WILKIE COLLINS'S FAMILY
Collins's mother, born Harriet Geddes on 27 July 1890 at Hagley,
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.
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.
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.
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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