Following his death in 1889 until the third quarter of the last century, Wilkie Collins’ critical fortunes were largely at a low ebb. Today, Collins is in vogue, and interest in his work is undergoing its most fertile period ever. He is acknowledged as the pioneer of the detective story, of mysteries, of fiction encompassing the dispossessed, with the fallen leaves of life, those on its fringes as well as so many other areas, including being a pioneer of the post-colonial novel. In an age given to eclectic criticism his large oeuvre provides fertile ground for critical exposition. This paper examines some reasons for the reversal of scholarly and critical fortune. It examines past critical and scholarly investigation and suggests avenues for subsequent scholarly and critical exploration.
We begin with assumptions concerning Collins’s “work.” It was, for instance, assumed until very recently that his earliest published work was “The Last Stage Coachman,” appearing in the Illuminated Magazine in August 1843. However, Daniel Hack’s recovery of “Volpurno – Or the Student: A Forgotten Tale of Madness by Wilkie Collins” appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, January 2, 2009 (14-15). This story was published in at least three periodicals in the United States before August 1843, and we don’t know when it first appeared. This possibly is the tip of the iceberg, and a trawl through online databases of nineteenth-century periodicals is expected to reveal more. Similarly, Antonina; Or The Fall of Rome. A Romance of the Fifth Century was regarded as Collins’s first published novel. However, Ira Nadel’s excellent 1999 Princeton UP edition contains Ioláni; or Tahiti As It Was: A Romance, probably written during 1844-45 period, which would predate his first known work, his Memoir of the Life of William Collins Esq. RA. That was published by Longman in 1848. So it wouldn’t surprise me if further additions to the Collins canon emerge.
Two research areas that need to be explored are a comparison of various editions of printed texts. For instance, the editions that appeared under the Tauchnitz “Collection of British Authors” series published, as Andrew Gasson notes in his highly informative Wilkie Collins: An Illustrated Guide, “altogether….twenty-eight titles under Collins’s name in exactly fifty volumes, plus two collaborations with Dickens.” A warning though: “the volumes were frequently reprinted but invariably retain the date of publication on the title-page” (144). These editions need to be compared with the initial serial version, with the three decker (if the novel appeared in that format). Then, there are the instances of American pirated editions. There were many: Canadian ones with British ones, Colonial editions and so on.
The other fertile textual research area involves examining the extent of Collins’s collaborations. This refers not only to the extent of his work with Dickens, which has been well covered in Lillian Nayder’s excellent study Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, & Victorian Authorship. It is sometimes forgotten that Collins’s “final” novel, the serialized Blind Love published a year after his death, was completed by Walter Besant. Apparently, Collins completed forty eight chapters, and Besant needed sixteen more. Further research is needed here.
There is, of course, a need for a complete scholarly edition and the need for a bibliographical history. A start could be made using the Morris L Parrish Collection at Princeton, a great repository of Collins’s manuscripts and first editions. Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade: First Editions described with Notes by M L Parrish with the assistance of Elizabeth V Miller, first published in 1940 and reprinted by Burt Franklin in 1968, needs to be supplemented with a detailed account of collections in private hands to form a proper bibliographical history. This would include data on the number of copies printed of individual works, notes on textual variants, publication and compositional history, manuscript locations and so on. Why, after all, should Wilkie Collins lag behind what exists for the Brontës , Dickens, Hardy, George Eliot, and Anthony Trollope, to name but five of his contemporaries for whom such work exists?
Let’s now turn to the biographical research areas.
Incredible as it may sound, the first biography of Collins that I can locate is not in English but by a German admirer, Ernst von Wolzogen, whose critical Wilkie Collins: Ein Biographisch-Kritischer Versuch was published in Leipzig in 1885. Apparently, it is based upon information that Collins gave the biographer. Of particular interest is information about Collins’s apparent initial sexual contact with women. Collins boasted that at the age of twelve or thirteen, when in Rome on a visit with his parents that he was seduced by a married woman. To use the language of his latest biographer Andrew Lycett, who has a way with words, the seducer was “at least three times his age and [Collins remembered] how he had been consumed with jealousy whenever her husband was nearby.” Lycett adds that “it is not difficult to imagine Wilkie venturing into the city one night, accompanied by [his friend Charles] Ward, and meeting a voluptuous Roman lady who helped him lose his virginity” (36). This affair apparently launched him upon a lifetime of pleasure and fascination with the opposite sex.
Such, of, course is the stuff of biography. There is here though a point to be made and that is that interest in Collins has, since the very beginning, not been confined to the English-speaking world. His work has been translated into many languages: Italian, French, German, and Dutch are but four languages that come to mind, and the non-English reception of his work is an area that needs examining. His translators need investigation, the translations need studying, so do the audiences reading him overseas, and their critical reception.
The first biography of Collins in the twentieth century was also in German. Hans Sehlbach’s Untersuchungen über der Romankunst von Wilkie Collins was published in Jena in 1931. Kirk H. Beetz in his most useful Wilkie Collins: An Annotated Bibliography, 1889-1976 dismisses this biography as “not very useful” (p.71). Not one but two biographies were published in the immediate post-war years. The first was by a Labour MP and minor cabinet minister the late Kenneth Robinson, whose Wilkie Collins: A Biography appeared in 1951. Robinson had access to unpublished letters from, for instance, the Lehmann and Archer families. He drew upon the great collection of Collins’s materials at the Princeton University Libraries and also had some access to letters in possession of A. P. Watt, Collins’s literary agent and literary executor. It should be added that the main bulk of the Collins letters in the possession of the Watt family subsequently disappeared for over 35 years. Catherine Peters in her magisterial The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins, published in 1991, was granted access to some of them and paraphrased and cited from those letters she was allowed to read. All these letters are crucial for any biographical assessment of their subject. I will return to this issue later on in this talk.
A year after Robinson’s biography, the American Robert Ashley’s Wilkie Collins appeared. It, too, drew upon unpublished materials and attempts to, in the words of its opening pages, “rehabilitate Collins the novelist…. revitalize Collins the man and to present unknown biographical facts.” For Ashley, Collins has been “the victim of more misrepresentation and slipshod scholarship than any other English novelist of comparable stature,” the reason being that “until recently no one had made him the object of a major investigation” (5).
It was not until the last twenty years of the twentieth century that a more complete picture of Collins emerged. For this, credit should be given to two outstanding biographers and biographies. These are William M. Clarke’s The Secret Life of Wilkie Collins and the Catherine Peters’ biography. Clarke, a distinguished journalist and former financial editor of the Financial Times and of major books on the city of London and, to mention one other, Hidden Treasures of the Romanovs: Saving the Royal Jewels, was a real professional, the most generous and helpful of people. The husband of Collins’s great-granddaughter Faith Dawson, William Clarke drew upon family knowledge, manuscripts, and family records. Their house is a monument to the Collins family. In it may be found wonderful paintings by Collins’s father and by his brother Charles; Collins’s writing table; and numerous other mementos, including many first and subsequent editions. Clarke’s biography is important because it is the first to reveal in detail the hitherto hidden Collins ménage a trois of many years, and his relationship with Martha Rudd, with whom he adopted the surname Dawson and had three children.
There are many other revelations in Clarke’s biography, including Collins’s late infatuated correspondence with the young 12-year-old Nannie Wynne, the daughter of the widowed Mrs. Henry Wynne. Clarke’s biography brings to the forefront a central question of any Collins biography: why he never married, or did he contract an early marriage that he lived to regret and kept secret? There is such a marriage fictionally described in his 1852 novel Basil: A Story of Modern Life. It is, I think, not without significance that the novel is dedicated to Collins’s close friend Charles Ward, whose brother Ned secretly married in 1848 Henrietta (Ward – no relation), who became a very distinguished artist in her own right. They became engaged when she was fourteen-and-a-half and, in spite of parental opposition, they married when she was sixteen. The two had six children. Ned Ward suffered from depression and committed suicide. Was there in fact in Collins’s own life an early secret marriage that prevented him subsequently from marrying?
Catherine Peters, in her 1991 biography and also in her Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, published in 2004, draws upon unpublished materials. Her depiction of Collins is that of one haunted by a second self and determined on an unconventional life. Peters is also interested in Collins as a journalist, a dramatist — an area only now beginning to be fully explored — and of course as a novelist.
Since the year 2000 – unless I have miscounted – there have been five biographies. The first appeared in 2005, the same year as a four-volume collected letters edited by myself, Andrew Gasson, Graham Law, and Paul Lewis. I talk about this later on and draw attention to the annual updates. The first is by Lyn Pykett in the Oxford World’s Classics “Authors in Context” series. This is well written and stresses its subject’s exclusion from “polite society.” Pykett writes that Collins “was neither an insider nor an outsider” (2). However, Pykett fails to make use of the two-volume The Letters of Wilkie Collins, edited by William M Clarke and myself and published in 1999. The same cannot be said of Graham Law’s and Andrew Maunder’s detailed Wilkie Collins: A Literary Life published in 2008. In addition to drawing upon the letters, the emphasis is on Collins’s professional relationships, his writing life, and the serialization of his work, an area until then largely neglected.
Three years later, Melissa Klimaszewski’s Wilkie Collins appeared in the Hespurus Press “Brief Lives” series. It must be confessed that I find this biography to be excellent and the finest short biography on the subject to appear to date. In her “Introduction,” the author frankly discusses the difficulties involved in writing a “brief biography of a man whose life was hardly short…. Which events are the most significant? Which friendships merit the lengthiest examination? How deeply to contemplate each literary work and the culture of which it formed a part?” She “attempt[s] to balance attention to these matters as [she] reconstruct[s] the sense of Collins’ personal character, discussing his life’s work in a manner that encourages further inquiry.” She pays attention not to the “frequently studied works… The Woman in White and The Moonstone” but “endeavors not only to provide a substantial amount of information about Collins but also to offer fresh insights into his work and to serve as a valuable starting point for additional studies of his life, his writing and the era in which he lived” (7-8). Ambitious as this may sound in just 145 pages, I think she succeeded brilliantly.
Peter Ackroyd’s slightly longer Wilkie Collins biography was published last year; my sense is that it is been somewhat unfairly treated. It acknowledges its sources and is professionally very well written. Its opening paragraph conveys some of its flavour:
The peculiar appearance of Mr. Wilkie Collins made him stand out in an ‘omni,’ as the London bus was frequently called. At five feet and six inches he was relatively short even for the 1850s and 1860s. His head was too large for his body; his arms and his legs were a little too short, while his hands and feet were too small and considered to be ‘rather like a woman’s.’ There was a large bump on his right temple as a result of a gynecological accident; it was sometimes called ‘a swelling of the frontal bone.’ (1)
This bump is prominently displayed in a painting painted by Andrew Geddes in 1833, when Collins was nine and with his brother Charles then five. This is now in private hands after having been for over a century in the possession of the Pym family – Horatio Noble Pym, being a close friend of Collins and his circle. It is partially reproduced in Lycett facing p. 142. Ackroyd’s next paragraph opens: “He was always aware of his oddity and declared that nature had in his case been ‘a bad artist’; he believed that his high shoulders, and his generally broad body, were ‘quite out of all proportion’ to his large and intellectual head” (1).
Andrew Lycett’s recently published biography throws light upon those who were close to Collins, such as Dr. Frank Carr Beard many of whose patients were writers. Beard didn’t apparently hesitate to supply laudanum to his patients. The closeness of the Beard-Collins relationship is reflected in the fact that he served as a trustee for Collins’s will. Lycett also throws light upon Edward Antrobus, the tea broker and Collins’s first employer who cast a blind eye on his writing activities at work. There is in Lycett’s book too much useful information on Nina Chambers, one of the many correspondents with whom Collins flirted. She was the wife of his close friend Frederick Lehmann. Another figure close to Collins, Edward Smyth Piggot from Weston-super-Mare, with whom Wilkie went sailing — indeed yachting was a favorite pastime — is also accorded fresh light. However, the biography misses the opportunity to say more about Collins’s obsession with the married Jane Bigelow, wife of an American diplomat. She and Bigelow had six children. It should be stressed that Lycett writes superbly well and, to use Paul Lewis’s words, his “book has excellent short summaries of Wilkie’s books and stories and Lycett’s analysis of Wilkie’s later works – often dismissed by other biographers – is masterful. The summary of his life in the last few pages is as good as anything I have read” (1-2).
At this point, one should mention more specialized biographical studies such as Susan R Hanes’ Wilkie Collins’s American Tour 1873-4 (2008) . “The intention of [Hanes’s] study is to provide a sense of the America that Collins encountered and, in so doing, contribute to an understanding of the challenges and successes of celebrities who came to America in the second half of the nineteenth century” (p.1). Hanes performs this task admirably and also throws considerable biographical light upon the personalities Collins met on his trip. My own A Wilkie Collins Chronology, published in the previous year (2007), consists of a more or less daily account of his activities.
Largely ignored by other studies is Alexander Grinstein’s Wilkie Collins: Man of Mystery and Imagination (2003). Mention of this work serves as a bridge to a consideration of Collins’s letters, other approaches to him, including general ones and discussions of individual writings and editions. Grinstein’s is not a biography or explanation of his art. Grinstein writes that his “goal has been to provide some added insight into this man’s personality or into some of the underlying problems with which he struggled” (2). Grinstein served as a professor of psychiatry and president of the Freud archives in New York. These days, Freud is out of fashion; however, one should keep an open mind and not dismiss a work written from a Freudian perspective. Grinstein has interesting things to say especially on neglected stories, such as the late tale “Mrs Zant and the Ghost” and Collins’s relationship to Nannie Wynne. Further, Grinstein provides one of the few discussions of The Black Robe (1880-1881), a late novel the plot of which “revolves around the machinations of Fr. Benwell, a Jesuit priest” (204ff). Also, Grinstein’s study is one that not only discusses many of the short stories but reveals their significance and what, according to Grinstein, they reveal about their author.
Let me now turn to Collins’s letters and the latest state of play. According to Paul Lewis’s wonderfully informative website www.wilkiecollins.com, more than 200 additional letters have been discovered since the publication in 2005 of the four-volume The Public Face of Wilkie Collins, edited by myself, Andrew Gasson, Paul Lewis, and Graham Law. These four volumes contain 2,987 letters, most appearing for the first time, as well as letters in my and Bill Clark’s two-volume Letters of Wilkie Collins, published in 1999. More than 200 newly discovered letters have appeared annually as “Addenda-Corrigenda” to the Wilkie Collins Society Journal, 2005, 2006 and 2007. From 2005 to 2011, they were published as a separate pamphlet by the Wilkie Collins Society. Ongoing, they are part of the preparation for a publicly available database of Collins’s collected letters. Images of some of these letters may be found at Paul Lewis’s website.
I believe what needs to be done is a graphological analysis of Collins’s different kinds of handwriting. His hand is sometimes almost illegible – another possible reason why no edition of his letters was attempted until recently. The question arises whether there is a relation between the state of his hand and the state of his health. There are remarkable differences in his writing over differing periods of his life: indeed the whole area of the relationship between health and hand-writing needs exploring.
Collins used an amanuensis, often his stepdaughter “Carrie” –Harriet Elizabeth Graves (who became Bartley) (1851-1905). She was the dedicatee of The Legacy of Cain (1888). From the evidence of Collins’s letters, he and Carrie were extremely close. Her mother, Caroline, was the dedicatee of The Fallen Leaves (1879). The title applies to “the people who have drawn blanks in the lottery of life … the friendless and the lonely, the wounded and the lost,” words, of course, applicable to the dedicatee whom Collins had rescued when, so the tale goes, she was being chased by a man with a red hot poker. An examination of Collins’s later manuscripts reveals the presence of Carrie’s hand which is also present in some of his letters.
If possible, the nature of the role which she played in his writing of his compositional methodology needs to be more thoroughly examined. He wrote to deadlines, especially when his work was serialized, as a great deal of it was. An examination of his manuscripts reveals a maze, a patchwork quilt of additions and deletions. I sometimes wonder with amazement how the compositors at, for instance, All the Year Round, to mention just one of the many journals and newspapers Collins wrote for, managed to read his texts, to decipher them, and to make sense from them. Indeed with some notable exceptions, very little has been done on Victorian printing house practices, on the work of proofreaders and so on. No reliable edition of Collins’s works, of his novels, of his journalism, of the short stories, and so on exists. Many, although not all, are available as e-texts (see Paul Lewis’s web site) but the texts are not necessarily reliable and lack annotations.
There are fine editions of individual novels: for example, the Broadview edition edited by Steve Farmer of The Moonstone and John Sutherland’s Penguin edition of Armadale and his World’s Classics The Moonstone. Matthew Sweet has produced
an excellent edition of The Woman in White and the lesser known novels such as Blind Love, Heart and Science and The Evil Genius have been well served by Broadview editions. Yet much more needs be done with Collins’s texts and made available.
Collins wrote a least 15 plays. His main motive in doing so was to make money. A successful run in the west end of London could make a fortune, as indeed is the case today. With the exception of the doctoral dissertation by R. L. Brannan at Cornell University in 1961 and B. A. Brashear’s Case Western University 1972 dissertation, Collins’s dramas have until recently been neglected. This year, 2013, witnessed not one but two editions of almost the same play. The distinguished novelist P.D. James in her “Foreword” to Andrew Gasson and Caroline Radcliffe’s edition of Collins’s first play, The Lighthouse, observes that it “has never before appeared in print. This distinguished volume, contains not only the play, but a wealth of contemporary and fascinating information about the genesis of the piece, Wilkie Collins’s own account of how he came to write [it], and reviews of the performances, both in private houses and in the public theatre”(3). This illustrated edition “has been produced for the Wilkie Collins Society in a hard back limited to 250 copies” (vi).
Whereas Gasson and Radcliffe’s text is that of the manuscript now at the British Library, Robert C. Hanna’s “The Storm at the Lighthouse by Wilkie Collins, with an Introduction, Textual Notes, and Appendix” is largely based on “the earliest manuscript of [the] play held by the V and A,” the National Art Library (p.304). The title was subsequently shortened. There are also fragments in manuscript form of parts of the play held at other locations. For instance, a prologue and concluding couplet are held at the Beinecke at Yale, and there is another form of the drama at the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library that contains different stage directions. This information and much more may be found in Hanna’s illuminating illustrated essay appearing in Dickens Studies Annual 44 (2013): 289-364.
It can only be hoped that these will be the first of subsequent editions of Collins’s plays. He devoted much time and energy to them. They took up much of his creative energies and reveal a great deal about his conception of plotting, character, setting, thematic preoccupations and use of other materials in addition to a lifelong fascination with the theatre and those involved with it.
My Wilkie Collins’s Library: A Reconstruction was published by Greenwood in 2002. It is based upon M.L Bennett’s Caxton Head Catalogue 198: Books from the Library of the late Wilkie Collins. This invaluable catalogue appeared in London in February 1890. I am very much indebted to Catherine Peters who sent me a copy — just one of many acts of generosity experienced whilst labouring in the vineyard of Collins studies. I will return to this subject subsequently.
Faith and Bill Clarke sent me the auctioneers’ marked-up copy of 20 January 1890 Puttick & Simpson’s Library of the Late Wilkie Collins Esq. His books and other objects, such as paintings, were sold off at this auction and the main buyer seems indeed to have been M.L. Bennett, who one month later attempted to sell the books bought at considerably higher prices. The books owned by Collins are a revelatory source of knowledge on the man himself. He “was a book man. He lived amongst books, and wrote to maintain himself and more than one family. The volumes in his Library reveal much about the man, the writer, his friendships, his associations, and the sources for his creative inspiration” (66).
This audience may not be aware of Bernadette A. Meyler’s “Transparency and Textuality: Wilkie Collins’s Law Books.” This appeared in 2007 as one of the Cornell Law School Legal Studies Research Paper series. It focuses upon an 1882 trial of Jessie Billings for the murder of his wife. Collins possessed a copy of a volume containing the arguments of the Albany prosecutor, Nathaniel Moak. This became one of the chief sources for Collins’s short story “John Jago’s Ghost; Or, The Dead Alive, An American Story,” which was subsequently reprinted in book form under the title The Dead Alive.
Incidentally, this seems to have a particular fascination for eminent lawyers as the text forms the foundation for Rob Warden’s Wilkie Collins’s The Dead Alive. The Novel, The Case, and Wrongful Convictions, published by the Northwestern University Press (2005). At the time, Warden was the executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law. There is a “Foreword” by the eminent lawyer and novelist Scott Turow. He writes that The Dead Alive is “gracefully written and artfully suspenseful, it is an early example of the popular novel as we know it now and an eerily prescient forerunner of much of the fiction about the legal process now so widely read in United States and around the world.” Turow adds, “More tellingly, its observations remain disturbingly accurate about the factors that can lead the criminal justice system to the wrong conclusions and to the ultimate moral mishap of condemning the innocent to death” (x).
Such comments lead into consideration of Collins criticism, the final segment of my talk today. I’d like to start by drawing your attention to three specific collections:
- Kirk H. Beetz’ Wilkie Collins: An Annotated Bibliography 1889 – 1976 (1978) provides a comprehensive annotated listing of general and of individual responses to novels published during that period of time.
- Norman Page’s Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage ( 1974) provides illustrations of the reception given to Collins by his contemporaries and near contemporaries, as does
- Baker and Gasson’s Wilkie Collins in the 2007 Pickering and Chatto volume Lives of Victorian Literary Figures,2.
In the “Introduction” to this work, we wrote that “the remarkable transformation in Wilkie Collins’s reputation” from being relegated to the third division of writers to his present status towards the top of the Premier league “may be seen in a comparison of Thomas Seccombe’s entry on Collins in the supplement to the Dictionary of National Biography and Catherine Peters much more extensive piece in the 2004 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.” It should be said that “there has always been a constant interest in Wilkie Collins amongst both contemporary and modern creative writers. In addition to [Anthony] Trollope and … Hall Caine, James Payne and Edmund Yates, other contemporaries appreciative of Collins include Swinburne, Andrew Lang and Rider Haggard.” In the twentieth century, those who admired Collins and acknowledged his influence “in addition to T.S. Eliot… Include the classical scholar and poet A. E. Housman, Walter de la Mare, Hugh Walpole, Dorothy Sayers and, later in the century Eudora Welty and P. D. James.” Collins became “the ‘gold standard’ to which modern critics compare their novels of crime or mystery.” For example, a Scotsman review of Charles Palliser’s 1989 novel The Quincaux remarked that its plot “is of an intimacy that Wilkie Collins himself might have envied” (xiv-xvi).
During the last two decades of the twentieth century and beginnings of the present century, extensive analysis of various facets of Collins’s work appeared. Kirk H.Beetz’s “Wilkie Collins Studies, 1972-1983” is arranged under consideration of editions, biographies, bibliographies and then criticism .This is divided into general criticism and then discussions of the individual novels: in this instance, confined to The Woman In White, The Moonstone and Armadale, plus No Name. There is some discussion too of subjects such as detection mystery and other critical topics.
Lillian Nayder’s “Wilkie Collins Studies: 1983 – 1999” also appears in the Dickens Studies Annual and is organized in a similar manner. Nayder lays greater emphasis upon topics such as “Collins and the Police,” “Collins, and Gothic, and Sensation Fiction,” “Collins and Gender,” “Collins and Empire,” “Collins, Narrative Structure and Narrative Strategies.” Studies of individual works are listed rather than separately discussed with The Woman in White and The Moonstone containing by far the longest entries. Nayder’s topical arrangement reveals the nature of the interest in Wilkie Collins and the critical turn from being in Charles Dickens’s shadow.
There are also four critical anthologies containing new essays that should be mentioned:
- Nelson Smith and RC Terry edited Wilkie Collins to the Forefront: Some Reassessments. This is based on the Wilkie Collins Centennial Conference held at the University of Victoria British Columbia in 1989. The papers are a mixture of biographical revelations and criticism, Collins’s friendships, his relationship to the sensation novel, Masonic symbolism in his work and influences, for example, of Sir Walter Scott on No Name and Armadale. The volume exhibits an interest in his other critically neglected novels such as The New Magdalen and Heart and Science .
- Maria K. Bachman’s and Don R. Cox’s Reality’s Dark Light: the Sensational Wilkie Collins (2003). This contains thirteen essays and an introduction on subjects of considerable interest. The range includes essays on “Disabled Women’s Sexuality,” “Exoticism, Toxicology, and the Female Poisoner in Armadale and The Legacy of Cain,” “Bearded Ladies, Hermaphrodites, and Intersexual Collage in The Woman in White.” Novels discussed, in addition to The Woman in White and The Moonstone, include Poor Miss Finch, The Law and the Lady, Jezebel’s Daughter, The Evil Genius and The Guilty River.
- A similar diversity is reflected in Jenny Bourne Taylor’s The Cambridge Companion to Wilkie Collins (2006). It, too, contains essays on “The Later Novels” and is thematically divided. There are essays on the “Shorter Fiction,” “The Sensation Novel,” “Collins and Empire,” “Disability and Difference,” “Wilkie Collins and the Theatre.” The final contribution, “The afterlife of Wilkie Collins” is by Rachel Malik and contains a section on early cinematic adaptations of Collins’s work. Apparently between 1909 and 1916, there were at least 11 adaptations with The Woman in White as the favourite; it has remained so cinematically. There was a 1910 version of The New Magdalen, clearly a subject worthy of further investigation.
- Andrew Mangham’s Wilkie Collins: Interdisciplinary Essays (2007) is based on a 2005 conference held at the University of Sheffield. It is divided into five parts and yet again reflects the current diversity of Collins’s studies. The first part is concerned with “Collins in Context.” Following a useful “Introduction” it opens with Anne-Marie Beller’s “‘Too Absurdly Repulsive’: Generic Indeterminacy and the Failure of The Fallen Leaves.” The second part focuses upon “Collins and Art,” the third with “Collins and Medicine,” the fourth with “Collins and the Law,” and the fifth and final part with “Collins, Theatre and Film.” There is a most welcome essay in the third section by Andrew Mangham on Collins’s first published novel, Antonina; or the Fall of Rome: A Romance of the Fifth Century (1850). The “Collins and the Law” section is especially noteworthy for its treatment of critically neglected novels such as The Law and the Lady, Man and Wife and The Haunted Hotel. There is even room for a welcome consideration of two essays on the question of international copyright: his 1870 essay “A National Wrong” and his “Considerations” from a decade later. Collins suffered particularly from piracy of his work, especially in North America. In the final section, there are essays on cinematic adaptations of The Moonstone, The Woman in White with a consideration of the 1997 BBC, Carlton and WGBH Boston version of the latter. In a judicious “Afterword,” Janice M. Allan writes, “Looking forward to the future, the proliferation of meaning within Collins’s texts will continue to generate a proliferation of readings.” Further “a multiplication of scholarly interest … will place Collins at the forefront of nineteenth-century studies” (p.258). Sentiments which I heartily endorse.
My lecture, in addition to reviewing Collins scholarship and criticism, has indicated areas that need further exploration. For instance, “texts.” If we are to use online sources to examine our author’s word clusters, his punctuation usage, his favorite word formations, his narrative first person interventions, and so on, then reliable electronic texts need to be established. My comments have been accompanied by bibliographical details of the works I have mentioned. These will be included in the published form of this lecture. I’d like to complement this by a listing compiled for me by Brahma Chaudhuri of Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of the indispensable Victorian database volumes, the LITIR database found at www.victoriandatabase and various cumulative bibliographies of Victorian Studies from 1945 onwards. The statistics in the listing should only be regarded as a guide and not as definitive.
Finally, as I have indicated in this talk, Collins studies are the most collaborative, friendly of fields. My involvement with Collins has led to life-long friendships and fellowship. For these I am truly grateful, deeply appreciative. In short, Collins is back.
Wilkie Collins: Scholarship and Criticism: Past, Present, and Future
by William Baker
The Wilkie Collins Journal 12 (2013)