The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

It is always a slight worry that if you re-read a favourite novel, and The Woman in White is indeed one of my favourites, then you may just not love it as much as you did the first time and in fact all that you found charming and wonderful about it in the first place is dashed to pieces on a second read. The Sensation Season has already seen me re-read Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and fortunately I loved it once more, would I feel the same way about this classic? The answer is of course YES, it is Wilkie Collins after all and so far, though there is still time, he hasn’t written a word wrong in my mind.

The Woman in White opens with a slightly spooky encounter on Hampstead Heath when our hero of the novel drawing master Walter Hartright comes across a mysterious ‘woman in white’ who is in apparent distress, he then finds she has escaped from an Asylum. Leaving London the next day he thinks no more of it until he meets his new students at Limmeridge House Laura Fairlie and her half sister Marian Halcombe. He finds Laura bears a startling resemblance to the ‘woman in white’ and he then discovers that there may be a link between the women he has met through such a coincidence.

You see this shows why Collins is such a genius as there are lots of other intermingling plots going on that it hard to try and explain them all. I won’t apart from the fact Laura and Walter naturally fall in love but she is already betrothed to Sir Percival Glyde so Collins throws in some romantic drama in for good measure too. It is after their honeymoon when Sir Percival and Lady Laura Glyde return to Limmeridge House with a guest Count Fosco and dastardly things start to happen. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoiling it by letting you all know too much which would ruin it if you haven’t read it.

Suffice to say being a Sensation Novel and being Wilkie Collins there are lots of dark deeds and dubious doings going on with many plot twists to keep you turning the pages to the very end. I also loved the fact that this was narrated by different characters, you felt like you were playing detective with Walter and yet had one up on him as you were getting more clues than he was. It also makes for very interesting reading getting into all the different characters minds.

As I mentioned before this is the second time that I have had the joy of reading The Woman in White and I got just as hooked as the first time and actually I think (as I will admit I last read it in my early twenties) responded to it more this time around. I had forgotten all the twists and turns when they fall. I found Fosco just as brilliantly dark and was much more charmed by Marian this time around and her gutsy attitude. I think also with the last read I didn’t really think of the literary aspect of it just that it was a good mystery, so good in fact it has stuck with me ever since. This time it was how the plotting and scene was set that impressed me just as much as well as all the characters and their strengths and flaws. All in all a wonderful, wonderful read that I personally think should be compulsory.

Next in the Sensation Sunday reads is East Lynne by Ellen Wood and is the mother of all Sensation Novels according to some sensation experts. I might pop up the road and see her this afternoon as when you read this I will be doing my volunteering at Highgate Cemetery. Anyway back to today’s sensation read… who else has read The Woman in White, what were your thoughts? What other books have you re-read and then found just as good if not better on the second reading?


Filed under Books of 2009, Penguin Classics, Review, Sensation Novels, Wilkie Collins

17 responses to “The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

  1. Well, I had every intention of reading this with you, but it snuck up on me. Your review just confirms that I must get off my lazy rear end and read this book already. I’ve had it loaded on my Kindle forever. I guess what I need to do is put it on a list for a challenge next year! Great review, as always, Simon!

    • No worries Sandy ‘you shouldnt read books if the time isnt right’ is one of my little motto’s and clearly right now is just not the right time. I am sure you will love it when you do.

      Mind you for using the dirty K word on my blog we may fall out hahaha.

  2. I love the Woman in White. It’s my favourite Collins. You’re going to enjoy East Lynne. It’s also wonderful. Can’t wait to read your review.

    • Oh am glad to hear even more wonderful things about East Lynne. We were talking about it yesterday at HIghgate as lots of people didnt know about it, I was most unimpressed. Am hoping Ellen haunts them when they do shifts up near her grave.

  3. Bellezza

    I haven’t read The Woman in White in about eighteen years, and I adored it the first time I did. So did all the members of the book club to whom I’d latelr recommended it, and that rarely happens. It’s taking the book bloggers by storm this season, I see it every where, and now i’im tempted to pick it up again.

    I know what you mean about a book failing to please a second or third time around. A few of those which never have disappointed me are: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Oh, I could pick up any one of those any time and be perfectly content. For days.

    • Novel Insights has this as a book group read (the book group I quit) and apparently it does cause some really interesting discussions between members.

      I adore this book and think it would be one of the books would ask to be on a treasure island with me if I am ever on desert island discs hahaha.

      Interesting you have The Robber Bride in your selection. I had a nightmare with it a year ago gave it up and gave it away, have since bought a copy back as am more Atwood minded after The Blind Assassin I think.

  4. mee

    I’m currently reading the Woman in White and have about 70 pages left. Am really enjoying it. It’s just written beautifully. It’s probably the first sensation novel I’ve read. I’ve been following your Sensation Season and am intrigued in the books you’ve been talking about. I hope to read more sensation novels in near future!

    • Its brilliant isnt it. So wonderfully written and evokes such landscapes and mystery whilst having brilliant plots and heaps of suspence! Read more of Collins like No Name or Armadale they are as good as this one.

  5. Hi, Simon! This is one of the the best books I’ve read so far this year. And I guess TWIW started my current love affair with Wilkie Collins. I have to agree with you that the opening is really vintage Collins — creepy and suspenseful, setting the perfect mood for the rest of the novel.

    I do believe that this novel may put off many readers, especially those who haven’t read a novel by Collins yet, as it has so many details that would make the novel appear cluttered. But I think that the persistent reader is rewarded since everything is tied brilliantly in the end. It’s really brilliant.

    By the way, is it true that this is the first novel to employ the epistolary device?

    • I dunno you know Peter this was the first Wilkie Collins book that I read and I was just gripped and this was back in the day when I was a bit of a book heathen and didnt give a monkeys about prose, I just wanted books that hooked me and this did just that!

      I haven’t a clue on the epistolary device… I might be the first in his work!!!

  6. I still have not read this one even though I have not heard a bad thing about it and everyone has recommended it to me in the blogging world! I’m not sure why I have stayed away – I think I have the impression it might be a “full on” book that will overwhelm me because of its content or style…

    • It does seem to have been a very popular book of late on the blogosphere, I wish I could claim my sensation season was the reasoning behind it but actually no one probably knows about it hahaha. I think its more the time of year when reading Collins is just perfect.

  7. Wilkie Collins is amazing, not just The Woman in White. I thought No Name read like a modern thriller too, it was so gripping (if let down by the ending slightly) – I felt the tension physically and was on the edge of my seat with it. I couldn’t get into Armadale for some reason though but maybe should give it another try. Am going on to The Dead Secret next, I think.

  8. Thanks for the great review. I wish I had known about your sensation season earlier, as I’m a big fan of Wilkie Collins and sensation fiction in general. In fact, I just posted my own review of The Woman in White last weekend. I have read six other Wilkie Collins books in the past and will eventually get around to re-reading and reviewing them too. I loved every one of them, but I think Armadale has probably been my favourite so far.

    • Hi Helen, thank you for popping by and leaving this comment. Very kind of you. There are still a few weeks to go with the sensation season so do feel free to join in you would be most welcome.

  9. Pingback: The Long & Short of It « Savidge Reads

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