Monday, 25 March 2013

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

Harper's Weekly, 26 November 1859, Vol.III, No.152, p.753.
Illustrations by John McLenan
Weekly Part 1.
"[The Woman in White is] often singled out as the foundation text of "sensation fiction" – a genre distinguished by its electrifying, suspenseful, and sometimes horrific plots, as well as its unsavoury themes of intrigue, jealousy, murder, adultery, and the like..." The Guardian
The Woman in White was first serialised in Charles Dickens' weekly literary magazine, All the Year Round, between 1859–1860. Therefore celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2009. The story was later published as a book in 1860, first in three books, and then in one volume. The three book divisions serve as chapters (or epochs) in the single book version.

The initial format of small weekly articles can be seen to result in a long book. It is also the reason for the multitude of 'cliff-hangers' dotted throughout the narrative (carefully positioned at the end of each weekly publication), which give rise to the reputation for suspense the novel has accrued. To experience it as it's first Victorian audience did, the story can be read in its original weekly parts thanks to the 150th anniversary project. The story was published simultaneously in New York in Harper's Weekly, you can see the accompanying illustrations by John McLenan on the project site too.

The story is told in an epistolary format with testaments given by various characters, letters and other relevant text is also shared. The character narratives are given in the following order:

Epoch 1

  • Walter Hartright - Drawing Master
  • Vincent Gilmore - Solicitor
  • Marian Halcombe - Sister to Laura Fairlie 

Epoch 2

  • Continued by Marian Halcombe (Postscript by Count Fosco - Uncle by marriage to Laura Fairlie - see full title below)
  • Eliza Michelson - Housekeeper at Blackwater Park
  • Hester Pinhorn - Cook in the service of Count Fosco
  • Alfred Goodricke - Doctor
  • Jane Gould - Assistant to Mr Goodricke
  • Walter Hartright 

Epoch 3

  • Continued by Walter Hartright 
  • Mrs Catherick
  • Walter Hartright
  • Isidor, Ottavio, Baldassare Fosco - Count of the Holy Roman Empire, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Brazen Crown, Perpetual Arch-Master of the Rosicrucian Masons of Mesopotamia; Attached (in Honorary Capacities) to Societies Musical, Societies Medical, Societies Philosophical, and Societies General Benevolent, throughout Europe; etc. etc. etc. 
  • Concluded by Walter Hartright 

1 comment:

  1. On

    Hi Melissa,
    I definitely agree with you. I'm reading the Woman in White at the moment. I'm about half-way through. My favourite bit is Miss Halcombe’s diary. She is by far my favourite character in the book. I think she’s a wonderfully strong female character, especially for the period. This is such a long book and at times I thought some of the revelations were quite slow, having said that, certain sections have been incredibly gripping. I was wondering if Laura would ever meet the woman in white, and I still don't know what, when and how Sir Percival's secret will be revealed. I was racing through Miss Halcombe's adventure on the windowsill too! Collins is very good at building up suspense. I’ve just bought Collins’ the Moonstone so I’ll be reading that sometime soon.
    - MGOT

    Hi Mystery Girl!
    I really want to read other books by Wilkie Collins too. I really liked this one and it was such a surprise to find a great suspense and mystery classic. -