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It may be possible in novel-writing to present characters successfully without telling a story; but it is not possible to tell a story successfully without presenting characters.

                                                                    — Wilkie Collins

This is what it says in my Booklover’s Birthday Book for today.  On this day in 1824, the British author, Wilkie Collins was born.  I think it’s still a pretty apt quote for a guy who would be 189 years old were he still around.

The first time I heard the name Wilkie Collins it made me think of Wee Willie Winkie running around in his nightgown, yelling about kids being in bed by eight o’clock.  Then I read his book, The Woman in White.  I was a teenager by that time, and I thought his story was way better and eerier than any of the Nancy Drew mysteries I’d read earlier.  It was my stepping stone to the mysteries of Agatha Christie (who, in turn, was my stepping stone to John D. MacDonald; I spent my early 20s a little in love with Travis McGee).  Eventually, my mystery-reading phase was supplanted by my great American novel-reading phase and on and on until I outgrew reading phases entirely.

His life was fascinating, as real lives often are.  He was born with a bulge on the right side of his forehead which he never tried to hide, he studied Law (because his father thought it best), was called to the bar but never actually practiced.  He was also unconventional for his time, wrote prolifically, was friends with Charles Dickens, published with him, wrote plays with him and acted in Dickens’ amateur theatrical troupe.  All while supporting two families in two separate households (one under an assumed name), and suffering from gout and a laudanum addiction.  He died of a stroke at the age of sixty-five.

I think I’m going to have to go find me some Wilkie Collins books, because I do like characters.

Happy Birthday, Wilkie.  Here’s to you.  Your books are back in print and you’re looking pretty good for your age.

Wilkie Collins photo from Wikipedia.  You barely notice his forehead protuberance in it.  Or his laudanum addiction.

Wilkie Collins photo from Wikipedia. You barely notice his forehead protuberance. Or his laudanum addiction.