Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens

Wilkie Collins was a great Victorian writer mainly known for his "sensation novels," The Woman in White and The Moonstone. The Moonstone is viewed as the beginning of what would be the traditional detective story and remains one of Collins's most critically acclaimed works. Dorothy L. Sayers referred to it as "probably the very finest detective story ever written." Yet, it is Collins's friendship with Dickens that has probably led to his fame more than anything.

Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens where lifelong friends. At the time of their meeting in 1851, Dickens was already a popular writer with his editing of the weekly magazine, Household Words, which Wilkie himself would later be published in. They met through a mutual friend, Augustus Egg, who invited Wilkie to join Dickenss' amateur theatrical company. The two authors collaborated together on stage and off, writing dramatic and fictional work. During the beginning of their acquaintance they where never apart, Wilkie spending much time at Dickens's homes, loving the domesticated life that Dickens didn't. Yet, don't think they spent all their times in domesticated bliss! They where often cavorting the nights away in the streets of London and Paris, visiting music and dance halls and stopping in at their favorite restaurant, Verrey's, where they always had a table waiting.

Despite their friendship, Dickens didn't automatically publish anything Wilkie wrote, in fact, he notabley rejected his stories if he viewed them unfit for his audience. With "Gabriel's Marriage" in 1853, Wilkie finally became a contributor to Household Words. By 1856 Wilkie was a regular contributor and Dickens was considering making him staff, which soon became a reality. In 1859, Dickens stopped working on Household Words to create his own paper, All the Year Round. Launching in April of that year, by May, Wilkie already was published in the periodical, following where Dickens led.

By 1860, they where not just friends but family, with Wilkie's younger brother Charles, marrying Dickens's daughter Kate. Yet their literary friendship took a blow when Wilkie left All the Year Round in 1861 because of the success of The Woman in White. In 1862, Collins was extremely ill with gout and Dickens offered help... in the form of writing for him, which Wilkie turned down. What Wilkie did accept though was laudanum, which led to an addiction that would last till his death.Yet by 1867, Wilkie was back with Dickens and The Moonstone was serialized in his periodical. Though, this return to normalcy wouldn't last.

Around this time, with Dickens travelling to America, their friendship started to sour. It could be the burden Wilkie's brother was to Charles, the fact that Collins's life was taken up with two separate women in a convoluted domestic bliss, or even the fact that Collins requested written evidence stating that he owned his own copyrights, and not Dickens's magazines. Dickens died in 1870. Wilkie was asked posthumously to finish Edwin Drood, which he refused. Collins lived till 1889, but the quality of his work declined after Dickens's death. Whether this was just because he missed his dearest friend, Dickens mentorship or his increased dependence on drugs, will never be known. One thing is certain, these two men made each other better writers, and when one thinks of Wilkie Collins, you can't help but think of his dear friend, Charles Dickens.


Newer Post Older Post Home