Review: The Woman in White

‘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.


I’ll be real honest with you. I had no flippin’ idea what was happening in this book for the first half. This was one that I had to Wiki before I could start following the plot! That helped a LOT.

Don’t be afraid to cheat, kids. At least not when reading literature.

Once I did, I realized that Wilkie Collins 1)was a goddamn genius; and 2)probably confused the hell out of every single person in the 1850s. Think about the modern detective novel:  multiple perspectives, multiple narratives, documents as plot devices, and of course redirection. Those things we all expect now, but in fiction written before the turn of the century? I have never seen that before. It’s always written with one narrator, a steady, but pretty predictable plot. There might be some twists and creativity, of course, but The Woman in White does not look anything like a normal 1850s novel.

And that’s why I couldn’t follow it at first. I was expecting the normal classic pattern, and that is not what I was getting.

There IS a fair maiden, trapped in an arranged marriage, in love with someone else. But she’s not even the heroine of the story. She is the victim, and a secondary character. It is her sister–ugly, dark, mustachioed–who plays the femme fatale, with mind instead of body. The men may love fair Laura, but Marian is everybody’s friend and confidante, in on the schemes. She was by far my favorite.

Mental illness plays an interesting role in this as well, especially for the time period. Again, instead of being super stigmatized as it normally would be, the leads try to help the woman suffering instead of sending her back to the horrible asylum where she was kept.

Nothing in this book is normal or predictable. It was long, and hard to read, but once I found the rhythm I found I did not hate it. I can’t say I like it…not yet…but at least I understand it. I am intrigued. It’ll go onto the reread list for someday. I think a second read-through will make everything more clear.


Fulfill’s #112 on Boxall’s List



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