Plot Summary: Walter Hartright, a young drawing teacher, is employed by a wealthy Cumbrian benefactor to teach his two wards painting. Over the course of a pleasant summer, he falls in love with the beautiful heiress Laura Fairlie. But she is engaged to another man. A stranger arrives with a note containing warnings about Miss Fairlie’s intended. Who is telling the truth? Who is the young woman in white who looks like Laura? And who will emerge from this story sane?
My Book Review: This is my third book by Wilkie Collins, and by now he is at the top of my list of favorite authors and I am quite a fan. I loved “The Moonstone” when I first read it over twelve years ago and now that I’ve finished WiW I realize I love this one even more! It is a very thick novel, and switches first person accounts as Moonstone did, and which I love. It gives the story more of an air of authenticity. There are three very distinct seasons within the story (or epochs, as Hartright calls it): 1) Limmeridge House; 2) Blackwater Park; 3) investigations from London.
Geniuses are ahead of their time, and that’s what makes this book so riveting. It covers the themes of mental illness, women’s rights and narcissism. But it also upholds the “old-fashioned” values of honor, faithfulness and compassion.
One of the best characters of the book, Marian Halcombe, is a strong heroine. She is not beautiful but she has a capable mind and is a match for the villainous Count. I loved reading about her standing firm on principles. She makes mistakes anyone could have made in her discernment but they were honest ones and she had good intentions. If it weren’t for her physical weakness and loyalty to her half-sister Laura, she could have beaten Count Fosco at Blackwater Park. I was on the edge of my seat throughout that ordeal! I felt like I was about ready to go crazy myself, so bizarre were some of the happenings. Not all perceptions by all good characters are correct, because they only have half the tale. Neither are all antagonists what they fully appear. What a great storyteller Collins was!
SPOILER: Walter’s restraint from pursuing Laura when he could have had her was touching. He could have overpowered her, influenced her, manipulated her just as easily as Sir Percival or the Count could have. But he is aware of her unavailability (maritally and mentally). END OF SPOILER. Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not self-seeking… and that is the picture we see in this hero, aptly named.
Wow, these characters were so developed. You could make a psychological study of almost all of them. Skipping past the “goodies”, let’s look at some “baddies”. Count Fosco is definitely the strong evil one of the piece. He had the hold on people somewhat like a cult leader. His extreme narcissism and magnetism with which he controlled others were apparent. But looking at the symptoms his wife exhibited were even more telling. She worshiped and served him without question. She is described as having had a completely different personality before her marriage to him. She had no thought of her own (only programmed by the Count), and would go into a paranoia if she thought his position threatened. I was doing some interesting reading on this. Her cold, motionless staring, even her repetitive “busywork”– endlessly rolling the Count’s cigarettes—seemed indicative of a classic textbook Geschwind syndrome or temporal lobe epilepsy, similar to the brains of long-term cult victims. And Wilkie Collins wrote this in 1859?? Fascinating!
It was interesting that not everything that happened was part of the scheme of the villains. Certain things backfired on them. Part of me was disappointed in finding this out in the end because I liked thinking the Count was a Complete Mastermind Evil Being. But it actually served to make it more realistic and believable. The ending was not entirely explained [SPOILER: Who was the assassin? END OF SPOILER], but then not everything in life is. The character Pesca sort of fizzled out at the end for me and he needed a stronger ending.
But really, this has been one of my favorite reads of the year. I can see why it is such a classic. There’s so much depth for analyzing and going deeper and I would love to hear/read/discuss more of it! I’m also looking forward to watching different film versions.
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