The Woman In White | a review


'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.

My Thoughts:
To enter in what all my thoughts were for this novel, would require much time. Which sadly I'm pressed for. But I so very badly want to review this book, because it was a wonderful, intense and rich story - and I loved it to bits! So we'll attempt it anyway. 

Oh my goodness, where do I begin and end with this review? This is a fascinating, thrilling story and one that will engage you thoroughly in its drama. As Collins himself describes it, “This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.” This perfectly sums up The Woman in White, but without hinting at the depth and complexities that such a tale could delve into.

The Woman in White had so many favourite elements in it for me, though sometimes the story got morbidly dark, chillingly intense and heartbreakingly sad (and it's not like I don't like a bit of the bittersweet in my stories after all ;). For lovers of the Victorian Gothic novel, the story had many of the deliciously eerie elements of ghostliness, spooky encounters at graveyards and haunted mansions, baronets with dark secrets and even a burning fire that reminds you of Bronte's Gothic romance Jane Eyre. It had, in typical Victorian literature style, the romance and heartbreak, complex plots, morbid villains and fascinating rich characters that one would find in a Charles Dickens novel (no surprise there as Collins and Dickens were close friends!). . . 
And it had the thrilling, analytic drive of a mystery and detective-law investigation especially from the drawing-master Walter that brings to one's mind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's use of the science of deduction in Sherlock Holmes and makes you keep reading in desperation to ascertain the facts and fate of our characters. Fascinating tidbit, Collins was actually one of the first mystery-writers of the Victorian age, and in the character of Mr. Walter Hartwright, one can detect traits of an investigator and detective that reminds of you of the Baker-Steet Sleuth himself! In that way, the story had a thrilling, intense appeal to me and captivated me with almost every page.

My favourite aspects of this story were the Gothic mystery plotting and unravelling of the investigation, the richness of the characters and the interest I had in reading the different narratives of the different texts (I loved the use of unreliable narrators - let's talk about Mr. Fairlie's account, haha!), the strength and virtue of Marian Halcombe and Walter Hartwright's characters who warmed my heart to them, the fragility and exploration of insanity/mental breakdowns of Laura Fairlie and the "woman in white", the subtle hinting of themes in regards to the rights of women without a voice if they were afflicted, the multi-dimensional portrayal of the antagonists Sir Perceval Glyde and Count Fosco, and most of all the way in which the characters fought the evil of wicked men with perseverance, determination but most of all uprightness and integrity. 

It was so good! 

Because lists make our world go round (some say it's chocolate, but I'll dispute that in favour of a good cup of tea!), I'll list aspects (in no particular order) that I loved and surprised me about this story. And when you're done reading, go forth and read this rich novel! Okay?! Okay. 
1. Marian Halcombe was my favourite character, and possibly she's been added to one of my all time favourites in literature, generally. She's a wonderful, strong young lady of courage and wisdom, straightforward bluntness and humour and I just loved her immensely. <3 For all my initial doubts about how he'd portray a female heroine in such a deep drama, I think Collins definitely handled her with a great deal of sympathy and accuracy as a female protagonist in a Victorian era (it made me smile to see such a virtuous, plucky and strong woman in a tale soaked with danger and dark deeds, and to be honest, for all the "strong female" leads of modern YA works, Marian knocks them off with her little finger - she's just so brave and caring!) Way to go, Marian! :)

“No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with a woman.” 

2. Mr. Fairlie - one can't help laughing over that irascible, nervous-wreck of a grump. I mean seriously, his nerves are the most horrifying nuisance for all characters concerned, and it shows just how good an author Collins is to make you enjoy reading that man's nervous protestations. 

“Tears are scientifically described as a Secretion. I can understand that a secretion may be healthy or unhealthy, but I cannot see the interest of a secretion from a sentimental point of view.” 

3. The duo of the two main villains - Sir Percevial Glyde and his friend Count Fosco were dark, treacherous, sadistic, calculating and in a horrible way delectable to read about because they were so well developed and vividly portrayed. There deeds were terrible, and as it unfolded, you felt increasingly repulsed and horrified. Glyde's story was the most morally challenging and heartbreaking, and I have a lot of feels about that ending *sighs*. Also I really appreciated the truth represented that a sin finds a person out. But Fosco was my favourite, just because his character made me laugh one moment and shudder the next. As a general word of caution, avoid making the bosom friend of any Italian Count with a strange affinity for white mice, dramatic operas and submissive wives who wrap their husbands' cigars. ;)

“I am thinking,’ he remarked quietly, ’whether I shall add to the disorder in this room, by scattering your brains about the fireplace.”
4. The unreliable narrators fascinated me immensely. We get to read from several different voices throughout the text, and its quite unpredictable and shocking from which courters we sometimes hear the narratives told. The more untrustworthy the character was, the more intense and gripping the reading becomes. Mrs. Anne Catherick was one of the most intriguing, and of course Mr. Fairlie the most ridiculous fun, but I think it is fair-game to say the most horrifying and gripping was Count Fosco's brief accounts. *shudders* The main narrations fluctuate between Mr. Walter Hartwright and Marian Halcombe, and my favourite was naturally Marian's. I was quite crestfallen when Marian's part of the narration ended, (may I say rather briskly?) and much as I loved Hartwright's character, Marian had a certain amount of spunk and vividness which was an absolute thrill to read (think of Jane Eyre's narrative-strength).

5. The writing. This is solid, rich writing and I loved every bit of it! This novel has its weakness, I'll admit, mostly in its strength of plotting and pacing - sometimes building up to a certain vivid heat of intensity, and then resolving the conflict almost prematurely in a rushed sequence of mad coincidences, etc. However, apart from a particular point midway where I felt disappointed with where the story seemed to turn (I presumed it was turning into a dark Gothic romance, abet like Jane Eyre, but it took a rather sudden turn and became very much a detective/mystery), and being a little bemused at a rather rushed ending, those very coincidences and revelations give you the drive to read on and discover the different layers and complexities of the thick mystery. To be honest, it was wonderful to see it unfold, like onion peals! 
6. Mr. Walter Hartwright, though by no means a perfect character, was a very honourable young man and I really loved his devotion to Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian, and his purposed determination to bring to right their wrongs, without gain for himself. His gentlemanly love for Laura, his painful maturity in regards to the unhappy circumstances around Laura's engagement, and his deep regard and friendship for Marian were truly endearing. 
7. The bond of close sisterhood and love between Marian and Laura was the most beautiful and heartbreaking thing <3 *hugs those two girls close to my heart*. I LOVED LOVED how devoted Marian was to Laura #ohmygoodness It was one of the most precious and devoted sibling relationships I've witnessed in literature. Just, gah! So special.

8. This is probably the first time I've "shipped" two characters in a story or hoped for them to get together romantically that way before. It didn't work out the way I'd hoped, and I was a bit miffed about it because it seemed so heartbreakingly perfect and beautiful to me *sighs*, but at the end I appreciated that the story was NOT a romantic-tale but a story of loyalty and friendship and at its heart an unravelling of a terrible mystery. Also the romantic resolution seemed very realistic in a bittersweet sort of way. I still think it would have been a good idea if those Two Certain Characters had come together, but oh well! 

9. The moral resolution or climax to the story. I can't explain it for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say that I was very much impressed by the way the author portrayed a Scriptural truth through the choices and consequences of certain characters that I felt was quite poignant. 
10. The humour. I was actually surprised by that, but my greatest amusement sprang from Marian herself, just in her spunky, clever forthright way of saying and doing things. But I mean, Count Fosco and Mr. Farlie were equally amusing and at times strangely comical. I was surprised by how many times I was on the verge of smiling in "The Woman in White"

“My hour for tea is half-past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody.” 


That is not to say, that this is rather a heartbreaking and tragic tale. But beautiful nonetheless, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. So, please, give it a go!
P.S. do not, do not watch the film adaption for The Woman in White, friends! It was a terrible, TERRIBLE adaption *growls angrily at film*.

Comments

  1. Dear Joy, what a wonderful review of this remarkable work :). I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts, and those most apt descriptions and quotes of the characters! And of course, your review definitely has the desired affect - that of inspiring readers to go and pick up the book and begin reading, right away if they could!!

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  2. Dear Maddy,

    Thank you for your sweet comment and encouraging words! It totally brightened my day, dear :). I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and think it accurately depicts/reviews such a rich classic as "The Woman in White". It's always a bit more of a challenge to review big classics such as this one, because it has so much depth and areas to talk about - but it also makes it really thrilling and exciting to delve into! :D

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