Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Mr. Collins"

By Alan Rowland

When was the last time you tuned into any of the 'Law & Order' or 'CSI' franchises on TV?

If so, you've likely read or heard the words: "Ripped from the Headlines."

The network lawyers may have insisted on the disclaimer...'No person or events depicted here.........', and then, you know the story has been, in fact, ripped from the headlines of newspapers around the world. Or, perhaps, you're a Luddite and have actually read a book... a novel by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or even Sue Grafton or P.D. James!

Well, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Wilkie Collins, a writer and close friend of Charles Dickens in 19th Century England. Time has not been so kind to Mr. Collins, while his friend has reaped endless good fortune's love and admiration.

Mr. Dickens has been 'musicalized,' modernized, and reinterpreted; his work has won Oscars and every literary award known to men of letters. There are, quite likely, more words written about Mr. Dickens, than he could have ever written himself.

Wilkie Collins, meanwhile, sits in the somewhat more frayed, William Morris upholstered wingchair in the back of the smoking room. Collins wrote more than 35 novels; tracts on laudanum and literature; he wrote plays (more for amusement than anything else), and acted in many productions with his dear friend Dickens.

But today Wilkie Collins' more modest reputation rests upon two books: "The Moonstone" and "The Woman in White." These novels, and the major canon of Charles Dickens, were serialized, as was the fashion for the hungry reader of the day, in a weekly called "Household Words."

Readers raced for each installment, until later, when the books were published in their entirety, often illustrated by artists who came to be identified with a particular writer. Collins' books were then known as 'sensation novels', or as books 'ripped from the headlines.'

Many of his plotlines were indeed inspired by sensational headlines, often dealing with 'women's issues' like primogeniture, marriage, employment and other women's rights.

Today, Wilkie Collins is credited with 'inventing' the modern detective novel. Agatha Christie to P.D. James and countless other writers owe their debt to Wilkie Collins, and the detective stories, characters and villains he so deliciously created.

Artist and writer Alan Rowland, who lives in New Jersey, is a huge fan of Wilkie Collins' work. Once, on a visit to London, Rowland searched out and bought every book that Collins wrote which was not available in the states. The illustration of "Moonstone" is one done by Rowland, who worked as a graphic artist before he became disabled.

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