The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

All the way back in 2012, I migrated from Blogger to WP. In that time, I’ve had multiple blogs, with differing themes, I’ve been self-hosted and I’ve used free sites, and I’ve been generally unable to commit to anything. I’ve decided at this point that I want all of my bookish content to live in one place. So, over the next several months, I’ll be republishing posts that have long been published on other blogs, adding reviews to my review index, and then eventually deleting those old posts & blogs for good.

I’m starting with my first classics club project – the OG of reading projects for me – which ran from 2012 through 2015.

The Woman in WhiteThe Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Publication Date: November 26, 1859
Pages: 672
Genre: classic
Project: classics club round 1

'In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop... There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white'

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright's eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his 'charming' friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

Matthew Sweet's introduction explores the phenomenon of Victorian 'sensation' fiction, and discusses Wilkie Collins's biographical and societal influences. Included in this edition are appendices on theatrical adaptations of the novel and its serialisation history

This is my second Wilkie Collins, although he wrote and published this book before The Moonstone. The Woman in White is described as a Victorian “sensation” novel, and was written with many twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. It shared the same narrative technique as The Moonstone – that of alternating first person narratives written and provided by different characters. In this book, as in The Moonstone, there was a central female character – Laura Fairlie here, Rachel Verinder in The Moonstone – from whom the reader never directly hears.

I love the alternating narrative format. It provides the reader with excellent insight into what happened through the eyes of the different characters. In this book, my favorite character, by far, was Marian Halcombe, a woman who lacks many of the desirable characteristics of Victorian womanhood. I was surprised by Walter Hartright. I expected a certain type of weak male character, and, instead, was impressed with his fortitude, resilience and intellect.

As in The Moonstone, the female heroine is disappointing. Lady Laurie Fairley is not merely weak, she is also weak-minded and childlike. Her resemblance to the harrowed Anne Catherick ends up being much greater than I would have supposed. She lacked the core of strength that I would have liked to see in a book of this sort.

Nonetheless, this book does entertain. It is swift moving, despite it’s length of over 600 pages, and fairly action packed. Collins strove to keep his readership off balance, and I believe that he succeeded. There are several events throughout the course of the book that do surprise the reader.

There are foreshadowings in this book of many different modern tropes, including: the investigation by the private individual where the public investigators fail. I don’t want to spoil the book for any prospective readers, because this is the sort of book that should be read without spoilers. Overall, though, I very much enjoyed the book, particularly Marian’s character. Collins may not have intended for her to be the books true heroine, but in my opinion, that is exactly what she was.

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