Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation by Andrew Lycett - review by Catherine Peters

Catherine Peters

A Tale of Two Mistresses

Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation


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It is time for a new biography of Wilkie Collins. The late William M Clarke first revealed the details of Martha Rudd’s relationship with Wilkie Collins and the subsequent history of their three children 25 years ago. My own biography appeared in 1991. A short life by Peter Ackroyd was a welcome addition in 2012, but it was not based on new research and was not comprehensive. Literary scholars have, during the past quarter-century, added much to the interpretation and understanding of Collins’s novels and established their place in the canon of 19th-century fiction. There are also useful introductions to new editions of his lesser-known works, but an up-to-date account of his life for the reader who may know only The Woman in White or The Moonstone has long been needed. 

Andrew Lycett sets out his thesis in his introduction. Collins, though a literary iconoclast, ‘worked hard’ to ‘preserve his respectable Victorian image’ in public and would have been appalled if the truth about his private life had come out. This argument seems difficult to sustain in the light of the

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