Wilkie Collins by Peter Ackroyd - review by Catherine Peters

Catherine Peters

Plots Have I Laid

Wilkie Collins


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ven in his twenties Wilkie Collins looked ‘weird and odd’. His head and shoulders were unusually large, but his hands and feet were tiny; when he bought boots for his mother in Paris he tried them on for size. He was severely myopic. He suffered from rheumatic disorders and nervous tics that worsened as he aged. He wore clothes that were eccentric in colour and cut. He also, like many ugly men, possessed a charm that made him irresistible to women. He was a delightful companion and tolerant friend; adults and children alike always called him Wilkie. He believed firmly that ‘a spoiled child is a happy child’ and the depiction of children in his later novels is clearly that of a man who delighted in his own offspring, though his private life was unmentionable in mixed society. Though more Victorian men than is generally supposed had dual homes and families, Collins avoided marrying either of his two mistresses, Caroline Graves and Martha Rudd. Unwilling to abandon either, he negotiated a compromise where each was aware of the other and eventually accepted the situation.

Yet this benign figure also wrote dark novels with complicated plots and violent situations, featuring adventurous and

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