This is the book I chose for the ‘colour‘ category of my whimsical reading challenge. It is also one of my set books for the Open University module I’m currently studying (AA316 – The nineteenth century novel), so I would have had to read it anyway.
Let me start by saying this is a looong book; you have to be seriously dedicated to actually stick with it. Wilkie Collins was not a concise man, despite his apparent fascination with three word sentences.
The novel is formatted as a collection of ‘evidence’ (such as diaries, letters and witness testimonies) to lend some shadow of ‘fact’ to a totally unreasonable plot. I’m sure the ‘sensation’ of this novel would have prompted a faint or two in Victorian Britain, but I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. Throughout the entire narrative I was promised a huge, outrageous climax (and that’s what made me keep reading!) but when it finally arrived it was a massive disappointment. Scandal obviously has a very different face nowadays.
I would describe The Woman in White as a novel of plot; Collins is far more concerned with showing a panoramic scene than investing in any character development, which meant it was a little bit challenging to bond with the characters. The diabolical villain, Count Fosco, was probably my favourite and that was probably because he just seemed the most interesting (as a non-British middle class delicacy). If a little sinister. I was expecting greater things from Marian Halcombe, our strong-willed heroine, but to be honest I found her a little bit insipid. She was one of those irritating women who were obviously created by a male, because all they do is talk about feminine inferiority. Not exactly what I’d call empowering. She was allowed to live though, which is quite uncommon for ‘rebellious’ women in Victorian literature.
Although reading the novel was pretty hard going, if you look at individual extracts there is some really beautiful writing involved. Not when he cracks out his dialects (which as you know is one of my pet hates), but whenever he’s working on generating suspense. The example that sticks out in my mind falls at the end of epoch 2, when Walter is faced with the veiled lady in the cemetery. This extract also illustrates the development of Gothic literature; Collins incorporates references and literary techniques to evoke a sense of the Gothic in a very domestic environment, establishing himself as a pioneer of his day.
I know I’ve been a little bit negative here, but I invested so much time in this one, that I wish I could have got a little more back… However, I’m still glad I stuck with it, even if I probably won’t read it again.
I hate reading books I’m ambivalent about, they spawn my worst reviews.
P.S. Have you read a book for ‘colour’ yet? Leave a link below!