88 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 1999
Wonderfully entertaining stuff - this is essentially a pre-television soap opera, much like the novels of Dickens or George Eliot.
The essentials of the story are as follows: our hero is a young painter hired as tutor to a young heiress. The lady in question is remarkably pretty, innocent, sweet-tempered (etc etc) and inevitably our hero falls for her hook, line & sinker. Needless to say the path of true love doesn't run smoothly and not only are they separated, but the heiress is subject to the wicked plots of marvellously nefarious villains.
Sounds cheesy as anything, I know; but the story is fast paced, convoluted and frequently (intentionally!) very funny. Because Collins employs a first person narrative technique, telling his tale through one character's diary then another one's letters, we are allowed an insight into the thoughts and speech patterns of a wide range of characters. Some of them are downright hilarious - particularly our heroine's outrageously camp uncle. As so often happens, it is the secondary (and indeed bit-part) characters who are the most entertaining - the fabulous Marianne (just wait till you read that initial description of her appearance! The contrast between standards of beauty now & then is remarkable...although granted it sounds like she needed immac for that top lip of hers) and the indomitable Count with his pet white mice scampering around, to name my two favourites - and undoubtedly your own. What are you waiting for?
51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on 7 June 2001
I took a few pages to click into the Victorian narrative but once I was into it, it gripped from start to finish. This book has the most wonderfully drawn characters and because it switches narrators several times ( Wilkie Collins does this to great effect also in 'The Moonstone') you are just getting lulled into the perspective of one person, when you are then gently jolted and led along by another.
If you want a book with love, romance, mystery and an undercurrent of the sinister running through it I promise you will not be disappointed. You will then be so hooked by Wilkie Collin's writing style that you will want to devour the rest of his books immediately.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 May 2013
This may be a slow-going novel but its contents outweigh any classic I've read by the likes of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. I say this because the story not only addresses the romance forbidden between Walter and Laura but also observes the impact of the law on vulnerable women trapped in loveless marriage or locked away from society. Through the inclusion of the law, we gain an enriching insight into how Laura Fairlie's inheritance can suffer in the hands of a wayward husband, as well as the reason why two partners cannot comfortably marry if their social ranks are too far apart - a dilemma later resolved by the rise and fall of various fortunes.
I liked the level of detail, and though it could be slow at times, mainly due to my eagerness and interest in the plot, I liked even more the striking modernity of the characters themselves. For instance, there were two observations which struck me as still applicable to our times and those were Mr Fairlie's and Count Fosco's: the former lamented the burden single people must bear for married couples with problems; while the latter remarked on the irony of being honest, stating how a poor man could borrow frequently from his friends without issue, whereas a rich man who seldom borrowed would be treated without the same sympathy. My favourite character in the novel is by far Count Fosco, whose conflicting emotions towards Marian Fairlie soon become his fatal flaw and reveal a strange kind of villain not many choose to portray. Frankly, I found myself astounded how such a villain could have so many fingers in so many pies (literally and figuratively speaking!) yet refrain from acting destructively, simply because he could; his lack of excessive evil is something to be admired.
There were moments in the plot that surprised me, like [spoiler alert] Laura and Anne exchanging places and how deviously Laura was deceived into leaving Blackwater Park. Everything had a reason and everything had an answer and I didn't find anything implausible - I think the revelation that Sir Percival is not himself was wonderfully done!
All in all, I am now a fan of Wilkie Collins, who I'd never heard of before I downloaded this e-book for free. I like to think his writing, based on this example, must be greater than Charles Dickens himself, and if this proves to be consistently so, then what a terrible injustice, to prefer Dickens over Collins the world over!
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
This advice for writing serial romances, alternately attributed to Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Charles Reade, is epitomized in this 1860 novel by Collins, a story of thwarted love, a marriage of obligation, claims on inheritance, the victimization of women, and, most of all, engaging mystery. Collins, often credited as the father of the mystery genre, creates a fast-paced story of Victorian England, revealing much about Victorian society and its values--the role of women, the laws governing marriage and inheritance, the social institutions of the day, the contrasting attitudes toward the aristocracy and the lower classes, and even the level of medical care and the treatment of psychological illness.
When drawing master Walter Hartright is on his way to teach Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie at Limmeridge House, in Cumberland, England, he meets a "woman in white," a young woman who knows Limmeridge House well because she was mentored by Mrs. Fairlie, Laura Fairlie's deceased mother. The "woman in white" is Anne Catherick, who looks just like Laura, but who is an escapee from a nearby mental asylum. Upon his arrival at Limmeridge House, Walter immediately falls in love with the beautiful Laura, but she has made a deathbed pledge to her father to marry to Sir Percival Glyde, someone Anne Catherick despises and blames for her own incarceration. Throughout the novel, Anne visits various characters to offer help in combating Sir Percival and his cohorts.
The story unfolds through documents held by a variety of characters, each of whom tells the story from his/her own point of view. The reader develops sympathy for the innocent and beautiful Laura, respect for her homely but bright half-sister, Marian Halcombe, sadness for Walter Hartright, and hatred for Sir Percival and his friend, the Italian count Fosco, with whom Sir Percival is in business. Sir Percival and the count need financing, and it is Laura's inheritance that is at stake. A series of consecutive disasters, along with arguments, revelations of abuse, the fear of exposure, and the contemplation of murder by Sir Percival and Count Fosco, draws the reader irrevocably into the action.
The characters are sympathetically drawn, with Collins showing an early awareness of the influence of psychology on behavior. The descriptions of nature, presented realistically and in minute detail, build suspense, as Collins creates parallels between nature and the details of plot. As is usually the case with romances, chance plays a huge role in the unfolding action, creating cliff-hanging suspense which contributes to the excitement--and pure fun--of this seductive novel. The conclusion, involving a subplot unrelated to the primary action, resolves issues conveniently. The almost-forgotten author of twenty-five novels, Collins was one of the most successful authors of Victorian mysteries, and he is gaining new attention as a result of reprints of this novel and The Moonstone. Mary Whipple
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Now I know why it's a classic - I just can't understand why it isn't up there with Jane Austin and Charles Dickens. Wilkie Collins could have written The Woman in White last year - it's that fresh. It reminded my of The Quincunx by Charles Palliser - except not so long! The plot is just as well-worked. I'd recommend it.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 7 September 2005
I had heard of Jane Eyre, the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy, but not much of Wilkie Collins before I read this novel, but it is my favourite book of all time now. I recommend it to many people. I have read this twice and each time I could not put it down.
The fact that it is a very thick book may seem daunting at first, but believe me, before you know it, you will be at the end. This book is full of suspense, page after page.
Taking a point of view from several of the characters, mostly in diary form, keeps it flowing. A story of passion, hate and lies. The pain of love.
This book contains the romantic side and the thrilling side, so it will appeal to many different readers who like different genres.
Even if you are not an adamant reader of the classics, I seriously suggest you read this. For £1.50, it is an excellent buy, for such an amazing book!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 2003
I bought this book in a second hand shop. When I got about 50 pages in I realized a great chunk was missing! I was mortifyed! From the moment I picked the book up I had been spell-bound by the beauty of the writing and the fateful twists in the plot. I rushed out and bought it and finished it in the next sitting. I am not a fan of Dickens (collins brother-in-law) whoes writing is very bleak. This book in contrast is alive with wonder and intrigue from start till finish. This is my favourite book of all time!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2009
I have to confess that although this book is thoroughly enjoyable, it took a fair amount of time and determination for me to read it. However, it is well worth the persistence.
I would say that whilst it is not written in the most elegant prose, the descriptions still create very detailed images that flesh out the characters.
It's an intricate mystery story with necessary but not outlandish twists that keep it interesting and entertaining. It is unlike modern thriller mysteries, far more detailed and relaxed but just as intriguing.
As with many books of it's kind, often circumstances were a little too convenient, however this can be forgiven as it allows for the very clever way in which different characters narrate the story at relevant points.
I was left feeling that I knew the main characters intimately, a credit to the author.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2005
Perhaps the best story I've read ever! I was utterly enthralled. Wonderful. In terms of plot... characterisation... atmosphere... etc, etc, it's just marvellous.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2008
This book was quite unlike any I had previously read. While it was written in 1859 it is still - almost 150 years later - a book as gripping as it presumably was all those years ago for Victorian and Edwardian readers brought up on such spooky classics as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula and Frankenstein.
Told in the form of letters and diaries of the different characters involved it unfolds bit by bit and keeps you guessing right up until the very end. Collins's characters seem to come alive and make a lasting impression. As a thriller it easily beats many modern-day thrillers and really does have an unequalled air of menace and threat. Despite its age it is immensely readable and is a true page turner. Simply a must!