Short and oddly built, with a head too big for his body, extremely short-sighted, unable to stay still, dressed in colourful clothes, 'as if playing a certain part in the great general drama of life', Wilkie Collins looked distinctly strange. But he was none the less a charmer, befriended by the great, loved by children, irresistibly attractive to women -- and avidly read by generations of readers. Ackroyd follows his hero, 'the sweetest-tempered of all the Victorian novelists', from his childhood as the son of a well-known artist to his struggling beginnings as a writer, his years of fame and his life-long friendship with the other great London chronicler, Charles Dickens. A true Londoner, Collins, like Dickens, was fascinated by the secrets and crimes -- the fraud, blackmail and poisonings -- that lay hidden behind the city's respectable facade. He was a fighter, never afraid to point out injustices and shams , or to tackle the establishment head on. As well as his enduring masterpieces, The Moonstone -- often called the first true detective novel -- and the sensational The Woman in White, he produced an intriguing array of lesser known works.
Collins had his own secrets: he never married, but lived for thirty years with the widowed Caroline Graves, and also had a second liaison, as 'Mr and Mrs Dawson', with a younger mistress, Martha Rudd, with whom he had three children. Both women remained devoted as illness and opium-taking took their toll: he died in 1889, in the middle of writing his last novel, Blind Love. Told with Peter Ackroyd's inimitable verve this is a ravishingly entertaining life of a great story-teller, full of surprises, rich in humour and sympathetic understanding.
Peter Ackroyd has written acclaimed biographies of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, William Blake, Shakespeare and Thomas More, as well as short books about Chaucer, J.M.W. Turner, Isaac Newton and most recently, Edgar Allan Poe. A bestselling biographer, historian, novelist and broadcaster, he holds a CBE for services to literature. He is the author of the London: The Biography and Thames: Sacred River, and lives in London.
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8 pages b&w