Lady in White

By Wilkie Collins

               First published between 1859 and 1860, Lady in White was considered one of the first in the ‘mystery’ genre. However, I’d prefer to label it more a suspense novel.

One night while traveling to Hampstead, England Walter Hartright has a chance meeting with a woman dressed in all white. The woman appears to be lost, so Hartright offers assistance back to London. On the journey, she tells him of her fears of an unnamed baronet whom she is fleeing. Hartright later discovers she may be an escaped mad woman from an insane asylum.

woman in white - illustration 3Nonetheless, Hartright continues on his journey to Cumberland where he is to serve as an art teacher to Laura Fairlie. Hartright and Laura fall madly in love, but their happiness is dimmed when he is informed of her upcoming nuptials to Sir Percival Glyde; a marriage arranged by her late father. Heartbroken, Hartright sails for another world to hide and heal his broken heart from Laura.

Meanwhile, Laura weds the Sir Glyde only to discover he is nothing but a brute and debauchery after her money. After a six month honeymoon, they return home, and Laura is skittish about sharing her less than happy marriage with Marian Holcombe, her half-sister, confident and caretaker. When Percival’s friend Count Bosco and his wife embark for an indefinite stay with the newly married couple, a mystery begins to unfold about a secret that Percival will die to protect. The Count and Percival scheme to separate Laura from her family fortune and little by little whittle away at her confidence and judgment. At a time when women had few options and legal authority, it is easy to see her predicament.  But who is the brains behind the scheme; Percival or Count Fosco? Fosco is an overweight, overbearing man with a meek little wife, Madame Fosco, who waits on his every need. Marion recognizes the scheme and works diligently to uncover the scandal to save her sister.

woman in white - illustrationThen one night, the lady in white appears to Laura at the boathouse and warns her of a secret that will save her against the demands of Percival. The mystery, however, must wait as Percival discovers Laura’s dishonesty and threatens her harm if she does not reveal what she knows.

This book revolves around three characters who take on the identities of other people. Another two characters work tirelessly to uncover the mysteries to set free Lady Laura Glyde. Will Hartright returns and discovers that Laura is desperately longing for his love? Can Laura hold on, or will she sign away her family fortune to a ruthless vulgarian?

The book is ‘way too long,’ and some parts are as long-winded as Count Fosco, but the content keeps the reader guessing the game, and wondering which players will survive. The Woman in White is filled with twists and turns, which holds the read tied to each page. A product of its time, the Victorian language may deter some readers, but as you are so immersed in the story, you unearth a classic. It is quite a tale.

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