This is my second Wilkie Collins, although he wrote and published this book before The Moonstone. The Woman in White is described as a Victorian “sensation” novel, and was written with many twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. It shared the same narrative technique as The Moonstone – that of alternating first person narratives written and provided by different characters. In this book, as in The Moonstone, there was a central female character – Laura Fairlie here, Rachel Verinder in The Moonstone – from whom the reader never directly hears.
I love the alternating narrative format. It provides the reader with excellent insight into what happened through the eyes of the different characters. In this book, my favorite character, by far, was Marian Halcombe, a woman who lacks many of the desirable characteristics of Victorian womanhood. I was surprised by Walter Hartright. I expected a certain type of weak male character, and, instead, was impressed with his fortitude, resilience and intellect.
As in The Moonstone, the female heroine is disappointing. Lady Laurie Fairley is not merely weak, she is also weak-minded and childlike. Her resemblance to the harrowed Anne Catherick ends up being much greater than I would have supposed. She lacked the core of strength that I would have liked to see in a book of this sort.
Nonetheless, this book does entertain. It is swift moving, despite it’s length of over 600 pages, and fairly action packed. Collins strove to keep his readership off balance, and I believe that he succeeded. There are several events throughout the course of the book that do surprise the reader.
There are foreshadowings in this book of many different modern tropes, including: the investigation by the private individual where the public investigators fail. I don’t want to spoil the book for any prospective readers, because this is the sort of book that should be read without spoilers. Overall, though, I very much enjoyed the book, particularly Marian’s character. Collins may not have intended for her to be the books true heroine, but in my opinion, that is exactly what she was.