Our guest speaker at the April meeting was Margaret Mills who gave a fascinating talk on Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon- two late Victorian popular writers. Both lived unconventional lives hence the title of Margaret’s talk. Both lived at a time when there was a ‘literacy explosion’ and although Universal education was far in the future, people sought novels, magazines and periodicals to develop their literacy skills.
Mary Braddon was born into a seemingly conventional middle-class family but her father fled the country to avoid debtors prison and never returned. To help the family income Mary became a child actress but later turned to writing short stories and travelogues for the growing magazine and periodicals market. Her income quickly exceeded that of an actress and enabled her to produce and edit two magazines, the “Belgravia” and “Temple Bar”. With her growing reputation and financial independence, Mary turned to writing novels and produced some 70 in her lifetime. Some remain in print, and her most well-known work Lady Audley’s Secret has been filmed.
The skeleton Margaret refers to is that Mary lived with a married man and produced six children whilst classed as a housekeeper, and the death of her lover’s wife eventually freed them to regularise the arrangement!
Wilkie Collins was part of a somewhat bohemian family. His father was an artist and the family spent time in Italy and France where Wilkie became fluent in both languages. He tried accountancy and the law then started writing short stories and articles. His friendship with Charles Dickens cemented his place in the literary world and he is credited as writing the first crime novel The Moonstone, which remains in print to this day.
His other most well-known work is The Woman in White which is currently being serialised on BBC One.
Collins didn’t marry, he lived with two consecutive lovers and fathered three children, and his addiction to Laudanum led to a decline in his health and his work.
Our speaker on May 4th will be Nick R Thomas talking about The One and Only Groucho Marx!