Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 215
Wilkie Collins is the father of modern English mystery fiction. In his own time, his tales were called “sensation stories.” He was the first to broaden the genre to the proportions of a novel and to choose familiar settings with ordinary people who behave rationally, and he was also the...
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- Critical Essays
Wilkie Collins is the father of modern English mystery fiction. In his own time, his tales were called “sensation stories.” He was the first to broaden the genre to the proportions of a novel and to choose familiar settings with ordinary people who behave rationally, and he was also the first to insist on scientific exactitude and rigorously accurate detail.
Collins was one of the most popular authors of his day, reaching a wider circle of readers in England and the United States than any author except Charles Dickens. Many of his books were translated for a highly appreciative French public. Although Collins claimed that he wrote for the common man, in his heyday critics classed him with Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot, and Charlotte Brontë.
Now only two of Collins’s twenty-two novels are considered masterpieces: The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868). They have been highly praised by such discriminating critics as Thomas Hardy, Walter de la Mare, T. S. Eliot, and Dorothy L. Sayers (who felt so much indebted to Collins that she embarked on a biography of him, a project that E. R. Gregory completed after Sayers’s death). It is safe to say that without Wilkie Collins, the modern English detective story could never have achieved its present level.
Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 40
In addition to his novels, Wilkie Collins produced a biography of his father in 1848 as well as travel books, essays and reviews, and a number of short stories. He also wrote and adapted plays, often in collaboration with Charles Dickens.
Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 208
Wilkie Collins’s reputation more than a century after his death rests almost entirely on two works: The Woman in White, first published serially in All the Year Round from November 26, 1859, to August 25, 1860; and The Moonstone, published in 1868. Mystery author Dorothy L. Sayers called the latter work “probably the finest detective story ever written.” No chronicler of crime and detective fiction can fail to include Collins’s important contributions to the genre; simply for the ingenuity of his plots, Collins earned the admiration of T. S. Eliot. The Woman in White and The Moonstone have also been adapted numerous times for the stage, film, radio, and television. For an author so conscientious and industrious, however—Collins averaged one “big” novel every two years in his maturity—to be known as the author of two books would hardly be satisfactory. The relative obscurity into which most of Collins’s work has fallen cannot be attributed completely to the shadow cast by his friend and sometime collaborator Charles Dickens, to his physical infirmities and his addiction to laudanum, or to the social vision that led him to write a succession of thesis novels. Indeed, the greatest mystery Collins left behind concerns the course of his literary career and subsequent reputation.
Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 671
Bachman, Maria K., and Don Richard Cox, eds. Reality’s Dark Light: The Sensational Wilkie Collins. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003. Collection of fourteen essays analyzes Collins’s novels, focusing on the themes and techniques that he introduced to the genre. Includes analysis of The Moonstone and The Woman in White as well as some of his lesser-known novels.
Clarke, William M. The Secret Life of Wilkie Collins. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1991.
Collins, Wilkie. The Letters of Wilkie Collins. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Collected correspondence between Collins and his friends, family, and business colleagues.
“Collins, Wilkie.” In Mystery and Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime, Detection, and Espionage, edited by Robin W. Winks and Maureen Corrigan. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1998.
Gasson, Andrew. Wilkie Collins: An Illustrated Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Well-illustrated volume provides an alphabetical guide to the characters, titles, and terms in Collins’s works. Also includes a chronology, the Collins family tree, maps, and a bibliography.
Nayder, Lillian. Wilkie Collins. New York: Twayne, 1997. Good introductory study of the author features analysis of his novels and other works, placing them within the context of the political and cultural issues of Collins’s time.
O’Neill, Philip. Wilkie Collins: Women, Property, and Propriety. New York: Macmillan, 1988. Seeks to move the discussion of Collins away from popularist categories by using modern feminist criticism deconstructively to open up a more considered version of his thematic material. Contains a full bibliography.
Page, Norman, ed. Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. Collection reprints critical responses to Collins’s works from 1850 through 1891. Includes a short bibliography.
Peters, Catherine. The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991. Comprehensive biography draws on a newly discovered autobiography by Collins’s mother and on thousands of Collins’s unpublished letters. Supplemented by detailed notes and bibliography.
Pykett, Lyn. Wilkie Collins. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Traces the various debates that have arisen since 1980, when literary critics began seriously reevaluating Collins’s work. The essays focus on Collins’s preoccupation with the themes of social and psychological identity, class, gender, and power.
Pykett, Lyn, ed. Wilkie Collins. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Provides an excellent introduction to Collins for the beginning student. In addition to essays that discuss Collins’s place within Victorian detective fiction and the “sensation novel,” some essays analyze his individual works, including The Woman in White. Includes bibliographical references and an index.
Salatto, Eleanor. Gothic Returns in Collins, Dickens, Zola, and Hitchcock. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Analysis of the nineteenth century employment of the gothic in fiction, as well as its twentieth century reincarnation in Alfred Hitchcock’s cinema. Includes discussion of Collins’s work. Bibliographic references and index.
Smith, Nelson, and R. C. Terry, eds. Wilkie Collins to the Forefront: Some Reassessments. New York: AMS Press, 1995. Compilations of essays seeking to reevaluate Collins’s place within the literary canon and within the history of detective fiction.
Taylor, Jenny Bourne. In the Secret Theatre of Home: Wilkie Collins, Sensation Narrative, and Nineteenth Century Psychology. New York: Routledge, 1988. The subtitle of this study suggests its perspective. However, it deals as fully with social structures and how these shape the structures of Collins’s major fiction. Contains full notes and an excellent select bibliography of both primary and secondary material.
Taylor, Jenny Bourne, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Wilkie Collins. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. All aspects of Collins’s writing are discussed in this collection of thirteen essays. His common themes of sexuality, marriage, and religion are examined, as well as his experiences with publishing companies and the process of adapting his works for film. Includes a thorough bibliography and index.
Thoms, Peter. The Windings of the Labyrinth: Quest and Structure in the Major Novels of Wilkie Collins. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992. Focuses on seven major novels, analyzing the theme of the quest in Basil, Hide and Seek, The Dead Secret, The Woman in White, No Name, Armadale, and The Moonstone.