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William Wilkie Collins (London, January 8, 1824 – ib., September 23, 1889) was a novelist, playwright and author of short English stories. It was very popular in its time. He wrote 27 novels, more than 60 short stories, at least 14 plays and more than 100 works of nonfiction.
He is considered one of the creators of the genre of the detective novel, through a narrative characterized by the atmosphere of mystery and fantasy, the melodramatic suspense and the detailed story. His best known works are The Lady in White (1860), Armadale (1866) and The Moonstone (1868).
Collins was born in London on January 8, 1824, son of the well-known landscape painter and academic William Collins. His second name, Wilkie, was imposed in honor of his godfather, the also plastic artist David Wilkie. From twelve to fifteen he lived with his family in Italy, a stage that marked his education and the formation of his character. At age 17 he left school and was employed as an apprentice in a major tea trading firm, but after five unhappy years, during which he wrote (in 1844) his first novel, Ioláni or Tahiti as it was (which would remain unpublished for a century and a half, until 1999), he entered the Lincoln’s Inn to begin studying law, although he would never become a lawyer, because he devoted himself entirely to literature. After the death of his father, in 1847, Collins published his first book, Memoirs of the Life of William Collins (1848). He also came to consider the idea of starting a career as a painter, exhibiting his own painting at the summer exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1849. But it was with the publication of his second novel, Antonina or the fall of Rome (1850), and with the continuation of it, Basil (1851), when his career as a writer began in earnest.
A defining event in Collins’ literary career took place in March 1851, when he met Charles Dickens through a common friend, Augustus Egg. From that moment, Collins and Dickens became great friends, thanks, among other things, to their common fondness for theater, and collaborated hand in hand in magazines and editions, even becoming co-authors of several works. In addition, Collins, in his work as editor, was the work of Dickens Household Words, and several of the novels of that would be published in installments in the weekly All the Year Round, edited by the author of Oliver Twist, who would end up editing and publishing the works of his friend on his own. The friendship between the two would last a lifetime, to the point that they became relatives, as the younger brother of Wilkie Collins, Charles Allston, married Kate Macready Dickens, second daughter of Charles Dickens and Catherine Thompson Hogarth. After the death of Dickens, Collins also advised Georgina Hogarth, sister-in-law of the great writer, when she was preparing, in 1880 and in collaboration with Dickens’s eldest daughter, Mary Angela, an edition of the Charles Dickens Letters from 1833 to 1870.
Collins suffered from a variation of arthritis known as rheumatic gout that eventually led to a serious addiction to opium, which he took in the form of laudanum to relieve the intense pain. As a result, he began to experience paranoid illusions in which he believed he was continually accompanied by a clone of his which he called “Ghost Wilkie.” In his famous novel The Moonstone (1868) he raised the issue of the effects of opium addiction prominently. While writing this novel, his consumption of laudanum was so excessive, that he later confessed not remembering what he had written in a large part of the narrative.
Collins Tomb in the Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
Collins never married, but from 1858 until his death he maintained successive intermittent relationships with the widow Caroline Graves and later with his daughter Elizabeth, whom the writer called “Carrie”. When Caroline finally left him to marry a certain Joseph Charles Clow (October 1868), Collins met another woman, Martha Rudd, with whom she had three children: Marian (born 1869), Harriet (born 1871) and Charles. William (No. 1874). In between, the widow Graves had returned with Collins, keeping both their relationship discontinuously until the death of the writer. Wilkie Collins died in London, on September 23, 1889, and was buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery in the British capital. The epitaph of his tomb highlights him as the author of the novel La dama de blanco.
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