Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Victorian Authorship

By Lillian Nayder | Go to book overview

Introduction

On 14 June 1870, Wilkie Collins was one of the twelve mourners who attended Dickens's private burial service at Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey. His friendship of nearly twenty years secured him a place at the gravesite, where he stood with several of Dickens's family members and with Dickens's closest associates: John Forster, Frank Beard, Frederic Ouvry, and his own brother, Charles, who had married Dickens's daughter Kate in 1860. Yet Collins's inclusion in this select group of mourners was more a sign of past than of present ties. Collins was “shocked and grieved” by Dickens's death, 1. but also distant enough to complain that the funeral set him behind on his novel Man and Wife: “The day of Dickens's funeral was a lost day to me, ” he told his agent William Tindell two days later: “I am backward with the proofs of the book—and, as they are not at all intelligently read, they take a long time.” 2.

Mourning his “lost day” rather than his lost friend in his letter to his agent, Collins fails to register much feeling at Dickens's death. Yet his concern with his publishing schedule seems oddly apt, since it represents a legacy left to him by Dickens. Indeed, it was Dickens who taught Collins the value of a day's work—by proving that novel writing could be a lucrative, middle-class profession and by demonstrating just how profitable fiction could be when it was serialized and mass produced. At the same time, Dickens also taught Collins to look to his own interests, since the profits of his literary labors were not his

____________________
1.
Letter to Catherine Beard, 8 June 1870, in Suzannet Dickens Collection Catalogue, ed. Michael Slater (London: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1975), p. 144; quoted by Catherine Peters, The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991), p. 319. Subsequent references to The King of Inventors are cited parenthetically in the text.
2.
Autograph letter signed (ALS) to William F. Tindell, 16 June 1870, Mitchell Library; quoted by Peters, King, p. 320. 1

-1-

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