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?
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.
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
on 21 February 2012
Wilkie Collins is renowned from his era as a master of mystery and suspense and The Woman in White certainly proves that mastery.
Writing in the style of composite narratives from different pens, Collins compiles `history' and testimony to construct a complete narrative of a tale full of twists and turns, colourful characters and elaborate schemes. There is not a part of this novel that is not relevant in some way, not a name that has no part to play.
Collins draws on his legal experience to sift out irrelevance and tells us more than once that only those details required by the case in point are here told. The result is that readers don't lose interest and don't lose the thread despite the near 500 page length. It certainly doesn't feel like 500 pages when it reaches its satisfying conclusion.
It's a tale that could still be true 150 years after its publication - something that many people now pay insurances against - making it all the more engaging. Who is not just slightly paranoid about what other people might do that could send our lives spiralling out of control?
I can't think of a single negative point to make about this book. I only wish Collins were around to make book-signing tours - I'd love a signed copy!
on 9 May 2003
A barnstorming doorstop (pardon the mixed metaphores) of a book. Has to be read at one sitting, I know I've done it, and according to the blurb so did Gladstone. So no slacking at the back. The characterisation is magnificently overdone, the plot is brilliantly worked out. It's got remote asylums, spooky mansions, ghostly apparitions, swirling fogs and the first sight of "The Woman in White". Oh how I envy you, just drop your modernist standards and have a good old fashioned wallow. Throw another log on the radiator send the kids to your mother for the weekend (there's approx 2 inches of paperback to get through) give in and get on with it.
Chilling, thrilling, mysterious and very dramatic! A mysterious figure, a woman in white, appears out of nowhere on a London street at midnight - she is running away from someone or something. The only person she meets on that lonely road is Walter Hartright, an Art teacher, and little does he know it but he is about to have his life tured upside down. Mysterious letters, ghostly figures by gravesides, kidnapping and poison all follow through the next 700 pages and not a word is wasted! Narrated by several different characters, all portraying their their own experiences, the reader sees the story unfolding before them.
Written as a serialised stroy in a weekly newspaper in 1860, you can almost hear the curtain falling and the audience gasping at the end of each chapter. I could just imagie myself waiting excitedly for each installment to come out to find out what happens next just as they would have when it was published. For a victorian novel, The Woman in White is incredibly fast paced with some of the best characters I have ever come across.
I just loved this book from start to finish. This is what a book should be - something that makes you think about it when you can't get to it and excited to pick it up again. Bravo Mr Collins!! I can't wait to read more of your work.
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!
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.
Penned by Wilkie Collins ‘The King of Sensation’ this is his best novel, and arguably the best sensation novel ever written. With greater literacy in this country and the public’s desire of reading about crime, sensation fiction, which is really an offshoot of gothic fiction, was the sub-genre that really caught people’s imaginations. With coincidences, lurid crimes such as bigamy and adultery amongst others, these stories were full of melodrama and people’s real fears, all set in more normal settings. This story here is told in a multiple narrative form as the tale is progressed by different characters. So although we start and finish with Walter Hartright we have others to fill in the gap between his departure from these shores, and his eventual return.
As Walter’s Italian friend Pesca tells him of a good job going at Limmeridge House in Cumberland as a drawing master for two young ladies Walter applies and gets the post, where he falls in love with Laura, one of his students. Before he departs from London though he aids a woman in white, Anne Catherick, whose shadow is cast throughout this tale, and who gives an impression of knowing something that could damage another. As Laura is betrothed to another, Sir Percival Glyde, Walter finds himself setting off abroad. But is Percival the ideal man to marry?
As we read this we see that Sir Percival, with his friend Count Fosco are wrong ‘uns and Percival is more interested in how much money Laura can bring him than in the lady herself. As plans are laid to get all of Laura’s money it seems that only Laura’s half sister Marian has any inkling that something is afoot. Following a trail of deception, trying to destroy evidence, treachery and trickery all mentioned in this book along with other crimes this is still a well loved book today, and with good reason. When written though, for the people in that age this also showed the limitations of the law, and something that still causes fear today, the meaning of personal identity. This and other sensation novels are really the beginnings for us of our crime novels and psychological thrillers that are so popular. I know for one that I am not the only person who has read this many times and have never tired of the story. Indeed in its day it was a hit with the reading public, although ironically not with critics, although today you would be hard pressed to find a critic who would slate this book.
on 23 November 2003
I bought this as summer reading for university a few years ago - after studying Dickens and Eliot, Collins had been mentioned a few times. I was absolutely blown away. Through the concept of the story - told as a 'testimony' between all characters who witnessed the events, one truly feels as though this could have happened. The other characters - Marian, Sir Percival and the vile Fosco are brilliantly drawn, but I found I always looked forward to the narrative turning back to Walter, the protagonist. Good through and through (as the surname suggests), I found him utterly believable, and his love for Laura - and the conclusion of this at the end, appealed to my romantic side!
The mystery is well paced and it truly is terrifying - who doesn't jump a mile when tapped on the shoulder after reading this? I was pleased it appeared on the BBC Big Read Top 100, as it is without a doubt one of the best books I have had the pleasure to pick up.