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Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

1859 - 1860

The Woman in White

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  • Intro

    There, in the middle of the broad, bright high-road – there, as if it had that moment sprung from the earth or dropped from the heaven – stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments.

     

    The Woman in White was the first example of the Victorian ‘sensation novel’, a genre that overflowed with suspense, passion and melodrama. It was first published in serial form in 1859-60 in the periodical All The Year Round, and its twists, turns and cliffhangers reflect these origins. Its dramatic opening chapters tell the story of a late-night encounter between a young drawing master, Walter Hartright, and a mysterious woman, clad in white and in a state of extreme distress.

     

    The plot, which turns on the themes of disguise, madness and wrongful imprisonment, held an enormous appeal for the new reading public of the mid-Victorian age: one commentator noted that ‘everyone was raving about it’. The novel is notable today for its use of multiple narrative voices and for Collins’s careful plotting, influenced by his background in the law. It is also memorable for its eccentric villain, the menacing Count Fosco, an obese Italian who carries his pet mice with him in his pockets.

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