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The Woman in White
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2013 Group Reads - Archives > The Woman in White - Part 6

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message 1: by Sarah (last edited Dec 31, 2012 12:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah | 269 comments Here is the final set of discussion topics for the novel.

How does this novel compare to other nineteenth century works in terms of its format, themes, characters, social structure, etc.?

What are your thoughts regarding the various characters’ culpabilities?

What are your overall impressions of the novel?

Thoughts on the use of colors in the novel—the woman in white, the man in black, Blackwater Park?

Who seems to have been the most credible narrator?

Why wasn't Laura given a narrative voice?


Sarah | 269 comments And finally, my thoughts on discussion 6!



At the end of the novel, I can certainly see why The Woman in White is considered with the genre of sensationalist literature. (view spoiler) The constant flux of twists and turns threw doubt on how the novel would end, which made it more interesting and exciting. I thought that the re-emergence of minor characters was worth noting too. (view spoiler) With that said, I think that some of these minor characters do share some culpability because if some of them had thought for themselves rather than blindly following orders which they did silently question, the scenario may not have escalated so far.

Although Walter is arguably the most credible narrator because the major revelations and turning points of the story occur during his narratives, I think that Vincent Gilmore (and Mr. Kyrle, although he is not given his own narrative) display the most unbiased accounts in many ways. Granted, they are not privy to much of what occurs, but as in the case of Mr. Kyrle, caution is exhibited in giving advice from the standpoint of the law. This is important in how the story ultimately plays out.

While reading The Woman in White, I was reminded of the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Although it was first published in 1892, several decades after The Woman in White, it does address the issue of female insanity and how it is treated and unintentionally exacerbated by the protagonist’s husband, who persists in keeping her cooped up and in treating her like a child.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and hope to read more of Collins’ work soon.


message 3: by Zulfiya (last edited Jan 31, 2013 09:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Mission accomplished! Overall, I am very happy that I decided to re-read the novel. I read it in Russian when I was a teenager and I watched a movie and listened to the BBC radio show based on the novel, so I was quite familiar with the narrative, but there are still many things to discover and re-discover.

As far as the question about the most reliable narrator, my answer is Mr.Gilmore - he is the most dispassionate and unbiased, though sympathetic character. It is obvious that his part is the dullest in the novel, but it is also the most illuminating when it comes to the motive of the crime and why and how this crime could be feasible.

The main culprits are punished, but they are not punished by the hand of the law, neither are they punished by Walter, our knightly and courageous painter. They are punished by other people or by the Providence. Whether this choice of comeuppance and justice is accidental or whether Collins intends to keep Walter (and up to a point Marian) unstained and virtuous is still a question to consider.

To tell you the truth, I was rolling my eyes when I was reading about the Secret Brotherhood - the story is already twisted nearly to the point of incredulity, and when I read about some secretive society and Pesca's membership, I honesty thought that it was too much and I was not buying it. Pesca, in fact, was returned as a framing character. He also was, up to a point, an instrument of justice.

The issue of feminine insanity (speaking of the Providence and serendipity - I discussed the story 'The Yellow Wallpaper' today with my students) represents the social side of the novel, but it also explains why Laura's psyche is so vulnerable and she is recuperating very slowly. Granted, she experiences an enormous shock, but even before this emotional torture, there are some hints of her emotional susceptibility.

All in all, I believe that the second part of the novel is definitely weaker in the aspects of suspense, drama, and mystery. I think I reached a certain level of satiation, and I was not reading a new novel, so I was somewhat struggling emotionally with the second part. All the above-mentioned is not diminishing and belittling the TRUE PLEASURE of reading and discussing the novel. And a big and special 'thank you' to Sarah for the engaging and stimulating posts and questions, for prompt responses, for a courteous and illuminating book banter.


Sarah | 269 comments Zulfiya wrote: "Mission accomplished! Overall, I am very happy that I decided to re-read the novel. I read it in Russian when I was a teenager and I watched a movie and listened to the BBC radio show based on the ..."

Zulfiya, I think that the point you raise about how the culprits are punished is interesting and certainly worth considering. My initial response would be that Collins intended to keep Walter unblemished from bloodshed as well as saving Laura from having to face those who contrived against her. However, it may well be that Collins felt that the hand of Providence could bring their deserved retribution. After all, both Percival’s and Fosco’s end were highly unpleasant and violent, to say the least.

I, too, felt that the Secret Brotherhood was quite a stretch, particularly after all of the other twists of the novel. I wonder why Collins decided to use Pesca to achieve the ultimate ending? It’s almost as if he wrote himself into a corner and that was the only way out, although I certainly can’t say that with any sense of personal knowledge about it. Maybe he designed the novel in this manner so that the reader wouldn’t be able to guess exactly how the plot would be executed? I am also inclined to regard the fact that this is considered a “sensational” novel as possible evidence for its often fantastic (not to mention drawn-out) plotline.

Given Laura’s emotional state and behavior even before marrying Percival, I would agree with you that she is fragile to begin with—hence her extended period of recuperation. I have to give Walter and Marian credit for seeing her through the entire situation, given the peril and the obvious heartache that they faced on a daily basis by trying to simultaneously shield her and achieve her re-entry into society.

I thoroughly enjoyed leading this discussion, and I hope that it has proven to be as illuminating for everyone else as it has been for me! :-) Thanks so much for your participation and valuable insights!!!


Casceil | 220 comments I have just finished reading the novel. What a marvelous construction, and what an array of characters!
It did seem to me that the book hit its high point with Sir Percival's death, and I found myself a bit impatient with the later parts, and particularly the "secret brotherhood." Fosco's confession was amazing. The man's conceit oozes through the prose. His discussion of "chemistry" was very forward-looking. Yes, Laura always seemed fragile, and her half-sister was crazy, and her uncle--well, he certainly wasn't right in the head. In the modern world, would all of these people be taking antidepressants or other psychiatric medication? Did some form of mental illness run in the family?

Thanks, Sarah, for leading the discussion. You did a great job.


Sarah | 269 comments Casceil wrote: "I have just finished reading the novel. What a marvelous construction, and what an array of characters!
It did seem to me that the book hit its high point with Sir Percival's death, and I found my..."


I would again agree that the novel could have been shortened somewhat; it would be interesting to consider how it could have been rewritten in order to end with Percival’s death while still causing Fosco to account for his culpability. Perhaps some piece of evidence definitively tying him to the crime?

Also, I dare say that the Fairlies would be given some kind of prescription medications for their conditions in this day and age. I personally feel that Marian didn’t exhibit much madness except during her illness, although perhaps her tenacity and dedication to Laura could be some form of obsessive-compulsive behavior or co-dependency, to use today’s psychiatric parlance?

Thanks for your participation and insights throughout this discussion, Casceil!!! :-)


Casceil | 220 comments Marian seems fine, but she's not a Fairlie. The problem genes seem to run in the Fairlie family.

Why do you think Laura's father wanted her to marry Sir Percival? Did Sir Percival know that he was the father of the illegitimate Anne Catherick, and was he black mailing him?


message 8: by Sarah (last edited Feb 02, 2013 03:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah | 269 comments Casceil wrote: "Marian seems fine, but she's not a Fairlie. The problem genes seem to run in the Fairlie family.

Why do you think Laura's father wanted her to marry Sir Percival? Did Sir Percival know that he w..."


The mystery of Laura’s arranged marriage is the one that puzzles me the most. The relationship between Percival and Laura’s father remains shrouded, and I can’t help but wonder why Collins does this. I was expecting this to be at least part of the Secret, and I was disappointed that Collins didn’t clarify it. I think that your explanation that Mr. Fairlie was Anne Catherick’s father, thereby making her illegitimate, makes a lot of sense, and it would follow that Percival somehow found this out and blackmailed him into offering Laura’s hand in marriage. That, and the financial gain that Percival anticipated would result from marrying Laura. He seems to have enough knowledge of the family (quite possibly through Fosco’s wife) to be aware of her inheritance and of the likelihood that his claiming it wouldn’t be challenged. I just wonder how everything would have turned out if Laura’s father was still alive.


Douglas (douglasgperry) Sarah wrote: "I think that your explanation that Mr. Fairlie was Anne Catherick’s father, thereby making her illegitimate, makes a lot of sense, and it would follow that Percival somehow found this out and blackmailed him into offering Laura’s hand in marriage"

The astounding resemblance of Laura and Anne can only be explained by their having at least one parent in common. That certainly had to be Mr. Fairlie.

Following and participating in this discussion group has been most enjoyable for me. Everyone's intelligent insights made reading this novel even more enjoyable. And thank you, Sarah, for making this possible.


Lynnm | 3027 comments I finally finished, and thoroughly enjoyed rereading it! (To be honest, I read it so long ago the first time, and didn't remember a thing about it.)

I also think that Sir Percival's death seemed to end the suspense. The rest merely tied everything up, but to keep our interest, we had the Brotherhood, which as most of you have said, was a bit of a stretch.

I would have preferred that we see more of an explanation of Mr. Fairlie (Laura's father) and his affair.

All in all, however, it was a wonderfully constructed novel. I just enjoyed how Collins can take on a completely different voice in each of the narratives.

I also have a new favorite female character to add to my list: Marian, who has now moved to second place after Lizzie Bennett.

A big thank you to Sarah for doing an extremely wonderful job in moderating the discussion. I know how much time and effort it takes to moderate a discussion. Bravo, Sarah!!!


message 11: by Deborah, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
I, too, just finished the novel. It's been a favorite since my first read (long ago), and remains so after this one. One thing I really loved was in the chapter heading of Fosco's chapter:

"...Knight Grand Cross of the Order of BRAZEN crown" (emphasis mine). Brazen is the perfect word for Fosco (among many others). I didn't find the brotherhood so unbelievable. Maybe I'm just gullible. I read a lot of mystery stories and have hit many an unbelievable piece so this didn't seem so out of character for me.

I enjoyed the karmic retribution received by the unjust. I think Collins kept Hartright believable by letting him desire that retribution and struggle with himself to hold it back.

All in all a great read.


Sarah | 269 comments Deborah wrote: "I, too, just finished the novel. It's been a favorite since my first read (long ago), and remains so after this one. One thing I really loved was in the chapter heading of Fosco's chapter:

"...K..."


Yes, “brazen” is the perfect word for Fosco!!! Thanks for calling our attention back to that reference! :-)


Sarah | 269 comments So far it seems that everyone's reads or re-reads of the novel have been positive overall, which I'm really glad to hear! :-) Thanks to you all for your participation and for making this such a wonderful and enlightening discussion!!!


message 14: by Jan (new)

Jan (auntyjan) | 483 comments It was my first time to read this novel, coming to it with no previous experience or knowledge of this author, I was amazed to find it such a compelling read, keeping the mystery and suspense pretty much all the way through, although like some of the others, I did feel it got could perhaps have used a little tightening up towards the end. However I disagree about the brotherhood that Fosco belongs to as being a far fetched idea....a secret society in Italy that seeks out and murders traitors...with its own laws and code...hello....has anyone not heard of the Mafia?....you could say a little contrived I guess....but then you could level that at a lot of mystery style stories...the author must tie the ends together somehow. This is my impression...and others may disagree...but did any one else feel that the first three quarters of the book was more well written and that perhaps the author was a little rushed towards the end...perhaps there was a deadline...I can't point to anything specifically...just a general impression. Overall I rate this book very highly, thoroughly enjoyed it and wonder if there are other titles of equal value by this author?


Sarah | 269 comments Jan wrote: "It was my first time to read this novel, coming to it with no previous experience or knowledge of this author, I was amazed to find it such a compelling read, keeping the mystery and suspense prett..."

I admittedly know nothing about the Mafia, but it seems that the Sicilian mafia originated around the time that Collins published The Woman in White, so he may well have had that in mind. Also, I did feel that the first 3/4 of the novel were more detailed, while the end played out much more quickly, at an almost harried pace.

I've heard that The Moonstone is also very good. It's on my TBR list! :-)


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