The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Published by Audible Studios on August 27, 2010 (first published 1859)
Source: Purchased
Genres: Classic, Gothic
Length: 24 hrs 37 mins
Pages: 672
Format: Audiobook
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'In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop ... There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth ... stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white'

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 is drawn into 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.

Walter Hartright, is walking down the street, his mind absorbed with his own problems, when suddenly a woman, dressed in white appears. She is clearly scared, and he walks with her toward London, eventually putting her in a cab and seeing her off. Shortly thereafter he is informed by two men who are chasing her that she had escaped from an asylum. And that’s all we see of the lady in white for now.

Hartright is left with a mystery. He takes a job as a drawing master, instructing two half-sisters as different as night and day. One is fair, and one is dark. One is pretty, and one is…well…unattractive. Marian is brave, brilliant, and resourceful, a marvelous character given the time period. Marian can hold her own. Hartright, of course, falls in love with Laura Fairlie, the fair and beautiful one, an heiress, an orphan, a woman in need of protection. Unfortunately, she is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. Glyde is in serious financial trouble and needs her fortune. His closest friend is an Italian named Count Fosco, who conspires with him in a most insidious plot to take everything from Laura including, quite possibly, her own life. Count Fosco is one of the most fascinating, intelligent, and dangerous villains I’ve come across. 

Collins does explore the idea of women’s rights. The law does not protect their rights in near the same fashion that it protects a man’s rights. A woman truly had to live by her wits to keep from being marginalized by the complete and nearly unassailable power of her husband or her father. Marian was a match for any man, but she needed much more than her intelligence to outflank the injustice and the discrimination under which she was forced to live.

The twist and turns to the plot are wonderfully revealed, including the identity of The Women in White. The writing is true Victorian style, which may put some readers off. In all honesty, I found it a bit long. Enjoyable no doubt, and a perfect read for this time of year, but parts were a bit slow. I’m happy I chose the audio version; Ian Holm, not surprisingly, does a wonderful job.

About Wilkie Collins

William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) was an English novelist and playwright known for The Woman in White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868). The last has been called the first modern English detective novel. Born to a London painter, William Collins, and his wife, the family moved to Italy when Collins was twelve, living there and in France for two years, so that he learned Italian and French. He worked at first as a tea merchant. On publishing his first novel, Antonina, in 1850, Collins met Charles Dickens, who became a friend and mentor. Some Collins works appeared first in Dickens’s journals Household Words and All the Year Round. The two also collaborated on drama and fiction. Collins reached financial stability and an international following in the 1860s from his best-known works, but began to suffer from gout. He took opium for the pain, but became addicted to it. His health and his writing quality declined in the 1870s and 1880s. Collins was critical of the institution of marriage: he later split his time between widow Caroline Graves, with whom he had lived most of his adult life, treating her daughter as his, and the younger Martha Rudd, by whom he had three children.

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