The Woman in White

The Woman in White

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Overview

Part Two Of Two Parts

Who is the "solitary figure of a woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments," whose appearance shattered forever the outward peace of life at Limmeridge House? Is she an apparition...a madwoman...perhaps a player in some bizarre scheme?

From the moment "the Woman" first appears to Walter Hartright on a moonlit London road, Wilkie Collins' melodrama casts its spell.

THE WOMAN IN WHITE was a tremendous success when it first appeared in 1860--cloaks, bonnets and perfumes were named after it. Gladstone put off a theatre party to read it. Thackeray sat up all night to finish it--and now, over 125 years later, it still enthralls.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780141439617
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/15/2003
Series: Classics Series
Edition description: REV
Pages: 720
Sales rank: 104,096
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) began his literary career writing articles and short stories for Dickens' periodicals. He published a biography of his father and a number of plays but his reputation rests on his novels. Collins found his true fictionalmetier in mystery, suspense and crime. He is best known for his novels in the emerging genres of Sensation and Detective fiction. Matthew Sweet is a journalist and critic, and wrote his doctoral thesis on Wilkie Collins.

Date of Birth:

December 8, 1824

Date of Death:

September 23, 1889

Place of Birth:

London, England

Place of Death:

London, England

Education:

Studied law at Lincoln¿s Inn, London

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


The Narrative of Walter Hartright, of Clemant's Inn, London

IT WAS the last day of July. The long hot summer was drawing to a close; and we, the weary pilgrims of the London pavement, were beginning to think of the cloud-shadows on the corn-fields, and the autumn breezes on the sea-shore.

For my own poor part, the fading summer left me out of health, out of spirits, and, if the truth must be told, out of money as well. During the past year, I had not managed my professional resources as carefully as usual; and my extravagance now limited me to the prospect of spending the autumn economically between my mother's cottage at Hampstead, and my own chambers in town.

The evening, I remember, was still and cloudy; the London air was at its heaviest; the distant hum of the street-traffic was at its faintest; the small pulse of the life within me and the great heart of the city around me seemed to be sinking in unison, languidly and more languidly, with the sinking sun. I roused myself from the book which I was dreaming over rather than reading, and left my chambers to meet the cool night air in the suburbs. It was one of the two evenings in every week which I was accustomed to spend with my mother and my sister. So I turned my steps northward, in the direction of Hampstead.

Events which I have yet to relate, make it necessary to mention in this place that my father had been dead some years at the period of which I am now writing; and that my sister Sarah, and I, were the sole survivors of a family of five children. My father was a drawing-master before me. His exertions had made him highly successful in his profession; and his affectionate anxiety to provide for the future of those who were dependent on his labours, had impelled him, from the time of his marriage, to devote to the insuring of his life a much larger portion of his income than most men consider it necessary to set aside for that purpose. Thanks to his admirable prudence and self-denial, my mother and sister were left, after his death, as independent of the world as they had been during his lifetime. I succeeded to his connexion, and had every reason to feel grateful for the prospect that awaited me at my starting in life.

The quiet twilight was still trembling on the topmost ridges of the heath; and the view of London below me had sunk into a black gulf in the shadow of the cloudy night, when I stood before the gate of my mother's cottage. I had hardly rung the bell, before the house-door was opened violently; my worthy Italian friend, Professor Pesca, appeared in the servant's place; and darted out joyously to receive me, with a shrill foreign parody on an English cheer.

On his own account, and, I must be allowed to add, on mine also, the Professor merits the honour of a formal introduction. Accident has made him the starting-point of the strange family story which it is the purpose of these pages to unfold.

I had first become acquainted with my Italian friend by meeting him at certain great houses, where he taught his own language and I taught drawing. All I then knew of the history of his life was, that he had once held a situation in the University of Padua; that he had left Italy for political reasons (the nature of which he uniformly declined to mention to anyone); and that he had been for many years respectably established in London as a teacher of languages.

Without being actually a dwarf-for he was perfectly well-proportioned from head to foot-Pesca was, I think, the smallest human being I ever saw, out of a show-room. Remarkable anywhere, by his personal appearance, he was still further distinguished among the rank and file of mankind, by the harmless eccentricity of his character. The ruling idea of his life appeared to be, that he was bound to show his gratitude to the country which had afforded him an asylum and a means of subsistence, by doing his utmost to turn himself into an Englishman. Not content with paying the nation in general the compliment of invariably carrying an umbrella, and invariably wearing gaiters and a white hat, the Professor further aspired to become an Englishman in his habits and amusements, as well as in his personal appearance. Finding us distinguished, as a nation, by our love of athletic exercises, the little man, in the innocence of his heart, devoted himself impromptu to all our English sports and pastimes, whenever he had the opportunity of joining them; firmly persuaded that he could adopt our national amusements of the field, by an effort of will, precisely as he had adopted our national gaiters and our national white hat.

I had seen him risk his limbs at a fox-hunt and in a cricket-field; and, soon afterwards, I saw him risk his life, just as blindly, in the sea at Brighton. We had met there accidentally, and were bathing together. If we had been engaged in any exercise peculiar to my own nation, I should, of course, have looked after Pesca carefully; but, as foreigners are generally quite as well able to take care of themselves in the water as Englishmen, it never occurred to me that the art of swimming might merely add one more to the list of manly exercises which the Professor believed that he could learn impromptu. Soon after we had both struck out from shore, I stopped, finding my friend did not gain on me, and turned round to look for him. To my horror and amazement, I saw nothing between me and the beach but two little white arms, which struggled for an instant above the surface of the water, and then disappeared from view. When I dived for him, the poor little man was lying quietly coiled up at the bottom, in a hollow of shingle, looking by many degrees smaller than I had ever seen him look before. During the few minutes that elapsed while I was taking him in, the air revived him, and he ascended the steps of the machine with my assistance. With the partial recovery of his animation came the return of his wonderful delusion on the subject of swimming. As soon as his chattering teeth would let him speak, he smiled vacantly, and said he thought it must have been the Cramp.

When he had thoroughly recovered himself and had joined me on the beach, his warm Southern nature broke through all artificial English restraints, in a moment. He overwhelmed me with the wildest expressions of affection-exclaimed passionately, in his exaggerated Italian way, that he would hold his life, henceforth, at my disposal-and declared that he should never be happy again, until he had found an opportunity of proving his gratitude by rendering me some service which I might remember, on my side, to the end of my days. I did my best to stop the torrent of his tears and protestations, by persisting in treating the whole adventure as a good subject for a joke; and succeeded at last, as I imagined, in lessening Pesca's overwhelming sense of obligation to me. Little did I think then-little did I think afterwards when our pleasant Brighton holiday had drawn to an end-that the opportunity of serving me for which my grateful companion so ardently longed, was soon to come; that he was eagerly to seize it on the instant; and that, by so doing, he was to turn the whole current of my existence into a new channel, and to alter me to myself almost past recognition.

Yet, so it was. If I had not dived for Professor Pesca, when he lay under water on his shingle bed, I should, in all human probability, never have been connected with the story which these pages will relate-I should never, perhaps, have heard even the name of the woman, who has lived in all my thoughts, who has possessed herself of all my energies, who has become the one guiding influence that now directs the purpose of my life.

Chapter Two

Pesca's face and manner, on the evening when we confronted each other at my mother's gate, were more than sufficient to inform me that something extraordinary had happened. It was quite useless, however, to ask him for an immediate explanation. I could only conjecture, while he was dragging me in by both hands, that (knowing my habits) he had come to the cottage to make sure of meeting me that night, and that he had some news to tell of an unusually agreeable kind.

We both bounced into the parlour in a highly abrupt and undignified manner. My mother sat by the open window, laughing and fanning herself. Pesca was one of her especial favourites; and his wildest eccentricities were always pardonable in her eyes. Poor dear soul! from the first moment when she found out that the little Professor was deeply and gratefully attached to her son, she opened her heart to him unreservedly, and took all his puzzling foreign peculiarities for granted, without so much as attempting to understand any one of them.

My sister Sarah, with all the advantages of youth, was, strangely enough, less pliable. She did full justice to Pesca's excellent qualities of heart; but she could not accept him implicitly, as my mother accepted him, for my sake. Her insular notions of propriety rose in perpetual revolt against Pesca's constitutional contempt for appearances; and she was always more or less undisguisedly astonished at her mother's familiarity with the eccentric little foreigner. I have observed, not only in my sister's case, but in the instances of others, that we of the young generation are nothing like so hearty and so impulsive as some of our elders. I constantly see old people flushed and excited by the prospect of some anticipated pleasure which altogether fails to ruffle the tranquillity of their serene grandchildren. Are we, I wonder, quite such genuine boys and girls now as our seniors were, in their time? Has the great advance in education taken rather too long a stride; and are we, in these modern days, just the least trifle in the world too well brought up?

Without attempting to answer those questions decisively, I may at least record that I never saw my mother and my sister together in Pesca's society, without finding my mother much the younger woman of the two. On this occasion, for example, while the old lady was laughing heartily over the boyish manner in which we tumbled into the parlour, Sarah was perturbedly picking up the broken pieces of a teacup, which the Professor had knocked off the table in his precipitate advance to meet me at the door.

"I don't know what would have happened, Walter," said my mother, "if you had delayed much longer. Pesca has been half-mad with impatience; and I have been half-mad with curiosity. The Professor has brought some wonderful news with him, in which he says you are concerned; and he has cruelly refused to give us the smallest hint of it till his friend Walter appeared."

"Very provoking: it spoils the Set," murmured Sarah to herself, mournfully absorbed over the ruins of the broken cup.

While these words were being spoken, Pesca, happily and fussily unconscious of the irreparable wrong which the crockery had suffered at his hands, was dragging a large arm-chair to the opposite end of the room, so as to command us all three, in the character of a public speaker addressing an audience. Having turned the chair with its back towards us, he jumped into it on his knees, and excitably addressed his small congregation of three from an impromptu pulpit.

"Now, my good dears," began Pesca (who always said "good dears," when he meant "worthy friends"), "listen to me. The time has come-I recite my good news-I speak at last."

"Hear, hear!" said my mother, humouring the joke.

"The next thing he will break, mamma," whispered Sarah, "will be the back of the best arm-chair."

"I go back into my life, and I address myself to the noblest of created beings," continued Pesca, vehemently apostrophising my unworthy self, over the top rail of the chair. "Who found me dead at the bottom of the sea (through Cramp); and who pulled me up to the top; and what did I say when I got into my own life and my own clothes again?"

"Much more than was at all necessary," I answered, as doggedly as possible; for the least encouragement in connexion with this subject invariably let loose the Professor's emotions in a flood of tears.

"I said," persisted Pesca, "that my life belonged to my dear friend, Walter, for the rest of my days-and so it does. I said that I should never be happy again till I had found the opportunity of doing a good Something for Walter-and I have never been contented with myself till this most blessed day. Now," cried the enthusiastic little man at the top of his voice, "the overflowing happiness bursts out of me at every pore of my skin, like a perspiration; for on my faith, and soul, and honour, the Something is done at last, and the only word to say now, is-Right-all-right!"

It may be necessary to explain, here, that Pesca prided himself on being a perfect Englishman in his language, as well as in his dress, manners, and amusements. Having picked up a few of our most familiar colloquial expressions, he scattered them about over his conversation whenever they happened to occur to him, turning them, in his high relish for their sound and his general ignorance of their sense, into compound words and repetitions of his own, and always running them into each other, as if they consisted of one long syllable.

"Among the fine London houses where I teach the language of my native country," said the Professor, rushing into his long-deferred explanation without another word of preface, "there is one, mighty fine, in the big place called Portland. You all know where that is? Yes, yes-course-of-course. The fine house, my good dears, has got inside it a fine family. A Mamma, fair and fat; three young Misses, fair and fat; two young Misters, fair and fat; and a Papa, the fairest and the fattest of all, who is a mighty merchant, up to his eyes in gold-a fine man once, but seeing that he has got a naked head and two chins, fine no longer at the present time. Now mind! I teach the sublime Dante to the young Misses, and ah!-my-soul-bless-my-soul!-it is not in human language to say how the sublime Dante puzzles the pretty heads of all three! No matter-all in good time-and the more lessons the better for me. Now mind! Imagine to yourselves that I am teaching the Young Misses to-day, as usual. We are all four of us down together in the Hell of Dante. At the Seventh Circle-but no matter for that: all the Circles are alike to the three young Misses, fair and fat,-at the Seventh Circle, nevertheless, my pupils are sticking fast; and I to set them going again, recite, explain, and blow myself up red-hot with useless enthusiasm, when-a creak of boots in the passage outside, and in comes the golden Papa, the mighty merchant with the naked head and the two chins.-Ha! my good dears, I am closer than you think for to the business, now. Have you been patient, so far? or have you said to yourselves, 'Deuce-what-the-deuce! Pesca is long-winded to-night?' "

Table of Contents


Author's Preface (1860)
Preface to the Present Edition (1861)
The Woman in White
The First Epoch
     The Story begun by Walter Hartright, of Clement's Inn, Teacher of Drawing
     The Story continued by Vincent Gilmore, of Chancery Lane, Solicitor
     The Story continued by Marian Halcombe, in Extracts from her Diary
The Second Epoch
     The Story continued by Marian Halcombe
     The Story continued by Frederick Fairlie, Esq., of Limmeridge House
     The Story continued by Eliza Michelson, Housekeeper at Blackwater Park
     The Story continued in Several Narratives
The Third Epoch
     The Story continued by Walter Hartright
     The Story continued by Mrs Catherick
     The Story continued by Walter Hartright
     The Story continued by Isidor, Ottavio, Baldassare Fosco
     The Story concluded by Walter Hartright

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Collins's mid-Victorian novel is one of the first, and possibly still the greatest, of all literary thrillers." —-The Irish Times

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

"To Mr. Collins belongs the credit of having introduced into fiction those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries which are at our own doors."

—Henry James

Illegitimacy, mistaken identity, insanity, inheritance, drugs, adultery, crimes of passionall of these lurid features of Victorian life were Wilkie Collins's stock in trade. In The Moonstone he single-handedly developed most elements of the classic detective story. With The Woman in White Collins created the archetypal sensation novel, spawning generations of imitators. But perhaps his greatest genius was his capacity to reveal the exotic amidst the commonplace, the "mysteries which are at our own doors."

Collins composed his masterworks during one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of English literature. England's cities and industries were booming, poverty and crime filled the news, melodrama ruled the theaters, and newfound wealth made class barriers increasingly permeable. Dickens had just started his periodical All the Year Round, which helped to bring literature to a mass audience and blur the boundaries between highbrow and middlebrow culture. The new audience demanded a new type of novel, a novel as compelling as the scandalous headlines it competed with at the newsstands, able to keep readers in suspense from month to month and eager to buy the next issue.

Dickens launched the magazine, and the golden decade of the serial novel, with A Tale of Two Cities in the spring of 1860, and Collins followed with The Woman in White in the fall. The plot of Collins's novel had its origins in a French crime in which a Marquise was drugged and held prisoner under a false name so that her brother could inherit her estate. The midnight apparition of the title characterwhich Dickens called one of the two most dramatic scenes in literaturehad its origin much closer to home.

While walking a friend home one night Collins had heard a piercing scream from a nearby villa, then saw dashing from the house "the figure of a young and very beautiful young woman dressed in flowing white robes that shone in the moonlight. She seemed to float rather than to run . . . in an attitude of supplication and terror." Caroline Graves, recently widowed with an infant daughter, said she had been held captive at the house for several months "under threats and mesmeric influence."

The details of what followed are unknown, but before long she and Collins had made a home together and she had adopted a story about her origins more suited to Collins's social position. Her father had been transformed from a carpenter to a "gentleman" and her former husband from an accountant's clerk to a captain in the army. It has been argued that the two faces of Carolinethe newly respectable lady and the abused women of questionable backgroundare reflected in the look-alike characters in The Woman in White, Laura Fairlie and Anne Catherick. Certainly the tension between appearance and reality that was central to the mystery had a powerful salience for Collins at the time, defying as he did the social expectations that he marry Caroline but also refusing to keep their relationship secret.

The Woman in White was an enormous success, prompting long lines at the publisher's offices and even inspiring a popular song, the "Woman in White Waltz." Collins earned a large advance for his next novel, securing his financial independence from his mother (who was the model for Hartright's impulsive, childlike mother in the book, just as Hartright was modeled in part on Collins's anxious, conventional brother). Readers were especially intrigued by the character of Marian Halcombe, whose charm, wit, independence, and ugliness probably have their roots in Collins's friendship with George Eliot. Throughout his work Collins created strong female characters that defy Victorian mores and gender roles, assertive women with a calculating streak. Imitators took the notion to an extreme, creating anti-heroines that resorted to murder and bigamy to achieve their wicked ends. By the time Collins started writing The Moonstone in 1867, the outcry over "the fair-haired demon of modern fiction" had grown so shrill and the clichés of the sensation novel so tired that he decided to try something quite different. In so doing he invented the detective novel as we know it today.

For the mystery aficionado, the list of detective-story conventions that were first conceived by Collins for The Moonstone is truly remarkable. In Sergeant Cuff we meet the prototype for the eccentric, canny detective in conflict with the bumbling local police authorities. (Even Cuff's passion for roses presages Sherlock Holmes's beekeeping.) Multiple equally plausible suspects are introduced, each with motive and opportunity. Consciously withholding key pieces of information, Collins introduces the rules of "fair play," which dictate that the detective should know no more than the reader. The summation of the crime before the gathered suspects, the revelation of the least likely suspect as the villain (albeit with a surprising twist), the confluence of multiple viewpoints to assemble the truth, a reconstruction of the crime, and the ultimate triumph of law and order were first formulated in The Moonstone in 1868.

Synthesizing several legends of cursed Indian jewels, Collins also drew on the famous Road Murder case of 1860 for several details of the plot, including a paint-stained nightshirt and a tell-tale laundry book. The Shivering Sand portrayed in the book's most chilling passages is based on a childhood journey to the Scottish coast. Sadly, the opium-induced experiences of Ezra Jennings describe Collins's own illness. As he was writing The Moonstone, the painful gout from which Collins had long suffered began to attack with increasing frequency and severity. No effective treatment was known at the time. He could find relief only in increasing doses of laudanum, an opium derivative. Collins soon required doses that would have killed anyone not habituated to the drug, first to get through the night, then increasingly in the daytime as well. Indeed he claimed that after he first outlined the book's plot, opium wiped it almost entirely from his memory. Only his careful notes allowed him to proceed with the composition.

As in The Woman in White, the solution to the mystery in The Moonstone is pieced together from the accounts of multiple narrators. This technique, which Collins first adopted after he witnessed the testimony in a trial, allows the author both to withhold key pieces of information from the reader and to adjust the pace as the plot demands. In the opening chapters, the discursiveness of chatty, avuncular Gabriel Betteredge sets the scene and introduces characters. Mathew Bruff's lawyerly account moves the action along factually and quickly. Rosanna Spearman's letter creates a peak of emotional intensity. The overall effect is to call into question the reliability of any one narrator's version of events. Truth is elusive, although if everyone told what he or she knew, the solution to the mystery could be found close to home.

The excitement generated by The Moonstone boosted circulation of All The Year Round above the level set by Dickens's Great Expectations. Critics praised the skillfully woven plot, the colorful characters, the high drama that kept readers in suspense to the last. But Collins was more than just "a master of plot and situation," as T.S. Eliot once described him. His best work displays a depth of social and psychological insight that was extraordinary for his time or his genre.

Collins's novels are peopled with the outcasts of societyex-prisoners, servants, addicts, the ugly, and the deformedportrayed in all their humanity, often with greater color and sympathy than the heroes and heroines. Ever a rebel against social pretension, Collins once skipped a formal dinner party to which he had been invited in order to put on casual clothes and stand with the laborers watching the festivities from the street. "In the course of a long experience of Society I never enjoyed a party half as much as I have enjoyed this," he recalled. The same note of social defiance rings in The Moonstonewhen Rosanna, despite her class, her physical handicap, and her prison record dares to love and hope for love from the well-heeled hero of the story, Franklin Blake, in competition with the beautiful and wealthy Rachel Verinder. "Suppose you put Miss Rachel into a servant's dress and took her ornaments off?" Rosanna challenges.

Throughout Collins's fiction, appearances and ornaments mask a darker reality. The respectable middle-class home hides unspeakable secrets. Wealth is rooted in plunder or deceit. Gossip parades as piety, embezzlement as charity. People are not who they appear to be. Reality is built on shivering, shifting sand. In many ways Collins is a master magician, using his craft to keep our rapt attention on the unfolding drama while revealing, with a sleight-of-hand, the mysteries that lie just beneath the surface of our ordinary lives.

ABOUT WILKIE COLLINS

Born in London in 1824, William Wilkie Collins grew up in the company of artists and writers. Naming their son after his godfather, the popular artist Sir David Wilkie, the Collinses counted Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth among their acquaintances. Collins's father, a respected landscape artist, was hardworking and intensely religious, though probably not as severe as the ostentatiously pious Christians that Collins would later lampoon in his fiction.

When he began attending private school at age 11, Wilkie was a good student but not a happy one. Small and clumsy, he was an easy victim for bullies. But he would later credit one of his boyhood tormentors with cultivating his narrative powers. The captain of his dormitory, a "great fellow of eighteen," was fond of hearing stories at night. As Wilkie later recalled: "On the first night, my capacity for telling stories was tested at a preliminary examinationvanity urged me to do my bestand I paid the penalty. . . . I was the unhappy boy appointed to amuse the captain from that time forth. If I rebelled, the captain . . . ordered me to be brought out in words I have never forgotten: 'Bring Collins out to be thrashed.'"

The brutality of his education was mercifully interrupted by a two-year family trip to Paris and Italy that was a great revelation for the boy. Liberated from the blinders of his parents' earnest religiosity, Collins reveled in the spicy food, the street life, the horse races, the opera, and the gaudy splendor of Catholic churches. What he learned in Italy seemed more valuable to him than all of his schooling. His return after the trip to an English boarding school was so miserable that his family withdrew him at age 17.

Apprenticed by his father as a clerk for a tea company, Collins showed little interest in commerce, preferring to spend office hours writing poems and plays. He was released from the apprenticeship and sent for legal training in London, but the law, too, was to serve primarily as grist for the literary mill rather than a means of earning a living. When his father died in 1847, Collins kept a promise he had made to write his biography, which received good reviews and was even a modest financial success. Encouraged by the experience, he published a novel set in ancient Rome and a travel book before he met the man with whom he would achieve widespread literary success.

Collins met Charles Dickens when performing in an amateur production of the play Not So Bad As We Seem in 1851. (Dickens, already one of England's most popular authors, was both director and lead actor, while Wilkie played the part of his valet.) As a director Dickens was a notoriously tough taskmaster, but when rehearsal was over he had an equally inexhaustible taste for recreation. In Collins he found his equal for both work and play. Collins had inherited his father's Herculean work ethic and attentiveness to the craft of his art, but like Dickens had rebelled against moral prudishness. Within a few years the two writers were companions on an acting company tour, a journey to Switzerland and Italy, and visits to the music halls and brothels of London's Haymarket. Collins became one of the most hardworking and reliable contributors to Dickens's Household Words and was soon appointed one of the its editors. It was for this magazine's successor, All the Year Round, that Collins wrote the novels that made his reputation.

Their personal lives became even more intertwined when Wilkie's brother Charles married Dickens's youngest daughter Kate. Eventually the marriage would strain relations between the two men, for Dickens came to see Charles Collins as weak and the marriage as loveless. Wilkie Collins's household arrangements were another source of contention, since Dickens disapproved of his relationship with Caroline Graves. It seems to have been a loving relationship, for Collins defended it openly against the harsh criticism of family and friends, doted on Caroline's daughter, and looked after them his entire life, even after she left him to remarry. His passionate opposition to the institution of marriage made him an outcast in "good society," but for a man who detested the social rituals of the elite as much as formalistic displays of organized religion, it was not an entirely unwelcome exile.

The year 1868 marked both the height of Collins's literary powers and the beginning of his decline. With the serial publication of The Moonstone, Collins's monthly following reached, by some estimates, half of London's population. But as he describes in the book's preface, the painful gout and the opium required to relieve it were taking an increasing toll on his health. Caroline left him in that same year, probably because he had begun seeing Martha Rudd, a dark, strong-minded, working-class girl who would become the mother of his three children but never his wife. His last collaboration with Dickens, a work entitled "No Thoroughfare" for the Christmas issue of All The Year Round, was published in 1868 as well, just two years before Dickens's death. Although Collins lived twenty more years and published nineteen more books, their increasingly moralistic tone showed only glimmers of his former mastery.

Collins died in 1890 and divided his estate equally between Caroline Graves and Martha Rudd.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

The Woman in White

  • Laura is presented as an ideal of Victorian womanhood, obedient, respectful of social conventions, and willing to sacrifice her own wishes for others. How does her double, Anne Catherick, illuminate the dark side of that ideal?
  • "You will make aristocratic connections that will be of the greatest use to you in life," Collins's father told him when he started school. But Collins lived a life on the periphery of respectable English society that his father would not have condoned. In the novel, how is pedigree intertwined with deception and immorality? Where do the lines blur between servants and the served? How are the underprivileged used as a screen for viewing the upper-crust characters?
  • Why is Marian so mesmerized by Fosco, who she says "has interested me, has attracted me, has forced me to like him"? Why is Fosco able to see Marian, despite her physical unattractiveness, as a "magnificent creature"?
  • When Hartright returns from Honduras to restore Laura's true identity, he brings tactics he had first used "against suspected treachery in the wilds of Central America" to "the heart of civilised London." Why is he forced to work outside the laws and conventions of society to achieve his aim? Why did he have to leave England and return in order to make this change?
  • One critic has suggested that Marian and Fosco might be considered the true protagonists of The Woman in White. (In many ways they are much closer to Collins's own bohemian sensibilities than Hartright and Laura.) In what sense might this be true? How would you interpret the story's conclusion especially Marian and Fosco's fatein this light?
  • The use of multiple narrators was one of Collins's favorite storytelling techniques. What qualities does each narrator bring to the story? How does each change our view of the characters? Could the story have been told from a single viewpoint, and if so, whose?
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    The Woman in White 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 235 reviews.
    CathyB More than 1 year ago
    The Woman in White is a Victorian mystery that is considered to be one of the best mysteries ever written. Written in 1859, it takes the form of an early detective novel with an amateur sleuth. The plot (man marries woman and schemes to get her money), albeit predictable by today's standards, is plausible, entertaining and, at times, slightly suspenseful. I attribute this slightness to the Victorian language itself. I'm not a fan of that style of speaking and found myself frustrated at times and thinking just get on with it all ready, stop dragging things out. The story is told from the viewpoints of several characters - much like a legal deposition where each character relates what he/she knows about certain events. ----- The characters were interesting and memorable; however, I was disappointed in the characterization/treatment of women - weak and inferior. Was this an accurate portrayal for the times? I don't know. I have read other Victorian novels and didn't come away with the same feeling. Because of his portrayal of women, Mr. Collins didn't do justice to Marion Halcombe, one of the more memorable characters in the novel. A greater role would have been appreciated more by today's society but, in 1859, who knows. Creating a lead woman character who 'out thinks' a man may have been taboo. The other memorable character was Count Fosco, the mastermind behind everything evil in the world. I am being a bit facetious; however, the character was so full of himself that I couldn't help but inflate his imaginary ego a little more. His character was fully developed - I didn't like him and found him frustrating - once again this could be attributed to the Victorian language. ----- Overall, I did like the novel; however, the above issues prevent me from giving it more than three stars. I recommend to those who enjoy Victorian literature and those who would like to read one of the first mystery novels. This is a long book and not a quick read - you will be in it for the long haul - which you will enjoy.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Where has this book been all my life? Written in the time of Dickens and Stoker and as good as either, this is a shockingly modern thriller/mystery. This United Holdings Group edition is very good, with no typos or scan errors that I noticed. Worth the buck over the free version which is riddled with errors.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    There were aspects of this book I really enjoyed. I love the Victorian, Jane Austenesque language of the book. The plot is also intricate and promising. But it was just too dang long to get where it was going. Somewhere along the way I read that this had been a serialized novel published in a paper. I could see that and I had the same problem with another book compiled from a serial. Also while the plot was good on its own merits, the way it gets tied up at the end is disappointing in terms of the characters involved. That being said, if you love the writing coming from this time period, you will find this book satisfying. If you love intrigue and mystery you will also find something satisfactory in this book. But, Wilkie, couldn't you have just gotten to the point quicker!
    Bibliophile79 More than 1 year ago
    Often lauded as the first true mystery novel, "The Woman in White" is as intriguing as it is original. The plot is carefully crafted and often surprising in its twists and turns. The characters are painstakingly crafted and beautifully developed (particularly Count Fosco) and, by the middle of the book, I found I was worrying over the fate of the hero and heroine in spite of myself. Admittedly, I found this novel slow to start, but once all of the characters were on the proverbial stage, things moved rather quickly. All in all, this novel is worth the read for avid mystery novel readers interested in how the mystery genre first became popular. Incidentally, Collins wrote some wonderful psychological/ghost thrillers, which I have recommended it below. Happy reading!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    For fans of the Victorian mystery novel, this will not disappoint. Good reading. Kept me enthralled from start to finish. Also a window into the social mores and status of woman of the period.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    526 pages/numerous typos/however what a great story. Rated 5 w/o typos
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I very much enjoyed this novel. I was intrigued from the beginning, and most of the time found it difficult to put the book down. The were parts that were completely unexpected taht kept me hooked reading. This book is a perefect blend of Victorian Romance and Mystery. Wonderful book and one of the best I have read in a while! Truly worth the time!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Laura Fairly is the innocent, the young, sheltered, Victorian maiden who abides by her departed father's wishes. On his deathbed, he bids her to marry Sir Percival Glyde. Enter villainy. The grasping, frightened, short-tempered Sir Percival insists on a speedy wedding. He handily dispatches any obstacles thrown up in his path; he is damned and determined to wed Laura--and her fortune. But Laura has a sister, Marian, a strong-willed, independent, fiercely loyal sister who at first champions the marriage and then recoils once she realizes the true nature of Sir Percival. The man is a monster. And Marian will do anything to protect her sister. Heroism, and then some. There is also another, a drawing master named Walter Hartright, commissioned to teach Laura and Marian the fine art of watercolors. He falls in love with Laura, and she with him--before her marriage to Sir Percival. The drama should be obvious. But what of the title? Who is the Woman in White? Her chance meeting with Walter Hartright on the road to London provides the catalyst upon which the entire narrative turns. She is at once and both the key and the puzzle. She is a victim. She is a harbinger. She scares Sir Percival out of his wits. This book offers vivid portrayals of Victorian England, its mannerisms, its wardrobe, its inhibitions, its attitude. This book eerily reflects our own time, our own angst, in the 21st century. Once you read it, you'll know what I mean. Deception has no age. P.S. Whatever you do, don't turn your back on Count Fosco!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Really enjoyed this one!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A great classic novel which starts with a mysterious woman in white, a young art teacher and two distinctly different sisters and then proceeds to envelope you in a twisted plot of murder, mistaken identities, arson and and secret brotherhood. It will definitely keep you guessing!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I had never heard of Wilkie Collins before I read The Woman in White recommended to me by my wife though she had not read it either. It's an engrossing Victorian Novel with interesting characters ranging from an artistic narrator to a frail heiress. The writing is very good. I could summarize the first half of this long book in one sentence, yet lounging around in the language and the characters makes the experience worthwhile. This book is not for people who like quick reads!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Excellent suspence novel . The format was refreshingly different. Written in the first person as a journal. The characters were well developed and believable.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is a very unusual narrative treatment but very effective. The author keeps you guessing and trips you up when you think you've solved the mystery. I enjoyed this book more than most I have read lately.
    maggie100 More than 1 year ago
    Yes, it is very long and descriptive but it is oh, so worth it. if you take the time to read this book, you will be rewarded with a great mystery and wonderfully interesting characters. Additionally the insight into 19th century English life is terrific.
    Exitsmiling More than 1 year ago
    I'd forgotten how charming books from that time can be. I totally enjoyed it.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I was hesitant to start reading the book thinking it would be a bore how wrong i was!!! It is an excellent story written in a peculiar but interesting format. Not only is the story riveting in itself the lifestyles, behaviors and customs of that age are an eye opener. I simply loved it and was sad to actually finish the book.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book is a really good read, its so unpredictable, and it keeps you guessing..However, SOME parts of it drag on and repeat themselves, and the reader MIGHT find themselves a little annoyed by the frequent changes in the narrator. But the storyline is really good, and its definitely an engaging story with tons of unexpected twists and turns
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This is one of the best books I've read in a long time, and possibly the best mystery / detective I've ever read. Exceptional crafting, very suspensful. It was the kind of book you race to see what happens and are disappointed when you get to the end and the pleasure is over.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    'The Woman in White' may not be as well-known as, say, 'Oliver Twist,' but I can tell you with certainty that it is much more entertaining. I read classic books all the time, but this is the first that has kept me riveted from beginning to end. Yes, it's a Victorian novel, but it isn't nearly so long-winded, plodding, or didactic as Dickens, so give it a chance. I stayed up late several nights just to read this book; I could hardly put it down! I highly recommend it, even to people who usually don't like the classics. You'll like it!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    An excellent and believable tale of lies, treachery and determination. This book proves there's nothing that stands between determination and your goal. I could not find a single flaw in it... it's absolutly PERFECT!
    littlebookworm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The Woman in White was a great read. I could feel that it was lengthy at times, but it never lost my interest. I managed to guess at the conspiracy fairly accurately, but I was never quite sure if I was correct, and I didn't figure out the secret. The ending with Count Fosco had a bit of a deus ex machina feel - Pesca's previous connections were never mentioned - but otherwise everything was brilliantly done. Wilkie Collins has a great narrative voice and an ability to switch the story effortlessly between narrators while giving them distinct identities. Highly recommended, and I similarly highly recommend The Moonstone for another terrific Victorian mystery by this author.
    woollymammoth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    One of the best books I've read, a brilliant and haunting book.
    gloriaoliver on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A long book but well worth it. As things evolve you end up with multiple mysteries which are solved one by one though all interconnect.If I'd been a woman of the period, the book would have given me chills. It's easy to forget how little recourse women had in those days, especially if they had no family to speak of. And sometimes even then.Mr. Collins does a marvelous job giving different voices to each of those who turned in accounts on the mystery.
    LiteraryFeline on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    "Oh! It's starting to get good," I exclaimed to my husband on more than one occasion as I read The Woman in White before bedtime. "Never mind," I would later add, having read the next paragraph. He was utterly surprised then when I commented how much I liked the book upon finishing it. He wanted to know if the ending made up for the slow start. I found myself trying to explain to him that I didn't really mind the slow start, but I think it was lost on him. Just as I am sure you might think I am crazy too. For all the whining and complaining I did about how long it took me to read The Woman in White, you'd think I was miserable reading it. Bored even. I actually really liked the book when I was reading it. I loved it, in fact. My references to it finally getting good wasn¿t so much a pronouncement that it was not good, just my expectation that a big revelation was coming. Wilkie Collins sure knew how to create suspense, but it a more quiet and subtle way than today¿s thrillers often do. I loved the author's long windedness and his drawing out of events. I loved his use of language and his ability to pull me into the story. I felt like I got to know each of the characters and was standing right there beside them in every scene. I could predict how certain characters would react to certain events because I had come to know them so well. I could visualize perfectly the various places in which the story took place. I liked the format the author used to tell the story and appreciated the buildup of anticipation. My impatience and desire for the book to go faster was purely based on selfish reasons, and not a reflection on the book. The Woman in White is one of those novels that requires the reader to slow down and appreciate the finer points. My timing in reading the book was off. I wasn't in the right mind set for reading a book that required my full attention and time, not to mention I had been ill while reading some of it. Once I was able to devote more time to the novel, I found the right reading rhythm, and the book seemed to move along at a more acceptable (to me) pace. Published initially as a serial from 1959 to 1960, Wilkie Collins' novel was a great hit. So much so that it became a stage production (although unauthorized) within three months of the book's publication. My copy of The Woman and White included excerpts of letters and reviews written around the time of the book's release, which I found quite interesting. While the book garnered much praise, others were less impressed: ¿Had the story been wrought out in the old-fashioned way it could have been told far more effectively and in less space . . . A novelist who aims at being natural, and writes seriously, should refrain from reminding us of so broad a farce as Shakespeare¿s Comedy of Errors.¿ [Excerpt from the Dublin University Magazine, February 1861] Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White is told in multiple narratives, a collection of letters and journal entries used to document the events surrounding the mystery of the woman in white and that of Laura Fairlie, a lady of society whose own life and fate are intertwined with that of the title character. From the Barnes and Noble website:The story begins with an eerie midnight encounter between artist Walter Hartright and a ghostly woman dressed all in white who seems desperate to share a dark secret. The next day Hartright, engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half sister, tells his pupils about the strange events of the previous evening. Determined to learn all they can about the mysterious woman in white, the three soon find themselves drawn into a chilling vortex of crime, poison, kidnapping, and international intrigue. The novel is filled with an intriguing cast of characters. While the novel is plot driven from the start, the characters are well developed, from the least significant character who appears only for a page or two to the most important. My favo
    TineOliver on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    My mother bought this book for me - I'd never heard of Wilkie Collins until she did, but one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever been given.I read all 600 pages of this book in 3 days before and after work - I did not want to put it down! Admittedly Laura is probably one of the weakest female characters I've ever come across and some of the twists aren't all that unexpected, but I just kept wanting to know the end to find out whether the deductions I'd made throughout the story were correct!I'll certainly be looking for more Collins over the next few months - an absolute pioneer of the 'sensationalist genre'. If you like Sir Conan Doyle, I highly recommend the Woman in White.In a word: Enthralling