Let’s see. Firstly, there was nothing particularly admirable about the protagonist. Although I have come to appreciate the somewhat dry, reserved voice of most Victorian narrators, I found Walter Hartright intolerable. As a result, I was extremely glad to see the novel interspersed with narratives by Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco, among others. Fosco was the only likeable character, despite his twisted ways. Laura Fairlie remains a mystery to me. Was she the Victorian ideal? If so, they didn’t have much taste in women. What an annoying, sickly little thing. Marianne is so much more admirable.
Nothing else particularly pleased me. I understand that the novel was originally serialized, but I found the soap-opera-like format a little tedious, especially with the predictable climaxes. The ending was disappointing. I bought this book because the blurb made it sound so exciting but turns out that there wasn’t much more to it. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the novel:
The Narrative of Walter Hartright, of Clemant’s Inn, London
IT WAS the last day of July. The long hot summer was drawing to a close; and we, the weary pilgrims of the London pavement, were beginning to think of the cloud-shadows on the corn-fields, and the autumn breezes on the sea-shore. For my own poor part, the fading summer left me out of health, out of spirits, and, if the truth must be told, out of money as well. During the past year, I had not managed my professional resources as carefully as usual; and my extravagance now limited me to the prospect of spending the autumn economically between my mother’s cottage at Hampstead, and my own chambers in town.
The evening, I remember, was still and cloudy; the London air was at its heaviest; the distant hum of the street-traffic was at its faintest; the small pulse of the life within me and the great heart of the city around me seemed to be sinking in unison, languidly and more languidly, with the sinking sun. I roused myself from the book which I was dreaming over rather than reading, and left my chambers to meet the cool night air in the suburbs. It was one of the two evenings in every week which I was accustomed to spend with my mother and my sister. So I turned my steps northward, in the direction of Hampstead
Sadly enough, I didn’t find the remainder of the story as interesting. It peaked much too soon; after I found out who Anne Catherick was, I didn’t care much about Sir Percival Glyde’s secret, or the true identity of Fosco, or whether Laura Fairlie had really died or not. I suppose, though, Wilkie Collins was hailed as an innovative writer in his day, and that without milestones such as The Woman in White, contemporary literature would not be what it is now.