Newsletter – Winter 1998

Jun 12, 2013 | News


At last the WCS has a new Journal!  Enclosed with this Newsletter is volume 1 of the New Series for which we have all patiently been waiting.  Its appearance is a tribute to the new editors, Graham Law and Lillian Nayder, who have worked so hard on its production as well as to the editorial Advisory Board.  Overall it represents a worthy successor to the original Journal edited by Kirk Beetz.  The format consists of essays, notes and book reviews and submissions are invited for future editions.  Details of the required format are given on the title-page.  The Journal is included with the subscription for members of both the Wilkie Collins Society and the Wilkie Collins Society of North America.


Also accompanying this Newsletter is an essay by Paul Graham ‘Wilkie Collins and West Norwood Cemetery’.  This details several ‘inmates’ who have a connection with Collins such as Douglas Jerrold, Richard Bentley and William Clowes.  Some of the biographical details are derived from Paul’s earlier booklet, West Norwood Cemetery: the Dickens Connection which he wrote in 1995.  This is currently available from The Friends of West Norwood Cemetery, 79 Durban Road, London SE27 9RW.


A small group of about a dozen, including Pierre Tissot van Patot from Holland took part in the ’Rambles around Ramsgate’ on Saturday 5 September.  We began with a diversion to Broadstairs and Bleak House (Fort House) where Wilkie stayed during the writing of No Name in 1862.  After lunch Catriona Blaker of The Pugin Society gave us an excellent tour of St Augustine’s Abbey and showed us the house where Pugin himself lived.  By this time the rain had stopped and local history expert Jeremy Hewett guided us through those parts of Ramsgate where Wilkie had stayed both as a child in 1833 and from the 1870s.  These included 14 Nelson Cresent which he visited with Caroline Graves and 27 Wellington Crescent which Martha Rudd occupied as Mrs Dawson. What became apparent was that although these two addresses are now only a few minutes away from each other, in Wilkie’s time the absence of a direct road would have entailed a much longer walk and ensured that the two households were kept discreetly apart.  He accompanied his parent to Ramsgate in 1833.  They originally rented a house in Albion Hill where the accommodation proved so unsatisfactory that the family removed to the street still known as the Plains of Waterloo.  Apart from these addresses we also saw the exterior of the impressive Granville Hotel (built by Pugin’s) where Wilkie stayed en route to France in 1872 and the Ramsgate Yacht Club which although he was reputed to have joined with Pigott more recent research by Catriona Blaker suggests may not have been so.  The afternoon ended with some fine hospitality by Liz and Jeremy Hewett at 22 Wellington Crescent, just a few doors from number 27.


In 1993 a very successful Bicentenary Exhibition at Salisbury Museum celebrated the work of  Wilkie’s aunt, the portrait and genre painter Margaret Carpenter (1793-1872).  Since then Richard Smith, who curated the show, has continued his research into her life and work, and has now completed a biography which he hopes to have published soon.  His work continues on cataloguing her prolific output of over 1,100 pictures, and trying to trace them, mostly from private collections.

Exciting new discoveries keep popping up!  Earlier this year a ‘Portrait of a young girl’ came up at auction, and Richard realised it was Margaret Carpenter’s long-lost 1839 portrait of her 12-year old young daughter Jane – the future wife of Wilkie’s friend Charles Ward, and his favourite cousin.  It was originally bought by the 19th-century collector Robert Vernon, who gave the bulk of his collection – but not his Carpenters – to the National Gallery.  This lovely portrait of Jane now hangs above Richard’s desk.

He has also written a paper for a future issue of the revived WCS Journal on the subject of ‘Wilkie’s Maternal Relatives’.  Amazingly, Wilkie had no less than 26 first cousins (with at least 29 children between them), besides aunts, uncles, grandparents, and others connected by marriage.  With their extraordinary variety of experiences, they represent a side of his life which has hitherto lain largely unexplored. Just as his mother’s 1853 ‘disguised’ autobiography (uncovered by Catherine Peters, and largely decoded by Richard Smith) has prompted a fresh evaluation of certain influences on his work, it is possible that this wider knowledge of Wilkie’s many relatives may now reveal further parallels working through the novelist’s mind.

Richard Smith is also compiling an iconography of the Collins family.  This takes the form of a detailed catalogue of all known original portrait images – paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures and photographs – of Wilkie, Charley, their parents and grandparents.  So far 81 images of 7 out of the 8 individuals have been researched and listed.  If any members reading this know of any kind of portrait which has never been reproduced in any of the standard books on Wilkie, and may be lurking in some private or public collection, would they please let Richard know (at “Lime Cottage”, 78 Hessel Road, Ealing, London W13 9ET).  The owner’s identity will be treated as confidential.  Eventually it is hoped that the iconography could be published, complete with reproductions of all the different images.


The National Portrait Gallery is staging an exhibition of the works of Millais in the Wolfson Gallery from 19 February – 6 June.  This will include his classic portrait of Collins painted in 1850.  Millais was instrumental in setting up the NPG in 1889, the year of Collins’s death, and became President of the Royal Academy in 1896.


As mentioned in the last Newsletter, The Wisbech and Fenland Museum is repeating its exhibition commemorating the birth of the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868) from 14 November 1998 – 30 January 1999.  Townshend was a wealthy and eccentric friend of Dickens and Wilkie first met him at Tavistock House.  Townshend was one of the first collectors of early photography as well as accumulating quantities of glass, china, books, manuscripts and geological samples and he is very likely the model for Mr Fairlie in The Woman in White.  His collections were divided between the Victoria and Albert and the Wisbech Museum where his (and perhaps Mr Fairlie’s) jewellery can still be seen.  Further information can be obtained from the Wisbech & Fenland Museum, Museum Square, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire PE13 1ES (01945 583817)


The latest issue of The Dickensian (Summer 1998 No. 445, Vol. 94 Part 2) has on p. 150 a photograph of Dickens’s Pass list to the performance of The Frozen Deep on 4 July 1857 at the Gallery of Illustration.   Dickens writes sternly “No one to enter at the stage door on any pretence without pass or an order from Mr Charles Dickens or Mr Arthur Smith…..” The list comprises 38 names including, of course, Collins plus the remainder of the cast, orchestra and set designers.

BENNY GREEN (9 December 1927 – 22 June 1998)

Members will by now have read of the sad death of one of our patrons, Benny Green, who died  in London earlier this year aged 70.  His interests were diverse but in addition to his many talents in the fields of jazz, theatre and music criticism, literary scholarship, writing and cricketing anthologies he was, of course, a great Collins enthusiast.

Perhaps not many WCS members will know of or remember his speech in September 1989 at the dinner which took place at the Reform Club in London to mark the centenary of Collins’s death.  It was a good-humoured, sympathetic, tour de force.  Alas no record remains of this or any of his radio comments on Collins but we can still read his review of Kenneth Robinson’s reprinted biography published in The Spectator of 4 January 1975.  Under the title of ‘Victorian rake and rebel’ he wrote ‘For Collins must surely be one of the strangest odd-balls to turn up in all of the annals of English literature, a man so clearly born out of his time that it is nothing short of miraculous that he made himself so comfortable inside the horsehaired hothouse of Victorian society … But Collins was sagacious as well as salacious, and it was this curious blend of disregard for the proprieties and a shrewd businesslike brain which so captivated Dickens. … he was a formidable artist in his own right.  There is no question that his astonishing mastery of plot construction, a gift well exercised by his need to resort to it in his chaotic private life, influenced Dickens profoundly in the last few novels…’

Kenneth Robinson would have been grateful to Benny Green, not only for a generous review of his ground-breaking biography but also for dispatching Dorothy L. Sayers.  She had apparently denied Robinson access to some of the papers she had acquired by dint of her reputation for her own intended biography which she failed to complete after over 35 years of trying.  ‘No doubt the sardonic ghost of Collins would have regarded the failure to nail him by Miss Sayers as a merciful release from that lady’s odious talents as bowdleriser and snobbist’


Despite Benny Green’s view, Dutch member Pierre Tissot van Patot writes that he has just obtained from the Amazon bookshop on the internet a copy of the Dorothy L. Sayers’ unfinished Biography of Collins.  This covers only Wilkie’s early years and was originally published in 1977 in a limited edition of 1,000 copies.  It has now become quite difficult to locate.


Literary Norfolk by Julian Earwaker and Kathleen Becker, as the cover blurb tells us, is ‘a celebration of the writers and writings of a unique and beautiful corner of Britain.’  Lavishly illustrated with more than 250 photographs in colour and black-and-white, it successfully takes the reader on a literary pilgrimage of the area ‘journeying through landscapes both real and imaginary’.  The book is divided into ten chapters which represent the broad geographical areas of Norfolk such as Fens, Broads and Brecklands.  Within each chapter individual locations are listed in alphabetical order.  This system is supplemented by comprehensive indices of people (including Auden, Coleridge, Dickens, Kipling, Pepys and Wordsworth) and places (from Aylsham to Yarmouth), together with a useful bibliography and listing of literary societies with a Norfolk connection.

Wilkie is duly mentioned ‘renowned for his superb rendering of a sense of place’ where the real life Horsey Mere (researched during the summer of 1864) became Hurle Mere in Armadale (1866) which features some of Collins’s finest descriptive writing.  Literary Norfolk includes photographs of both Horsey Mere and the tombstone of Martha Rudd’s parents in Winterton Churchyard.  There are also quotations fromThe Guilty River and The New Magdalen.

Literary Norfolk is handsomely produced and includes a foreword by Malcolm Bradbury.  It is obtainable from Chapter 6 Publishing, 134 London Road, Ipswich, Suffolk IP1 2HQ at £14.99  (ISBN 1 870707 01 X).

WILKIE COLLINS (edited by Lyn Pykett)

Lyn Pykett has brought together eleven critical essays about Collins’s work, written between 1975 and 1992 in the New Casebook Series.  They are a mixture, she indicates, of landmark works which have set the agenda for literary discussion of Wilkie’s fiction and more recent criticism by younger academics – although she does not explain why she stopped in 1992.  The book is unoriginal in another way, concentrating mainly on the familiar works The Woman in White and The Moonstone with a nod towardsMan and Wife.  It kicks off with Pykett’s own 25 page introduction about Collins and follows with essays by, amongst others, Jenny Bourne Taylor, Walter M. Hendrick, Mark Hennelly, Jr, and Tamar Heller. At £12.99 paperback (Macmillan, London ISBN 0-333-65771-3 and St. Martin’s Press, New York, ISBN 0-333-69345-0) it is an excellent way to obtain eleven essays on Collins that are otherwise hard to locate.  PL


The wonderful Pilgrim edition of Dickens’s letters, currently edited by Graham Storey, is nearing its conclusion and the volumes are cheaper and more frequent thanks to new money from the British Academy.  Volume X does not contain the Wilkie gems of volume IX but there are 20 letters (plus one in summary and one mentioned) to him from Dickens.  Three of these are previously unpublished and four contain some new material.  A letter of 24 January 1862 includes Dickens suggestions for the title for No Name and a new analysis shows which parts were written or commented on by Collins.  On 20 July Dickens wrote asking for volume two of No Name, ‘I am all impatience to read it’.  And on 20 January 1863, Dickens writes of his secret arrangements in Paris ‘my absence is entre nous’,  probably seeing his young lover Ellen Ternan.  Another letter (27 July1862) has been published before but omitted a reference, in code, to Caroline Graves.  So for Collins addicts, a delightful read – even at £65 (Clarendon Press, Oxford 1998, ISBN 0-19-812294-2).  PL


Republished earlier this year is What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool.  Subtitled Fascinating facts of daily life in the nineteenth century, this guide sets out to be a generalised ‘notes to readers’ of nineteenth century literature.  It is divided into two parts, the first explaining everyday Victorian life in terms of money, holidays, rules of precedence and etiquette, court life, transport, sex, health and domestic life in general.  Part two presents a glossary of terms from ‘abigail’( a lady’s maid) to ‘Your Worship’ (the correct form of address to a magistrate) via ‘landau’ (an open four wheel carriage) and ‘pelisse’ (a kind of overcoat for women).  The book was first published in the USA in 1994 which explains why the overall impression remains that it was written for an American readership wishing to understand ‘aspects of English life that figure significantly in the major nineteenth novels.’  The authors quoted are mainly Dickens, Austen, Thackeray, Trollope, Hardy and George Eliot with apparently no mention of Collins. Nevertheless, it contains a great deal of useful information in an idiosyncratic way.  We have Mayfair and Westminster but no Marylebone; useful details on medical conditions but little on laudanum; good explanations of ‘gigs’, ‘dog carts’ and ‘postillions; but unnecessary entries for ‘housemaid’ and ‘yellow fever’.  It concludes with a very full bibliography to cover the English way of life and might just answer that nagging query about England in the last century.  (Robinson Publishing, ISBN 1-85487-875-1, paperback £9.99)


Detection & its Designs: Narrative & Power in 19th-Century Detective Fiction by Peter Thoms  is published by Ohio University Press (ISBN 0-8214-1223).   The book presents his interpretation of early works in the detective genre through readings from The MoonstoneCaleb WilliamsBleak House, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Poe’s Dupin Stories.  The chapter on The Moonstone is entitled ‘The Detection of Innocence’ and illustrates the main theme that detective fiction ‘grapples with the issue of storytelling … to uncover the detective’s motives of controlling the representation of both himself and others’.  Thom’s earlier book, The Windings of the Labyrinth, discussed ‘quest and structure in the major novels of Wilkie Collins’.


Recently published by Peter Owen is Hunted Down which features the detective stories of Charles Dickens and represent his contribution to the genre from Inspector Bucket of Bleak House onwards. The stories are edited with a useful introduction by Peter Haining which discusses the Detective Police of the time.  Dickens based his Sergeant Witchem on the real life Inspector Whicher who Collins partly used as the model for Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone.  (ISBN 0 7206 1045 1, £9.95 paperback; ISBN 0 7206 0994 1, £16.95 hardback).


Also from Peter Owen comes Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days by Jared Cade which investigates Agatha Christie’s strange disappearance from her Berkshire home during December 1926.  Although there is no discernible Collins connection – apart from the need for both writers to maintain a secret life – the book puts Christie’s life in context in terms of the mystery writer’s creative output.  Unfortunately Hercule Poirot, who had obviously never heard of Sergeant Cuff, once complained of ‘the lack of method or order in the romantic outpourings of Wilkie Collins’ (The Third Girl 1966) – but an interesting and well researched biography (ISBN 0 7206 1055 9 at £18.95).


My continuing researches into where Wilkie lived have turned up more extant buildings which he shared with his parents and, in one case, with Caroline Graves.  I have also established where he was born.  I have been helped in this research by the London Metropolitan Archive which holds comprehensive information about the changes to the names of streets and the numbering of the buildings in them.

Wilkie was born at 11 New Cavendish Street on 8 January 1824.  That road still exists, north of Oxford Street and running parallel to it.  The building in which Wilkie was born stood on the south side of New Cavendish Street, between Portland Place and Hallam Street.  It was renumbered 96 in 1871 when New Cavendish Street was extended.  Sadly the building in which he was born has now gone, replaced by a block of flats dating from around 1900.  Although the family moved to Hendon by the end of 1825, Wilkie’s father William seems to have kept the house on as he wrote letters from there for some years.

After Hendon, Hampstead and then 30 Porchester Terrace (which still stands, see the Summer 1998 Newsletter), the Collins family left for Italy in 1836.  On their return on 15 August 1838 they moved, after some trouble, to 20 Avenue Road which runs north from Regent’s Park.  The house is the present number 39, a handsome villa in its own grounds.  However, William blamed the clay soil on which it was built for an inflammation of his eyes – symptoms from which Wilkie also suffered for most of his life – and in the summer 1840 they moved to 85 Oxford Terrace.  Further research has corrected some information on this house which I gave in the Summer Newsletter.  The house is the present number 167 (not 171) and no longer has its own front door, being combined with the next door house.  And there was one further move before William Collins died. In September 1843 the family moved round the corner to 1 Devonport Street.  Here William had a bigger studio – the best he had had – and despite failing health settled down to work.  This house also still stands, now 1 Sussex Place and used as an hotel.

So it was here that Wilkie began to pursue his own work.  And it was here that the death certificate shows that William Collins died on 17 February 1847.  It is a sad commentary on a successful life that none of the homes where William Collins, RA lived and painted bears a blue plaque recording the fact.

Of the rest of the houses which Wilkie called home, 17 Hanover Terrace still stands in Regent’s Park and of course 90 Gloucester Place (renumbered 65 in 1935) where he lived for twenty years, bears the only blue plaque to celebrate Wilkie’s residence.  But another of his homes has now been identified. Wilkie probably met Caroline Graves, who was to share the rest of his life with him (though for most of it she also had to share him with Martha Rudd), in 1854.  When they met she was living over her junk shop at 5 Charlton Street.  The address is now known as 42 Hanson Street and the original building is gone.  After that she lived at 22 Howland Street,  now known as 43, and that property has also been demolished.  But then Wilkie installed her in a handsome eighteenth century terrace at 124 Albany Street where she was certainly living in 1859 and possibly longer.  It was the first time that Wilkie openly lived with her – he wrote letters from that address early in 1859.  This house still stands and is now 65 Albany Street, on the east side of Regent’s Park.  PL


A copy of an early BBC Radio serial of The Woman in White has been discovered in Holland. Frits Enk, a journalist with a Dutch radio station, recorded the first seven of twelve episodes when they were broadcast in 1969. Adapted by Howard Agg and starring Peter Baldwin as Walter Hartright, Margaret Wolfit as Marian Halcombe, and Patricia Gallimore as Laura Fairlie, the serial ran on Sundays at 8.30pm on BBC Radio 4 from 12 October to 28 December 1969, repeated on Tuesdays at 3pm.  At the moment it appears that the BBC does not have a copy of this serial.  Frits Enk is planning to mount an exhibition about Wilkie Collins in Holland next year.  It will include Dutch translations and radio, television and film adaptations. PL


The BBC’s recent television adaptation of The Woman in White has now been released on video. Despite a strong cast and wonderful costumes and sets, the writer made the mistake of significantly changing elements of the story and throwing out most of Wilkie’s writing.  It costs £12.99 from bookshops and direct from the BBC on 01624 675 137.    PL


This collection of Collins’s short stories, edited by Peter Miles, was published earlier in the year by Phoenix Paperbacks (ISBN 0 75380 454 9, £3.99).  The selection includes eleven tales from both early and late in Wilkie’s career and reprints some of the less common as well as ‘the usual suspects’ (all were published in Thompson’s The Complete Shorter Fiction in 1995)’   Peter Miles also gives us a short introduction and some useful notes about the editions he has used for the stories. In some cases these are different from those in Thompson. ‘The Dream Woman’, ‘The Ghost in the Cupboard Room’ (‘Blow up with the Brig!’) and ‘Picking up Waifs at Sea’ (‘The Fatal Cradle’) all use earlier versions.  ‘Fie! Fie! Or the Fair Physician’ is one of the stories that Collins confessed to writing in haste and specifically requested should not be republished after his death.


Paul Graham contributes the following paragraph about The Frozen Deep and the Dickens Fellowship Conference:

The 92nd Annual Conference of the Dickens Fellowship took place between the 23 and 29 July 1998 at Connecticut College, New London, USA.  Two items of particular interest to Collins enthusuasts were included in the programme.  The first was a talk entitled ‘Dickens’ Companion – Wilkie Collins’ delivered by Ronald R. Thomas, Professor of English at Trinity College.  The second was a staged reading of The Frozen Deep in which some of the bolder conference delegates participated.  Our correspondent in Connecticut informs us that this was the highlight of the conference.  Painted backcloths similar to those originally created by Clarkson Stanfield were used to set each scene.  Costume and makeup were worn.  The director, Douglas Broyles, ensured that his volunteer cast were well rehearsed, whilst himself undertaking the arduous role of Richard Wardour.  Amongst the notable performances were those of amateur Brighton actress Patti Page who played Clara Burnham; Malcolm Andrews, editor of theDickensian and Professor of Victorian Studies at the University of Kent, who portrayed Lieutenant Crayford; and Gerry McCrudden, Deputy Counsel at the British Consulate in New York, who provided comic relief as John Want, the cook.

Pattie Page, property manager for Brighton Little Theatre where she has been for the last 29 years, made the headlines of her local newspaper, the Evening Argus, on 22 July with a write-up about the play and her trip to Connecticut.


Scanning the internet has shed some light on the apparent disappearance of last year’s film version ofBasil which is currently embroiled in all kinds of artistic and financial disputes. Hollywood’s Variety reports ‘In a highly unusual move, the Toronto International Film Festival has invited the director’s cut of the Christian Slater film Basil to screen after it was yanked from last year’s event at the last minute by its distributor.  It is not clear the film will ever make Toronto, however.  The distributor, Kushner-Locke, recently sold its own cut of the film to American Movie Classics’ sister cable channel Romance Classics, where it is scheduled to have its US premier in October.  And although Slater, one of the film’s producers, has offered to put up half of the $200,000 budget needed to complete the director’s cut, Kushner-Locke so far has refused to release the original elements to the filmmakers.  “Toronto is the only chance for people to see the film the way the filmmakers intended,” said its director, Radha Bharadwaj.

“We were delighted to invite the film for the 1997 film festival and deeply regretted its withdrawal,” says Piers Handling, executive director of the festival.  “We were impressed by its innovativeness, emotion and beautiful performances.  The invitation still stands for the 1998 festival.  Even before the film went into production, Bharadwaj and Slater clashed with Kushner-Locke executives over both creative and financial matters. ….. Saying that their version is not the film she intended to make, Bharadwa is now attempting to have her name taken off the picture, and have it released as an Alan Smithee film.  “I’ve tried every way imaginable to get the movie back to its original form to no avail,” said Slater.  “I’m very sad about the events that took place and pray that the film that will be viewed is the director’s vision.”  While it’s unusual for a film to be invited to the same festival two years running, it is not unprecedented.’


Also gleaned from the internet were a few notes about San Francisco’s Shoestring Radio Theatre which specialises in producing both original dramas by contemporary playwrights and fresh interpretations of traditional works.  The Woman in White clearly fits into the latter category and their adaptation in 1995 was apparently one of five Golden Reel nominees for Best Radio Drama Production.  Described as a ‘chilling gothic melodrama (produced by Monica Sullivan and directed by Randy Parker), the play was first broadcast locally on KUSF in March 1995 and aired nationally on the Public Radio Satellite System in May the same year.


A one day interdisciplinary conference on Victorian Crime will be held at the University of London Centre for English Studies on 24 April 1999.  Proposed themes are: crime fiction, the birth of forensic science, police history, crime journalism, slums and rookeries, Jack the Ripper, Mayhew and other social observers, frauds and fakes, prostitution, political unrest, prisons and punishment, and legal history.  Proposals for 20 minute papers (not more than 250 words) should be sent to Ms Chris Willis (Department of English, Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX; e-mail  Further details can be found on the website at


WCS members may be interested in The Victorian Society.  It was originally  founded in 1958 as a national pressure group to protect Victorian and Edwardian buildings in England and Wales but has now expanded its activities to welcome anyone with an interest in the culture and history of the period 1837-1914.  The society produces annual Journal as well as a wide range of other  publications.  It runs the Linley Sambourne House Museum in Kensington and further information can be obtained from 1 Priory Gardens, Bedford Park, London W4 1TT (0181 994 1019)


The 1982 television version of The Woman in White is being shown at the NFT on London’s Southbank on 8 and 15 December.  This is probably the best adaptation to date and was originally broadcast in five episodes in April-May 1982.  It featured Alan Badel (in his last role) as Fosco, Jenny Seagrove as Laura Fairlie and Diana Quick as Marian Halcombe.


A note from James Rusk, who seems to be almost single-handedly responsible for producing the  electronic texts on the internet of several of Wilkie’s  works, reveals that there is now a Spanish translation of No Name by Paquita Martinez.  She is also working on some of the short stories.