Rest in Peace, Wilkie Collins Readalong

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.

Wilkie Collins

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.

Parachuting in to the Wilkie Collins Readalong

I DID NOT FORGET ABOUT WILKIE COLLINS. Wilkie Collins has been perpetually on my mind since last we spoke of him. Though I said the words “chillest Wilkie Collins readalong ever,” I did not intend for that to mean that I would altogether fail to participate in the readalong until it was halfway over. It’s just that I ordered a used copy of the book because it maybe wasn’t published in the US? and then it took a really long time for it to reach me.

First up, I’d like to apologize for making a small joke at Alice’s expense about the greatness of this cover. Live and in person, this cover is fantastic. I underestimated it when I saw it online. Wilkie’s hat is particularly magnificent in real life.

You guys, the hugest relief in this section — because I saw Alice mention that Wilkie Collins was going to acquire a new paramour, and I was so worried about Caroline and especially about little bb Harriet (who I guess by then was Young Lady Harriet, an even more worrying prospect) — is when poor Caroline gets married. This, for people not doing the readalong, is Wilkie Collins’s lover of low birth, whom he has been supporting for the last, like, decade, but steadfastly refusing to marry because he enjoys so much going Abroad with Dickens and banging prostitutes and not talking about it in his letters. Luckily:

She surprised everyone by walking down the aisle . . . on the arm of Joseph Charles Clow — the son of a distiller’s agent — who was aged twenty-three. She was thirty-seven and quite what she saw in this mere stripling is hard to determine.

Okay, number one, you would never say this about a thirty-seven-year-old dude in this era (or now!) marrying a twenty-three-year-old lady. Number two, the very next paragraph describes his family as “upwardly mobile.” DING DING DING I HAVE FOUND THE SOLUTION.

You guys. This is like when I read a Black Sails recap (by a dude) that was like “what was Eleanor Guthrie’s motive for having sex with Charles Vane?” For reference, here’s what Charles Vane looks like in this show:

Yes, so bewildering, what possibly could have been her motive for wanting to bang this gentleman? And not to objectify a dude from a scene where his character was just grievously wounded and then buried alive and then fighting for his life, but available evidence (though admittedly covered in blood and graveyard dirt) suggests that his dick is, uh, nothing to be ashamed of, also? Maybe that might have been in play here too I DUNNO JUST SPITBALLING.

Whatever, I was happy for Caroline when I got to that part. She deserves some financial security, and so does poor little Harriet. Wilkie is totally that bro your girlfriends dated in college who was like “babe I just can’t be tied down, that’s just the kind of person I am, I need freedom, like societal norms just aren’t as meaningful as we make them, you know?”

Of course, five seconds later, Caroline’s marriage is over, and someone who may or may not be her husband (but seems like is?) has headed off to Australia, I guess to distill things Down Under. And Caroline moves back in with Wilkie. And his new lady, Martha. And his two daughters with Martha. I am sure that wasn’t awkward at all.

The other item of note in this section (apart from Wilkie’s ongoing very conflicted feelings about Ladies) is this:

Wilkie was poking fun at British reserve. Having no such inhibitions himself, he regularly kissed his male friends, particularly the effusive Fechter.

GOOD FOR YOU WILKERSON. It’s really not fair that societal constructions of gender have left so little space for dudes to express platonic affection physically. Like I am not personally a person who is wild about touching people and giving hugs and kisses all the time? But a lot of people are, including a lot of man, and it sucks that they can’t do that without people being snide about it.

Oh, and Dickens dies. Had to happen at some point. Join us next week for Wilkie to also die. I hope that he’s able to leave adequate provision for his two sets of daughters and long-term wife-ish persons. STERN GLARE.