I am so in love with Penguin’s clothbound editions of some of the best novels ever written. I was lucky enough, a few weeks ago, to benefit from my friend Carolina passing some of her collection on to me. (I am now planning a dedicated shelf for them, they are so insanely pretty.)
One of the books she sent me was The Woman in White. I’d never read any Wilkie Collins before and as I’ve spent this term teaching Year 8 about Gothic literature-and realised that I hadn’t read a lot of the Victorian stuff I was telling them about- I decided to take the plunge with a book that is, quite frankly, GINORMOUS.
The novel tells the story of two young women, the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her brilliant half-sister Marian Halcombe. The story is told through a series of narrators, but chiefly through the eyes of genteel drawing master Walter Hartright. It’s a tale of mistaken identity, fraud and murder, with one of the greatest early detective novel villains, Count Fosco. Some of the storyline is, quite frankly, bonkers. But it’s never dull.
It was a brilliant choice for the darkening days of autumn and, although it took me ages to work my way through it, it was one of those books I really enjoyed getting back to at the end of the day. I could really sense how exciting it must have been as each installment was published (it was originally presented as a weekly serial in Charles Dickens’ magazine All The Year Round’) and you could imagine people huddling around to hear the latest twists and turns. As a modern reader, it can feel a bit repetitive, but it’s something I soon got used to; it can be easy to forget that all that Victorian verbosity served a purpose and that many people had never seen the inside of a stately home, or had any idea what London was like. It’s a glimpse into not only the seedier side of Victorian life, but also the normal everyday. I loved it.
Overall, if anyone asked me for a suggestion for a big book to get them through winter, this would definitely be one I’d recommend.