Author: Wilkie Collins
Genre: Mystery, suspense, classic
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.Priceless.
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.
Warnings: Mild violence