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Mutual Friends: The Adventures of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins
Charles Dickens was a man of many friendships and, like his close friend and biographer John Forster, had the gift of surrounding himself with a vibrant circle of authors, artists, playwrights and performers. On 12 March 1851, at Forster’s house, Charles was introduced to a young man who would become one of the most significant friends of his adult life – the writer, Wilkie Collins.
Wilkie Collins is most often remembered as the inventor of detective fiction with The Moonstone and for his ‘sensation’ novels, such as The Woman in White. But many people are unaware of his friendship and collaboration with the most famous of Victorian writers, Charles Dickens.
Charles and Wilkie met as actors, invited by mutual friend Augustus Egg to take part in an amateur production of Not So Bad As We Seem by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, with Wilkie playing the butler to Charles’s Lord. But soon they would become not just fellow performers but also co-writers, collaborators and the best of friends
After their initial meeting, Charles and Wilkie became fast friends and over the next 20 years spent time doing many things we recognise today in our own friendships – walking, talking, eating and drinking together as well as celebrating birthdays, sharing secrets, and sometimes arguing. In Charles, Wilkie found an alternative to his strict father. In Wilkie, Charles found a playful companion.
Whilst the pair seem to have drifted apart in the last couple of years of Charles’s life, they continued to write to each other and the last recorded note from Charles to Wilkie is in January 1870, the year he died, ending with a poignant ‘I don't come to see you because I don't want to bother you. Perhaps you may be glad to see me by-and-bye. Who knows?’