In this major biography, Catherine Peters explores the complicated life of Wilkie Collins, the greatest of the Victorian "Sensation" novelists and author of the famous Woman in White and The Moonstone. An intimate of Dickens and of the Pre-Raphaelites Holman Hunt and Millais, Collins was called the "king of inventors" by his publisher. On the surface, he was charming, unpretentious, and extremely good company, beloved by men and women. Beneath this façade, however, he was a complex and haunted man, addicted to laudanum, and his powerful, often violent novels revealed a dark side of Victorian life. He supported two common-law wives and their children, and as Peters shows, he provoked scandal by refusing to cloak his complicated love affairs in the customary hypocritical pretense of the period.
Having discovered a hitherto unknown autobiography by Wilkie Collins's mother, Peters draws on this document and on thousands of Collins's unpublished letters to create this provocative picture of his life and times. She describes in detail the saga of his exhausting struggle for better copyright protection for authors, especially for English authors in the United States. She has also studied the manuscripts of his novels, plays, and stories, including those which he did not complete, finding that some of his neglected novels turn out to be much more interesting than most readers realize today. This edition of the book has been supplemented to include an appendix describing Collins's "Tahitian" novel. Written when he was twenty, the manuscript of this work, Ioláni, was thought to have disappeared, but it has recently been rediscovered and sold to a private collector. For any Collins enthusiast, or for anyone interested in the literary history of the Victorian period, The King of Inventors provides a vivid account of Collins's unusual personal life in the context of his literary and artistic friendships and of newly revealed facts about the two women with whom he shared his "double life."
Originally published in 1993.
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"[Collins] clearly relished performing his life, one minute as the well-known author Wilkie Collins, the next as 'Mr. William Dawson' holidaying in Ramsgate with Mrs. Dawson and the children. . . . Dealing with such an extraordinary life and such extraordinary fictions, most accounts of the artistic life would have no difficulty in presenting the one as simply a spill-over from the other. In this admirable biography, Catherine Peters resists such reductiveness."--Stephen Gill, The Times Literary Supplement
"[Collins's] oddity was increased by his addiction to opium, which he carried around with him in a silver hip-flask. 'All his life,' we learn from his present biographer, he was 'haunted by a second self,' by the idea that 'someone was standing behind him.' . . . Catherine Peters's book is crammed with interesting details."--Peter Quennell, The Evening Standard
"The first readable portrait of Collins as a human being."--Françoise Rivière, The European
"A wonderful case study in Victorian morals. . . . [Peters] offers a fascinating story, plainly told."--William St. Clair, Financial Times
"As intelligent and comprehensive account of [Collins's] work as we are ever likely to have."--Claire Tomalin, Independent on Sunday
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