Charles Reade was born three years earlier than Collins, on June 8, 1814, near Ipsden, Oxfordshire, England, and he died five years before him, on April 11, 1884, in London. The Encyclopaedia Britannica online describes him as

English author whose novels expose, with passionate indignation, the social injustices of his times. His greatest work, however, The Cloister and the Hearth (1861), a brilliant historical romance, relates the adventures of the father of Erasmus.

As a young man Reade was an active partner in a Soho violin business and was himself a fair performer on that instrument. In 1843 he was called to the bar but never practiced law. In 1851 Reade became vice president of Magdalen College, Oxford, but treated the position as a sinecure. A loyal friend of Reade's, Laura Seymour, an actress, became his housekeeper from 1856 until her death in 1879.

Although Reade spent a great deal of time and money in writing and staging plays (he wrote 40), they are crippled by crude characterizations and melodrama. Reade's 14 novels reveal his humanitarianism and concern with social issues. It Is Never Too Late to Mend (1856) attacked conditions in prisons, and Hard Cash (1863) exposed the ill-treatment of mental patients, especially in private asylums; Put Yourself in His Place (1870) dealt with the terrorist activities of trade unionists; and the melodramatic Foul Play (1868), written with Dion Boucicault, revealed the frauds of "coffin ships" and helped to sway public opinion in favour of the safety measures proposed later by Samuel Plimsoll. —

According to Catherine Peters, many people refused to believe that Laura Seymour and Charles Reade's relationship was purely business. "George Smith would not have Reade to his house, because of the irregularity of his life [Reade had an illegitimate son by an earlier liaison], and also refused to entertain George Eliot. But Wilkie was accepted, probably because he was prepared to leave Caroline [Graves, his mistress] at home, while Reade and Eliot insisted on having their partners recognized" (281). An old friend of Wilkie's, Reade was the inventor of 'Fiction with a Purpose' (generally, social reform), advised and took advice from Wilkie on his fiction, and with Wilkie campaigned for improvements in the copyright laws.


Peters, Catherine. The King of the Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins. London: Minerva, 1991.

Last modified 20 November 2000