The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in WhiteThe Woman in White suddenly took book blogosphere by storm a couple of months ago. In the midst of it, a copy was displayed prominently at one of my favorite bookstore for a great price and The Classic Circuit started on Wilkie Collins. The universe was aligned. I read the book.

Once I finished, I was thinking for a bit, does it have to be that long? The book is a tome at 609 pages and it took me 3.5 weeks to get through. But then I couldn’t think of anything that can or should be cut off. There are probably a couple of longish parts that we can do without, but it wouldn’t be The Woman in White. Moreover, I loved the writing so much that I just enjoyed the entire journey.

The novel is told in collection of journals and letters, so we had a few point of views. I don’t normally like the multiple POVs format, but this works very well, in very believable way. There’s a good reason why collection of the narrations comes together. I loved how the characters talk in such articulate, sleek way (why don’t we talk like that anymore?). They’re babbling in such grace that I could just read them on and on.

A bit of synopsis: A drawing teacher by the name Walter Hartright is offered a job to teach two ladies by the name Marian Halcombe and Laura Farlie who are half-sisters. Not long after, spark grows between Walter and Laura, which is quite a disaster since Laura is apparently engaged to another man — who is more of her stature, than poor Hartright. Oh, and of course there’s the woman in white whom Hartright meets at one night by pure accident and helps out of pity or curiosity. The woman is later discovered to have some connection with the two ladies’ family.

Laura is the typical weak beauty while Marian is strong and smart. I’m somewhat disappointed that the character Marian was made ugly by Collins [p28]. Why is that? If Marian was as pretty as Laura, would Hartright fall in love with the same woman? I couldn’t dismiss the thought for the entire book, which annoyingly made Hartright somewhat shallow in my eyes. Needless to say, I was never fond of Laura. She’s a perfect damsel in distress and so meek it’s frustrating. On the other hand, Marian is the perfect female heroine: intelligent, selfless, opinionated.

“Women can resist a man’s love, a man’s fame, a man’s personal appearance, and a man’s money, but they cannot resist a man’s tongue when he knows how to talk to them.” ~ Marian, p246

When Laura’s father died, she was left with her uncle, Frederick Fairlie, a lazy self-pitying man. There were very few times that a fictional character got so annoying that I could hardly continue a book. Mr Fairlie was one of them.

“Nothing, in my opinion, sets the odious selfishness of mankind in such a repulsively vivid light as the treatment, in all classes of society, which the Single people receive at the hands of the Married people. When you have once shown yourself too considerate and self-denying to add a family of your own to an already overcrowded population, you are vindictively marked out by your married friends, who have no similar consideration and no similar self-denial, as the recipient of half their conjugal troubles, and the born friend of all their children.” ~ Frederick Fairlie, p332

The Woman in White is in the genre of what is called Sensation Novel, which typically focuses on shocking subject matters, in this case: forgery, treachery, murder, insanity, theft, kidnapping, bigamy. It is probably my first experience reading Sensation Novel and I can definitely see the appeal.

For those of you who have not read the book, please beware of spoiler below. (Highlight to read)Wilkie Collins

** SPOILER warning **

I just have to mention that it’s interesting that nobody was murdered as part of the mystery. I thought, SURELY somebody must have killed somebody! The crime felt so mild compared to what we have these days! (real life or in books)

** END of SPOILER **

In conclusion, I am very impressed. It’s readable, enjoyable classic. If only more classics are this enjoyable to read. I would love to read more Wilkie Collins. The Moonstone sounds great too. Interestingly his life story sounds almost as interesting as his stories! What with the two mistresses he never married and their children.

4.5 stars
1859-1860, 609 pp

For Wilkie Collins tour, 5 of us have chosen to read The Woman in White: Reviews by LolaFizzy Thoughts, just add booksBook Gazing. Check out the rest of the tour for more Collins!

This week of the tour:

December 8, 2009 - It’s All About Books Review: Hide and Seek
December 9, 2009 – Me!
December 10, 2009 - Linus’s Blanket General: An Overview of Wilkie Collins

Challenges
I’m going to count this book for Women Unbound Challenge as I think it’s a pretty good book to get a glimpse of women’s roles and social status in 1800s England. The marriage settlement was most interesting to me.

1% Well-Read
(book #10), Women Unbound (book #1), 1001 Books Before You Die, Wilkie-Collins Mini Challenge (Did I just sneakily slip in another challenge?)

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20 thoughts on “The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

  1. Rebecca Reid

    Yes, despite Wilkie’s somewhat progressive ideas the women say in his novels, he still is rather traditional in his attitude toward them. Women have to look mannish if they are smart. Grrrr.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. I listened to it and it took me 4 weeks too and I was just dying to know what happened. I think I would have read it much faster!

    I hope you enjoy The Moonstone. If you like mysteries, you probably will! It’s more mysterious.
    .-= [Rebecca Reid´s last blog: Reading Journal (9 Dec): Thoughts on Being a Selective Reader] =-.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      I was quite surprised that Walter described Marian as ‘ugly’. What a strong word. Not only mannish, just plain ugly.

      I can’t imagine listening to it. Audiobook depends much on the reader, so there’s another layer that could make it good or bad. I’m glad that I read the physical book for sure.

      Mystery is not a genre that I’m usually drawn to. I just read it once in a while. But I’m definitely interested in reading The Moonstone.

      Reply
  2. Jenny

    All through the book, I was sure Walter was going to fall in love with Marian after all. I really wanted him to – not because he’s so great, but just because I liked the idea that he could forget about the pretty helpless girl and marry the smart brave girl. And I loved it that (spoiler, I guess, for other commenters) Count Fosco fell in love with Marian. That was so much fun to read.
    .-= [Jenny´s last blog: Stern Men, Elizabeth Gilbert] =-.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      I too had an inkling (or was hoping) that Walter may fall for Marian at last, but alas. I was also disappointed that Marian was left unmarried. Not exactly about the marriage bit, but about how she doesn’t find anyone for her, since she’s so busy taking care of her sister! I agree that Count Fosco’s feelings for her were so interesting ;)

      Reply
  3. J.S. Peyton

    Glad you liked “Woman in White!” It was my first Wilkie Collins book, but it definitely hasn’t been my last. The good news is that in his other novels beautiful females are also smart and even dangerous. One of the things I like best about Collins is that he writes great and strong female characters.

    Reply
  4. Mark David

    Reminds me exactly of The Historian :) Kostova’s book is also over 600 pages long, and I also came to a point where I wondered if it really had to be that long. But as with your thoughts on The Woman in White, Kostova’s novel wouldn’t be The Historian if any of it was cut off. And as you already know, much of it is also written as letters, and then there’s also the articulate language.

    By the way, I have this (almost pathetic) soft spot for “perfect damsels in distress.” That’s why I actually like it when I see them in stories. Sometimes, the more distress they’re in, the more inexplicably powerful their pull becomes (take Naoko of Norwegian Wood, for instance). It’s like gravity, only weird. I believe it’s something that almost comes natural for men. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to be a hero, or something along the lines. But of course, sometimes it’s us who end up needing rescue when we play knight-in-shining-armor and get trapped in a maze ;)

    Thanks for the spoiler alert! I skipped that part, as I also would like to read this book someday. But as you said, this one’s thick. Is The Moonstone any slimmer?
    .-= [Mark David´s last blog: Review: The Historian] =-.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      I disagree that most men would fall or have soft spot for the damsels in distress ;). The book conveys two opposite sides of this opinion, which makes it interesting. You’d see what I mean after you read the book, because I don’t want to give away too much!

      I don’t know if The Moonstone is slimmer. But I encourage you to read either one, because even if The Woman in White is so thick, it was really satisfying. I never got bored or felt it repetitive.

      Reply
      1. Mark David

        Hmm, maybe you’re right. I guess I was taking it too much in the context of Norwegian Wood, LOL! Speaking of which, I realized we still haven’t discussed that book. It’s one of your favorites too right? I’m curious of what you think about the ending and the characters :)
        .-= [Mark David´s last blog: Review: The Historian] =-.

        Reply
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