1000 Books in 10 Years: Vol. 103; The Woman In White, by Wilkie Collins

The Woman In White was a best seller in the era of the serial novel, and earned Wilkie Collins a fair amount of coinage. Does a Victorian mystery novel hold up in to a 21st century reading? Indeed it does. One part Sherlock Holmes, one part Pride and Prejudice, Collins weaves together a narrative that, though about 400 pages longer than it needs to be, can still captivate an audience. Being a serial novel that was released in installments, one can imagine the suspense a 19th century reader must had endured upon reaching the end of a chapter and having had to wait for the next installment of the narrative, especially when it takes the better part of 600 pages to reveal the answers to all of the questions the reader desires answers for. The Woman In White was essentially the Victorian equivalent of a show like Lost. Like The Moonstone, (another famous book by Wilkie Collins), The Woman In White is a epistolary novel, meaning it is told through letters or testaments written by various persons involved in the narrative, each attesting to the first hand information they experienced. Collins is famous for employing the “unreliable” narrator and using his narratives to satirize the class structure of Victorian England. In one passage he likens the ruling class to inmates at an asylum, and in another notes how useless and ignorant the ruling class are. The novel’s heroine, Laura Fairlee, though the only nobly born protagonist, is also the most useless and dependent of all the characters, and is kept in ignorance of many important narrative points by her middle-class love interest and middle-class half sister, in order to preserve her mental wellness. The Moonstone is perhaps the better work, but The Woman In White still holds its place as one of the innovators of the mystery narrative.

Quotes I liked:


What are we (I ask) but puppets in a show-box? Oh, omnipotent Destiny, pull our strings gently! Dance us mercifully off our miserable stage!


Word I thought I’d look up:



Vacillate: To be unable to decide.


Apoplectic: Furious, or to be showing symptoms of a stroke.


Corpulent: Obese.


Chatterton: Thomas Chatterton (20 November 1752 – 24 August 1770) was an English poet and forger of pseudo-medieval poetry. He died of arsenic poisoning, either from a suicide attempt or self-medication for a venereal disease.


Mellifluous: Pleasant to hear.


Felicitation: Act of congratulating.


Inveterate: Habitual or firmly established.


Conciliate: To bring disputing sides together.


Cessation: Stop.


Nineteen to the dozen: An expression used to indicate speed, usually in reference to speaking.


Prostration: To lie face downward.


Epistolary: In the form of letters.


Peremptory: Dictatorial or expressing urgency.


Connivance: Secret plotting.


Ostentatious: Rich and showy.


Clandestine: Secret.


Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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