Welcome, Woman in White-ers! I hope you’re enjoying Wilkie Collins’ classic as much as I am. I’m about to start chapter 8 of the first section in the second epoch (got all that??), which is just about halfway through. As always, spoilers are fair game here!
(Before I go any further — if you haven’t voted for the January book yet, take a moment to check out the poll in the sidebar and pick your preference!)
I won’t actually be talking much about the plot of The Woman in White today. I’m extremely curious about where the story is going, but at the same time I’m not usually one to make conjectures and try to puzzle things out — I’d rather just see how the story unfolds. Suffice to say I’m enjoying the confusion and tension Collins is so effectively building. I also find myself looking forward to seeing who will take up the tale next and have to keep myself from looking ahead, since I assume knowing who the future narrators are would give me an idea of where the story’s headed!
The first thing I wrote down about The Woman in White is “great characterization.” I wrote it after reading the following passage, from Hartright’s description of Mrs. Vesey at the start of chapter 8 in the first part of the first epoch:
“Nature has so much to do in this world, and is engaged in generating such a vast variety of co-existent productions, that she must surely be now and then too flurried and confused to distinguish between the different processes that she is carrying on at the same time. Starting from this point of view, it will always remain my private persuasion that Nature was absorbed in making cabbages when Mrs. Vesey was born, and that the good lady suffered the consequences of a vegetable preoccupation in the mind of the Mother of us all” (p. 43).
A few paragraphs later, Hartright describes his first interaction with Mrs. Vesey, which just adds to the portrait so effectively begun. As I read, I continue to feel Collins is quite adept at thrusting his characters into the story fully-formed and ready for action. It’s like each time I meet one, he describes him or her so compellingly that I question whether he has merely drawn on a stereotype with which I’m already familiar and that is why his characters come so vividly to life. But I don’t think that’s the case. Mr. Fairlie, for instance, might be the curmudgeon-y invalid relation (ugh, do I dislike him!), but to me, at least, he leaps off the page with quirks and personality at the same time that he draws on that rather common role. And he’s just a supporting character, really, at least at this point. All this is just to say that I think Collins does an excellent job with his characters!
At the same time, though, I can’t really tell the difference between the narrators’ voices as they add their segments to the larger story. Obviously, there are plenty of context clues to help keep the narrators straight, and I’ve never felt I didn’t know who was talking at any given point. My mention of it here is less a complaint and more an observation. It’s interesting to me that an author so adept at creating characters doesn’t do much (at least, in my opinion) to differentiate their voices.
My questions for all of you so far have to do with the two main women. First, what do you think of Marian’s occasional put-downs of women? I forgot to note down any examples, but several times she has mentioned being inadequate in certain respects or predisposed toward particular (re)actions due to the fact that she is a woman. These feelings seem discordant with her strong and independent personality, and I can’t help pondering whether it’s Collins’ voice breaking through a bit.
My other question is with regard to Laura. Do you feel she’s a weak character? She seems unable to act in many situations, and I can’t decide if she’s just weak or if she has been sheltered for too long and lacks confidence or knowledge about how to proceed. She does show moments of strength, I think, or at least attempts to show them, and she doesn’t annoy me the way helpless females often do, but I haven’t quite worked her out yet. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
How are you liking The Woman in White? Do you have any (least) favorite characters? Hunches about where the story is heading? Also, if you’ve posted about The Woman in White on your own blog (as I know at least a couple of you have), please leave a link in the comments so others can find your post!