This is one of the greatest books I have read in my life. The book is my first Wilkie Collins and I’m really glad to have finally come across him, for he has won a place as one of my favourite classic authors. Collin’s writing is admirably rich with poetic phrases and a good flare for vocabulary. Although his prose is a little long winding, he nevertheless has well managed to keep the reader’s attention on the story by his amazing ability at storytelling. There is also a cinematic quality to his writing. The events such as the first meeting between Walter Hartright and the woman in white, the first instance a vague resemblance between woman in white and Laura Fairlie comes to Walter’s mind when she walks on the terrace in the illumination of the moon, Marian’s brave conduct of climbing over the roof to listen to the hideous plan of Count Fosco and Sir Percival Glyde, Laura’s subsequent abduction and false imprisonment in the Asylum under the false guise of Anne Catherick, the meeting of Laura and Walter over Laura’s false grave, the fire in the vestry where Sir Percival was trapped and rescue efforts being taken by Walter Hartright, the impatient ride Walter takes to meet Count Fosco, were described in such a manner that it was as if you are seeing them rather than reading of them.
A novelty I experienced while reading this great book was Collin’s mastery in dominating over your mental faculties. Normally when I read a book, it engages with my own mental interpretations as I read along. But the reading experience of this book was so different. Collins never allowed my own mental interpretations to come into the light. He held them tight to his story and convincingly too, that I was unable to wander on my own.
“The story here presented will be told in more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness-with the same object, in both cases, to present the truth always in its most direct and most intelligible aspect”. This phrase from the preamble sets the pace for the story justifying the use of several narrators to tell it – their reliability varying in degree. This is yet another new experience for me, hearing the story from so many different narrators. And I felt it is a refreshing method to have the story told through different persons, given the length of the book. This served two purposes; one was avoiding the reader being bored with the story and the other is to avoid it being biased.
There were a hero and a heroine in the characters of Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe. Their struggle to bring justice to Laura Fairlie, their dear beloved, who was the victim of a most horrendous crime, the courageous and perilous journey both of them, especially Walter takes on, to achieve this end certainly reflects the opening phrase of the preamble when it was said: “This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve”. I liked these two characters immensely and was connected with them instantly. I was with them through every step of the way of their difficult and dangerous journey collecting the necessary evidence to bring justice to a wronged woman. I also liked the character of Laura, the young innocent victim, who bore such vile cruelty with a calm resolution of her own. Then there are the villains: Sir Percival Glyde – an epitome of brutality and Count Fosco – the most sinister character that I have thus far come across with his cold, calculating, and brilliant brain. All these dark and dear characters contributed to the plot of the story to make it one of the best classic stories I have ever read. The book which is a pioneer in the sensational novel was a great success in its time and I believe still is which in itself accounts for its greatness.