One of the greatest mystery thrillers ever written, Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White was a phenomenal best seller in the 1860s, achieving even greater success than works by Charles Dickens. Full of surprise, intrigue, and suspense, this vastly entertaining novel continues to enthrall audiences today.
The story begins with an eerie midnight encounter between artist Walter Hartright and a ghostly woman dressed all in white who seems desperate to share a dark secret. The next day Hartright, engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half sister, tells his pupils about the strange events of the previous evening.
Determined to learn all they can about the mysterious woman in white, the three soon find themselves drawn into a chilling vortex of crime, poison, kidnapping, and international intrigue.
Masterfully constructed, The Woman in White is dominated by two of the finest creations in all Victorian fiction: Marion Halcombe, dark, mannish, yet irresistibly fascinating, and Count Fosco, the sinister and flamboyant "Napoleon of Crime".
Public Domain (P)2010 Tantor
"Collins's mid-Victorian novel is one of the first, and possibly still the greatest, of all literary thrillers." (The Irish Times)
This was my first exposure to Wilkie Collins, after someone recommended "The Woman in White" as a good followup to going through most of Dickens on audiobook. I can now thoroughly second the recommendation. Marion Halcombe and Count Fosco are two of the most memorable characters I've encountered in English fiction, and Collins's mastery of plotting and suspense leaves most contemporary authors in the dust (I've just given up on Brad Meltzer's chaotic "The Inner Circle", but that's another story).
The use of dual male and female narrators takes some getting used to but in the end works well. The rationale is that the entire novel is constructed as a sequence of "narratives" by various characters of both sexes. Simon Prebble is uniformly excellent; Josephine Bailey starts out a bit woodenly but soon picks up in intensity, and does a fine job voicing range of characters from different classes and regions. Count Fosco's accent wavers more than a little between (and even within) narrators, but he's such an outlandish piece of work that this is hardly a distraction.
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
Walter Hartright, a young art teacher, is startled when he is overtaken by a young woman dressed entirely in white while walking on the road from Hampstead to London. Visibly distressed, the young woman begs him to show her the way to London, and he offers to accompany her there. The young woman accepts his offer on the condition that he allow her to come and go as she pleases. Once he's dropped her off in London, two men in hot pursuit claim that the girl has escaped a mental asylum and must be returned there at once, but Walter does nothing to help them in their search. The next day he arrives at Limmeridge House, where he has gained a position as a drawing master. There he meets his young pupils, half sisters Marian and Laura. In no time at all, her befriends Marian—no great beauty is she, but quick, smart and amusing—and falls desperately in love with the heavenly loveliness that is Laura. But the encounter with the woman in white will carry many consequences.
I took absolute delight in discovering all the plot twists of this great classic mystery, so will disclose no more of the story nor of how it is told, but will say that it offers a wonderfully evil conspiracy and several highly memorable characters, not least of which the strange and compelling villain Count Fosco, who stole every scene in which he appeared, in my view. Also, the sublimely selfish Frederick Fairlie is one of the most memorable invalids I have ever encountered in a work of fiction. I must say that this version, narrated by Simon Prebble and Josephine Bailey, greatly increased my enjoyment of the tale, with wonderfully rendered characters. Now that I've listened to it and that there are no more secrets for me to discover, I still look forward to listening to it again for a fun romp with highly colourful characters and plenty of Gothic frissons.
The first two-thirds of this book set the standard for suspense in the genre. It is SUCH good stuff. Was there ever a more extraordinary villain than the coruplent Count Fosco, with his little wire pagoda of white mice and his (self-described) "volcanic ardor" for the unfortunate Marian Halcombe? The last third, wherein matters are resolved, is a bit more rote, but still has some wonderful moments. I loved the scene where the noble drawing master finally confronts the evil Count, and in the silence can hear the chittering of the mice's teeth as they nibble the wires of their cage. The narration is simply fabulous--Bailey and Preble's appreciation and enjoyment of the material is obvious.
Say something about yourself!
An intricate knot tied with precision, and untangled with logic and grace. To begin with there is a mystery, and Collins lays it out with attention to every twist as the story continues to be told by the various narrators. The characters are as vivid as those created by other 19th century writers: Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe--Frederick Fairlie with his imagined maladies is good comedy, and Sir Percival and Count Fosco, in comparison make Heathcliff almost look respectable.
Victorian in description, dialogue, and politics--the strong female character doesn't escape punishment for her straying from the social constricts of the time...she pays for her female resourcefulness and failure to swoon, by being endowed, by the author, with masculine features, including a mustache. Today's editors would likely trim the 25 hours to 12, but in spite of the length and the diversity of plots, the story stays on track and doesn't drag; it's worth the Effort. The narration is a theatrical treat. Fear not the classic; dig in and enjoy.
"fabric artist and quilter"
I was hooked so quickly and was, from that moment on, on the edge of my seat. I listen to books as I work. Listening to The Woman in White had me frozen in place listening in awe as to the next twist or the next wicked deed, my work lying forgotten on the table.
Its a cracker of a story and wonderfully narrated by both Josephine Bailey and Simon Prebble. The novel is written in several parts as journals or statements and the different readers makes the narration so much more dynamic.
There are some wonderful characters in this book and Wilkie Collins describes scenes so well that you can clearly see the action in your minds eye. There are many apparently modern devices used by the author in this book to drive the action along and appear to confuse the reader or dupe the reader in believing they know the next part of the plot only to surprise them that it is easy to forget that it was written in the mid 1800s.
I loved this book both for the story, the edginess of the gothic setting, the wonderful characters, the melodrama and the writing. There should be 6 stars and even then this would deserve 6 and a half!
English mysteries are very often so slowly paced that the reader gives up before truly getting into the meat of the story. Listening to this superb classic with excellent narration allows your mind to wander a bit while the characters are being fully fleshed out. Once the plot picks up you will be carried away. Do yourself a favor and listen to this one. A real gem!
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
This was a hard book to put down once I got into it. It did take a bit to get into but not too long. Collins has been compared to Dickens and that seems a fair comparison. The stories from each of these masters have the same feel and texture in the language and settings. While DIckens is often about social issues, The Woman in White is more of a detective story though there is no bona fide detective in the story. Personally, detective stories are not a great temptation for me to read. I have read my share and even enjoyed them but the last one of the Dresden FIles left me cold. This one did not leave me cold.
There are a plethora of reviews of this book and I will add only a few personal comments. This is something of a long and complex story but not one that is too lengthy or one in which to become easily lost. The characters are straight forward and there are not so many of them as to have difficulty keeping track. The character development is adequate, the plot quite interesting and the prose outstanding. The language is in fact what drew me to this book and what would not let go of me. Some of it is predictable but much of the story and perhaps its conclusion is something of a surprise.
I struggled with rating this book because by many standards it deserves 5 stars. A rating of 4.5 would have been more precise for me but we do not have that degree of granularity. I liked this book a lot. It has inspired me to read more of Wilkie Collins but not to reread this particular selection. That is usually the test for me in deciding between 4 and 5 stars. I would recommend it to anyone interested in literary, gothic fiction.
I never read a book by Wilkie Collins, and I truely enjoyed this one. My favorite narrators both! What a treat. Simon Prebble and Josephine Bailey. I truely hope they read a book together again. Someone please hire both of these readers over and over! The book itself had a great story. It is still an intriguing story after all this time. Loved it!
I fear my poor efforts will not, alas, do justice to this fine tome. At the beginning, upon realizing it was over 25 hours of listening, I grew skeptical that my interest could be sustained. But shortly into the tale I grew faint with anticipation to continue. I found myself foregoing the modern entertainments, the talking boxes and even the boxes with forms that move. Excellence on every level was the reward for my perseverance. The only possible negative consequence of my efforts might be the change in my speech patterns but I hardly, upon reflection, truly consider that a negative. Huzzah!!! Huzzah!!!! I say.
I have not even finished it and I can tell you this is a masterful novel. It is creepy and full of foreboding. The fact it was written in 1859 makes it even more interesting. The author of course takes much for granted and the vision of life in those days is wonderful. At one point one of the characters makes the comment that she is so happy the 19th century and its modern comforts had finally invaded the house where she was living. Fabulous. The characters are clearly drawn if a not quite nuanced enough for our modern sensibilities. The plotting couldn't be more interesting. I can't stop listening. I care about the characters.
I don't have a candidate. This is a psychological thriller of the first order. I think it might make a film, but will have to finish it first to know. Our modern need for action, action, action as exemplified by the Sherlock Holmes movies, probably means the subtle fears and thrills inherent in this story are too meek for Hollywood.
The performances are excellent. Character after character are performed with clear differences between their speech.
I had to put the book down when Lady Glyde died.
I had the very unusual experience of perusing a copy of the May 26th, 1860, Harper's Weekly that I found at a friend's house. The issue had an etching (after Brady) of Lincoln on the cover, as he had just gotten the Republican Nomination for President. Inside was an excerpt from....you guessed it...The Woman in White. A chapter I had just listened to the night before. To make it even more spectacular I saw this on...May 26th of this year, 2012...152 years to the day after publication. Do do do do...do do do do....you are in the twilight zone.
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