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Wilkie Collins


 

 

Wilkie Collins

British author
in full William Wilkie Collins

born Jan. 8, 1824, London, Eng.
died Sept. 23, 1889, London

Main
English sensation novelist, early master of the mystery story, and pioneer of detective fiction.

The son of William Collins (1788–1847), the landscape painter, he developed a gift for inventing tales while still a schoolboy at a private boarding school. His first published work was a memoir to his father, who died in 1847, Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R.A. (1848). His fiction followed shortly after: Antonina; or, the Fall of Rome (1850) and Basil (1852), a highly coloured tale of seduction and vengeance with a contemporary middle-class setting and passages of uncompromising realism. In 1851 he began an association with Dickens that exerted a formative influence on his career. Their admiration was mutual. Under Dickens’ influence, Collins developed a talent for characterization, humour, and popular success, while the older writer’s debt to Collins is evident in the more skillful and suspenseful plot structures of such novels as A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1860–61). Collins began contributing serials to Dickens’ periodical Household Words, and his first major work, The Woman in White (1860), appeared in Dickens’ All the Year Round. Among his most successful subsequent books were No Name (1862), Armadale (1866), and The Moonstone (1868). A master of intricate plot construction and ingenious narrative technique, Collins turned in his later career from sensation fiction to fiction with a purpose, attacking the marriage laws in Man and Wife (1870) and vivisection in Heart and Science (1883).
 

 

 

The Woman in White

Wilkie Collins
1824 -1889

Opening with the hero Walter Hartright's thrilling midnight encounter with the mysterious fugitive from a lunatic asylum, The Woman in White was an instant hit when it first appeared as a weekly serial.
Different narrators present their accounts like witnesses in a trial, and the contest for power within the story is acted out through the struggle over who controls the narrative itself. The plot investigates how a "legitimate" identity is built up and broken down through a set of doublings and contrasts.The rich, vapid heiress Laura, married to the villain Sir Percival Glyde, is substituted by her uncanny double, the woman in white, Anne Catherick. While Laura is drugged and placed in a lunatic asylum, Anne dies of a heart condition and is buried in Laura's place.The plot, mastermined by the engaging rogue Count Fosco, is narrated by Laura's feisty half-sister Marian, a character that many believe was based on Collins' friend, George Eliot. From the sensational moment when Walter Hartright sees his beloved Laura standing by her own grave, the story turns into a quest to reconstruct her, Walter's increasingly obsessive drive to prove Laura's identity leads to two disclosures of illegitimacy.
This book defined the sensation novel of the 1860s. Wild and uncanny elements of gothic fiction are transposed into the everyday world of the upper-middle-class family, appealing directly to the nerves of the reader and exploiting modern anxieties about the instability of identity.

 

 

 

 

 

The Moonstone

Wilkie Collins
1824 -1889

The Moonstone is often regarded as the first—and, by some, the greatest—English detective novel. It concerns the theft of an invaluable diamond, but from this starting point it ranges across the whole history of the gem, from its original position adorning a Hindu god, through a succession of lootings, until it reappears in the nineteenth century as a wedding gift, and is immediately stolen. At this point Sergeant Cuff is brought in and, with a little help, he eventually unfolds the mystery.
One of the remarkable features of the novel is that it is told in the first person from a variety of viewpoints, which compounds the mystery since it is not always clear whose account the reader should trust. Collins' style—much of the novel is composed of dialogue between characters—enables the reader to move surprisingly rapidly through the intricacies of the plot. Over the course of this long novel, Collins displays a remarkable ability to unpack the workings of people's minds; unusually, perhaps, for a nineteenth-century male writer, the minds of women as much as of men. There is a remarkable vividness to the scenes in which the novel is set, and a force of action that holds the reader spellbound from start to finish. Considered a landmark in English literature, The Moonstone is a mystery to be unravelled, but it is also a presentation of the essentials of nineteenth-century society, related with the lightest of touches and with the utmost realism of dialogue and characterization.

 

 

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