The Woman in White

If you’re looking for a typical mystery novel with predictable twists and turns look elsewhere because you won’t find it in Wilkie Collin’s novel the Woman in White. The story revolves around Walter Hartright a drawing master who encounters a mysterious woman named Anne Catherick on a road heading to London. She is wearing only white and seems to have no destination, friends or family. Walter has no idea that his encounter with Anne will lead him on a treacherous journey filled with scandal, false identities, asylums and a chance to save the love of his life. After parting ways with Anne, Walter spends his summer in the company of Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie. His life and the life of these two women become entwined forever when Walter falls in love with Laura although she is already promised to someone else. Their love story is one of two main premises of the novel, the other being the mystery of Anne’s true identity. The story alternates between various points of view all relating back to Anne and a strange secret she wishes to share with Laura about her betrothed.

The story itself is complicated but despite the various transitions between points of view the novel is easy to follow and written extremely well. The characters drive the story forward through their honorable motives, crazy eccentrics and shrewd personalities. There is Count Fosco who is exuberant in his attire and manner. He practically jumps out of the pages and lures you in with his quick wit and cunning. There is Marian, a strong level headed woman who wants nothing more then to save her dear sister. She is fiercely loyal and a force to be reckoned with. Then there is Laura’s husband Sir Percival Glyde, a spineless man with a horrible temper. Collins characters come to life through his strong prose, resonating with you long after the story is over.

For most of my life I have only ever read mystery novels. The suspense of who did it and trying to see the twists and turns before they come has always been a motivating factor behind my love of the genre. This novel is known as one of the first mystery novels of its time and I have to say it is one of the best mysteries I have ever read. The story was unpredictable and the characters were unmatched in their desires to either wreak havoc or right a terrible wrong. Collins kept me on my toes and piqued my interest with every page. This was my first classical fiction novel and boy am I ever glad that I picked it up. If you’re looking for a novel that’s off beat with eccentric characters and a scandalous storyline then the Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is the book for you. Be warned it’s not an easy read but it is definitely a satisfying one.

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Halfway through the Woman in White and…

at times it’s a hard pill to swallow. Never mind the languidly long, never ending reams and reams of ranting (see what I did there?!) which is to be expected but something that I should have seen coming but didn’t was the surreptitiously inserted sexism. Women in the novel are portrayed in one of two ways; either as incredibly meek or as manlike in their defiance.

(Warning minor spoilers)

Lets start with a brief summary. Walter Hartright one of the main protagonists encounters a strange woman in white one evening on his way to London. The story alternates between different points of view all relating back to this strange lady and her mysterious connection to Walter’s love interest Laura Fairlie.  The novel is brimming with mystery, scandal, insanity and unproclaimed love (is there really any other kind?).

Now back to the stereotyping.  The women are portrayed as meek and submissive with no mind of their own. If they show defiance, anger and intolerance towards men they are either depicted as insane or their outer and inner qualities are described as being man like. Who wouldn’t find this irritating and a little distracting to read? Marian, Laura’s confidante is one of my favorite characters in the book. She is strong minded, intelligent, a force to be reckoned with and yet the very first description of her is as follows:

“Never was the fair promise of a lovely figure more strangely and startlingly belied by the face and head that crowned it. The lady’s complexion was almost swarthy and the dark brown on her upper lip was almost a moustache” (p.28). 

There are various other instances where Marian is referred to as being “dark” and Laura is depicted as having a shining innocence on her face at all times. These two extremes are at times difficult to grasp but at the same time, as I am slowly beginning to realize these perceptions of women are true to the times. Without giving away too much, the mysterious woman in white is also depicted in unfavourable terms. 

It probably seems like I am being unfair and highly judgmental of this book but it’s my first classic and I am slowly muddling through and trying to focus on the positive points in the novel (I promise I will have some to share in the review). What do you think about sexism in novels? Do you find it to be distracting? Does it get your blood boiling? Or have you read enough classics that you, unlike me, have come to accept it?

Are you a book snob?

When someone asks you if you’ve read Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey do you cringe and roll your eyes? When someone says their favourite book is Hunger Games do your try to hold back laughter? Some of us, I wont say I’m not one of them have come to the conclusion that we are too good for these books, that they don’t qualify as good literature, don’t stimulate our mind and are therefor not worth the read. But is it really fair of us to look down at these books? The reason I ask is because I am guilty of being a major book snob. I refuse to read 50 Shades of Grey and I would never say Hunger Games was my favorite book because in my mind atleast it wasn’t well written. I am however trying to re-evaluate my position. The authors (I would like to think) put in painstaking effort to create these novels and what gives us the right to create an us vs. them line between these books and what we call good literature?

The reason for this post is I was contemplating buying the Divergent series on my Kobo and I thought to myself, would anyone read the review? After jumping from classical fiction to a contemporary teeny bopper book am I just making myself look bad? Perhaps I’m over thinking it, the point of reading is to enjoy what you read and I think I would enjoy Divergent. What do you think? Are you a book snob? Do you judge others on what they read? Are you what you read?

 

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What am I reading next?

What better way to spend a lazy Sunday then to read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and sip a cup of David’s Tea. For those of you who don’t know, the Woman in White is regarded as one of the first and finest mystery novels of its time. I’ve never read a classic before (horrifying I know) and so this is my first time delving into a book such as this. Wish me luck as I tackle the Woman in White!

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