ABOUT THIS BOOK: 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.
MY THOUGHTS: There is some beautifully evocative writing at the start of the book that had me almost salivating. It was promising a deliciously creepy read. . . that never happened.
I believe that The Woman in White was first published as a serial in 1859, which may explain it’s interminable length. Yes, I have read longer books, and enjoyed them, but the Woman in White seems even longer than its 672 pages. It could easily do with losing at least one third of its length. There is so much irrelevant information thrown at the reader that I completely missed out on the connection between Laura Fairlie (Lady Glyde) and the ill-fated Anne Catherick until, frustrated at the end (but oh so glad to be there!) I turned to the Internet to search for the information.
The story itself has many narrators, which Collins himself points out in the preface, and so we get multiple versions of the same story to little effect, a little like listening to the witnesses in a court case where they are all determined to present themselves and their motives in the best possible light.
The characters are largely vapid (insipid, uninspired, colourless, uninteresting, feeble, flat, dead, dull, boring, tedious, tired, unexciting, uninspiring, unimaginative, lifeless, zestless, spiritless, sterile, anaemic, tame, bloodless, jejune, vacuous, bland, stale, trite, pallid, wishy-washy, watery, tasteless, milk-and-water, flavourless).
The story itself, when cut down to its bare bones, is rather clever and focuses on the lack of rights of married women at the time. Honestly? I would love to see this rewritten by Stephen King because, other than the first encounter between Walter Hartright and the woman in white, there is no creepiness whatsoever and I fail to understand how this can be classified as Gothic Horror.
THE AUTHOR: William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) was an English novelist, playwright, and short story writer. His best-known works are The Woman in White (1859), No Name (1862), Armadale (1866) and The Moonstone (1868). The last is considered the first modern English detective novel.
Born into the family of painter William Collins in London, he lived with his family in Italy and France as a child and learned French and Italian. He worked as a clerk for a tea merchant. After his first novel, Antonina, was published in 1850, he met Charles Dickens, who became a close friend, mentor and collaborator. Some of Collins’s works were first published in Dickens’ journals All the Year Round and Household Words and the two collaborated on drama and fiction.
Collins published his best known works in the 1860s and achieved financial stability and an international reputation. During that time he began suffering from gout. After taking opium for the pain, he developed an addiction. During the 1870s and 1880s the quality of his writing declined along with his health.
Collins was critical of the institution of marriage and never married; he split his time between Caroline Graves, except for a two-year separation, and his common-law wife Martha Rudd, with whom he had three children.
DISCLOSURE: I listened to one of the audiobook versions of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, a very old one I think, which had been copied from tapes. I would not recommend it. The narrators, and there were several, were largely unaccomplished and at times painful to listen to. They, and particularly one of the male narrators, stumbled over words, ignored punctuation, paused in very odd places and drew out the length of wooorrrdddss when they lost their place in the script. Not to be recommended.
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