A Rogue's Life

Overview

I AM going to try if I can't write something about myself. My life has been rather a strange one. It may not seem particularly useful or respectable; but it has been, in some respects, adventurous; and that may give it claims to be read, even in the most prejudiced circles. I am an example of some of the workings of the social system of this illustrious country on the individual native, during the early part of the present century; and, if I may say so without unbecoming vanity,...
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A Rogue's Life

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Overview

I AM going to try if I can't write something about myself. My life has been rather a strange one. It may not seem particularly useful or respectable; but it has been, in some respects, adventurous; and that may give it claims to be read, even in the most prejudiced circles. I am an example of some of the workings of the social system of this illustrious country on the individual native, during the early part of the present century; and, if I may say so without unbecoming vanity, I should like to quote myself for the edification of my countrymen.
Who am I.
I am remarkably well connected, I can tell you. I came into this world with the great advantage of having Lady Malkinshaw for a grandmother, her ladyship's daughter for a mother, and Francis James Softly, Esq., M. D. (commonly called Doctor Softly), for a father. I put my father last, because he was not so well connected as my mother, and my grandmother first, because she was the most nobly-born person of the three. I have been, am still, and may continue to be, a Rogue; but I hope I am not abandoned enough yet to forget the respect that is due to rank. On this account, I trust, nobody will show such want of regard for my feelings as to expect me to say much about my mother's brother. That inhuman person committed an outrage on his family by making a fortune in the soap and candle trade. I apologize for mentioning him, even in an accidental way. The fact is, he left my sister, Annabella, a legacy of rather a peculiar kind, saddled with certain conditions which indirectly affected me; but this passage of family history need not be produced just yet. I apologize a second time for alluding to money matters before it was absolutely necessary. Let me get back to a pleasing and reputable subject, by saying a word or two more about my father.
I am rather afraid that Doctor Softly was not a clever medical man; for in spite of his great connections, he did not get a very magnificent practice as a physician.

Frank Softly fell in love with the daughter of a counterfeiter. She was the beautiful Alicia, Dr. Dulcifer's daughter. Before he could stop it he'd somehow gotten mixed up in the forgery himself.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A calculating antihero charms his way to wedded bliss and prosperity in this early (1856) novella from the lively pen of the great Victorian melodramatist. Frank Softly, black-sheep son of a hardworking physician (and, in Frank's own words, "probably the most impudent man of my age in all England"), fails to follow his father's professional example, but earns "pocket money" as a caricaturist ("Thersites Junior")-not enough, as he's imprisoned for debt-before turning to portrait painting, then art forgery. During Frank's disgraceful young adulthood, he's banished from his family but given a kind of reprieve contingent on his ability to outlive his grandmother Lady Malkinshaw, an alarmingly hale and hearty beldame who survives more perils and pratfalls than Buster Keaton in his heyday. Repeatedly given employment for which he's spectacularly unqualified, Frank becomes secretary of the snooty Duskydale Institution (of science and literature), where he continues to underachieve, before meeting renegade "chemist" Dr. Dulcifer and his splendiferous daughter Alicia, with whom the rogue is instantly, irretrievably smitten. There is, of course, a mystery surrounding the Dulcifers, and when Frank gains entry to their country estate, he becomes unwittingly involved in the sinister doings of the Bad Doctor (who may be thought of as an early version of The Woman in White's villain par excellence Count Fosco). Collins's genius for clockwork plotting is happily wedded to Frank Softly's racy, urbanely egomaniacal voice, as the Bow Street Runners descend on the Dulcifer domicile, Frank loses and regains Alicia with head-spinning rapidity, and the tale's presumably unhappy denouement in fact metamorphosesinto confirmation of Frank's conviction (so to speak): "Nothing will ever persuade me that Society has not a sneaking kindness for a Rogue."A neglected gem: one of Collins's most enticing fictions, and one of Hesperus Press's happiest rediscoveries.
From the Publisher
"A neglected gem: one of Collins's most enticing fictions, and one of Hesperus Press's happiest rediscoveries."  —Kirkus Reviews
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592244782
  • Publisher: Wildside Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2003
  • Pages: 184
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Wilkie Collins
Wilkie Collins
If you think Victorian literature is quaint, you haven’t read anything by Wilkie Collins. Often considered the father of the English detective novel, Collins has thrilled readers with suspenseful gothic tales such as The Woman in White and The Moonstone.

Biography

Wilkie Collins has long been overshadowed by his friend and collaborator Charles Dickens -- unfortunately for readers who have consequently not discovered one of literature's most compelling writers. His novels are ceremonious and none too brief; they are also irresistible. Take the opening lines of his 1852 story of marital deceit, Basil: "What am I now about to write? The history of little more than the events of one year, out of the twenty-four years of my life. Why do I undertake such an employment as this? Perhaps, because I think that my narrative may do good; because I hope that, one day, it may be put to some warning use." It's a typical Collins opening, one that draws the reader in with a tone that's personal, but carries formality and import.

With his long, frizzy black beard and wide, sloping forehead, Collins looked like a grandfatherly type, even in his 30s. But his thinking and lifestyle were unconventional, even a bit ahead of his time. His characters (particularly the women) have a Henry James–like predilection for bucking social mores, and he occasionally found his work under attack by morality-mongers. Collins was well aware of his books' potential to offend certain Victorian sensibilities, and there is evidence in some of his writings that he was prepared for it, if not welcoming of it. He writes in the preface to Armadale, his 1866 novel about a father's deathbed murder confession, "Estimated by the clap-trap morality of the present day, this may be a very daring book. Judged by the Christian morality which is of all time, it is only a book that is daring enough to speak the truth."

Collins began his career by writing his painter father's biography. He gained popularity when he began publishing stories and serialized novels in Dickens's publications, Household Words and All the Year Round. His best-known works are The Woman in White and The Moonstone, both of which -- along with Basil -- have been made into films.

Collins often alludes to fantastic, supernatural happenings in his stories; the events themselves are usually borne out by reasonable explanations. What remains are the electrifying effects one human being can have upon another, for better and for worse. His main characters are often described in terms such as "remarkable," "extraordinary," and "singular," lending their actions -- and thereby the story -- a special urgency. In one of his great successes, 1860's The Woman in White, Collins spins what is basically a magnificent con story into something almost ghostly: The fates of two look-alike women -- a beautiful, well-off woman and a poor insane-asylum escapee -- are intertwined and manipulated by two evil men. One of those is among the best fictional villains ever created, the kill-‘em-with-kindness Count Fosco. Fosco is emblematic of another Collins hallmark -- antagonists who manage to throw their victims off guard by some powerful charm of personality or appearance.

The Moonstone, published in 1868, is regarded by many to be the first English detective novel. Starring the unassuming Sergeant Cuff, it follows the trail of a sought-after yellow diamond from India that has fallen into the wrong hands. Like The Woman in White, the novel is told in multiple first person narratives that display Collins's gift for distinctive and often humorous voices. Whether it is servants, foreigners, or the wealthy, Collins is an equal-opportunity satirist who quietly but deftly pokes fun at human foibles even as he draws nuanced, memorable characters.

Though The Woman in White and The Moonstone are Collins's standouts, he had a productive, consistent career; the novels Armadale, No Name and Poor Miss Finch are worthwhile reads, and his short stories will particularly appeal to Edgar Allan Poe fans. Fortunately in the case of this underappreciated writer, there are plenty of titles to appreciate.

Good To Know

Collins studied law, and though he never practiced as a lawyer, his knowledge of the subject is evident in his fiction. He also apprenticed with a tea merchant in his pre-publication years.

He was addicted to laudanum, a form of opium that he used to treat his pain from rheumatic gout.

Collins never married, but he had a long-term live-in relationship with one woman, and a second romance that produced three children.

He is named after popular artist Sir David Wilkie; both his parents were painters who counted Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth among their friends.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William Wilkie Collins (full name)
      Wilkie Collins
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 8, 1824
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Date of Death:
      September 23, 1889
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England

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