Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wilkie-Along Post IV: The back view is the loveliest view

Here we are, the final epochs in the SENSATIONAL life of Wilkie Collins. Thank you, Alice, for finding this book and then hosting this readalong, cos our readalongs are the best readalongs. #fact
In these final chapters and Wilkie's final years, he travels around the US on a less-than-successful tour, stages a few more plays, can't really match the success of his early work, continues to fight for copyright laws, has a few grandkids and then dies. You'd think this would be where the book ends but no, we get another chapter that, in the same vein as the rest of the book, talks about a bunch of people that are not Wilkie. I do not care if his ex-son-in-law had to file for bankruptcy.

Anyway, let's just get to a bunch of bullet points

  • Wilkie does a reading tour around the US and things aren't so great. Only partially filled venues with a consistent criticism that Wilkie isn't the most engaging reader. Which is weird because he was an actor so you'd think this wouldn't be that big of a stretch. Or maybe he was a terrible actor the whole time and Lycett didn't make that clear. One review says: "We should counsel Mr Wilkie Collins to adopt the tone and method of a lecturer, which anyone can acquire, rather than attempt those of an actor which lie beyond his reach."
  • Also we get this amazing line: "He has many fine qualities but he has an unusual amount of conceit and self-satisfaction - and I do not think any one can think Wilkie Collins a greater man than Wilkie Collins thinks himself." I never really got this sense at any other point in the book and I don't know if that is because the woman who said this is alone in this belief or that Lycett has been glossing over this behavior. 
  • Wilkie becomes friends with a guy due to a shared "interest in mildly pornographic pictures of women". Of course.
  • The book says Wilkie visited "Oneida, a community in Connecticut." Except Oneida is in New York. NOW this community, which practiced their own communal sex beliefs and rituals that Wilkie was down with (including pantagamy), had a few off-shoots, including a group in Wallingford, Connecticut. This is where it seems that Wilkie actually went. So yeah, minor error, BUT STILL.*
  • Wilkie makes the hero in one of his short stories a Roman Catholic, prompting Lycett to declare that it "shows that Wilkie was not always prejudiced in matters of religion." Which, let's be honest, is pretty much the equivalent of someone saying they're not racist cos they have a black friend. 
  • Throughout his life Wilkie talks about how much he HAAAAATES the institution of marriage and will not consider it at all and wants to live his bachelor life while having his two mistresses. Then he apparently starts calling some little girl "Mrs Collins" and looks forward to a "conjugal embrace" with the girl. And WTF?? Lycett says my reaction is me just taking this the wrong way and there was nothing weird about this and the girl's mother was included in the exchanges (which, does that mean there was a Victorian version of CC-ing someone?).
  • Wilkie says he thinks "the back view of a finely-formed woman the loveliest view...The line of beauty in those quarters enchants me, when it is not overladen by fat." Thanks for that "no fatties" line thrown in at the end, Wilks. 
  • Oscar Wilde had a brother named Willie. Willie Wilde. This makes me smile each time I say that name. I realize this has nothing to do with Wilkie but it comes up in the book and I didn't know this fact before so there you go.
And there we go. Wilkie's life and the lives of a lot of people around him (and around them...) I do now want to read a LOT more Wilkie so there will be many more readalongs in the future. 

*Also, fun fact, this sex commune is also the group that is responsible for the Oneida silverware.