miércoles, 21 de octubre de 2009

The Woman In White

The Woman in White (Oxford World's Classics, 2008)
by Wilkie Collins
UK, 1859-60

Although British literature as a whole has to rank as one of the most overrated examples of a national literature anywhere (admit it, bloggers--how many tales about governesses and class bias do you really need?), I enjoyed The Woman in White enough that I could see adding it to old favorites like The Canterbury Tales and "Clash City Rockers" on a list of things from across the pond that don't suck. Whether or not that makes this a true classic or not is another story, but this goofball first "Sensation Novel" makes up for its lack of depth in terms of what it has to say by how it says what it does: unraveling the mystery behind "the woman in white," a story that touches on false imprisonments, poisonings, secret societies, and star-crossed lovers, via a series of courtroom-style witnesses to the prosecution.  Although Collins tries too hard to draw attention to the gender differences among his narrators (a typical howler from a female character: "I dare say it was very wrong and very discreditable to listen--but where is the woman, in the whole range of our sex, who can regulate her actions by the abstract principles of honour, when those principles point one way, and when her affections, and the interests which grow out of them, point the other?" [228]), the novel's ensemble effect is marvelous at masking how increasingly uninteresting the main character, Walter Hartright, is in comparison to the mannish Marian Halcombe and the devilish Count Fosco--a fantastic villain whose evil ways reach a comic zenith when he feeds an organ-grinder's monkey some "lunch" but "contemptuously" fails to provide any sort of a handout at all for the organ-grinder himself!  Elsewhere, Collins also gets a thumbs-up for presenting a love affair between Hartright and Laura Fairlie that rings true emotionally.  Unfortunately, I had to dock him a couple of points for throwing his hero into jail temporarily for merely jostling another man--the novel's low point--and for making us wait so long before Count Fosco's bombastic turn in the spotlight ("Youths!  I invoke your sympathy.  Maidens!  I claim your tears." [628]).  Fortunately, Fosco's maniacally unhinged written declaration near the end redeems any creaky plot elements in the 600 pages that preceded it--and might just have opened up the door for me to a possible follow-up reading of Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, Dickens' Great Expectations, Wood's East Lynne, or some other guilty pleasure.  Any suggestions?  (www.oup.com/worldsclassics)

Wilkie Collins, the ladies' man

Thanks to Trish of Trish's Reading Nook, whose review of The Woman in White here made me want to read Wilkie Collins again after I'd forgotten about him for years and years somehow!

11 comentarios:

  1. What a delicious-sounding villain! I may have to read this some day.

    In general, I tend to agree that Brit lit is overrated. I've been slowly discovering, however, that Dickens' reputation is well-deserved. I recommend David Copperfield over any others, but that's just my personal preference. (And I'd like to think that Dickens would've loved the Clash.)

  2. Great review! I just listened to The Woman in White on audiobook this past summer and loved it. I agree with Isabella, I love Dickens and David Copperfield is my favorite so far . . .

  3. I agree - a great review. Marian and Count Fosco were definitely my favourites - Fosco was brilliant wasn't he!

  4. Ha! I'm glad you didn't think this one sucked, Richard. :)

    Hartwright really got on my nerves in this book but I loved Marian (despite the fact that Collins worked so hard to make her "mannish). Fosco. What a hoot! I think what I really loved about this book were the characters.

    Lady Audley's Secret is a fun one, too, but I think you'll find it lacks the depth of this one (not sure what that says if you thought this one glib!). I took a course on Victorian Sensationalism in college and Dickens of course made an appearance with Our Mutual Friend (love it!) and Great Expectations (not really sensationalist, in my mind). We also read Trollope but I think he's a bore. And The Moonstone by Collins. Oh, and Lady Audley's Secret.

  5. Oh reason not the need, Richard! I must admit to an undying love of governess protagonists, rural country houses, and Merrie Olde England (and even more the modernist dismantling thereof). HOWEVER. I am willing to entertain other points of view. :-)

    Collins to me is a total crack-up, so it's awesome you enjoyed him. I find Marian a really impressive character, especially for the time and place in which she was written. Walter is a total milquetoast and so is Laura, so I guess it makes sense that they end up together.

    Also: surely you don't include the Irish in this Anglophobe stance? It seems to me that anyone who loves Céline must also love Beckett. If that's not true my brain might just explode.

  6. Fun review! I second Isabella's recommendation of "David Copperfield", although "Great Expectations" is an almost equal Dickins favorite. And I'm also a sucker for the governesses and country houses, although I don't place any extra weight on Brit lit simply because it's from England. A good book is a good book, wherever it's from, and so is a bad one! I'll take the good ones, wherever I find them. :)

  7. *Isabella: I haven't read Dickens since I was a kid, but I'm happy to hear that you find him worthwhile. Maybe I'll give him another shot one of these days!

    *Laura: Thanks for the kind words and for weighing in with your favorite Dickens title. As I mentioned to Isabella, I may be ready to take on something by the guy sometime soon. Cheers!

    *Tracey: Thanks for your comments and your visit! Count Fosco was indeed brilliant, and that confession of his had me appreciating him all the more: "I announced, on beginning it, that this narrative would be a remarkable document. It has entirely answered my expectations." Genius!

    *Trish: "What a hoot!" says it all about Count Fosco. I loved that guy! That course you took on Victorian Sensationalism actually sounds really interesting, so thanks for filling me in on some of the texts and authors you read. I'm reading a study on the era/genre right now, and I'll definitely be making time for Lady Audley's Secret at some point now that you've joined so many others in singing its praises. I won't hold it against you if it's too lightweight, though!

    *Emily: I've yet to make Beckett's acquaintance unfortunately, but the Irish are certainly not part of my "the British are boring" stance. And while I do acknowledge that the land of football hooliganism has produced some fine classicists and historians, I much prefer France, Italy, and Spain when it comes to Euro fiction. Anyway, to help ensure that your brain doesn't explode, I promise to try to give Tristram Shandy, The Monk and Lady Audley's Secret a place in the queue before too long!

    *Sarah: It was a fun book to read and write about, so I'm glad that came across in the post. And you and Emily are otherwise wonderful people, so I will overlook your inexplicable fondness for fiction about governesses, spinsters, and people in top hats not acting in a way appropriate to their class! :)

  8. Me gustó mucho tu exposición, yo sólo le he leído La piedra lunar, pero quizá le dé una nueva oportunidad con este libro.
    Te recomiendo al francés Émile Zola y su incomparable Germinal. :)

    ¡Un saludo!

  9. Hola Andrómeda: Tengo entendido que La piedra lunar es menos divertido que La dama de blanco, pero me imagino que voy a leerlo eventualmente de todos modos. Mientras tanto, gracias por tu comentario y por la recomendación de señor Zola (te digo que será dificil eligir entre Germinal y Thérèse Raquin cuando viene la hora de comprar). ¡Un abrazo!

  10. I really enjoyed The Woman in White and I've been on a British kick lately -- I love the governess stories too, as Emily says! But I also haven't read much French, Italian and Spanish fiction, so I have lots yet to read before I can say which I think best!

  11. I think most of the U.S. and UK blog world is on a British kick, Rebecca, so you're definitely not alone in that regard! However, you should have a lot of fun ahead of you if you haven't read much French, Italian, or Spanish lit yet. I won't try and persuade you to pick a favorite, but I can't get enough from those countries. Cheers!