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Wilkie Collins's mother, born Harriet Geddes on 27 July 1890 at Hagley, Worcestershire.  She was the eldest child of Lieutenant Alexander Geddes and his wife Harriet (Easton) and brought up in genteel poverty at Shute End House, Alderbury, three miles south-east of Salisbury.  When her father lost what remained of his inheritance, Harriet intended to become an actress and almost accepted an offer of employment from the manager of the Theatre Royal, Bath.  She was instead persuaded to become a governess, teaching first at a school run by a French emigree in London and later in a number of private households in England and Scotland.  Her last position was with the May family, of Hale Park, Hampshire.


Harriet met William Collins through her sister, Margaret Carpenter, at an artists' ball in London during 1814.  They were immediately attracted to each other, but he was in no position to marry and she had no fortune.  Eight years later, when William was in Edinburgh recording the visit to Scotland of King George IV, Harriet joined him and they were married there on 18 September 1822, against the wishes of his widowed mother.  She relented, however, and on their return they joined Margaret and Francis Collins at 11 New Cavendish Street, where their first son William Wilkie Collins was born in 1824.


Harriet Collins was a devoted wife and mother whose strong personality, at first subordinated to the needs of her husband and two sons, broke free in the long years of her widowhood between 1848 and her death twenty years later.  In 1853 she wrote a lively, lightly fictionalized account of her early life, up to the time of her marriage. 


Wilkie and and his brother Charles Collins were devoted to Harriet, as were their friends like Millais and Holman Hunt, to some of whom she became almost a second mother.  She kept house for both sons until 1858 and then just for Charles until his marriage in 1860.  Harriet retired to Tunbridge Wells where she lived at various addresses, always keeping a room for Wilkie.  She died at Bentham Hill Cottage, Southborough, on 19 March 1868.  Wilkie, struggling to write The Moonstone while suffering from the worst attack of rheumatic gout he had ever endured, was too ill to visit during her last weeks.  Unable to attend her funeral, he was represented by Holman Hunt.  Wilkie described Harriet's death as the bitterest affliction of his life.



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