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

By Lillian Nayder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Crimes of the Empire, Contagion of the East: The Moonstone and The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Toward the end of June 1867, as their plans for “No Thoroughfare” took shape, Dickens heard Collins read the first three numbers of his new novel The Moonstone and went “minutely through the plot of the rest to the last line.” Writing to Wills on 30 June, Dickens expresses his approval of Collins's new work, which began running in All the Year Round in January 1868:

Of course it is a series of “Narratives, ” and of course such and so many modes of action are open to such and such people; but it is a very curious story—wild, and yet domestic—with excellent character in it, great mystery, and nothing belonging to disguised women or the like. It is prepared with extraordinary care, and has every chance of being a hit. It is in many respects much better than any thing he has done. (Pilgrim, 11:385)

Despite his implicit criticism of what he sees as the standard elements of Collins's fiction (“of course . . . of course”), Dickens is enthusiastic about this “wild . . . yet domestic” story. But his enthusiasm is short lived. Writing to Wills one year later, as the serialization of The Moonstone was drawing to a close, Dickens tells his subeditor that he agrees with him about the novel: “The construction is wearisome beyond endurance, and there is a vein of obstinate conceit in it that makes enemies of readers” (Letters, 3:660).

Dickens's final and harsh reaction to The Moonstone has led critics and biographers to conclude that a personal rift divided the two writers in the years immediately preceding Dickens's death. “In view of [Dickens's] earlier opinion of the same novel . . . it is hard to suppress a notion that personal animosity entered

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