similar expedition, coined the phrase ‘the Unknown Public’. It was something of a misnomer since the public was well enough known. It was their ‘entertaining literature’ that ...

A Little Local Irritation

Stephen Wall: Dickens

16 April 1998
The Letters of Charles Dickens. Vol. IX: 1859-61 
edited by Graham Storey.
Oxford, 610 pp., £70, July 1997, 0 19 812293 4
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... but according to one of the quietly corrective notes the Pilgrim Edition so usefully supplies, there is no evidence of unhappiness. The other child to marry at this time was Katie. Her choice of WilkieCollins’s younger brother was more acceptable, and Dickens presided genially enough over the pastoral festivities: ‘the people of the village strewed flowers in the churchyard, and erected ...
12 May 1994
by Charles Palliser.
Cape, 308 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 224 02919 3
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... its vivid characterisation and breadth of social canvas, that it was an immediate success with thousands of readers hungry for a return to the narrative and moral certainties of Dickens, Eliot and Collins. Deservedly, this unusual and ambitious book – 12 years, we are told, in the researching and writing – became an international bestseller. Somewhere along the way, however, Palliser seems to have ...

Ripping Yarns

John Sutherland

8 April 1993
by Michael Thorn.
Little, Brown, 566 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 316 90299 3
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by Peter Levi.
Macmillan, 370 pp., £20, March 1993, 0 333 52205 2
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... Victorian biography has recently come in clusters. In the last decade there have been four authoritative biographies of Trollope; two of Dickens; two of WilkieCollins; three of Stevenson (one down, two to come); and – with the present centennial haul – three of Tennyson. Given the huge expenditure of scholarly energy modern biography demands it would be ...

Read it on the autobahn

Robert Macfarlane: Vanishing Victorians

18 December 2003
The Discovery of Slowness 
by Sten Nadolny, translated by Ralph Freedman.
Canongate, 311 pp., £10.99, September 2003, 1 84195 403 9
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... Voyages et Aventures du capitaine Hattéras, a poem by Swinburne, a little-known series of paintings of the Erebus and the Terror by Turner, and a melodrama called The Frozen Deep, written by WilkieCollins and produced by Dickens, with ‘authentic’ Arctic costumes for the explorers, and paper snow shredded and scattered onto the stage from above by ‘snowboys’. Between 1847 and 1859, more ...

A Perfect Eel

Elaine Showalter: ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’

21 June 2012
Lady Audley’s Secret 
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, edited by Lyn Pykett.
Oxford, 448 pp., £9.99, January 2012, 978 0 19 957703 3
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... would make a sensational novel of their own. Brought up and educated by her mother, she was ‘a keen, precocious and eclectic reader’ of Shakespeare, Scott, Byron, Dickens, Eliot, Thackeray and WilkieCollins, but modelled her first literary efforts ‘chiefly upon Jane Eyre’ and believed that Charlotte Brontë was the most passionate Victorian novelist. Braddon also enjoyed the popular fiction ...

Descent into Oddness

Dinah Birch: Peter Rushforth’s long-awaited second novel

6 January 2005
Pinkerton’s Sister 
by Peter Rushforth.
Scribner, 729 pp., £18.99, September 2004, 0 7432 5235 7
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... isn’t much she hasn’t read, or doesn’t remember. Oscar Wilde, the Brontës, Robert Louis Stevenson, Tennyson, George MacDonald, Charles Reade, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Louisa May Alcott, WilkieCollins, Mary Braddon, Conan Doyle, Du Maurier, and plenty more. Her literary memory is a compendium of every syllabus in Victorian literature that could be contrived. Alice is the woman in white, or ...

Martin Chuzzlewig

John Sutherland

15 October 1987
Dickens’s Working Notes for his Novels 
edited by Harry Stone.
Chicago, 393 pp., £47.95, July 1987, 0 226 14590 5
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... under way, the nature of the notes Dickens made are strikingly different from those of fellow Victorians. When he found himself on his deathbed with half his last novel, Blind Love, still to write, WilkieCollins sent the plans to Walter Besant, who was politely asked in a spirit of authorial comradeship to finish the work. ‘Tell him I would do as much for him if he were in my place,’ Collins said ...

Dry Eyes

John Bayley

5 December 1991
Jump and Other Stories 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 257 pp., £13.99, October 1991, 0 7475 1020 2
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Wilderness Tips 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 247 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 7475 1019 9
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... the modern world, where everything dies of the new in more complex ways, and on a wider scale. The outdated heroism of Franklin’s men, celebrated in that very Victorian melodrama by Dickens and WilkieCollins, has no counterpart in the new world of Toronto, falling apart with Aids and the insidious toxins of waste dumps, ‘concealed here and there in the countryside, and masked by the lush ...

Fear among the Teacups

Dinah Birch: Ellen Wood

8 February 2001
East Lynne 
by Ellen Wood, edited by Andrew Maunder.
Broadview, 779 pp., £7.95, October 2000, 1 55111 234 5
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... with changing social dynamics. To judge by appearance is hazardous, even in the most intimate family circumstances. Persistent scepticism and a spirit of hard-headed enquiry is always needed. Like WilkieCollins or Mary Braddon, Ellen Wood makes detectives of her readers. East Lynne is not precisely a ‘bigamy novel’. Archibald Carlyle has divorced Isabel, and believes her dead, before his ...
29 October 1998
Pieces of Light 
by Adam Thorpe.
Cape, 478 pp., £16.99, August 1998, 0 224 03988 1
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... mother’s ghost, he begins to feel the spirits of the past as strongly as he felt them in his childhood. His detective work, at first jocular and unamazed – ‘Good grief, sounds like something WilkieCollins might have put on in his drawing room’ – takes him dangerously close to the sources of his trauma, finally implicating him in a murder that looks like satanic ritual. With a prissily ...

Walking on Eyeballs

E.S. Turner: The history of gout

7 January 1999
Gout: The Patrician Malady 
by Roy Porter and G.S. Rousseau.
Yale, 393 pp., £25, September 1998, 0 300 07386 0
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... there were so many forms of gout, each calling for a different treatment; the range ran from flying gout to windy gout, from recurrent, retrocedent, irregular and suppressed gout to imaginary gout. WilkieCollins claimed to have gout in the eyes, curing himself of gout in other places by visits to European spas. Tennyson’s gout covered a wealth of debilitations and was not helped by heavy drinking ...

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