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The Woman in White (1859)

by Wilkie Collins

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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12,879338482 (4.05)7 / 1381
Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML:

The Woman in White is credited with being the first of the sensation novels, and one of the finest examples of the genre. A young woman's husband defrauds her of her fortune, her identity and eventually her sanity. She is saved by her sister and a loyal man who loves her, and her two rescuers attempt to expose her husband. They meet a woman dressed all in white whose fate seems curiously intertwined with that of the young woman. In the tradition of the sensation novel, the story contravenes boundaries of class, identity and the private and public spheres.

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English (325)  Italian (4)  French (2)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  Portuguese (1)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (338)
Showing 1-5 of 325 (next | show all)
There are three things that I especially love in literature: epistolary writing, Victorian setting, and a gripping mystery. The Woman in White provides one with all of these things, and it does it quite well. Wilkie Collins gets you so sucked in to wanting to know the secrets and what's going to happen, that I could hardly put it down. I can see why (as the back cover states) it has "never been out of print."

The story centers around Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe, who are vying to protect the innocence of Marian's sister Laura from her groom-to-be: the menacing Sir Percival Glyde and his (pretty slimy) friend/conspirator, Count Fosco. But for the majority of the novel, the biggest mystery surrounds the enigmatic Anne Catherick. She is connected to both Laura and Percival, and bears a dark, condemning secret about the latter. Laura needs all the protection she can get – because Sir Percival and Count Fosco both have sinister, ulterior motives for her marriage.

Overall, I found the story to be very compelling, and I had a blast reading it. However, there were a few things that bothered me, and also made me chuckle a bit. First of all, the story definitely does drag on in parts. Whether it was a character going off on a tirade about their good morals, their reasoning behind actions, or just generally being flowery. But I would attribute it to satirical purposes and the period it was written in. The other few things that bothered me, begin with the really obvious, satirical-to-the-point-of-insulting descriptions and characterizations of foreigners. Of course I had no problem with Count Fosco being described in this manner because he was a disgusting creep through the whole story anyways. But, with other characters, it just seemed unnecessary! And, most of all, the way Collins depicts women in his writing. I wasn't sure, however, if it was meant to satirize the mindset that existed about women in those days, with the contrast of Marian just generally being awesome. But, if he wasn't satirizing it, clearly to him, all of womankind are frail creatures, prone to fainting... and the more they faint, the more likely it is they are crazy! And therefore it will be totally legit to throw them into an insane asylum.

Now, don't mistake my mini-rant for dislike of the novel, I really did love it. I actually find reading about these old-age mindsets to be somewhat hilarious and quite a kick, because it is so ridiculous and we know how untrue it is these days. His depiction of Marian quite made up for the frailty of the other female characters, (whether it was meant for satire or not), and the multi-layered mystery topples over any character-flaws and make it a worthwhile read. I would recommend it to fans of mysteries, especially those who loved reading the Sherlock Holmes stories. ( )
  escapinginpaper | May 18, 2024 |
I really don't know what to rate this book. It had its strengths and weaknesses. ( )
  tayswift1477 | May 15, 2024 |
An early example of the detective novel, Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White is long, complex, exquisitely written; a delicious read. This tale of conspiracy, madness, villainy, and mistaken identity is told from the perspectives of a number of the principal actors, a diversity of voices that heightens the novel's variety and appeal.

Collins creates numerous intriguing characters, most of whose voices we hear during the unfolding of the intricate plot. Drawing-master Walter Hartright, one of the prime movers in the book, is the least interesting. He is...well, not dull...but regular. But he is the main character who drives the resolution of the mystery, and as events unfold and circumstances become more dire, he evinces a dogged determination, a fierce loyalty and tenacity.

My favorite characters, beautifully rendered by Collins, are hypochondriac Mr. Fairlie; corpulent Italian Count Fosco with his air of pompous superiority and his cage of little white mice; and the stalwart, dutiful, Marian with her acute intellect and her deep sisterly devotion.

There is one section of The Woman In White that was a bit of a drag: In a long interview between Hartright and a lawyer, novelist Collins seems to be writing himself out of some cul-de-sacs into which his plot has steered him. This section serves to clarify some matters, but also, probably inadvertently, to point out that the conspiracy plot was unnecessarily convoluted and could've been handled in a more straightforward fashion. But then, near the end of the novel, one of the villains explains why he handled things the way he did, following his ethical code, and for me at least that was a gratifying and sufficient explanation.

As expected, this novel from 1860 contains a lot of letters, a lot of conversations, and for the most part they are fascinating. There are a number of active scenes as well, my favorite being a hot one in a church and its adjacent graveyard. There's spies and an asylum, and a somewhat ghostly meeting at a crossroads. The Woman In White is filled with delectable material, an engaging and satisfying reading experience. ( )
  LordSlaw | Apr 13, 2024 |
I confess I like Count Fosco; he reminds me of Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. This is not to say that I approve of his actions. He is also the only who truly appreciates Marian Halcombe; the hero, after admiring her figure from a distance, says to himself "(with a sense of surprise which words fail me to express), The lady is ugly!" (p. 23)
This isn't the only book of Victorian times in which England is such a small world that we shouldn't be surprised that so many characters happen to meet each other by chance. ( )
  raizel | Feb 6, 2024 |
The end is a bit drawn out, but all the loose ends are tied up and resolved. Quite the tale of intrigue and identity, with a number of references to the place of women in that society -- I suspect the author was a bit of a feminist in his time. Marian Halcombe is a very strong female character, even by today's standards! Collins was a contemporary of Dickens, and while this story has the saga-aspect like a Dickens book, it does not really have the long drawn out descriptions or rambling sentences of Dickens. For something written over a hundred years ago, it is actually very read-able. Just be careful you don't read too fast, or you will miss the subtleties implied in passages that are very period-typical.

It's a long read, but good.

( )
  LDVoorberg | Dec 24, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 325 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (64 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Collins, Wilkieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, JosephineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cauti, CamilleIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dei, FedoraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Geeson, JudyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Giordani, AndreaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holm, IanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Judge, PhoebeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lamb, LyntonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Landor, RosalynNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lorac, E. C. R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McLenan, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pendle, AlexyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rees, RogerNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruffilli, PaoloIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shipkovenska, MarianaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sweet, MatthewEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Symons, JulianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tillotson, KathleenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trodd, AntheaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tummolini, StefanoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Willis, ChristineEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woolf, GabrielNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide, in thy most need to go by thy sided
Dedication
First words
This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.
T. S. Eliot, in seeking to express his admiration for Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, together with Armadale and The Moonstone, regretted that there was no aesthetic of melodrama, a genuine art form. (Introduction)
An experiment is attempted in this novel, which has not (so far as I know) been hitherto tried in fiction. (Preface 1860)
'The Woman in White' has been received with such marked favour by a very large circle of readers, that this volume scarcely stands in need of any prefatory introduction on my part. (Preface 1861)
Quotations
The soft hazy twilight was just shading leaf and blossom alike into harmony with its own sober hues as we entered the room, and the sweet evening scent of the flowers met us with its fragrant welcome through the open glass doors.
There are three things that none of the young men of the present generation can do. They can't sit over their wine, they can't play at whist, and they can't pay a lady a compliment.
Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML:

The Woman in White is credited with being the first of the sensation novels, and one of the finest examples of the genre. A young woman's husband defrauds her of her fortune, her identity and eventually her sanity. She is saved by her sister and a loyal man who loves her, and her two rescuers attempt to expose her husband. They meet a woman dressed all in white whose fate seems curiously intertwined with that of the young woman. In the tradition of the sensation novel, the story contravenes boundaries of class, identity and the private and public spheres.

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Book description
When Walter Hartwright encounters a solitary, terrified, beautiful woman dressed in white on a moonlit night in London, he feels impelled to solve the mystery of her distress. The story, full of secrets, locked rooms, lost memories, and surprise revelations, features heroine Marian Halcombe and drawing-master Walter Hartright as sleuthing partners pitted against the diabolical Count Fosco and Sir Percival Glyde. This gothic psychological thriller, a mesmerizing tale of murder, intrigue, madness, and mistaken identity, has gripped the imagination of readers since its first publication in 1860. The breathtaking tension of Collins's narrative created a new literary genre of suspense fiction, which profoundly shaped the course of English popular writing.
Haiku summary
Identity theft,
money, madness, hidden crimes –
a Collins classic.
(passion4reading)
The Woman in White.
Count Fosco controls it all,
but Marian wins!
(rretzler)

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