The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

My first thought when I read the title of the book was that the story must have a ghost in it. In my mind I pictured a great house with a history, a tragedy, an unfinished tale and a ghost forever haunting the place in search for that one person who could help bring closure to the event that happened long ago. Maybe an act of vengeance, not to mention a happy ending. Well, it wasn’t exactly like that.

The opening line is intriguing to say the least, paving the way for the adventure to come. The story is told by different people, all of whom have had an important role to play in piecing together the mysterious tale of the woman in white.

Walter Hartright (a very fitting name) is the first to start recording the events. A teacher of drawing, he gets a job through his friend Pesca, who recommends him to the master of Limmeridge house where two young ladies require some private lessons in drawing and painting. On his way there Walter has his first strange encounter with the woman in white. Determined to find out more about her, he enlists the help of Marian Halcombe, one of his young pupils at Limmeridge and together they try to find out more about the mysterious woman. Following threads here and there, some of them providing astonishing revelations, the story is revealed little by little and a most intriguing conspiracy comes to light.
Tragedy spreads its gloomy wings when Walter falls in love with Laura, Marian’s half-sister, whose impending marriage to Sir Percival Glyde dooms the budding love story. And to make things even more interesting, Sir Percival is a man with a secret and that secret is connected to the woman in white.

I enjoyed the twists and turns of the story. Just when I thought that things could go one way they went another and kept me at the edge of my seat. Astonishing revelations, and some only hinted at, made me want to keep reading and I was pleasantly surprised at the clever way in which the author had managed to keep things going with a remarkable smoothness. The different perspectives given by the various characters involved in the story made for a nice change of pace.
We also get to read the opinions of Frederick Fairlie, master of Limmeridge, a whining, perpetually suffering and pathetic creature, whose eccentric habits and selfishness annoyed me to no end, his niece Laura, a frail, beautiful and prone to fainting young lady, her sister, Marian Halcombe whose strength and selflessness were beyond reproach, and probably the most intriguing character, Count Fosco, a scheming, educated and intelligent man whom I could not help but admire in spite of the negative role he played in the story.

This is one of the best classic stories I’ve read so far, worthy of taking a seat next to Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, a book I recommend to anyone who likes mystery, tragedy and the story of love that conquers all.

*read in June 2011

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3 Responses to The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

  1. Esa says:

    It struck me that in the same way that the reader was kept guessing while reading Drood, I was in similar straits as The Woman in White moved along. The mysteries were many and the solutions never quite attainable. But the unravelling of the plot was quite satisfying.

    • Delia says:

      It was an intriguing book but Drood felt much more complex to me and somehow more…wholesome, if that makes any sense.

      • Esa says:

        It does.
        Simmons imbued Drood with a mood that carries on throughout. I think that is what separates good novels, from great. From first word to last, we are there.

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