The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins

Took a long time to read this one. Published around 1860, this is a suspense/mystery (for some reason I had it in mind before I read it that it was a ghost story, but there's nothing supernatural in it). It tells the story of Walter, who at the beginning of the book encounters the "woman in white". He subsequently takes employment as a drawing instructor and falls in love with his pupil Laura. However, she's already engaged, and despite her love for Walter, and mysterious warnings from the WiW, she marries her fiance, who turns out to be a nasty piece of work.

About half of the book is written "by" Walter, with the rest being written by other characters in the story - each of whom may have reasons for distorting the truth somewhat.

It's easy to see that the book was originally published in serial form - there are plenty of cliffhangers at the end of chapters and the plot is revealed only gradually through the book. So there is a series of episodes where Walter uncovers some new piece of evidence, then pursues it and uncovers more, rather than a set of clues at the start of the story which would enable the reader to work out what's going on ahead of Walter.

There were some very convincingly drawn characters in the books, especially Count Fosco, who did write a short section himself - I'd have liked more about him. And while the social conventions of the time dictate that some of the behaviour is rather strange to us ("if you don't like him, why marry him?") it is quite self-consistent.

I believe this work predates Freud, although there were a number of allusions to the unconscious and various psychodynamic "defence mechanisms". I wonder if maybe this was a fashionable school of thought before Freud formalised his psychodynamic theory.

A worthwhile read, but a bit too long really. I think it would be worth reading "The Moonstone" which is Collins' other famous work.

Completed : 09-Apr-2003

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