“The Dream Woman” by Wilkie Collins
There are several versions of “The Dream Woman” earlier known as “The Ostler.” The one I read, according to the introduction, was the version prepared for Collins’ US readings and is remarkably different from the one printed in the collections.
The story is subtitled “A Mystery in Four Narratives.” The first section is told by Percy Fairbank, a well-off man who is traveling with his wife in England. They have to stop at an inn when one of their horses goes lame and there they meet Francis Raven, the stableman. When they first stumble upon him, he’s asleep, obviously in the middle of a nightmare involving a woman.
Percy, by the way is quite amusing. His asides about the relationship between him and his wife are funny and true to life. they obviously love each other dearly and know each other quite well.
In the second narrative is Francis’ story to this point, told by himself. Ten years ago, he woke on the night of his birthday to see the apparition of a woman trying to stab him with a knife. Seven years later he married Alicia Warlock, against the wishes of his mother who recognized her from Francis’ description as the dream woman. Alicia tends to drink a lot and fulfills the prophecy by attacking him on his birthday. She disappears but Francis still dreams about her and is convinced she will return to kill him.
In the third narrative, Percy Fairbank tells us that he and his wife take the stableman back to France with them, as Mrs. Fairbank become very interested in his situation. Even there Francis is fearful for his life and the fourth narrative, told by a fellow servant, tells the final outcome .
Collins keeps the suspense building throughout the story and his descriptions of people and places add to the atmosphere. I had to keep reading, to see if it was truly Francis’ fate to be killed by his dream woman.
So–beginning in mystery, ending in mystery– the Dream-Woman passes from your view. Ghost; demon; or living human creature–say for yourselves which she is. Or, knowing what unfathomed wonders are around you, what unfathomed wonders are in you, let the wise words of the greatest of all poets be explanation enough:
“We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
I’m only sad that it took me so long to discover Wilkie Collins. I have The Woman in White sitting on my shelf to read soon. If you want to read “The Dream-Woman” it’s available several places. There version I read is here.
This was my second and final read for the Wilkie Collins Mini-Challenge. I also read The Moonstone which I loved.