The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Oxford UP edition

Thanks to Andi at Estella’s Revenge who hosted the Wilkie in Winter readalong, I have now read not only one, but two stories by Mr. Collins.

The first read-along was “The Frozen Deep” (1856), a short story about a love triangle set mainly during an arctic expedition. It was originally a play. Two men who are in love with the same women end up on the same expedition. It sounds contrived and although some of the plot is clunky, there’s good tension in this story. I enjoyed very much. You can download it from Project Gutenberg here for free.

The second story in the read-along was The Woman In White (1859), a chunky novel that has been on my radar some years and I’m happy to finally have it under my belt.

About the book, from the Penguin Classics edition: ‘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 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.

The Woman in White is a big book (638 pages) full of characters that come and go and come again. The story is told by multiple narrators. Overall I enjoyed the story, but the plot execution was a bit uneven at times–wordy here, short there–but perhaps that is fairly typical for a big story that was written for serialization during this time period. All of the characters were interesting and I got the sense of a full back story on them, even if it wasn’t present in the book itself. This, and the fact that the novel is considered one of the first mystery novels, made those parts that dragged bearable.

One character initially intrigued me and then annoyed me for the bulk of the story, only to captivate me again toward the end. Do you remember that scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where Harrison Ford’s character is confronted by a man who skillfully twirls and whirls his sword in a peacock-like threat?

At times that’s what I felt like doing to the character mentioned above. If you’ve read the novel you can easily guess which character I’m talking about.

On the other hand, my favorite character of the novel is Marian Halcombe. She’s described as dark and mannish, and she’s a smart, strong, courageous women who fights to protect her weak (blonde) sister. I would have loved to see more of her on the page.

If 19th century chunkster novels are not your cup of tea or if you tried this one and couldn’t get into it, I recommend you check out Sarah Water’s Fingersmith. It has all the appeal of a 19th century gothic novel, including wrongful imprisonment in an insane asylum, but it’s pacing is much more unified and there’s an awesome plot twist that will blow your mind.

The Woman in White is on my Classics Club list.
It was also on my list for Back to the Classics 2014.

I’ll definitely read more Wilkie Collins. 
I’ve got my eye on Moonstone (1868) and Plethora of Books recently recommend The Law and The Lady (1875).

Do you have a favorite Wilkie to recommend?


  1. I definitely agree that my favorite character was Marian! She was awesome!!

    I have not read anything beyond the two that we did for Wilkie in Winter, but I definitely want to read more. I really enjoyed both of these!

    Thanks for the recommendation too! I've heard so many wonderful things about Sarah Waters. I think it is about time that I check some of her work out!

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