It's been quiet around these parts lately not because I haven't been reading, but because I've been reading too much. Or, more accurately, I should say that I've been reading too many things at once. I had three books in progress over the past few weeks, which didn't leave a lot to blog about. One of these books was The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which I was rereading. This time around, some of the tensions in the plot and conflicts between characters left me feeling so stressed out that I had to lay the book aside for a while. It would be very hard to argue that Collins isn't a master of suspense. That said, The Woman in White is not without its flaws--a fact that became apparent as I revisited it this time around.
The Woman in White begins on a dark night when artist Walter Hartright encounters--of course--a mysterious young woman in white. They meet on the deserted road and Walter escorts her for a small leg of her journey into London. Shortly after they part, he overhears a passing conversation that leads him to deduce that the woman had escaped from an asylum. In the following days, Walter takes a position as a drawing instructor to half-sisters Laura Fairlie and Marion Halcombe and is unsettled to learn that their family may have a connection to the mysterious woman. Walter's narrative during this opening section is one of the strongest parts of the novel, setting a moody and atmospheric tone for what's to come. Because it's so good, it feels a bit disappointing when the novel switches narrators. We see much of the plot unfold through a series of devices like Marion's journal entries, letters from peripheral characters, and recorded testimonies from household servants. Aside from Marion, most of the characters who take a turn narrating are long-winded and irritating at best, completely unlikeable at worst, which can make some of their sections feel a bit tedious. It makes for a novel that you want to race through, both so that you can find out what happens next and so that you can move on to a different narrator.
The character of Laura Fairlie was another element that was slightly irritating upon this second reading. She's portrayed as kind, innocent, and delicate--traits that are all pretty typical for heroines of that time period, but that tended to grate after 600 pages worth of Walter and Marion tiptoeing around her fragile constitution. Although Laura is cast as the romantic heroine and the center of the novel's mystery, it's the active and competent Marion who is the stronger female protagonist (though Collins doesn't let her get away without having a few moments of simpering herself).
Although this rereading brought out some of these flaws for me, it didn't change my overall favorable opinion of the novel. The issues that stood out might even be attributed to the fact that it was first published as a magazine serial--making its overall success as a self-contained novel a testament to just how good of a mystery writer Collins was.
What do you think of The Woman in White? Or is there any other book that you enjoy in spite of its flaws?