The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Title: The Woman in White
Author: Wilkie Collins
Genre: Mystery, suspense, classic
Published: 1859
Source: Personal Copy
Read for: R.I.P. VII, A Classics Challenge, Back to the Classics Challenge, Chunkster Challenge, The Classics Club

On his way to a new job as a drawing master, Walter Hartright comes across a mysterious woman dressed only in white, in desperate need of his help. Little does he know that the mysterious woman is connected with his new situation for work, or how the circumstances will reveal to him a new life of love, conspiracy, and mystery.

I knew nothing about The Woman in White going into it except that it was some kind of thriller, and that most people who had read it thoroughly enjoyed it. After reading it, I think it is best to know very little about it because there are several plot twists and surprising revelations, so I am going to keep this review somewhat short and vague to avoid spoiling this book for anyone else.

The first thing I noticed was that Wilkie Collins is exceptionally good at painting the quirks and foibles of his characters. There is an air of sarcasm and wit in his writing, especially about his most ridiculous characters. The three I most enjoyed were Mr. Fairlie, a hypochondriac who can't bear to have his convenience disturbed, Count Fosco, a simpering, excessively sentimental man with many secrets, and Marian Halcombe, who is an extremely capable woman for literature of that time. I had to laugh at the first description of Marian, who is apparently the original "but-her-face" -- the narrator (at that point in the story -- it switches several times) describes her elegant, beautiful figure as he first meets her, and his shock when she turns around -- "the lady was ugly!" Despite her apparent lack of attractiveness, in her face at least, she is one of the strongest characters, and my only irritation was that her beautiful and weak-willed younger sister is more admired and loved than she is (although I detected an element of sarcasm in this from Collins as well). I also loved Mr. Fairlie's narrative voice -- he is so obnoxious and selfish, but in print it becomes hilarious. Here are his observations on tears, which made me laugh out loud (although I read it to my husband and he didn't find it nearly as humorous, so we'll see what you all think of it) --
Except when the refining process of Art judiciously removes from them all resemblance to Nature, I distinctly object to tears. Tears are scientifically described as a Secretion. I can understand that a secretion may be healthy or unhealthy, but I cannot see the interest of a secretion from a sentimental point of view. Perhaps my own secretions being all wrong together, I am a little prejudiced on the subject.

One thing I also appreciated about the novel was that every thing was spelled out in the end. We are led through several twists and turns of plot, but in the end, every question is satisfied. I am always so annoyed by loose ends being left at the end of a novel, and I loved that I could depend on Collins to answer all my questions.

There are several interesting plot turns in the novel. Because of the amount of detail, at times they can be guessed, simply because we are given so much evidence about everything, but for the most part I still found myself being surprised and enjoyed trying to put together the information on my own before the veil was lifted and everything was revealed.

The Woman in White was definitely a fun read. While it was certainly dated as far as women's rights are concerned, I loved the development of the characters and will be reading more of Collins' work.

4 stars

Warnings: Mild violence


  1. This and Moonstone were both really good reads! I like Wilkie better than I like Dickens

    1. I think I like him a little better too. Their styles felt similar to me, but Wilkie was more acceptable and smoother to read. I'm looking forward to reading The Moonstone some day!

  2. I'm really glad you enjoyed this one as I loved it too! I'd recommend The Moonstone next, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Woman in White but still loved it.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I definitely plan on reading it sometime, maybe next October.

  3. The Woman in White is amazing. He really is a master of creating extraordinary characters... especially Marian (I loved her)! While he certainly had to downplay her wonderful qualities for the time, you could really tell that he was so happy to include her to all those unsuspecting eyes! The formula may be something most readers are familiar with now that every writer since has relied upon it, but it still had enough shockers to remain fresh. Great story and so glad you liked it. I recently picked up The Moonstone and can't wait to get started!

    1. Marian was seriously awesome. I just wish that she was the love interest so that people could realize that having a personality is more important than having a pretty face. That bugged me throughout the book. I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on the Moonstone -- I will definitely be reading that one at some point!

  4. I've been meaning to read this one for years and have never picked it up. It's literally been waiting on my coffee table for the past two months. :)

  5. I was interested to see what you though of this book... I also thought Marian was, well, awesome. :) And Laura was kind of eh, sort of like Tale of Two Cities' Lucie, perfect and boring. The Count and Mr. Fairlie are both just so darn fun to read, I loved their narratives. I didn't realize Collins wrote another book; I'm excited to check that one out!


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