The Woman in WhiteThis is the story of what a Womans patience can endure and what a Mans resolution can achieve.
• Published in 1860, one of the two novels (with The Moonstone) for which Collins is most famous. It firmly established his reputation with the reading public and helped raise the circulation of All the Year Round. As Smith, Elder found to their cost, everyone was raving about it. S. M. Ellis described how The Woman in White was so popular that every possible commodity was labelled "Woman in White". There were "Woman in White" cloaks and bonnets, "Woman in White" perfumes and all manner of toilet requisites,• Prince Albert read the book and approved. Thackeray was engrossed from morning to sunset, and Gladstone found the story so absorbing that he missed a visit to the theatre. The Woman in White has never been out of print since its first publication. In the twentieth century there have been theatre, film, television and musical adaptations and even a comic-strip version.
• William Wilkie Collins, or Wilkie as he was known to his friends and readers, was born in Londons Marylebone where he lived more or less continuously for 65 years. Today he is best known for The Moonstone (1868), often regarded as the first true detective novel, and The Woman in White (1860), the archetypal sensation novel. During his lifetime, however, he wrote over thirty major books, well over a hundred articles, short stories and essays, and a dozen or more plays.•• He lived an unconventional, Bohemian lifestyle, loved good food and wine to excess, wore flamboyant clothes, travelled abroad frequently, formed long-term relationships with two women but married neither, and took vast quantities of opium over many years to relieve the symptoms of ill health. Collinss circle of friends included many pre-eminent figures of the day. He knew the major writers, particularly Charles Dickens with whom he regularly collaborated, as well as a host of minor novelists. His friends and acquaintances included some of the foremost artists, playwrights, theatrical personalities, musicians, publishers, physicians and society figures of the time. Collinss unorthodox lifestyle reveals a cynical regard for the Victorian establishment. This view is reflected in his books together with a sense of humour and a profound understanding for many of the then prevailing social injustices.
The Early Years• Wilkie Collins was the elder son of William Collins the celebrated landscape artist and portrait painter and named after his godfather, Sir David Wilkie. His childhood schooldays began in 1835 at the Maida Hill Academy, followed by a two year interruption when he accompanied his parents and younger brother, Charles, to France and Italy from September 1836 to August 1838. He later recalled that he had learned more in Italy which has been of use to me, among the scenery, the pictures, and the people, than I ever learned at school. He also claimed that he had fallen in love for the first time in Rome at the age of 12 or 13.
The Elephant Man• Returning to England, his schooling continued at Coles boarding school at 39 Highbury Place. It was here that he began his career as a storyteller to appease the dormitory bully, later recalling that it was this brute who first awakened in me, his poor little victim, a power of which but for him I might never have been aware. His appearance was distinctive since he was born with a prominent bulge on the right side of his forehead. He was only five feet six inches tall but with a disproportionately large head and shoulders. His hands and feet were particularly small and pictures from the age of 21 show him wearing spectacles.
• Wilkie left school in 1841 and was apprenticed to the tea merchants Antrobus & Co. in the Strand. It was here, in what he called the prison on the Strand that he began his writing with his first signed publication, The Last Stage Coachman appearing in Douglas Jerrolds Illuminated Magazine in August 1843. From May 1846 Collins became a law student at Lincolns Inn and was called to the bar in 1851. He never practised his profession although several lawyers feature prominently in his subsequent novels. His father died in 1847 and his first published book, The Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R.A, appeared the following year and received good reviews. It was followed by an historical novel, Antonina (1850) and three contemporary novels, Basil, (1852), Hide and Seek(1854) and The Dead Secret,(1857).
A Dickens of a Collins….• During the 1850s, however, Wilkies main income was derived from journalism with numerous contributions to Bentleys Miscellany, The Leader and more particularly Dickenss Household Words. He had first met Dickens in 1851 through the introduction of Augustus Egg. Collins, always keen on amateur theatricals, needed little persuasion to join the great mans company for his production of Bulwer-Lyttonss Not so Bad as We Seem, written to raise money for the Guild of Literature and Art. A firm friendship developed between the two writers which lasted until Dickenss death in 1870. They frequently travelled together on the Continent to France and Italy and Wilkie became a frequent visitor to Dickenss homes at Tavistock House and Gads Hill where he was encouraged to fulfil his theatrical ambitions. Collins wrote The Lighthouse in 1855 and The Frozen Deep in 1856. Both were originally produced by Dickens and his company
• Despite his growing success, Collinss health began to decline during the 1850s and 1860s, suffering from what he always described as rheumatic gout or neuralgia. These affected his eyes with particular severity and he often needed the services of a secretary - provided either by Frank Beard, his doctor and lifelong friend, or Carrie Graves. He visited numerous physicians and tried various remedies including Turkish and electric baths, Health spas, hypnotism and quinine. Ultimately Beard prescribed opium in the form of laudanum as a pain-killer and sedative, but always for purely medical reasons. Over the years Collins developed an enormous tolerance and eventually took daily more laudanum than would have sufficed to kill a ships crew or company of soldiers
The Play• The Woman in White was first performed as A Drama in Three Acts at the Surrey Theatre (Blackfriars Road, Lambeth) - a short-lived pirated production opening on 3 November 1860 with a revival at the Theatre Royal, Leicester, 26 August 1870. Collinss own version of the The Woman in White, extensively rewritten from the novel, ran with great success at the Olympic Theatre from 9 October 1871 to 24 February 1872
The Real Woman in White….• The sudden meeting in the novel of the hero, Walter Hartright, with the mysterious woman in white is said to have been inspired by a real life meeting between Collins, strolling home one evening in 1858, accompanied by his brother Charles and the painter Millais. They were accosted, so the story runs, by a woman dressed in flowing white robes escaping from a villa in Regents Park where she had been kept prisoner under mesmeric influence
Little was as it seemed…..• Wilkie Collins probably met Caroline, as she was known, in the spring of 1856 when he was temporarily living in lodgings in Howland Street, Tottenham Court Road. Caroline and her widowed mother-in-law, Mary Ann Graves, were living in the same area. Nothing is known, for certain, of the exact circumstances of Carolines meeting with Collins, but by the end of 1858 they were living together, first at 124 Albany Street, and from spring 1859 at 2a New Cavendish Street. Although they never married, they continued to live together, apart from one significant break, until Collins died. Caroline was a beautiful woman who looked far younger than her actual years and, though she had little or no formal education, managed to transcend her humble beginnings and pass herself off as a lady. During the years when Collins was writing his greatest novels, she undoubtedly contributed much to his emotional security, as well as to his physical comfort.
• In October 1868, however, the household was suddenly disrupted when Caroline Graves married Joseph Clow, almost certainly in response to Collinss relationship with Martha Rudd, and probably after Collins had himself refused to marry Caroline. Her daughter and Collinss doctor, Frank Beard, were the witnesses and Collins was present at the the ceremony at Marylebone parish church. The marriage was clearly a mistake, for by April 1871 Caroline was back at 90 Gloucester Place, and her relationship with Wilkie was resumed in spite of his continuing commitment to Martha Rudd and his three children by her.•
Continued in secret….• Caroline Graves was known for forms sake as Collinss housekeeper and did not accompany Wilkie on social occasions such as dinner parties; it is also very unlikely that she was ever introduced to Wilkies mother. Caroline entertained many of his friends who visited them at home, travelled with him on the Continent, went to the theatre with him and sometimes wrote letters on his behalf when he was ill. During Wilkies last illness she nursed him devotedly and when she died in 1895 was buried in the same grave.
Yes, there is more…. Sensation Fiction• Sensation fiction was a literary sub- genre of Gothic literature, which was at the height of its popularity in the 1860s and 1870s.• Sensation fiction uses many of the same features of gothic fiction.
Features….• sensation fiction is sometimes regarded as domesticated Gothic in that it uses many of the devices of the Gothic novel, but places them in a contemporary English setting• they dispense with the supernatural element of Gothic fiction and even their most extraordinary events are given a rational and natural explanation• women (usually wives) suffer at the hands of men (usually husbands); the heroes are young men who are sometimes helped by resourceful women• their plots concern issues of identity and inheritance• insanity (real or supposed) plays a large partin the plot, with the private lunatic asylum taking the place of the locked room or dungeon in a Gothic novel, and the use of drugs taking the place of physical cruelty• they often have complex narratives making use of first person statements, diaries and letters, so that the stories are seen from more than one point of view• as with Gothic novels, sensation fiction aims to thrill and frighten the reader
• Corpses, secrets, adultery, insanity, prostitution—all are key elements of the sensation novels of the 1800s. Called sensation novels because they are designed to make the reader feel basic sensations—shock, disbelief, horror, suspense, sexual excitement, and fear—these novels offer unexpected twists and turns within a framework of predictable conventions. These recurring conventions include deathbed confessions, family secrets, mistaken identity, inheritance, bigamy, and female villains. This combination of the predictable and the chaotic is representative of the clash between rigid Victorian society and the changing societal and gender roles that accompanied the emergence of industry and capitalism in England and America. With their exciting plot lines and easily readable format, sensation novels explored unspoken fears and anxieties in a rapidly changing world.
• In the mid- 1800s, women had few rights and were expected to be subservient to men. Not only were women denied the vote, they were denied the right to own property. Cultural expectations required that women refrain from expressing themselves openly in the presence of men. Rather they were expected to be pure, pleasant, and supportive of men at all times. But, as reflected by the controversial sensation novels, these rigid roles were changing. Feminist critics of the 1980s and 1990s are quick to point out the unusual prevalence of strong female characters in sensation novels, and the way their independent and often sexual behavior was harshly criticized by contemporaries of the novels. Modern critics also point out the way in which female sexuality was often used to denote strength, rebelliousness, and evil. Appearing as nefarious seductresses, female characters were often villains who were punished or made to see the error of their ways at the storys end. Feminist critics also claim that while women in earlier novels had been portrayed as victims waiting to be rescued, in sensation novels the roles were often reversed and the male characters were victimized
• With the urbanization that accompanied the industrial boom of the mid-1800s, the big city also played a central role in many sensation novels. Some critics assert that the city provides the setting where men were tempted by villains and seduced by fallen women. These critics also argue that the urban sensation novel celebrated domesticity and the home as sources of renewal, faith, and morality. Female characters were, more often than not, encouraged to remain at the center of home life while men ventured out into the dangerous city with all of its temptations. The city was also the setting wherein shocking secrets about one or more of the characters were revealed. These secrets commonly involved murder, bigamy, or adultery and often came to light in a deathbed confession scene. This motif arose directly out of the breakdown of rigid Victorian social mores and attitudes toward social class—a breakdown caused in part by the growth of capitalism and urbanization, which offered a variety of new attitudes and opportunities for class mobility.
• Sensation novels were closely tied to the melodramatic theater of the same period. In fact, such writers as Charles Reade and Wilkie Collins wrote drama as well as novels and many of the most well-known sensation novels were written for or adapted to the stage. While conventional dramas were often set in distant castles or far-away lands, sensation theater was set in the present day and location, giving it a proximity and reality that was new to theater- goers.
• This sense of reality and proximity was also heightened in the sensation novel by its origins in journalism. Many scholars claim that sensation novels grew out of newspaper stories involving murder, assault, and other crimes that people found especially shocking in Victorian times. Often, these stories revealed the involvement of upstanding, even well-known, citizens in dangerous or immoral behavior. In a culture that valued appearances, revelations of crime among the upper class disrupted idyllic Victorian ideas about society. Failure to be shocked by these events was considered in bad taste—and to write about them was even worse. But the relationship between the new style of fiction writing and the new style of journalism went both ways. Because many of the sensation novelists claimed to get their material straight from the newspaper, they felt justified in writing about it.
• Meanwhile, newspaper stories suggested that, like the characters in sensation novels, anyones nextdoor neighbor could turn out to be a murderer or an adulterer, or to have some other scandalous secret. Reading about crimes in the newspaper brought fictional crimes closer to home, made the improbable events of sensation novels seem more real, and made everyday life a little more exciting—all of which helped to make sensation novels immensely popular. Marketed cheaply, sensation novels sold very well at train stations, small stores, kiosks, and newspaper stands and were widely discussed in magazines and newspapers and among ordinary citizens.