Oh The Woman in White, the salt to my wounds, the needles to my eyes! I cannot believe our encounter was so disappointing. I was looking forward to opening your rustling pages and falling in love with the elegant Gothic tale within them. I couldn’t be more wrong! I loved the setting and the mood, the chance encounter in the middle of the night, the escape from the asylum, and the multi-layered mystery of bloodless murder. But I hated the characters! Oh how I loathed them! Perhaps those were the time when damsels in distress made all men tremble; and perhaps those were the times when physical beauty was enough to cover up the absence of brain or any common sense. Whatever it was, this book made me look both ways before opening another Victorian novel.
I enjoyed the first narrative by Mr. Hartright. It had all the wonders of desolated roads, ghostly women, light romantic sighs of budding love, picturesque cemetery, etc. It was beautiful; I was content to lose myself in a comforting fall read. Then the narrative changed to that of Miss Halcombe and the plot got to a stubborn standstill. Marian and Laura were at Blackwater Park and constantly whispered about evil Percival Glyde and his cunning friend the Count. It became just an endless string of walks around the lake to the boathouse, awkward dinners and arguments in the library. I lost count of how many times these ladies put on their bonnets to take a stroll outside. Instead of characters clearly saying what want they want to say, all they produce are vague hints and useless blabber. “Oh, I have a terrible secret to tell you that will save you from your terrible husband, but I will tell it to you next time, when there is a greater chance for me to be discovered by the said husband. You know, the book might end up, god forbid, a few hundred pages shorter if I tell you now!” “Or listen, let’s discuss some grand evil plans against your stupid wife and her too-smart-for-her-own-good sister, but wait, first we must recall everything the reader already knows. Don’t forget that I have to proclaim my own superiority every two paragraphs, because it is I, Count Fosco – the most cunning Italian there is! And let’s ponder on the meaning of life while we’re at it, just to let the reader have some time for a sandwich break.”
Needless to say, I hate Laura with passion. She is supposed to be the poor little victim, but all I want is to slap some sense into her. I haven’t encountered anyone more spineless and dim-witted! “Oh Marian, he squeezed my arm so bad, I had to tell him all the truth in the world and set myself up for years of suffering. I was told not to marry this monster, but aww I promised daddy and it’s my womanly duty to be a doormat. True, I was given a fair chance to back out of the wedding, but I like to play the part of a martyr. That only highlights how sensitive I am! Gosh somebody, save me from myself!! Now that I’m actually married, I sort of want to get out… Does it ever happen to you? Silly me! My sister might be super smart and courageous and all, l but she doesn’t need like a life or anything. She needs to sit by me like a watchdog while I moon over Mr. Hartright, and forgo her own happiness. Who wants to marry an ugly woman anyway?” Also, there is Anne Catherick, who desperately tries to prove that she is “not crazy”. Well, I have news for you, Anne: you are pretty much insane and sort of creepy! I know, I know, it’s not your fault, but please stop screaming hysterically every time someone mentions Percival Glyde. Just take something sharp and use it wisely in his general direction. And those mood swings! Anne needs to stop obsessing over Laura’s mother or white dresses, or randomly changing the subject of a conversation when somebody is talking to her.
Besides all that hate spilling out of me, I do very much love Marian Halcombe’s character. She is so strong and outspoken; it is almost like she is taken from a different time and unjustly inserted into this Victorian society where women are treated as commodity and discriminated against. I cannot believe that shallow bastard Hartright, who although admired Marian for her inner qualities, decided to pursue her dumb sister Laura as his romantic interest instead. How is it possible that such an outstanding woman (who by the way caused much admiration from her greatest enemy) could be reduced to play a forever alone spinster?! But those were the times, and I appreciate that Collins took his time to create such a unique character and comment on her position in his contemporary society. As for the structure, after the long and tiresome bulk of the book in the middle, I found myself enjoying the closing parts, again written by Hartright. It was great to see the plot suddenly picking up and some investigations taking place. Even though the ending was rather anti-climatic for my liking, it wasn’t terrible. I found the secret society spin kind of unnecessary, but I guess that was part of the sensational fiction genre and came with the territory. I might be giving away a spoiler here, but I don’t understand what stopped Sir Percival and Count Fosco from just killing Laura off. Instead they left an important witness that upon her escape might destroy all their carefully laid-out plans. I wouldn’t be so honorable in their place, when things concerned Laura. God, that woman is getting on my nerves!