A Life of Sensation Read-a-Long: AND WE’RE DONE.

Two days late – sorry, sorry. I’m currently going through the twin joys of moving and also moving in with somebody and, whilst we haven’t yet murdered each other, it’s been a near thing. Nothing makes you want to move in with somebody less than the actual process of moving in with somebody.

But yay! We’ve finished the book! I have to admit to a pleasant feeling that arose when I realised that a goodly chunk of this book was the bibliography, and so it took much less time than I expected when I eventually settled down to read.

So, the final check-in of Andrew Lycett’s A Life of Sensation:
(Alternate title: Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Victorian Copyright Law)
  • At one point, Wilkie took both Caroline and Martha (both his long-term mistresses) to the seaside, installed them in different houses… and then buggered off to France.
  • I do like that he made equal provision for all his children in his will, including Harriet, who was technically not even his step-daughter.
  • Martha Rudd
  • The chapter entitled ‘TWO HOUSES, TWO FAMILIES’ is a tease. It remains entirely centered on copyright law and American publishing houses and has pretty much zip to do with either Caroline or Martha.
  • For all Wilkie’s talk about Martha’s buxom-ness (buxomity? buxomitude?), she wasn’t a looker, bless her, was she? I can only assume she was fucking amazing with his Person.
  • Wilkie is some sort of Victorian Charlie Sheen, and can ‘down a tincture that… would be enough to kill a dozen people,’ which he carried around in a hip flask.
  • He had a weird relationship with a twelve year old girl, which Lycett is quick to point out was absolutely fine because her mother saw all her letters. Honestly, he’s the least impartial biographer ever. Wilkie called her ‘dearest wife’ and ‘Mrs Collins,’ and used her to ‘prattle on about his’ excellent friends Opium and Quinine… which is not the Christian name of another wife.’

  • By this point, I was sort of hoping that Wilkie would hurry up and die already. He did, many pages later, and I did genuinely feel quite sad. I think I might go visit his grave at Kensal Grave the next time I’m in London.

So here we are. Did this book need to be this long? No. Did we need a biography of everybody Wilkie Collins passed in the street? Probably not.

I’d have liked to know more about Caroline and Martha, who get very little air-time in this book and who Andrew Lycett judged pretty much constantly. Did they ever meet? Were they actually happy with the arrangement? I’d have been way more interested in this than a who’s who of Americal copyright law. 

Thank you to Alice for running this and I’m 100% up for reading another of Wilkie Collins’ novels now!


  1. Gin Jenny says:

    I too liked it that he provided for his children including Harriet. It says something about my cynicism that I expected him to like, leave all his money to his friends to buy porn with while his TWO WIVES and SEVERAL ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN starved in the streets. And I liked it that Harriet spoke well of him in later years. That's a mark in his favor, I think, even though overall I feel he needed to get his act together. God damn, Milky.

  2. Red says:

    Moving is the wooooooooooorst. The worst. So congrats on not committing murder of any kind.

    Buxomitude. HA

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