Title: The Woman in White
Author: Wilkie Collins
Release Date: Already released!
I thought I’d switch things up today and review a book that’s not new, or even recently published, but is, in fact, rather old. The Woman in White was published in 1860 by Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins (“regarded as the father of the English detective novel,” writes Chris Willis in his biographical note) and although the book is considered “the first English sensation novel,” I hadn’t heard of it until my AP Lit teacher assigned it as summer reading. My first thought upon seeing this novel was, “Crap. This book is long.” At 645 pages, it’s true – the book is a lengthy one. But despite my initial misgivings, The Woman in White turned out to be absolutely captivating – full of suspense, mystery, sacrifice, and just a bit of romance.
The plot, like any good mystery, is very complicated. The numerous characters complement the intricate layers of uncertainty that keep you turning pages. Because of the complexity of the novel, it is difficult to give a brief summary without either spoiling something or being confusing, but I’ll try to skim the surface.
Walter Hartright, a drawing teacher, finds himself perplexed one evening when a very strange woman, dressed all in white, stops him on the street, seeking directions to London. He helps her, and later runs into policemen searching for a woman in white, who has recently escaped an insane asylum. The next day, he journeys to the house where he has recently been appointed to teach art to the two young ladies in residence there – Marian Halcombe and her half-sister Laura Fairlie, who has a strange resemblance to the escaped woman. When Walter tells Marian of the mysterious woman, they do what they can to figure out who she is, and how she is connected to the Fairlie family. Meanwhile, Walter is falling in love with Laura, but he soon finds out she is engaged to marry another man.
The next five hundred pages expound upon the intricacies of this confusion. More characters and plot twists combine to form a complete novel that makes a perfect circle in the reader’s head. Collins’ character creation is exceptional; the characters are all so well developed and explained that you can imagine what they would say if they were in a room with you. Readers will delight in Marian Halcombe’s unyielding resolve, and chuckle at how sexist toward her own sex she is – something one could only find in a book written by a man in the 1800s trying to write from a woman’s point of view. Speaking of points of view, the book switches narratives multiple times; it is told by the good guys, the bad guys, and everyone in between, so the reader eventually gets a clear picture of how this mystery unfolds.
If you like classics, old-fashioned British literature, and mysteries, you should try The Woman in White. Be warned, it is long, but it does not demand to be read in one day. I read it over the span of a month or so, and it wasn’t difficult to pick up where I left off, even if I’d neglected it for a few days. I’m surprised this classic is not categorized as one of the most popular Victorian novels; in my opinion, it should be considered a frontrunner of its time.
– Katie (:
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