Wednesday, March 10

Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White

A woman falls in love with an artist, and although their stations in life preclude a relationship between them, she feels duty bound to admit the attraction to her fiancé and beg him to break off the engagement. He, being desperate for her dowry rather than her affection, refuses and her family insist on the wedding going ahead.
She receives an anonymous letter warning her against the match but feels honour requires her to go ahead with it, even though her sister is beginning to have doubts about her husband to be.
Once married her refusal to sign over a large amount of money without legal advice angers her husband who sets a convoluted plot in motion to gain control of her fortune at any cost.
(here follows spoilers-be warned)
He arranges to pass off a crazy unknown bastard half-sister as his wife (since she will be much easier to control) and have his wife committed as a lunatic. The plan works better than he might hope when the bastard sister dies.
But the woman’s sister is suspicious and with the help of the artist they find the woman and help her escape from the asylum her husband has placed her in. With a lot of effort they manage to prove that she is who she claims to be, though by that stage her fortune is well gone and her husband dead.
Now a penniless widow she marries her artist love and everyone lives happily ever after.

This is a dramatically simplified outline of an incredibly complex tale of love, loss, lies, madness, and international intrigue-with just a hint of the paranormal thrown in.
Considered a classic of gothic literature this 1860’s tale of mystery is told from a variety of view points. Though the reader has no trouble guessing where the story is going, there is a constant question as to how it will get there, keeping suspense high even as foreshadowed plot twists are confirmed.
The chosen presentation style (a series of written narratives) does make for a slow pace at times but that is typical of the era and doesn’t detract from enjoyment of the story. There are several paths not taken throughout the tale which surprised expectations without disappointing them.
I found the main character to be a little too passive, even for a woman of her time but I can see how this gained its classic status though I have no desire to acquaint myself with the author’s other highly acclaimed works at this time.-Lynn

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