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The Woman in White
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Archived Group Reads - 2017 > Woman in White: Week 1: Chapters I-XI

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message 1: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cindy Newton | 295 comments Mod
For those of you just meeting Wilkie Collins through this book, I'm very excited to share this journey with you. For those of you who are already acquainted with him, I hope you regard this as reuniting with a dear friend.

We begin with an announcement from our omniscient narrator that the story will be presented in a manner similar to a court proceeding. Does having the story told as the recounting of eyewitnesses make it more or less reliable?

We meet our first “eyewitness,” Walter Hartright. Walter is a drawing master who seems to live a fairly normal, uneventful life teaching art to young people of good families. The only unusual thing about Walter, as we first meet him, is his eccentric and very voluble Italian friend, Pesca. This man provides some comic relief through his impassioned speech and uninhibited gestures, remarkable in the midst of the stolid English family. Pesca gleefully drops a plum employment opportunity into Walter’s lap, but Walter hesitates to accept it. He overcomes his inexplicable reluctance, and thus our adventure begins.

According to an article in The Guardian, The Woman in White is “often singled out as the foundation text of "sensation fiction" – a genre distinguished by its electrifying, suspenseful, and sometimes horrific plots, as well as its unsavoury themes of intrigue, jealousy, murder, adultery, and the like” and was “an immediate sensation in its own right.” Readers were shocked and horrified by “the touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly” on Walter’s shoulder in the dead of night when he is apparently all alone. Did you feel a shiver go down your spine at this part, or are we more blasé about horror here in 2017?

We are introduced to the two sisters—the lively Marian Holcombe, and the pretty, innocent Laura Fairlie. What are your impressions of them?

Walter is smitten with insta-love for Laura Fairlie. What are your thoughts on this?

Walter and Marian have come up with a possible identity for the mysterious woman in white, and the realization that this mystery woman bears a striking resemblance to Laura. For those of you who haven’t read the book, what could this possibly be foreshadowing?

Another suspicious character is introduced to us in the person of Laura’s fiancé, Sir Percival Glyde. The mysterious woman in white has warned us of a dastardly baronet, and then the existence of Sir Percival Glyde is brought to our attention. Could he possibly be this no-good nobleman? Walter is inclined to think so, but he could be prejudiced by his own love for the man’s fiancée. Are Walter’s perceptions trustworthy on this issue?

What are your thoughts on Collins’ style after the first week of reading? Are you a fan, or not so much? As an English teacher (translation: nerd), nothing excites me more than a verbose author with an extensive vocabulary who knows how to use it, but I know that not everyone feels the same way. ;)

Please share your thoughts on these topics or any others you may think of.


message 2: by Piyangie, Moderator (last edited Oct 15, 2017 11:06AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Piyangie | 780 comments Mod
Cindy wrote: "Does having the story told as the recounting of eyewitnesses make it more or less reliable?..."

This is my first Collins experience. And I'm very glad to have met him. :) The story being told through several narration is something novel and fresh to me. I feel the narrations from several people ("eye witnesses") do make it more reliable thus making the story balanced and not biased. Being a lawyer, this approach really appealed to me.


message 3: by Piyangie, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Piyangie | 780 comments Mod
Cindy wrote: "Another suspicious character is introduced to us in the person of Laura’s fiancé, Sir Percival Glyde. The mysterious woman in white has warned us of a dastardly baronet, and then the existence of Sir Percival Glyde is brought to our attention. Could he possibly be this no-good nobleman? Walter is inclined to think so, but he could be prejudiced by his own love for the man’s fiancée. Are Walter’s perceptions trustworthy on this issue?..."

It is possible to construe that Walter's prejudice for Sir Percival Glyde was based on his feelings for Laura. But if his narration is true, and I beleive it is true, that what drove on his suspicions was a little more than his own feelings. He was most concerned about Laura's happiness, even if it does not lie with him; and the disturbing events that he encountered with the woman in white led him to entertain a doubt regarding Sir Percival's character.


message 4: by Piyangie, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Piyangie | 780 comments Mod
Cindy wrote: "What are your thoughts on Collins’ style after the first week of reading? Are you a fan, or not so much? As an English teacher (translation: nerd), nothing excites me more than a verbose author with an extensive vocabulary who knows how to use it, but I know that not everyone feels the same way. ;)
..."


I completely share your sentiment, Cindy. I really love his writing. His prose may be seen long winding, but they are rich and beautiful.


Shelley (omegaxx) What are your thoughts on Collins’ style after the first week of reading?

I also quite enjoy his style. Verbosity notwithstanding, there is a nice flow and rhythm to his sentences.

I'm most impressed by the pacing. Having attempted writing fiction at various point of my life (unsuccessfully, I may add), I find pacing to be one of the hardest things to get right, and one Wilkins is particularly gifted at. He knows when to slow down to build an almost cinematic atmosphere (I can just picture one of the reveal scenes: dark room with moonlight outside, Laura pacing outside, casting a long black shadow that is moving to and fro to the voice of Marian Holcombe reading the letter, punctuated by pregnant pauses every time we see Laura's figure, all clad in white, through the break in the window curtain), and when to speed things along, e.g. Walter Haltright's falling-in-love montage.


Piyumi | 22 comments Thanks Cindy for kick starting the discussion.

'Did you feel a shiver go down your spine at this part, or are we more blasé about horror here in 2017?'

Absolutely :), that was what got me interested, and the uncertain atmosphere Collins painted for our three protagonists kept me breathless till the very end.

Regarding the two sisters and Walter's immediate reaction to them made me feel that Collins was trying to underline body images that we still face to date. And with less opportunities for women back then, Marian's appearance and situation (passed over) is very sad, and I applaud Collins for trying to highlight that. He does this by showing her as the voice of reason, strength and epitome of devotion. Don't judge a book by its cover?? :)

'nothing excites me more than a verbose author with an extensive vocabulary who knows how to use it'
There, you said it....I love an author who knows how to use 'extensive vocabulary' too. You learn much and its a treat to find different words and phrases to frame even day to day conversations.

But I'm a Lit buff so language, used well, is an addiction of sort :)


message 7: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cindy Newton | 295 comments Mod
Piyangie wrote: "Cindy wrote: "Another suspicious character is introduced to us in the person of Laura’s fiancé, Sir Percival Glyde. The mysterious woman in white has warned us of a dastardly baronet, and then the ..."

This is what makes me think he is biased. He's never met Sir Percival, so he has no personal experience that would cause him to distrust the man. His "source" for any negative suspicions he has about Sir Percival is a woman who has now been established as an escapee from a mental institution. Would Walter be that quick to "convict" any other stranger on the word of such a person?


message 8: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cindy Newton | 295 comments Mod
Piyangie wrote: "Cindy wrote: "What are your thoughts on Collins’ style after the first week of reading? Are you a fan, or not so much? As an English teacher (translation: nerd), nothing excites me more than a verb..."

Isn't it? I love a book that gives as much pleasure from the construction as it does from the story itself.


message 9: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cindy Newton | 295 comments Mod
Shelley wrote: "What are your thoughts on Collins’ style after the first week of reading?

I also quite enjoy his style. Verbosity notwithstanding, there is a nice flow and rhythm to his sentences.

I'm most impre..."


Have you ever tried screenwriting? You have quite a knack for visualizing and bringing these dramatic scenes to life!


message 10: by Piyangie, Moderator (last edited Oct 19, 2017 12:17AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Piyangie | 780 comments Mod
Cindy wrote: "This is what makes me think he is biased. He's never met Sir Percival, so he has no personal experience that would cause him to distrust the man. His "source" for any negative suspicions he has about Sir Percival is a woman who has now been established as an escapee from a mental institution. Would Walter be that quick to "convict" any other stranger on the word of such a person..."

My belief is he would. Something in that woman in white touched his heart as genuine. This perception entered his mind before he ever met Laura Fairlie. Although he heard from the pursures that the said woman was escaped from an asylem, his opinion on the woman did not change. In fact, he felt in his heart that somehow she was wronged and shared his expereicne with Marian, seeking some assistance from her that could be gained from the woman's relationship with Marian's late mother.

However, in the way the narration was unfolded, it is natural to doubt the reliability of Walter's suspicions because of his own love for Laura. But I felt his suspicion arose from some gut feeling about the geniuneness of the story of the woman in white irrespective of his strong feelings towards Laura. Perhaps, my knowledge of the story (since I have finished reading) may make me see him in this light. :)


Piyumi | 22 comments Piyangie wrote: "Cindy wrote: "This is what makes me think he is biased. He's never met Sir Percival, so he has no personal experience that would cause him to distrust the man. His "source" for any negative suspici..."

Mmm...glad you pointed this out Piyangie, coz that is one of the redeeming factors of Walter, a sensitive soul who immediately felt empathy towards a woman in distress who he hardly knew.

While show casing strong female leads (Marian) Collins is also highlighting that men are sensitive and delicate (a contradictory point to established male portrayals of that time, or any time i suppose).

So we can derive from this that Collins managed to break out of several expected norms of the 'system' of framing genders, going against the stereotypes for both.
Brilliant!!


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

You are all picking up on more than me, I read Walter as pretty standard male of the time, helps damsel in distress, falls for youngest, prettiest, richest girl not to mention quite his junior (if I remember correctly), jealous of Sir P, dismissive of Marion because she is not pretty. Your contrary thoughts will help me to read more carefully and deeply and see if I come to see W differently.

I am very much enjoying the story, Collins brings in elements that are provocative and fresh, especially for the time.


Shelley (omegaxx) Kathy wrote: "You are all picking up on more than me, I read Walter as pretty standard male of the time, helps damsel in distress, falls for youngest, prettiest, richest girl not to mention quite his junior (if ..."

I'm with you Kathy. So far the characters and situations appear to be pretty commonplace Victorian fiction to me as well, albeit presented in a more enjoyable manner than others!

There's a half-hour BBC Radio 4 program on Sensation Novel which explored on some of the innovation of the genre and historical aspects (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p005492t). I found it to be a helpful overview. Woman in White is discussed in the first 10 minutes and is spoiler free. The rest of the program does contain spoilers on some of the other sensation novels.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Shelley wrote: "Kathy wrote: "You are all picking up on more than me, I read Walter as pretty standard male of the time, helps damsel in distress, falls for youngest, prettiest, richest girl not to mention quite h..."

Thank you, Shelley, very interesting show, love having additional context. I gather these sensational novels might be lumped in with Gothic novels. This made me think of Louisa May Alcott, famous for Little Women and many childrens and young adult stories and novels. But she reported writing them all just to make money. Her real passion was gothics and she was writing these in the 1860s too, years ago I read some of these gothic stories, they have some similarity. I also think of Edgar Allen Poe, very dark, but several decades earlier.

The program calls them sensationals not just for being thrilling, but also for taboo subjects. It is interesting that newspaper audiences were ready for this by then and that Collins (and others) wrote the plot around the column limit building in cliff hangers to keep them waiting for a week or month.


Shelley (omegaxx) I gather these sensational novels might be lumped in with Gothic novels.

I wonder about that too. Good thing is BBC Radio 4 also had a show about Gothic (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0054792). It seems that the difference between Gothic and Sensation stems more from the setting (gloomy castle versus familiar domestic environment) and inclusion of the supernatural (although even in the Gothic there's frequently a scientific explanation for the supernatural that is revealed). Meanwhile, the preoccupation with identity, insanity, and the woman question is very much shared by the two genres.

It is interesting that newspaper audiences were ready for this by then and that Collins (and others) wrote the plot around the column limit building in cliff hangers to keep them waiting for a week or month.

Yeah, that was my biggest take-away too. It explains how there's a definite rhythmic ebb and flow in Collins' writing. In a way it's kind of what the reading schedule does too--slowing down the process so we can closer approximate the experience of the original readers.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Shelley wrote: "I gather these sensational novels might be lumped in with Gothic novels.

I wonder about that too. Good thing is BBC Radio 4 also had a show about Gothic (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0054792)...."

Excellent, thanks!


Piyumi | 22 comments Kathy wrote: "You are all picking up on more than me, I read Walter as pretty standard male of the time, helps damsel in distress, falls for youngest, prettiest, richest girl not to mention quite his junior (if ..."

I agree Kathy word for word on Walter, glad I'm not the only one....it was hard to let go of that as I finished the novel too (I read it couple of months ago) but as you experienced here, everyone else's take on the novel helped open things up for me as well, but a little bitter taste is still there :D


Alana (alanasbooks) | 6 comments I'm a little late to the party, only because I didn't know about this group until just now....but I happen to be about 3/4 done with TWiW so it's perfect timing!

I read this several years ago and knew only the most basic plot, but it's so fun to re-read. I love the mystery of it all, and while I roll my eyes at the overly dramatic characters (they fainting women and the hero on the white horse, Hartright), it's still a fun suspense ride.


Piyumi | 22 comments Alana wrote: "I'm a little late to the party, only because I didn't know about this group until just now....but I happen to be about 3/4 done with TWiW so it's perfect timing!

I read this several years ago and ..."


Too right :)


message 20: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Renee M | 1861 comments Mod
I'm laughing st myself right now. I, too, saw Walter as quite typical in his "love at first sight" tumble for the prettier, younger, richer sister. But mostly because I liked Marion instantly and felt slighted on her behalf. I could almost accuse Collins of making her the object of a joke because, in seeing her through Walter's eyes, we see her figure, style, and dress before the disappointment of her face.

But I'm very appreciative of those who see Walter is a sensitive, artistic hero. Time will tell how Collins will treat Marion and the others.


message 21: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Renee M | 1861 comments Mod
P. S. I'm still trying to decide if Marion's disparaging comments about her sex are true misogyny or tongue in cheek. I'm inclined to think the latter but am waiting to see more of her.


Alana (alanasbooks) | 6 comments I think it's more the former, albeit unintentionally on Collins' part. I think that was just the mindset of the men (and by proxy, the women) of the time. It's an assumption that men made, and women went with it and tried to use it to their advantage when possible, because what else could they do in the society of their time?


message 23: by Kerstin, Moderator (last edited Oct 29, 2017 03:01PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kerstin | 576 comments Mod
I love the humor in Collins's writing. He cracked me up several times. Isn't Pesca character? "Well! there in your hand is the paper that offers you perpetual choking mouthfuls of country breeze for four months' time." Choking mouthfuls? Usually we talk of clear or clean country air, something that is restorative to a person. Choking is not the term one would come up with.

At this point I don't know whom to trust. Yes, Walter seems very sympathetic, and he has a certain charm. I don't trust the sisters completely. Is Walter putting too much trust in Marian? Why on earth did he tell her the story of the woman he encountered, especially since there seems to be a connection of some sort? I would keep quiet. She advises him to not speak to anyone of the woman he encountered. What does she know and is not revealing? And Laura, she doesn't reveal much of herself either.


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