Book review via @helenandkirsty : The Woman in White

For our first book club we decided to go with something to fit in with the theme of Halloween and go for a spooky read.


2101098de6b0b744f84aa199e8a64a96So what’s it all about?

Marian and her sister Laura live a quiet life under their uncle’s guardianship until Laura’s marriage to Sir Percival Glyde. Sir Percival is a man of many secrets – is one of them connected to the strange appearances of a young woman dressed all in white? And what does his charismatic friend, Count Fosco, with his pet white mice running in and out of his brightly coloured waistcoat, have to do with it all? Marian and the girls’ drawing master, Walter, have to turn detective in order to work out what is going on, and to protect Laura from a fatal plot..‘ -Goodreads

About the Author.


Wilkie Collins

A close friend of Charles Dickens’ from their meeting in March 1851 until Dickens’ death in June 1870, William “Wilkie” Collins was one of the best known, best loved, and, for a time, best paid of Victorian fiction writers. But after his death, his reputation declined as Dickens’ bloomed. Now, Collins is being given more critical and popular attention than he has received for fifty years. Most of his books are in print, and all are now in e-text. He is studied widely; new film, television, and radio versions of some of his books have been made; and all of his letters have been published. However, there is still much to be discovered about this superstar of Victorian fiction

The review:

“Some of us rush through life, and some of us saunter through life. Mrs. Vesey sat through life.”
Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Wow this book is a whopping 624 pages! It has been on my to-read list for years. I had picked it up somewhere where the classics had all been re-released with new covers and I also have Moby Dick to read. Victorian novels have a very interesting history. Women pretending to be men to be heard, their books initially serialised in newspapers, outrage that some books didn’t reflect true life, it just goes on.

“This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve.”
Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

This story is told from several narrators telling the story of a young woman dressed in white who turns up in the middle of nowhere after escaping the aslyum and scaring a poor artist half to death and how her poor demise is caught up in a web of deceit, fraud, mystery, disguise – i.e. lets take glasses off and suddenly we’re superman kind of thing. And of course as relevant today that little thing called money.

“I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of work of fiction should be to tell a story.”
Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

So to the characters. Well we have ………

  • Walter Hartright—A poor young man who earns his living as a drawing master. When he goes to Limmeridge house to be the drawing master and restore art he falls in love with beautiful, tempting, and virtuous Laura Fairlie. Laura being already engaged, Marian her sister warned Walter to stay away. In the end Walter ends up marrying Laura. – Possibly the hero of the story
  • Frederick Fairlie—A fanciful, selfish invalid, owner of Limmeridge House in Cumberland. Laura’s uncle. His irresponsibility in handling matters concerning Laura’s welfare as her guardian is one of the key factors that lead to the success of Count Fosco’s plan. -honestly get a grip man!
  • Laura Fairlie—Mr Fairlie’s gentle, pretty niece, an heiress and an orphan. She loves Walter but is committed to the dark and mysterious Sir Percival Glyde.
  • Marian Halcombe—Laura’s half-sister and companion, not attractive but intelligent and resourceful. She is described as one “of the finest creations in all Victorian fiction” by John Sutherland. -Had everyone’s interests at heart. Quite a strong woman
  • Anne Catherick (“The Woman in White”)—A young woman said to be of disordered wits. It’s heavily implied that she’s an illegitimate daughter of Laura’s father because of her striking resemblance to Laura. – one of the victims but brave for trying to help Laura?
  • Mrs Catherick—Anne’s unsympathetic mother, who is in league with Sir Percival Glyde in committing her daughter to the asylum. Had a brief taboo relationship with Sir Percival but not an affair.– A horrible woman (can’t repeat what was said)
  • Sir Percival Glyde—Laura’s fiancé and then husband, he is an unpleasant baronet with a secret. He is able to appear charming and gracious when he wishes, but his true character appears soon after his marriage to Laura. Walter later discovers that his secret is that his inheritance of his title and estate was unlawful because his parents had never married and therefore he was a bastard child, and to obtain it he forged a false marriage register entry. – a complete numpty, full of greed and no self worth
  • Count Fosco—Sir Percival’s closest friend, his full name is revealed to be Isidor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco. A grossly obese Italian with a mysterious past, he is eccentric, bombastic, urbane, but also unfathomably intelligent and menacing. He takes especial interest in little animals, and keeps many birds and mice as pets. The Count greatly admires Marian for her intellect, so much that he is willing to compromise several weak points in his plan (such as allowing Marian to retrieve Laura from the asylum) for her sake. – Horrible villan!
  • Countess Fosco—Laura’s aunt, once a giddy girl but now humourless, cold and in thrall to her husband and his schemes. She caters to the Counts every whim.
  • Professor Pesca—A teacher of Italian, and a good friend of Walter. The professor finds Walter the Limmeridge job, introducing him to Laura and Marian, and proves to be Fosco’s unexpected nemesis. source here

and that’s the gist of the story in a nutshell. One poor woman’s likeness to another and a few other things gets her locked up in an asylum only for some greedy men to do a switcheroo, take some money and ruin several lives in the process without realising if they had took some time and done some research on google they would have realised that all this wasn’t necessary and sat down to tea living happily ever after.

It’s a very good mystery/detective story that perhaps these days could have been done with being shorter in length to gain a bigger impact on today’s readers. some mentioned they didn’t like the middle bit, where others struggled with the language and certain things were unnecessary of lacked detail, such as the secret society, why add the italian mafia into the middle of a ghost story? I mean it’s bad enough that the women had a raw deal but were there to protect their husbands with some kickarse moves if needed yet were invisible the rest of the times i.e. at times of inheritance, hence the woman dressed in white wandering around at the dead of night.  But saying that and opinions divided it was meant for a time when transport wasn’t as available as it is today, people were isolated in their villages and these serialisations would have been a good source of information for them.  And of course it wouldn’t be a victorian novel without a fire in it  started by a mad person to cover up some secrets which in the end wouldn’t of affected his stance anyway, therefore leaving a building being destroyed now would it? So the conclusion to the story is it needs more dragons, less waffle because not everything needs fattening up except the turkey at Christmas.

Thank you for reading


and remember read a classic novel once in a while as….

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.”

Ivan Turgenev

Further Reading

Article on women’s health here

and an interesting one of men in dresses – not for the faint hearted here


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