“Silence is safe.”
The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins


English novelist, William Wilkie Collins was born in 1824 in London. He started inventing stories when he was still a young boy at boarding school. In 1851 he was introduced to the writer Charles Dickens and the two immediately became great friends and often worked together. Collins helped Dickens to create complex plots with more suspense and Dickens helped Collins to develop the characters in his stories. Although Collins is known for his detective fiction and gothic tales, like his friend, he also wrote about the hypocrisy and injustice of Victorian society. He also believed in female equality and created some very strong, unconventional heroines in his stories.

Collins’ first major novel, The Woman in White, was published in weekly instalments in 1860. It was a tale of mistaken identity, madness and murder and although critics hated it, it became an overnight success with readers thanks to its suspense and intrigue. It was so popular that, for the first time, merchandising was produced: shops started to sell products mentioned in the story and people named their children and pets after the main characters! During his lifetime, Collins was one of the best known and best paid of all Victorian writers.

Illustration by Paolo D’Altan, taken from The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, Reading and Training, Step 4 (B2.1)