Woman in White

Author: Wilkie Collins
Pub Date:  1860
Genre: Gothic, Classics, Literary Fiction

Woman in White appears to have it all: mental institutions, ghosts, mistaken identity, romance, mystery, criminal acts.  And while reading it, one can almost picture it as a Victorian soap opera.  Just when you think – BAM, there’s yet another twist, another unexpected element thrown at you.  And sure, just like a soap opera, some of the turns are more believable than others.

Here’s the thing, I really enjoyed Woman in White, but I did find some parts to be a wee bit tedious.  Not in the: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times” tedium. But more like, pages of exposition that I had a fit going through.  And yes, to be fair, this generally only happened if I set the book aside for any length of time.  Actually, that’s exactly when it would occur.  I had a difficult time getting back into the novel if I set it aside.  While I was reading it, I could get lost in the plot and characters.

Woman in White is an old book, but it’s an easy book to read (and I mean easy in the “not difficult” sense and less in the “Cat in the Hat” way). Like, if someone wanted to go back to the classics, but didn’t know where to start, I would recommend this book (and perhaps more Wilkie Collins; I’ll have to see). 

Some of the characters stood out to me more than others.  For instance, I absolutely adored Marion.  She was brilliant.  I enjoyed her wit and her comments about women in society.  Marion is a strong intelligent woman and I immediately connected with her.  I admired her devotion to her half sister, Laura, who I found to be a wallflower.  Sure, I get that was her role.  But I also wonder if part of why I didn’t leap out of my car and race home to finish the book is because most of the time I could care less what was going on with Laura and her insufferable marriage.  I felt her pain and I understood why she made those choices, but dear god, I wasn’t fretful.  Not nearly as much as I should have been.  Oh, but you know who was a hoot? Laura and Marion’s brother, Frederick.  He was hy-ster-i-cal! What a hypochondriac.  I loved every single narrative he did, and was sad that there weren’t more.  Sure, I wouldn’t want him as a relative, but could you only imagine if he was around in this day and age?  We have medications, symptoms, and diseases thrown at us everywhere – billboards, magazines, even commercials.  Dear Mr. Fairlie would be a hot mess.

Finally, I found some interesting facts about this book:

  • ·       In 2004, Andrew Lloyd Webber did a musical based off of Woman in White
  • ·       Women I White is considered a “sensation novel”. This genre originated in Great Britain in the 1860’s & 1870’s, descending on the gothic and romantic genre but focusing itself around criminal biographies. (Great Expectations is also a sensation novel).   
  • ·       It is considered one of the first, if not THE first, detective novel. 


  1. Hmmm, I've sort of been wanting to read this one for a while. I hate tedium though, lol.

  2. This was my first wilke collins book and I have to say I really liked it.. like you a few times I wanted to say "hurry up already" but in the end it was far better then i expected it to be.

  3. I adore Wilkie Collins. And while The Moonstone is still my favorite, I think Woman in White may be more accessible (if for no other reason than because it is shorter).

  4. Of the three Collins novels I've read, this is by far my favorite. I adored Marion too and was sad when her narration ended. I also think Count Fosco is an awesome villain!

  5. I have been wanting to read this for ages. Will make a note to try and keep reading it, rather than putting it down too often. I love all things gothic.

  6. Wilkie is certainly wordy, but for some reason I wasn't bored for a minute! His writing really clicks with me... I think it's the fact that I enjoy his narrative voices so much.

  7. I keep coming across this over and over again and feel like I should read it! After all, it is the first detective novel!

  8. I am planning to read this book for the R.I.P challenge in the fall. I really enjoyed The Moonstone, so I am excited to give this one a try!

  9. I finally read this one last year (and it did take me most of the year to read it!) and enjoyed it as well. Like you, Marion was a favorite (as was the villain, Fosco) and the hypochondriac uncle.

    I would have loved to see the ALW musical.

  10. So now you'll have to read The Moonstone (though admittedly not as good) and know that the detective in the book was based on a real live detective (The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale is a fantastic book about a murder case and early Victorian detection in the 1860s). I took a Victorian Sensationalist course in grad school and really loved it (though read The Moonstone instead of this).

    I agree with you about the tedium. This book was a little long and like you if I put it down for any length of time I felt it hard to pick it back up again--until I got going of course. Aren't the characters wonderful?! I still picture Count Fosco with those mice of his.

    Didn't know about the musical! Will have to look that up--love me some Andrew Lloyd Webber! (um, sorry for giant comment...)

  11. I checked this out of the library a while back but had to return it before I got to it. I need to read it because it seems everyone talks about it!


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