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The Victorian English novelist Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, sadly from birth Wilkie did not enjoy good health, he was a fragile child who had been born with a skull deformation.
During his late teens Wilkie tried his hand at fictitious writing and this culminated in his first tale `The Last stagecoach man` being printed in 1843.
At the age of 27 Collins forged a firm friendship with Charles Dickens, they had common interests which included a love of writing and amateur dramatics.
Dickens was the main motivation for Collins who in 1856 joined the team who wrote Dickens Household Works, a middle class weekly magazine that stood behind the working classes.
Collins wrote numerous novels and on the death of his Father he wrote `Memoirs of the Life of William Collins`, ( Wilkie's father was a popular landscape painter and a member of the Royal Academy )
Wilkie Collins wrote drama and short stories too, he had the ability to create a good wordy atmosphere. Collins particularly enjoyed writing cloak and dagger and thrived on settling family scores. Incarceration, medication and embezzled legacies were also some of Wilkie Collins favoured themes.
The Moonstone (1868 ) and The Woman in White (1860) are more than likely two of his most well read novels.
A Rogue's Life by Wilkie Collins was originally included in Dickens's Household Words, but later Collins added a few words and wrote an introductory passage and it was put into print as a small book.
Wilkie Collins was fond of `The Rogue` and apparently intimated that he would be writing a follow up but sadly this idea never got off of the ground.
The story centres around the life of young Frank Softly. Young Frank sees himself as head and shoulders above others and this puts him at a disadvantage.
Franks father decides that a spell at boarding school would put him on the right track, he would mix with the right sort of people and rub the right shoulders.
But those plans go awry, Frank leaves the boarding school and puts his iron into a few different fires to earn himself a decent living. Frank has a short spell overseeing a scientific academy, he tries his hand at medicine, then forgery seems an easy option and he also tries to fall back on his artistic talent, all of these ventures fail miserably.
At that point Alicia walks into Franks life, she is the daughter of Dr Dulcifer who is believe it or not involved in a pursuit that is illegal.
By that time it is too late, Frank is head over heels in love with Alicia and he is also deeply in cahoots with her Father. Alicia's Father then turns the tables and decides that Frank is not suitable `husband` material and in his wisdom he decides to send Alicia away.
The illicit business goes awry and that in turn involves The Bow Street Runners being involved.
But will Frank and Alicia be parted for good or will it all come good in the end ?
Wilkie Collins is typical of his era, he writes very like his friend Dickens, the wording is Victorian and polite to the extreme.
A dinner at home then consisted of soup, lobster with turbot sauce, mutton, tongue and boiled fowl, curry and oyster patties, duck followed by tartlets and cream, cabinet pudding or jelly.
Frank Softly was young and arrogant, he considered himself to be good looking and clever though his sins found him out more than once.
When Frank finds himself in debt and imprisoned his first thoughts are :-
Well! And what of that ? Who am I that I should object to being in prison, when so many of the Royal personages and illustrious characters of history have been there before me?
Frank then decides that his family are now well settled and comfortably off and that he can earn himself a living from within the confines of the prison walls and he asks the jailer to forward a letter to his publisher.
Please advertise a series of twelve racy prints, from my fertile pencil, entitled, `Scenes of Modern Prison Life`. By Thersites Junior.
The first two designs will be ready by the end of the week, to be paid for on delivery, according to the terms settled between us for my previous publications of the same size.
With great regard and esteem, faithfully yours,
Modern prison life? In the 1800s ! The racy prints that Frank intended to pen cannot surely have been very `racy` by todays standards and how often do you ever see a letter that ends `With great regard and esteem`. How very different life is today.
Wilkie Collins has introduced Frank Softly and has managed to portray his character well, Frank is conveyed as an arrogant but rather loveable rogue.
Frank is far too confident for his own good and his `Jack of all trades but Master of none` attitude casts him in a narcissistic light.
The book is easy reading although the wording is quite quaint, the storyline is interesting though not gripping and you do feel the need to find out what eventually happens to Frank. I would class it as a leisurely read, by todays standards it is very tame. But it is a classic story from a classic writer and one that should not be bypassed.
When Wilkie Collins rewrote some of the story so that it could be published in book form he described it as being a melancholy task that he hoped would bring cheer to others.
A Rogue's Life is available for around £6 on the Amazon website.
ISBN - 10 1406583014
ISBN - 13 -1406583014
Propelled into society by his ever-hopeful father, Frank Softly is introduced to a variety of professions in order to make his fortune. Not industrious by nature, however, Frank finds working life something of a challenge, and by his twenty-fifth birthday, he has failed at medicine, portrait painting, caricaturing and even forgery. Disenchanted with life, he despairs of ever finding something to commit to until he meets Alicia Dulcifer and her inexplicably wealthy father.