Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wilkalong Part One: The Wilkening

Once again, I am attempting a read-along at the prompting of the one and only Reading Rambo.

Look, I've got the logo and everything
The book is Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation, by Andrew Lycett, a book which has not even been released in the United States yet, but which those of us who experienced the glory of the Woman in White or Moonstone readalongs have instinctively sensed is probably going to be full of amazing stuff.

The book is divided into "epochs" for some reason, and the First Epoch deals with Wilkie's family background, childhood, and youth. I hadn't realized that Wilkie came from a family -- two families, actually -- that were so involved in the arts. At the very end of this section, Lycett is setting us up for a Collins-Dickens convergence which is slightly less surprising when you realize just how artsy and well connected his parents and brother were.

As is becoming usual with biographies, I found sufficient grounds to grump about the author having or giving too little context. For instance, when the family moves to Italy so that Papa Collins can see great art and produce some primo paintings, Lycett seems to see this trip in a vacuum. In particular, he seems to see it as obviously a disruption to young Wilkie's education -- but this seems like an era with a pretty flexible educational structure, and one which would potentially have regarded time abroad as inherently educational.

Wilkie's parents were intensely religious, specifically in a way that led them to take sides in church debates and seek out pastors who saw things their way. "The nectarine incident" (page 29 if you missed it), in which Collins Senior is a dick to his neighbor for doing some gardening on a Sunday is great, and telling. Wilkie's parents appear to have shifted their allegiances a few times or latched onto various preachers/writers, but I did wish for a bit more clarity and specificity on this angle. When Wilkie is sent to a very strict and repressive boarding school run by a Reverend, I don't think we are ever told how this guy fits into the Collins' religious landscape. It's perhaps a small detail but I think it's significant. Surely of all people, Mr and Mrs Collins knew exactly what this guy thought and had views about it. Did they pick the school because they agreed with him, or in spite of it, because they felt their wayward son needed the discipline even if the headmaster was Wrong About God?

That being said, the general picture that emerges is of young Wilkie, an insufficiently docile young man who gives his parents headaches and writes wonderful letters. Seriously, my main takeaway from this section was that Wilkie's letters sound delightful. (Although, LYCETT, it obviously means nothing if his letters from Paris TO HIS UBER-RELIGIOUS MOTHER don't mention sexing up women!! Lycett obviously is very amused by Wilkie's self-image as a teenage Italian milf-banger, but his hunt for further evidence of precocious lasciviousness in family letters seems... misguided.)

One other small highlight from this section: a brief mention of someone called Elizabeth Buller-Yarde-Buller.

Well, time's up for me this week, folks. Head over to the mothership for more hot Wilkie takes and I'll see you next week.

1 comment:

  1. I was also confused about why Lycett seemed so annoyed that the family went on this 2 year Italian journey cos, like you said, education seemed to not be so rigid and this was a fairly common thing to do for those that had the means. Also he seemed to learn stuff. Including about voluptuous Roman ladies.

    Also very much like your point about how maaaaaybe looking for evidence of Wilkie's sexual conquests in a letter to his mother (even if she wasn't super religious) is probably not a solid plan. Maybe Lycett has a very...different relationship with his parents