A Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

So here it is.  Yes, I finally finished (and lived to tell about) the tome that had interested me for so long.

I picked it up for the RIP VI Challenge because it was supposedly bursting with surprises, and mysterious individuals appearing in white, and things that made me say, "holy shit, did that really just happen?!"

Ok, so while I will admit that many events were somewhat predictable and several characters made me want to throw the book across the room in you've-got-to-be-kidding-me frustration, I really enjoyed this novel.  Upon further discussion of my thoughts about the novel, I decided I'd up the 3 stars I gave it on GoodReads, and throw in a 4.

Without an English degree to allow me to provide you with complex literary terminology to back my opinion up, I'm just going to point out a couple of reasons why I really enjoyed this long-but-completely-worth-the-time read. This is by no means a summary of the events that take place in this book--to do so would ruin the surprises (if you're actually surprised) and devalue the mystery that encompasses this legendary novel.

Character development.
Laura Fairlie and Sir Percival Glyde (two of our main players) may be mere shells of what you would typically expect, especially when the story revolves around the two, Collins definitely delivers with this large cast.  (It's actually necessary in order to allow the story to progress.) While Laura, by all modern standards, needs to learn to make a decision on her own, the events that unfold would have been largely delayed, if not prevented altogether, if she just learned to open that little mouth of hers.  Sir Glyde- yeah, that guy is a joke. So let me get to my point... Count Fosco and Marian Holcombe dazzled me.  Not to mention Old Mr. Fairlie, who also gave me a little chuckle every now and then.

Count Fosco:
Count Fosco roars! The narrator doesn't spare us any of the details of this overly large man's obsession with small animals and his ability to captivate his audience no matter how transparent his motives may be.  He reminds me of jolly Old Saint Nick, you know, eating ALL the cookies and leaving a bombastic thank you note, when all you really wanted was that duvet from Anthropolgie.  This enigmatic man was a selling point in the narrative and made things much more interesting.

Marian Holcombe:
Marian is the epitome of a woman who knows her stuff.  She's intelligent, she's caring and she knows that she isn't just a woman.  No, she speaks on behalf of Laura, and even though she falls back into the ranks of the female at this time period, the lady loses her cool and manages to make the men realize that they need to start respecting or shit will really hit the fan. It's important to note that Collins was using Marion as a way to voice his difference of opinion of the status of the female in society at this time.  

Old Mr. Fairlie:
Wow.  This hypochondriac whiner made me laugh more than I thought I could stand.  He may care little for his own niece's life, but the following passage is just a little taste of what you get with this guy (and it's just too much):
Cool. Here was a matrimonial hailstorm pouting in the South of England; and I was invited, by a man with fever in every fold of his coat, to come out from the North of England, and take my share of the pelting.  I tried to put the point forcibly, just as I have put it here.  The count deliberately lowered one of his horrid fingers; kept the other up; and went-- rode over me, as it were, without even the common coachmanlike attention of the crying "Hi!' before he knocked me down

Sure, some people dread plowing through the details of Victorian life in a place as drab as Blackwater Park (yes, Blackwater Park, the name just screams sunshine);  however, I was in the novel, living as an invisible cast member in this outrageous ensemble.
The inner dialogue of Hartwright allows me to feel the desire he's suddenly developed for Laura, almost as strongly as the day I first kissed my own love.

This novel was more than enjoyable.  Aside from the fact that I've been spoiled by cheap nighttime crime shows and other thriller novels, I recognize that this work was definitely something new to hit the scene when it was initially published.  I appreciate the writer's patience and diligence in providing a complex storyline with a large cast of characters that didn't lose focus-- a novel that remained a serious literary work 'till the very end.

Challenge totals: Book 2 of 4.  


  1. Count Fosco is an absolutely amazing character. He steals every single scene he is in!

  2. Yep, I need to finish it. You reminded me of all the reasons why I SHOULD pick this one up again.

  3. Sam, That is so true! He overshadows every character in every scene. I like how he condescendingly makes that comment at the end about his wife. Ugh!

    Andi, Yes! I pushed through and ended up loving it!!

  4. I have wanted to read this for a while - if it weren't so long, I'd try to read it in October, but I don't think I'll have time. It sounds intriguing, even if possibly infuriating at times.

  5. Fantastic review. I have to admit that I had way less patience with the insipid Laura Fairlie than you did -- I just wanted to shake her at times. But as you point out, it's the other characterizations that make the book such a classic!

  6. Cat, Yes! I think you would really like it. I understand-- you have quite the tbr list! Impressive, though!

    Col, Thanks. Laura drove me crazy, but I guess it couldn't have been much different. I really enjoyed it!

  7. I'm so happy you liked this one. I think I've mentioned I've read The Moonstone and adored it, but haven't yet read this one even though it's been sitting on my TBR pile for over a year. Great review!

  8. Excellent review, Beth! It really is the very best of Collins, in my humble opinion. I've read several of his other novels, but this is the one that really stuck with me. I think it is because of the cast of characters, they're all so amazingly complex. And Fosco does take the cake--almost a juxtaposition--a lovable villain! Well done! Cheers! Chris

  9. One I've been meaning to read for quite some time. I think I have it on my shelf somewhere or downloaded to my Nook - and if I don't, that'll have to be remedied soon!

  10. I can't believe I still haven't read this one; it does sound awesome.


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