The Woman in White ~ Wilkie Collins


So once again I am forced to derive from the course of my reading list. I was supposed to read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code this week. It was in fact, a perfect book for vacation reading since I’m off and it would have been a welcome break from the last few books I’ve read (I’m not necessarily reading them in order even if I post the reviews as they’re supposed to be). I ordered the book along with the next one (One Hundred Years of Solitude) but despite of promise of delivery on Tuesday June 27th, none had arrived when we left on Friday June 30th. So I have read Wilkie Collin’s The Woman in White instead.

For some reason I was expecting a supernatural story; you know the woman in white haunting the roads or something. Or maybe it’s because of the translation into French that I was mistaken. Anyway, the result is the same, I wasn’t all that eager to read this kind of story – I’m not a big fan of horror. So imagine my surprise when I realised it’s more of a detective story than anything else.

The Woman in White is written from multiple points of view, the narrative is constructed as a trial might be, with the multiple testimonies of witnesses to a crime. It starts when a young drawing-master, William Hartright, meets by chance a young woman dressed all in white one night, as he takes the long way back to his house. Out of kindness, he helps her out on a cab to reach London, only to discover some moments later that she is just escaped from an asylum. Some time later he is referred by his friend, Pr. Pesca, to become the instructor of two young ladies out of London. In need of money, he accepts and moves to Limmeridge Lodge where he meets Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie, whom he falls in love with. The lady though is engaged to be married to a Sir Percival Glyde.
It so happens that the woman in white is known in the place and used to be a favourite of the late Lady Fairlie and she tries to warn Laura off her wedding with Sir Glyde. In spite of her own feelings and her fears, Laura marries Sir Glyde only to be an unhappy married woman. She’s not the only one in those times but her husband’s in need of money and tries to make her sign a deed that will grant him complete access to 20,000£ that she’s not willing to grant.
Follows a terrible scheme to get the money that Marian Halcombe and William Hartright do their best to undo.

I found the story a little long to be honest, but it may be partly because of the way the narrative is constructed. At least, unlike some other multiple POV books, you get to stay with the same narrator for a little while unless they don’t have much to say. Most of it is written in the first person so it’s a bit unsettling sometimes to change storytellers but still have the first person narrative. It does read like the transcript of a trial in some ways, although you’re missing the lawyer’s questions.
The book’s not quite a detective story because the first part is more akin to romance, and because you know who the criminals are. It’s more a question of finding proofs to bring them to the law and re-establish the truth. It’s interesting though because it’s different from other stories written at the time.

There’s also a vehement critic of the inequalities in marriage between husband and wife. Mr. Gilmore, the solicitor, is actually outraged by the lack of foresight and consideration of his client Mr. Fairlie upon drawing the marriage arrangements between his niece and Sir Glyde. The young woman – who has a fortune of her own in a payment of 3000£ a year – finds herself completely destitute since her uncle agrees that the entire payment should go to her husband. A woman who could be reasonably independent is made completely submissive to her husband just because he owns her money, and as such, he owns her. Laura Fairlie’s money and her death become powerful incentives for her husband and by not protecting her, his uncle has made her the ultimate victim.

It’s an interesting book, and all in all something different from everything I’ve read so far on the list. For that reason it’s a good addition to that list. But I don’t think I would have picked it up otherwise.
Have you read the book?
What did you think?

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