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The inspiration for the novel arose from a fateful meeting, as described by J. G. Millais, the son of pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais…

“One night in the ’50s (John Everett) Millais was returning home to 83 Gower Street from one of the many parties held under Mrs Collins’s hospitable roof in Hanover Terrace, and, in accordance with the usual practice of the two brothers, Wilkie and Charles (Collins), they accompanied him on his homeward walk through the dimly-lit, and in those days semi-rural, roads and lanes of North London.

It was a beautiful moonlight night in the summer time and as the three friends walked along chatting gaily together, they were suddenly arrested by a piercing scream coming from the garden of a villa close at hand. It was evidently the cry of a woman in distress; and while pausing to consider what they should do, the iron gate leading to the garden was dashed open, and from it came the figure of a young and very beautiful woman dressed in flowing white robes that shone in the moonlight. She seemed to float rather than run in their direction, and, on coming up to the three men, she paused for a moment in an attitude of supplication and terror. Then, suddenly seeming to recollect herself, she suddenly moved on and vanished in the shadows cast upon the road. “What a lovely woman!” was all Millais could say. “I must see who she is, and what is the matter,’ said Wilkie Collins, as, without a word he dashed off after her.

His two companions waited in vain for his return, and the next day, when they met again, he seemed indisposed to talk of his adventure. They gathered from him, however, that he had caught up with the lovely fugitive and had heard from her own lips the history of her life and the cause of her sudden flight. She was a young lady of good birth and position, who had accidentally fallen into the hands of a man living in a villa in Regent’s Park. There for many months he kept her prisoner under threats and mesmeric influence of so alarming a character that she dared not attempt to escape, until, in sheer desperation, she fled from the brute, who, with a poker in his hand, threatened to dash her brains out. Her subsequent history, interesting as it is, is not for these pages.”

J.G Millais, The Life and Letters of John Everett Millais (London, 1899) 278-9.

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