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Wilkie Collins [Hardcover]

Peter Ackroyd
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
RRP: £12.99
Price: £10.39 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

23 Feb 2012

Short and oddly built, with a head too big for his body, extremely short-sighted, unable to stay still, dressed in colourful clothes, 'as if playing a certain part in the great general drama of life', Wilkie Collins looked distinctly strange. But he was none the less a charmer, befriended by the great, loved by children, irresistibly attractive to women -- and avidly read by generations of readers.

Ackroyd follows his hero, 'the sweetest-tempered of all the Victorian novelists', from his childhood as the son of a well-known artist to his struggling beginnings as a writer, his years of fame and his life-long friendship with the other great London chronicler, Charles Dickens. A true Londoner, Collins, like Dickens, was fascinated by the secrets and crimes -- the fraud, blackmail and poisonings -- that lay hidden behind the city's respectable facade. He was a fighter, never afraid to point out injustices and shams , or to tackle the establishment head on. As well as his enduring masterpieces, The Moonstone -- often called the first true detective novel -- and the sensational The Woman in White, he produced an intriguing array of lesser known works.

Collins had his own secrets: he never married, but lived for thirty years with the widowed Caroline Graves, and also had a second liaison, as 'Mr and Mrs Dawson', with a younger mistress, Martha Rudd, with whom he had three children. Both women remained devoted as illness and opium-taking took their toll: he died in 1889, in the middle of writing his last novel, Blind Love. Told with Peter Ackroyd's inimitable verve this is a ravishingly entertaining life of a great story-teller, full of surprises, rich in humour and sympathetic understanding.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus (23 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701169907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701169909
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 20.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 279,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Ackroyd is the author of biographies of Dickens, Blake and Thomas More and of the acclaimed non-fiction bestsellers London: The Biography and Thames: Sacred River. Peter Ackroyd is an award-winning novelist, as well as a broadcaster, biographer, poet and historian. He has won the Whitbread Biography Award, the Royal Society of Literature's William Heinemann Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award and the South Bank Prize for Literature. He holds a CBE for services to literature.

Product Description


"Four stars, (A) perfect little biography" (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)

"With deft strokes, Peter Ackroyd's biography portrays his character and sets him in context, weaving critical appraisals seamlessly into the story of his life. The bravura of this biography lies in its brilliantly judged brevity." (Iain Finlayson The Times)

"Unfailingly perceptive" (Andrew Taylor Independent)

"This biography is compulsive reading" (The Economist)

"Insightful" (Judith Flanders Sunday Telegraph) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

Ackroyd at his best -- a gripping short life of the extraordinary Wilkie Collins, author of The Moonstone and The Woman in White.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars THE UN-DICKENS 26 Mar 2012
By Diacha
In this year of Dickens, it is fitting that some attention be spared for his close friend and acolyte, Wilkie Collins. Peter Ackroyd's short biography is a splendid introduction to the man and his work.

Collins was befriended by the older Dickens early in his career. He owed his publishing breaks to him and fondly followed him on amateur dramatic tours, long hikes and dirty weekendesque trips to Paris. However, he developed very much his own literary style and reputation.

Collins was the son of a prominent painter and thus inherited a well-established social milieu. He was short and oddly formed. He suffered greatly from gout and other ailments against which he self-medicated with prodigious dosages of laudanum. His sex life was unconventional: instead of a wife and a mistress, he maintained (apparently in relative harmony) two mistresses. The surviving one of these tended his own grave until she was unable. He resisted his father's attempts to launch him on a commercial or legal career and took to writing at an early stage achieving his vindication through both fame and fortune.

Ackroyd writes with his usual aplomb and confidence. There are some signs of haste (a tendency to repeat words or near homonyms within the same or a contiguous sentence, for example), but his close knowledge of literature, London and human nature shine through and we are treated to a fair helping of Ackroydian aperçus.

The book is a helpful guide to Collins' writing: his debt to Poe, his effective invention of the detective genre, his social messages. While I am not sure that Ackroyd has persuaded me to rush to buy such works as "The Law and the Lady," "The Woman in White" is shuffling its way towards the top of my reading list and I shall shortly mount a search in the attic for my dog-eared, third form paperback version of "The Moonstone."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Victorian Sensation 20 Mar 2013
By Gregory S. Buzwell TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Wilkie Collins, perhaps rather unjustly, is frequently regarded as lurking somewhere amongst those 'second-tier' Victorian novelists. His work is not as verbally dazzling and charismatic as that of Dickens, nor as passionate as that of the Brontes. He didn't have the biting social conscience of Gaskell; the sheer intellect of George Eliot (then again, nobody did) or the beautiful, brilliant bleakness of Hardy. What he did have however, and it's a gift any novelist would weep with happiness at the thought of obtaining, was a superb and seemingly effortless ability to tell a rattling good yarn. We may, in the 21st century, patiently study the novels of the great Victorian worthies but for fun, for pleasure, for relaxation and delight we're much more likely to read The Woman in White or The Moonstone.

Peter Ackroyd's concise biography of Collins acts as something of an impressionist picture of the author and his work, it may be brief and a touch sketchy but it does definitely give a good indication of the man and his novels and Ackroyd's comments and observations are unfailingly perceptive and thought-provoking throughout. Collins's curious and unorthodox life (most male Victorian novelists had a wife and a mistress, Wilkie cut out the wife and settled for the more bracing arrangement of having two mistresses) is discussed, as is his always delicate health, his reliance on laudanum and his passion for foreign travel. His friendship with Charles Dickens is also given the space and importance it deserves but where the biography really shines is with the analysis and detail given regarding Collins's work - both his fiction and his plays.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A sketch that could have been a portrait. 8 Aug 2013
By Lola
I am in the minority here - I did not enjoy the book as much as I hoped I would. Wilkie Collins was one of my favourite authors when I was a teenager (my family had a collection of his published works which I devoured!).

Wilkie Collins is one of the most productive writers of the nineteenth century, with a number of his books never going out of print, and yet, here we have a slim book (of less than 200 pages with actual narrative, somewhat repetitive and not as detailed as I would have hoped) devoted to the private life, public life and career of this great British author. Moreover, the slim tome is full of typos and misplaced punctuation.
Still, Peter Ackroyd writes with gusto and this biography is enjoyable, but Wilkie Collins portrait is that not of a very pleasant man.

Three and a half stars. Peter Ackroyd could have done better.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wilkie collins 29 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was very pleased with this book. it was an excellent read and i will certainly be looking for more biographies by this author.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not Worth Reading 8 Sep 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Badly written about a boring and tedious man. Am only reading it because it is in this month's Book Club
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