“Let us have a new fictitious literature, in which not only the Bores shall be women, but the villains too. Look at Shakespeare – do, pray, look at Shakespeare. Who is most in fault, in that shocking business of the murder of King Duncan? Lady Macbeth, to be sure! Look at King Lear, with a small family of only three daughters, and two of the three, wretches, and even the third an aggravating girl, who can’t be commonly civil to her own father in the first Act, out of sheer contradiction, because her elder sisters happen to have been civil before her! Ah! Shakespeare was a great man, and he knew our sex, and was not afraid to show he knew it. What a blessing it would be, if some of his literary brethren, in modern times, could muster courage enough to follow his example!”
Wilkie Collins, pretending here to write as a women in a piece he subtitled ‘A Shockingly Rude Article’, shows that he is nowadays underrated as a satirist and comic writer. There are laughs for sure in ‘The Moonstone’ and ‘The Woman in White’ but laughs are harder to find in many of his other novels, which are darker – as was his life, of course; being increasingly racked with pain and stuffed with laudanum didn’t help. His essays are seldom read now. Essays by Dickens – even Thackeray perhaps – are still read and, good as they are, they are no funnier than those by Collins. All three writers wrote ‘squibs’ for magazines and journals – Punch employed the very best writers – and, in the case of Collins, perhaps the easiest way to get a taste is to dip into one of his two collections entitled ‘My Miscellanies’. He may not have given women a chance in his ‘Shockingly Rude Article’ but that’s no reason for us not to give him one.