'Man is the sport of circumstances'
1890 Chatto & Windus yellowback
Wilkie Collins's short novel was originally published in Household Words during 1856. It was republished in book form in 1879 after an invitation from George Bentley 'to take a place in his new series of pretty volumes in red.' Collins made minor changes to the text and noted in some 'Introductory Words' that it was written 'at a very happy time in my past life...at Paris, when I had Charles Dickens for a near neighbour and a daily companion.' He also revealed that he had intended, but never written, a further series of the Rogue's adventures in Australia. The theme of picture forgery, and the character of Frank Softly, were probably inspired by Memoirs of a Picture, written by Collins's grandfather, William Collins Senior. The Scotch marriage of Frank and Alicia anticipates Collins's later attack on marriage laws in Man and Wife (1870).
1900 edition by F. M. Lupton of New York
Frank Softly is a poor young gentleman whose snobbish father sends him to
boarding school to make useful connections, but without success.
He tries a variety of professions to earn his living but by the time he
is twenty-five has failed at medicine, caricaturing, portrait painting,
forging Old Masters and administering a scientific institution.
Frank then falls in love with Dr Dulcifer's daughter, Alicia, but
discovers that her father is a counterfeit coin maker.
Our likeable hero is unwillingly recruited into forging to compromise
him as a felon. At this point the
doctor considers him unsuitable as a son-in-law and sends Alicia away to
Wales. The counterfeiters are
betrayed to the Bow Street Runners but Frank escapes, finds Alicia and elopes
with her to Scotland. Immediately
after their wedding, Frank is arrested, tried and transported to Australia.
As a model prisoner he becomes servant to his own wife who has
travelled to the New World in the person of a widow.
By the time Frank is officially released, their speculations have
proved so successful that he is a rich man and a rogue no longer.
1894 edition in paper wrappers by Munro of New York
Household Words 1-29
March 1856, as 'A Rogue's Life: Written by Himself'.
1 volume, Richard Bentley, London 1879.
Red flexible cloth, covers blocked in black, spine lettered in gilt,
black end-papers. No half-title.
Published 7 April 1879. Number
7 in Bentley's Empire Library, a half-crown series with a mixture of fiction and
iv + 188 pp
1 v olume editions
Chatto & Windus 1889-1903. Sutton,
First US edition
Appleton's New Handy-Volume Series, New York 1879.
Spanish, New York 1892, 1897.
All material in these pages is © copyright Andrew Gasson 1998-2010