Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Collins, Wilkie

(1824-1889) UK writer, renowned as the master manipulator of "sensation" fiction of the 1850s and 1860s. He is more important to the development of detective fiction than of Supernatural Fiction through The Woman in White (1859-1860 All the Year Round; 1860), with its Gothic residue, and The Moonstone: A Romance (1868), one of the earliest police procedurals, which also established a subgenre of accursed-jewel stories. Nevertheless, influenced by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Charles Dickens, WC delighted in supernatural and terror fiction. In his day he was immensely popular although his private life (he lived with one mistress but sired three children by another) shocked many; only now is he being fully rediscovered.

WC's first published story was "The Last Stage Coachman" (1843), described as a Train allegory. He was fascinated with the workings of Fate, which he exploited in early stories "The Ostler" (1855 Household Words; rev as "The Dream Woman" 1874; vt "Alice Warlock") and "The Monkstons of Wincot Abbey" (1855 Fraser's; vt "Mad Monkton"), both of which featured Dream premonitions. He used the theme with considerable effect in Armadale (1864-1866 Cornhill; 1866), which links fate, dreams and Multiple Personality. He remixed these themes in the less successful romantic novel The Two Destinies: A Romance (1876), though this makes early use of telepathy (see Talents), and again in The Legacy of Cain (1888), where destiny takes on a pseudoscientific veneer through genetics. The Haunted Hotel: A Mystery of Modern Venice (1877 Illustrated London News; 1878) is a residual Gothic and over-atmospheric ghost story.

Other shorter Ghost Stories, including themes of predestination, dreams and shadow personalities, appear in the collections After Dark (coll of linked stories 1856), The Queen of Hearts (coll of linked stories 1859; cut vt A Plot in Private Life and Other Tales 1859 Germany), The Frozen Deep, and Other Stories (coll 1874), The Ghost's Touch (1885 US; rev vt I Say No 1886 US) and Little Novels (coll 1887). Recent retrospectives include Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (coll 1972) ed Herbert van Thal, The Illustrated Wilkie Collins (coll 1989) ed Peter Haining and The Best Supernatural Stories of Wilkie Collins (coll 1990) ed Haining.

Most of WC's works can be considered either as early Psychological Thrillers or as Rationalized Fantasies. [MA]

further reading: Wilkie Collins: A Critical and Biographical Study (1977) by Dorothy L Sayers; Wilkie Collins: An Annotated Bibliography 1889-1976 (1978) by Kirk H Beetz.

other works: Antonina, or The Fall of Rome: A Romance of the Fifth Century (1850); Mr Wray's Cash Box, or The Mask and the Mystery: A Christmas Sketch (1852); Basil: A Story of Modern Life (1852); Hide and Seek (1854); The Dead Secret (1857); No Name (1862); Man and Wife (1870); Poor Miss Finch (1872); The New Magdalen (1873); The Law and the Lady (1875); A Rogue's Life: From His Birth to His Marriage (1856 Household Words; rev 1879); Jezebel's Daughter * (1880), novelization of The Red Vial (play 1858); The Black Robe (1881); Heart and Science: A Story of the Present Time (1883); I Say No (1884); The Evil Genius: A Domestic Story (1886); The Guilty River (1886); Blind Love (1890), completed by Walter Besant.

William Wilkie Collins


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.