I still remember the first time I read Wilkie Collins. As I sat in my first college literature course (a very long time ago), The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins happened to be our reading assignment for that week. I couldn’t control my excitement, because I wasn’t used to getting to read both for fun and for grades yet as a newly decided English major. After reading Collins, the way I viewed literature completely changed! Not only is The Moonstone considered one of the first detective novels (wow, right?), but his other works are equally as worthy of making this list. Here are Wilkie Collins’s books that completely changed how I looked at literature.
Let’s look at some very interesting background on Wilkie Collins because his popularity continues to grow immensely. The first thing to know is he was a close friend of Charles Dickens. Wouldn’t we all have loved to be? They met in 1851 and remained close friends until Dickens’ death in 1870. His full name is William Wilkie Collins but known best as Wilkie Collins.
For his time, he is considered one of the highest-paid writers in Victorian fiction. During the 1860s is when he experienced great popularity for his fiction with four of his major novels. Those four happen to be the ones mentioned here! I said previously that The Moonstone is considered one of the first detective novels, and I wasn’t lying. T.S. Eliot even said:
[It is] “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels …”— T. S. Eliot
Here are four books by Wilkie Collins that completely changed the way I look at literature and hopefully will change how you see it too!
“Your tears come easy, when you’re young, and beginning the world. Your tears come easy, when you’re old, and leaving it. I burst out crying.”— Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
The Moonstone is considered the book that started it all in terms of detective mysteries. We all know them and, dare I say it, we all love them. I’m looking at my own copy of the novel as I write this. Originally published in 1868, Collins’ book is filled with romance, theft, and murder. What more do you need in a novel? Originating with the who-done-it theft of a gigantic diamond, Sergeant Cuff, Gabriel Betteridge, a lovesick housemaid, and a band of Indian jugglers tell this mysterious story.
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“In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop… There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white”— Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White
This eerily gothic mystery begins with an encounter on a moonlit London road. Predating The Moonstone by a few years, The Woman in White was originally published in 1859 and is classified as a “sensation novel,” meaning it plays on the nerves and thrills the senses. Intriguing, right? Walter gives directions to a mysterious woman dressed in all white and later discovers from police that she escaped from an asylum. Told from many narrators, you’ll devour this story in one sitting.
Get a copy here to start reading!
“The books – the generous friends who met me without suspicion – the merciful masters who never used me ill!”— Wilkie Collins, Armadale
I can’t describe how much I hope you all read these books. Just writing about them makes me happy and crave a reread! Armadale showcases “one of the most hardened female villains whose devices and desires have ever blackened fiction,” according to critics. Buying your copy yet? Allan Armadale makes a terrible confession while on his deathbed, which leads to some big repercussions. His not-so-small confession involved none other than Lydia Gwilt— the “hardened female villain” I mentioned earlier. Described as a flamed-haired temptress and husband-poisoner, she fuels this sensation novel’s plot.
This is a story of confused identities, inherited curses, romantic enemies, and murder. Oh, and let’s not forget money. To this day, Lydia Gwilt remains one of the most fascinating women in 19th-century literature.
4. No Name
“Nothing in the world is hidden forever.”— Wilkie Collins, No Name
Family mystery, anyone? Sisters Magdalen and Norah Vanstone experience true social stigma in Victorian England after tragically discovering that their beloved parents’ sudden death not only leaves them as orphans, but their parents weren’t married at the time of their birth. By law, they are disinherited and brutally rejected from Combe-Raven— the peaceful estate they’ve called home since childhood. They must now fend for themselves. Norah leans into a life of duty and hardship as a governess, but Magdalen pursues other plans. She is high-spirited, rebellious, and determined to get her inheritance… No matter the cost.
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