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Ackroyd at his best -- gripping short life of the extraordinary Wilkie Collins, author of The Moonstone and The Woman in White.
Short and oddly built, with a head too big for his body, extremely short-sighted, unable to stay still, dressed in colourful clothes, 'as if playing a certain part in the great general drama of life' Wilkie Collins looked distinctily strange. But he was none the less a charmer, befriended by the great, loved by children, irresistibly attractive to women -- and avidly read by generations of readers.
Ackroyd follows his hero, 'the sweetest-tempered of all the Victorian novelists', from his childhood as the son of a well-known artist to his struggling beginnings as writer, his years of fame and his life-long friendship with the other great London chronicler, Charles Dickens. A true Londoner, Collins, like Dickens, was fascinated by the secrets and crimes -- the fraud, blackmail and poisonings -- that lay hidden behind the city's respectable facade. He was a fighter, never afraid to point out injustices and shams, or to tackle the establishment head on. As well as his enduring masterpieces, The Moonstone -- often called the first true detective novel -- and the sensational Women in White, he produced an intriguing array of lesser known works. But Collins had his own secrets: he never married, but lived for thirty years with the widowed Caroline Graves, and also had a second liaison, as 'Mr and Mrs Dawson', with a younger mistress, Martha Rudd, with whom he had three children. Both women remained devoted as illness and opium-taking took their toll: he died in 1889, in the middle of writing his last novel -- Blind Love.
Told with Peter Ackroyd's inimitable verve this is a ravishingly entertaining life of a great story-teller, full of surprises, rich in humour and sympathetic understanding.
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PETER ACKROYD is the author of London: The Biography, Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, Shakespeare: The Biography, and Thames: The Biography. He has written acclaimed biographies of T. S. Eliot, Dickens, Blake, and Sir Thomas More as well as several successful novels. He has won the Whitbread Book Award for Biography, the Royal Society of Literature's William Heinemann Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the South Bank Award for Literature. His last book was a biography of Charlie Chaplin.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Four stars, (A) perfect little biography" -- Craig Brown * Mail on Sunday * "With deft strokes, Peter Ackroyd's biography portrays his character and sets him in context, weaving critical appraisals seamlessly into the story of his life. The bravura of this biography lies in its brilliantly judged brevity." -- Iain Finlayson * The Times * "Unfailingly perceptive" -- Andrew Taylor * Independent * "This biography is compulsive reading" * The Economist * "Insightful" -- Judith Flanders * Sunday Telegraph *
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