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Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation [Paperback]

Andrew Lycett
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

10 April 2014

The definitive biography of Wilkie Collins: the Victorian novelist, playwright, author of The Moonstone and The Woman in White, who lived a life of sensation.

Part biography, part history, part intimate family saga, Wilkie Collins brings to life one of England's greatest writers against the backdrop of Victorian London and all its complexities. It is a truly sensational story.

1868, and bestselling author Wilkie Collins is hard at work on a new detective novel, The Moonstone. But he is weighed down by a mountain of problems - his own sickness, the death of his mother, and, most pressing, the announcement by his live-in mistress that she has tired of his relationship with another woman and intends to marry someone else. His solution is to increase his industrial intake of opium and knuckle down to writing the book T. S. Eliot called the 'greatest' English detective novel.

Of Wilkie's domestic difficulties, not a word to the outside world: indeed, like his great friend Charles Dickens, he took pains to keep secret any detail of his ménage. There's no doubt that the arrangement was unusual and, for Wilkie, precarious, particularly since his own books focused on uncovering such deeply held family secrets. Indeed, he was the master of the Victorian sensation novel, fiction that left readers on the edge of their seats as mysteries and revelations abounded.

In this colourful investigative portrait, Andrew Lycett draws Wilkie Collins out from the shadow of Charles Dickens. Wilkie is revealed as a brilliant, witty, friendly, contrary and sensual man, deeply committed to his work. Here he is given his rightful place at the centre of the literary, artistic and historical movements of his age.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Windmill Books (10 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099557347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099557340
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 210,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Acclaimed biographer Andrew Lycett uncovers a few skeletons in Wilkie Collins's closet, revealing a private life every bit as sensational as anything the author dreamt up in his fiction." (Observer)

"Clean outlines, crystal clear English, and a clear-eyed picture of his subject... Andrew Lycett's a terrific narrator... the Hemingway of biographers. One sees Collins more clearly having read Lycett. A fine, and pre-eminently useful, biography of the most elusive character in Victorian literature." (John Sutherland The Spectator)

"Collins's private life... was as rich in secrets as his books. Sensible, thoughtful and never less than scrupulous, ­Lycett is just the right biographer to assess whether such potentially sensational material should affect our interpretation of ­Collins's work." (Sunday Times)

"As delicate as it is thorough, Lycett peels away the layers of deception with which Collins protected himself and shows us the engagingly vulnerable figure beneath" (Evening Standard)

"Excellent on Collins's friendship with Dickens, which he presents, convincingly, as much more of a relationship of equals than Dickens's biographers allow" (The Times)

Book Description

The definitive biography of Wilkie Collins: the Victorian novelist, playwright, author of The Moonstone and The Woman in White, who lived a life of sensation.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wilkie - an era brought to life 9 Oct 2013
This much more than a man's life and work, it is a image of his times and the social and literary changes going on in that era. It brings together his background, life, loves and work in a highly readable and entertaining way.

Carefully researched and referenced, it places Wilkie's writing in the context of his family, friends and aquaintances, many of whom are well known to us, in the literary and painting worlds. So we get facinating insights into other characters who were in Wilkie's social group, like Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelites.

A great read and informative about the mid victorian age.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Masculine biography 23 Jan 2014
This is a very well researched and comprehensive biography of the writer and the man.
I found it rather too forgiving about his attitudes to the women in his life, we are told that he was liberal in his attitudes to the opposite sex, but the casual cruelty in keeping his secret mistresses and children without position or stability in Victorian Britain smacks of having his cake and eating it. He gets to keep his very enjoyable bachelor existence with family life ready and waiting when he feels the need for it, especially when he needs a secretary, hostess or nurse. The book retains a quite masculine view point Rosina Bulwer-Lytton is dismissed as "estranged and unstable" p86 where a more feminist reading of her might be-as stable as a women abused by her sadistic and domineering husband could be.
I also found it a bit repetitive in telling the story of the publication of every novel in quite a bit of detail, although I appreciate that in his research the author would have had more evidence of this part of Collins' life and less of his private thoughts about his family.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read 12 Nov 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've long been a fan of Wilkie Collins' works and this biography provides good background to his writings as well as being a very readable account of Collins' life. Collins certainly broke the boundaries of convention in the 1800s. The author of this biography deserves great credit for discovering Collins' quirks and ticks and he brings Collins to life, so to speak, in a way that other authors failed in the past to do.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of My best reads 27 May 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the best book I have read in a long time as it is well written by the author
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5.0 out of 5 stars A sensational biography. 24 May 2014
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

Like his subject's novels, Andrew Lycett's biography of Wilkie Collins is an absorbing page turner of a book.

The major problem facing anyone tackling Collins's life is the existence of his two mistresses and their families whom he maintained. For obvious reasons, in order to maintain secrecy, all documentary evidence concerning them has been destroyed, so two women who were so central to Collins' life, have only peripheral roles in this biography. One wonders why these two ladies were, seemingly, content to live as they did. I guess financial security had a big part to play in their decisions. But there is an element here of Collins having his cake and eating it.

One of the things I particularly liked about Lycett's approach to his subject was the detail concerning the publishing industry during the second half of the nineteenth century. We tend to forget that novelists were not just producing great works of literature, but were also out to make a living. Collins' writing career encompassed the prominence of novels published in three volumes and the emergence of cheaper one volume editions. And I had not fully appreciated the stranglehold the circulating libraries, especially Mudie's, had on censorship issues and the book trade.

All the big names in Victorian art and literature move in and out of Collins' extremely active life; for example, he was a close friend of Charles Dickens, both personally and professionally. He was also a frequent traveller, even journeying to the USA.

The plots of his novels, despite their complications, are lucidly summarised by Lycett who not only evaluates Collins' standing as a Victorian author, but also his influence on subsequent writers and literary genres.
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