William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) was an English novelist, playwright, and author of short stories. He was hugely popular during the Victorian era and wrote 30 novels, more than 60 short stories, 14 plays, and over 100 pieces of non-fiction work. His best-known works are The Woman in White, The Moonstone, Armadale and No Name.
Collins was born in London, the son of a well-known Royal Academician landscape artist, William Collins. Named after his father, he swiftly became known by his second name (which honoured his godfather, David Wilkie). From the ages of 12-15 he lived with his parents in Italy, which made a great impression on him. At the age of 17 he left school and was apprenticed as a clerk to a firm of tea merchants, but after five unhappy years, during which he wrote his first novel, Iolani, he entered Lincoln's Inn to study law. (Iolani remained unpublished for over 150 years until 1999.) After his father's death in 1847, Collins produced his first published book, Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R.A. (1848), and also considered a career in painting, exhibiting a picture at the Royal Academy summer exhibition in 1849, but it was with the release of his first published novel, Antonina, in 1850 that his career as a writer began in earnest.
An instrumental event in Collins' career occurred in March 1851 when he was introduced to Charles Dickens by a mutual friend, Augustus Egg. They became lifelong friends and collaborators. Collins became an editor of Dickens' Household Words, several of Collins' novels were serialized in Dickens' weekly publication All the Year Round, and Dickens later edited and published them himself. Collins' younger brother Charles Allston Collins married Dickens' younger daughter Kate. Collins also advised Dickens's sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth, when she was editing The Letters of Charles Dickens from 1833 to 1870 (published in 1880) with Dickens's daughter Mary Angela Dickens.
Collins suffered from a form of arthritis known as "rheumatic gout" and became severely addicted to the opium that he took (in the form of laudanum) to relieve the pain. As a result he experienced paranoid delusions, the most notable being his conviction that he was constantly accompanied by a subjective doppelgänger he dubbed 'Ghost Wilkie'. His novel The Moonstone prominently features the effects of opium and opium addiction.
Collins never married, but lived, on and off from 1858, with a widow, Mrs. Caroline Graves, and her daughter, Elizabeth (whom Collins called "Carrie"). He also fathered three children by another woman, Martha Rudd (Marian on 4 July 1869, Harriet on 14 May 1871 and William Charles on 25 December 1874), whom he met after Mrs. Graves left him to marry Joseph Charles Clow on 29 October 1868. Mrs. Graves returned to Collins after two years, and he continued both relationships until his death in 1889.
He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, West London. His grave notes him as the author of The Woman in White. Grave Number 31754, Square 141, Row 1.