The Woman In White

I like the color white.

I like to wear white and variations of white like ecru, off white and cream. I like to lay out my white lace tablecloth and watch my white battenburg lace curtains blow in the breeze. I appreciate a well pressed white button down shirt on a man. And I’ve always admired white Victorian tea gowns worn on stage and screen.

I guess that’s what drew me to read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. I’m a sucker for a good title or cover art. When Ron’s Classic Challenge urged me to “get mysterious,” my immediate thought was Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie.  But I’ve read those recently. And when I think “mystery,” I envision something dark. Another reason why the suggestion to read a mystery with someone conjuring a woman in white intrigued me.

And I’m very happy to say it didn’t disappoint. It was a true page turner and I didn’t want to put it down!

I was drawn in at the first encounter with the mysterious title character. I wasn’t certain for a while if she was a ghost or real, so compelling was Collins’ description.

womand in whiteThen there’s the actual story “telling.” I’ve never read a book told by so many points of view that actually mastered such a craft. Collins’ employed several narrators to accurately tell his tale, probably due to the fact that the book was originally published as a serial tale in a magazine. A challenge Collins took at the urging of his friend Charles Dickens. Each narrator had his or her own tone of voice that was very distinctive. Such a clever tactic too!

The story is complex and one doesn’t want to give away too much when reviewing a mystery. But there is the requisit hero — a poor art teacher who falls in love with the woman under his tutelage. Her smart and very likable sister informs him she’s pledged to many another and great sadness ensues for all three characters. Then there is the fiance, presenting likability but showing his true colors as deceitful and callous, and his protagonist friend — and nasty wife — who are just truly wicked. Other characters fill in the novel with a little man introduced in the early pages — an almost castaway early character who becomes quite a hero toward the end of the novel himself.

Oh how the woman in white suffers. Oh what dastardly deeds take place. Oh what a challenge it is to untangle the webs. Oh what fun it was to read.

Despite its length of 550 pages, it read quickly. Collins achieved great success with this novel. But it is also very clear that he was immensely proud of it … Author of The Woman in White is engraved on his tombstone.

I like the color white.The Woman In White was a fascinating read. Collins is a masterful story-teller. The book engages the imagination 150 after its original publication. And her story and character kept me reading late into the night.

— Jenni


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