Wilkie Collins — The Woman in White

So the ghostly figure which has haunted these pages as it haunted my life, goes down into the impenetrable Gloom. Like a Shadow she first came to me, in the loneliness of the night. Like a Shadow she passes away, in the loneliness of the dead.

The Woman in White is probably Wilkie Collins’ most famous work, and employs his trademark style of telling the narrative with a variety of different characters and different voices. As the involvement of one character in the story ends, another picks it up to tell his or her knowledge of the proceedings. I’d be lying a little bit if I said that most of the characters sounded like anything other than Wilkie Collins, but it’s an entertaining story and therefore a forgiveable fault.

The Woman in White begins on the road, with Walter Hartwright, a poor drawing master, heading to Limmeridge, where he is to teach two young ladies. While traveling he meets a mysterious woman in white on the road alone, agitated and determined to head to London. He helps her escape and continues on his way. While at Limmeridge, he meets the mannish but intelligent and kind Marian Halcombe and her beautiful, nervous half-sister Laura Fairlie, and of course falls in love with Miss Fairlie. Unfortunately, she’s been engaged to the dastardly Sir Percival Glyde, mixed up in some mysterious business with the odious Count Fosco (whose fondness for white mice is one of the most skin-crawling things in the novel), and is shipped off to the ominously named Blackwater Park. What follows is a thrilling mystery of mistaken identities, hidden secrets, insanity, and evil villains.

Collins’ writing is incredibly atmospheric; the book is pervaded with a constant sense of drear and dread that is very appropriate for the story matter. The villains are REALLY villainous. It’s a great mystery. Probably my favorite bit though was the character of Marian; she’s something really unique among the fluttery women that populate Victorian fiction.

The Woman in White will keep you guessing and unable to put it down right up to the last page.


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