Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins

by Erin on December 2, 2011

Reading Buddies Button

Welcome, Reading Buddies! Sorry for the slightly delayed post — I had to finish The Woman in White this morning. That’s not for a lack of interest but a lack of time! I thoroughly enjoyed Collins’s novel and almost never feel like I was reading a stuffy old classic. Whether that’s because The Woman in White is so enthralling or because I’m getting better at reading older books, I’m not sure!

As always, spoilers are fair game, both in this post and in the comments.

I can’t believe how much I loved this book. It’s the latest in a quick succession of novels I’ve read that employ first-person accounts as a way of compiling a complete and “accurate” narrative. (Another, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I especially enjoyed.) I really like the way this approach combines potentially unreliable (or at least biased) narrators with the shared goal of accurate reporting. I love hearing from so many different characters and seeing who picks up the thread at what point. It’s so effective in creating a complete picture. As Anne Perry, who wrote the introduction to my Modern Library edition, puts it:

“This not only gives us an immediacy and an urgency that might otherwise be lacking, but, far more cleverly than that, it allows us to see every person through is or her own eyes, so that they become real for us. No one topples over into melodramatic hero or villain, because we understand why they have acted in this or that way” (p. xii).

Even Fosco, cunning mastermind that he is, has a moment to explain himself. Really, the only characters who don’t are Percival and Laura — and I would argue they are the shallowest, most easily stereotyped characters in the entire novel.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (cover)I had said two weeks ago that, though I loved Collins’s writing and the way he drew his characters, I couldn’t tell their narrations apart. That all changed very quickly — Frederick Fairlie, Count Fosco, the servants, each had such distinct styles! I think I didn’t see it initially because, of all the narrators, the first few — Walter and Marian — are perhaps the most similar in their feelings of devotion toward Laura and their commitment to do right by her, which seemed to lend a similar flavor to their writing.

I also had some more time to consider Laura and Marian, who I brought up in my discussion post. One commenter on that post pointed out that Collins was something of a feminist, so I think I agree with those of you who said Marian’s disparaging comments about women were most likely meant sarcastically. I still think it’s silly that her “mannish” strength of character dooms her to be a spinster, but such were the times, I suppose. (Did anyone else think Marian and Walter should have run away together??) As for Laura, terrible things certainly happened to her, but as I read I became more and more convinced she’s just a weaker character than the others. Though perhaps I’d have felt differently if we had had a chance to hear her own voice? Oh well. There were plenty of other more interesting characters in the story. Had Laura been strong enough to right the wrongs done to her herself, we would not have gotten to know those other characters!

I don’t read a lot of suspenseful books, so I discovered something about myself as I read The Woman in White. I think there are readers who pause in their reading to consider the path of a story and work out where they think it might go next, and there are readers who barrel full-speed ahead toward the novel’s conclusion, more interested in finding out how the story ends than forming their own conjectures about it. I, it turns out, am 100% the latter kind. Which one are you — or are you another kind of reader I’ve missed?

A few participants already have their posts up:

I hope you’ll get a chance to visit the other participants. And if you’ve posted about the book on your own blog, please leave your link in the comments below and I’ll add it here!

Care to share?

You might also like:

Join the conversation!

4 comments
Christina
Christina

I love this book! I'm glad RB picked it and forced me to pick it up.

You aren't the only one who thought Marian and Walter should end up together. I knew it would never be as they both are too attached to Laura, but I did feel like they were a better match.

As for what kind of reader I am, I think I'm a combination of the two you listed. I certainly think about what I believe will happen but I do it while I'm reading.

zibilee
zibilee

This is a book that I am hoping to read in the new year when I have my classics project going. I hope that you don't mind that I skimmed this review, as I want to go into it with very few spoilers!

Meaghan
Meaghan

So glad you enjoyed The Woman in White. I've been a fan of Collins ever since reading The Moonstone (considered the first detective novel in the English language) and is also told through different narrators.

I agree that Collins was (at least for his time) a feminist, or at least sympathetic to the downtrodden. I think that his creation of such a wide range of female characters in all of his works is an example of him trying to show how easily a woman can be controlled or tossed aside in Victorian society -- and how very wrong that is.

I also recommend you check out Armadale (also dealing with birthrights inheritances, identity) and Miss or Mrs (a rather funny short story). You might also like The Meaning of Night bu Michael Cox.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Erin Reads (Part One | Part Two) [...]