Friday, 28 January 2011

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Having failed dismally to enjoy any English Victorian literature when I first gave it a go during my teenage years (the Brontes, Dickens, Shelley – I tried a few and gave up on all of them apart from Hardy) I labelled most writing of that time as boring, flowery and very long.

I eased my way into Victorian novels with Cranford last year which inspired me enough to give The Woman in White a try. Would my 16 year old self have enjoyed The Woman in White? Heck knows but I certainly enjoyed it today.

The novel more or less opens with a young man who encounters a mysterious woman dressed in white on the road to London, after helping this woman reach her destination, the man becomes embroiled in one very complex mystery.

As The Woman in White is classed as a 'Victorian sensation novel' there is romance, stolen identity's, strange foreigners, a secret society and an asylum. Its all good and intriguing stuff. As the novel is told by different narrators, all telling just part of the story, the reader is close to the mystery and has to solve it themselves by slotting all the narrators accounts together.

There are parts which rely purely on coincidence and can be a little far fetched but that's all part of the fun and the story is fast paced with injections of humour. That's not to say that it's all fun however. The plight and the treatment of women during that time is described well as is the shear ease of committing a person to a lunatic asylum.

One aspect of this book which did surprise me was the familiarity I had with Sarah Waters Fingersmith, even one of the plot elements. After reading this it is not hard to see how Waters drew inspiration from Victorian literature of this type.

I'm not ready to go out and try and read Dickens again but I will crack on with Jane Eyre soon.

I read The Woman in White as part of a read-along hosted by Allie over at A Literary Odyssey. Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess


  1. I read and enjoyed this a couple of years ago and still have The Moonstone on TBR pile. The only irritating thing was the ridiculously small print in my copy - age is encroaching! Won't be long before I'm hitting the Large Print shelves at the library. ;-)

  2. First, I'm glad you liked this one! Second, I'm really happy to hear you'll be giving Jane Eyre a try again!!

  3. I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed this book, I read it recently and adored it!

  4. Since I could get it free from Gutenberg Project, I downloaded this to my new Nook. Haven't started it yet, though.

  5. It's been 15 years since I've read this. I can't remember much about it and think I need to read it again. I do love Fingersmith so I will probably enjoy The Woman in White again.

  6. I really enjoyed The Woman in White as well, like you I rated it 4/5 ( It is a wonderful read and I'm glad more and more people enjoy it as well.

  7. I really enjoyed this one too, I thought it had a good pace and I loved the story. The Count was genuinely a bit creepy!

    I just finished reading Jane Eyre myself and I say definitely give it another go:

  8. I really admired Collins' narrative style in this book too. His use of different narrators allowed me to become a part of the mystery in a way that I do not always experience when reading. I am going to be giving Jane Eyre a go for the first time in March...I hope we both end up enjoying it!

  9. lovely treez - thankfully I read this on the kindle so I didn't have the small print problem, which I hate. I'm reading gone with the wind at the moment and that has tiny text.

    Amanda - it'll be interesting to see what I make of it this time round, last time I only read the bit about her childhood.

    Emily Jane - I'll certainly add Monestone to my TBR list now!

    Melissa - I downloaded it for free too onto my kindle, its a long book (I think about 500 pages) but worth a read.

    Anbolyn - I was surprised at how much it reminded me of Fingersmith but then I only read it a few months ago so it was still fresh in my mind.

    Man of la Books - I hope more ppl enjoy it, its a victorian novel thats suspenful and written in quite an easy way.

    Sam - I thought the count was a great character, I loved how he was with his animals and yet he treated his wife in the same way practically! Unvelievable

    Carey - ah we will be participating in the same read-alon in March! I hope we both enjoy it too.

  10. Jane Eyre was my first dip into the classics -- and I was immediately hooked. I hope you love it!

  11. I really need to get this one. I just read The Thirteenth Tale and the author references this title numerous times throughout the novel, as well as uses a woman in white figure in the text. Furthermore, I've been quite a number of reviews on blogs for the past month or so. Like you, I had a hard time enjoying pieces written during, and right before, this period, but LOVED Jane Eyre when I re-read it a couple of weeks ago. Thanks for the review!

  12. I enjoyed The Woman in White but I think my favourite is The Moonstone, it's quite funny.
    I hope you like Jane Eyre, I've read it quite a few times now, it's my favourite Bronte book.

  13. I'm so glad you've found a new love for Victorian literature. Age 16 is probably not the best time in life to attempt it. The Woman in White is a great place to start though. It's so similar to Fingersmith and the plot moves quickly.

  14. This is one of the books that I used for my 2010 goal of reading 12 classics. I actually listened to it on my ipod, and I think that only made me enjoy the book more -- the narration was wonderful and the eerie musical interludes added to the chilling ambience of the book.

  15. You will love Jane Eyre. I been meaning to read this one.

  16. I read this book in 2009 and it was one of the books that sparked my foray back into Victorian literature. I loved Count Fosco's character!

    Jane Eyre is on my list to re-read and I hope that I will get to it this year.

  17. If you like The Woman in White there is a good chance you will like Jane Eyre. It takes a little while but it becomes a pretty thrilling read! At least I think so, but I've read it three times as it is one of my favorite books. I've read three of Wilkie Collins books but this was definitely my favorite of the three. If you like sensation fiction you should definitely try Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It is much more thrilling and easier to read than Wilkie Collins.

  18. Jillian - I'm hoping big things for it now!

    Beth - it gives me hope that you also enjoyed Jane Eyre, The woman in white is an easish read so I'm sure your get on fine with it.

    Katrina - Moonstone is one I want to download onto my kindle quite soon, I know nothing about that one so it will be quite a surprise.

    Avid Reader - yeah I think I was far too young, I struggled through Dickens Oliver Twist I remember and it put me off him for life.

    TheBookGirl - there is a musical isnt there of it. I imagine it would look great on the stage or on audio.

    JoV - I hope so!

    everybookandcranny - I liked the count too, he was one of the more fasinating characters, bazare relationshiop with his wife I thought.

    Ash - thank you for the rec, I will see if I can get that on the kindle!