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Hedy Reviews “The Woman in White”

By Library Staff

Publisher info: “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….”The Woman in White” is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre called “sensation” that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

I often have people ask me what qualifies as a “contemporary” book for the Contemporary Books Discussion Group.  I always say, “If it’s in print and still being read today, that’s contemporary enough for us!”  So “The Woman in White” qualifies with flying colors–never out of print after 150 years.  It does seem kind of wordy in the Victorian fashion, but after all, Collins got paid by the word and the reader does get used to the style after 100 pages or so.  If you like the novels of Charles Dickens (Collins’s good friend), you’ll like “The Woman in White”.

Besides it simply being an intriguing tale, it’s loaded with themes regarding the victimization of women, the treatment of mental illness, mistaken identity, respectability and social class, thwarted love, claims on inheritance, and the tension between appearance and reality.

I was fascinated by the historical background of this novel: at the time it came out, it was so popular that there was “The Woman in White” perfume, “The Woman in White” quadrille (a dance), “The Woman in White” clothing, and “Fosco” became a very common cat name.

First sentence: “This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve.”  Dissecting the meaning of that sentence alone could take a good half-hour of deliberation.

FIC COLL “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins, 1860, 671 pages including extensive notes and appendices