Wilkie Collins 1824 - 1889
WILKIE IN THE WOOD
Wilkie Collins lived for most of his life within easy walking distance of St John’s Wood, in and around St Marylebone. His first school was the Maida Hill Academy on the western edge of St John’s Wood. Between 1838 and 1840 he resided with his family at 20 Avenue Road (now renumbered 39). From The Memoirs of William Collins, R. A. we learn that Wilkie’s father was required “…to find a new abode. This was, after some trouble, accomplished by engaging a convenient dwelling in the Avenue Road, Regent’s Park – precisely in the quiet situation, on the outskirts of London, which Mr Collins desired to occupy.”
Collins had many friends and acquaintances in the St John’s Wood area. Douglas Jerrold, the publisher of his first recorded article, ‘The Last Stage Coachman’, lived at 15 Circus Road. Other friends resident in the area were W. P. Frith, the painter who at different times lived at 12 Park Village West and 114 Clifton Hill; Charles Fechter, the actor who played Obenreizer in No Thoroughfare and with whom Collins collaborated for Black and White. Collins wrote in his ‘Recollections of Charles Fechter’:
“There is a little villa in the northwester suburb of London, close to the eastern extremity of St John’s Wood Road, which I can never pass now without a feeling of sadness. It is the house last inhabited by Fechter in his sojourn in England. Here we feasted and laughed and revelled in some of the brightest social enjoyments that life can afford.” Collins intended to recommend Fechter’s cook to his friends, the Lehmanns, writing ” The French woman who cooked for him – one of the finest artists that ever handled a saucepan – is dismissed in disgrace. You must not think of engaging her. She has done all sorts of dreadful things. Alas! such but too frequently is the fatal gift of Genius!”
Wilkie Collins mentions St John’s Wood in the following novels:
- BASIL (1852)
- THE BITER BIT (1856) sets much of the action in St John’s Wood.
- THE WOMAN IN WHITE (1860)
- THE EVIL GENIUS (1886)
- THE FALLEN LEAVES (1879)
With grateful thanks to Andrew Gasson for allowing us to use text from the Wilkie Collins website.
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