Today, readers, we are embarking on a journey to Cumberland in the United Kingdom, relatively close to a few of our recent destinations since we are still travelling through the novels taken in my British Authors from 1832-1950 course. Which one of my reading list takes place in Cumberland? The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
The Woman in White is an enormous favorite on my list. When I say favorite, I don’t mean that I liked it, or it was good, or I recommend it with hesitation. I mean that I loved it, and it is currently on my top five list. I’m sure that this review will earn some raised eyebrows; this is not every man’s cup of tea. It’s long, and to some it appears to be slow-moving. However, The Woman in White is considered to be one of the first mystery novels and was shocking for its time (1859). It may seem slow-paced to the modern reader because we are used to much less description that Collins provides, but I contest that the plot is not sluggish nor the story dull.
I have never met a mystery novel that I enjoyed until I found this one (unless you count Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently novels as mysteries). I have tried to read a handful in the past, and their stories always seemed to involve women detectives who love chocolate and cats… Both of which I love! But they don’t make for particularly riveting reading. I am aware that there is a multitude of mystery and detective novels I haven’t touched and are most likely quite good. My experiences have been less than that.
The Woman in White perhaps did not changed my attitude toward all mysteries, but it has opened my eyes to how thrilling waiting to find out the truth can be. It is dark and complex. Collins presents the reader with a wealth of information from the beginning, but the reader meets twists, turns, and new clues with every page. You may have noticed that, like The Invisible Man, I did not give a plot synopsis for this novel. Being it is a mystery, I didn’t want to give anything away for those of you who haven’t read it, but it would also be impossible for me to concisely describe to you the intricacies of the plot.
Our readings were between 80-100 pages if I remember correctly, and I remember groaning when I first realized this. It couldn’t have gone more quickly! I was eagerly scouring each page before I turned to the next, not wanting to miss any details that might give me a clue to the dreaded “secret” or the mystery that continued to surround the Woman in White until the end. I was also surprised, and later pleased, by the viewpoint of the novel. It is told via epistles written by different character, giving the reader a wealth of information and the chance to gather clues from various sources with different perspectives.
If you enjoy quirky characters, you’re in for a treat with Frederick Fairlie. The sickly uncle of two of the main characters provides frustration and humor as several other characters go to him for assistance. I would say more, but it would give away so much quality writing!
Would I recommend The Woman in White? Yes, yes, yes. Will everyone like it? No. I recommend it regardless of personal preference. If you hate it, put it down, and blame me for having an overenthusiastic review. I think that it is a masterpiece.