The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: Book Review

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Cover of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

3 Stars

Walter Hartright finds a woman, all in white, wandering down the road to London in the middle of the night. As they talk and walk, she mentions that her happiest times were spent at Limmeridge House as a child. By coincidence, Walter is leaving to become a drawing teacher at this house the very next day. In talking this over, it’s revealed that the woman in white has been badly mistreated and there are many more secrets surrounding her.

I find it hard to judge a book by how it would have been received in its time. I can only judge by my modern-day standards. That being said, I was disappointed in this book. I really expected more.

I found the mystery to be mostly predictable. There were a few twists and turns that honestly surprised me, but I saw the big picture from pretty far out. I know this book was supposed to be one of the first mystery novels and should receive a lot of respect for that. But my problem is that I found a lot of the elements to have become cliches. I realize that this isn’t being fair to this particular book, but there you go. It hasn’t weathered that well for me, personally.

The way that Collins wrote about women drove me crazy. He has one very strong, very intelligent female character who is always spouting off about how “we women can’t be quiet” and stuff like that. Having a woman say it doesn’t make it okay. I know this might have been pretty standard fare for the time period, but I didn’t care for it. It doesn’t help me feel any better when we realize that the smart woman is ugly and mostly overlooked as a romantic prospect, while her boring, weak but beautiful sister is pursued on all fronts. Irritating.

This high-handed attitude extends to everyone who either doesn’t have a title or at least a “gentlemanly” occupation. The descriptions of villagers and servants really aggravated me. Less eduction or opportunities does not equal a lack of intelligence. I know, my modern approach to a Victorian novel is getting in the way again.

The novel is written from many different view points. There are straight-up narratives written by Walter Hartright, letters written by lawyers and servants, and journal entries from the intelligent sister. I like the style, but I found the voices to be pretty interchangeable. The only one who really stood out to me was the owner of Limmeridge House, a nervous man, and his whining and complaining cracked me up!

All those view points to cover every possible angle of the mystery made the book longer than I thought it had to be. I’m not sure exactly what could have been left out, if anything, I’m just left with the vague feeling that it could have been shorter and been improved for it.

But for all my complaints, I really don’t regret reading this. Considering it’s length and the Victorian language, it was actually a pretty quick read. I wish I could look at it a little more objectively, but I can’t. If you’re good at judging a book by its originality for it’s time, you’ll enjoy this. Unfortunately, that’s just not me.

Reviewed June 22, 2009

Read an excerpt.

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Friday Flashback Reviews, a feature at The Introverted Reader

Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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  1. I've not read this book, but would like to at some point, so it's nice to have a heads up about what I might expect from it. Great review, thanks! 🙂

    Also: your blog's theme is absolutely gorgeous!

  2. You know, since I've started up my book blog again, I've been wondering how I can incorporate all of my old reviews into my new blog. This is a great feature, I just may have to join you on Fridays!

    Great review, by the way. This one has been on my to-read list for a while.

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