Our words are giants when they do us an injury, and dwarfs when they do us a service.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is one of the BEST classic books I’ve read. EVER. If I’m completely honest, this book changed my whole perspective about classics. I fell headlong into this book and discovered the genius that is Wilkie Collins and the brilliance of an incredible classic. When I turned the last page (maybe tapped is better I read it first on my Kindle), I decided I would read everything I could find by Wilkie Collins.
So 2 years later, I read The Woman in White for a SECOND time. I devoured the book the first time and was tempted to do the same this go round, but because I was reading it with a group over on bookstagram, I savored each part, unlike the first time when I stayed up late many nights reading into the wee hours of the morning.
The Woman in White is regarded as a sensation fiction: Victorian fiction with the apprehensive thrills of gothic literature with the psychological realism of the domestic novel. The book is divided into three “Epochs,” each of which contains several narratives and diaries by the witnesses to the mysterious events perpetrated at Limmeridge House. Collins employs a technique of writing, a series of narratives from characters directly related to the mysteries unfolding throughout the book. Collins will unravel the sinister drama as each narrator will relay the course of events directly involving them. No one gets to tell someone else’s part of the story and as much as you want them to and in doing this, the suspense builds as you try to puzzle out the pieces of the mystery and you hold your breathe in anticipation in the process.
Epoch 1 – The story begins with narrative of Walter Hartright, a drawing tutor. After receiving news of a teaching position from his dear friend Pesca at a very appropriate time since Hartright’s financial means have been mismanaged and depleted, he sets off to take up employment at Limmeridge House. On his way there he encounters a mysterious ‘woman in white’ who seems distressed as someone is chasing her.
There, in the middle of the broad, bright high-road – there, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven – stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments; her face bent in grave inquiry on mine, her hand pointing to the dark cloud over London, as I faced her.
Hartright kindly assists this woman and by the time he arrives at Limmeridge he shares this discovery with Marian Holcombe, sister to Laura Fairlie. Marian who I feel is the superstar of this book does her best to help Hartright find out who this mysterious lady is, especially since the woman mentioned the name of Marian and Laura’s mother. Marian sets to look through letters of her mother for a clue in indentifying this mysterious woman.
In the meantime Hartright falls in love with Laura and quits his job and leaves Limmeridge at the request of Marian since Laura is promised in marriage to another man, on her father’s death bed years ago. A man named Sir Percival Glyde.
In Epoch 2, the tone and the setting of the story turns quite ominous as we move from Limmeridge to Blackwater Park. From the very beginning of Marian’s narrative, Collins creates an atmospheric setting thick with building drama and suspense.
“Judging by my vague impressions of the place, thus far, it is the exact opposite of Limmeridge.”
“The house is situated on a dead flat, and seems to be shut in – almost suffocated, to my north-country notions, by trees.”
“I know nothing about the house, except that one wing of it is said to be five hundred years old, that it had a moat round of once, and that it gets its name of Blackwater from a lake in the park.”
Marian is awaiting the return of her beloved sister after her marriage and honeymoon abroad with Sir Percival Glyde. Of course things are not happily ever after and the book picks up in pace and speed in this narrative. You become quickly acquainted with the true nature of Glyde while you suspset something lurking in the shadows about his past and his motives for marrying Laura.
In this part of the book Collins peers into the male characters and their personalities. Percival’s facade of falsehood has faded and his short temper rears its ugly head more than once. Count Fosco seems a complete opposite of Percival and they seem like an unlikely pair, especially since Fosco doesn’t seem to think all woman are inferior and has a special fondness for his pets.
“He (Fosco) has that quiet deference, that look of pleased, attentive interest in listening to a woman, and that secret gentleness in his voice in speaking to a woman, which, say what we may, we can none of us resist.”
Last but certainly not least, Mr. Frederick Fairlie, Marian and Laura’s uncle. As events unfold, Marian is forced to petition her uncle for assistance but of course his nerves and countenance make him completely useless to anyone for anything. Fairlie says about his life :
“It is the grand misfortune of my life they nobody will let me alone.”
Although Mr. Frederick Fairlie can annoy you to no end, he provides quite a bit of comic relief when he makes his appearances. By the end of Epoch 2 you are quite surprised by the turn of events, what’s happened to Laura, Marian and what has Count Fosco, his spiteful wife and Sir Percival Glyde have to do with it? And where’s the woman in white? Read the Epoch 3, to uncover the mystery.
I could go on and on about this book. I finished it months ago and finally am attempting to share a summary of the book’s highlights and my thoughts about what makes this book outstanding. Frankly, it’s fantastic. You will not regret taking your time with this book because it’s hard to put down once you get into the rhythm of the mystery. If there was one thing I would have liked to have seen in this book was one more narrative from Marian. She is hands down one of my favorite female heroines to date.
“Remember what anxious hearts you leave here…”