The Moonstone | Study Guide

Wilkie Collins

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Wilkie Collins | Biography


Early Life

William Wilkie Collins was born on January 8, 1824, in London. His father was the well-known landscape painter, William Collins. Wilkie Collins studied law in school, but he decided to pursue a career in writing.

Writing Career

In 1848 Collins published his first book, a biography of his father: Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R. A. He met English novelist Charles Dickens in 1851 and they became friends, collaborating on many works.

Collins found fame with his first novel, Antonina (1850). It was originally serialized in Dickens's journal, All the Year Round. The Moonstone was likewise published in All the Year Round from January through August 1868. It is widely regarded as the first detective novel and was popular with Victorian readers.

Collins met Caroline Graves, a widow, in the spring of 1856. Graves and Collins never married, but they lived together for nearly 30 years. During the 1850s and '60s, Collins suffered from a medical conditions that caused his dependence on opium as a painkiller. Over the course of his life he developed an incredible tolerance for the drug. Collins's depiction of opium addiction in The Moonstone in the character Ezra Jennings helped make the novel a success. The drug laudanum, a liquid form of opium, is an important plot point in the novel. Collins told others he wrote large parts of the book under the effects of laudanum. Despite his drug dependence, Collins wrote 25 novels, over 50 short stories, 15 plays, and numerous nonfiction articles.

Death and Legacy

His health continued to decline until he suffered a stroke in June 1889 and died of complications at 65 on September 23, 1889. He remains one of the best-known and best-loved of the Victorian fiction writers. In particular, his two most famous novels, The Woman in White and The Moonstone, are widely acknowledged by critics as the best examples of their genres (sensation fiction and detective fiction, respectively).

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