Thursday, February 25, 2010

Give the Crazy Lady in White a Chance

The Woman in White

by Wilkie Collins (1859-60)

Classic Mystery

Each chapter gets you deeper and deeper into the lives of the characters. Each chapter gets you more and more twisted in the plot. Each chapter makes you want to read the next.

The characters really drive the story. They were all well thought out with such unique personalities that they could have been based on real people. Laura (the ingénue) was beautiful, talented, and rich, yet dressed in plain clothes and was incredibly modest. Walter (the hero) did everything he could to defend the honor of his beloved with the meager funds of an illustrator/drawing instructor. Anne Catherick (The Woman in White) was your typical insane character who didn't make much sense and was pretty harmless unless her fears were triggered. Sir Percival Glyde is a smarmy middle-aged aristocrat who breaks out in spurts of anger whenever his plans are questioned.

The two characters that shine most in the eyes of critics are Marion Halcombe and Count Fosco. Marian is the half-sister of Laura who has the perfect body and mind but an ugly face. Her instincts and quick wit help unfold the mysterious plot against Laura to the utmost. (Do you ever find that you start writing or talking in a style not your own after reading something of another time or place?)

Count Fosco is the maker of the intricate plot which unravels, but you wouldn't know it. He is the most intelligent character in the story, yet at times, the most ridiculous. He has trained birds and mice that he dotes on and tweets at. He is jovial and courteous to everyone from the richest landowner to the lowliest street rat. Even the ever ready Marian cannot break the gaze of his cunning gray eyes when they've caught her. Few realize how dangerous a man he is. Our main characters only scrape the surface of this incredibly complex villain--and they know it.

I enjoyed this story, but because of its length, I think it would be better to read it like it was originally published--in serial. You can do that here: I would liken reading this book to watching a long mini-series. Sometimes it's better to get a story in pieces rather than all at once.

I wonder if there are books on Anne Catherick like Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys that's based on the crazy lady in the attic of Jane Eyre. There are so many crazy ladies in fiction--Great Expectations, Sweeney Todd, Jane Eyre, The Woman in White. I'm sure there are many, many more. A list of books based on the crazy ladies of fiction might be an interesting one to conjure up, don't you think?

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