Wilkie Collins: An Illustrated Guide

Jun 10, 2013 | Reviews

As readers of the Wilkie Collins Society Journal are no doubt aware, the Parrish Collection, Princeton University Libraries, has a wealth of Wilkie Collins materials ranging from manuscripts, letters, and first or subsequent editions, to theatrical programs and other memorabilia. There are Wilkie Collins materials in other institutions in the United States: at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York; in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library; at the Huntington Library, San Marino, Southern California, and elsewhere. Surprisingly, however, there appears to be a dearth of Wilkie Collins materials in institutional locations in the country of his birth. Though individual letters may be found in libraries throughout Britain, and there are manuscripts at the British Library and in other research libraries, there is nothing in the United Kingdom to compare with American holdings. But if we include materials held in private hands, there is one exception and a notable exception at that. The biographical details on the informative dust wrapper of the volume under review reveal its author as

co-founder and Chairman of the Wilkie Collins Society. A qualified optometrist, he has been a serious collector of Collins material for the last 20 years and has published several important articles on Collins, including “Wilkie Collins: A Collector’s and Bibliographer’s Challenge”  The Private Library (Summer, 1980).

This article is based upon Andrew Gasson’s extensive and unique personal collection of Wilkie Collins materials. His Wilkie Collins: An Illustrated Guide allows us to explore with him Wilkie Collins’s world. A generous “guardian” of a wonderful emporium of Victoriana, a unique Wilkie Collins collection, Gasson shares his knowledge and treasures with us.

The back dust wrapper of Wilkie Collins: An Illustrated Guide correctly draws attention to its being “Lavishly illustrated, with over 200 black-and- white images, many never before published.” There is an illustration on almost every page and the quality is first class. The lengthy separate entry on “Collins, (William) Wilkie” has eleven accompanying illustrations: “Wilkie Collins as a baby, drawn by William Collins”; a painting of “Wilkie and Charles Collins aged 9 and 5”; a full-page “Wilkie Collins photographed for Men of Mark“; a “Painting of Wilkie Collins by J.E. Millais in 1850”; a full- length half-page photograph of “Wilkie Collins by Herbert Watkins in 1864”; “The hands of Wilkie Collins from Celebrated Hands by Claude Warren, London 1882”; a “Christmas card featuring Collins’s titles”; a full-page reproduction of “Wilkie Collins on the cover of The Bookman‘s special issue of June 1912″; a “Painting of Wilkie Collins by Rudolf Lehmann in 1880” alongside “Wilkie Collins photographed in Boston by Warren”; and finally a “Plaster bas relief of Wilkie Collins made in 1890 by Adolf Rost” (33-42). The sources of these illustrations are indicated: it is useful to know, for instance, that the painting of the two young brothers “Wilkie and Charles Collins aged 9 and 5” is in the collection of Mrs Faith Clarke (190). It is unfortunate that color isn’t used in this and other instances. On the other hand the use of black- and-white images has helped to keep down the cost of this remarkably handsomely produced book.

Entries are arranged alphabetically and cross-referenced. The first entry consists of a paragraph on “Ablewhite, Godfrey” whom we are told is “the true villain of The Moonstone“: the identity of the “untrue” or “false” villain is not revealed! The final entry is on “Youth’s Companion.” Gasson tells the reader that the Youth’ s Companion is

An American weekly paper for “Young People and the Family,” run by Perry Mason of Washington Street, Boston. First published “Victims of Circumstances Discovered in Records of Old Trials,” 19 August 1886. Other authors included Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Sophie May” and Mrs Helen C. Weeks.

There is a cross reference by “Victims of Circumstances,” where the reader finds a two-sentence summary of its plot. Gasson also provides information on when it was first published and republished (154). There is no entry for Perry Mason the Boston publisher with whom Wilkie Collins corresponded during his later years.

Entries vary in length from single short paragraphs to the nearly ten pages with accompanying illustrative material on Wilkie Collins himself (33- 42). The entries on The Moonstone, for example, extend to more than two pages, with quarter-size illustrations of the title page of the 1868 three-volume first edition, an illustration from the 1875 single-volume edition, “the diamond illustrated in the first American edition … published by Harpers,” and the program for the October 1877 stage adaptation of the novel (106-108). Gasson begins with an account of the novel’s reception and an explanation of the circumstances under which Collins wrote it—while “taking large quantities of opium to alleviate the agonies of gout” (106). There follow a detailed clear plot synopsis, and the publishing history of the novel including bibliographical details. These range from a binding description of the first three-volume edition (“Violet cloth, covers blocked in blind, spines lettered in gilt, cream endpapers. Half-title in each volume”) followed by publishing data such as “Published in July 1868 in an edition of 1,500 copies.” Variant binding states are omitted. There is information on the second edition of the novel, published in a print run of five hundred copies (the source for this information is lacking), and the manner in which this edition can be distinguished from the first edition. Critical editions are listed beginning with T.S.Eliot’s 1928 introduction in the World’s Classics series. The last entry is the 1992 Everyman Library edition introduced by Catherine Peters. Some translations are given. Following this main entry are entries on “Moonstone, The (the diamond),” and on the stage version of the novel.

Wilkie Collins: An Illustrated Guide opens with a “Preface” and brief “Acknowledgements” in which its author Andrew Gasson, like his hero Wilkie Collins in The Fallen Leaves, leaves his book “to make its appeal to the reading public on such merits as it may possess.” There follows a listing of “The Main Works of Wilkie Collins” arranged in columns by title, publisher, and date, an extensive “Chronology,” and a listing of “Short References Used in the Text.” Following the main entries, there are five appendices. The first contains a reproduction from the original manuscript of a heavily erased section from Collins’s first collection of short stories, After Dark (1856), though there is no commentary and no source is given. The second appendix lists in alphabetical order “Characters in the Novels of Wilkie Collins.” Arranged in three columns under “Character,” “Book or Story,” and “Role,” this is a most useful apparatus. “Appendix C” consists of “The Collins Family Tree.” Replete with an explanatory area key, “Appendix D” consists of a detailed “Map of Marylebone” containing “The Residences of Wilkie Collins,” thus supplementing information found in the “Chronology.” “Appendix E” contains, alphabetically arranged by author, a “Select Bibliography” listing “Bibliographies,” “Biographies,” “Detective Fiction,” “The Dickens Connection,” “Publishing History,” “Theatrical,” “Other Criticism and Memoirs—Pre-1890,” “Other Criticism and Memoirs—Post-1890.”

The smallish typeface used packs a lot of information on three-column quarto-sized pages. There is a rather annoying habit of omitting pagination—at the beginning of a new letter in the alphabet, for instance. But these are insignificant caveats in a book which contains a rich galaxy of information relating to the life and work of Wilkie Collins. Information within it serves as the fullest bibliographical description of its subject’s writings and their publishing history that we now have available, updating M. L. Parrish’sWilkie Collins and Charles Reade: First Editions Described with Notes, originally published in 1940 and republished in 1968. Hopefully Andrew Gasson will provide the detailed descriptive primary bibliography which Wilkie Collins so richly deserves; he is the only person around with the knowledge to do this. HisIllustrated Guide, which is a product of enthusiasm and a labor of love, will be used as a source for information on Wilkie Collins and his circle for a long time to come. It is a worthy tribute to the genius of its subject.