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WHEN I first saw him, he was lost in one of the Dead Cities of England—situated on the South Coast, and called Sandwich.
Shall I describe Sandwich? I think not. Let us own the truth; descriptions of places, however nicely they may be written, are always more or less dull. Being a woman, I naturally hate dullness. Perhaps some description of Sandwich may drop out, as it were, from my report of our conversation when we first met as strangers in the street.

He began irritably. “I’ve lost myself,” he said.

“People who don’t know the town often do that,” I remarked.

He went on: “Which is my way to the Fleur de Lys Inn?”

His way was, in the first place, to retrace his steps. Then to turn to the left. Then to go on until he found two streets meeting. Then to take the street on the right. Then to look out for the second turning on the left. Then to follow the turning until he smelled stables—and there was the inn. I put it in the clearest manner, and never stumbled over a word.

“How the devil am I to remember all that?” he said.

This was rude. We are naturally and properly indignant with any man who is rude to us. But whether we turn our backs on him in contempt, or whether we are merciful and give him a lesson in politeness, depends entirely on the man. He may be a bear, but he may also have his redeeming qualities. This man had redeeming qualities. I cannot positively say that he was either handsome or ugly, young or old, well or ill dressed. But I can speak with certainty to the personal attractions which recommended him to notice.

For instance, the tone of his voice was persuasive. (Did you ever read a story, written by one of us, in which we failed to dwell on our hero’s voice?) Then, again, his hair was reasonably long. (Are you acquainted with any woman who can endure a man with a cropped head?) Moreover, he was of a good height. (It must be a very tall woman who can feel favorably inclined toward a short man.) Lastly, although his eyes were not more than fairly presentable in form and color, the wretch had in some unaccountable manner become possessed of beautiful eyelashes. They were even better eyelashes than mine. I write quite seriously. There is one woman who is above the common weakness of vanity—and she holds the present pen.

So I gave my lost stranger a lesson in politeness. The lesson took the form of a trap. I asked him if he would like me to show him the way to the inn. He was still annoyed at losing himself. As I had anticipated, he bluntly answered: “Yes.”

“When you were a boy, and you wanted something,” I said, “did your mother teach you to say ‘Please’?”

Wilkie Collins, ‘Miss Morris & the Stranger’ (1881).

Yesterday, while sorting through some of the free e-books that I have been greedily busy accumulating for quite some time in my e-reader, I came across a collection of short stories entitled ‘Little Novels’ by Wilkie Collins. This is a collection of fourteen short stories which revolve around the theme of love and marriage, frequently across the social barriers of class and money. I remember reading one of the stories ‘Mr. Lismore and the Widow’ sometime last year and had quite enjoyed it but then had set the rest aside (probably in favour of some other books that were calling out louder for attention at that time!), until yesterday. Reading the teaser above reminded me once again of how I much I enjoy reading Collins, and why there’s absolutely no reason I should wait any longer before diving right back into his books.

I just love his wit and writing style, ever since having first tasted of it in ‘No Name’, one of my favourite reads ever!
And if you have yet to be acquainted with Collins yourself, I would strongly urge you to. He is definitely worth it. 🙂

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12 thoughts on “In which I’m reminded that I need to read more Wilkie Collins……

  1. I’ve just downloaded the short story collection, because you make it sound so wonderful, and I like this extract. I love The Moonstone, and The Woman in White, but I’ve never read anything else of his,

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    1. This does seem like a very promising collection, so I do hope you will really like it, too. I am listening to the audiobook for The Moonstone, but so far am still more impressed with No Name. Am looking forward to The Woman in White, though. 🙂

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  2. I *love* Wilkie Collins. For a while I was reading at least one of his books every year, but I admit I got overwhelmed by No Name–I think I will need to go back and start it from the beginning now. Maybe I should pick up a shorter book or some of his short stories, which I have never tried. Isn’t he marvelous??

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    1. Great to see you here, Danielle! 🙂 I have been meaning to drop you a mail, to say that I have been having trouble leaving comments on Typepad for the past one month or so. Been wanting to comment on your blog but have not been able to do so (on all my devices). Would you know what the problem might be?
      Yes, Wilkie Collins is marvelous, and you certainly must give No Name (as well as his short stories) another try. 🙂

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  3. I love Collins, but I’m not a great lover of short stories. Perhaps I should try and use my affection for the one to entice me into the other.

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  4. I’ve loved Wilkie Collins ever since I first discovered him when I was still at school, but I’ve never come across this one. I shall be investigating.

    And I do hope ‘Rambles beyond Railways’, his account of his walking tour through Cornwall, is among your accumulation of e-books. My expecations were high – a beloved author in my part of the world – and they were more than met.

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    1. I do regret that I had not discovered Wilkie Collins earlier in life. As it is, I now have a lot of catching up to do! And do it I will, with much pleasure. 🙂
      Yes, I did manage to have the ‘Rambles beyond Railways’ stored away safely in my ‘virtual’ pile of e-books. Am happy to know that it’s going to be another treat, waiting to be savoured.

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  5. I’ve read The Moonstone and The Woman in White and loved them both. I have No Name on my stack to read this year. I tend to read Wilkie Collins in the summer, perhaps because it seems like I have more time to devote to reading in a relaxed fashion, and to immerse myself in his writing. Hey, summer’s just around the corner–I think I’ll be picking up No Name sooner rather than later.

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    1. I have been listening to the audiobook for The Moonstone lately and though I do find it enjoyable, I still think I prefer No Name. Have yet to read ‘The Woman in White’ and am looking forward to it, as many would consider it his best work. But somehow, I have a sneaky feeling that ‘No Name’ would still remain as my favourite Collins. 😉

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