Halfway through the novel, I felt that The Woman in White had far too many elements, and I feared that these may not come together in the end, resulting in a loose narrative. But Collins pulled it off, and he did so elegantly! Even the minor subplots have their own significance in the story. The effect is that you feel you've read a novel that's carefully and meticulously planned.
Told in an epistolary fashion, The Woman in White has several characters that Collins use to tell the story. He begins with Walter Hartwright, an arts teacher who has accidentally met a woman in white while on his way to the Fairlie estate. Hartwright helps this woman (Anne Catherick) escape from two men intent on capturing her. Hartright has been commissioned to tutor the Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian Halcombe, who's one of the most strong-willed characters in fiction ever. Laura has been engaged to Mr. Glyde, a man who's only after the Fairlie inheritance. When Laura apparently dies due to a mysterious circumstance, Hartright becomes determined to find out the truth and hopefully reveal to everyone the sinister intention of Glyde. What follows is a whirlwind of tragic romance, mistaken identity, detective work, family secret revelations, and redemption.
So how does the woman in white figure in the story? Aside from having a strong resemblance to Laura Glyde, she carries with her a secret that can spell the downfall for one of the novel's main characters.
The Woman in White is truly one sensational work of fiction. If you have the willpower to go through the more than 600 pages, the effort is well worth it. It's hard to imagine why the novel was a bestseller when it came out in the 1850s. All the hallmarks of a very engaging read are here -- a mystery, cliffhangers, and narrative twists. It still is a hugely entertaining novel, if you pay close attention to the convoluted plot that Collins lays out for you.
I'm now on the look out for other novels by Wilkie Collins. I've already bought Armadale (another doorstop at more than 700 pages) and am planning to get a copy of No Name. I'll probably read The Moonstone again, since I read it when I was 13 and I probably wasn't able to catch all the details. You should read Collins, dear reader. You'd probably love sensational novels, too.
Read this book if:
- You love sensational fiction.
- You're craving for a good mystery.
- You like your novels big in every sense of the word.