Wilkie Collins was an English novelist who critics often credit with the invention of the English detective novel. Sergeant Cuff from Collins's novel The Moonstone became a prototype of the detective hero in English fiction. Collins's works center on mainstream Victorian domestic life. Collins liked to tackle social issues, and many of his novels contain sympathetic portraits of physically abnormal individuals. In addition to Moonstone, he is well known for his popular suspense thriller The Woman in White, No Name, and Armadale.
Collins was born in London in 1824 to William Collins, a well-known landscape painter, and Harriet Collins, the daughter of a painter. Despite a secure home, he was a small, sickly child and had a slightly deformed skull. He was educated privately and studied painting for several years. He later studied law and became a lawyer at the age of twenty-seven. Collins never practiced law, but he did put his legal knowledge to work in his crime writing.
In 1851, Collins met his lifelong friend and mentor Charles Dickens while they were pursuing a mutual interest in amateur theater. Dickens helped Collins bring humor and believable characters into his books.The two women in Collins's life—Caroline Graves, his life-long companion, and Mrs. Martha Rudd, his mistress—also greatly influenced his writing.
During the 1860s, Collins started to suffer severely from rheumatic pains and became addicted to laudanum, a form of opium. The death of Dickens in 1870 robbed him of his powerful inspiration, and his popularity declined. In 1873, he met Mark Twain and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on a trip to the United States. Soon thereafter he wrote The Evil Genius, which was published in 1886. Collins died from a stroke on September 23, 1889.