I want to know who started the rumor that classics are awful, and dry, and boring, and dull, and dumb. Sure, I confess that I feel some belong in that category (ahem…James), but I loved The Woman in White. I will admit that it took me a little while to get into the nineteenth century language, but once I found the rhythm (and the patience to read slowly), I was swept away by the writing and the story.
The Woman in White is a collection of narratives which are strung together in order to solve a series of mysteries. The narration begins with Mr. Hartright, who is commissioned to teach two young ladies, Marion and Laura, painting. On his way to their home in Limmeridge, Hartright meets a strange, distressed woman who is dressed all in white. He helps her momentarily, and after they part, he finds that she has escaped from an insane aslyum. The rest of the novel works to explore who the woman in white is and how she relates to several other characters and events. The plot is extremely intricate and is unraveled as different narrators give their accounts of the events–thus making it difficult to neatly summarize, but making it a compelling read.
It’s difficult for me to express why exactly I enjoyed this book so much. Part of the reason is because I really enjoyed getting little pieces of the puzzle from the experiences of the different narrators. This provided a richness to the story that couldn’t have been achieved with an omniscient narrator, especially as I had to learn which characters I could trust to tell the whole story and to find the holes in the stories I wasn’t entirely sure I could trust. Also, though, all of the different narrators gave such varied perspectives into the other characters. I got to see the everyone’s eccentricities through multiple lenses. And the characters! I won’t even go there because it would make this review super long, but great characters.
In addition to the narration style, I simply really enjoyed Collins’ writing style. I think I might still prefer Dickens’ dry wit and social commentary, but I was constantly dogearing pages and marking passages in this book. Reading this book made me miss grad school tremendously, and I was even tempted to dig out my old notes on a 19th Century Sensationalism course I took (we discussed The Moonstone) and see if I could find some old literary criticism articles I might have kept. This is the type of book that is enjoyable on its own, but I also know that there is so much hidden beneath the plot that could be picked apart. Mostly what I found interesting was the treatment of women in the novel–especially comments made on the correct roles of females and the differences in thoughts and actions that men and women have.
I could babble on and on, but I won’t. There were a few lulls for me, especially with the main narration by Mr. Hartright (who I found a little dull), but overall I had a difficult time putting this one down. There are so many twists and turns that just when I thought have it all figured out, I realized that I was no where close to knowing the answers. So, if you’re looking for a great mystery to read while curled up by the fire, this is your book. It is one of those pesky classics, and it is really long, but despite all of that I had such a great time with this one that it made me want to dig out some of those other classics on the shelf.