Wilkie Collins

British writer (1824-1889)

William Wilkie Collins (January 8, 1824September 23, 1889) was an English novelist, playwright and writer of short stories. He was a pioneer in the writing of detective fiction.

Wilkie Collins in 1874


  • I have noticed that the Christianity of a certain class of respectable people begins when they open their prayer-books at eleven o'clock on Sunday morning, and ends when they shut them up again at one o'clock on Sunday afternoon. Nothing so astonishes and insults Christians of this sort as reminding them of their Christianity on a week-day.
  • People who read stories are said to have excitable brains.
    • Heart and Science: A Story of the Present Time - Vol. II [Bernhard Tauchnitz] (p. 57)
    • Also in Wilkie Collins: An Illustrated Guide by Andrew Collins & Catherine Peters [Oxford University Press, 1998] (p. 139)
  • Men ruin themselves headlong for unworthy women.
    • Man and Wife - Vol. II [Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1870] (p. 235)
    • Also in Wilkie Collins: Man of Mystery and Imagination by Alexander Grinstein [International Universities Press, 2003, 0-823-66681-6] (p. 155)
  • "A very remarkable work... in the present state of light literature in England, a novel that actually tells a story. It 's quite incredible, I know. Try the book. It has another extraordinary merit, it isn't written by a woman."
    • The Works of Wilkie Collins: The Black Robe [P.F. Collier, 1900] (p. 328)
    • Also in Wilkie Collins: A Literary Life by Graham Law & Andrew Maunder [Springer, 2008, ISBN 0-230-22750-3] (p. 15)
  • "Ask yourself if there is any explanation of the mystery of your own life and death."
    • The Haunted Hotel: A Mystery of Modern Venice [Rose-Belford, 1878] (p.288)
    • Also in The Supernatural And English fiction by Glen Cavaliero [Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-192-12607-5] (p. 39)
  • I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of a work of fiction should be to tell a story; and I have never believed that the novelist who properly performed this first condition of his art, was in danger, on that account, of neglecting the delineation of character — for this plain reason, that the effect produced, by any narrative of events is essentially dependent, not on the events themselves, but on the human interest which is directly connected with them. It may be possible in novel-writing to present characters successfully without telling a story; but it is not possible to tell a story successfully without presenting characters: their existence, as recognizable realities, being the sole condition on which the story can be effectively told. The only narrative which can hope to lay a strong hold on the attention of readers is a narrative which interests them about men and women — for the perfectly obvious reasons that they are men and women themselves.
    • Collins explaining what he calls the literary principal guiding him, in the preface of the second edition of The Woman in White. Also in Reality's Dark Light: The Sensational Wilkie Collins by Maria K. Bachman & Don Richard Cox [University of Tennessee Press, 2003, ISBN 1-572-33274-3] (p. xiv)
  • The actions of human beings are not invariably governed by the laws of pure reason
    • Vol. I [Chatto & Windus, 1875] (p. v)
    • Also in Gothic Returns in Collins, Dickens, Zola, and Hitchcock by Eleanor Salotto [Springer, 2016, ISBN 1-137-11770-2] (p. 32)
  • No man under Heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace — they drag us away from our parents' love and our sisters' friendship — they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel.
    • Vol. I [Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1860] (p. 194)
    • Also in The Cambridge Companion to Sensation Fiction edited by Andrew Mangham [Cambridge University Press, 2013, ISBN 1-107-51169-0] (p. 82)
    • The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins by Catherine Peters [Princeton University Press, 2014, ISBN 1-400-86345-7] (p. 224)
    • Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters: Feminism, History, and Ingeborg Bachmann by Sara Lennox [University of Massachusetts Press, 2006, ISBN 1-558-49552-5] (p. 227)
  • I confess I have often fancied myself transformed into some other person, and have felt a certian pleasure in seeing myself in my new chracter. One of our first amusements as children (if we have any imagination at all) is to get out of our own characters, and to try the characters of other personages as a change—to be fairies, to be queens, to be anything, in short, but what we really are.
  • We had our breakfasts--whatever happens in a house, robbery or murder, it doesn't matter, you must have your breakfast.
    • The Moonstone [Street, 1868] (p. 49).
    • Also in Recipes from an Edwardian Country House: A Stately English Home Shares Its Classic Tastes by Laura Schaefer [Simon & Schuster, 2013, ISBN 1-476-73033-4] (p. 22)
  • Rosanna Spearman had been a thief, and not being of the sort that get up Companies in the City, and rob from thousands, instead of only robbing from one, the law laid hold of her, and the prison and the reformatory followed the lead of the law.
    • [Street, 1868] (p. 54)
    • Also in Convict Voices: Women, Class, and Writing about Prison in Nineteenth-Century England by Anne Schwan [University of New Hampshire Press, 2014, ISBN 1611686725] (p. 82)
  • Every human institution (Justice included) will stretch a little, if you only pull it the right way.
    • [Street, 1868] (p. 50)
    • Also in Plots of Opportunity: Representing Conspiracy in Victorian England by Albert D. Pionke [Ohio State University Press, 2004, 0-814-20948-3] (p. 98)
London: Chatto & Windus, 1896
  • The woman who first gives life, light, and form to our shadowy conceptions of beauty, fills a void in our spiritual nature that has remained unknown to us till she appeared.
    • Epoch 1, Walter Hartright, ch. VIII
    • Also in The Pre-Raphaelite Art of the Victorian Novel: Narrative Challenges to Visual Gendered Boundaries by Sophia Andres [Ohio State University Press, 2005, 0-814-20974-2] (p. 86)
  • We go to Nature for comfort in trouble, and sympathy in joy, only in books. Admiration of those beauties of the inanimate world, which modern poetry so largely and so eloquently describes, is not, even in the best of us, one of the original instincts of our nature. As children, we none of us possess it. No uninstructed man or woman possesses it. Those whose lives are most exclusively passed amid the ever-changing wonders of sea and land are also those who are most universally insensible to every aspect of Nature not directly associated with the human interest of their calling. Our capacity of appreciating the beauties of the earth we live on is, in truth, one of the civilised accomplishments which we all learn as an Art; and, more, that very capacity is rarely practised by any of us except when our minds are most indolent and most unoccupied. How much share have the attractions of Nature ever had in the pleasurable or painful interests and emotions of ourselves or our friends? What space do they ever occupy in the thousand little narratives of personal experience which pass every day by word of mouth from one of us to the other? All that our minds can compass, all that our hearts can learn, can be accomplished with equal certainty, equal profit, and equal satisfaction to ourselves, in the poorest as in the richest prospect that the face of the earth can show. There is surely a reason for this want of inborn sympathy between the creature and the creation around it, a reason which may perhaps be found in the widely-differing destinies of man and his earthly sphere. The grandest mountain prospect that the eye can range over is appointed to annihilation. The smallest human interest that the pure heart can feel is appointed to immortality.
    • Epoch 1, Walter Hartright, ch. VIII
  • Our words are giants when they do us an injury, and dwarfs when they do us a service.
    • Epoch 1, Walter Hartright, ch. IX
  • Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper.
    • Epoch 2, Marian Halcombe, ch. VIII
    • Also in The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins by Catherine Peters (p. 224)
  • I am nothing but a bundle of nerves dressed up to look like a man.
    • Epoch 2, Frederick Fairlie
    • Also in The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century by Catherine Gallagher & Thomas Walter Laqueur (p.110)
    • The Nineteenth-Century Novel: Identities by Dennis Walder [Routledge, 2013, ISBN 1-136-75006-1] (p.89)
  • My hour for tea is half-past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody.
    • Epoch 3, Walter Hartright, ch. III
    • Also in The Secret Ingredient by Laura Schaefer [Simon & Schuster, 2012, ISBN 1-442-41960-1] (p. 169)

Quotes about Collins

  • He is very suggestive, and exceeding quick to take my notions. Being industrious and reliable besides, I don't think we should be at an additional expense of £20 in the year...
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