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William 'Wilkie' Collins (b.1824) was the son of a painter, and godchild of the painter Sir David Wilkie. After his family's years in Italy (1836-8) he went to school in Highbury, worked as a clerk and read for the bar. A gregarious and popular man, he was a close friend of Dickens and knew George Eliot, Millais, Holman Hunt, Augustus Egg and other writers and painters. His 'constant companion' was Caroline Graves, while the mother of his three children was Martha Rudd: he married neither but remained devoted to both. His first (and only historical novel) was followed by Basil, a rather poorly-received novel about sexual obsession. In the 1860s he published his most popular books, The Woman in White, Armadale and The Moonstone; The New Magdalen came out in 1873, at the same time that a play of the same name had a very successful run both in London and abroad. Several more plays, short stories and a dozen novels followed. Wilkie Collins, who had long suffered from ill health, died in 1889.