Written by Peter Ackroyd.
Read by Michael Pennington.
Peter Ackroyd charts the life of Wilkie Collins. From his childhood as the son of an artist, to his struggles to become a writer, and his life-long friendship with Charles Dickens.
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 distinctly 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.
Peter 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.
Abridged by Libby Spurrier
Producer: Joanna Green
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.