The Woman in White
Wilkie Collins Pages: 627 First published: 1860
The book: Walter Hartright, a drawing master, is walking back to London on a moonlit night when he encounters an unusual woman dressed all in white, to whom he provides assistance. It appears that perhaps she has escaped from an asylum.
Later that week he takes up a new post as drawing tutor to the beautiful Laura Fairlie at Limmeridge House. Laura is engaged to the apparently sinister Sir Percival Glyde.
There seems to be some sort of connection between the woman in white, Limmeridge House, and Sir Percival Glyde.
What is the truth? Is Sir Percival really sinister or are his intentions honorable? Will Laura go through with the wedding? Who is the woman in white and how is she connected to Limmeridge?
You might like it because: It’s a wonderful thriller, with a cast of interesting characters for you to love and hate. There are lots of plot twists and turns, and mysteries to be worked out.
What did other people say?
“The most dramatic description in literature.”– Charles Dickens referring to the scene where we meet the woman in white herself.
“To Mr Collins belongs the credit of having introduced into fiction those mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries which are at our own doors.”- Henry James
Awards & Recognition:
Whilst I can find no record of any awards this novel received, it’s worth noting that it had such an impact in Victorian Britain that Woman in White merchandise was the order of the day; you could buy Woman in White perfume, cloaks, and bonnets, and even dance to Woman in White waltzes!
How quickly will you get into the book? This story drew me in slowly. Twenty-four pages in Walter meets the woman in white and I was intrigued. There was a part in the middle third of the book where things slowed down, but after 20 pages or so they picked up again, and from there I could not put it down.
You might not like it because: It was written in 1859-60, so the language and style are very old fashioned and might not appeal to all readers.
Then there are the Victorian ideas about women: The pretty, vapid, fragile woman is the romantic object of desire, while the smart, capable, brave, calm woman is not desired by anyone. Some might find this aspect of the book irritating.
What might you read next?
Charles Dickens was a very good friend of Wilkie Collins and in fact published The Woman in White when it first appeared in series form. So why not read a bit of Dickens? Pick up A Christmas Carol.
Or shift continents and time and read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, which is set in a psychiatric hospital in the USA.
Alternatively, read about one woman’s search to identify a mystery person and their family in The Other Mrs.Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis.
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