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

By Lillian Nayder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
“No Thoroughfare”: The Problem of Illegitimacy

In the summer of 1861, as he was working on his novel No Name, Collins found himself at a pivotal point in his career. Writing to his friend Charles Ward, Collins promises “news that will astonish you.” He goes on to explain that he has decided—“with Dickens's full approval”—to resign from the staff of All the Year Round, since a much more lucrative offer has come his way: “Smith & Elder have signed agreements to give me Five Thousand Pounds, for the copyright of a new work, to follow the story I am now beginning.... No living novelist (except Dickens) has had such an offer as this for one book. If I only live to earn the money, I have a chance at last of putting something by against a rainy day, or a turn in the public caprice, or any other literary misfortune.” 1. “Prepare yourself for an immense surprise, ” Collins tells his mother before regaling her with this “literary business”: “Smith & Elder have bought me away from All The Year Round under circumstances which in Dickens's opinion amply justify me in leaving.... Five thousand pounds, for nine months or, at most, a year's work—nobody but Dickens has made as much.... If I live & keep my brains in good working order, I shall have got to the top of the tree, after all, before forty.” 2.

In the ten years between the publication of “The Perils of Certain English Prisoners” and “No Thoroughfare, ” Collins came into his own. After the remarkable success of The Woman in White, rival publishers bid against each other

____________________
1.
Autograph letter signed (ALS) to Charles Ward, 22 August 1861. The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. MA 3151.27. The Letters of Wilkie Collins, ed. William Baker and William M. Clarke, 2 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1999), 1:200.
2.
ALS to Harriet Collins, 31 July 1861. The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. MA 3150.61. The Letters of Wilkie Collins, I:197—98.

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