Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Review: Wilkie Collins by Peter Ackroyd

Wilkie Collins

Peter Ackroyd
Chatto and Windus
186 pages

Ready for another dose of Wilkie enthusiasm? Of course you are!

I read this biography alongside reading The Moonstone to cash in on all the Wilkie goodness (and goodness it truly is). I bought this hardback practically the minute it was released and then (quite unfairly) abandoned it on my shelf and left it languishing there. I'm actually pretty glad I so carelessly left it on the shelf because, as it turned out, it was the perfect accompaniment to my month of Wilkie.

This is a short biography and shouldn't really be taken as a definitive life of the Wilkster. There aren't any excessive footnotes here. Rather it is a concise and entertaining overview of his life, with some brilliant explorations of his work. 

Peter Ackroyd has such a brilliant style. I'm usually a bit turned off by biographies but in this case I was entertained throughout. Granted Wilkie had an interesting life, but there is something about the way Ackroyd comments on his behaviour that I found completely wonderful. Reading this has actually made me feel like trying more biographies, just to see how I'd get on. I'm certainly going to look out for another Wilkie biography, now I've had a taste of his ridiculously interesting life.

I think a few quotes are the best way to demonstrate the brilliance of this book:

On Wilkie's reunion with Martha after some time away: 'That reunion is not in doubt, since Martha gave birth to their third child nine months and seven days later.'

On his name: 'He was always simply known as Wilkie, not as Collins or Mr Collins.'

On his sexual and romantic adventures: 'To have two mistresses was, even by the standards of the nineteenth century, a precarious situation; but Collins seems to have adapted to it quite naturally and cheerfully.' - I bet he did, the saucy bugger.

He was an opium addict and a womaniser (though he did seem to treat his ladies relatively well) but his enthusiasm for his work almost measures up to my enthusiasm for his work. He always met his deadlines and wrote continuously until his death. I can't help but love him, and this overview and insight into his life has only made me love him even more. What's wrong with having a slight obsession with a nineteenth century womanising novelist? Nothing in my book.

Do you read many biographies? Would you rather read a short, overview-y biography or a detailed blow by blow account of someone's life?



  1. I'm so glad that this year I decided to start a book blog, and through other book blogs got to know about Wilkster and read two of his books! I definitely want to read a biography about him, as you also point out, his life seems totally worthy of having a book written about it.

    As to biographies - ashamed to say that I haven't read them at all, but I can see how high level of interest towards an author/artist can make me want to try. I think I'd prefer fairly thorough but not too detailed, if possibly on the humorous side of a biography.

    1. There are not many novelists who I find interesting enough to read a biography about but Wilkie really does have a very worthy life. I have flicked through biographies before but this is the first I have read cover to cover. I think it will not be my last!

  2. I've heard good things about Ackroyd's books, and I haven't a clue about Wilkie's life, so this would probably be a good place to start. Especially now that I've finished The Frozen Deep and am starting The Woman in White.

    1. I have only read one of his novels before which I loved and I am definitely planning on looking out for his other non-fiction works. I know he writes about London a lot which I would love to read.

      I think this would be a perfect place to start if you're interested in learning more about him!


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