Like few novels before it, The Woman in White thrilled readers across England when it debuted in 1860. It famously opens with Walter Hartright's eerie encounter on a moonlit road. Engaged as a drawing-master to beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter is drawn into the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his charming friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian "sensation" novels, a phenomenon explored in detail in Matthew Sweet's new Introduction. This edition contains three appendices, which include a synopsis of the play Collins produced of his novel and its reception, as well as an account of the novel's composition.
Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, the eldest son of the landscape painter William Collins. In 1846, having spent five years in the tea business, he was entered to read for the bar at Lincoln's Inn, where he gained the legal knowledge that was to give him much material for his writing.
From the early fifties, he was a friend of Charles Dickens, acting with him, contributing to Household Words, travelling with him on the Continent. Dickens produced and acted in two melodramas written by Collins, The Lighthouse (1855) and The Frozen Deep (1857).
Collins is best remembered for his novels, particularly The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868), which T. S. Eliot called 'the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels'. His later, and at the time rather sensational, novels include The New Magdalen (1873) and The Law and The Lady (1875). Collins also braved the moral censure of the Victorian age by keeping two women (and their households) while marrying neither. He died in 1889.