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The eldest son of the landscape artist, William Collins R.A., Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824. Educated for a few years at private schools in London, the family then moved to Italy when he was thirteen years old and it is here that he gained his real education.
His first book, a biography of his father was published in 1848. A close friend and travelling companion to Charles Dickens, they spent a lot of time together during the 1850s.
With the serialization of The Woman in White in 1860, Collins' popularity grew to such an extent that queues formed to buy the next instalment and Gladstone cancelled a theatre engagement to carry on reading it. He followed this success with the novels No Name (1862), Armadale (1866) and the highly successful The Moonstone (1868).
Collins lived with his mother until he was thirty-two, then left to set up home with a young woman, Caroline Graves and her daughter by another man. Remaining with Caroline on and off for the rest of his life, he also fathered three illegitimate children by Martha Rudd. This scandalous arrangement led to Collins being ostracized by smart Victorian society.
Plagued by gout from his thirties onward, Collins was often in great pain which he attempted to dull with increasing amounts of opium. As his addiction to the drug grew he became more obsessed with the bizarre, heavily reflected in the gruesome characters of his last books. He died in 1889.
Source: Penguin Web Site (http://www.penguin.co.uk/wop%5Fauthor%5fnew/117.htm) Accessed May 22nd 1998.
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