I have officially ticked off the first book off my reading list! Heralded as one of the first sensation novels in Victorian Literature, The Woman in White had built up a high reputation before I had even opened the first page. Originally published in 1859, by Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White was released in serial form meaning readers had to wait between episodes heightening the suspense of the plot. The mystery and intrigue that Collins created along with the crime/detective elements of the novel truly make it the precursor of the genre. One could say that the novel contains many common tropes of its respective genres, yet I believe it created them. I am so pleased to have read this novel first in my Sex, Scandal and Sensation in Victorian Literature module, simply because it provides so much promise for the other texts that I am yet to read.
The opening of the novel is by far my favourite section, although this shouldn’t discourage the quality of the ending. Collins drops us straight into a mysterious plot along with our main narrator, Walter Hartwright. The drawing teacher meets the infamous Woman in White, an asylum escapee on the run. I poured through the opening segment as the Gothic style and darkness heighten the early tension. Collins wrote the beginning so well as so many seeds were planted that could be rediscovered later in the novel. Walter moves to Limmeridge House, to teach Frederick Fairlie’s nieces art. Yet the mystery of the Woman in White follows him to Limmeridge and her story begins to intertwine with the Fairlies as it has done throughout her entire life.
Another clever element of the novel worth mentioning, was the interchanging narratives from each of the characters. Almost every character provides a narrative either through diary entry or witness statements, that Walter has collected and put together. Personally, I love feeling as though the characters are speaking to us, and that the novel itself has been crafted from its own fictional world. It adds to the reality and reminds of reading of the tribulations of Robinson Crusoe through his very own diary.
Many of the character developments are also as intriguing to read. Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco appear as the two villains who mastermind crime plots that would have been unspeakable at the time, yet would shock an avid readership. Their actions and deception may seem obvious to the modern day readership, but that is simply because the themes have been continued and replicated so many times in other forms of literature. Yet the nature of the writing kept the pages turning as Collins can always be relied on to give a new twist to the tale.
For a literature student, it was a fantastic read, arguably a little long. This may not appeal to the general reader as sections and descriptions can take a while to move through in some cases. I mean, Dickens was Collins’ mentor, so the two or three pages of description come at no surprise. For a normal reader it may seem highly convoluted and could have been 400 pages shorter. But it has to been recognised as the first of its kind, its impressive nature has shaped the genre of sensation writing and I found that a privilege to read. I am now highly anticipating Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret that I will come across later in my reading module.