After two weeks of anxious waiting for my damn book to arrive and two weeks of enthusiastic readalong participation, the Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation has reached its close. It was a magical and sensational time in which we found that it is hard to write a biography of someone who sensibly avoids putting incriminating information in writing.
The main surprise to me in this readalong is how together Wilkie Collins was. I always thought of him sort of the same way I think of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, high all the time, unworldly, and perpetually strapped for cash. This could not have been more wrong. Wilkie Collins was savvy af, all the time thinking of ways to increase his exposure as an author and maintain copyright protections. He was constantly meeting deadlines! PLUS:
On his return, he finalised details of yet another will, this time specifically dividing his estate between Caroline and Martha [his two paramours] (with their children as subsidiary beneficiaries. [He also] ensur[ed] that a character reference for his manservant Edward Grosvisier was in order.
Like. That is the total opposite of how I pictured Wilkie Collins. I have been so wrong all this time. I have been doing him an Injustice.
His attitude [toward Washington DC] may have been colored by the inebriated congressman in Washington who insisted on calling him “Milky” and saying how much he liked his books, including The Lay of the Last Minstrel, which was by Walter Scott.
Bahahahah and to think that all this time we’ve been missing the opportunity to call him Milky.
Lycett also finds the time to confirm what Alice has long suspected ie that old Milky was an ass man:
I too think the back view of a finely-formed woman the loveliest view — and her hips and her bottom the most precious part of that view. The line of beauty in those quarters enchants me.
Oh, Milky. You do not have to explain this. It is obvious to anyone who read The Woman in White. Like I do not know how anyone in the world would read that book and have any interest in insipid Laura when Marion is around with her sweet, sweet ass and searing intellect.
Oscar Wilde did not care for Wilkie Collins’s work. I am immensely grieved. Surely if given the opportunity, they would have gotten on brilliantly? I suspect Oscar Wilde just didn’t like what Wilkie Collins represented, ie the literary establishment which Oscar Wilde loved to scandalize and also badly wished to be a part of slash remake in his own image. In terms of amiability and love of melodrama, I really think that Oscar Wilde and Milky could have been great friends. They are probs up in heaven having drinks together as we speak.
Well. I have done Wilkie Collins a great wrong, and I am glad that Alice organized this readalong so that wrong could be corrected. Thank you, Alice. I am sorry, Wilkie. In future if anyone asks about you, I will be sure to tell them about the Milky thing and then emphasize your practicality, discretion, and work ethic.