Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins

The Woman in WhiteThis is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve. 

"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 pyschological realism."

I loved The Woman in White; it's an excellent 19th century mystery that's not too overwritten. I'll admit that I was expecting it to be really overwritten, but it wasn't at all. Well, that's an exaggeration; it was a little bit by modern standards. But I was quickly drawn into the chilling story, and couldn't put it down at times. It was truly a thrilling book, masterfully created. I don't remember much about The Moonstone, but I'm pretty sure that The Woman in White was much, much better, in plot and in writing. Wilkie Collins does use the same technique of having the characters take turns narrating the story, which is effective. 

The beginning of the book is tinged with unease; Walter Hartright encounters a mysterious woman in white in London, and then goes to teach at the very house to which she is connected! He meets (and of course, falls in love with) Laura Fairlie, and becomes good friends with her mannish half-sister. Speaking of that, I loved how the somewhat masculine woman is one of the best characters, unlike in The Old Curiosity Shop, in which the lawyer Sally Brass is really evil. 

The plot of The Woman in White was amazing, and it's one of the most entertaining 19th century novels I've read in a while. It kept me interested for many, many pages. Also, many 19th century British novels are littered with obsolete cultural references and require pages and pages of notes; The Woman in White certainly had some, but not as much as a lot of other novels, like Vanity Fair. It's not always necessary to read the notes either. 

The characters, especially that of the sinister Sir Percival Glyde, are all superbly portrayed; when Glyde first arrives, he is the appearance of politeness and reason; yet Miss Fairlie's little greyhound is frightened to death of him. That struck me as very, very ominous. Anne Catherick, the woman in white herself, annoyed me a bit. After all, she flees Limmeridge before she can fully explain her side of the story. After about 140 pages, I was very annoyed by that. Rather than staying and sticking up for herself, she just runs away, leaving Glyde to charm everyone and make explanations that make perfect sense but that the reader knows are untrue. 

I will say that the very beginning of the middle section annoyed me a bit. The characters keep debating whether Miss Fairlie should marry Sir Glyde or not; shouldn't she know whether she wants to marry him, whether she loves him? It's not like Miss Fairlie needs money; she has plenty of that, and yet she was so unsure and so annoyingly timid about everything. I kind of wished that she would make up her mind already, rather than dithering here and there. Later she clearly doesn't want to marry him, but she doesn't break off the engagement! It was so infuriating, because Miss Fairlie could have very easily done so. She actually calls the marriage the "evil day". God, it was the worst thing ever! Why couldn't she have called it off? 

The portrayal of marriage made me very uneasy; the part of the story dealing with the arrangements of Glyde's and Miss Fairlie's marriage is narrated by a lawyer, and the whole of it consists of who's going to get Miss Fairlie's money (20,000 pounds) when she dies. That's very important, but what about what marriage is founded upon? What about love? Wilkie Collins doesn't talk about that at all. The marriage in this case, is of course an ill-fated one, but marriage should be a joyful thing. Yes, there is the dry legal aspect to it, but there are so many more important things about marriage besides who gets the money when one of the spouses dies. There was no discussion of any of that at all. 

Still, despite these annoyances, The Woman in White was superbly written and plotted, and letting myself go with the events, I loved it. 

627 pages. 

Rating: *****

No comments:

Post a Comment