Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1859-1860)
The Woman in White was originally published as a serialized story in a couple of subscription magazines of the day, and was eventually published as a 500+ page novel in 1860. I decided to read this book partially because it’s considered a gothic classic (an early detective story) and partially because I thought it was going to be a ghost story. Sadly, there were no ghosts, although there was one woman who always dressed in white and had escaped from a mental hospital, and that’s something, I guess. There were also some classic gothic atmospherics: an old, dark, run-down manor house; a sinister plot; secret societies; a few nice deaths; and a well written and extremely detailed story, but overall, it seemed a bit ELONGATED for my taste. The prose was readable, the descriptions evocative, and a few of the characters interesting enough, I suppose---particularly the rich, misanthropic, invalid uncle whose nerves where so disturbed that even talking with his own niece for a few moments was enough to shatter him, mentally and physically, for a full week.
Unfortunately, however, the overall story was dull, and I lost interest long before the novel was over. It took an act of extreme willpower for me to push through to the end. The book is considered a classic, and a gothic classic at that, so I felt it was my duty to finish it, but unless you are a REAL fan of Victorian Romances, I don’t think I’d recommend it. There are some GREAT books from around this time which I really loved: Varney the Vampire (1847), House of Seven Gables (1851), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and Carmilla (1872), to name just a few, so it’s not that I don’t care for Victorian Gothic, I just found The Woman in White to be a bit less interesting than I’d hoped. (To be fair, I really didn’t care for Wuthering Heights, either, despite the fact that it DID have a ghost in it.) So, final words: The Woman in White wasn’t my thing---although I can suggest it if you’re looking for a powerful, non-narcotic sleep aid. Knocked my butt right out!
---Richard F. Yates